VISTA — For the past six years, the North San Diego Young Marines in Vista have journeyed to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii to pay their respects every Dec. 7.
And for Master Gunnery Sgt. Luke Smith, 17, of Oceanside, he was selected by the organization’s national leadership to lay a wreath alongside the National Young Marine of the Year Sgt. Major Megan Lynch during the 78th Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance.
Unit commander Cal Grimes, a retired Marine gunnery sergeant, said the trip is something the unit looks forward to every year.
“It’s very gratifying for me and the kids,” Grimes said. “To be able to pay respects to the ones that were there and didn’t make it back. We were actually able to meet and shake hands and speak with some of the actual survivors.”
Smith, a junior at Guajome Park Academy in Vista, said it was an honor to lay the wreath as part of the remembrance, noting the humbling experience of speak with the survivors.
He is a legacy of sorts, as his older siblings were once Young Marines, so it was a path he opted to follow. But being able to lay the wreath and listen to the veterans’ account of one of the most infamous days and attacks in U.S. and world history.
“Laying the wreath was probably one of the coolest parts,” Smith said. “It was an honor to lay it with her (Lynch) and a survivor of the attack. It gave me a better view of what happened. Every year that we go back, there are fewer and fewer survivors, so it makes the situation more real.”
The cost of the trip is $1,000, which is up to the parents to cover, Grimes said. The cost covers the entire trip including the flight, food and hotels for the Young Marines.
“It covers everything from the time they drop them off until they pick them up,” Grimes said. “We average between seven to 12 kids a year that go.”
The Young Marines is a national youth organization with about 300 units across the country, Grimes said. Kids can join as young as 8 years old but must complete 26 hours of recruit training over six to seven weeks to be formally accepted into the organization, he added.
The training includes classroom work such as history lessons, physical training, learning the command and rank structures and core values. Grimes said the Young Marines was established to provide kids a positive outlet and many end up enlisting or joining the U.S. Marine Corps after college.
“Once they graduate, they are promoted to private, so they have a rank,” he said. “We continue to expand on our knowledge of the program, our history and how to advance and be promoted. We do a lot of drug demand reduction education. It’s a huge part of the program.”
The Vista chapter has about 55 Marines and started its own unit about six years ago after splitting off from another unit, Grimes explained.
The Young Marines, he said, molds the kids into good people with a heavy emphasis on community service, drug prevention and honoring veterans.
“We try to mold them around those traits,” Grimes said. “We used the Marine Corps standards.”