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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 21, 2003

Regiment welcomes orphans from Japan

By Allison Schaefers
Advertiser Staff Writer

It was clear from the reception given to four Japanese orphans by U.S. Army soldiers from the 27th Infantry Regiment yesterday upon their arrival on O'ahu that the children had taken command of the soldiers' hearts.

Erika Nozaki receives a lei upon arriving in Hawai'i. Nozaki is one of four orphans visiting Hawai'i as guests of the 27th Infantry Regiment and 25th Infantry Division (Light) from Schofield Barracks.

Sgt. Bradley Rhen • U.S. Army

The children, from the Holy Family Home Orphanage in Osaka, arrived to spend 15 days with the 27th Infantry "Wolfhounds." They'll visit attractions around O'ahu, and live in the homes of the regiment's families. The visit is an annual tradition that continues a 54-year-old relationship between the orphanage and the Wolfhounds.

The relationship began on Christmas Day 1949, when about a dozen soldiers from the 27th Infantry went to a holiday party at the orphanage. Conditions at the orphanage tore at their heartstrings, said former Master Sgt. Hugh O'Reilly, who was one of those soldiers.

"The Wolfhounds were deeply moved by the extreme poverty of the children — they were malnourished, shabbily dressed, living in three ramshackle wooden former Japanese Army barracks," O'Reilly said. "And all they had was one hibachi providing heat in each building."

The men began contributing portions of their pay to help the children and for the next six months, soldiers of the regiment spent their spare time helping repair the orphanage.

The soldiers continued their support after the regiment was sent to Korea during the Korean War. Money received during those years helped build an orphanage complex that greatly improved the lives of the children, and the 27th Infantry's reputation in Korea soared.

The relationship was chronicled in the 1955 movie "Three Stripes in the Sun," which told the story of O'Reilly and the events surrounding the relationship between the orphaned children and the Wolfhounds.

"Giving money and presents and cash is some of what we've done over the years," O'Reilly said. "But the most important thing we've given is love."

The donations, which continue today, also motivated Akio Aoyama, a Japanese steel manufacturer, to donate $10,000 a year to the cause since 1991.

"He was so awed by the fact that the American soldiers were helping the children of their former enemies," O'Reilly said.

In 1957, the Wolfhounds invited two children from the Holy Family Home to visit the soldiers and their families stationed in Hawai'i.

Today, the tradition continues, said Lt. Col. Scott Leith, commander of the 1st Battalion 27th Infantry.

"Across cultures and across countries, we can make a difference whether it's on the battlefield or in the community," Leith said during a welcome reception for the children which was held at Honolulu International Airport yesterday.

Twelve families from the of the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment and 25th Infantry Division (Light) will host 11-year-old Erika Nozaki and her twin brother Shohei Nozaki, 12-year-old Masashi Kokuryo and 11-year-old Sawako Noguchi.

Although the children were tired after a nine-hour flight, several expressed their joy at being on O'ahu.

Sawako said, through an interpreter, that she was "so very surprised and so very happy" to be chosen for the annual trip. She plans on spending lots of time at the beach, she said.

Masatoshi Muto, consul general of Japan, said the relationship between the Wolfhounds and the Japanese orphanage has done much to improve international relations over the years.

Sgt. Jesse Okiyama said he and his wife, Christine, and their children Jessie and Cody are excited about serving as host family for two of the orphans.

"It's a way to give something back" said Okiyama, who was raised by a single mother. "I can relate to these children. I didn't have a father growing up and I jumped around from house to house in my teenage years. It would have been nice if someone had done something like this for me."

Okiyama said his family plans to spend a lot of time at the beach with the Japanese children. They'll also visit the Waikiki Aquarium and go to a lu'au at the Hale Koa Hotel, he said.