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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 25, 2006

1914-2006
Sgt. Maj. Hugh O'Reilly aided Japanese orphans

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hugh O'Reilly and his 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment "Wolfhounds" adopted the Holy Family Home orphanage in Osaka, Japan, raising money for the kids and arranging for some to visit Hawai'i.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | 1958

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The honorary Sgt. Maj. Hugh F. O'Reilly of the Army's 27th Infantry Regiment Wolfhounds died of natural causes on Friday at age 91.

O'Reilly was named honorary sergeant major of the regiment for his selfless service after establishing a special relationship with the Holy Family Home orphanage in Osaka, Japan, in 1949. The program arranged for Japanese orphans to make visits to Hawai'i a custom that lasts to this day.

O'Reilly was an unlikely hero. The third of five children of Irish parents in the Bronx, he was born on Aug. 27, 1914, and grew up a troublemaker in his tough neighborhood.

In 1932 O'Reilly joined the Marines. The campaigns he fought in during World War II included Guadalcanal. By that time, O'Reilly had nurtured a strong hatred for the Japanese enemy.

After the war, O'Reilly became an Army platoon sergeant assigned to the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment "Wolfhounds" Japan.

In occupied Japan in 1949, the 35-year-old master sergeant's contempt for the Japanese had only hardened. And that's when he had his epiphany the day he was sent to check out an orphanage at Christmas in Osaka.

Stunned by the deplorable conditions and the hungry children, O'Reilly's heart melted. By the time he returned to the 140 men in his unit, he was a changed man.

He asked each of the men if they'd donate a dollar to help out the orphans and ended up with $140.

Thereafter, the Wolfhounds gave a portion of their monthly pay to help the children.

Soon enough, the Wolfhounds had adopted the orphanage and thousands of dollars for the kids were pouring in from all over.

A Wolfhound tradition had been born. And O'Reilly had taken a Japanese bride named Yuko. The story had become the stuff of Hollywood.

In 1955, a movie was made about it titled, "Three Stripes in The Sun,' starring Aldo Ray as O'Reilly, and co-starring Chuck Connors, Dick York and Mitsuko Kimura as O'Reilly's wife.

Part of the Wolfhounds' orphanage tradition included two battalion soldiers traveling each year to Japan at Christmas as "Santas" to pass out gifts and goodies to delighted orphans.

In 1957, two Osaka orphans were selected for an all-expenses paid trip to Hawai'i to visit their sponsors, and the tradition expanded.

O'Reilly and his wife settled on O'ahu.

Later he became a Honolulu banker, but throughout his life O'Reilly remained a major part of the Wolfhounds' annual Japanese orphan tradition.

O'Reilly is survived by his wife, Yuko; daughter, Maria O'Reilly; and five sons Hugh, Thomas, Sean, Patrick and Peter.

A private family service will be held Tuesday.

Details on the the funeral and interment are pending and will be announced as soon as they are set.

The public will be welcome to attend, a family spokesman said.

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.