Students thank U.S. military for aid

Kyodo

A group of students from the tsunami-hit town of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, met Tuesday with U.S. military personnel at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego to thank them for their relief efforts under Operation Tomodachi two years ago.

The six high school students and one elementary school student held a small “thank you” ceremony for nine sailors and marines involved in the work in areas heavily impacted by the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

Four of the students are from Oshima, an island off the coast of Kesennuma. The tsunami destroyed the port there, making it impossible for boats to land and cutting residents off from the mainland.

Sailors and marines used amphibious landing craft to bring in heavy machinery, which they used to clear the island’s port and main roads.

“I didn’t have enough courage to express my feeling of thanks (at that time) . . . so I came here today,” islander Mami Onodera, 17, said in a speech.

The students from Oshima and the members of the military remembered the last time they saw one another at an emotional goodbye after the relief mission two years ago.

Marine Capt. Ben Middendorf said he was teary-eyed as a crowd waving hand-drawn Japanese and American flags on long bamboo poles saw them off.

Marine Master Sgt. Howard Tait displayed a handful of pieces of paper ribbon at the event.

When the military personnel left the island, children handed them the end of a roll of paper ribbon, letting it stretch out as they boarded the ship. Tait said they told him the gesture, a common way for islanders to bid farewell to visitors leaving by ship, symbolizes an unbreakable bond.