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Gregory A Kennedy

A Wolfhound's Story

Gregory A Kennedy, 20 JULY 1999

This is my experience taking part in a tradition between the Wolfhounds and the Holy Family Home Orphanage. The tradition has been going on for fifty-one years. The lessons learned from this experience will last in my heart forever.

In late 1949, Sergeant First Class Hugh O’Reilly and a group of Wolfhounds from the 27th Infantry Regiment visited the Holy Family Home for the first time. The Orphanage is located in Osaka, Japan, which is roughly the same size of Chicago, Illinois. The Nuns from Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul were taking care of the orphaned children in an abandoned, shabby, cold barracks where the windows were broken out and the roof leaked. With a shortage of funds, the children survived on a meager existence of food and clothing. The Wolfhounds were shocked with what they saw and decided to make a difference.

On the following payday, Soldiers of one Company of 143 men, donated $143 to the home. The Soldiers used material from the Occupation Forces to build facilities and used the collected money to feed the children.

Less than 7-months later, the Wolfhounds were fighting in Korea, but there was no hiatus in their generosity. In June 1951, a record $10,400 was collected. An average of $3000 a month was collected for the Orphanage.

In 1957, the Wolfhounds invited two children from the Orphanage to come to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, thus beginning the tradition that continues to this day.

Another tradition began the following year, when the Wolfhounds sent two “Soldiers of the Year” to the Orphanage during the Christmas season to act as “Father Christmas” to hand out presents. The Soldiers took lots of presents on their trip to Japan with them to bring happiness and a Merry Christmas for the children.

My first experience with the tradition was the 1998 Summer Visit, where two of the children visited Hawaii. I briefly met the children in Hugh O’Reilly’s office, but it was no big deal. I just didn’t get it.

In November 1998 we deployed to Iwate, Japan to participate in Orient Shield ’99. Part of this deployment was a planned visit to the Orphanage by thirty-two lucky Wolfhounds; I was one of them. This was the largest group of Wolfhounds to visit the Orphanage in 10-years. When we arrived at the Orphanage, the children were all lined up smiling and clapping in anticipation of the two fun-filled days visit from these Wolfhounds. The Soldiers, with their arms full of gifts, were overwhelmed by these beautiful smiling faces as they entered the grounds. The Soldiers received a quick briefing from Sister Suzanne about the do’s and don’ts of the Orphanage and the planned itinerary for the two-day visit. They were introduced to Sister Katherine, who is ninety-five years young and has been working at the Orphanage since 1945. The Soldiers then went outside to interact with the children. The older children had someof the Soldiers playing soccer, basketball, baseball or climbing the tire tower, while the younger children just wanted to be held and carried around. After an hour of play it was time to have dinner with the children. The children sat in awe as the Soldiers came marching into the dining area; “Mark time… march, group… halt, center… face, take… seats.” Then big grins came across the Soldiers’ faces setting the children at ease.

Speeches were given by Mr. Aoyama and LTC William B. Garrett III. Mr. Aoyama, who was a Soldier in the Japanese Army during WWII, heard about the Wolfhounds donating time, money and love to improve the quality of life for these homeless children during the occupation after the war. He had to go see for himself, “How could Soldiers concern themselves with children of the enemy?” he thought. When he got to the Orphanage, his heart was humbled and an instant friendship developed between himself and these Gentle Wolfhounds. As a steel manufacturer, he has been a large supporter, both financially and politically, getting the Japanese Government to build a new nursery and schools on the old barracks site. In his speech he thanked the Wolfhounds for their continuous love and support. LTC Garrett spoke on the importance of the history and tradition of this time honored friendship.

Dinner was served and the children looked on as their guests used chopsticks; some better than others. Even with a language barrier, there was plenty of laughter and body language to get the message across. After dinner, Sister Suzanne led a game of rock, paper, and scissors between the Soldiers for small gifts bought for them by the Orphanage. The night was coming to a close and it was time to say goodnight to the children; the little ones got kisses on their cheeks.

In the morning the Soldiers got a tour of the facility. Leis brought from Hawaii were given to the staff members with a hearty “Aloha.” The Soldiers visited the kitchen, the offices and then went across the street to visit the Infant Home. Tears welled up in the Soldiers’ eyes as they looked on these beautiful infants and toddlers, wanting only to take them and give them a loving home.

Each Soldier was then partnered up with a child for a half-day of fun in the park. Sister Suzanne told the Soldiers they could buy the children a small gift and that they could eat wherever and whatever they wanted. With outdoor toys in hand, the group was off. Some groups were playing soccer and others playing ball tag. After an hour or so, the groups started to disappear. Where was everyone going? Where did these children want to go now? Where do all children want to go…? McDonalds of course. Every group ended up there; it must have been a planned operation by the children. An hour was left for the Soldiers to squeeze in as much fun as possible and the children were all for it. With all the running, chasing and laughing, the time slipped by and it was time to group up and head on back to the Orphanage.

Back on the grounds the children were treated to a Drill and Ceremony show put on by the Wolfhounds. First the Soldiers ran around in a big circle singing cadences,  giving the children high-fives as they passed by, as the Nuns and staff members clapped to the beat. Then the Wolfhounds executed different formations.

“Fifteen minutes Wolfhounds!!!” bellowed Command Sergeant Major Fisher. How could it be? How could these two-days, which had been anticipated for two-months be gone? “Ten minutes Wolfhounds!!!” The Soldiers were still playing with the children, ignoring the commands of the Sergeant Major, hoping reality would go away. “Five minutes Wolfhounds, get your gear and start heading for the gate!”

With bags on their backs and their arms full of children, the Soldiers walked slowly to the front gate. Hugs were exchanged and addresses passed. Thanks went out to the Nuns and staff for giving these children the unconditional love that they deserve. With the Soldiers on the outside looking in and the children looking out, and all that was heard was “bye-bye” with corresponding salutation of hand waving. Then someone started singing the closing theme from the Mickey Mouse show. “Em eye see… see you real soon” was sung by the teary-eyed Gentle Wolfhounds. With their lives changes forever, the affiliation to the 27th Infantry Regiment was cemented for eternity after a shared history with their bygone Wolfhound brothers. They turned and walked to the bus.

The following summer I was tasked to take pictures when Yoko Nakayama and Yuki Matsuo arrived for their visit to Hawaii. As they walked closer, the same emotion that I experienced at the Orphanage filled me instantly. Luckily I could hide my blurry eyes behind the camera as I took pictures. I looked around and realized I wasn’t the only one feeling this wonderful feeling. There it was, the “basking glow” on LTC Garrett and CSM Fisher. There it was on Hugh F. O’Reilly Jr. and his wife Norma. Yuko O’Reilly looked so angelic as she put the leis on the children, it was as if time stood still. She has been a part of the Orphanage since the beginning and that started a love story with her husband Hugh Francis O’Reilly, who was standing there beaming like a proud father meeting his children at the airport. The selfless service those two have provided for more than 50-years has touched so many lives. Not only the children, but the Wolfhounds who have been lucky enough to participate.

The sweet emotion that was felt, is one you feel with your children if you’re normal and with your spouse if you’re lucky. I realize now that you can give unconditional love to others through charity and goodwill. I finally got it. “God bless you, Hugh Francis O’Reilly.”

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