Four local youth are leaving today to join 64 of their fellow Young Marines across the country to participate in the 71st anniversary Pearl Harbor Day commemoration in Hawaii, which includes the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the USS Arizona memorial site.
Pfc. Hayden Norris, 14, of Glacier Middle School; Pfc. Isaac Sigel, 13, of Enumclaw Middle School; and Pfc. Raquel Cormier, 15, of Enumclaw High School will be led by Cpl. Wyatt Bond, 15, of White River High School in the assistance and execution of two days of events marking the anniversaries this year. The group represents the Carbon Glacier unit of the Young Marines, which covers a wide territory in Western Washington bounded unofficially by Thurston, Gig Harbor and Snohomish counties.
On Thursday, Dec. 6, the Young Marines will perform a wreath laying ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in memory of all the brave men and women who are interred there. The involvement of the Young Marines is made possible with the help of Nadine L. Siak, public affairs specialist of the cemetery.
On Friday, Dec. 7, the Young Marines will lead the Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade in Honolulu. They will carry the banners of the twelve capital ships that were attacked. The parade’s objective is to honor the heroes and survivors of Pearl Harbor and World War II, to pay tribute to veterans, active duty military members and military families, to celebrate freedom and to keep in remembrance the heinous events of Dec. 7, 1941.
The four Young Marines carry with them the pride and honor of representing their unit at this national event. Of the group, Sigel was the only member to have participated in the ceremony last year thanks to a family vacation coinciding with the date. "It's interesting seeing all the stuff there and meeting the veterans on the ships," he said. "We met the person who fired the first shot after Pearl Harbor was attacked."
Bond, who has also traveled with his family to Hawaii, reflected on "how much people were willing to sacrifice so that we can be here and have these programs like Young Marines today," he said. "It's too bad people have to go to war. It's too bad that had to happen."
“Undoubtedly, the Young Marines will meet some of the survivors of that historic event of 71 years ago,” said Michael Kessler, national executive director of the Young Marines. “Those veterans are, in every sense of the words - living history, and each has a story to tell. It is an honor to attend an event that commemorates a significant turning point in our nation’s history.”
Unit Commander Judy Wirkkala credited her group with stepping up to do some aggressive fundraising in the last year to pay their own way to Hawaii. Marine Corp League Detachment 504, based in Tacoma, as well as AMVETS helped get the unit started with a collective contribution of about $1,500, she said.
All costs after that are being covered thanks to the Young Marines' own fundraising, which included everything from car washes to spaghetti feeds, she said.
The entire unit, comprised of about 15 or 16 kids currently, worked together in the fundraising effort though only four are going. The selection criteria was based on a combination of age, grades, attendance, the meeting of drill requirements as well as fundraising, Wirkkala said. "They learn to work as a team, and those going will represent the unit well," she said. "They earn everything they get."
"We all have the same goal and purpose," Bond said.
The unit won't return until Saturday, Dec. 8 and will have some free time, but in part as a thank you and to show accountability, the unit is also being tasked with keeping journals during to trip to write down what they learned. They will then share their insights and experiences with their local supporters when they return, Wirkkala said.
For some, the trip will be an adventure: the group will be sleeping in the Marine Corp barracks at Kaneohe Bay. For others, it will be a test as well. Said Norris, this is the first time he'll be away from home for an extended period of time. "I'm quite nervous," he admitted.
'No One is Treated Any Differently'
The unit's adjutant is David Bond, Cpl. Bond's father, who saw in his son a passion for all things Marine Corp at a very young age - thanks in part because Wyatt's maternal grandfather was also a Marine.
Ed Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that it was Wyatt's paternal grandfather who served in the Marines. That error has been corrected above.
The fire within is evident: son Wyatt had only been with the Young Marines organization for three years and rapidly ascended the ranks to corporal. He is currently the highest-ranking member of the Carbon Glacier unit.
Cpl. Bond maintains a stoic and respectful demeanor at all times and looks everyone in the eye when speaking to them. With the younger members of his unit he oversees, he is patient but doesn't compromise his expectations from the group.
Bond cracked a brotherly smile, however, when discussing the kids in his unit that deal with either a physical or mental challenge - or both. On outdoor excursions where some element of danger is present, Bond said it's these kids that you actually don't want to push too much because they're already pushing themselves beyond. You, instead, have to help reign them in, he said.
In fact, the Young Marines accepts all kids between ages 8 and 18, dad David said. Handicaps or disablities aside, the same level of excellence is expected from everyone. "We require that no one is treated any differently," he said.
Wirkkala caveats there are certain cases where she will make exceptions. "My first objective is these kids and their safety," she said. "I'm not letting any of my kids get hurt."
However, a Marine of 12 years herself, Wirkkala said some of these kids exhibit as good, if not better behavior than some of the adults she's encountered at boot camp.
Being a Young Marine
Both the younger Bond and Norris are also Boy Scouts -- Troop 305 in Buckley, specifically. A lot of the Scouts' requirements to ascend ranks crosses over with the Young Marines, but being a part of the latter provides something unique.
Said Norris of the Young Marines, "I have respect, I honor people, and it's fun."
For Cpl. Bond, the desire to join the Marines began when he first met the father of a friend, who was a Marine. "I saw the impact he made in the community," he recalled. "I wanted to be a positive member like that."
Wyatt's commitment to the Young Marines, provided he serves a minimum of five years and fulfills certain requirements, will also earn him a rank advancement benefit when he is old enough to join the Marine Corp.
Pvt. Alex Davis and Pfc. Kelysha Johnson, both from the Tacoma area, say it appeals to their desire to be a part of a team. "I wanted to be a part of something bigger," Davis said. "To have people you can depend on to have your back."
Johnson, who also participates in her school's Army ROTC program, added, "I joined to lead and to become a leader."
Nine-year-old Pvt. Hayden Lupenski, of Gig Harbor, says he likes "to push yourself to do better."
In essence, said the senior Bond, Young Marines teaches youth every aspect of the Marine Corp outside of actual warfare, though members do learn avoidance techniques for self-defense.
Public speaking is one of those non-combat skills, and Cpl. Bond, who has been educating his peers about the dangers of drug abuse, said he sees that as a type of warfare he wages every day at school. While peers are getting sent to juvenile hall for drug violations, "I want to be a good influence," he said.
Community service is also a virtue instilled in the Young Marines; each individual is required to complete 50 hours of community service per year. One big project the Carbon Glacier unit is gearing up for in January is to help collect food for local food banks, Wirkkala said. They collected 300 pounds of food last year.
For parents, the initial cost investment is $125 to join the unit, said Bond, which covers basic uniform requirements. The youth are expected to then go through a boot camp phase that spans about a week. If they pass testing and remain in good standing, a baseline time commitment is about 12 hours per month, with the group meeting about twice each month. As summers afford more opportunities to engage in outdoor activities, the unit tends to be busier then as well, Wirkkala said.
Division Six Young Marines (covering units from the west coast of the U.S.)