Marines, families join Santa in visit to Okinawa nursing home
KIN, Okinawa — Marines and several family members visited a local nursing home here Tuesday, sharing American traditions and spreading Christmas cheer through caroling.
Approximately 30 Marines and family members from nearby Camp Hansen’s 7th Communication Battalion spent several hours with residents at the Hikarigaoka Nursing Home. The home has 70 residents ranging in ages from 85 to 104, according to Yasunobu Sadoyama, the facility’s general manager.
After eating a buffet lunch provided by the nursing home, the visiting group sang Christmas carols for the audience. Many of the residents clapped or tapped provided Christmas bells along with the singing. The carolers were given musical support by the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band’s brass quintet, which also played Christmas music during lunch.
The visit by the servicemembers was eagerly anticipated, Sadoyama said.
“For most of the residents who are in wheelchairs, it is not easy for them to go out and join in events in the community,” he said. “This is one of their rare opportunities to interact with people from outside the facility.”
Toshi Shingaki, a nurse at the facility, said residents went all out for the visit.
“Most of them are in their Sunday best,” she said. “Some ladies even put their makeup on.”
Motoyoshi Matsukawa, 97, was among those who enjoyed the event. He sat in the first row to listen to the Christmas songs.
“This is terrific,” he said through an interpreter while clapping his hands to the music. “I really enjoy listening to their songs.”
After a few songs, Santa Claus made a special appearance, handing out gifts to residents while the caroling continued.
“It was a great moment,” said Yoshi Yagi, who through an interpreter would disclose her age only as “over 80” after greeting Santa Claus with a big hug. “It was the first time in my life to hug Santa Claus, and an American. He really made my day.”
Seeing Marines at the nursing home is not rare. Troops from 7th Communication Battalion travel to the home twice each month to perform maintenance on the grounds there. They’ve been volunteering there for 13 years, according to Lt. Col. Gregory Breazile, the unit’s commanding officer.
“They need to get off base and see what the community is all about,” Breazile said of his troops. “I think it broadens their horizons and makes them appreciate Okinawa.”
For Lance Cpl. Antwon Jones, a 20-year-old multichannel radio operator, visiting the nursing home is helping his spirits during the holiday season.
“Even though my family is not here, I’m substituting these people as my family to help bring my spirits up,” said Jones, who is spending his first Christmas on Okinawa.
Fellow radio operator and Lance Cpl. Antron Jarrell, also 20, said he was happy to share some of his culture with the residents and visit those often forgotten.
“I know from my experience with nursing homes like this that they don’t get many visitors,” he said, “so I wanted to come here and share my Christmas with them.”