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Photos: US soldiers deliver gifts as ‘Father Christmas’ to Japanese orphans for 71st year

A soldier is dressed as Santa Claus to benefit the Holy Family orphanage in Japan. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Calvert)
December 21, 2020

After 71 years, a yearly tradition continued with the U.S. Army’s 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and 25th Infantry Division all joining forces on December 4 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, to wrap presents to ship to the Holy Family Home in Japan.

Soldiers write Christmas cards to send to orphans in Japan. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Calvert)

The 25th Infantry Division shared photos of soldiers taking part in the annual tradition, tweeting, “It’s a long standing tradition, and it just goes to show that it doesn’t matter what nation you’re from, in the bigger picture, people help people.”

On Christmas Day in 1949, the 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds” were overwhelmed by the sight of tiny, barefoot children living in the decaying Holy Family orphanage in Osaka, Japan. The soldiers accompanied a Red Cross representative to the crumbling home that was brimming with underfed children in ragged clothes, Fox News reported.

Soldiers and families wrap gifts to donate to the Holy Family Home orphanage on Dec. 4, 2020 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Calvert)

Sgt. Hugh Francis Xavior O’Reilly was still raw from the battlefield in those cold winter months following the end of World War II, but the site of those Japanese orphans provided the soldier with a new, gentler perspective.

The following payday, O’Reilly led the Wolfhounds in collecting donations for the struggling orphanage and donated what they could on New Year’s morning.

But for the Wolfhounds, that just wasn’t enough.

Over the next year, the 27th continued to collect funds for the orphaned Japanese children, and by the time Christmas 1950 rolled around, the Wolfhounds dragged a sleigh filled with supplies and toys, along with “Father Christmas.”

Now 71 years later, the 27th is still at it.

Soldiers and their families create art and ornaments for Holy Family Home in Japan.(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Calvert)

Command Sgt. Maj. for the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment Douglas J. Heston said, “The children loved to interact with us and their eyes lit up every time we arrived. One day I played so hard with them outside that I blew out the dress shoes I was wearing with my uniform.”

Heston personally visited the orphanage on December 25 last year in honor of the 70th anniversary of the Christmas tradition, Fox News reported.

“Their eyes lit up every day we showed up, and all they wanted to do was play,” Heston said. “I could go on and on about the different awesome experiences I had over there.”

Soldiers and their families wrap gifts for orphans in Japan. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Calvert)

While the coronavirus pandemic did prevent the soldiers from hand-delivering the gifts to the children at the orphanage, over 600 gifts were wrapped and shipped the roughly 4,000 miles from the soldiers’ base in Hawaii to the Holy Family home in Osaka.

Hayden Florence, a 1st Lieutenant, public outreach officer and assistant officer in charge of the Holy Family Home program said it embodies the belief that one’s military duties go beyond the day to day expectations.

“I do not know of a longer standing, and possibly more impactful, Army/Civilian relationship to date. 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,” he said.

Soldiers and their families wrap gifts for Japanese orphans. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Calvert)

The annual tradition honors the Wolfhound mantra of “ferocious in battle, compassionate in peace.”

“This really does change the lives of the soldiers when they get the chance to be part of this – the interaction,” Heston said. “It speaks to our hearts, and at the end of the day, we [can see] that kids don’t have an agenda. They need love and guidance in the right direction, and this is an opportunity for us to do that.”