Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thank You

We began our return trip this morning at 11 a.m, flying out of Honiara, and arriving in the Fiji airport, soon to board the plane for LAX. We'll arrive at Springfield airport today at around 11 p.m. It has been a wonderful trip and each one of us students has greatly enjoyed the time we have spent with our veterans. The stories we have heard and the lessons we have learned will follow us for the rest of our lives, and we will always remember this trip. 
Each one of us is here because of the generosity of someone else, and we would like to give thanks to several people who made this trip possible. 
First, we would like to thank the generous donors who backed this trip financially because they believe that we students will benefit from the valuable time we have spent with our veterans. This has been a fantastic opportunity to understand what the men in the United States military went through during the war, and our veterans have taught us so much about joy and perseverance. 
College of the Ozarks made this fantastic trip a reality, and we would like the college to know that we are entirely grateful. These brave men have made the history of the Battle for Guadalcanal come alive for us students.The great sacrifice the military made in the defense of democracy and liberty is now very real and personal to each of us. We have loved the time we have spent with our veterans, and it has been extremely educational. 
Lastly, and most importantly, we would like to thank our veterans for their service to our nation and for the time they have devoted to us students over the past nine days. The sacrifice they, and many others, made 70 years ago has afforded us the benefits of liberty and democracy. Without their service to our nation, the world, and future generations, life today would be vastly different. Over the past nine days we have learned so much about patriotism and love for one's country. Seventy years ago, these men made the great decision to serve their country, and even today, their selfless choice continues to impact the world.


None of the students on this trip will return the same; we all have changed and gained a new perspective on the service of our nation's military during World War II. Not only have we gained a new perspective, but we now have a new responsibility. The stories that our veterans have shared with us first-hand are now ours to tell to those who have not had the privilege we have had. This responsibility is one that we do not take lightly. When we get home, we must pass on the stories that we have heard, so that the valuable legacy these men have built will not be forgotten as time passes. These veterans truly are the greatest generation, and we intend to be the generation that keeps their legacy alive forever. 

Day Seven: Josh's Log

  We woke up this morning to the familiar sight of Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands and the main City of Guadalcanal. The air was filled with excitement because today we would land on Red Beach, the same place the Marines landed seventy years ago. We would also drive through the island and see key battlefields, Henderson field, and the American WWII memorial. When the Marines landed seventy year ago, Guadalcanal had just been "some island in the Pacific." But today it holds a lot of memories from some of the most important days in our veterans' lives. 
  For Mr. Paul Castiglione it brought back some of those memories as he saw where he was stationed during the war. Mr. Castiglione was a mechanic for the Marine Corp Cactus Air Squadron. His main job was working on the F4F Wildcats. Without guys like him on the ground keeping the planes in the air the ground soldiers would have been without air-support and at the mercy of the Japanese Bombers. Almost all of his time was spent at Henderson Field except for a few days where he had to go help unload a transport at Tulagi and had a near death experience with a bomb. But seeing the airfield is what brought back most of the memories. And as we drove by, he shared stories of how things used to be when he was here. He pointed out the place where his tent use to be, where buildings used to sit, and how the jungle around the airfield looked when he was here.  
  The most important part of the day came when we got to the U.S. Memorial. The entire trip, Mr. Castiglione had been trying to recall when he came to shore, but time had taken that from his memory. Today, we found on the Memorial to the Cactus Squadron that they came to the Island on the 20th of August. This helped give him a date when he came to Guadalcanal. When I asked him what his favorite part of the day was he said "The memorials, there isn't much more they can do for us." To Mr. Castiglione these memorials are special, as they honor what the soldiers did on this Island and all those that didn't make it off.  To others like myself, they serve as a reminder to everyone who sees them what took place on this island seventy years ago. And now, all of us have a mission to pass on these memories to everyone we meet.  I think the inscription on the memorial sums up our trip very nicely: "May this memorial endure the ravages of time until the wind, rain, and tropical storms wear away its face but never its memories."

