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Japanese Ambassador Honors Wounded U.S. Veterans

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2007 – In Japan, people make origami paper cranes for the sick and injured as a prayer for their recovery. A group of wounded U.S. veterans found such cranes waiting for them at the Japanese ambassador's residence last night.

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U.S. Army Pfc. Marissa Strock , left, a double-leg amputee wounded in Iraq, and her mother, Sandi Ogden, follow Japanese Lt. Col. Ichiro Sato's instructions as they fold origami paper into cranes during an evening at Ambassador Ryozo Kato's residence Feb. 23 in Washington, D.C. Defense Dept. photo by John J. Kruzel

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A group of 70 wounded U.S. veterans and their family members found the cranes on their dinner tables last night, when they attended a dinner in their honor held by Japanese Ambassador Ryozo Kato.

In welcoming his guests, Kato said they “carry the burden of service to their country,” and he thanked them for their “service to the larger ideals that our two countries represent.”

Japan is a close ally to the United States, and a close ally in the war on terror, Kato told the audience.

“U.S.-Japanese military relations are in excellent shape,” Kato said.

His country’s Air Self Defense Force is providing the airlift in Kuwait and Iraq, and the Maritime Self Defense Force in the Indian Ocean has provided coalition forces with oil since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Kato said.

Kato had just returned from East Asia that morning, where he had met with Vice President Richard B. Cheney in Japan during his week-long tour of the pacific.

“Two days ago, Vice President Cheney received a joint briefing from both the United States and Japanese commanders,” he said. “I was there and I was deeply impressed.”

Kato said Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, requested that Kato deliver a message to the audience.

“The grateful people of Japan wish each of you health and success in the years ahead, just as we wish for the nation you serve,” Kato said, quoting Abe.

Before dinner began, Kato ended by telling troops that although the two cultures differ, U.S. servicemembers represent Japan’s “samurai spirit.”

“Samurais serve with valor, with honor, with loyalty, with respectful, ethical behavior,” he said. “And so have you.”

Despite his long flight the night before, Kato was an energetic host during the event.

“I have never seen an Ambassador so enthusiastic about hosting an event like this,” Kimihiro Ishikane, minister head of chancery, said.

In the residence hall before the meal, wounded vets mingled with top brass from the U.S. military and the Japanese Self Defense Forces and other distinguished guests, including Gordon England and Paul Wolfowitz, respectively the current and former deputy secretaries of defense.

The guests then made their way into the dining room and sat around tables adorned with Japanese flower bouquets and strewn with small paper cranes.

“We make a crane to show our deepest compassion,” Yuichi Nakai, second secretary of press and information, said. “This evening’s dinner is a metaphor for a large paper crane.”

Some servicemembers used wheelchairs to move around the ornately decorated residence, others walked on prosthetic legs.

As guests finished their food of traditional Japanese fare, Japanese Col. Tomofusa Harada joined wounded vets in singing a hearty rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” an homage to the sport that both Japanese and Americans consider a national pastime.

During Deputy Secretary England’s remarks after dinner, he thanked troops for their sacrifices and presented Kato with two gifts.

“The Ambassador is a great baseball fan; he has his own museum, he has a great collection of baseballs,” England said. “But we have two baseballs for you that will turn into the most prized in your collection.”

Kato joined England at the podium and accepted two baseballs with the signatures of every wounded servicemember in attendance.

“This is their way of saying thanks for everything you do, especially this event tonight,” England said. “These baseballs are signed by real heroes.”

The Ambassador thanked England, then presented him with a baseball signed by the Japanese officials in attendance.

“In reciprocating the symbol of equal partnership between Japan and the United States, I would like to give you this,” Kato said, handing England one autographed ball.

“Like the U.S. and Japan defense (budget’s) percent of the GDP, it is two-to-one,” Kato chided as the room erupted in laughter.

The final speaker of the evening was Spc. Maxwell Ramsey, a U.S. soldier wounded in Iraq, who is married to a Japanese woman.

“I share a great enthusiasm and deep gratitude to our Japanese hosts,” Ramsey said. “I would like to first thank Ambassador Ryozo and Mrs. Kato; not only is this a foreign country inviting us to celebrate with them, but they’ve also invited us into their home.”

Ramsey said that through his wife’s heritage there was an instant connection to the Japanese community here, and it has been instrumental in his recovery.

He then called a toast to “American troops and Japanese troops that served in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan."

“Cheers,” and “Kampai” filled the bilingual room, followed by applause after Ramsey announced that he recently learned from his doctors that he is cleared to leave the hospital.

Ramsey will return to duty at Ft. Campbell, Ky. on March 1, exactly one year after he was injured in Ramadi, he said.

As the evening wound down, several Japanese Self Defense Forces officers begin teaching injured servicemembers how to fold origami cranes.

At one table, Pfc. Marissa Stock, a double-leg amputee U.S. army soldier wounded in Iraq, followed Lt. Col. Ichiro Sato’s instructions. As her fingers worked, a flat sheet of paper evolved into a bird of flight. Strock looked at it with pride.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageWounded veterans enjoy traditional Japanese cuisine during an evening at Ambassador Ryozo Kato's residence Feb. 23 in Washington, D.C. Defense Dept. photo by John J. Kruzel  
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