Thursday, December 15, 2011
With our trip nearing its end, we had time for an origami lesson or a brisk morning walk before we boarded a ferry that took us across the bay to the island of Miyajima and a Japanese shrine. It was certainly interesting for us, as Christians, to view traditional Japanese religious culture. We then hiked up a beautiful mountain while our veterans took a taxi to the top. The area was untamed, with dirt and gravel paths, flowing streams, and a variety of plant life. It was clear we could have spent the rest of the day exploring and admiring the beauty of the landscape. On the way back down, we found a quaint little village with several small local shops for some last minute souvenirs. And it provided us with one final chance to use the few Japanese words and phrases we picked up along the way.
We have had a long day of traveling as we crossed the international dateline once again and will essentially be living the same day twice. One highlight was flying past Mt. Fuji, the highest peak in Japan at over 12,000 feet. Though we are all looking forward to returning home, this trip has been an opportunity of a lifetime and now we are prepared for some difficult goodbyes. Not only have we each gained nine new friends and built trust and bonds with our faculty and administration through our groups’ phenomenal chemistry, we have each adopted five new grandfathers from whom we can continue to learn. Our paths now diverge, but George Beden, Dr. Bruce Heilman, Clarence Pfundheller, Guy Piper and Parke Piper will never be far from our thoughts and prayers. And we were so surprised when we walked through the Springfield airport tonight and saw Guy Piper, who had returned home successfully from Hawaii a day earlier, there to greet us!
A simple “thank you” to the college, President and Mrs. Jerry Davis, Dr. Sue Head, Diane Smith, Patricia Trowbridge, and our amazing photographer, Shann Swift, doesn't seem adequate, but this trip has been an honor for us, as students, to participate in, and we feel truly blessed. We will be never forget the sacrifices of the “greatest generation” and our responsibilities as American citizens.
Nathan Brown, Daniel Keech, Chelsea Kliethermes, Danielle Sailors, and Kaytlyn Vandeloecht
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Perspective. It defines how we live and how we view life. Perspective determines who we are and who we choose to be. But it is also the structure of indifferences. When we think about history, we tend to focus on our story, our side. What did we do and what did others do to us. But, like every other story, there is another side. Someone else lived the same experience through different eyes. In order to live a life free of ignorance we have to have the bravery to step back and see life through someone else's perspective. You still may not agree or see eye-to-eye, but at least you took the time to see their perspective and understand how the situation affects them. We had that opportunity today as we journeyed back to significant places in Japan's history.
We began our day with ferry ride to Etajima, a small island off the coast of Hiroshima, for a private tour of the Japanese Naval Academy where, since 1869, Japan's naval officers and midshipmen have received their education. After the beautiful drive through curvy mountainous roads, we were greeted by men in Japanese naval uniforms, who offered the traditional bow. The sight of World War II American veterans and Japanese naval officers not only being in close proximity to one another, but greeting each other with the utmost respect, was a sight that none of us thought we would ever see. During our time at the Academy, we got a brief glimpse into what life as a current member of the Japanese navy looks like as well as seeing various monuments in honor of those who lost their lives during World War II. These naval officers are extremely proud of and loyal to their country, just as our veterans are of our military and country. Visiting the Academy allowed us, as Americans, to realize the part we have played in Japanese history. After the war was over, America helped rebuild Japan which wasn't necessarily something we had to do, but it was the right thing to do.
A return ferry ride across the glistening Pacific water took us back to the “ground zero” of World War II. As we toured the Hiroshima Peace Museum, we sensed the very real pain and hurt that still permeates the once destroyed city. Pleas for future refrain from nuclear weaponry accompanied graphic photos from August 6, 1945 of dying children with seared flesh caused by the atomic blast @ 8:15 am. This victim perspective made us stop and think. Discussion with the veterans in our last gathering tonight also helped us sort through our thoughts and feelings. Though the cost of ending the war in this way was extremely high, it brought about the preservation of both American and Japanese lives. And for that, we give thanks to God and our veterans.
Bryan Cizek, Ciera Carson, Heather Isringhausen, Carissa Westfall, and Christopher Yankey
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Flying through the clouds into Hiroshima this morning created an eerie sensation. I can only imagine the feeling of helplessness the people of this city would have felt on the morning of August 6, 1945. The Pacific Ocean and mountains that surround Hiroshima on three sides created a “Death Bowl”, if you will, trapping hundreds of thousands on that fateful day.
