Born in Lincoln, NB in 1935, Edward James Land, Jr. graduated at 17 from high school in 1953 and joined the U.S. Marine Corps a few days later.
After joining the Corps, he served in several stations and ultimately became a drill instructor at San Diego. “I was one of the friendly drill instructors, of course,” Maj. Land said with a laugh. During his time here he made staff sergeant, and in 1959 he was selected for OCS (Officer Candidate School). After completing OCS and basic officer’s training, Land was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the 4th Marine Regiment in Hawaii.
During his time there, Land began to lay the foundation for his future accomplishments. After a year as a platoon commander, Land started shooting competitively and was selected for the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific rifle and pistol team. On his own initiative, Land worked with CWO Arthur Terry to found the Corps’ first modern sniper course.
Legends Cross Paths
The first class was conducted in June 1961 and the second was run only months later. During that second class Land would make a significant acquaintance—Carlos Hathcock, who would later be known for his Vietnam sniping exploits. In fact, the two of them were soon selected for the Marine Corps Rifle Team, serving together for almost two years with the group. However, in 1965 they parted ways, with Hathcock being deployed to Vietnam as an MP and Land being transferred to Okinawa as an ordnance officer. It was the intervention of a general that caused them to cross paths again.
General Nickerson, who had been assigned to command the First Marine Division, happened to come though Land’s ordnance shop in Okinawa. He recognized Land from a meeting the two had at Camp Perry in which Land had briefed him on the value of sniping. Nickerson’s desire to get snipers into action in Vietnam led him to have Land transferred to his division in Vietnam in the fall of 1966. “His orders to me were simple. He wanted snipers in the field. He ordered me to get this done, and that he did not care how,” Land explained. Land was faced with starting up a sniper program with no rifles, ammunition, range nor any trainers. However, the general had made it clear he wanted this done, so everyone in the chain of command was attentive to Land’s requests. “His support was absolutely critical to the success of our efforts,” Land stated.
Getting It Done
Land immediately had a list of all the Marines in-country who were rated as DMs (Distinguished Marksman), the highest award given for marksmanship skills. It was in this exclusive group that Hathcock’s name appeared. Land pulled him and two others (Master Sgt. Reneke and Staff Sgt. Roberts) in as instructors in the new sniping program.
For firearms, Land began pulling together what he could, ranging from M1D Garands to Winchester .30-06 rifles from the Corps’ “special service rifles” section intended for recreational use. After Land had managed to pull together a group of instructors and equipment, he was ready to move to the next phase. “We decided that for us to teach sniping, we needed to operate in the field. Only by going out and doing it would we know what we were talking about,” said Land. Over the span of about a month they did just that.
They ran their first class in December of 1966, having requested 21 candidates from one of the battalions. As the program progressed, Land and his growing group of instructors turned out more and more skilled snipers. In fact, the program’s reputation grew to the point that Land learned that he and Hathcock had VC bounties on their heads.
In 1975, Land was assigned as the marksmanship coordinator for the Marine Corps, making him responsible for all the marksmanship training in the Corps. Unfortunately, the Corps’ sniping program had been cancelled in 1972. Through his efforts and the help of Capt. Robert J. Faught, who had also worked on the sniper program and understood the nuances of the bureaucracy of the Marine Corps, Land managed to get the sniper program started again. Ultimately, a formal school was established in 1977 at Quantico Marine Corps base in Virginia that is still in full operation today.
The Major’s Life As a Dedicated Civilian
It was during this year that he saw the establishment the school in Quantico that Land retired from the Corps as a Major, but his story does not end there. In fact, his work with the NRA was just to begin. He had a longtime connection with the organization though his time at Camp Perry, his work with NRA State Associations and Clubs, and his training as an NRA-certified instructor in several disciplines.
He began at the organization as a field representative, but was soon moving up through the ranks. After serving as a director of two divisions within the NRA, Land took a leave of absence to help a friend with serious medical problems. During that time, he was elected to NRA’s board of directors. He was elected to his current position of NRA Secretary in 1994.
To say that Maj. Land’s life up to this point has been consequential would be an understatement. Who knows what accomplishments he has planned for the future?