40 years later, former sailor finds daughter he left behind in Japan
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 20, 2015
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The words that Navy veteran James Walker had longed to hear for almost 46 years appeared on his Facebook page Saturday.
“Your search is over .. I am found .. i love you Dad,” said the message from a woman claiming to be the daughter he left behind in Japan when he went off to fight in the Vietnam War.
Walker contacted the person who made the post, Emi McGowan of Sarasota, Fla., and then questioned her mother, Tomie Miller of Mesa, Ariz.
“I called her mother, and she told me things that only her mother would know,” he said, noting that he’s been contacted by numerous scam artists claiming to be his daughter since Stars and Stripes ran a story about his search in March.
“You never know if somebody is trying to pull something over on you,” he said.
Now, he’s convinced that his search is over.
Shortly after his daughter’s birth in 1968, Walker got orders to return to the U.S. from Japan. At the time, he was a petty officer third class at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, near Tokyo.
Walker wrote to the girl many times and made other unsuccessful efforts to track her down, including a trip back to their old neighborhood near Atsugi. He credited the Stars and Stripes article, which was translated into Japanese and widely shared on Facebook, with helping him make the breakthrough.
McGowan, who said she has been searching for her father since she was 18, reported that a friend saw the story and sent her the accompanying photo.
“I looked at the baby in the picture and I was looking at myself in the mirror. My face has really not changed,” she said.
The pair’s first phone conversation was emotional, with father and daughter in tears at times.
“She has been trying to find me,” Walker said. “She was doing everything she could but didn’t know how to go about it. The Lord stayed with us, and we kept working.”
They were quickly swapping photographs online. Walker got to see how his daughter had grown into a woman.
Walker was told that, after he left Japan, his girlfriend started dating another sailor and the pair got married. McGowan grew up in U.S. military communities in Japan, California and Hawaii, she said.
When her stepfather was sent to Yokosuka, Japan, she attended elementary school there. After stints in Pennsylvania and Hawaii, she ended up living with her mother in Oceanside, Calif., she said.
“I didn’t know that my first stepfather wasn’t my real dad until I was 9 years old,” McGowan said.
Her search for her father was complicated since she had known only his name, age and a little of what he looked like, she said.
“I never had a picture,” she said. “I knew he had blonde hair and blue eyes and a cleft chin. I have the same cleft chin.”
Walker’s search was likely complicated by her mother’s four marriages and multiple name changes, she said.
McGowan said her life hasn’t been easy. She ran a flower shop and worked other jobs in California but nowadays she’s homeless and living in front of a church in Sarasota.
She said she has three children of her own.
Walker said he and his wife are planning to visit his daughter in Florida this winter.
Emi McGowan, shown in this undated file photo from her childhood, has recently reconnected with her father, James Walker, who has spent more than four decades looking for her. A sailor assigned to Japan in late '60s, Walker shipped off to Vietnam and never saw his daughter again.
PHOTO COURTESY OF EMI MCGOWAN