I showed up at Fleet Activities Sasebo on August 5, 2012, unaware that there was any kind of event happening on base. That is…until the taxi driver did not take me through the Front Gate, but entered the base around back instead. As he maneuvered the car carefully through hundreds of pedestrians, I could see that a festival was underway.
It was still early afternoon, so I checked in to NGIS Bachelor Officers’ Quarters, and then made my way back along the esplanade, toward all the people. I grabbed some hot dogs and a soda from the USO, then bought a couple of Tomodachi memorial tshirts. In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, the United States military and Japan Self-Defense Forces worked together successfully in Operation Tomodachi to provide immediate humanitarian relief to the Tohoku region. From what I can see in my travels this summer, it seems like the Navy provided actual people on the ground to assist Japan, and other branches provided most of the air support.
It was exciting to see the base filling with Japanese families, who were invited to walk right onto the base from the streets of the city. It felt like a wonderful gesture of transparency: “Please, come on in and have a look around.” But then, I needed to remind myself that this is a Japanese base too. We not only stand still every morning and every evening for our own anthem, but for theirs also. On all three bases I visit, one must stand at attention if in uniform, otherwise with hand over heart while the U.S. flag is raised or lowered, and the U.S. national anthem is played. We also stand respectfully while the Japanese flag is raised or lowered, and the Japanese anthem is played. I’ve heard the Japanese anthem so many times now I believe I have the tune memorized.
There was live music in the field over by the gym, so I made my way that direction, but got distracted by all the people heading toward the ships. The ships! It looked as though we could get very close. Dare I hope: go on board?
And just like that, I got to step onto the USS Bonhomme Richard, the gigantic amphibious assault ship I had been in awe of during every visit to Sasebo. It’s docking location is directly across the rectangle bay from where I stay at BOQ. Every evening, every morning, I look over there in total admiration of the huge vessel. Today, I got to walk right inside, climb the stairs, and walk upon its enormous deck.
Next I went on board the USS Denver, right next to BHR. It’s an older ship, which made the control room very cool for a civilian like me. I like to see all that old awesome equipment, mixed in with the newer, digital stuff.
Finally, I went down many flights of stairs and made my way back out and onto shore. A big, brassy sound was coming my way. The tune reminded me of all the great stuff Tara and I have been hearing on the cable show Treme, which we were watching on Netflix, prior to my coming to Japan. If you love the sound of New Orleans blues, I recommend you watch the show too. In any case, what I found was the 7th Fleet Band. As the band wrapped up its final song, the sky began a drip drop here and there, and by the time the band had packed up, it was a solid rain. No one was too upset, since it was still about 85 degrees while it rained. We just got wet and a little cooler.