Domo Arigato and Sayonara

Domo arigato! (Thank you!)

We rounded out our stay in Japan by visiting the Osaka Castle in the morning before boarding the plane for our long flight home.  Upon our arrival in the United States we officially concluded our trip with an emotional goodbye to our veterans at both the San Francisco and Kansas City airports as they returned to their homes and loved ones. Although our trip with them is over, the experience and memories will live on in our minds for years to come.

From listening to the battle stories of our WWII veterans in the midst of Typhoon Dolphin to standing on the exact point of where the two atomic bombs, Fat Man and Little Boy, obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the trip will forever change our perspective on war.

Executive Vice President Dr. Mullinax stated in the beginning of the trip, “the wealth of our country resides in its people”. Now we know the real meaning behind that statement at the end of these two weeks. Our veterans, the greatest generation, revealed the importance of serving our country and how their sacrifices and our sacrifices today transform America.

This trip could not have been possible without our precious veterans, guides and school administration. We want to thank first and foremost, the the following veterans who accompanied us on this trip.

George Gross Jr, our Navy Seabee
Dr. Gonzalo Garza of the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions
Patrick Thornbrugh from the 2nd Marine Division
Mason Fitch of the 389th Squadron, 504th Bomb Group.
Leonard Porter U.S. Army Air Corps B-24 pilot.

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(L-R) Moriah Ellis, George Gross, Paul Renyer

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(L-R) Judy Baker, Jenny Frick, Dr. Gonzalo Garza, Alex Eaton-Williams

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(L-R) Arend Arends, Mason Fitch, Rebekah Wratney

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(L-R) Naomi Parker, Patrick Thornbrugh, David Benedict

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(L-R) Abby Good, Leonard Porter, Daniel Strautmann

They served their country with honor and distinction and will forever hold a special place in our hearts.

Special thanks and gratitude goes to Ms. Marie Castro, a civilian who lived on Saipan during the Japanese occupation and subsequent liberation at the hands of U.S. forces. We were also blessed to have Ms. Tomomi Takemoto, whose great uncle served in the Japanese military and was killed in combat on the island of Peleliu, accompany us throughout our travels in Japan.  Thank you to Val Gross and Ms. Judy Baker who escorted Mr. Gross and Dr. Garza respectively.  The encouragement, love and support you showed to your loved ones was outstanding and an example for us all to follow. Our experience would not have been complete without our remarkable tour guides, Andy Giles of Valor Tours Ltd. who was extremely knowledgeable about the Pacific Campaign, and our Japanese tour guide, Nobu who skillfully navigated us throughout Japan. Thank you to LTC James Schreffler, photographer John Luck, and our nurse, Mrs. Lori Vanderpool.

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Tour guides (l-r), Nobu, Andy Giles 

This trip would not have become a reality if were not for the generosity of the College administration, and donors. Thank you College of the Ozarks for giving us the opportunity to constantly build our character and patriotism, making us into Christ-like citizens who love our country. Thank you President Jerry Davis, Vice President Fred Mullinax, Dean of Character Education Sue Head, and Paul Baker, and Sara Franks for the countless hours and resources put into the trip. There’s no way to fully express our sincere appreciation for this humbling opportunity.

Domo arigato and sayonara!

Naomi Parker

A Marine in Nagasaki

May 21, 2015

Last night, after a three hour train ride, we arrived in the beautiful but busy city of Nagasaki. Immediately upon arrival at the train station, our large group was split into smaller groups and transported by taxi through the busy city to our hotel. Upon arriving at the hotel, we made a quick change of clothes and headed for a short walk down an ally covered with bright lights and yellow hanging lanterns to the Japanese restaurant where we had our final, “formal” dinner as a group. During dinner most of us experienced the true taste of Japanese cuisine for the first time. The camaraderie and fellowship reminded us of the true reason we were on the trip.