Our first stop was the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum where Mr. Keijiro Matsushima described his experience on August 6 as a typical sixteen year-old, headed to school. For Mr. Matsushima, the sight of the planes first brought beauty (he said that they looked like “ice candy”) and the next, terror, confusion, and destruction. He said that at 8:15 am, “I felt like I was thrown into an oven for a moment.” He and the rest of his classmates felt the impact of the atomic bomb so violently they assumed it had been dropped right outside the school, but they were many miles away. Little did he know, the entire city was affected. He then described that everyone he saw was suffering horribly from fire and radiation burns. While this story had a tremendous impact on the students, one of the most important things Mr. Matsushima shared with our veterans was that we need to “think about the future, not the past.”
On a lighter note, Hiroshima has created a huge first impression upon me. Once we settled into our rooms, we headed to dinner where we attempted to keep up with our tour guide, Tomika Page, a young, intelligent, bi-cultural woman. She knows the city well and it became difficult to match her pace winding through the busy traffic and confusing tracks of the subway trains. Of course, a group of American college students literally running through the city of Hiroshima causes a lot of attention, but it was impressive how hospitable and kind the Japanese people are. The taxi drivers all wear a crisp white button-down shirt, black tie, and white gloves. Even at our restaurant, the waitresses were patient through our obvious language barrier. It felt as though they were honored to treat us. It was a sign of respect that is unfortunately lacking in other areas of the world.
Our dinner at a sushi bar presents a story of its own. It was a sit-down affair but instead of giving your order verbally, there was a touch-screen at the table that presented your options. You would then tap the item you want and a narrow conveyer belt would deliver all the food to the tables. But here’s the catch--everyone else’s food in the entire restaurant was also on this one long, winding conveyer belt, therefore, it becomes important to know exactly what you ordered otherwise you end up eating another table’s food. This concept is the epitome of “dinner and a show.” We had a blast!
After all the excitement, we are settling down for a good night’s sleep at K’s House. This is a true test of our compatibility with the Japanese culture. Without beds, we will be stretching out across a reed-matted floor and comforters but it is simply part of the adventure of a lifetime. Through the heart-wrenching emotions and the belly-aching laughter we have shared, today has been an incredible first impression of Hiroshima, a city that has risen from the ashes of war.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Admiral Nimitz once stated that during World War II, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.” Over the past several days, I have been given the opportunity to spend time with American heroes who proved the Admiral right. They were ordinary men, thrust into unfortunate circumstances, and did extraordinary things motivated by patriotism, duty, and love.
One veteran in particular, Dr. Bruce Heilman, proved to me perspective in any situation can change the outcome. Dr. Heilman was just a young Kentucky boy when the war began. As a high school dropout, he joined the United States Marine Corps at the age of seventeen. After a fast paced boot camp, he was deployed and saw action in Okinawa. As Dr. Heilman put it, “The things that strike me most about Okinawa were the mud, blood, wind, and rain.” As we spend more time in Okinawa, I clearly understand what he means. It’s been raining since we arrived.
Today started with an opportunity for the veterans to address Kubasaki High School students located at Camp Foster. To hear Dr. Heilman speak on the ravages of war and simultaneously point out to them how blessed he was during it, truly speaks of his character and how circumstantial perspective can take a negative situation to a positive one.
Next we toured the Nakumura House, which is decades old and steeped in Okinawan history. As we moved from room to room, with our shoes outside, we learned how our once enemy lived. But Dr. Heilman’s current interest and appreciation of the Japanese culture proved to me that under any circumstance, perception could change how prior enemies can interact positively.
Following lunch, our veterans met with Sgt. Major Cook and other active duty Marines serving on Futenma Base and we students were able to share how our veterans have touched our lives in just a short time. I can personally say Dr. Heilman’s wisdom, after enduring one of the worst of wars in history, has forever changed my life.
As the day ended, I reflected on a question I posed to Dr. Heilman. I asked him what part of his service time was the worst and why. He responded in a way I should have expected--with optimism. “There is no part of war I regret. Each event led me to the next, and brought me where I am today.” HIs truth gives me hope for my future, and makes me realize how a paradigm shift is all that is needed to make a negative situation into one that will change your life.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Today was an extraordinary day. It began with a time of worship at a Marine Corps base chapel where our group was warmly welcomed, especially the veterans. Chaplains Kobena Arthur and Wesley Scholtz prayed for us and our continued safe travels. Our next stop was at the Okinawa Peace Prayer Park, whose beautifully maintained grounds included breath-taking views of the Pacific Ocean, an eternal flame as well as hundreds of marble slabs, reminiscent of the Vietnam Memorial, with the engraved names of over 200,000 men, women, and children from Okinawa, Japan, and the United States whose lives were lost in the 1945 battle for the island. My veteran, George Beden, looked through the names expecting to see a familiar one, but was unsuccessful.
