Young Marine discovers new friends and a new culture far from home.



Cory sat on the beach watching the low, dark clouds move south, invading the sky over head, routing the lighter gray clouds that had previously occupied the space above him. Cory looked at the brownish-tan sand that surrounded his tennis shoes. He picked up a handful and brought it closer to his eyes. He breathed in deeply, nothing, just smells like dirt, he looked at the water, nothing, no surf, no birds, and no life. Cory had been born and raised in northern Minnesota, and for the most part, had led a relatively sheltered existence. The town he lived in was small, less than 1000 people, and everyone knew everyone else name, as well as their business, both professional and personal. Until he had joined the Marines, the only other race of people he had been in contact with were Native Americans from the nearby Reservation, but many of them he had known from early childhood, so to think of them as another race of people was something that felt odd to think about, let alone verbalize.

Cory had also never been to another country except Canada, but this was so often that Cory began to think of it as an extension of Minnesota. Some of his friends in school were what were called “imports” who lived in Minnesota during the school year to play sports, and then lived in Canada for the summers. There were a few heated debates as to the honesty of this practice, especially from the families whose child had been replaced on a team by one of the “imports,” but none of them had taken Cory’s spot, so he didn’t let it bother him. This was Cory’s existence before he joined the Marines and he can remember being homesick during his first couple of months in Okinawa, but then he started to notice a culture and way of life that was vastly different from the one that he considered normal, and began to enjoy himself by exploring this culture.

He leaned back on the post that signified the border between the beach and the grassy area further away from the water, and studied a handful of gray and brown sand that he had picked up. Not one star, not even one that remotely looked like a star. His handful of sand, and the hand that held it, blended into a blurry, formless shape at the end of an arm and wrist that likewise blurred. The rest of the world around him became nonexistent as his mind shifted back to another time, in another place. The time was a day in mid-July, and the place was a beach in southern Okinawa, Japan where Cory was celebrating his one year anniversary of having arrived on the island.


Cory looked up from his close inspection of the tiny, star-shaped object on his hand, to notice a young lady in a purple wet suit walking toward him with a short surfboard.

“Donnata da yo?” she asked, tilting her head to the right, inquisitively.

Cory blinked twice as he tried to decipher what had just rolled out of this girl’s mouth with little more effort that Cory used to breath.

“Gomen nasai, Eigo-de onagaishimas’”

“Oh, I’m sori, I ask what you are doing?”

Cory looked at the girl and fleetingly noticed how the fluorescent pink side panels of her wet suit accentuated her already thin and shapely physique. He turned his attention back to the near microscopic crustacean.

“I think I found the world’s smallest starfish.”

“Eh, nani,” she looked down at the five pointed white dot on Cory’s tanned hand. “sou-ka, is this your fust time at Nashiro beach?”

“How did you know?”

The girl smiled brightly at Cory, “Fust of all, I come here evely day, and this is fust time I see you here. Second, if you been here before, you know that all sand on Nashiro is stah sand.

Cory drew his head back and knit his brows at the girl, “What?” he said as he grabbed a handful of the bleached white beach necessity. He brought the sand close to his eyes, moved it around with the finger of his other hand and then looked at the girl with his eyes wide in amazement, “It’s all stars.” He said, and stared at the girl with his mouth open, as if waiting for a hook.

“They don’t have in America?”

“Not in Minnesota.”

“Mee-na-sou-tah, is that your home?”

“Yeah, Northern Minnesota, not very exciting.”

“Sou-ka, I live in Itoman, not very exciting too, do you mind if I sit?”

“No-no, please do…I mean…douzo.”

“Arigato.” She laid her board on the sand and sat on the grass next to Cory. “Why do you come to Okinawa? Are you a Maline?”

“Marine, yes, how did you know?” he asked, a little astonished.

She gave him a look as if to say, “really?” then looked at the top of his head and said, “Haircut?”

Cory’s eyes looked up as if to see his own hair line and smiled sheepishly, “Oh, yeah, kind of a dead giveaway, huh?”

Cory reached back and felt the sand paper-like stubble on the back of is head from the fresh, regulation, Marine Corps haircut, and felt the sun beat down on the bare skin when he removed his hand and held it out to the young woman. “My name is Cory, by the way.”

“Ah, my name is Miko, Hajimemashite.”

“Um, haji…hajime…nice to meet you too.”

“Tabetai da yo?”

“Now that you mention it, I am a little hungry, what would you like, Sushi, Sashimi, maybe some Soba, my treat.”

“Ano, Makudonarudo tabetai.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, I can do McDonalds, no sweat.”

The cool blast of air brought Cory back to Minnesota, and the beach that seemed so foreign to him, even though it was one that he had spent many summer days at in his childhood.

