“’The Legend of 1,000 Cranes’ comes from the idea that if a person folds 1,000 cranes, their wish will be granted by the gods,” said Staff Sgt. Ismael Esconde, the substance abuse control officer of Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. “My goal is to spread the legend and make a positive impact on people in my own way.”
The legend dates back to the 1700’s but it became more well-known in the 1950’s when an 11-year-old Japanese girl named Sadako Sasaki fought against leukemia due to radiation from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. While in the hospital, she folded paper cranes hoping the legend would help heal her.
Esconde, who deployed to Okinawa, Japan in 2016, was inspired by Sasaki’s story and thought he could put his hobby of origami to good use during his time there. Over the 6-month deployment, he led the initiative to fold and donate 3,000 cranes to local hospitals and a nursing home. He not only made impact on the local people, but also passed on the craft of origami to other Marines.
“[He] has made a positive impact on me,” said Cpl. Blake Smith, an administrative specialist with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. “I joined the Marine Corps to help people and he showed me that there are many different ways to do that. We need more staff non-commissioned officers to influence Marines from both side of the spectrum – as warfighters when we’re forward deployed but also to be good citizen while we are in garrison.”
Now that Esconde has returned to Hawaii, he continues to spread the Japanese legend.
“I recently donated 1,000 cranes to Hawaii United Okinawa Association,” Esconde said. “They are going to use the cranes in June in honor of the Battle of Okinawa.”
Jane Fujie Serikaku, the executive director of the HUOA, accepted the donation from Esconde on April 18. She said his contribution underscores the relationship between the HUOA and the Marine Corps.
“Esconde making these cranes himself, in the spirit of goodwill, is a very special tribute and (positively reflects) himself and the Marine Corps,” she said. “We are truly appreciative of all the support offered by (our U.S. service members).”
In hopes to make a positive impact on younger generations, Esconde has also supported local events such as the Armed Services YMCA and Marine Corps Community Services by teaching children about origami.
“Origami is a productive alternative for video games,” Esconde said. “It’s a great activity that encourages kids to use their imagination.”
When talking about what drives him to spread his passion with others, he compares it to why most people join the Marine Corps – to make an impact.
“I think Ronald Reagan summed it up perfectly, ‘Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem,’” Esconde said. “For me, it’s that intangible of being able to make a difference – in my own way.”
Esconde has 18-months left in Hawaii and plans to continue educating other service members, civilians and younger generations of Sasaki’s story to continue enhancing and bridging gaps between the military and other cultures.
“The spirit which Esconde diligently folded each crane represents his heart and soul to personally make a difference in how the military is perceived in the community,” said Serikaku. “His understanding of the symbolism of cranes and how he has chosen to reach out to the hearts of others is truly admirable.”
Story by Sgt. Brittney Vella