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Marine Lt. Gen. Wallace C. Gregson, left, meets Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine, right, for the last time Tuesday as commander of all Marines on Okinawa. Gregson will become commanding general of Marine Forces Pacific next month.
Marine Lt. Gen. Wallace C. Gregson, left, meets Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine, right, for the last time Tuesday as commander of all Marines on Okinawa. Gregson will become commanding general of Marine Forces Pacific next month. (David Allen / S&S)

NAHA, Okinawa — Gov. Keiichi Inamine acted a little out of character Tuesday when he said goodbye to the commander of Marines on Okinawa.

He said something nice.

By his own admission during a brief meeting with Lt. Gen. Wallace C. Gregson, Inamine rarely has had a kind word for the senior U.S. general on Okinawa.

“I have met you so many times over the years but, come to think about it, I did nothing but file complaints with you,” Inamine said under the bright lights of cameras recording the event.

“Since this is my last meeting, I would like to express my gratitude instead.”

Inamine, who has called for a reduction in the Marine presence on Okinawa, congratulated Gregson on his new assignment. The American general leaves at month’s end to become commander of Marine Forces Pacific in Hawaii.

Gregson in turn pointed out that as MARFORPAC commander, he would continue to be involved with Okinawan affairs.

Inamine thanked Gregson for promoting a program that brings American volunteers to teach English in Okinawan schools. The effort began with schools near U.S. bases in central Okinawa and is expanding to other areas.

“The program is now covering all the elementary schools in Naha,” Inamine said. “Owing to the great support of the military community, it is growing to other areas of Okinawa.

“Another program that I am deeply impressed with is the Special Olympic games. It was initiated by the military volunteers and, thanks to their dedication and initiative, the number of Japanese volunteers has increased more and more in each year. I understand that more than 100 Okinawa volunteers participated in the games last month. I am very pleased with such active volunteer activities on Okinawa.”

However, Inamine could not let Gregson go without another plug for reducing the U.S. military footprint on the island.

“Lastly, I would like to ask you one thing,” the governor said. “Military-related problems are very important issues on Okinawa. They are the accumulation of a 58-year-long postwar history. … I would like to ask you to pass on to your successor the importance of the history and the gravity of the problems.”

Inamine then said he hoped to run into Gregson when he attends the Worldwide Uchinanchu Convention, set for August in Honolulu.

Uchinanchu is the name for Okinawans in the local dialect. Every four years Okinawans from all over the world gather on Okinawa to share their heritage. The last meeting here was in 2001. The Hawaii convention is a special meeting sponsored by the Okinawa community there.

Thousands of Okinawans migrated to Hawaii and South America in the years just before World War II.

Gregson said he will turn over his command July 30 to Maj. Gen. Robert R. Blackman Jr.

“My replacement is a very longtime friend of mine, and I will pass on your concerns,” he said.

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