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Front row seat to WWII homecoming

Updated: 
November 11, 2017 - 12:05am

Because it’s Veterans Day, we should all take some time to think about the hardship others have endured so the rest of us can be safe and secure. This is why we chose to highlight the bravery of those who resided on this very island, and their return visit in October.

During World War II, on the Big Island of Hawaii, there was a military training camp between the peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. This facility was known as Camp Tarawa. The name of the camp stemmed from the Battle at Tarawa that some of the soldiers had fought in. After the battle, those who survived came to the Big Island and named the camp in honor of their fallen friends.

It housed, fed, and trained members of the 2nd Marine Division as well as the 5th Marine Division. These groups both trained daily in preparation for their attack on Iwo Jima in Japan. They utilized the terrain of Hawaii to prepare themselves for the amphibious battle. Drills were done up Buster Brown, utilizing the similarity in size to the hill they would have to climb upon their landing. They also trained at what is now known as Hapuna Beach, taking swims in the water to get used to the amphibious attack, and they trained in the sugarcane fields because they knew that there would be similar terrain in Japan.

The attack on Iwo Jima was launched on Feb. 19, 1945, and lasted for five weeks. Mount Suribachi (the mountain at Iwo Jima) was a key strategical standpoint in WWII, and without the mountain under American control the U.S. couldn’t fly planes in and out of Japan without them being shot down. The goal was to take Mount Suribachi, and after fighting tooth and nail and sustaining significant casualties, American forces finally took control of the mountain. But this did not constitute an end for all involved. The hardship and memories still last until this day, shared by those who fought for their country.

Those soldiers, ages anywhere from 17-20 at the time of the battle, still choose to come together every year, share their stories and eat good food. They go to a different city every year, and on their 68th trip they decided to come back to the island on which they trained.

Many of the veterans hadn’t been back to Hawaii since Camp Tarawa, and the change that they’ve seen is astronomical. Along with their visit, their memorial was refurbished, and Parker School hosted an event for them. The informative presentation in the school’s theater was prefaced by the entire student body standing out on the road waving little American flags, showing their appreciation for the achievements these men accomplished.

After students learned what these veterans did, a Q&A session was held. The veterans answered their questions sitting in the same seats that they had sat in all those years ago, and told us of the performances they saw in that same theater. Students also learned about the rigor of training, the camaraderie between fellow soldiers, and how to make your seasick friend lose his or her lunch.

After the presentation, the veterans and their families were served lunch by L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, and some lucky journalism students were given the opportunity to learn from the former soldiers.

In this experience we learned more than anyone ever would have guessed. Every single one of them had unique, funny, interesting, and sometimes laughable stories that showed just how much each of them had really lived.

Shen MacKenzie is a senior at Parker School in Waimea currently taking a journalism class.

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