Fuji Marines, sailors continue relationship with local orphanage

CAMP FUJI, Japan (July 12, 2007) -- Since he was four-years-old, Akira Tanaka has visited the Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji to interact with the Marines and sailors here, who he said he likes to call his family.

Tanaka, now 11, and 36 other Japanese children living at the Seishin Orphanage visited the camp again July 8 to attend a day of sporting events and a barbecue.

When the children arrived, it didn’t take them long to unload their bus and pick up a bat and wiffle ball or climb all over the Marines and sailors.

Navy Lt. Carl B. Muehler, the Camp Fuji chaplain, said the visits have been ongoing for nearly 30 years, and despite a language barrier, they always prove to be enjoyable.

“The orphanage has been bringing children here for a long time, and we plan to keep it that way,” he said. “Sure, we might not understand each other’s language, but when there are smiles on the Japanese and American faces, you know they are having a good time together.”

The relationship between service members at the camp and children and staff at the orphanage began when Tadaniro Yoshikawa, the director of the orphanage, met a Marine officer and the two organized the first visit. But when the Marine changed duty stations, the visits briefly stopped.

In 1982, the former Camp Fuji commanding officer’s secretary rekindled the relationship, said Hiromi Ozawa, the current commanding officer’s secretary.

“Back then, the children loved being with the Marines and sailors here according to my predecessor, Shigeko Nakai,” Ozawa said. “She felt the need to start inviting the orphanage back because the Marines and sailors bring light into the children’s world.”

At first, the children only visited the camp twice a year, but as the relationship progressed, the visits became more frequent, she said. Now the children visit the camp at least 12 times a year including some holidays.

Sgt. Gerald S. Salvacruz, the camp’s career retention specialist, said he enjoys the visits, but it’s difficult knowing at the end of the day the children will have to go back to the orphanage.

“I tell the Marines when they play with the children that it will be painful to watch them leave,” he said. “Some of the guys here have kids back in the States, and when they see the little kids it reminds them of their own.”

After spending about eight hours with the Marines and sailors, the children had to leave. Tanaka said before the number of visits increased, he used to get emotional when getting back on the bus. Now, he remains cheerful because he knows he will visit again soon.

“Since I can remember, I have always had a good time with them,” he said. “I have never met my real family, but the Americans have always made me feel welcome, and that’s why I call them my family.”

Posted by admin on Thursday 12 July 2007 - 21:19:33 | LAN_THEME_20

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