Soldiers help Japanese orphans, continuing regiment’s long tradition
By LEON COOK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 13, 2016
Dozens of Hawaii-based soldiers recently helped out at a children’s home in Osaka, Japan, seven decades after a member of their regiment started collecting donations for the orphans there.
The “Wolfhounds” of 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment are in Japan for Orient Shield, an annual drill between the Army and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.
On Saturday, 51 members of the unit did yard work at the Holy Family Home, which has had a relationship with the regiment since the 1940s when it was part of the occupying force in Japan.
“Today, we’re doing some area beautification,” Cpt. Joe Simmons, the lead planner for the visit, said during a Saturday phone interview. “We have soldiers pulling weeds, cleaning windows, sweeping the floors and whatever we can do to help out.”
The soldiers were following a tradition established by Sgt. Hugh O’Reilly, a fellow Wolfhound and a veteran of fierce fighting during the Pacific campaign.
He visited the orphanage in 1949 with a Red Cross representative and, appalled by the living conditions there, took up a collection to help out. Soon the entire regiment was passing the hat each payday and donating time and money to the kids. The story was dramatized in the 1955 film “Three Stripes in the Sun.”
Beginning in 1957, Wolfhounds invited the Japanese orphans to visit their homes in Hawaii for two weeks. In 1958, they donated gifts for the holiday season. Today, soldiers host four children every summer, and donated more than 700 presents last Christmas.
Though a few soldiers visit the facility every year to deliver the presents, the group that helped out on Saturday was the largest contingent of Wolfhounds to visit since the regiment left Japan.
“We were hoping we could visit [Holy Family Home] while we were here for Orient Shield, and fortunately we were able to make it work,” Simmons said.
Once the soldiers tidied up, they gave the home’s 130 kids their full attention, talking and playing games for several hours.
“I’m delighted to see them again. We all had a really good time,” said Sgt. Justin Lowery, who hosted two of the children at his home in Hawaii last month. “Their faces lit up when they saw me, and I bet mine did, too.”