Air Force vet's Japanese birth mother gave him a slip of paper with his father's name. He wasn't going to search for him
By KATHRYN TOLBERT | The Washington Post | Published: May 15, 2018
Retired Air Force Col. Bruce Hollywood was done searching. As an adult, he had found his Japanese birth mother and thanked her. He didn't feel a need to find his father, who had been in the U.S. Air Force.
Hollywood was grateful for the new relationship he had with his mother, Nobue Ouchi, and her devotion to him. He learned that after she placed him for adoption with an American couple, she named her restaurant for him, believing he would come back to her one day - even if it took decades.
She was right. When they reunited in 2006 - when Hollywood was 46 - she told him the story of his birth father.
They had met, she said, when Hollywood's father was stationed in Japan in 1959. They fell in love and planned to marry. They did not know she was pregnant when he was ordered to return to the United States.
He promised to call her right away but did not. When he finally did, months later, she refused to take his call, thinking he could not be trusted. He never learned he was to be a father.
That was the last she knew of him.
But Nobue gave Hollywood a slip of paper, in case he ever wanted to find his father. She had carefully written in all caps: LOIS BAZAL.
Back in Washington, Hollywood had no plans to contact the man who didn't know he existed, but was curious enough to check military records. He found no mention of him, even trying Louis instead of Lois. He thought it odd but let it go, and focused on spending time with his Japanese mother.
His adoptive parents, who always encouraged him to find her, had passed away. He knew they would have been happy for him. Hollywood and his mother had three years together, with visits back and forth, before she died of a heart attack in 2009.
Hollywood, 57, of Vienna, Virginia, cherished the story of finding his birth mother and shared it with friends. He loved telling the part about how she didn't want to let him out of her sight, and bicycled after him when he went on his daily run. They often stopped and just sat on a sea wall side by side, looking at the ocean, not talking.
Finding her also gave him an identity as a Japanese American, something that he didn't grow up with as his family moved among military bases.
What more could he ask for, he thought.
But a couple years ago, curious about his Caucasian half, Hollywood had his DNA tested with an Ancestry.com kit. The results were clear: Half his ancestors were from East Asia, and the rest from Ireland, Spain and other parts of Western Europe.
As he clicked through the results, it also said there's a 100 percent chance this person is your cousin - and the last name was Bazar, one letter off from the family name his mother gave him.
A wave of comprehension swept through him. Japanese often confuse R's and L's - that's why his mother had written Bazal instead of Bazar.
He emailed the cousin and explained who he was, why he was reaching out. When the cousin's wife responded, he asked whether any relatives served in Japan. She said yes, there was an uncle.
"I said, 'Okay, I think that's my father,' " Hollywood recalled.
She said he had passed away. "But he has a son," she added.
When Hollywood got the number, he immediately dialed. No answer. He couldn't leave a message, too complicated. But a few minutes later, Louis Bazar Jr. called back.
Hollywood asked him, "Was your father named Louis Bazar?"
"Yes, he was Louis Sr., and I'm Louis Jr."
Hollywood said, "I have a story to tell you, and you might not believe it."
But then he found out something he did not expect at all. Louis Jr. was older than he was. He was born before the father went to Japan.
For a moment, Hollywood feared that his father was already married when he met Nobue, that his mother had been misled.
Louis Jr., 63, who lives in Gulf Breeze, Florida, told him that his mother died in childbirth.
Hollywood was both sad for Louis and deeply relieved, reassured that his father's offer of marriage to Nobue had been sincere.
Louis Jr. was 5 years old when his father was sent to Japan. His aunt cared for him while his father was away, when he fell in love with Nobue.
But why did it take him so long to call her when he left Japan? That lapse is what made Nobue not trust him and shut him out.
Says Hollywood: "I'm sure it was a couple of things. That he was trying to prepare this South Carolina family for bringing a Japanese national over. Then he also, I'm sure, was being reacquainted with his son."
Louis Sr. remained single, just as Nobue did.
His son thinks his father gave up on love after his wife died in childbirth and the second woman he wanted to marry rejected him by refusing to take his call.
His father had a difficult childhood - he lost his parents at a young age, and his older sister who helped raise him was murdered while she was working at the family store.
"I think he had this thing that every woman in his life that he cared about, he lost," Louis Jr. said. "So he never got close to anyone. He never brought anyone home."
When Louis Sr. was dying in hospice care in 2005, he gave his son photo albums, including one that he hadn't shown him before. It had pages of photographs of a young Japanese woman - but his father wouldn't talk about it.
All of a sudden, Louis Jr. understood. The pieces fit together.
To be sure, the phone call from Hollywood was a shock.
But he didn't hesitate when Hollywood asked him, "How would you like to have a younger brother?"
"I always wanted a sibling," Louis replied.
Tolbert is telling the stories of Japanese women who married American servicemen after World War II on Instagram @kathryn.tolbert and in an oral history archive, www.warbrideproject.com.