Young Marines Scale Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima

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Today, 11 youth members of the Young Marines are accompanying 49 veterans on a plane trip from Guam to Iwo Jima as part of the annual “Reunion of Honor.” The group will travel to the top of Mt. Suribachi.

Young Marines on Guam before their trip to Iwo Jima

Young Marines on Guam before their trip to Iwo Jima

“After we get to the top, everyone will get a sense of what it might have been like from both sides of the battle,” said Mike Kessler, national executive director and CEO of the Young Marines.

Today, 11 youth members of the Young Marines are accompanying 49 veterans on a plane trip from Guam to Iwo Jima as part of the annual “Reunion of Honor.” It is the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima. Each year, American and Japanese veterans 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 group will travel to the top of Mt. Suribachi. Ground transportation is reserved for the veterans and their immediate families, but the Young Marines will climb on foot.

“After we get to the top, everyone will get a sense of what it might have been like from both sides of the battle,” said Mike Kessler, national executive director and CEO of the Young Marines. “They will understand that the defenders had a very distinct advantage in terms of observation of the landing beaches and the ability to direct their fire on thousands of exposed Marines.”

While at the top of the mountain, Kessler will conduct a ceremony where he’ll award the eagle, globe and anchor device for the Young Marines’ personal achievement ribbon.

They will descend the mountain to attend the memorial service near the landing beaches at the Anniversary Monument. Conducted by veterans from both the United States and Japan, the service remembers the young men on both sides who gave their lives during the brutal campaign for the Island.

“The ceremony pays homage to those who were lost and to the families of those who, still today, grieve their loss,” Kessler said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, and every Young Marine treasures the experience.”

Each Young Marine was selected for the trip based on his or her dedication, loyalty, achievement and leadership. The Young Marines spend time engaging the veterans and helping any way they can.

Participating are:

  •     YM SgtMaj Blake W. DeWeese, 18, of Beaverton, Oregon - the 2014 National Young Marine of the Year
  •     YM SgtMaj Alex Loria, 17, of Chantilly, Virginia – winner of the Jimmie Trimble Scholarship
  •     YM GySgt Brittany Hannah, 18, of Miami, Florida - winner of the Jimmie Trimble Scholarship
  •     YM SgtMaj Samuel Montejano, 17, of Valley Center, Calif. – Directors Choice
  •     YM SgtMaj Zoe Jackson, 18 of Colorado Springs, Colorado

Division Young Marines of the Year:

  •     YM SgtMaj Charles Brian Fagan, 16, of Millis, Massachusetts – Division 1
  •     YM SgtMaj Joseph Ambs, 17, of Westminster, Maryland – Division 2
  •     YM SgtMaj Tyler Ward, 16, of Knoxville, Tennessee – Division 3
  •     YM SgtMaj Kariel Mayer, 17, of Harvey, Louisiana – Division 4
  •     YM GySgt Lucas Ward, 17, of Farmington, Illinois – Division 5
  •     YM SgtMaj Tyler Wermann-Jones, 16, of Oceanside, Calif – Division 6

“The Young Marines are learning history from those who made history,” Kessler said. “As the veterans and Young Marines get to know one another, there’s a lot of respect and affection. Some maintain contact years after the trip.”

“To visit sites where brave Marines fought to preserve the nation and see these amazing places with my fellow division YMOYs by my side is one of the greatest experiences of my life,” said YM GySgt Lucas Ward of Farmington, Illinois.

Kessler said past trips have been very successful, because World War II veterans who made up the “greatest generation” eagerly welcome the young people.

Iwo Jima, 750 miles south of Tokyo, is the middle island of the three tiny specks of the Volcano Islands. Five miles long, the island is honeycombed with volcanic vents. In addition, there are hundreds of natural caves, deep sulphur-exuding tunnels and steep gulleys across the surface. Ragged sea cliffs surround the island. Only to the south is there level sand, but it is shifting black pumice dust making the beaches like quicksand and making it impossible to dig a fox-hole.

The island was riddled with pillboxes, gun-pits, trenches and mortar sites. A three-day naval bombardment on Feb. 16, 1945, was intended to rid the island of much of its defense. Unfortunately, the bombardment had minimal effect.

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.

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 11,000 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.

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