This morning we were once again reminded of the reason for our trip when we boarded the tour bus and headed to the Atomic Bomb Museum where we not only saw pictures of the wreckage from the explosion but also saw numerous artifacts that survived the bombing. At the museum, we were walking with our veteran, Dr. Garza, and he described to us what his experience with Nagasaki was like 70 years ago when he arrived one month after the explosion. Dr. Garza explained to us that when the Marine Corps 2nd Division arrived via ship, he remembered seeing a floating Japanese body being tossed around by the wake of the ship and thinking how real of an experience and just how much destruction he and his men were about to face. Dr. Garza then proceeded to tell us exactly what he and his men saw upon observing the city from a higher elevation for the first time.

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Dr. Garza returning to Nagasaki for the first time since the war

All throughout the museum Dr. Garza seemed to be distant and looking for something. When I was pushing his wheelchair around, Dr. Garza pointed to a specific picture and I finally realized what he had been looking for. The picture was like a lot of the other pictures in the museum, showing the mass destruction that was a result of the bombing. However, what made this picture unique was the fact that it showed the flattened city with a single Japanese shrine gate standing in the distance. This is the exact scene that Dr. Garza saw when he viewed the city from a higher elevation for the first time. He told us that he was on the side of a hill looking down and all he saw for miles and miles was flat land filled with collapsed buildings and the bodies of numerous dead Japanese civilians. Dr. Garza went on to describe the single shrine gate that has stuck in his mind ever since.

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                                      The Sanno torri gate left standing after the blast

It is amazing to me what Dr. Garza, his fellow veterans, and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice did in order to bring World War II to an end. Dr. Garza specifically was involved with the key events that drew this bloody conflict to a close. He participated in the storming of the beaches of Saipan, which enabled the atomic weapons to be deployed from the neighboring island of Tinian, as well as the occupation force at Nagasaki following the Japanese surrender. Countless lives were given in the defense of this great nation, to ensure that freedom prevailed over all.

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Jenny Frick walking through time with Dr. Garza on the island of Guam

It was not until we re-boarded the train and started heading away from Nagasaki that a humbling realization hit me. This city, where we just experienced extremely friendly service, the busy life of city dwellers, and witnessed the sites where the bomb detonated, was completely demolished just 70 years ago.

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Japanese school children marvel at the size of “Fat Man”

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Japanese school children prepare to conduct a ceremony at the Peace Statue in the Nagasaki Peace Park

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Thinking back, it seems surreal, just this morning we walked streets that were completely obliterated not that long ago. We walked over soil where so many lives were lost and yet, it did not really register where we were until we had already boarded the train to leave. What if I would have came to Nagasaki on my own and walked the streets without taking the time to think about what lay beneath or visit the Atomic Bomb Museum? This, is why the College arranged this trip. This is why our veterans have ventured out of their comfort zones for the last nine days. To ensure that we, and generations to come may better understand the horrors of war and the sacrifice made by the Greatest Generation to ensure our freedom and further peace throughout the world.

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The group at Nagasaki atom bomb hypocenter (ground zero) site

As time goes by, things become easier to forget, but spending these last nine days with our veteran, Alex and I have made connections and heard stories that we will never forget. We will pass these on in order to play our part in ensuring our families, friends, and future generations never forget as well.

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– Jenny Frick and Alex Eaton – Williams

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August 6, 1945

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Starting the day at the torii gate on Miyajima Island

Wednesday, May 19th.

Upon arrival in Japan I was paired with a beautiful Japanese woman named Tomomi.  This woman is exceedingly special because her grandfather’s brother fought with the Japanese on one of the islands of Palau.  Never in my life would I have dreamed of touring the Pacific WWII sites, let alone hearing it from both sides.

Tomomi has traveled back to the islands of Palau a few times hoping to honor and pay respect to her lost relative.  He sadly was killed on one of the islands and never returned home.  Her driven spirit to honor his life has taken her deep within the jungles of the islands.  This passion has also paved way for her to participate in honoring other lost Japanese soldiers as their bones are periodically found.  Building structures out of palm leaves and other materials, the bones are cremated on the island and sent home to Japan. More than 70 years later the heart wrenching evidence of WWII still haunts us through bone fragments found in the caves and bunkers that honeycomb the islands.

Our time spent on Guam was filled with tours of the Japanese bunkers and hideouts.  Looking out from these structures onto the beaches where so many men were killed, I couldn’t help but feel consumed by the tragic loss of life that once took place where I was standing.  The red of the Japanese flag stretched far across the Pacific, onto these islands, and now it was becoming real and personal for me.