 And now as the sun sinks in the west, 
We bid our dead a peaceful rest. 
This island became your final home. 
But fear not my brother you are not alone.
We will not forget the price you paid, 
Whenever we see your Island Grave
For this is not just "some Island" anymore 
Forever in our hearts these are sacred shores.
Your country remembers what you did in those days
And we owe you a debt we can never repay.
Though storms may come and wash the land into the sea
Your memories will never fade away from me.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Day Six: Hillary's Log

I started this morning at 5:00 am with my first glimpse of the Southern Cross, a constellation only visible from the Southern Hemisphere, followed by a magnificent sunrise. Overnight, we anchored at Tulagi, an island where vicious battles were fought between U.S. and Japanese forces. We made landfall on the island around 7:30 and saw some of the caves from which the Japanese would hide and attack U.S. troops. It was amazing to see how peaceful the island is now compared to the stories of violence and chaos that we have been hearing. 
From Tulagi we headed towards Tokyo Bay where the remains of veteran Theron 'Mac' Mackay's ship is located. Mac has been back to the Solomon Islands so many times since the war that he's lost count. He estimates that this is the 14th or 15th time that he's returned to see what is left of the U.S.S. LST 342. Mr. Mackay had just celebrated his 19th birthday aboard the LST 342  when it was torpedoed by the Japanese in the middle of the night. Mac was on watch at the time, and he spotted the torpedo just before it hit the ship. After waking up in the water, he despaired for his life. "I hurt all over," Mac told me describing his feelings immediately after waking up. He doesn't remember how long he was in the water, but he remembers the fear he felt when he heard a gurgling sound behind him. He looked up to see what was left of the bow of his LST drifting in the water, with survivors ready to pull him on board. "It looked like it had been cut in half by a giant knife," Mac has told me when describing the wreck. 
Mac sustained a wound to the foot and damaged teeth. He later discovered that of the 86 crew members on board the LST, he was one of only 5 to survive the attack. It is truly a miracle that he lived to tell the story of what happened that night in July of 1943. 

The other day, as Mac and I were talking about his many trips back to visit the ship that saved his life, he said, "You know, when I was a sailor aboard the LST, we all used to cuss the ship because of its horrible living conditions..." He paused for a moment, chuckled a little, and then looked at me saying, "but now I cherish it." Mr. Mackay has told me many times in the past week that this will be his last trip to visit his ship. "The old pegs just can't take it much longer," he says. As he told me today, "My love affair with a ship...it's over." However, although Mac may never return to visit his old ship again, I know that I will tell his story to anyone who will listen, because the story of Mac's sacrifice needs to be spread. The U.S.S. LST 342 may be "rusting away in Tokyo Bay," but the story of what Mac Mackay did that night and throughout his entire career in the service will live on. 

Day Five: Bruce's Log

Today the swells of the ocean were bigger than they had been our entire trip.  I think a few of our group, including myself, got a little sick to our stomachs.  The day started out lazy since most of our time would be spent sailing back towards Guadalcanal.  So Dr. Mullinax dedicated part of our time after each meal to be used to talk to the veterans as a group.  We all gathered our voice recorders and notebooks to collect every story they would tell us.
We gathered around on mid deck where we normally eat our meals.  It felt like a press release where the veterans were the ones on the stand and we were the journalists.  They told us where they were when Pearl Harbor was attacked, when they enlisted, and how they got to Guadalcanal.  The floor was then opened up for us to ask questions we had been waiting to ask the whole trip.  We learned some of the veterans' most memorable moments in the war.  We came to realize that the memories that stuck in their minds the most were those of battles where buddies were killed and they barely escaped death. The veterans then passed on knowledge or advice to us as if we were their grandchildren (many of us already feel we are).  

