URANOHAMA PORT, OSHIMA ISLAND, Japan --
More than 300 Marines and sailors with 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, worked through rain, snow, and freezing temperatures cleaning Oshima Island during Operation “Field Day”, April 1-6.
Through the use of heavy equipment, chainsaws, and their hands, the Marines worked 12-hour days sorting through debris, clearing roads, tearing down smashed houses and eagerly helping any locals still in the area whenever they asked.
The 31st MEU’s Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, and Combat Logistics Battalion 31 participated in the operation.
“At first the clean up effort was painstakingly slow,” said Capt. Benjamin M. Middendorf, a platoon commander with Company G, BLT 2/5. “We didn’t have any heavy equipment to move debris fast for the first two days, so it was all done by hand. Since the equipment has arrived, we have been able to clear 100 meters on each side of the port, and we are still making very good progress.”
Clearing the perimeter of the port allowed more access to the area, and the delivery of much needed aid.
By the end of the operation, the Marines had reopened many roads that were once completely blocked by debris, moved more than 100 destroyed vehicles to a collection point, moved massive amounts of debris out of public areas, and set up showers for locals to use.
“Before we got here the locals had not showered in three weeks,” said Lance Cpl. David J. Henning, a water purification specialist with BLT 2/5. “We are using a system that heats up water purified at another site and allow them to shower with clean water.”
The locals that utilized the showers were extremely grateful, and thanked the Marines before and after every shower.
“The showers are very good,” said Murakami Seiko, a woman living in the school being used as shelters by more then 300 displaced locals. “I help cook for all the people staying here, so I couldn’t go to the Japanese ship and shower there. I really appreciate what they are doing for us, it makes things much easier.”
While separating debris, the Marines found many of the locals’ personal belongings that were not destroyed, and made it a point to set all of the items in one collection area near the center of the port so locals could reclaim them.
Among the things found were pictures, and hundreds of them.
“The first night we were here, the Marines were finding a lot of pictures, they were everywhere,” said Gunnery Sgt. Richard I. Charley, Weapons Company platoon sergeant with BLT 2/5. “We were trying to figure out who they belonged to so we could return them. So we went across the street to a local and tried to talk to her, but she didn’t speak English. When we showed her the pictures her eyes started watering and she showed us that she knew them and would give them back to the owners.”
From the reaction the Marines got, they knew they were making a big difference in the locals’ lives.
“It made us want to help them more,” said Charley. “It is reactions like this that motivates everyone out here.”
The Marines find a lot of things in the debris that make them think of their families as well.
“I have brothers and sisters,” said Cpl. Tyler Vaile, with BLT 2/5. “Every time I find a toy, or an item that looks like something they own, it makes me think of them and how devastated I would be if something like this happened to them.”
Through it all, the Marines know what they are doing is going to help improve the lives of those affected in more ways than one.
“We are here for a reason,” said Vaile. “These people need our help; their houses are destroyed and they can’t get out of the cold. Whether we are taking down bad guys or helping people out like this, we are Marines, it’s what we do.”
Though tired and cold, the Marines keep working, motivated by the difference they know they are making in peoples’ lives, and by the progress they are seeing.
“It’s great to see how much we have done,” said Lance Cpl. Jackson M. Roddy, team leader with BLT 2/5. “What it looked like before and how it looks now is amazing. We cleared a lot of debris and opened up a lot of space.”
The 31st MEU’s involvement is part of a larger U.S. government response, coordinated after a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck Japan causing widespread damage. As part of Operation Tomodachi, the 31st MEU is ready to support our Japanese partners and to provide assistance when called upon.