LANCASTER — The island of Iwo Jima is open one day a year.
On March 23, Regimental Sergeant Major Williams Daniels was one of 10 youth members of the Young Marines who served as escorts for World War II veterans who attended the annual Reunion of Honor ceremony, held to commemorate the heroism and sacrifices made by service members during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
This year marked the 74th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, and the 75th for Guam.
Daniels, 18, a senior at Knight High School, earned his trip to Iwo Jima by winning the Jimmy Trimble Scholarship from the American Veterans Center last fall.
“I saw it as an opportunity to go out there and support veterans who made a huge sacrifice for myself and other people in the United States,” Daniels said.
The scholarship included a trip to Washington for the American Valor: A Salute to Our Heroes awards banquet. Daniels met Young Marine Sgt. Major Tyson Henry on the trip. They visited Arlington National Cemetery, the Marine Corps Museum, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and other national monuments.
In March the 10 Young Marines flew from Los Angeles to Guam with the veterans.
“We’re told that our main task is to assist the veterans who are part of the Iwo Jima association,” Daniels said.
They helped the World War II veterans on and off buses. They ate breakfast with them.
“We talked with them and they told us stories. It was an outstanding experience,” Daniels said.
Daniels made sure he talked to each of the seven veterans they escorted.
“They had a really good sense of humor,” Daniels said. “They told you straight up that they went there, they did their job, and they came back.”
Daniels wondered if the veterans were scared, or “hardcore” machines.
‘They were like, ‘Yeah, I was terrified. I was absolutely terrified,’ ” Daniels said.
They spent about five days on the island of Guam, then flew to Iwo Jima for the Reunion of Honor ceremony.
“We’re there for six hours and it was an amazing experience,” Daniels said.
The Young Marines visited Mt. Suribachi, the scene of the famed flag raising captured by photographer Joe Rosenthal on February 1945. The Young Marines also walked on the Black Sands of the landing beaches.
Daniels is the son of Hortencia Laura Daniels and LaFrance Daniels Jr., an Air Force veteran. His older brother is LaFrance Daniels III, 19, a former Young Marine gunnery sergeant who won the 2017 Jimmy Trimble Scholarship.
His younger sister is Kimberly Daniels, 16, who is also in the Young Marines.
“She feels humbled and blessed to have such amazing kids who go out and do things like this,” Daniels said, translating for his mother.
The Young Marines is a nonprofit youth education and service program for boys and girls, age eight through the completion of high school.
It teaches the values of leadership, teamwork, and self discipline, so its members can live and promote a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.
Daniels serves with the Quartz Hill Young Marines led by Unit Commander Christopher Chinchilla.
Daniels said Chinchilla, “has shown me so much and taught me many lessons in this program. I’ve known him for five years going on six and even now he still continues to teach me valuable lessons on leadership and life,” Daniels said.
If anyone is interested in joining or supporting the Quartz Hill Young Marines visit Facebook or Instagram and input “Quartz Hill Young Marines” in the search bar.