We arrived at the island of Karumolun where we went ashore to see a native tribe do their traditional dances and show us their way of life.  We were met on the beach by Chief Raymon.  He has been chief for over 20 years and has 119 people in his tribe, including himself.  He led us to the middle of the huts where there was an open area of packed sand and some benches.  A line of little native girls were there with flower laies to put around our necks.  We were then given a coconut with a straw in it to drink while we sat on the benches.  The men performed the traditional dances with a shield and hatchets, wearing nothing but loin cloths.  The women did a dance in orange dresses with flowery sticks.  Some of the men had PVC pipe made into instruments that they beat on the ends of with flip flops.  They made a great sound that the villagers made us get up and dance with them in a circle too.  Chief Raymond then gave us a tour of the village; we had quite a few kids follow us that we befriended rather quickly.  Sam and Kellie, our boat managers, gave gifts to the villagers and bought lots of fresh fruit and nuts from them.  We then got underway for the island of Tulagi where Mac Mackay's  LST was towed ashore after being hit with a torpedo.

Day Four: Tessa's Log

"I'm not lazy, I'm just careful with my time."

Dr. Charles Monroe's witty statements never fail to make me chuckle. Anna introduced our veteran yesterday, and I want to share yet another side of this dear man. He is the most joyful man I have ever met. The best part of this trip is the ample amount of time we spend lounging on the shady deck, listening to stories and laughing over jokes as the Bilikiki chugs through the open sea. 

Dr. Charles or "Chuck" has three doctorates: one in Theology, one in Higher Education and an honorary degree for starting a Christian University. "Todah rabah," he often says in Hebrew to thank me when I bring him his dinner or help him over a rocky area. He loves translating Hebrew, and I've learned quite a few things under his eager instruction. He has also been giving me teaching tips: "Remember this Tessie. Elementary schoolers look up to you. High schoolers look down at you. And middle schoolers don't look at you at all." 

Today we landed on "Skull Island" where head hunters used to bring their "trophies." Next stop was Kennedy's "Plum Pudding Island." It was unbelievably perfect, like something out of a movie. We younger folk swam to shore (like Kennedy did after his PT boat was cut in half). 

The veterans choose to hang back on the boat during some excursions. Dr. Charles, though, generally joins us for most outings; his legs are as spry as his sharp mind. I am always impressed with the older gents and their ability to weave about the boat. I actually think they're becoming more nimble every day! 

I know my post is getting a bit long, but I just have to say a few more things about Dr. Charles. He is an encouragement to us all. He is constantly patting shoulders, cracking jokes about getting old and teaching us about aging gracefully. The joy of the Lord is his strength, and I am privileged to know him. I will leave you with an often repeated bit from his "Monroe doctrine": "I've led a very rich life. The Lord has blessed me well." 

Day Three: Anna's Log

After a breakfast of French toast, bacon, and hardboiled eggs (yes, we are spoiled here!), we set off to the island of Seghe to see its airstrip. Tessa's and my veteran, Dr. Charles Monroe, rode with us in the small metal boats called, "Tinnies." While on the island, I watched Dr. Monroe talk with the natives, "Your people saved my life. If it wasn't for you, I would have died," he'd say, "Thank you. Tell your people I love 'em." 

Later, I heard some of the story: Dr. Monroe was an aviation gunner with the U.S. Navy, and he was based out of Guadalcanal. One night, the planes scrambled to get off of the ground so they wouldn't be destroyed by overhead Japanese planes. Dr. Monroe's plane was unable to return to the base because its instruments had been damaged in the fighting, and they couldn't be used to find Guadalcanal again. The pilot, Lt. Divine, tried to land on the water. Since the wheels were down, the plane couldn't land smoothly and flipped over in the water, but the men were able to exit the plane. They swam to nearby Guadalcanal, discovering later that the water was infested with sharks. Once on land, the men found out they were on the Japanese side of the island--they were walking into hostile territory. The next morning, natives found the men, fed them boiled bananas, and directed them back towards the American side of the island. Eventually, Dr. Monroe was able to signal for help to a U.S. destroyer. 

This story is just one of the many I have heard  straight from Dr. Monroe. I appreciate seeing his gratefulness to the natives. This is his first time returning to the Solomon Islands in seventy years, so for him, this is his first chance to say thank you. 

Before leaving the Seghe area, a bunch of us dove in the water to see a World War II P38 Lightening plane, sitting just 15 feet beneath us. Back on board we watched Spinner dolphins swim beside the boat, and I had the chance to talk some more to Dr. Monroe and listen to what it was like to be in the Solomon Islands in 1942.