Fast forward to Japan; we toured the Peace Museum today to learn what occurred at Hiroshima that paved the way for the end of the war. Our visit left me floored, humbled, and a little more understanding.  The Japanese are now not the enemy, they are people.

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Amanda making friends with Japanese school girls on a field trip to the park

We solemnly walked past a cement structure containing books with all the known names of those killed by the blast.  Each year the tomb is opened and newly discovered names are added.  The war is still real today.

Surrounding the tomb is a shallow pool of water to remind all of the extreme thirst experienced by the A-Bomb victims.  Upon the combustion, victims immediately sought water to plunge themselves into.  Many attempted to drink water and were shocked to their deaths.  Survivors lived by tasting only a few tiny rationed drops of water, an excruciatingly painful process that proved effective.  The thirst lives on today.

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The group in front of the Atomic Dome at ground zero

Rather than thirsting for water, the Japanese people today thirst for peace.  A flame in the park is boldly lit to remind all that nuclear weapons still exist today, making the threat of another Hiroshima a grave reality.  The flame will be extinguished when the world is free of nuclear weapons.

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I cannot deny that the A-Bomb ended the war or that Dr. Garza claims his life was saved because of the blast.  The Atomic Bomb brought to end one of the worst periods of history, however, one cannot ignore the casualties or the aftermath.

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Our heroes getting a warm reception from members of the French military visiting the Peace Memorial

Tomomi wisely stated, “It was not our choice.  It was a government choice.  My relatives, the people had to follow.”  She went on to explain how the Japanese families mourned during the war and how they agonized just as the American’s did. People are people everywhere.  Humanity as a whole is capable of drastic measures, whether in the form of the Japanese bunkers on Guam or the 210,000 deaths due to the atomic bomb.

However, the human race is capable of so much more good.

Tomomi showed me a video clip of a Japanese soldier and an American soldier from just last year.  The men faced each other, shook hands, and then fell into a large hug full of smiles and laughter.  This beautiful depiction of love and forgiveness is what speaks loudest concerning the war.

The flame of forgiveness and peace still burns.

– Amanda Garr

“Mase from the Ace of the Base”

Tuesday, May 19

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Former B-29 crew member, Mason Fitch a.k.a. “Mase from the Ace of the Base”  

Today, we bid farewell to Guam and headed to the airport before dawn to board the plane for Osaka, Japan. The scenic flight took us over the Pacific Ocean and Osaka Harbor before finally landing at the Osaka Airport. The bustling airport was a confusing jumble of trams, escalators, and incoming tourists. We met with our guide for the Japanese leg of our journey to ride the bullet train. It was a first experience for many of us on the trip and as the train sped through the countryside, we got to see much of Japan, including the famous city of Kobe. Hiroshima was the final destination of our trek across Japan. We got out of the train station and went directly to our hotel here in Hiroshima.

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The group on the 180 mph bullet train from Osaka to Hiroshima

While the day’s journey was definitely an incredible experience for each one of us; it was especially remarkable for our veteran, Mr. Mason Fitch. SSG Fitch was a radar operator assigned to the 504th Bomb Group based out of Tinian and a member of a crew that flew B-29 missions against Japan. His notable flying career lasted from January 1, 1945 to the end of the war later that year. According to his detailed notes during that time, 35 of 101 flights were combat missions including fire bombing raids on Kobe, Nagoya, Osaka, and Tokyo, as well as mine laying operations all over the coast of Japan. The two B-29s  he served on during the course of the war were named Aphrodite and The Ace of the Base. His service on the latter earned him the nickname “Mase from the Ace of the Base”.  His crew was blessed to survive the war and were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Clusters for their bravery.

