3rd Marine Division displays its rich history on Okinawa

A Marine looks at a new display that shows off 3rd Marine Division history, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, at Camp Courtney, Okinawa.


By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 19, 2016

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Marine Sgt. Maj. Vincent Santiago owes everything in this world to the rain and the 3rd Marine Division.

The division’s top enlisted leader, a Guam native, recalled Friday how his maternal grandmother stood in a Japanese execution line during World War II after two massacres in his village that had already claimed family members.

Driving rains delayed her execution. Before the slaughter could be rescheduled, the 3rd Marine Division landed on the island’s western beaches near Asan Point, and Guam was liberated three weeks later after savage fighting.

“If it wasn’t for the rain and this division, I wouldn’t be here,” Santiago told Stars and Stripes. “That’s why I serve.”

Santiago, the second of three generations to serve the division wearing Marine Corps green, could not help but reflect on that family history Friday as he helped unveil a permanent historical display inside the division’s headquarters at Camp Courtney, Okinawa.

The display, nearly two years in the making, tells the 3rd Marine Division’s story through uniforms, artifacts and jars of earth from nearly every conflict where it fought and bled in its history.

The unveiling coincided with the division’s 74th anniversary.

Santiago, who sometimes tells his story to motivate his Marines, said the display will help inspire the division to achieve future greatness, and he hopes additions will be made to the cases, whether through valor in combat or humanitarian operations.

“Without our history, what are we?” the Iraq and Afghanistan combat veteran said. “The blouses in that case represent that [particular] Marine, but it also represents everyone else who was there. To think, I’m part of this legacy. If this doesn’t resonate with you, you don’t have a pulse. … That is who we are.”

The display, laid out geographically, features maps and photos starting with the division’s first conflict in Bougainville during WWII to the present. Jars filled with sand from Iwo Jima, Vietnam and Iraq serve as a reminder of the turf fought for and taken.

Uniform displays include that of Marine 1st Lt. Harvey C. Barnum Jr., who was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Quang Tin province, Vietnam, in 1965. Barnum assumed command of a rifle company in the midst of a deadly ambush and led a successful counterattack. A Navy destroyer, slated to join the fleet in 2024, will be named after him.

The display also includes the combat-worn uniform of Silver Star recipient Maj. Stephen Boada, who was recognized for leading an assault on al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan; the combat-worn uniform of Col. James Fulks from the liberation of Kuwait; the combat-worn uniform of Sgt. Maj. Matthew Fouss from the battle for Al Anbar Province, Iraq; the uniform of Corpsman James Mendoza, a Bronze Star recipient recognized for bravery under fire in Vietnam; and that of Pvt. 1st Class Oliver Smith, who helped liberate Guam.

The idea for the display came from leadership nearly two years ago, said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Caraway, chief of reproductions and graphics, who oversaw its production along with lead designer Cpl. Kristy Koljonen. Their team began working with the 3rd Marine Division Association to get the uniforms and artifacts, which include Mendoza’s medical kit. In all, 15 Marines contributed to the project.

To get the command behind such an elaborate display, Caraway said he had to build a mock-up to show what was possible. No detail was overlooked. They didn’t want sand from the shores of Guam; they wanted sand from underneath Japanese machine-gun nests.

The only item they were not able to get was sand from Bougainville; however, a jar sits empty next to a graphic about that battle, and they pledge to have it filled soon.

The division also hopes to display more items and release a booklet about their historical background.

“For 74 years this division has been doing great things,” Maj. Gen. Richard Simcock II, 3rd Marine Division’s commander, told his Marines at the unveiling. “This day is important to us. This is our day.”

The division remains the only one that fought at Iwo Jima that is still active, Santiago said. It is also the nation’s only forward-deployed Marine division.

Simcock said the Marines are gearing up for Blue Chromite exercises, which generally take place on and around Okinawa every fall, and Balikatan drills.

“This division has a tremendous warfighting heritage,” he said. “You guys are the best. Be proud of that.”


A new 3rd Marine Division exhibit at Camp Courtney, Okinawa, includes sand from the battlefields on which the division has fought in its storied history. Pictured is a jar filled with earth from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, formerly known as Saigon, which was a base of operations for U.S. troops during the Vietnam War.

from around the web