Story by Staff Sgt. Bryan Dominique
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCORD, Wash. — At 91 Donnie Weeks, a self-proclaimed “hard-nosed conservative from South Dakota,” has one mission: share her story of living in occupied Japan and the life-long friendships she’s had as a result of it.
“The occupation of Japan lasted from 1945-1952, and this is all I can find about it,” said Weeks, referencing a WWII history book with about three pages between her fingers.
She lived in occupied Japan from 1947-1949, and in that time met her late husband, Frank Weeks, and formed life-long friendships.
Ties to Notable Japanese
“Of course they’re all gone now,” she said, pointing at photos of her late husband and members of the Mitsui family who have long since passed.
The Mitsui family, according to the senior installation commander’s protocol chief on JBLM, is one of 13 notable Japanese families.
“The Mitsui family is one of 13 families that ran the industrial base for Japan,” said Kent Troy. “They made their money back in the 1600’s by ways of the silk business. The Bank of Tokyo was formerly known as the Mitsui bank and I think Mitsubishi is also a product of the Mitsui family.”
Her story and relationship to the Mitsui’s began right here at JBLM, then known as Fort Lewis, where she worked on the base during WWII.
“I was a dependent at Fort Lewis,” said Weeks. “I came to Fort Lewis and graduated from Clover Park High School, and then went to work post ordinance, post quartermaster and the separations center during [WWII].”
She added that she later relocated to California with her mother, where she resided when the surrender in the Pacific was announced.
“Back in my day ladies didn’t leave their mothers until they were married,” she said, chuckling.
But Weeks broke the protocols of the time by signing up for a program with the Eighth Army – the command in the Pacific theater at the time — that Weeks remembers as ‘Bring a Soldier Home.’
“In those days, if a civilian went to Japan for administrative work, a Soldier could be released to return to the U.S.,” said Troy.
In Japan she worked as a Civilian Forces-Four, or CAF-4, supply clerk for the Eighth Army Headquarters in Yokohoma.
“I’m so completely in love with the military, so [I thought] I’m gonna go there,” she said. “I was 21 and I arrived in Japan in February of ’47; the occupation was only a year and-a-half old.”
There, in occupied Japan, she met Frank, who she affectionately remembers as “love sick.”
“There was this second lieutenant down in the 304th Signal [Operations Company], his name was Frank Weeks,” she said. [He] was a love sick lieutenant who just came in, and decided to cut me out of the pattern. So he took me down to the beach at Kamkura.”
Frank worked for a man named Maj. Bowman, who brought Frank into the lives of the Mitsui Family.
“During that time period, if you had enough rank you could select a home, provide the address to the procurement office and they would purchase the house for the officer to live in, and he could bring his family over,” said Troy. “Maj. Bowman identified a house that belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Mitsui, but could not come to terms to evict them, so he protected their home by acquiring it. [He also] directed [Frank] to make sure the Mitsuis got what they were entitled to and to take care of them.”
Weeks recalled that Frank went to the Mitsui house regularly for a little over a year, bringing her along. During that time they all became very close. The relationship lasted more than 30 years without the two ever seeing each other.
Return to Japan
In 1977 she went back.
“[Frank and I] were married 30 years when Frank decided to take me back to Japan. So we went back to Japan and saw the Mitsuis.”
While there, the Mitsui family presented the Weeks family with a brass bell. It was initially intended for Bowman, but the family was having trouble locating him.
“Bowman was nowhere to be found, she said, laughing. “We tried to find him, but he must have got out of the service and became a true civilian.”
The bell is one of only a handful created from recalled Zen by the Bank of Tokyo. They were presented to countries that Japan paid war reparations to after WWII, and served as a reminder of Japan’s commitment to peace and the destructive power of war.
After 42 years of caring for the bell, Weeks parted ways with it during a presentation at the Patriots Landing retirement home in DuPont, Washington, Oct. 25. She presented the bell to Maj. Gen. James Pasquarette, U.S. Army Japan and I Corps forward commanding general, to go on display in a museum.
“This is such a fascinating story,” said Pasquarette. “You will never meet a better people than the Japanese.”