Marine Corps helps Kesennuma City remember the Great East Japan Earthquake
KESENNUMA CITY, Japan -- Five years after the Great East Japan earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, the world again turns its eyes to Northeast Japan, and the little fishing town of Kesennuma that hugs the coastline in the Tohoku region. This time however, instead of sending emergency aid and relief teams, they’re sending thoughts and prayers for the 5th Kesennuma city memorial service held March 11, remembering that tragic day that is still fresh in the minds of many who lived through it.
Among those attending is Col. Roger J. McFadden, representing the Marines from Okinawa who responded in the aftermath of the 9.0 magnitude quake that caused a devastating tsunami which reached up to 128 feet in some places.
“It is an honor and a privilege to represent the Marines who responded to the quake back in 2011,” said McFadden, the inspector general for Marine Corps Installations Pacific. “It is also indicative of our relationship with Japan and the reason we are stationed in Okinawa - to be a ready force able to respond when we are most needed here in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.”
When Marines first heard the call, many of them were headed to training in Indonesia aboard the USS Essex. One of the Marines aboard the ship that day was Capt. Caleb D. Eames, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s public affairs officer at the time, who says he can still remember getting the news like it was yesterday.
“I remember it very well,” said Eames, a Virginia native. “We were only a day away from participating in a large disaster relief drill, with the scenario to be a massive tsunami, when we got news that it had happened for real in mainland Japan.”
The ensuing hours after the order came to head at full speed to Japan, was typical of what Marines stationed in Okinawa are trained to do, says Eames.
“We prepared all of our cold weather gear, we looked at a map of the affected areas, and then we started planning the best ways to use our tremendous expeditionary and amphibious capabilities to help,” Eames recounted.
After altering their course from Indonesia, preparing their gear, making their plans and steaming four days up the coast of Japan, the Marines were finally in a position to take supplies ashore with helicopters and landing craft to assist people in the devastated areas. They were now part of an operation which was given the title - "Tomodachi."
“When we finally got to Kesennuma and island of Oshima, things were pretty bad, the people had no power and no heat. The community had been drinking from a swimming pool. And they had been completely isolated from most assistance because the tsunami beached the ferry hundreds of yards inland. We immediately got to work and started helping as best we could. Whether it was moving rubble and debris or bringing fresh water or fuel for generators out to the affected areas, we were there to help our friends and allies like they would help us. That is why I think ‘Tomodachi’ was the perfect name for the operation,” said Eames. “In English the literal translation is ‘friend’ and that’s what it was, friends helping friends in their time of need.”
After nearly three weeks of working along side the Japan Ground Self Defense Force, clearing tons of debris from roads and the harbor to reopen them, and delivering more than 7,000 gallons of water and 164,000 pounds of relief supplies, it was time for the Marines to leave and allow the Government of Japan to carry on the long process of restoration.
“Leaving was tough because we felt like we needed to do so much more,” said Eames. “Looking back though, it was the right time to leave. We helped our neighbors up, brushed them off, helped them start to rebuild and that’s what they needed, just a helping hand, and they would have done the same for us.”
It’s March 11 again, and Marines are back in Northern Japan to help a friend five years later, but this time there are no flood waters, no mountains of debris, and no 9.0 earthquake. Just a long line of white carnation laid down to remember not only the lives lost, but the day the Marines and the world came to Kesennuma to lend a helping hand.
“I’m here in the affected areas five years later and you can hardly tell anything of that magnitude ever happened,” said McFadden. “And that just speaks to the work ethic and ingenuity of the people here.”