Coming face to face with U.S. heroes

A Winter Garden family marched in a parade, laid a wreath and met World War II veterans during an event to recognize the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Roberto and Daniella Vargas participated in several Pearl Harbor events in Hawaii with the Orlando Devil Dogs.
Roberto and Daniella Vargas participated in several Pearl Harbor events in Hawaii with the Orlando Devil Dogs.
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Paola Vargas and her two children, Roberto, 11, and Daniella, 8, spent a year raising money and preparing for their trip to Hawaii. This was no ordinary vacation, however, for the Winter Garden residents. The three traveled to the 50th state as part of the Orlando Devil Dogs Young Marines Unit to participate in the 75th anniversary recognition of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Roberto, a Young Marine corporal with the national organization, and Daniella, a private, were among 18 youth members of the ODD who attended; their mother was one of eight chaperones on the trip of a lifetime, which took place Dec. 3 through 9.

The Orlando group traveled with two other Florida units and was guided by retired U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. John Gionet.



On Sunday, Dec. 4, their first full day in Hawaii, the group hiked up to the summit of Diamond Head Crater, joined nearly 300 Young Marines from all over the nation for a beach swim at Bellows Air Force Station in Waimanalo and met Pearl Harbor survivors who served on the USS Arizona in World War II.

The Vargas children were in awe of the elderly survivors.

“It was amazing because it was like talking to history face to face and it helped bring the whole experience to another level,” Roberto said.

Daniella liked being able to ask questions of the survivors and hear their answers, which were more personal than anything the children would read about in history books.

Both realized the importance of recognizing the veterans.

“They have seen things and have survived a national attack that forever changed our country and us as Americans,” Roberto said.

“They are an important part of history, and they have seen things that no one got to see that was scary,” Daniella said.

Also on the itinerary for the Young Marines units were visits to the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, the USS Battleship Missouri Memorial and the USS Arizona Memorial.

Daniella and Roberto both said the visit to the Arizona was their favorite part of their Pearl Harbor experience.

“It was history under my feet looking down and made me feel like I was looking back in time,” she said.

Vargas, too, was impressed with the memorial, which is built atop the remains of the sunken battleship.

“It was a somber experience and brought our complete Hawaiian experience full circle as it validated the reason we had spent so much time (and) effort working hard to bring our kids to this event,” she said of the visit to the final resting place of many of the ship’s 1,177 crewmen who died Dec. 7, 1941, in the Japanese bombing attack. “I was able to see the weight of all they had seen, heard and experienced so far in their faces, as they were quiet and reflective during this visit to this particular memorial.”



The youth also participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Punch Bowl National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, and marched with more than 100 other Young Marines in the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Parade in Honolulu.

Members of the youth units were given various tasks during the parade. Roberto carried a banner for The Polynesian Salute, where performers dance with fire in honor of the veterans. Daniella marched in a platoon with many of her peers from all over the U.S.

Other Young Marines carried banners with photos of the veterans present in the parade in their younger years, and still others carried banners of the capital ships that were in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

“It was a celebratory event, and even though I’ve attended several veterans parades locally, the scale and the weight of the events were felt so much deeper as we were among people from all over the nation and the world who have come together to remember the past and celebrate the future,” Vargas said. “We all were so proud of all our Young Marines for standing tall and carrying on their duties … for such a historical event.”



Vargas, a teacher, and her husband, a retired Marine, feel strongly about teaching their children not only from books and classrooms, but from life lessons and experiences, such as this trip to Hawaii.

“As part of the Young Marine organization, it is our goal to honor the veterans who have served our country any opportunity we have,” Vargas said. “We were aware that the Pearl Harbor events were history changers for our country and our unit, in particular, has tried to organize this trip every five years.”

The Vargases have been involved with the Young Marines program since 2007, when they were living in Virginia and an older son, Christian, joined the local unit there. After moving to Central Florida, Robert joined when he turned 8 in 2013, and Daniella joined this year.

“We are committed to the program, as we feel it promotes so many values and skills we feel are important to instill in our children: self-confidence, leadership, academic achievement, honoring our veterans, good citizenship, community service and living a healthy, drug-free lifestyle,” Vargas said. “Through this organization, our children have been given opportunities of a lifetime.” 


Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].


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