Fellowship, partnership, fidelity – Marines, sailors carry on two decades of friendship with nursing home in kin town
Twenty Marines and sailors with 7th Communication Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force arrived at Hikarigaoka Nursing Home in Kin Town in the early morning of Sept. 7 to help prepare for the upcoming district festival the next day. The U.S. service members, who live on Camp Hansen, worked together with the nursing home staff to set up tents, tables, and chairs.
After manual labor under the beating sun, Marines and sailors huddled underneath the shade and enjoyed refreshments provided by the facility.
“We are very grateful for their hospitality,” said Sachio Shimabukuro, general manager of Hikarigaoka Nursing home, who generously brought out his home-grown mangos to the Marines and sailors who helped prepare the site for the district festival. “These mangos are sweeter than the ones that are sold at stores,” added Shimabukuro.
This was not the first time that 7th Comm. Bn. volunteered at Hikarigaoka Nursing Home. They have been visiting the facility twice a month for almost 25 years, assisting with grounds maintenance and making cultural and friendship exchanges.
“They have been a great help with landscaping and cleaning outside of the facility,” said Tomoya Yamamura, a resident from Nago City who manages the facility’s maintenance.
Just like those ripe home-grown mangos, it takes time and effort to nourish fellowship, partnership, and fidelity, according to Shimabukuro.
The two decade-old friendship was initiated by Camp Hansen’s former community relations specialist, Chiyoko Kouchi, whose intent was to allow the service members the opportunity to be immersed with the local community and be exposed to Okinawan culture, according to current community relations specialist Takayuki Kayo.
“I think volunteering is a great way to interact with the community, and it’s also great for the Marines and sailors to get a chance to go out and meet new people and help foster good relationships,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jason Bollinger, first sergeant for Headquarters Company 7th Comm. Bn.
This was not the first time nursing home facility director Ayako Ginoza had engagement with U.S. service members.
According to Ginoza, her paternal family emigrated from Okinawa to Hawaii before World War II started while her father, the eldest son, stayed behind.
As the war started, her father was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army while one of her uncles enlisted in the U.S. military. During the war, Ginoza’s father was detained in the Yaka Refugee Camp, Kin Town. After the war, Ginoza’s uncle was stationed in Okinawa. Upon hearing about his brother’s imprisonment, the uncle looked for her father and reunited at the refugee camp bringing tears to those who witnessed the event.
“I feel I am able to have fellowship with these service members because I have relatives in Hawaii and an uncle who served in the service,” said Ginoza who believes these childhood memories have shaped her positive perspective toward Americans. “Having appreciation for each other has allowed us to continue our friendship for more than 20 years and I am very grateful for that. “
On Nov. 15, the nursing home and 7th Comm. Bn. celebrated Thanksgiving by introducing what the purpose behind the holiday. As the staff members and senior citizens thanked the Marines and the sailors, they shared the thanksgiving feast provided by the battalion.
“Food is a great way to bring people together across all different cultures,” said Maj. Nicholas Bukovac, executive officer of 7th Comm. Bn. “Just having the opportunity to enjoy food reaches across the barrier we may have; language barrier being one of them. This meal is perfect representation of our great deal of gratitude for all of the staff and residents of the nursing home welcoming us.”
Smiles were seen on the golden agers as they gathered around the dining table.
“A lot of senior citizens here used to work at Camp Hansen,” said Ginoza. “There are some who speak English. Whenever service members come visit the facility for cultural and friendship exchanges, everyone takes their seat smiling saying they are happy. The staff members and the retirees welcome the Marines and sailors. They are grateful that they can eat appetizing food.”
The nursing home welcomes the Marines and sailors when the facility hosts cultural events and district festivals to reciprocate their fellowship.
“To return the favor, we invite them to our facility to introduce them to Okinawan culture, such as Muuchii Day for muuchii or rice cake pounding in January,” “said Shimabukuro.
Even though these service members leave in two to three years, the exchange programs are passed down within their unit, according to Ginoza, who feels indebted to their volunteering spirit.
“We do our best to convey our appreciation through these exchanges,” said Ginoza. “Although it is easy to take these volunteers for granted, we make sure to welcome everyone with the heart of gratitude. Because these exchanges are give-and-take, we continue to reciprocate their generosity.”