Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Captain Armour

Chigusaso, Nakacho 2-27
I didn’t believe what my friend said:
“The dormitory is still there and in use.
Take a walk in the morning and a good look.”
I roved the area over an hour.
I searched.
There remained no vestiges of my 40 year old memories.
When I met my friend, I told him I found nothing.
“I’ll take you there” he replied.
He led the way without waiting for my response.
There! There stood the two-story dorm, aged but gallant,
monstrous - ugly, under the dim pole light.
I visualized without stepping inside:
ten identical six-mat rooms facing each other across the corridor,
the communal wash stand and neighboring stall entrance.
The dorm, a home for 80 boys, two sharing each room,
fresh out of school, away from home from their homelands and families.
Gathering to work for the same company and destiny.
I heard the hollers and laughter from the hallways,
the loud yawns, coughs, and pounding, dragging slipper sounds,
the noisy off-work weekends when some prepared joint meals
(so-called caterers), others busy with laundry.
Where are they now after 40 years?
What happened to the camraderie
they thought they had established?
What happened to the ambitions they avowed and burned?

from Magee Park Poets Anthology 1998, Carlsbad, California
Poem by Rio Imamura

My first job was with a medium sized but well-reputed manufacturer of high-tech electric/electronic instruments in Musashino, in suburban Tokyo. It was 10 years after the end of World War II and Japan was about to enter into the budding postwar industrial miracle but we were not quite there yet. Newly hired in that year were just 10 graduates, including me. Luckily I was paired into a dorm flat with the famous Keio Rugger (rugby player). This dorm was located a few blocks away from the plant. The occupants in the dorm used the company dining cafeteria from morning to evening. All we had to care for were ourselves during the weekends, either dependent on delivery service in the neighborhood or cook ourselves in ‘buddy’ groups, or go out to some fancy restaurants in Shinjuku once a month or so.

Toda-san was a dorm-mate at the above Chigusa-so. One day, he brought Captain Armour to work where we established the English Speaking Club where we met on the off-work hours. Toda-san was an excellent photographer and acquainted with the captain during his picture taking field trip. The club had about 20 members who met and shared an interest in speaking English. The captain was with the Far East Air Material Command Station (FEAMCOM) at Tachikawa Air Base (decommissioned in the late 1980s and currently a multi-purpose recreational Showa Park, which includes an authentic Japanese garden). He was a dandy-looking chap and a pious Christian who enjoyed photography as a hobby, sharing a common interest with Toda-san. Captain Armour took time out of his busy schedule to join us often and brought his family once year to celebrate Christmas.

In the late 1950s, I started going on overseas business trips, including the U.S., and had several occasions to meet with the Captain and his family, who were reassigned back to Los Angeles. When I wrote my Latin American travelog, I dedicated it to the Armours who agreed to provide his foreword to the travelog. His foreword read as follows:

"Most people are destined to spend a lifetime within the borders of their own country and it is only through the eyes of others that they may see far away lands. Rio Imamura shares his recent South American travels with us in this booklet. Each page is an adventure into new and interesting places, where we learn of people who are living lives so different from ours. In our short time on this earth, many changes have been wrought among men and nations. Let us hope that the people of South America may someday share the abundance and freedom, which you and I now enjoy."

After his retirement, the Armours relocated to Grand Pass, Oregon. Although we had kept in touch while I was in the U.S., I had not seen them for 30 years. I missed them so much that I visited them before I retired and left San Diego for Japan. I was told Toda-san had visited him on his business trips to the U.S.

After entering the 2000s, I heard Captain Armour was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and was under intensive family care. In 2011, a sad note came from Mrs. Armour that he passed away. For his funeral service, five children assembled - two sons were from overseas where they spent over 25 years, Steve from Brazil and Kris from the UK. The eldest, Phil, worked and retired from the U.S. Forest Service and had two daughters, Lynn and Leslie. Both were happily married and raised their families locally. The Armours are blessed with 12 grandchildren.

Captain Armour embodied our admiration of the U.S. and the promise of tomorrow for young Japanese men. He showed us by leading a radiant life. May he rest in peace.

Both Toda-san and Captain Armour appeared in a previous entry.

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