“I am a 14-year-old Japanese.” This was the subject line of an e-mail that U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Mike Morley received when he was working aboard the USS Blue Ridge in support of Operation Tomodachi two weeks after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.
Opening the note, he read an appeal for help written by a Japanese schoolgirl named Shiho in Hokkaido. Her father had lost his fishing vessel in the tsunami, and she had seen images on the U.S. 7th Fleet website of the vessel floating in the ocean far away from its home port. Although the e-mail was written in halting English, Morley was struck by the stoic, quiet dignity in the girl’s appeal for help.
After reading and re-reading Shiho’s e-mail, Morley wrote back that he would try to help her locate the vessel. She replied almost instantly that she was waiting for information with hope. Lieutenant Commander Morley knew he could not let her down. He checked with a U.S. Navy ship that had photographed her father’s boat. Examining the photo, he was encouraged to see the ship appeared to be in remarkably good shape. After further research, he wrote back with the coordinates of the ship when it was last seen.
Shiho replied: “Thank you for your kindness. I and my family saw the photograph of the missing ship, and tears fell.” A few days later she wrote again that the Japanese Coast Guard, using the coordinates provided by the U.S. Navy, had found her father’s ship. Her father was going to bring his ship back with a tugboat. Shiho said she would never forget the navy officer’s kindness as long as she lived.
On Feb. 5, 2012, nearly one year after she sent her first email asking for help, Shiho Orikasa and members of her family visited the USS Blue Ridge when it was docked at Tomakomai Port to show their appreciation to the crew for their help in locating their missing boat. Although Lieutenant Commander Morley, who received the first e-mail from Shiho, was unfortunately no longer stationed onboard the Blue Ridge, Shiho and her family met with Captain Charles Williams, Chief of Staff of the U.S. 7th Fleet, and took a tour of the ship. Captain Williams presented them with a special 7th fleet coin and a commemorative frame containing a copy of Shiho’s e-mail entitled “I am a 14-year old Japanese.”
Shiho’s father Motoi Orikasa said that he had lost hope when he thought he had lost his ship, but he ended up finding the ship and now he is able to continue fishing. He expressed his deep appreciation to the U.S. Navy. Captain Williams said in reply, “It was a pleasure and certainly an honor to be of any help to you and of course to Japan.”