Many of the heroes of Pearl Harbor and World War II were teenagers who accomplished amazing deeds. That was the theme of American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad’s remarks before the youth organization, Young Marines, gathered at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific on Dec. 6.
“Many of the servicemembers who were here on Dec. 7, 1941, were not much older than the Young Marines here today,” Reistad said. “Some were just teenagers. After the attack, teenagers from every corner of the United States rushed to their local military recruiters to sign up and defend America in its greatest time of need.
“These young men – and, yes there were women who played a pivotal role in that war effort as well – sacrificed their youth so liberty may grow old.”
Reistad, American Legion Auxiliary National President Kathy Dungan and Sons of The American Legion National Commander Greg K. Gibbs were three of the guest speakers who spoke to the group gathered to commemorate the Pearl Harbor attack, which occurred 77 years ago on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
“Events like this are particularly poignant because they perfectly summarize the core beliefs of my organization, The American Legion,” Reistad said. “We were founded on the four pillars of a strong national defense, care for veterans, Americanism and patriotic youth programs. I know that the Young Marines not only believe in these principles, but you practice them.”
The Young Marines is a nonprofit youth education and service program for boys and girls from age 8 through the completion of high school. The organization has received support from The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation and was lauded for its service and patriotism by Dungan.
“Just like the Young Marines, The American Legion Family leadership travels to Pearl Harbor to remember the sacrifices of the heroes we lost of Dec. 7, 1941, and to celebrate those who survived one of the most impactful days in our nation’s history,” she said. “I love that your dedication to our heroes is not something you do only once a year – it is something you do every single day. It’s this commitment to serving our heroes that makes the Young Marines so similar to my organization, the American Legion Auxiliary. Your organization and my organization work very hard to serve our military and honor our veterans, while being good citizens who make positive changes in our communities.”
Gibbs mentioned that while he was not a Marine, he was raised by one.
“Growing up with a father who was a combat Marine veteran from World War II and an uncle who was a master sergeant with combat experience as well, the family was run with a certain discipline many of my friends families lacked. My father taught me many lessons although not overtly but through his modeling of what it was to be a man,” Gibbs said, before noting examples of his father’s service to others. “He left us way too early at the age of 57, but I remember the example he set and will strive to live up to his values. He is why I serve as a Sons of The American Legion Commander and continue to honor the service of others. Marines make men. I am sure they do. They made a great father.”
Before placing a wreath in honor of America’s fallen heroes, Reistad implored Young Marines to treasure any opportunity to meet and thank World War II veterans. He noted that when he was the age of the Young Marines, World War I veterans were plentiful, but “now there are none. If you see a person wearing a Pearl Harbor Survivor cap, shake that hero’s hand and thank the veteran for his service. We must not take this great generation for granted. They won’t always be with us. Even though their legacy surely will be.”
This weekend Reistad will embark on a tour of the Far East, meeting with military troops, government officials and Legionnaires in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.