With its calming waters slowly climbing and descending the warm sands of the island, Peleliu in the Republic of Palau, could be considered the ideal tropical paradise.
White sands, blue waters and dense vegetation cover the remnants of a war long past, but not forgotten with relics of battles covering the island from its highest forested point to its lowest reef. Yet, among these remnants lied a threat that has posed a risk to the people of Peleliu for more than 75 years – that was until a La Quinta, California, native and U.S. Marine with Task Force Koa Moana 21 arrived.
On Sept. 23, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Sebastian Villagomez, an explosive ordnance disposal Marine from Task Force Koa Moana 21, I Marine Expeditionary Force, and a team of U.S. Marines safely detonated 11 pieces of unexploded ordnance found across Peleliu in an effort to make the island safer for the approximately 700 people who call Peleliu home.
“It was breathtaking being able to walk the same beach where American history happened,” said Villagomez, from La Quinta, California. “Removing all known unexploded ordnance from Peleliu was an honor.”
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Peleliu, in the Republic of Palau, was littered with unexploded ordnance from World War II. It can be found in any number of locations from beaches to backyards and poses a risk to the people who call Peleliu home.
“Unexploded ordnance are weapon systems that are designed to kill,” said U.S. Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 2 Tony Delmont, the explosive ordnance officer for Task Force Koa Moana 21. “It’s an unnecessary risk to have.”
To eliminate that risk and protect the people, property and environment of Peleliu, Villagomez and a team of Marines moved the ordnance to a safe location before detonating it. Permanently destroying the ordnance in this manner removes the threat of detonation. Destroying the ordnance in this way also protects the environment as the ordnance can leak chemicals over time that would endanger the unique ecosystem of Peleliu.
For the people of Peleliu, this poses a double threat to them as many people on Peleliu rely on the environment.
“We from Peleliu, our everyday lives, we depend on the environment,” said Shari Nicholas, chief of staff for the Office of the Governor of Peleliu State. “We get our food from the environment. Our local foods from the ocean and the land so leaving the bombs there just exposes our environment and our foods to the threat and the leakage.”
Seeing an opportunity to help, the Marines looked for a location where they could safely dispose of the ordnance while reducing the risk to the people of Peleliu and the environment that they cherish. A unique location was found that reduced the threat of the detonation.
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After preparing the ordnance and placing military explosives, a silence fell over the group of Marines. In seconds, a thunderous blast from the detonation reverberated through the humid island air of Peleliu.
After 75 years, the threat from these 11 devices is gone. All that remained was the dust and dirt lingering in the air and the leftover remnants of sea mines and other ordnance that had plagued the people of Peleliu for nearly a century. This blast meant the island was now a safer place – something the Marines took pride in knowing.
“We want to thank the Marines for helping us get closer to removing all of the explosive ordnance here in Peleliu,” said Nicholas. “We really appreciate the work that the Marines are doing to help the community.”
Task Force Koa Moana is designed to strengthen and enhance relationships between the U.S. and partner nations/states in the Indo-Pacific Region while remaining COVID-19 safe. The task force has the unique opportunity and privilege of working with the Republic of Palau as a sign of the U.S. commitment to the people of Palau and its partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific Region.
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Story by Gunnery Sgt. Jon Holmes
Feature image: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Stephanie Cervantes. Photo is of Marines helping with ordnance disposal on Peleliu during Koa Moana 20, 7/28/2020
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