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Jennell Jennett, 5, waits for a balloon animal Sunday fashioned by Uncle Ted, right, while her father, Tech Sgt. Riley Jennett watches nearby. Hundreds of children and parents celebrated National Kids Day at RAF Mildenhall, England.

Jennell Jennett, 5, waits for a balloon animal Sunday fashioned by Uncle Ted, right, while her father, Tech Sgt. Riley Jennett watches nearby. Hundreds of children and parents celebrated National Kids Day at RAF Mildenhall, England. (Ron Jensen / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Thousands of Japanese braved the heat and humidity Sunday to taste American food and mingle with U.S. military personnel during Navy Friendship Day.

By 1:30 p.m., some 40,000 Japanese had turned out, said USS Kitty Hawk Lt. Cmdr. Butch Kissick.

“It’s been great here,” he said as he sold Operation Iraqi Freedom patches touting his carrier’s participation in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Temperatures were in the upper-80s, but that didn’t discourage Japanese from lining up to buy pizza, look at American hot rods or play games.

“We sold 1,800 pizzas already,” Gaku Nakayama, in the Anthony’s Pizza booth, said just after 1:30 p.m.

Nakayama wouldn’t estimate how many pizzas might be sold before the festival ended. But he said Japanese wanted pizza there because it was bigger and less expensive than pizzas generally available off base.

The Japanese also wanted pizza because it is part of American culture, he said.

And that’s exactly why some Japanese attended Navy Friendship Day.

“I’m here so I can feel American,” said Yokosuka city resident Steph Nakamura. “It’s a good opportunity for Japanese and Americans to communicate.”

Typically, most Japanese are barred from visiting the base, Nakamura said, even if they live next door. But Sunday, the gates were open.

“It’s great,” said Yuzuko Aoyama of Yokosuka city. “It’s a really good opportunity to practice English.”

Military personnel said they, too, were excited to share their culture.

“It feels good,” Seaman Apprentice Michael Cross said as he worked at an inflatable rock-climbing wall for children.

Shortly afterward, he was called to rescue 5-year-old Julia Gianio of Yokosuka Naval Base. The young girl climbed halfway up, stopped and began crying for help.

Donning a climbing harness, Cross bolted up the inflatable wall, grabbed the girl and helped her safely to the ground, where civilian Shanna Sheppard assisted.

Hundreds of Japanese watched, cheered and applauded.

“Friendship. This is what it’s about,” Cross said. “It feels good to help out.”

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