Michael Jackson thrills the crowd during Camp Zama visit

Michael Jackson speaks to his fans at Camp Zama.


By VINCE LITTLE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 12, 2007

CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Hundreds of fans at this Army post got a peek at the “King of Pop” on Saturday afternoon.

Michael Jackson thrilled U.S. troops, their families and Japanese base employees with a brief but electric appearance at the Yano Fitness Center.

Most jammed into the building about two hours before he was flown in on a Black Hawk helicopter from Hardy Barracks in Tokyo. With Jackson favorites such as “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “The Girl is Mine” and “Thriller” playing overhead, the crowd was entertained with trivia questions and a raucous imitation dance showdown.

Screams erupted and camera flashes lit up the gymnasium when Jackson entered shortly after 3 p.m. People stood and flocked toward the roped-off stage, straining for a glimpse of the pop icon.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be here,” Jackson told the audience. “You people are among the most special in the world because you have chosen a life of service. Because of you here today and others who have given their lives, we can enjoy our freedom at home. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. And I love you.”

The legendary gloved one did a giant loop around the stage. He waved, smiled and blew kisses at fans huddled against the barrier. Then he was ushered away.

Later, Jackson took part in a private promotion ceremony before departing.

He may not have stuck around very long — the entire stop lasted about 10 minutes. But hey, it was Michael Jackson. “I got two wishes before I die: See Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson,” said Walter Sampson, a retired petty officer first class who works at Yokosuka Naval Base and brought his family from Yokohama on Saturday. “Now all I gotta do is see Mick Jagger and I’ll be the happiest person in the world. ”

At a VIP party in Tokyo last weekend, hours after Jackson arrived in Japan, guests paid $3,500 for 30 seconds to one minute of face time with him.

Senior Airman Raphel Lucas, 22, said he wouldn’t go quite that far but there’s probably not much else he wouldn’t do for a chance to meet his idol. He and wife Maria made the hour-plus drive from Yokota Air Base on Saturday.

“The first thing I can remember doing as a kid was the ‘Thriller’ dance. I’m a huge fan, huge fan. I don’t think there’s a Michael Jackson song you can sing that I don’t know the words to,” Lucas said.

Ashlee Hempstead, a sophomore at Zama American High School, said she got some good photos of him.

“I was really, really excited and very happy,” she said afterward. “It was really great. Not a lot of celebrities come here and actually see us on base. …I’m not a really big fan, but I still like his music.”

Melissa Stimmler, 27, the wife of Lt. John Stimmler, a flight surgeon with Carrier Air Wing 5 at Atsugi Naval Air Facilty, said it was worth the drive. “I never thought I’d see him in person. We were about 2 feet from him,” she said. “It was pretty exciting. I got a little video. We have to post it to all of our friends back home.”

Three sailors assigned to Atsugi’s Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 14 said they were somewhat disappointed Jackson didn’t stay longer.

After learning about the visit on Friday, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ali Elazhari, 22, joked that he “got all excited like a little girl.”

“I was even practicing my Michael Jackson scream in the car on the way over here today,” he added.

“He came out with a bang, then it all fizzled out,” said Airman David Takacs, 20, an aviation technician with HS-14.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Melinda Ray, 25, said the Jackson event was billed as a 40-minute meet-and-greet with servicemembers, but that’s not what it turned out to be.

“He came out and talked for seven minutes, then left,” Ray said. “It was pretty exciting that they got him to come here, but it was kind of a letdown because they advertised something different. I can’t believe that many people showed up.

“But I enjoyed it. It was fun. It was definitely an experience.”

Airman Christopher Terhune, from Atsugi Air Facility, shakes hands with Michael Jackson after winning a dance-off competition at Camp Zama, Japan on Saturday.

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