It was Christmas Day, 1949. In the aftermath of World War II, many soldiers were hardened by war and embittered by the enemy. Despite any ill feelings the men might have had, a dozen soldiers with the 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds” accompanied a Red Cross representative to the Holy Family orphanage in Osaka, Japan. What the soldiers saw that day softened their hearts and allowed them to see the Japanese in a completely different light.
The decrepit building was decaying before their eyes. The underfunded home was filled to the brim was tiny, barefoot children donned in loose-fitting rags. The men knew they had to do something, and come next payday, the soldiers donated every cent they could spare to the orphanage on New Year’s morning.
However, this one act of kindness was not enough to get the image of those poor children out of the soldiers’ minds. They spent the following six months collecting donations, and come the following Christmas, the Wolfhounds were dragging sleighs of toys and supplies to the orphanage. These soldiers, many of whom had just faced extreme and potentially traumatizing events in the war, put all of their additional energy and money into providing for children who had nothing.
Now, 71 years later, the tradition endures. The 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry (IN) Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division (ID) all come together every December 4th at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. There, they donate and wrap gifts to send to the Holy Family Home orphanage in Osaka. Typically, many soldiers travel with the gifts to play with the children and help spread holiday cheer, then the children come to Hawaii to visit the base.
“The children loved to interact with us and their eyes lit up every time we arrived,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Douglas J. Heston, senior enlisted advisor of 1-27 IN. “One day, I played so hard with them outside that I blew out the dress shoes I was wearing with my uniform.” Heston made a personal visit to the orphanage last year, in 2019, for the 70th anniversary of the Wolfhounds original exchange.
“Their eyes lit up every day we showed up, and all they wanted to do was play,” he continued. “I could go on and on about the different awesome experiences I had over there.” Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the soldiers weren’t able to hand-deliver the gifts this year, nor were the orphans able to visit the base in Hawaii. Instead, more than 600 donated and wrapped gifts were sorted and shipped about 4,000 miles from Hawaii to Osaka. Though the soldiers are disappointed to be missing out on delivering the gifts, they are more than happy to continue this important tradition. This legacy is the embodiment of the Wolfhounds’ creed of “ferocious in battle, compassionate in peace.”
“I don’t know of a longer standing, and possibly more impactful, Army/Civilian relationship to date,” said 1st Lt. Hayden Florence, 2-27 Infantry Battalion Public Outreach Officer and assistant officer in charge of the Holy Family Home program. “Furthermore, the extent that both organizations and individual people have gone through to keep this alive and flourishing is astonishing when you look over the past 71 years.”
“When speaking with the former soldiers who traveled to Japan for Christmas, it can only be summed up as a life-changing experience to witness the gratitude of the children opening their gifts on Christmas morning,” continued Florence. “The humility and pure love that exists within each of the children is truly moving and explains why this tradition has lasted for so long, and why it is not going anywhere anytime soon.”
To further follow along with the great work the 25th Infantry Division is doing, be sure to check out their Twitter page!Whizzco