Westview High junior competes for national recognition

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Blake DeWeese, a sergeant major with Cascade Young Marines Division 6, poses with his fellow Young Marines during an eight-day Reunion of Honor Trip to Iwo Jima Island and Guam. The fledgling soldiers were there to assist World War II veterans and hear their battle stories first-hand.Blake DeWeese revealed his passion for the military when, at age 11, he joined the Young Marines.

If that decision left any doubt about his future direction, hearing World War II veterans share their experiences at the Battle of Iwo Jima — on the

island of Iwo Jima — at 17 positively sealed the deal.

DeWeese, a Westview High School junior and sergeant major in the Oregon Cascade Young Marines, just returned from an eight-day odyssey to Iwo Jima and Guam. Selected the Division 6 Young Marine of the Year, DeWeese joined nine others from the division for the 19th annual Reunion of Honor Trip. The quest provides an opportunity for the fledgling soldiers to host and honor U.S. Marine veterans who sacrificed their personal safety and lives to secure freedoms Americans enjoy today. Eight American veterans of the battle returned to the island on March 19 to remember and reflect with each other as well as with veterans and their descendants on the Japanese side.

“We went to pay homage to the veterans who fought on the island and pay tribute to any of those who didn’t make it back,” DeWeese said on Tuesday during a break between classes at Westview. “It was inspiring, humbling and incredible to stand on the sands of Iwo Jima — where 50,000 veterans died — and listen to soldiers tell us what happened.”by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Young Marines Sgt. Maj. Blake DeWeese, 17, said he learned a great deal about World War II during his eight-day visit to Iwo Jima Island and Guam in March by listening to veterans sharing their personal experiences.

DeWeese thought he had a reasonably clear understanding of the pivotal five-week battle that took place in late February and March 1945 — in which U.S. armed forces eventually captured and secured the strategic Japanese stronghold — until his journey.

“It gave me a raw understanding of what happened,” he said. “You don’t get a firm understanding of what happened until you talk to men on that island. Age hasn’t slowed them down one bit. They can still recall those days with gruesome detail.

“Having seen lots of movies and books, you always hear about Iwo Jima and that iconic shot of the (American) flag being raised on the mountain,” he added. “To stand on that mountain where that flag was raised was awe inspiring. It sent a chill down my spine.”

Exemplary leadership

The Young Marines group spent just one day on Iwo Jima, a private island without public accommodations, but were on the island of Guam — which the U.S. recaptured from Japan in July 1944 — for a week. In addition to hearing stories and paying respect, the young men served as hosts and assistants for four of the elder return visitors to the two infamous islands.

“It wasn’t a vacation,” DeWeese stressed. “We were there, first and foremost, to offer assistance to the veterans in any way they needed it. We unloaded their gear from airplanes, got them water — anything we could to make their experiences as pleasurable as possible.”

That dedication and attitude is part of what inspired Larry Stewart, DeWeese’s Cascade Young Marines’ unit commander, to nominate the Beaverton student for Marine of the Year in the nine-state Division 6.

“By being a positive role model for Young Marines both younger and older, (DeWeese) provides motivation and encouragement for other Young Marines who may need his inspiration or strength at times,” Stewart wrote in his recommendation letter from last October. “Whether serving and supporting superiors or subordinates, (DeWeese) consistently demonstrates the exemplary leadership trait of doing the best he possibly can in all situations.”

Born to serve

While growing up with his parents, Crystal and Todd, in Beaverton, DeWeese channeled his early affinity for giving into a passion for the military and public service.

“I’ve always had a passion for helping people,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be in the military. My sister heard about (Young Marines) and passed it along to me. I fell in love with it.”

DeWeese, named the Division 6 Young Marine of the Year in February, will go up against the other five division winners for the national title at the Adult Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C. The winner will be announced on June 7.

Stewart, for one, is confident in DeWeese’s chances.

“I think Blake will continue to rise to the top and will be the national Young Marine of the Year,” he said on Tuesday. “But if someone else is selected, Blake will continue to serve with distinction and integrity of character within the Young Marines.”

DeWeese, who aspires to be a commissioned Marine Corps

officer, or “mustang,” status

after he finishes school, believes the lessons he learned on the Reunion of Honor trip won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

“Hearing their stories reminds me however far I’ve come,” he said. “But I still have a long way to go.”

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