In March, eight Ohio State undergraduate students had the opportunity of a lifetime. They were selected to accompany WWII veterans revisiting four Central Pacific battle sites: Guam, Tinian, Saipan, and Iwo Jima, where those veterans had fought, bled, and somehow survived.
The students: Andrew Eskander, international studies; Caitlin Bentley, Mike Tabor, Kyle Nappi, and Danelle Gagliardi, history; Eston Wirsing, electrical engineering; Peter Marzalik, international studies/Russian; and Nick Brill, history/political science, were chosen from a pool of candidates based on essays explaining why they wanted to go.
They were well prepped with extensive readings and intensive seminars on diplomacy and military strategy by History Department Chair Peter Hahn and Military Historian Peter Mansoor, who accompanied them on the trip; they too were paired with returning veterans. Additionally, the students were well aware of their responsibility and its emotional weight. They were honored to take it on.
These commemorative tours for veterans of WWII battle sites are made possible by The Greatest Generations Foundation (TGGF), which also offers opportunities to pair veterans with college students. The students serve as witness to and chroniclers of the memories of these veterans and in turn receive the kind of history and life lessons that are unique and unforgettable.
On June 7, most of these students, along with Professor Hahn, had the chance to meet, thank, and share some of their memories of the trip with the man who initiated the idea for Ohio State undergraduates to participate: President E. Gordon Gee, who reached out to a TGGF board member in 2011 and suggested it.
For Tabor, Gagliardi, Wirsing, Marzalik, and Brill it was the final flourishing touch to their journey and the perfect way to end the last quarter at Ohio State. For Nappi, it was all that AND the best way to celebrate his birthday. President Gee now has two framed photos taken on Iwo Jima by Nappi, along with a small bag of black volcanic ash scooped from its beach.
It should be mentioned that the two students unable to attend, Caitlin Bentley and Andrew Eskander, were dutifully (and regretfully) doing what all students at Ohio State must do at the end of each quarter—they were taking finals—and they were in everyone’s thoughts.