By Dustin Perry, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsNovember 13, 2018
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Nov. 13, 2018) -- Her whole life, Nancy Rizor's memories of Japan existed only in black-and-white photos and grainy 8 mm home movies. But that changed two weeks ago when she visited Camp Zama for the first time, 60 years to the day after being born there.
Nancy's husband, Joel, planned the trip to Japan for her birthday, Nov. 2. Before leaving, Joel reached out to the installation and told them his wife's late father, a former Army doctor, was stationed at Camp Zama from 1957 to 1960 and worked at what was then known as the U.S. Army Medical Center. He asked whether a brief visit was possible.
"It was a little bit of selfishness," said Joel, explaining his motives. "I had always wanted to come see Japan, so I figured it would be a good opportunity for both of us. Since we were going to do the trip, I just thought the timing would be best -- especially to be able to come to the same place where Nancy was born."
U.S. Army Medical Activity -- Japan personnel quickly responded, saying not only could Nancy and Joel come on to the installation, but that MEDDAC-J would arrange for them to tour the BG Sams U.S. Army Health Clinic.
"I'm really kind of blown away by the graciousness of the hosts here," said Joel.
Nancy's father, then-Capt. Nishiar Shamdin, was assigned to the 406th Medical General Lab at Camp Zama. He and his wife, also named Nancy, arrived there in 1957 with their two children, Sannia and Laith, Nancy's older sister and brother. Nancy was born the following year at the U.S. Army Medical Center and the family lived on Camp Zama until Shamdin received a new assignment two years later.
Nancy remembers very little of her two years living in Japan -- she recalls that her family employed Japanese maids who cleaned their house, and that her mother took a flower-arranging class. She has a few tangible reminders, as well -- a teak coffee table and some ginger jar lamps her parents bought there.
There are also the moving images Nancy's parents captured while living in Japan. In digitized 8 mm film footage the Rizor family provided, Nancy's mother holds her infant daughter in her arms, jiggling a smiling Nancy's cheeks. In another scene, Nancy's mother gives her several snuggling kisses as Laith reaches to hold her hand. Nancy sticks her tongue out at seemingly every opportunity while sitting in a baby jumper chair. Nancy's father holds Nancy and Laith, both wearing matching red summer dresses.
Until now, those faint memories and the photos and videos Nancy kept were her only connection to Japan. With this visit, Nancy said she hoped to gain a clearer picture of her family's time in the country, as well as a deeper appreciation for the Army installation where she was born.
"I just wanted to see Japan and to see all the places that my mom talked about," said Nancy. "She really had a great experience here; she loved living here on this base."
When Nancy and Joel arrived at BG Sams, accompanied by Nancy's younger brother, Robert, they had a particularly notable welcoming party. Col. Marvin A. Emerson, the commander of MEDDAC-J, greeted them at the door. Emerson led the group on a tour of the clinic, during which they were shown equipment and got to meet several BG Sams clinicians and employees.
"Getting a chance to spend time with a family that not only lived here, but served as members of the medical community was very rewarding," said Emerson. "This was a great opportunity to connect with an Army family that had a wonderful experience in Japan, and hearing Nancy talk about her family's service to our country was especially significant to all of us."
The group also received a tour of a bunker on Camp Zama that Japanese forces built to protect Emperor Hirohito during World War II when the installation was a Japanese training facility. This portion of the visit was an unexpected bonus for Joel.
"I'm interested in World War II history," said Joel. "I'd seen some film images of the base and of the bunker, but being able to see it in person was very impressive. It's a beautiful place."
Nancy said getting to visit the place where she was born and spent the first two years of her life gave her "a real positive feeling." She described the Japanese people she met as "a treasure to be around," and said the whole experience helped deepen her connection to her birth country -- a connection she said she didn't quite grasp growing up. After leaving Japan, Nancy's family eventually settled in a small town in Iowa, where she said she was the only child among her classmates who was born outside the United States.
"Kids used to make fun of me," Nancy said. "They'd say, 'Oh, she was made in Japan.' To me, Japan was almost kind of like this far-off place that I'd probably never see again. It was just something about me that I didn't really know too much about. But now that I came here, I think my expectations for this trip were exceeded, actually. It's really pretty touching."