News: Machiko 'Mama-san' Hamamoto named honorary Marine for lifetime of service
Story by Lance Cpl. Kenneth Trotter
IWAKUNI, Japan - Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12 recognized Machiko Hamamoto, affectionately known as “Mama-san," as an honorary Marine for her many years of dutiful service in a ceremony at the Strike Fighter Squadron 94 hangar here Tuesday.
The title of Honorary Marine is an award bestowed on civilians who have made extraordinary contributions to the Marine Corps. The award is approved solely by the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
“She’s a big proponent for advocating all the good things the U.S. military does,” said Lt. Col. Charles A. Redden, MALS-12 commanding officer.
Redden went on to describe how much Hamamoto’s influence extended past the station and into other areas of Japan.
“Whether it’s an earthquake or tsunamis, we’ve always helped in any kind of disaster, but it’s always been through Mama-san’s efforts to get a point of contact and a place to go,” said Redden. “She’s helpful to the U.S.-Japanese relationship, particularly with MALS-12, but it’s more than just that; it’s MAG-12, the air station and the Marine Corps as a whole.”
Hamamoto, 82, has spent 43 years working alongside Marines, organizing cleanup and community relations projects. She also collects Christmas gifts for local handicapped children and for children at Shobara Sakura Gakuen orphanage. Her helping hand has reached even to the U.S. She received an American Red Cross certificate of appreciation for her role in delivering Red Cross services after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake near San Francisco.
Hamamoto was also able to strengthen the bond between the U.S. military and Japan during the subsequent aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeastern region of Japan on March 11, 2011.
In June, Marines from MALS-12 volunteered their personal leave to go to the city of Higashimatsushima to aid relief efforts. Hamamoto helped spearhead getting service members there to help over several days.
“It wasn’t a surprise to us when right after the [disaster], Mama-san put in a call to the commanding officer requesting to go there,” said Jeffrey A. Fleming, MALS-12 Family Readiness Officer. “Mama-san wanted to go immediately and lead the charge. She was the communicator for us all, the [liaison].”
Fleming, who first met Hamamoto when he arrived as part of MALS-12 in 1990, spoke highly of his experiences with her and how she has helped afford him and countless others an opportunity to not only aid relief efforts, but see Japan from a different perspective.
“It’s something I will always treasure,” said Fleming.
Seeing the impact Hamamoto has had on many Japanese residents has helped many service members be appreciative, be thankful for the circumstances in their lives and lend a helping hand to those less fortunate.
“You’ve got to appreciate her for taking you there, getting that experience and helping others.”
Humbleness and appreciation are also what grounds Hamamoto as she continues in keeping the relationship strong between service members and Japanese residents. She works hard to arrange community relations projects and organize orphanage visits.
Modesty was apparent as she comprehends the magnitude of the award presented to her.
“I was surprised, almost like it was a dream,” said Hamamoto. “I feel I don’t deserve it. I can’t believe it happened.”
Though she now has the official designation of Honorary Marine, Hamamoto has considered herself a part of the Marine Corps family well before reaching 43 years of dutiful service.
“[The Marines] are like my family members,” said Hamamoto. “Even when I take one day off, they miss me. They’ll ask where I am, call me and look for me.”
It is this close, family-like relationship she has had with Marines, especially junior Marines, that has helped many transition when stationed here.
Hamamoto was able to bring a small reminder of home for some by taking them to different places around Japan said Cpl. Marcie L. McWaters, MALS-12 supply personnel administrative division clerk.
McWaters, a self-described country girl, who after being here for nearly two years, grew homesick and looked for different ways to remind her of her home. “One day, she took me out in town to a horse farm.” McWaters said.
Hamamoto’s generosity extends well beyond that, sometimes inviting service members to her home to experience Japanese lifestyle and to get off the station and see all that Japan has to offer.
Even though she’s now officially an Honorary Marine, it is quite clear that many of the Marines already consider her as one. With the amount of dedication she has shown toward the Marine Corps over the years, it may safely be assumed Hamamoto still relishes the experiences and opportunities she has taken to help improve the perception of the Marine Corps and improve its relationship with the people of Japan.