News | July 23, 2012

Legal Community Bids Heartfelt Farewell to Longtime Japanese Advisor

By Lt. j.g. Nicholas Inns, Region Legal Service Office Japan

In May 1983, Ms. Mari Okamoto, née Terao, began work as an interpreter and legal assistant for the U.S. Navy. On June 22, she celebrated her retirement after twenty-nine years of service with a ceremony at the Officer’s Club onboard Fleet Activities Yokosuka. Okamoto, Mari-san to her friends, was joined by just a small sample of the countless service members and civilians – Japanese and American alike – whose lives she touched. 

During her nearly three decades of service, Okamoto worked in four different legal offices: Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate; Navy Legal Service Office Northwest Pacific; Trial Service Office Pacific Detachment; and Region Legal Service Office (RLSO) Japan. In each of these positions, she served as an invaluable liaison between the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps and Japanese legal, law enforcement, and defense officials, establishing and maintaining the strong relationship of friendship and trust enjoyed by our two countries. The diversity and excellence of Okamoto service produced an outpouring of appreciation. She received Letters of Commendation from Commander, Navy Legal Service Command; Commander, Naval Forces Japan; the Chief Prosecutor of Yokohama; and the South Kanto Defense Bureau.

“Twenty-nine years of service is, rightly, a source of pride. But, in the case of Mari-san, we celebrate her remarkable success in performing difficult tasks, under difficult circumstances, over a remarkable span of time,” said Capt. Robert F. Johnson, commanding officer, RLSO Japan. “Mari-san’s accomplishments and service are all the more remarkable when examined in the historical context. From the Cold War to Operation Tomodachi, Mari-san has faithfully supported the unique and special United States-Japan Alliance, one constant and reliable partnership in an ever-changing and complex world.” 

Not all of Okamoto’s work involved government officials. As the Japanese legal assistant to RLSO Japan’s Military Justice Department, she worked closely with all Japanese victims and witnesses to explain the court-martial system and guide them through the often long and painful process. Her grace, dignity, and compassion touched the lives of each of these individuals and had a lasting impact on people she encountered.

“To describe her personality and character, I cannot think of her without the words altruistic and philanthropic,” commented Koichi Sekizawa, who has worked alongside Okamoto throughout her entire career. “The stories of her kindness and generosity circulate quickly among people. They came to seek her help, and she is a person who cannot ignore others in trouble.”

Okamoto’s final day of work at RLSO Japan was Friday, June 29, and Monday, July 2, was the first day the Navy legal community started its work day without her. Gerald Sauls, administrative officer, RLSO Japan, remarked, “I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work with such a quality individual. Her constant display of kindness reminded me of how people should treat each other. She was the heart and soul of this command and will be sorely missed.”