MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Gunnery Sgt. Travis Warner gave the eulogy last week for a man he had met only once.

James Leroy Zeman, a retired Marine Corps sergeant major living in Morioka, died March 14, and a memorial service was held at the base chapel two days later.

As one of only two active-duty Marines at Misawa, Warner said it was his and Sgt. Christopher Brouch’s obligation to assist with funeral services.

“Marines take care of their own,” Warner said. Zeman, who died at the age of 77 after a long illness, had expressed his wish to have a military funeral at Misawa. The base is the closest U.S. military installation to Morioka, about 90 miles south of Misawa.

When a Marine dies, Warner said, the closest Marine unit is in charge of rendering the honors for the military ceremony portion of the funeral. Several years ago, Warner, another active-duty Marine and members of the Retiree Activities Office at Misawa helped Zeman arrange a military funeral and a will, since Zeman feared that local Japanese authorities wouldn’t understand his requests.

After Warner got the news that Zeman had died, “we turned to setting up the ceremony — we did it all in about a day, trying to figure out what the family’s wishes were,” he said. The retirees office helped arrange travel for Zeman’s only surviving daughter to Misawa, arranged the time at the chapel and wrote the memorial service program in concert with the base chaplain and Warner. The Air Force Honor Guard on base held the flag over the urn during the ceremony and an Army specialist provided music during the service, Warner said.

“It was a no-kidding, Misawa-base team effort,” he said.

Zeman retired in 1973 as a decorated combat veteran with 29 years of service, including a tour on Okinawa and two tours of duty in Vietnam. He is survived by his wife, Fumiko, who is hospitalized in Morioka after suffering a massive stroke about six years ago, and a daughter, Mie, also of Morioka.

About 250 military retirees live in the Tohoku area in northern Japan, including Hokkaido, said Dave Barton, a civilian employee at Misawa and retired Air Force chief master sergeant. Only three are retired Marines.

Warner, in his eulogy, talked about his visit with Zeman about three years ago.

“The retirees association at the time, told me he was in failing health and that it would do him good to see a couple of Marines,” he said. “We dressed up in our dress blues for the visit. Boy, he was just smiling from ear to ear. We actually caught a part of Marine Corps history and understood that because of Marines like him from his era, we’re able to enjoy the stuff we’re doing now. It also reinforced that Marines take care of their own.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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