No one at the barracks really understood the relationship that Miko and he shared. The entire second year he was in Okinawa, Cory would spend every day off with Miko and would come back to the barracks by 10 or 11 o’clock each night. Contrary to rumors circulating through the Platoon, there was nothing romantic between them. Not that Cory would have objected to it, and Miko had told him that she found him attractive, but Miko was determined that she would go to college and Cory knew that he would be leaving Okinawa eventually. The last thing he would want to do to her would be to try to come between her and her dream of an education.

“What do you want to study?” He had asked her one sunny day at the sea wall in Itoman, about a month after they had met.

“I want to study History, with a minor in Engrish.”

“What will you do with that?”

“I don’t know yet, maybe be a Engrish guide in a museum in Tokyo, or do research in America or Engrand.”

“You don’t want to stay in Okinawa?”

Miko looked at the image of a starfish laying on the coral that wobbled beneath the small waves as they slapped against the sea wall, “Okinawa is nice, but too small, with too many people.”

Cory watched as a blue Nissan made its way, slowly, on the road next to the sea wall. He had gotten used to the stares some of the locals gave them when they were together. He took a little bit of pleasure in waiting until the driver was next and turning his head suddenly to look at them with a big smile and wave at them. He thought it was humorous to see them snap their faces forward and hit the gas so hard that Cory thought that their heads must be bouncing around in the back seat.

Cory chuckled a little as he turned back to face Miko. “So, what city would you like to see most?”

“Eh, tou, Rondon ga omoshiroi.”

“Oh, you think London would be interesting. What about the U.S. or Canada?”

“Hai, Niu Yoku, or Eru Ei, I like too, but Montoriaru is too cold.”

“Montreal is too cold, and you think New York is any warmer?”

Cory smiled a little as he remembered Miko laughing and slapping him on the shoulder, he wondered what she would make of a day like today. Cold north wind bringing heavy, low clouds threatening to shower icy rain on everything unfortunate enough to be underneath.

“Guess it’s time to be going home.” Cory said to himself.

 He walked up the trail through the woods to the parking lot where he had parked his Ranger. He was finally getting used to driving after two years of walking or bus riding. He learned very quickly after arriving in Okinawa that he did not want to ride in an Okinawan taxi. He had formed the belief that cab drivers in Okinawa did not operate the gas pedal with their feet, but rather, had the gas rigged to a yo-yo that they worked under the steering wheel. The constant accelerating and braking was unnerving to the point that he vowed he would never take another taxi after only his first ride.

Cory was true to his convictions for the entire first year that he was in Okinawa, and then he met Miko. He remembered a day trip they took one autumn day, about a month after the day on the sea wall. He didn’t quite remember where they were going, or how she had coerced him into riding in the taxi, all he remembered is going to Herculean lengths to keep his head from becoming an integral part of the passenger seat in front of him. He also remembers being awe struck by Miko’s nonchalant manner as he held onto the “Oh My God” strap above the back window and seemed to wave back and forth like a scare crow in a windstorm, in time with the rapid fore acceleration/deceleration tempo provided by the driver.

When they finally arrived at their destination, Cory thought of an old news reel he had watched of POWs from Vietnam exiting the plane that had brought them back home, and he felt a strong urge to drop to his knees and kiss the sidewalk.

“On the way back, can we take the bus?”

“It takes longer, and is more crowded.” She said as she paid the driver.

“Yeah, but you don’t need a back brace and a football helmet.” He said as he massaged the back of his neck.

“Ah, ah, hai, Basu de modorimas’.”

“Thank you, I don’t want to visit the corpsmen any more that I have to.”

Cory looked around at their surroundings and noticed the least amount of civilization than he had so far seen on Okinawa. The road they were on was lined by telephone poles and a guard rail, but beyond them was a dappled curtain of vegetation that was thicker than any woods Cory had ever seen. He tried to peer through the wall of green but only succeeded in penetrating about a foot. Cory looked up and noticed with amazement that vines from the forest had found their way to the telephone wires and had formed a type of vegetation awning along the edge of the road.

“Where are we, Miko?”

“Near Heiwasozonomori Peace Park.”

“That’s easy for you to say! Does it have a short form?”

“Americans call it Suicide Cliffs.”

“I heard of that before, wasn’t it a battle during World War II?”

“Not a battle, Okinawans came here and jumped off the cliffs to escape capture by the Americans.”

Cory’s eyes opened wide, “Why would they do that?!”

“The Japanese soldiers told them that the Americans would rape and enslave them.”

“That’s ridiculous, what kind of halfwit would believe that?!

“My Grandmother.”

Cory felt the uncomfortable taste of tennis shoe rise in his mouth. “Oh, sorry.” He said, looking at his feet and trying to find something to do with his hands.

“Don’t be sorry, you didn’t fight in that war. That was another time. Just remember that you have your purpose, and your enemy has his purpose, but there is always someone caught in the middle.”

Cory pulled into the drive way that led to his parent’s house. The trees were almost bare and the few leaves that were left, contrasted brightly against the gray clouds hanging above them. This time of year in Okinawa would be T-shirt weather, but here a person didn’t venture far without a jacket or sweatshirt. Soon there would be snow on the ground and Cory’s father would be preparing his Ice Fishing gear. Ice fishing was one thing that Cory had missed during his stay on Okinawa. He was able to do some fishing while there, but needed Miko to tell him which fish were good or not. There was such a variety that Cory decided to just catch and release.

