The U.S. Ambassador to Japan celebrated the 11th anniversary of the March 11, 2011 disaster in northeastern Japan with a visit to Oshima Island, meeting with U.S. Marines and United Islanders Tomodachi operation.
For his first trip outside the Tokyo area, Ambassador Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff during the Obama administration, made a series of stops along the coastal areas of Kesennuma to commemorate the anniversary of 3.11. He met with local politicians and affected residents, discussed the Marine Corps’ rapid response to the disaster as part of Operation Tomodachi, and saw firsthand the rebuilding of the community since the triple earthquake, the tsunami and nuclear disaster that devastated the region. The Marines shared the inspiration they saw in the strength and resilience of the people of Oshima, while the islanders thanked the Marines for coming to the rescue after the island was cut off by the tsunami .
“The close relationship between the Marines of Okinawa and the islanders of Oshima, which began 11 years ago during the disaster and continues as this community rebuilds, is a beautiful image of the partnership between the United States and Japan,” Ambassador Emanuel said. “We are stronger together, as Operation Tomodachi shows. The US-Japan alliance is unshakable.
Marines from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade from Okinawa and the Defense Attaché Office of the U.S. Embassy Tokyo, along with Marine family members, accompanied Ambassador Emanuel on 10 March as he visited the Kesennuma City Earthquake Museum, the site of a former high school. The school has cars stuck in third-floor classrooms left untouched, a powerful reminder of the scale of the disaster. Later in the day, the Ambassador met with the Mayor of Kesennuma Town to jointly lay flowers at the Kesennuma Town Reconstruction Prayer Park and address the assembled press.
“The Marine Corps quickly came to help us in the disaster and we saw them rescuing and helping our people in this area. We felt the closeness of the Americans in this part of Japan, as well as the strength of your capabilities,” said said Shigeru Sugawara, Mayor of Kesennuma City, “We appreciate your help during this difficult time.”
While standing on the island’s highest point on March 11, Marines from 3rd MEB and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo briefed the ambassador on relief efforts, including how the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit landed at Oshima from March 27 to April 6, 2011. During Operation Tomodachi, Marine Corps helicopters landed on the island’s baseball field to deliver supplies, while barges US Navy landing craft landed in port to bring supplies and personnel. Marines provided food, water, used heavy equipment to clear debris from harbors and roads, provided hot showers for islanders, and worked in sub-zero temperatures , while being dusted with radioactive fallout from the collapse of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Marines also crawled through mutilated and overturned houses to rescue heirlooms.
“We are stronger together, as Operation Tomodachi shows. The US-Japan alliance is unshakeable. Rahm Emanuel, United States Ambassador to Japan
“We were honored to help during Operation Tomodachi,” said Lt. Col. Paul Bartok, the Navy Attaché at the US Embassy in Tokyo and a member of the 31st MEU during the relief effort. in the event of a disaster. “Marines immediately deployed from Okinawa and Indonesia to the disaster areas, established a response headquarters in Sendai, and were the first responders to arrive on Oshima Island. We are very grateful to our Japanese friends and neighbors. Their strength and resilience during the disaster was an example for all of us.
Later, the ambassador had the opportunity to meet the Kikuta family, inhabitants of the island who were helped by Marines. Reiko and Takeshi Kikuta explained how their then 8-year-old son Wataru first encountered the Marines while trying to salvage valuables from their home and fish shop, which was destroyed by the tsunami. . As the Marines observed, he became an example of the strength of the people of Oshima through his work ethic. The Marines were also recognized by the people of Oshima.
“When I saw the Marines coming, I knew we were saved,” said Reiko Kikuta. “I felt that when they arrived, we would finally get there. They helped my son and they helped all of us recover from the disaster. They are our friends for life.
The Kikuta family visited the Okinawa Marines on several occasions during a homestay aftercare program, instituted after the disaster to provide children with respite from the devastation and trauma they had suffered, as well than to provide cultural experiences for the children of Oshima and the host families of U.S. service members.
Ambassador Emanuel, the Kikuta family, Marines and their family members and other islanders viewed a memorial set up and dedicated by the island commemorating the relationship between the Marine Corps and the island of Oshima. The memorial inscription reads: “You are an inspiration, showing perseverance and strength. Friendship forever, with sincere gratitude for Operation Tomodachi 2011.”
The Marine Corps continued to maintain the relationship with Oshima over the years, including several visits from III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Installations Pacific Commanding Generals; the III MEF Marine Corps band and many other personal and professional exchanges by Marine and Marine Corps families. Families and children from Oshima also continued to visit Okinawa, maintaining close relationships with the Marines and families who helped during Operation Tomodachi. Stronger Together – Tomi Ni.
The 3rd MEB assisted during Operation Tomodachi by sending a forward command element led by (at the time) Brig. General Craig Timberlake, to help manage the complex combined disaster relief operations that span the Tohoku coast.
For questions regarding this content, please email [email protected]