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Yoshie Sato, 56, was robbed and killed by USS Kitty Hawk sailor Airman William Oliver Reese, 21, on the morning of Jan. 3 in Yokosuka city.

Yoshie Sato, 56, was robbed and killed by USS Kitty Hawk sailor Airman William Oliver Reese, 21, on the morning of Jan. 3 in Yokosuka city. (Courtesy of Shuichi Sato)

Yoshie Sato, 56, was robbed and killed by USS Kitty Hawk sailor Airman William Oliver Reese, 21, on the morning of Jan. 3 in Yokosuka city.

Yoshie Sato, 56, was robbed and killed by USS Kitty Hawk sailor Airman William Oliver Reese, 21, on the morning of Jan. 3 in Yokosuka city. (Courtesy of Shuichi Sato)

Yoshie Sato, 56, enjoyed making washi-paper mosaic art. Her brother Shuichi Sanada said one of her mosaics hangs at his house.

Yoshie Sato, 56, enjoyed making washi-paper mosaic art. Her brother Shuichi Sanada said one of her mosaics hangs at his house. (Hana Kusumoto / S&S)

Yoshie Sato had a strong sense of justice. Her brother says that might be what put her in harm’s way Jan. 3, when a USS Kitty Hawk sailor robbed and beat her to death in Yokosuka city.

Sato, 56, was fearless in any fight against injustice, said her brother, Shuichi Sanada.

“That turned things badly this time,” he said, adding that he believes Sato may have fought back as the sailor grabbed her bag — and perhaps had she not, “it may not have ended in such tragedy.”

Navy Airman William Oliver Reese, 21, was arrested and given to Japanese authorities a few days after Sato’s death. He pleaded guilty to robbing and killing Sato as his trial in Yokohama District Court opened in March. He faces sentencing Friday.

Sanada recalled that once when he was a student, waiting for Sato, police questioned him as a suspicious individual. His sister, seeing this, ran to the police officer and started arguing.

“If she thinks she’s right … she will correct them even if they are police,” Sanada said.

Sato, the eldest of three, was born Feb. 28, 1949, in Yokosuka city. Her second husband, whom she wed in 1989, had three sons from a previous marriage and six grandchildren. He died two years ago; when Sato died, she was living in Yokosuka with a man she’d promised to marry.

“She was a caring mother,” said the youngest son, Katsuki Sato. “She used to get mad if we didn’t eat.”

He also recalled her devotion to her hobbies. She knitted hats and clothes for a doll she kept like a child. The doll was placed in her casket.

Sanada said, “She was much into [jigsaw] puzzles. … She would finish a thousand-piece puzzle in no time.”

At Sanada’s house is another product of Sato’s hobbies: A washi-paper mosaic of a bouquet of white and pink flowers.

“My mother liked flowers,” Katsuki said. “There used to be orchids all over the house.”

She also grew vegetables in a garden she kept with co-workers at her job cleaning buses. “She would … drop off vegetables on her way home,” Katsuki said.

Sato also golfed for more than 20 years, her brother said.

He said she was a responsible person who hated missing work.

“Usually, people would use their leave to stay home during the first three days of the New Year holidays but she was working from [Jan.] 2nd,” he said. She was killed on her way to work.

Sato always was strong-willed, her son said. So he was especially shocked when he watched the security camera footage of the attack shown in court, and heard his mother calling for help.

“She left the house and went to work just like usual. She never expected to be killed there,” Sanada said. “When I think about the situation … I want the suspect to receive the death penalty. … One needs to pay with one’s own life when taking someone else’s.”

But Sanada and Katsuki said they don’t hate base residents — and neither did Yoshie Sato. Sato “never once said she was against U.S. troops,” Sanada said.

But Sato’s family wishes servicemembers received more education, Sanada said. Reese “was saying during the trial that he was homesick. That shows human frailties,” the brother said. “I think education could help overcome that.”

Sanada and Katsuki said they appreciate the Navy’s response to Sato’s death, including delivering an apology in person and attending Sato’s vigil.

“My hatred is only toward the suspect and not to the others,” Sanada said. “I think everyone is doing their best. But one person’s mistake ended up as a serious social problem.”

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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