Sailors saluted with fanfare in Tokyo
Stars and Stripes June 4, 2003
TOKYO — Even though they’re stationed thousands of miles from U.S. soil, a lucky group of Japan-based sailors experienced the thanks of a grateful nation Sunday night.
A lavish dinner and reception “welcomed home” 75 Kitty Hawk strike group and Carrier Air Wing 5 sailors.
“This is a testament to the respect and honor the American and Japanese communities have for you guys and women,” said Fred Harris, president of the Tokyo council of the Navy League of the United States, which co-hosted the event with the Tokyo American Club.
Among the star-studded cast of local Navy officials attending were the commanders of U.S. Naval Forces Japan, the Kitty Hawk, Submarine Group 7 and Destroyer Squadron 15.
“But,” said Harris, “there are 75 higher-ranking VIPs, and these are the sailors we have invited to share this dinner.”
The sailors were handpicked by the various commands as the best each has to offer. And the sailors indicated they were impressed by the reception they were given: long buffet tables piled with food, appreciative expats buying rounds of drinks and a long series of thank-yous by a parade of speakers.
“To tell you the truth, I’m a little bit nervous. It’s kind of overwhelming,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Heather King of the Kitty Hawk, who also happened to be celebrating her 25th birthday.
“This is one of the nicest things anyone has done for us that I’ve seen.”
Indeed, the junior sailors seemed somewhat taken aback by their status as celebrities for the night. Throughout the evening, most of the children at the dinner sidled up to tables of sailors and asked for autographs. The sailors happily complied, handing out command patches and photographs of their ships, subs and aircraft.
“It’s kind of strange to be here after reading some of the letters from my friends who are still over there,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Garth Nichols of the USS John S. McCain.
Nichols had spent four years in an Army artillery unit before joining the Navy; many of his old friends in the 3rd Infantry Division still are in Iraq.
And though Sunday’s dinner was festive, those in attendance also paused to remember shipmates who could not be there.
During his brief remarks, Adm. Robert Chaplin, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Japan, asked for a moment of silence to remember two Atsugi Naval Air Facility-based pilots who were killed in the war.
But the sailors’ hosts did everything possible to make the night a celebration.
A dozen sailors won dinners donated by the Outback Steakhouse; two even luckier sailors won round-trip tickets to the United States, donated on the spur of the moment by United Airlines officials who are members of the Tokyo American Club.
“It’s really the least we can do for them. How can you say thank you enough?” said club member Sally Reed Impastato.
“We are never really sure when you will be called into harm’s way again,” Harris said.
“But we’re quite confident that whatever comes our way will be taken care of by the super people of the United States Navy.”