Stars making holidays brighter on Pacific bases
December 26, 2003
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — At first, Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Wellens didn’t pay much attention to the civilians lingering near the doorway of Grissom Dining Hall Tuesday night — until one of them said “Merry Christmas.”
“When I saw Dennis Farina, my mouth dropped,” said the Security Hill sailor. “I just came in here for a quick meal.”
Farina and three other actors did what few celebrities do: They visited this remote, northern Japan air base Tuesday and Wednesday to kick off a seven-day holiday swing to four Pacific U.S. bases and a Navy ship.
“People were telling us today that they don’t get anyone to come see them,” said actress Sherri Saum, who most recently played Professor Keri Reynolds on the daytime soap opera “One Life to Live.”
“I’ve never had fans express this kind of gratitude. There were a lot of fanatic soap opera fans,” added Kamar de los Reyes, who plays Antonio Vega on “One Life to Live.”
The actors are to spend Christmas Day at Yokosuka Naval Base near Tokyo and visit sailors aboard the USS Blue Ridge on Friday. Then on Saturday, they’re scheduled to appear at the Yokota Community Center at 3 p.m., before heading to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in southern Japan on Dec. 28 and Dec. 29.
The United Services Organization is sponsoring the tour, said Jeff Harvey, a USO tour manager from Washington, D.C., who accompanied the actors.
When USO sets an itinerary for a celebrity tour, “We go through the military,” Harvey said. “They tell us where there’s a need. The USO mission is to let people know we’re thinking of them and not just at those places in the news.”
USO covers most expenses, such as transportation and meals, to bring a celebrity overseas, but the actors receive no appearance fees, Harvey said.
For Bill Brochtrup, who plays Irvin on the television show “NYPD Blue,” and Farina, who’s appeared in movies such as “Snatch,” “Get Shorty” and “Saving Private Ryan,” the Japan trip marked their third USO tour; they’ve also been to Saudi Arabia, the Balkans and Bahrain.
“We were very happy to come to Japan,” Brochtrup said. “When we say we’re interested in going, they send you where they need you. We’re willing to go any place.”
At Misawa on Tuesday, the actors signed about 500 autographs and toured the Officers and Enlisted clubs.
Brochtrup’s take on the base: “This is a little nicer than Bosnia.”
Wednesday, they were to meet members of Misawa’s Security Forces squadron and attend a holiday party for unaccompanied airmen.
Being away from family and friends during the holidays wasn’t an issue, they said.
“I think it depends who your family is,” Farina quipped.