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Remembering Asao

I originally wrote this article for Japan Update for their March 18, 1993 issue

When Masako (Tokuyama) Arazaki received the phone call, she was surprised, sad and happy. The woman who called her was Akiko Yano, a USO volunteer at Camp Kinser. Yano explained that an American had a certificate that belonged to Mrs. Arazaki's younger brother, Asao, and wanted to return it.

Many years had passed, but memories of Asao still lived with his sister. In 1945, Asao, fearing the Americans, took a hand grenade and committed suicide. In the aftermath of the war, the Tokuyama family was left with nothing to remember Asao by, not even a photograph.

This all came about because of Frank Brewer, who served with the Coast Guard during World War II.

"We were in the Solomon Islands, doing salvage work in "Ironbottom" Bay on four Japanese naval ships that ran aground," Brewer explained. "Afterwards, I helped unload the first Marines on Okinawa on D-Day."

Brewer found the certificate in his travels during the war and when he returned to the states, folded it and placed it in a photo album. The years rolled by and in October of 1992, Brewer and his wife, Betty, were going through boxes, looking for items to take to a reunion party. Mrs. Brewer found the photo album.

"She handed me the certificate. I had forgotten all about it," Brewer said. "Our neighbor, who's Buddhist, was there so I asked him if he knew someone who could translate it for me."

Brewer's friend brought the certificate back with the translation: "Awarded to Asao Tokuyama, 2nd Grade, Furugen Elementary School. This certificate was given to Asao Tokuyama for his good performance in the Seventh Fairy Tale Competition." It was dated December 18, 1938. Asao had been seven years old.

"I knew I had to find the family," Brewer said. "I just didn't know how to go about it."

In January, Brewer read a "Dear Abby" column where Brenda Carnes, Director of Camp Kinser USO, had written a thank you letter for "Operation Dear Abby." When Brewer saw that Brenda was in Okinawa, he wrote to her and explained his situation.

"It happened so fast," Brewer exclaimed. "I was just expecting to get the family's address so that I could mail the certificate. But Brenda went through all the trouble to not only track down the family, but to also set up a presentation ceremony."

The ceremony took place March 10, 1993 at Camp Kinser's USO. Mrs. Arazaki was accompanied by her husband, Seihan, and her cousin, Chosho Tokuyama, who went to school with Asao. LTJG Oscar Stallings, Commanding Officer at USCG Loran Station Gesashi, presented the now-framed certificate to Asao's very happy sister. In return, Mrs. Arazaki gave a framed thank you certificate to Carnes and one to be sent to Brewer. After the ceremony, KDD representative Kimiko Takayaesu placed a phone call to Brewer in Arizona so that Mrs. Arazaki could speak to him through a translator.

"You will never know how much this means to our family, I thank you very much," Mrs. Arazaki's eyes filled with tears.

"I'm just glad the certificate is finally where it should be," Brewer replied.

Chosho Tokuyama opened a book he had with him to some photographs. He pointed to one on the bottom right page.

"This is the class Asao and I were in," he explained. "It was 1943. Asao was 12 years old. This is the only photograph we have of him."

"Now that we have something to remember Asao by, we can put him to rest," Mrs. Arazaki said.