Jan. 24, 2013
Captain Nori Endo was a Navy combat pilot inVietnam. He would spend hours before each mission visualizing the attack that he would lead with his squadron, the "Barn Owls." On each dangerous mission, someone would toss into one of the squadron's cockpits a bag containing "Hootie," the barn owl mascot. They say that Hootie flew more combat missions than any bird in U.S. history.
Nori Endo lived a wonderful life. This active member of the Naval Academy Protestant Chapel community was a fixture at all our events. He passed away January 11th of this year. His memorial service brought hundreds to the impressive Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis this week.
Nori was one of the first Japanese-Americans to attain the rank of Captain in the Navy. His joining the Navy seemed at the time almost an accident. Nori had sailed through Johns Hopkins University, graduating in 1956. Planning to go on to medical school, Nori met a Navy Chief Petty Officer and Marine Sergeant at the Baltimore Post Office. He quickly found himself in training for a Navy officer program in Florida.
When the Vietnam War heated up in the mid-1960s, Nori was "in the pipeline" to be sent overseas. His attack squadron, the Barn Owls, was assigned to the USS Hancock for action over North Vietnam.
Nori rarely used his radio to give direction to his fellow fliers. Instead, he would order them with hand signals. With his thick aviator gloves, some of his fellow fliers were not always sure what Nori's signals meant, but they had only to follow him into combat to learn. "Hey, I'm taking a lot flak," one pilot radioed Nori excitedly, as he saw tracer bullets whizzing past his cockpit. "Me, too," Nori replied laconically. When that pilot was hit, he went to bail out. Stepping out on the wing, he found there was no wing. Nori circled the downed pilot as he parachuted to ground. That pilot gently patted Nori's flag-draped casket, assuring the congregation that he would not be here but for Nori's protection and comradeship.
Nori was the program manager for the Navy's F-14 Tomcat fighter aircraft, a supersonic, twin-engine two-seat, variable sweep-wing weapons system of infinite complexity. Nori knew it all. Nor surprisingly, he was recruited by the Grumman Corporation when he retired from the Navy.
Grumman sent Nori to Tokyo. Although Nori didn't speak Japanese, he quickly established a bond with the people of his ancestors' homeland.
In 1984, Nori was staying in the fashionable Okura Hotel. He noticed a reception being given for then-Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. The Japanese leader and close friend of President Ronald Reagan, was being honored by Johns Hopkins University with an honorary doctorate.
Nori, a JHU alumnus, crashed the reception. He quickly encountered JHU's Ross Jones and their conversation turned to sports. Ross said he hoped to interest young Japanese in the sport of lacrosse.Hopkins's lacrosse program has always been a national leader in the U.S. "I'll get it done," said Nori.
Nori soon adopted the slogan, "Lacrosse makes Friends." At the time, there were fewer than 100 lacrosse players in Japan, a nation of ninety million people. Today, thanks in large part to Nori's tireless efforts, the Japanese Lacrosse Association numbers more than 100,000. The JLA made a point of sending three representatives from Tokyo to Nori's memorial service.
I was fortunate to know Nori and his wife Ruth from the Fisherman's Table. Nori and Ruth and their friends, Glenn and Becky Murashige, initiated this program to bring the members of the Protestant Chapel Community closer together over monthly meals at the Naval Academy. My friend Glenn is also a brave Navy aviator. It was there that I got to talk to Nori and heard his amazing stories--but not enough of them.
"Nori has a story" was almost his slogan. Only this week did I learn that California-born Nori and his Japanese-American family had been interned in a camp in Arizona after Pearl Harbor. Nori never mentioned it to me and I never heard a word of bitterness from him about the government that had done this grave injustice to him and his fellow Americans. Instead, I saw only the positive, affirming side of this Christian man's amazing life.
Sitting at Nori's service, hearing Nori's story, I could not help but reflect that it was in this very Chapel, from this pulpit, that Rev. Peter Marshall had preached on "How a Christian Dies" that fateful Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. Those thousands of Midshipmen would learn only as they filed out of the service that quiet morning that the United States had been attacked at Pearl Harbor. Hundreds of them would die in the world war that began for America on that day.
Former President George H.W. Bush came to the Academy several years ago. He noted the most underreported story of the second half of the last century was the reconciliation between the people of Japan and the American people. "You cannot imagine the hatred we felt for all Japanese," the veteran of aerial combat against the Japanese in the South Pacific said then.
Surely, our friend Captain Nori Endo, American patriot, highly decorated combat pilot, and faithful Christian, deserves his own chapter in that Book of Friendship between two nations, two Pacific neighbors. His embrace of the Japanese people through sports was an inspired act. As we filed out of the reception after Nori's service, it was good to see a figure of "Hootie." Nori had carved the wooden bird with his own hands. Nori's hand of friendship was extended to all.