Cory chuckled as he remembered one November conversation in which Miko was trying to wrap her mind around walking across a body of water punching a hole in the ice, and dropping a fishing line into the hole.

“Doesn’t the ice sink?”

“No, it covers the whole lake.”

“Does it bounce when you walk on it?”

“No, it’s not like Jell-o.”

“If it is ice, isn’t it cold?”

“Taihen Sumitai des’.”

“Then how do you stay warm?”

“Some people put small houses on the lake.”

“HOUSES!!” she shouted, “Cory-san, now I think you are pull my foot!

“Your leg.”

She looked at her lap, “What about my legs?”

“No, I’m pulling your leg.”

“See, I told you!”

“NO! ARRGH, any way, they take houses on the lake with stoves in them to stay warm.”

“What happens when the tide is low?”

“There is no tide, at least not like here.”

How do they float with holes in their bottoms?”

“They take then off the lake when the ice melts.”

“Cory-san, sometimes I wonder if you are from the same planet as me. And people like living like this?”

“Ice fishing is just something they do for fun.”

“Fun!? Putting a house with holes in the floor on a sheet of ice over ice cold water and then lighting a fire to stay warm…” she rolled her eyes, “lots of fun!”

Cory bundled up in his coat and scarf and took a walk after eating a small supper of Chile and Saltine crackers. As he walked, he looked at the darkened sky and noticed the clouds moving seamlessly above him. Completely blocking the stars and reducing the Moon to a dim glow behind the heavy clouds. He remembered fondly the nights on Okinawa when the only way to tell where the water ended and the sky began was the presence of an endless number of stars that could be seen with the naked eye. The sight reminded Cory of an artist throwing flecks of paint from his brush on a black canvas.

Cory and Miko spent many of these nights sitting together, teaching each other their language. When they tired of this, they would often go on an evening sightseeing adventure. On one of these evenings in mid-March, after a 45 minute walk, Cory began to wonder where Miko was leading him.

“Where are we, Miko?”

“We are in Naha, but I want to show you something.”

They entered a small park amongst the surrounding buildings. In the center of the park, there stood a large, jagged stone on a cement pedestal. One side of the stone had been smoothed and polished, and then carved with Japanese writing.

“What does it say, Miko?”

“It says that Commodore Matthew Perry landed here in 1853.”

Cory had always had an interest in History, so he knew that Commodore Perry had been the first American official to enter Japan, effectively opening Japan to trade with the rest of the world.

“I thought he went to Tokyo.”

“He did, after he landed in Okinawa.”

“Why would he come here, I mean, Okinawa is a really nice place, but not somewhere that would attract attention in 1853. Did he get lost?”

“No, at that time, Okinawa, and the Ryukyu islands, were a kingdom separate from Japan.”

“A kingdom?”

“Yes, but we became part of Japan in the late 1800s”

“Where did the King live?”

“In Shuri, they don’t call it a castle for nothing. Maybe we will go there some time.”

“That would be fun.” Cory put his hands in his pockets and bounced on the balls of his feet as he looked at his surroundings, “What do you want to do now?”

Miko thought for a few seconds before a face splitting smile formed across her face and an impish light came into her eyes.



“Come on, we're very close to Kokusai Street, best shopping in Okinawa, come on!”

Cory and Miko spent the last few weeks of Cory’s time on Okinawa together, talking, laughing and remembering. They exchanged addresses and wrote to each other regularly. Cory missed Miko, but not in a romantic way, but rather as a brother misses a sister. Miko left Okinawa to go to college in Osaka, and Cory decided to use his G.I. benefits to go to school also. The college he chose had an exchange program with a school near Nagasaki in which teaching majors would go to Japan and student teach English in Japanese schools. This Interested Cory and with his background in Japanese, thanks to Miko, seemed tailor made for Cory.

He wrote to Miko to tell her that he was going to college and may have an opportunity to get back to Japan. She wrote back and told him that she was happy for him and that she was going to Britain for a year to study History. Cory was surprised that he wasn’t upset that Miko would not see him in Japan. He realized that he had not developed a love for a girl in Japan, as he had feared, but he had fallen in love all the same, with the culture and history of Japan, and he smiled when he thought that it all started with a handful of stars.  

Submitted: January 17, 2021

© Copyright 2023 J.D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:



Lovely, found only one misspelled wordy.
Making friends and learning about other cultures are amazing.

Sat, September 25th, 2021 3:24am


Lovely, found only one misspelled wordy.
Making friends and learning about other cultures are amazing.

Sat, September 25th, 2021 3:24am


Than you for the review. I enjoyed my time in the Marines, mostly enjoyed the traveling. Thanks again.

Fri, September 24th, 2021 9:38pm

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