OKINAWA, Japan -- An 11-year-old Japanese girl named Sadako Sasaki fought a war against leukemia due to radiation from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. While in the hospital she would fold paper cranes hoping the Legend of 1,000 Cranes would help her get better.
“The Legend of 1,000 Cranes comes from the idea that if a person folds 1,000 cranes, their wish will be granted by the gods,” said Staff Sgt. Ismael Esconde, the substance abuse control officer with Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.
As time went on, Sadako knew she wasn't getting better and started to fold cranes in hope for world peace and to abolish all nuclear weapons. Sadako died before she could reach 1,000 cranes but her classmates continued to fold all 1,000 cranes for her after she passed. Her family did not let her die in vain. Sadako’s family dedicated the Peace Park in Hiroshima, Japan, in her honor where the Legend of 1,000 Cranes lives on.
Esconde heard the story while visiting Hiroshima and realized how important it was to the Japanese people. He started folding cranes as a lance corporal in Twentynine Palms, California. Since then, he has improved his origami skills at all of his prior duty stations over the past twelve years.
While forward deployed in Okinawa, Japan, Esconde wanted to show his appreciation and respect for the locals on the island.
Esconde asked many Japanese locals about the Legend of 1,000 Cranes. The locals have heard of Japanese individuals working together to make 1,000 cranes, as well as groups of Japanese and groups of Americans doing so, but they had never heard of one American folding them all by himself.
“The crane is considered a sacred bird in the Japanese culture,” Esconde said. “It is considered to live for 1,000 years. When you give a crane to someone it basically means benevolentness.”
Esconde, a Los Angeles, California, native, made the first thousand cranes by himself and gave them to Hobuku Hospital in Nago, Okinawa, on July 30, 2016.
After he donated the cranes, Marines and Okinawan locals heard about what he was doing and were inspired to donate cranes to a hospital as well. Esconde was able to teach four curious Marines how to fold the paper cranes.
From mid September to late October, Esconde, the four Marines and an Okinawan woman helped finished the second batch of 1,000 cranes. On Nov. 10, 2016, Esconde and one of the four Marines donated the cranes to the Naha City Hospital.
For his third and last batch of 1,000 cranes, Esconde was able to get ten other Marines from six different units on Okinawa to participate. They were able to donate 1,000 cranes to a local nursing home in Kin on Nov. 25, 2016.
All the faces in the home were glowing with joy from both the Marines and elders. The elders at the nursing home were in awe of the gifts Esconde and the others awarded them, handling the cranes with care as they received them from the Marines. The gifts showed the Americans’ respect for the Japanese culture, wishing them good health and happiness.
Although Esconde’s 6-month rotation on Okinawa was brief he was able to make a lasting impact across Okinawa and for the Marines participating.
“It’s getting Marines out of their comfort zone, getting the Marines out of their own culture and having them learn how to respect other people’s culture,” Esconde said.
Esconde has passed the torch to some of the Marines from 3rd Law Enforcement Battalion, III Marine Headquarters Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, who had helped him on his last batch of cranes. They were so inspired by Esconde’s actions and the Legend of 1,000 Cranes that they want to continue this tradition by encouraging more Marines to participate in the future.
“It’s all what you make of your stay,” Esconde said. “ Not everyone gets the chance to go to Japan and you have an ability to make a difference. You have the ability to be that positive influence.”