OKINAWA, Japan --
Marines hiked silently through the hills and rocks that make up Hacksaw Ridge, listening to the tour guide speak of the horrific battle that was fought beneath their feet 72 years ago. It was the first stop for the Marines, noncommissioned officers with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, as they visited the hallowed grounds of World War II battle sites across Okinawa, Japan, May 4, 2017.
The tour, sponsored by Marine Corps Community Services, included stops at Hacksaw Ridge, the Japanese Naval Underground Headquarters, and Peace Prayer Park.
The tour was intended to boost morale throughout the NCO corps of the 31st MEU and sharpen the Marines’ mental readiness. The tour was intended to remind them of their importance as Marines and the legacy they have to uphold.
The sergeant major of the 31st MEU, Sgt. Maj. Jim Lanham, coordinated the professional military education trip to help the Marines better understand their role as leaders within the MEU.
“I wanted the Marines to learn and understand the Battle of Okinawa – all the lives that were lost precisely where we live today – and to gain a better perspective as leaders,” said Lanham. “When you think about how the Marines fought then and you contrast that to all the comforts that we have today, you gain a different perspective.”
The tour buses stopped first at Hacksaw Ridge where the Marines learned the story of Medal of Honor recipient, Army Cpl. Desmond Doss. Sgt. Todd R. Olmsted, a plans chief with the 31st MEU, believes studying the past will not only improve his leadership skills, but also honors the accomplishments and sacrifices made by the WWII generation who fought in Okinawa.
“What motivates me the most was seeing Hacksaw Ridge and imagining them taking it away from the enemy, despite the terrain and the fact that they had to overcome numerous fighting positions,” said Olmsted. “Imagining that proverbial hell gave me a lot of respect for them and has inspired me to do better and to prove myself worthy of the legacy they passed down.”
Cpl. Kurtis J. Dismore, an embarkation specialist with the 31st MEU, said learning the conditions of the fight and what the Okinawa veterans sacrificed, increased the morale of the Marines. Dismore said the tour reinforced what it means to be a leader assigned to the Corp’s only continuously forward deployed MEU.
“Many days feel like we are just going through the motions but trips like these remind us of the important role NCO’s play in the Corps,” said Dismore. “I think this trip boosted morale because it reminds us all, strategically, why we’re here, and why we joined the Marine Corps—to be warriors.”