Walker Reunited with Daughter

Thursday, August 20, 2015
James Walker with his girlfriend Tomie Hashimoto and daughter Emi in Atsugi, Japan shortly before Walker received orders to return to the states.

After 46 years of searching, James Walker of Rector found his lost daughter, Emi McGowan, from whom he became estranged while enlisted in the Navy.

Fresh out of boot camp Walker was stationed in Atsugi, Japan, where he was a Navy captain flying C1 and C2A airplanes, which are crew and cargo carriers. He met Tomie Hashimoto, a young Japanese girl, both were only 18 or 19, Walker said. He approached her on a crowded Yokohama street, and was surprised when she spoke English. The two dated for a year and a half before moving into an apartment six miles outside of Atsugi in a small town the size of Marmaduke, Yasae. The couple was very happy and welcomed a daughter Emi.

Walker lived with his small family for a little over a year before the couple decided to get married. At that time the military had to approve the marriage before sailors could wed. He put in a request with a young Navy officer who told Walker he would have to extend his enlistment to file the request. A young Walker did so, but two weeks later was met with a denied request.

"They said she had a communist uncle was the reason for the denial, but she didn't," Walker said. "The officer did not like Japanese people and I don't think he ever turned the request in as I was never able to locate the paperwork."

Regardless of the denial, the military had plans for Walker. He received orders to report to LeMoore, Calif. He thought he would be able to somehow get his family to the United States from there, but when he arrived he was told not to unpack. He boarded the USS Oriskany and was taken to Vietnam, where he remained until 1969, when his father passed away.

While in Vietnam he wrote several letters to Tomie, but they all came back. Nearing the end of his enlistment he was discharged a month later, and he immediately returned to Japan to find his family had moved. "Of course, she couldn't afford everything by herself," Walker said. "I couldn't find her parents' house, having only been there once."

He believed his search would be easy, because in Japan every major life event had to be registered in the city you lived in, whether you moved, started school or got married -- it was all in the registry. However, shortly before Walker returned laws had changed. The Japanese government sealed all registries; only the government could look at the files.

Walker started writing letters, one to the Japanese Embassy in America, one to the prime minister of Japan and one to the United States embassy in Japan. No one offered help. "Every which way I turned there was a wall," Walker said.

He made another trip to Japan, but still no luck. However, he did make friends in the area, and one of his new friends suggested Walker open a Japanese Facebook page.

Walker wrote articles for the page and his friend in Japan would translate. The Facebook page caught the attention of a U.S. military newspaper named Stars and Stripes and the story that followed gained worldwide notice. Walker began getting messages from France, Denmark, Africa and many more countries, "everywhere but the North Pole." His posts were shared more than 300 times an hour, and within a matter of days over two million all together.

As a side project, due to the excessive amount of requests he received to help others, Walker began posting other people's stories and helping them reconnect with loved ones.

On July 18, Walker's hard work and patience paid off. He opened a message that read, "Dad, your search is over. You found me." The initial conversation between father and daughter was very emotional, but Walker had to make sure this really was his daughter. He had received messages from impostors. She gave him her mother's number and he heard his old girlfriend's voice for the first time in four decades. She described a Japanese happi coat she had bought him, and knew the exact time their daughter was born, along with other details about their relationship only she would know. Walker had purposely left some details out during his Stars and Stripes interview specifically for this reason.

He learned after he left Japan Tomie married another military man with the last name Miller, and the family moved to the United States 40 years ago. Miller was stationed in California, Virginia and Florida, but when he retired the family lived in Phoenix before moving to Sarasota, Fla.

Emi owned a florist shop for awhile, but it failed during the recession. She has three children of her own, 26-year-old Jessica, a chemist in California; 24-year-old Brianna, an honor student at the University of Virginia, and 19-year-old Chris, a freshman at the University of Virginia.

Walker and his wife Myra plan to send Emi a plane ticket so she can visit the family in Rector, "hopefully in late September," Walker said. "I want her to come here so she can meet all of our relatives."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: