Ten Young Marines Return From a Very Special ‘Reunion of Honor’ on Guam and Iwo Jima
Ten youth members of the Young Marines have returned from their March 12th trip to Guam and Iwo Jima for the annual “Reunion of Honor.” Each year, American and Japanese veterans and their families come together for remembrances of their fallen brothers and to recall the fierce battles that took place on the two islands during World War II. The Young Marines who went on the trip include:
- YM SgtMaj Dakota Richter of Crestview Hills, Kentucky. – National Young Marine of the Year (YMOY)
- YM SgtMaj Austin Loppe of Mingo Junction, OH – Division 1 (YMOY)
- YM SgtMaj Jason Mooney of Parkville, MD - Division 2 (YMOY)
- YM SgtMaj Alexander Messmer of Havelock, NC - Division 3 (YMOY)
- YM SgtMaj Joshua Aikman of Marrero, LA – Division 4 (YMOY)
- YM SgtMaj Michael Borka of Swartz Creek, MI – Division 5 (YMOY)
- YM MSgt Blake De Weese of Beaverton, OR. – Division 6 (YMOY)
- YM MGySgt Mary Wessell of Geneva, OH – scholarship winner
- YM MSgt Nathan Baker of Atlanta, GA - scholarship winner
- YM 1stSgt Oscar Pinate of Miami Springs, FL.- Director’s Choice
Adults who accompanied the Young Marines were:
- George Biedenbender of Fredricksburg, VA – adult leader and chaperone
- Lisa Farmer of Jacksonville, NC. – adult leader and chaperone
- Mike Kessler, national executive director and CEO of the Young Marines
“The Young Marines were able to spend several hours listening to the experiences of the veterans,” said Mike Kessler, national executive director and CEO of the Young Marines. “This is living history, not a third party interpretation of what someone thinks might have happened, but the unvarnished reality of war through the eyes of those who were there. Whether they were a trigger puller or a logistician, a runner or a boat driver, their stories are all very real and captured a slice of history that Hollywood will never be able to put on the big screen and that our history books will sadly never reveal.”
“Watching the reactions of the veterans to us was priceless,” said YMSgtMaj Dakota Richter of Crestview Hills, Kentucky, who is the National Young Marine of the Year. “From sitting beside them at breakfast each morning to assisting them all over the island of Guam on our tours, what began as suspicious curiosity quickly transformed into a grandparent/grandchild relationship. Those kinds of bonds are so rewarding, and I’m so thankful we could connect with the veterans in that way.”
The Young Marines were able to attend the memorial service took place for veterans and family members at the Anniversary Monument on Iwo Jima. Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, James F. Amos, delivered a poignant eulogy for the fallen of both sides.
A 36-day assault resulted in an American victory but at great cost. There were more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead. Of the 20,000 Japanese defenders, only 1,083 survived. The Marines' efforts, however, provided a vital link in the U.S. chain of bomber bases.
According to Kessler, one thing that set this trip aside from the others was the pride that he saw in the family members accompanying their father on this adventure. Also, none of the returning veterans seemed to be lamenting the return nor did they show any malice for the Japanese.
“They clearly understood that despite the fact that many of them lost close friends to the tenacity of the Japanese defenders,” he said, “they understood that the enemy had a job to do, and they performed as best they could given the circumstances.”
A veteran - Mr. Owen Agenbroad - shared a story with the Young Marines. During WW II, he served with the 5th Marine Division. While assaulting across the island, he came upon a recently abandoned Japanese position. There he found a straight edge razor and soap dish which he picked up as war treasures. Later in life and in looking more closely at the razor, Mr. Agenbroad saw that it had Japanese writing on it, and he set about finding a translator. After confirming that it was the name of the Japanese soldier who owned it, he tried to find out what happened to him. On learning of his death on the island, he felt duty-bound to find out if there were family members still alive. This was confirmed. On March 19, at a very private but emotional setting on Iwo Jima, he returned the razor to the family.
“Makes the hair stand up, doesn’t it?” Kessler said.
YMSgtMaj Richter feels that the sheer magnitude of the reverence that these veterans still carry with them today is awe-inspiring: reverence for their leaders during the battle; their fellow Marines who served with them; and for many, for their buddies who never came home.
“It’s been 69 years, and yet these veterans still choke on their words when describing memories,” she said. “That’s how strong the bond of brotherhood is between those men.”
The Young Marines impressed not only the veterans but the Governor of Guam as well.
“Following his speech at the banquet on March 18th, the Governor commented to General Snowden that he was truly impressed with the Young Marines and wanted to start a unit on Guam,” Kessler said. “We are working on providing all of the information they need to make that a reality.”
Mr. Yoshitaka Shindo, the grandson of the Japanese island commander, LtGen Kuribayishi, is very proud of his grandfather, and he hasn’t missed a Reunion of Honor (RoH) until last year. His job prevents him from attending mid-week events. As president of the Bereaved Iwo Jima Japanese Family Association, Mr. Shindo requested that the 70th anniversary next year be held on Saturday, March 14, 2015. This request was granted.
“Unfortunately and yet understandably, there were far fewer Iwo Jima veterans this year compared to last, and yet we made the most of every minute with them,” said YMSgtMaj Richter. “It’s a somber reminder as to the rate at which these heroes are passing, and every memory we can gather from our veterans deserves to be cherished and documented for future generations.”
The Young Marines is a national non-profit 501c(3) youth education and service program for boys and girls, age eight through the completion of high school. The Young Marines promotes the mental, moral and physical development of its members. The program focuses on teaching the values of leadership, teamwork and self-discipline so its members can live and promote a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.
Since the Young Marines' humble beginnings in 1959 with one unit and a handful of boys, the organization has grown to over 300 units with 10,000 youth and 3,000 adult volunteers in 46 states, the District of Columbia, Japan and affiliates in a host of other countries.
For more information, visit the official website at: http://www.YoungMarines.com.
Media Contact: Andy Richardson
Ginny Richardson Public Relations
630-789-8899 or firstname.lastname@example.org