YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Rickey Stoker missed his little sister. Jesse Marler missed his newborn son. Shaun Witt missed his mama. And Angel Samuel missed his cat.

The three Navy airmen and one seaman, all 18 to 22 years old and new to the Navy, spent their first Thanksgiving away from home beneath the crepe paper turkeys and pumpkins decorating the “Jewel of the East,” also known as Commodore Matthew C. Perry General Mess. The galley was plying them with roast beef and turkey, sweet potatoes and instant mashed potatoes, fresh fruit and strawberry sundaes.

“It kind of reminds you of being at home,” Stoker said. “All you need is a football game.”

“That, and a family,” Marler said.

But they did have each other. Since arriving recently in Yokosuka, they’d done a lot together: visited the giant Buddha at Kamakura; got drunk in Tokyo’s Roppongi district. Next, they’ll all be flying out to meet up with the USS Kitty Hawk in Guam to really begin their Navy careers.

“It’s not as hard as I thought it would be,” Samuel said. “You find your friends and sort of form your own family.”

There were many types of families getting together on Thanksgiving at Yokosuka, where people had a variety of places to get a traditional turkey dinner, or a not-so-traditional one.

The ships and clubs served Thanksgiving dinner; there were informal gatherings in some of the towers, and an “Adopt-A-Sailor” program hooked single sailors up with base families.

“We’re trying to focus in on the young kids away from home for the first or second time,” said Capt. King Dietrich, Yokosuka’s base commander.

Dietrich planned dinner at home with his family, a neighbor whose husband was at sea and a friend of his son’s whose parents were in Guam. But first he had to eat a little something prepared for single sailors and families staying at the Navy Lodge by the Christian Women in Action. It started at the base chapel at noon — “the first Thanksgiving eating opportunity,” Dietrich said — and included home-cooked turkey and ham, cornbread pudding, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, as well as spicy beef, Vietnamese spring rolls and lumpia, Filipino egg rolls.

Joseph Powell, 28, a civilian new to the base and whose wife was working, had most all of that on his plate. And to his right he had Petty Officer 3rd Class Tymon Torrence, Powell’s best and only friend. “You’re your brother’s keeper,” Powell, said.

The two talked about what Thanksgiving was like at home in Mississippi and Georgia. “You eat, play dominoes, play spades, watch football and sleep, not necessarily in that order,” Torrence said.

Did they miss it? “Home is always better. But this will do,” Powell said.

Michelle Coles, a third-grade teacher who was at the chapel lunch, said she missed her own North Carolina family’s tradition at her grandmother’s house: the men in one room, the kids outside, the women cooking, gossiping and laughing. “And there’s that one cousin we have. She has her roll of aluminum foil and her plastic containers. She says hello to everybody, fills up her containers and leaves.”

So, not everybody wanted to be around other people on Thanksgiving.

Seaman Dan Kolbo, of the USS Blue Ridge, sat happily in the nearly deserted Fleet Recreation Center playing a game on his laptop. He didn’t care what he ate that day, he said, because he was getting what he had missed: some solitude.

“It’s the perfect time to get away from people and have a quiet afternoon,” he said. “When you live on a ship, it’s nice to get away.”

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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