It was truly extraordinary making the flight from Guam to Osaka this morning knowing that Mr. Fitch and countless other U.S. Airmen made similar flights 70 years ago on missions against the Empire of Japan. We made the 4 hour flight in the relaxed environment of a commercial aircraft, knowing their flights were a grueling and dangerous 14 hour round trip from which they might not even return. What made this such an incredible experience for Mr. Fitch is the fact that although he had flown numerous missions over Japan, he had never actually landed and seen the country he had fought against. Today changed that as, for the first time, Mr. Fitch was able to see the very cities that he had flown missions against, like Osaka and Kobe. When asked how it felt to finally see these places, he remarked how surprised he was to see how restored they were. The environment was entirely different from the last time Mr. Fitch had observed it from the air, with the devastation that the B-29s brought. On the whole, Mr. Fitch was pleased to see the progress and reparations the Japanese people have made in the last 70 years.

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The two aircrew members of our group, Leonard Porter (on left) (B-24 pilot) and Mason Fitch (B-29 radar operator) share some airplane rivalry humor together.

It is eye-opening to see the kindness and humility of Mr. Fitch in his outlook towards his former adversaries. He is a perfect example of how our two nations have been able to overcome the animosities that led to World War II. From the relationship that we have formed with Mr. Fitch, we have found him to be one of the most respectful and unassuming men we have had the pleasure of meeting. He is a joy as well as a blessing to have in our group and we have all learned a lot from him. We plan on staying in contact with him and look forward to his possible visit to CofO in the near future.

7-DSC_0030  Rebekah and Arend share a prayer with their veteran, Mason Fitch

– Arend Arends and Rebekah Wratney

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Goodbye Guam!

Monday, May 18

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One of the amazing things about being a part of the Patriotic Travel Program at College of the Ozarks is the opportunity to see places one might not normally visit. Today, one of those places made me think about the veterans who traveled with us and the choices they made during the war.

DSC_0063Standing high up on Asan Overlook, Guide Andy Giles points out the route the advancing Marines took as they advanced inland from the Asan beachhead.

Two Lovers Point is located high on the cliffs of northern Guam. The story goes that a Spanish aristocrat’s daughter was betrothed to a Spanish captain. Distraught over her father’s arrangement, the daughter ran off and fell in love with a native Chamorran warrior. The daughter and warrior were pursued by the father and captain to a tall cliff on the northwestern side of the island. There the pair jumped to their death to be together for all eternity.

Thankfully, no one jumped when we visited there today, but the story caused us to reflect on the love our veterans have shown towards us, the love of brothers (and sisters). These men that fought so long ago did not fight out of greed, or to gain power. They fought for the men beside them, their brothers who sacrificed precious blood, sweat and tears with them in training and throughout the battles on the islands of Guam, Saipan, and Tinian. They fought for their wives, sons, and daughters at home so that they may live in a world free from tyranny.

Our veteran, Patrick Thornbrugh shared a sad story with us today. He served in the 2nd Marine Division which participated in the invasion of Saipan. Mr. Thornbrugh spoke of how, several years ago, his division decided to have a reunion for those involved in World War II. While at that reunion it was discovered that his battalion had the largest representation there. Someone mentioned they should have their own reunion and it was decided that they would have one every other year. The battalion did this for several years until members began to pass away at an increasing rate. Because of their dwindling numbers they began holding reunions every year. Over time Mr. Thornbrugh was the only living member of his battalion attending the reunion. Some would read his account and be overcome with sadness. However, we are not like those people. We were deeply impressed and encouraged by the love he had for his military brothers in his unit. Although, his brothers in arms have passed away, their camaraderie has lived on through Mr. Thornbrugh.

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Patrick Thornbrugh (USMC) shares a lighter moment with his students 

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The next location the tour group visited today was the Japanese defensive position that overlooked Asan beach where the 3rd Marine Division made a beachhead to take the Island of Guam. The Japanese had occupied the island for several years at this point and were frantically preparing to defend it against the return of the Americans. They forced the native islanders to build fortifications and transport their artillery pieces high up the hills. It was from these positions that the Japanese slaughtered hundreds of Marines as they established a foothold on the beach to begin offensive operations against the Japanese. Standing on that ground, seeing the positions, imagining the report of the guns and the smell of powder, we were overcome with pride for our veteran and all those who participated in the liberation of these islands.

