Who is One of the Longest-Serving USO Volunteers in the World?

By Marcie Smith West

Hideo Furuhashi was seven years old the first time his dad took him to Tachikawa Air Base to help with the U.S. military’s hangar Christmas party. Hideo’s father worked as supervisor for a defense contractor at the time and was the only Japanese employee that spoke English and could help with the event.

Hideo Furuhashi was named the 2019 USO Japan Volunteer of the Year. | Photo credit USO Yokota

This pivotal moment – simply spending time with his father and the U.S. military community as a child – is what inspired Hideo to begin a lifelong journey of friendship and volunteerism with U.S. military personnel who are guests in his home country. Over the next several decades, as he went to work for the Tachikawa City Government and regularly donated his time to the local U.S. military community, Hideo would go on to meet and befriend dozens of American service members temporarily living in his home country.

As a young man, before he volunteered directly with the USO, Hideo donated his time at the Tachikawa Passenger Air Terminal and supported U.S. service members and their families who were waiting for flights. Hideo volunteered at the base for years and has distinct memories of a young service member he helped at the terminal and befriended. He recalled being excited when she returned to the base, ten years later.

In the 1980s, just after the U.S. military formally returned control of Tachikawa Air Base to the Japanese government in 1977, Hideo found himself with no more American service members in the air terminal to support. It was around this time that Hideo’s Japanese military friend encouraged him to continue volunteering – but this time, with the USO at its lounge on Yokota Air Base.

Photo credit USO photo

Hideo serves breakfast to service members and their families.

While Hideo can’t recall the exact date he started volunteering with USO Yokota, USO Senior Digital Archivist Mike Case dug up an excerpt from a 1985 edition of Air Force Magazine, mentioning a newly-opened USO lounge on the base. Presumably, Hideo began volunteering at the USO around this same time frame, and has been volunteering there ever since.

“I want young service members to enjoy their time in my country. Please enjoy! It is a small country, but it is safe to travel and explore,” Hideo said, explaining why he loves to volunteer at the USO. “Hopefully, they will enjoy their time in Japan and want to come back. Also, if they have a good time here, they won’t be so scared to PCS to their next station.”

Hideo makes gyoza stuffing. | Photo credit USO Yokota

After retiring from the Tachikawa City Government, Hideo has since made volunteer work his full-time job. In addition to donating his time to the USO and the Red Cross, Hideo also volunteers within his local community at the Fussa and Tokyo Metro Fire Department.

Hideo loves the patrons he meets at USO Yokota and the staff from USO Japan – and the USO staff and patrons feel the same way about Hideo.

“There aren’t enough words in the English language to express how much we love Hideo,” USO Yokota Center Manager, Mardie Marquez-Velasquez, said.

“He is humble, funny and hard working. He insists on cleaning the center twice a week even though we have a cleaning crew. I have shown up to the center in the morning and found that he has already spent an hour tending the flower beds in front of the center. He and his family love to share their culture with the patrons at our center.”

Photo credit USO Yokota

Hideo shows off a flower arrangement.

While Hideo supports American service members, they have supported him in return – especially in his journey of learning English.

“It is very expensive to learn English in Japan,” Hideo said. “I didn’t graduate high school until I was 44, but because I can speak English, people assumed I went to university.”

Hideo’s enthusiasm for volunteering with American service members goes beyond that of a normal volunteer – it is a testament to his, and his entire family’s, longstanding friendship with the American community in general. In fact, Hideo often volunteers at the USO with his entire family, to include his wife and children.

Hideo poses by the grill at a USO event. | Photo credit USO Yokota

“Hideo was born in 1948 – three years after World War II ended in Japan,” Danielle Haley, USO Japan area operations manager, said. “He and his family could have had very different feelings about the American service members. Instead, three generations of Furuhashis became an integral piece of the military community.”

Whether he’s making sure every runner in the 5K race on base receives a water bottle, or enthusiastically greeting patrons who walk into USO Yokota, Hideo has become an integral member of the USO community – and, by extension, the American military community stationed in Japan.

“Hideo selflessly serves our Yokota military community and created a deep and enduring imprint on the Yokota Air Base community and throughout Japan,” USO Japan Area Director Natalie Rowland said.

“His gracious spirit, humble character and steadfast support through volunteerism has made the lives of our service members and their families better through his kindness, care and deep compassion.”

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