By Keiichi Takagi, Okinawa bureau chief
A pileup involving six vehicles occurred in Okinawa City, Okinawa Prefecture, on the early morning of Dec. 1. The pileup resulted in no fatalities, but unfortunately a U.S. Marine master sergeant stationed in Okinawa who pulled a Japanese citizen out of one of the vehicles fell into a coma after being hit by another car. The heroism of the marine who braved the danger to adhere to the U.S. Marine’s code of “leave no man behind” is arousing admiration and wishes for a quick recovery among thoughtful persons in and outside the prefecture. But the Okinawa media, which is indoctrinated with the idea that the U.S. military equates with evil, remains cold-hearted and seems not to try to mention the reality of the accident.
The Okinawa Times, one of the two local newspapers dominating the southernmost prefecture in Japan, reported the accident in its society page on Dec. 2 as follows. The article was short and treated the accident as of low importance.
“Around 4:53 a.m. on Dec. 1, an accident involving six vehicles occurred on the northbound side of the Okinawa Expressway in Chibana, Okinawa City. According to the prefectural police, a 44-year-old male master sergeant of the U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa was rushed to a hospital in the central part of the main Okinawa island but remains unconscious. The accident closed the northbound lane connecting the Okinawa-minami interchange and the Okinawa-kita interchange for more than six hours and caused traffic to back up 12 km. The prefectural police are investigating the cause of the accident.
“According to the mobile traffic unit of the Okinawa prefectural police, a minicar and a passenger car were involved in a rear-end accident and the minicar turned on to its side. Another minicar stopped after seeing the accident and the master sergeant’s vehicle had a minor collision with the minicar. The master sergeant pulled over and got out of his car. When he was on the road, he was hit by a vehicle driven by a 28-year-old male staff sergeant who belongs to Camp Hansen. A fiftyish male driver of the overturned vehicle only suffered a minor injury.”
The newspaper does not mention the name of the “U.S. Marine master sergeant” who was critically injured. But he is Hector Trujillo.
Also, Ryukyu Shimpo covered the accident as a semi-top story in its society page on Dec. 2. The story is almost identical in content to that of the Okinawa Times.
But why was Master Sgt. Trujillo involved in a secondary accident in which he was hit by a following vehicle on the road? Neither of the two local newspapers gave the reason.
In fact, Master Sgt. Trujillo jumped out of his car and got “the fiftyish male driver of the overturned car” to safety before being hit by a vehicle driven by “a male staff sergeant who belongs to Camp Hansen.” The fiftyish male driver is Japanese.
The Okinawa Expressway is an expressway where cars travel at breakneck speed of around 100km per hour. It is hard to imagine how dangerous it was to stand on the road. Master Sgt. Trujillo saved the life of a Japanese citizen at the sacrifice of his own life. The Japanese driver sustained only minor injuries thanks to the master sergeant’s brave act.
Maria Trujillo, the master sergeant’s wife, wrote on Facebook on Dec. 3, “My beloved husband has been my hero for 28 years. He has a heart of gold. He is always ready and eager to help when sees the opportunity.
“On Friday at around 5:00 am, he witnessed an accident while he was driving on the Okinawa expressway with his subordinates for early morning training. He could have ignored it and continued on his way to work.
“But he followed his heart. He didn’t hesitate to grab a local man injured in an overturned vehicle and got the man to safety. And my husband was hit by car that came from behind.
“His selflessness and quick reaction showed his true heroism. My heart is aching so much. He was transferred to a naval medical center in San Diego. Please pray for my husband.”
Master Sgt. Trujillo is the father of three children. Mrs. Trujillo’s “thoughts” for her husband elicited responses from around the world. She is receiving messages praising her husband’s bravery and wishing for his speedy recovery. In Japan, too, people in and outside Okinawa are posting similar messages online.
A representative of the third Marine Expeditionary Force said during an interview with the Sankei Shimbun, “The U.S. Marine Corps is teaching all marines the core values, such as honor, courage, and commitment, that should be embodied under any circumstances and whether they are on duty or off duty. The act of Master Sgt. Trujillo, who helped another driver in need, is the embodiment of the Marine’s values.”
After the accident, Master Sgt. Trujillo was rushed to a hospital in the central part of the Okinawa main island. But he was airlifted to Naval Medical Center Balboa in San Diego, California, and has been in intensive care.
The representative of the third Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa says, “The U.S. Marine Corps tries to provide all necessary treatment to marines accordingly. As for the case of Master Sgt. Trujillo, a medical expert concluded that he needs to be transferred to a hospital where a higher level of treatment is available.”
In the U.S., volunteers set up a crowdfunding campaign to financially help Master Sgt. Trujillo and his family stay in San Diego.
U.S.’s CBS TV Network also covered the story of Trujillo’s brave act of helping a Japanese citizen at the risk of his own life.
On the other hand, why is the Okinawa media so heartless? Still, the “unreported truth” about the accident is spreading online day by day. It is very possible for them to cover the news as an “update” but they are turning a blind eye to the accident.
Incidentally, a lay judge trial was held against Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a 33-year-old former U.S. base worker suspected of the rape and murder of a 20-year-old woman in Okinawa’s Uruma City in April last year, at the Naha District Court on Dec. 1, when the master sergeant was involved in the traffic accident. And Chief judge Toshihiro Shibata sentenced him to life in prison. (The prosecution had demanded life imprisonment.)
Both Ryukyu Shimpo and the Okinawa Times led with stories on the trial and also carried detailed stories on their society page. The two media organizations even treated the historical news that the Emperor will abdicate on April 30, 2019, as the second top story on the front page to top play to the news of the crime committed by the former U.S. base worker.
Of course, Shinzato should not be pardoned as he committed a hideous crime. It is impossible to imagine the sorrow of the victim’s family. But what if the defendant was neither “a former U.S. military worker” nor “a former marine,” but “a Japanese citizen”?
The Okinawa media led by Ryukyu Shimpo and the Okinawa Times always stir up a great fuss when an accident involving the U.S. military occurs, saying, “It’s unacceptable” or “The U.S. military should move out!” But they tend to ignore good deeds of the U.S. military personnel.
In this way, the heartwarming story of the master sergeant was overtaken by the news of Shinzato’s life sentence and completely ignored. The two Okinawa newspapers, which are particularly sensitive about “discrimination,” are frequently using the coined term “Okinawa discrimination” these days. But doesn’t their attitude toward the news of the master sergeant constitute “discrimination against the U.S. military?”
Incidentally, when an MV-22 Osprey deployed at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa crashed off the eastern coast of Australia on August 5 this year, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga and the prefectural government, as expected, harshly criticized and protested against the U.S. military. But they did not offer their condolences to the three marines who lost their lives in the accident.
The Okinawa media, which is uniformly infected by “anti-U.S. military sentiment,” is also following suit. Along with the prefectural government led by Onaga, their stance of not having a “respect” for the U.S. military, which serves around the clock by risking their lives to protect the safety and stability of Japan and the region, was thrown into relief by their heartless response to Master Sgt. Trujillo.
This reporter does not deserve to make a big claim for himself because he did not write about Trujillo earlier. But his brave act is a fact that no one engaging in journalism in Okinawa should overlook.
If the Okinawa media continues to ignore “[the good deeds of U.S. military personnel]” by hiding behind the “freedom of not reporting,” they are not entitled to identify themselves as media or news organizations. At any rate, I just wish of Master Sgt. Trujillo a speedy recovery.