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The group stands in one of the Japanese fortified bunkers on the heights above Asan beach 

War is a terrible thing that destroys so much and affects so many in negative ways. However, there is beauty in what remains as survivors learn to forgive, love and cherish their fellow man. As stated in the film at the War in the Pacific Visitor’s Center today, “much is to be gained by peace… more than war.”

DSC_0110Patrick Thornbrugh and student Naomi Parker reflect on the sacrifice made by his fellow servicemembers whose names are forever immortalized on the memorial wall.

Today, Guam is home to many memorials. All are welcome to witness how three cultures collided forming a peaceful community where Americans, Japanese, and Chamorras now reside. As we leave the hallowed grounds where many Soldiers fought and died Rudyard Kipling’s infamous saying comes to mind, “lest we forget.” We will never forget the sacrifices of Mr. Thornbrugh and the rest the veterans who served so valiantly on Guam, Saipan, and Tinian.

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-David Benedict and Naomi Parker

A Walk Through Time on Tinian

Sunday May 17th

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Paul Renyer and Moriah Ellis with USN Seabee, George Gross on Day 1 in Guam

The group woke bright and early today with welcoming rays of Pacific sunshine. The storm and all its dreary clouds finally passed, leaving only stripped palm trees and leaky windows behind. The destruction left by the storm still makes travel difficult which has left us stranded at the hotel for another day. No matter the weather, Sunday is the Lord’s day, and our group was determined to have a worship service of some kind, so determined that we made one ourselves! The service included a short Bible study by student Amanda Garr, where both students and veterans interjected their thoughts and prayers. The service closed with the students praying with their veteran. During this time, I expressed my thankfulness for our veteran, George Gross, for his incredible example of marriage and love.  Mr. Gross was married for 63 years to his wife Polly, who he mentions with touching affection often. Moriah’s prayer with Mr. Gross expressed her thankfulness for his shining example of courage through both his military career and personal life that he has shared with us.

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Praying with Mr. Gross during our group prayer service

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The whole group together

Shortly following the worship service, the group gathered for our first complete picture in front of the gorgeous coast of western Guam. Our tour guide, Andy Giles, convinced the hotel staff to rent out their projector to us in order to watch a documentary titled “Echoes from the Apocalypse,” which he produced. We are blessed to have such a talented and well informed tour guide. Mr. Giles filmed the movie on Tinian during the 60th commemoration of the dropping of the atomic bombs and the end of World War II. The documentary included interviews from both American veterans and Japanese civilian survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The video also included a virtual tour of Tinian, highlighting all the locations we would have visited had the typhoon not hit Guam. The group gained a solid appreciation of how the atomic bomb and, on a larger scale, war affects both sides of a conflict. There is no winner in war.

Learning about Tinian was especially important to us, as Mr. Gross spent all of his time in the Mariana Islands building structures on Tinian. He was a member of the 107th Battalion of the Navy Seabees, a unit whose job was to build and repair things such as airstrips, barracks, and plane hangars. Mr. Gross did all of this as well as plenty of guard duty while serving on Tinian. He spoke to us about the  constant fear of Japanese militants who would hide in the caves of Tinian long after the island was dubbed “secure” and under U.S. control. The Japanese soldiers desperately needed food and water, and would sneak near U.S. camps to find these materials, often killing unsuspecting American soldiers who stood in their way. Mr. Gross frequently pulled guard duty near the numerous sugarcane fields of Tinian, constantly in danger of such attacks. The video Mr. Giles showed the group brought many new stories along with several difficult memories to the surface of Mr. Gross’s mind. He repeatedly mentioned to us that every young person in America should see the film to better grasp the importance of sacrifice in World War II.

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Mr. Gross tells of his anxious nights guarding 120 tons of dynamite on Tinian

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Mr. Gross spending valuable time with his two students
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Today marked the day our beautiful Miss Castro, civilian survivor of Saipan, left our group for her home island. Nurse Lori, Jamin Pyatt, and Amanda Garr saw Miss Castro to the airport for her short flight from Guam to Saipan. Before she left for her home, the group took several minutes to express our thanks to her for sharing her awesome memories and experiences, as well as an infectiously positive attitude since day one.  We will all miss her on the rest of our journey but look forward to her visiting us at CofO soon.

