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.