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Pete Ashimine is the center of attention during a celebration of his 60th anniversary working for AAFES. Ashimine began working as a sales clerk for Army Exchange Services in the Phillipines just two months after the Japanese surrendered in WWII. He came to Okinawa in 1948.
Pete Ashimine is the center of attention during a celebration of his 60th anniversary working for AAFES. Ashimine began working as a sales clerk for Army Exchange Services in the Phillipines just two months after the Japanese surrendered in WWII. He came to Okinawa in 1948. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

Pete Ashimine began working for Army Exchange Services two months after Japan’s surrender ended World War II.

Sixty years later, Ashimine is still on the job.

Co-workers celebrated his 60th anniversary with what is now the Army and Air Force Exchange Service Monday at company headquarters on Okinawa.

A native of the Philippines, Ashimine began working for AES there as a sales clerk in November 1945, before moving to Okinawa for good in 1948. Since then, he has seen this small island grow exponentially.

“Highway 58 was a dirt road back then,” said Ashimine, 76. “All of the land in Hamby Town was in the ocean.”

The work Ashimine does means a lot to many servicemembers and their families. Anyone with a real Christmas tree in their home, for example, can thank Ashimine, who wades through Japan’s customs red tape to get the trees to AAFES stores.

“We’re real proud of him,” said Beth Goodman-Bluhm, who works with Ashimine as Pacific region retail business manager. “Being here working with him, I feel honored … he’s always there when you need him.”

Ashimine said he never imagined he would work for AAFES for so long but, along the way, he developed community and family bonds that made it easy.

Forty-four years ago, he met his wife-to-be at a food stand near where the Lawson’s convenience store stands today on Highway 75, not far from Camp Courtney’s main gate. Back in those days, the base gates included that land.

Today, most of Ashimine’s family still lives in that same area, including four of his grown children. Numerous cousins also dot the Okinawa landscape, many of them working on base.

“We have a huge extended family, and he’s the patriarch,” said son-in-law Bert Corn, who works for Marine Corps Community Services. “He’s the rock of the whole clan.”

Ashimine says he doesn’t plan to retire any time soon — he says working keeps his mind sharp. He also is in excellent shape for his age. While Ashimine is too modest to talk about it himself, Corn notes Ashimine’s multiple awards for competitive tennis and bowling.

At his anniversary party on Monday, pictures of Ashimine playing at Kadena’s O’Connor Gym in the 1950s showed an imposing inside-the-paint basketball player. “We’re wondering when he’ll stop working,” Corn said. “We’ll probably be here for his 80th anniversary.”

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