CAMP HIGASHI-CHITOSE, Japan -- One United States Army, Pacific captain crossed boundaries of oceans and generations during Exercise Yama Sakura 57 when he walked into his uncle Masato Hori's apartment in Tomokomai, Japan.

While on official orders to the island of Hokkaido, Japan, for Yama Sakura 57, an annual bilateral exercise between the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Army, Hawaii-born Capt. Ryan Mento visited his family that live on the island and learn stories of his veteran heritage.

"It is a dream come true to be here," Mento said. "It's hard to believe that through work, I was able to see them. I thought maybe one day the Army might send me to Tokyo, but I never dreamed I'd actually be working right here and able to visit Uncle Masato."

Hori, a Japanese Army World War II veteran, shared wartime stories with his nephew, himself a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. The 88-year-old Hori did not speak any English, and Mento spoke only a few basic Japanese words. Mento's cousin, Tomoko Taylor, who teaches English in Tokyo, translated for the two.

"I have not seen my cousin since he was very young," said Tomoko, who went on to explain that their family lives in both Hawaii and Japan, but because of the war, Mento's family in Hawaii was separated from the family in Okinawa and Hokkaido.

"Our Uncle Konsun became an American Soldier during the war, and my father (Hori) was a Japanese Soldier, so the war actually broke the family into two," she said. "They were not able to talk."

"He (Hori) thinks the importance of World War II isn't the winner or loser because in war we both lost many family members, and in that way everyone loses," translated Tomoko. "We as a family lost the ability to talk to each other."

In between discussing personal war stories, Hori enlightened his nephew with new information about the family's Soldier heritage and history, telling him about many relatives that served in a military capacity.

"I knew many of my uncles were interpreters for the (United States) and U.S. military, during World War II but I never knew that (my uncle) actually fought for the U.S. Army in the 442nd Infantry Battalion in the European theater," said Mento. "Everything he shared, most of it I never knew before."

Hori even drew a map of the island of Henza, an island of Okinawa on which the family safely managed to evade capture during the Allied occupation. He showed his nephew on the map which part of the island family members were in on the map, all throughout, sharing anecdotes and memories.

After much discussion, Mento presented Hori with a Hawaiian flag and the crest of the Signal Regiment, his regimental crest. The Hawaiian flag was a memento carried by Mento since he graduated from University of Hawaii's ROTC program. He described the meaning of the flag and the significance of its travels.

"I have carried this flag everywhere I have been with the Army and now I present it to you," he said to Hori.

Hori graciously excepted and had Tomoko place the flag in a place of prominence in his display case.

"I am nearly 90 years old and I don't know how long I can live after this, so this moment is very precious for me," said Hori through translation. "I have so much gratitude for the visit from so far away, and I know I will not live so long, so I want my nephew to have this moment as a memory of his life."

Since its inception in 1982, Yama Sakura has focused on the development and refinement of the JGSDF and U.S. Army, Japan efforts in the areas of bilateral planning, coordination and interoperability through training.

For more information about Exercise Yama Sakura 57, visit www.usarpac.army.mil/yamasakura.

Page last updated Thu December 3rd, 2009 at 08:08