Japanese citizens, Marines commemorate Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami
CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan – Japanese citizens stood side-by-side to sing memorial songs with the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band, the music signifying a remembrance of those lost and the continuing recovery efforts as all remembered a past tragedy but focused on hope for the future.
Okinawa-based Marines joined Japanese citizens for memorial ceremonies March 11 at Oshima Island and Kesennuma City in Miyagi prefecture, Japan, to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami of March 11, 2011.
“We really benefit from and enjoy the relationship we have with the U.S. Marine Corps,” said Shigeru Sugawara, the mayor of Kesennuma City. “It is really inspiring that the Marines can be with the children and the people of Oshima tonight.”
Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived March 27, 2011, to Oshima Island to assist with relief efforts, including electricity restoration, debris removal, and distribution of basic necessities to residents. After two weeks of work, the Marines departed the island having formed a relationship that continues to grow two years later.
The ongoing relationship between the citizens and the Marines grew with the development of an annual youth cultural exchange program, which has brought children from Oshima Island to Okinawa for visits and interaction with military members and their families.
The events at Kesennuma City and Oshima Island gave some of the Oshima families and Marines another opportunity to visit with their counterparts from the exchange. For many of the band members who performed in the ceremonies, this was their second time on Oshima since the earthquake and tsunami.
“With the exchange program and visits that have been sponsored for the children of Oshima, as well as the participation of the band in events such as Kesennuma’s port festival last summer, we are glad the Marines are able to return every year,” said Shigeru Sugawara.
In addition to the exchange program, Oshima officials are involved in disaster planning and cooperation with the Marine Corps as part of the relationship started during relief efforts in 2011.
“There have been many positive results of the two-year relationship between Oshima and Kesennuma City and the Marines of Okinawa,” said Robert Eldridge, the deputy assistant chief of staff, G-7, government and external affairs, Marine Corps Installations Pacific. “Today’s memorials reflect the strong bond between the communities as we remember the past and move towards a brighter and stronger future.”
Marines attended a memorial ceremony in Kesennuma City, which included speeches, flower presentations and a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m., the time the earthquake occurred two years ago.
The anniversary events brought Japanese citizens and Marines together again to remember the work done immediately after the disaster two years ago while celebrating recovery efforts since then, according to Maj. Gen. Peter J. Talleri, the commanding general of MCIPAC.
“Two years have passed since that great tragedy,” said Talleri. “The progress the island and the region have made is remarkable and tangible. In this, Oshima has embodied the Marine Corps core values — honor, courage, and commitment. We understand there is still much work to be done. We pray for your continued health and recovery during these difficult times and want you to know we will be with you every step of the way.”
In the evening, local residents and officials from Kesennuma City and Oshima Island joined members of the III MEF Band for another ceremony at Oshima Elementary School.
Japanese gospel singer Haruna Kinoshita joined the III MEF Band and sang while they performed “Amazing Grace.” Elementary school students joined Kinoshita and the band for a final memorial song.
The music gave everyone an opportunity to cherish the moments shared by the Japanese citizens and Marines in times when it mattered most, according to Hironobu Sugawara, a Kesennuma City assembly member from Oshima Island.
“The band’s performance is a continuation of the relationship we have built since Operation Tomodachi,” said Hironobu Sugawara. “It is very important to us to have the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band perform tonight.”
Japanese residents and Marines were able to further strengthen the relationship that began two years ago through the memorial ceremonies, according to Shigeru Sugawara.
“The personal attention and emotional care that has been given to the survivors of the disaster has been very inspiring,” said Shigeru Sugawara. “Everyone gets involved in the relief efforts, so it becomes a community effort that we can see in the relationship the Marines have developed with Oshima. We understand the importance of the U.S. and Japan alliance. The Marines were able to help us, and we are very grateful for that.”