Jerusalem, Israel --
Marines and sailors assigned to 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and sailors assigned to the USS San Antonio visited Jerusalem, Israel, during a scheduled port visit to the country Sept. 5.
The tour started at the top of the Mount of Olives overlooking the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed the night before his crucifixion. They then took a bus to the Dung Gate to enter inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Capt. Brent Schiffer, a pilot assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 266 (Reinforced), 26th MEU. “So many significant events in history have occurred within those three square miles. I never thought that I would have had the opportunity to walk where Jesus once walked and touch where Jesus was anointed before his burial. It was a once in a lifetime experience.”
The first stop inside the walls was near the El-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam where it is believed that the prophet Muhammad traveled to from Mecca before ascending into heaven.
A short walk away was the next stop, the Wailing Wall also known as the Western Wall as it is the western wall of the Temple built by Herod the Great, it is one of the holiest location in Judaism. There the Marines and sailors were given the opportunity to touch the wall and pray.
They then walked through the streets of old Jerusalem into the market, then to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was built on the site that Jesus was believed to have been crucified, anointed, buried, and resurrected. There, many of the Marines and sailors prayed, touched the stone on which Jesus is believed to have been anointed before burial, as well as the stone on the location of where Jesus is believed to have been crucified.
“I was raised very religious,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew Santos, a machine gunner assigned to Company L, Battalion Landing Team 3/2, 26th MEU. “It really closed the gaps and it was an amazing experience to walk into the town and see everything, connecting the places priests would talk about in church back home and see it firsthand. I never thought I’d be able to see it.”
After a long day of walking, visiting the different sites, they returned to the busses and left to get lunch at a restaurant that served traditional foods before returning to the ship.
Also surprised by the small size of the Old City of Jerusalem, was Cpl. Steven Stone, a fiscal clerk assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 26, 26th MEU.
“It was really interesting to learn the history behind the stories in the Bible and see everything,” said Stone. “I didn’t realize how close together everything is. I thought that it was more spread out. I also didn’t think the location of where Jesus was crucified and buried was known and it was interesting to see how many people came to visit from all over the world.”
After about four months since the ship’s last liberty port, visiting Israel was a welcome treat, and taking a trip to Jerusalem added even more value to the service members' short stay in port which can best be described as “an amazing experience,” regardless of their religion.
The history and importance of Jerusalem to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam will continue to grow and the memory of visiting Jerusalem will remain with the Marines and sailors from the 26th MEU and USS San Antonio who were fortunate enough to make the pilgrimage to Holy Land during their port visit to Israel.
The 26th MEU is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force forward-deployed to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility aboard the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group serving as a sea-based, expeditionary crisis response force capable of conducting amphibious operations across the full range of military operations.