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Ms. Castro shares a tender moment with her Seabee hero

Paul Renyer and Moriah Ellis

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Unexpected Blessings

Saturday, May 16

As I awoke this morning, Typhoon Dolphin’s winds had grown increasingly smaller and less ferocious compared to the loud gusts I fell asleep to last night. Although this act of nature has altered the course of our trip, I strongly believe many of us would say now that it has been for the best. However, I must admit this has not been my attitude all along.

DSC_0001Typhoon Dolphin has passed but its effects linger on. 

Upon profusely apologizing to Ms. Castro that we would be unable to visit her homeland, she simply responded “Maybe this is God’s way of asking for more prayer from us.” Leave it to the words of a former nun to bring some fresh humility to the situation. I just couldn’t shake why this typhoon had to happen here and now! Luckily, my selfish attitude was briskly answered by today’s events.

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Students Jamin Pyatt and Amanda Garr assist Ms. Castro up a steep jungle trail at Mt. Matagi, Guam on Day 1

This morning we were sent off with our veterans to spend quality time interviewing them for our papers. I feel so incredibly blessed to have been paired with Ms. Castro for the course of this trip because I believe my experience with the Patriotic Travel program will be unlike any other students yet. Ms. Castro, a native of Saipan, was only a child when the Japanese invaded the island. The invasion caused her family to take cover in the island caves for just under a month. While waiting for the Seabee’s to rescue them, the Castro family faced starvation, dehydration, and the threat of the constant bombings that occured. Thankfully, Ms. Castro has survived to tell the tale of her time on Saipan and lived an incredible life.

imageAmanda takes notes while Ms. Castro recalls her experiences on Saipan during WW II

Desiring to serve as a foreign missionary myself, I feel it a privilege to learn from such a devout woman of God. Listening to her tales as she studied under the Mercedarian Sisters, to moving to the United States “without a penny in my pocket” as her book states, her constant trust in God’s provision is evident! When interviewing her this afternoon she stated, “God has been with me through the steps. He was guiding me all the time.” From the struggles of hunger in the cave to the streets of Kansas City without a penny in 1966, Ms. Castro has never lost faith.

DSC_0214Ms. Castro tells the group of her journey of faith and service which took her to the convent and then on to Kansas City where she taught school for 25 years.

That same faith was found once again in the midst of the typhoon. While I sat wondering why this was happening, Ms. Castro believed there was a purpose. I found that purpose today: to stop the rush of life and simply listen to all that the veterans have to teach. My heart was broken when Mr. Patrick Thornbrugh, a tank driver during the war, stated in tears that he has obtained all his war records and accounts, yet young people today don’t seem to have any interest in learning about his experiences. How tragic for this man to have sacrificed his life and not receive the proper respect. The veterans long to share their stories but few listen.

DSC_0133Mr. Thornbrugh reliving his experience of his tank unit going ashore on Saipan

THIS is why Typhoon Dolphin came to the island of Guam. Because of the storm we have been able to pause life and listen intently to each veteran’s story. This sweet time of healing, teaching, processing, and bonding would have not happened if our busy touring had ensued.

imageThe published authors (L-R) Dr. Gonzalo Garza (USMC), Ms. Castro, and Leonard Porter (USAF) pose for a photo

During the interview today Ms. Castro stated, “The purpose in life is to help one another.” I believe we gave a small helping hand to the veterans as we listened to their brave accounts. However, they have done the most help by bringing light to our lives of the gruesome events that happened on these islands. Without their honesty, how would we know?

From waking up this morning in frustration, I can thankfully say that my attitude has made a complete change! What is the purpose of touring the island with veterans if they are complete strangers? The opportunity to learn from and bond with them in the Outrigger Hotel’s strong walls has been the most beautiful tour yet, the only tour necessary to accomplish our purpose.

Ms. Castro reflected back this morning on her life and said she was very satisfied with how she lived. I can confidently say for all the students and veterans on this trip that despite the situation, the outcome of this trip has been most satisfactory.

I cannot wait to tell my children one day of the time I spent in Guam surviving a typhoon and learning from WWII veterans!
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-Amanda Garr and Jamin Pyatt