Our next destination was a cave where Mr. Beden, being a youthful 80 years old, joined the students on this adventure. Hundreds of Japanese hid in this cave during the war; its tunnels were used to keep them out of harms way. This was an extraordinary piece of history we were able to experience together. Once outside the cave, Mr. Beden and I walked to a bluff that overlooked the Pacific Ocean where he confessed he was never scared to kill the enemy because they were trying to kill Americans. After being out at sea for 61 days during the battle for Okinawa, he witnessed 3,755 men die aboard his ship.
Tonight we held another group discussion where our four veterans told what they remembered about Pacific theater of war, especially Okinawa. Some told stories they have only shared with one other. They passed around old pictures and documents they have saved from the war. This was so amazing because it gave the students a better understanding of what they went through many years ago. While I sat listening, I realized how tough it is going to be to not see these men every day for they are truly an inspiration. Each one of them has taught me how important it is to acknowledge the brave men and women who have and are still fighting for our freedom. To these extraordinary veterans and those currently serving, I thank you, for you are my heroes and in my thoughts and prayers.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
We arrived in Okinawa last night just before midnight after having flown for nearly ten hours and crossing the International Date Line, losing a day. I remember loading into a bus, driving to a Marine Corps base, and getting my room key. I think I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow. Today, we travelled to some historical landmarks on the island such as Kakazu Ridge, which saw some of the bloodiest fighting in the battle for Okinawa. We also had the opportunity to walk through the Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters, which was a maze of tunnels. Although my veteran, Mr. Parke Piper, was never at Okinawa during the fighting, being on the island triggered some of his memories as a Sergeant in the Marine Corps at Bougainville, Guadalcanal, and Ewa Airfield at Pearl Harbor.
Parke Piper is who I think of now when I hear the phrase, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” Whenever he enters a building, he takes off his USMC ball cap and carries it with him, promptly putting it back on as soon as he exits the building. He is a quiet man, but has plenty to say if you sit down and listen. I stayed up several hours one night with “Sgt. Piper” listening to his military experiences. As I sat next to him listening and looking through some of his wartime memorabilia, my respect for him only increased. In two years of service, this man had seen and experienced more than most people do their entire lives. Once, while he was serving on the aircraft maintenance crew at Ewa Airfield, he witnessed an airplane crash nearby. He was one the first on the scene and pulled the pilot out of the cockpit. Because of severe burns from the gasoline and oil fires in the airplane, Mr. Piper said the pilot’s face was completely black, but he was surprisingly very conscious and looked up at him and said, “Marine, as long as I live, I will never forget you.” Unfortunately, the pilot died the following morning. I’ve read about these types of things but at that moment it became real to me.
While it means a lot to the students to get to spend time with these men and hear their stories, I think it also means a lot to the veterans. We have become special to them because we are interested in their lives and their experiences. Not only have I gained a better understanding of what WWII was really like through the eyes of someone who lived it, but I have also gained a friendship that will last a lifetime.
Friday, December 9, 2011
I don’t know how to start my blog entry. There have been so many amazing things I have seen with men who have so much to offer that I am truly at a loss for words. And I am faced with the task of attempting to express these life-changing experiences with words.
Attempt number one.
This morning, we visited the USS Arizona Memorial. The whole time we were there I couldn’t help picturing the events that took place on December 7th, 1941. I looked at the remains of the ship, just lying there, empty, cold, and dead. I was looking at a massive vessel of death. Undoubtedly, many come to the Memorial to honor the 1177 men entombed below, and rightfully so. But we were there to honor Heather Isringhausen’s great uncle, Lloyd Bryant, who was aboard the Arizona 70 years ago. Our tour guide made special arrangements for our group to be alone on the Memorial. It was such a privilege to witness and be a part of such an intimate moment, observing a moment of silence and dropping flowers into the water below. I prayed for the men and women who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, for them to be comforted and to remember that it is God’s hands that hold the breathe of all mankind. And I prayed for the fallen. As I watched my flower float away, I was lost in the reenactment in my mind. I would like to think that things really didn’t happen the way that I picture, but with the help of our veterans, I understand that war is not a love story as depicted in the movie Pearl Harbor, but battles where men fight and die. As we left, I remembered Exodus 3:11 “God has made everything beautiful in it’s time.”
Attempt number two.
Guy Piper, my veteran, is still in Hawaii as I write 35,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, on my way to Okinawa. No, we didn’t forget him at a gas station. Following the 70th commemoration events at Pearl Harbor, our nurse, Diane Smith, thought it best to have Mr. Piper checked by the VA medical staff before we continued our long journey. The Navy doctors believed it was in Mr. Piper’s best interest to remain in Hawaii, resting for another day, before returning home to Springfield. When they told me that my veteran would not be continuing the trip with us, I was devastated. This gentle man, Guy H. Piper, Pearl Harbor survivor, I have grown to love in just four days because we have shared so many precious moments together. I can’t even begin to describe how much I am going to miss his loving blue eyes.