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High school students to accompany veterans to Iwo Jima for reunion

By JAMES EWINGER | THE PLAIN DEALER, CLEVELAND (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE) Published: March 17, 2017

OLMSTED FALLS, Ohio — Americans are landing on the island of Iwo Jima next week, but not the way they did in 1945.

This time they are veterans, and they are coming to wage peace alongside representatives of Japan. Accompanying them will be members of the Young Marines, a private nonprofit community service organization that is open to youths aged 8-18.

The annual event, which includes a stop on Guam, is called the Reunion of Honor.

One of the escorts is Michael Dulin of Olmsted Township, a junior at Olmsted Falls High School who holds the rank of sergeant major - the highest available in the Young Marines.

He earned the opportunity to go with the veterans by being named Young Marine of the Year in Division 5, which has members in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The Young Marines were founded in 1959 and currently have 267 units with more than 9,000 members overseen by 2,500 adult volunteers — in 39 states and the District of Columbia, according to Col. William Davis, a retired Marine officer who is the Young Marines' executive director nationwide.

Davis said Dulin and five other Young Marines of the Year from other U.S. divisions will accompany eight Iwo Jima veterans from Los Angeles to Guam on Monday, March 20 -- arriving March 21, after crossing the International Dateline. There they will link up with 10 other veterans who served elsewhere in World War II or in later conflicts.

The first few days will include tours of Guam and a historical symposium. United Airlines on March 25 will fly everyone to Iwo Jima, which is about two hours northwest of Guam.

There, representatives of the U.S. and Japanese governments and military will speak, Davis said, and the Young Marines will assist in the placement of memorial wreaths.

Everyone is scheduled to return on March 27, he said.

The one day each year that Iwo Jima is open corresponds with the actual dates of the battle, Davis said.

Access is restricted for several reasons. The island is now sovereign Japanese territory, with a small Japanese military presence, according to a World War II-tourism website, and no civilians live there. Davis reports that both U.S. and Japanese armed forces use the island for aviation-related activities.

The colonel offered a more sobering reason for the restrictions.

"There are still a lot of American and Japanese troops there that will never leave because it is too dangerous to recover their bodies," he said, citing unexploded ordnance as one of the hazards.

Dulin said in an email that he joined the Young Marines at the age of 10, and numerous friends and classmates have joined at his urging, though he does not have an exact count.

"After high school, I plan to attend either the Naval Academy, West Point or any NROTC programs in college, with aspirations of becoming a Navy SEAL or Green Beret in the United States Navy or Army," he wrote.

He and the Young Marines of the Year from the other five divisions will compete in May in Las Vegas for the national title.

©2017 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland
Visit The Plain Dealer, Cleveland at www.cleveland.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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