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Retired Marine Cole T. Passick answers students questions Monday morning at the Veterans Day program in West Central’s Klinge Gymnasium.

MAYNARD — In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, U.S. Marines stationed about 80 miles south were sent into the disaster.

“We helped with rescue and carried debris and rubble over there,” said Cole Passick, an Independence High School graduate who joined the Corps in October 2010.

Passick was the guest speaker Monday morning at West Central Community Schools’ Veterans Day program. His experiences as a combat engineer, bridge builder and demolitions master extend from Japan to Afghanistan and the Philippines, and were not all about combat. The Fukushima mission was a “blessing” he told the students, community members and fellow veterans gathered in Klinge Gymnasium.

“That was one of my first experiences in the Marine Corps outside of what everybody thinks the military is all about,” he said. “It’s not just about going into foreign nations and seeing combat and being in the horrible scenario. Sometimes, you get to go all over the world on humanitarian missions. We get to help people that get hurt by horrible natural disasters or stuff.”

His crew also helped rebuild a school in the Philipinnes that was buried by a volcano in 1992.

“We dug out 24 ton of volcanic ash that buried the school,” he said. “We got to dig it out by hand. It took us a month and a half ... I’ve never dug so much in my life.

He added, “After a month and a half we got pretty strong.”

In Afghanistan, they built bridges and roads, supported other U.S. military units and completed many other missions.

“Afghanistan was one of my favorite times in the Marine Corps, not because of how bad that place was, but because of the people I was with,” he said.

It’s difficult to explain that bond with “your fellow brothers and sisters” in the service, he said.

“It’s something that you can never really find anywhere else, it’s extremely hard,” he said. “So, I think that’s why you hear so many veterans say they would go back in a heartbeat ... It’s because they want to go back to the people they loved and the people that they cared for, the one to the left and one to the right.”

The Veterans Day program opened with the presentaiton of the colors by the Maynard American Legion Post 245 and Westgate American Legion Post 92 Color Guards.

The West Central High School band performed “The Star Spangled Banner,” and then Mrs. Darise Donat led the pledge of allegiance.

The high school choir performed “Song for the Unsung Hero” and Maynard Legion Commander John Harrison announced the Flag Essay winners — Journey Lockard (1st place), Jocelyn Buehler (2nd place), and Lincoln Sieck (3rd place).They wrote about what the American Flag means to them.

After Passick’s speech, the band performed “Marches of the Armed Forces,” and veterans were invited to stand and be recognized when the song of their branch was played.

The colors were then retired to end the program and West Central students Evan Recker and Braden Wolf sounded taps.

This article is being reprinted because of a printing error in Tuesday’s edition