By Wendy Brown, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsOctober 28, 2019
CAMP ZAMA (Oct. 29, 2019) -- In 1960, Maj. John O. Arnn made a bet that he could walk from Camp Zama to Beppu City--1,320 kilometers away--in 14 days, and when he successfully completed the journey, he donated enough money to build an orphanage house in the city.
Nearly six decades later, his story continues to inspire others, including students at the elementary school named after him at the Sagamihara Family Housing Area near Camp Zama.
Kenya Warner, a third-grader at the school, said that when her mother told her Arnn's story, she thought it was "amazing," and that motivation, along with her love of running, compelled her to join about two dozen other runners at the school for the first leg of the 20th annual "Smile Run" in honor of Arnn Oct. 27.
Warner ran with her father, Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Warner, and her brother Tre, a fifth-grader at the school, during a nearly 5-kilometer run from the school to Gate 1 on Camp Zama. About seven other U.S. runners joined them, and the 15 Japanese runners who accompanied them planned to continue on the nearly 50 kilometers to Hakone.
Aki Sago, 80, the race director, said he organized the first race 20 years ago, back when it went the full 1,320 kilometers to Beppu City.
Sago, who has completed the full distance during past races, said nowadays people are busy and it is difficult to find the time to do the full run, so this year he shortened it to 50 kilometers, about 30 miles.
Although the race is shorter, he still wanted to honor Arnn and raise money for the orphanage, Sago said, and this year they raised about $800 for what is now called the "Hikari no Sono" Orphanage.
Sago, who lives in Machida, said he decided to organize the first Smile Run after seeing the 1970 film about Arnn called "The Walking Major," starring Frank Sinatra and the Japanese actor Yujiro Ishihara.
He started the race because wanted to do something to honor Arnn and his accomplishment, Sago said.
Gwendolyn Baxter-Oakley, principal of Arnn Elementary, said she has been greeting Smile Run participants yearly at the school since 2014, and always looks forward to it.
"I think it is a beautiful honor for the people of Japan to remember our school's namesake for so long," Baxter-Oakley said. "I think I'm just in awe that we have so many people who think so highly of our school here on base. They come out each year, regardless of the weather, and make this run."
Koji Takaura, a Japanese runner who lives in Sagamihara City, said this was his first year running the race, and he decided to participate after several of his colleagues planned to run.
"I'm happy to participate in this event and I'm looking forward to going," Takaura said.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dave Owens, a legal administrator assigned to U.S. Army Japan, said he decided to participate because he found Arnn's story inspiring and his daughter attends the school.
"[There are] just lots of reasons to get out here and run," Owens said. "It's a neat story, so I've come to be a part of it."
James Chang, school nurse at Arnn Elementary, said he has participated in the Smile Run for 10 years because he believes it is vital to support the tradition.
"It's important to honor Maj. Arnn because he's the origin of our school," Chang said. "We named our school in honor of Maj. Arnn because of his accomplishment, and since we're the school that represents him, then I think it's important that we--the staff and community members--join in and show our faces and show our spirit as well."
To put Arnn's feat in perspective, 1,320 kilometers is about 820 miles, and to complete that distance in 14 days, he would have had to have walked for about 59 miles each day. If he traveled at 4 miles per hour, he would have had to have walked for more than 14 hours each day.
Arnn died in 1965 while fighting in the Vietnam War.