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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Japan Engineer District commander Col. Robert Vasta discovered a Meritorious Unit Commendation earned in 1969 that led to a new streamer for the unit colors and ribbons for active-duty soldiers.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Japan Engineer District commander Col. Robert Vasta discovered a Meritorious Unit Commendation earned in 1969 that led to a new streamer for the unit colors and ribbons for active-duty soldiers. (Juliana Gittler / S&S)

CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Shortly after arriving to take command of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Japan Engineer District last year, Col. Robert J. Vasta walked the hallways of his new office building looking at the photos and plaques adorning the walls.

One in particular caught his eye: a Meritorious Unit Commendation earned by his command’s predecessor 36 years ago.

Almost four decades of change, including a war, two Corps of Engineers restructurings and the reversion of Okinawa to Japan, meant the command’s honor almost had been forgotten.

But if the commendation had followed his new command’s lineage, it would mean Vasta’s unit was entitled to display a special streamer on its unit colors during command functions and active-duty members of the unit could wear a citation ribbon on their dress uniforms, Vasta said.

“All folks in the Army understand the significance of having streamers on your colors,” Vasta said. “It says, ‘My unit did some very important things.’”

His inquisitiveness paid off. After querying the Army, he learned the citation did indeed belong to the current command.

“It was just kind of lost in the shuffle,” said Lt. Col. Tyrone Allen, deputy commander and the Okinawa officer in charge.

The streamer, Vasta explained, is a physical representation of the Corps’ work in the prelude to Vietnam.

According to the citation, the unit earned the honor for its efforts from Jan. 1, 1966, to Dec. 31, 1968. The citation was signed in 1969.

During the ’66-’68 time frame, the unit showed “resourcefulness” and “initiative” in completing several strategic projects in Okinawa, China and Taiwan in addition to maintaining regular operations on Okinawa.

They included designing and constructing facilities for B-52 bombers and Military Airlift Command aircraft at Kadena Air Base and for KC-135 tankers at Ching Chuan Air Base in Taiwan.

More than 40 projects needed to be completed at Kadena alone.

“They were rush construction jobs,” said Yoshitake Johana, 73, who was an inspector at the time.

“The work was very busy,” added Takao Kinjo, 62, who also was an inspector.

Vasta said the fact that the commendation was issued when the unit was balancing war with everyday responsibilities has a strong parallel to today, since many members of the current unit deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’m really glad that the lineage was identified,” Vasta said.

For the unit’s 296 current members, many of them civilians, the citation is a reminder of how the Corps serves the military’s needs.

“This is a really important thing.”

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