CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Dec. 7, 2018) -- Most people aim to spend as little time as possible at the doctor's office. But Yukie Furukawa has been working at various U.S. Army clinics in Japan for more than seven decades, and she shows no signs of slowing down.
"Coming here to work gives me a reason to live," said Furukawa.
Staff at Camp Zama's BG Sams U.S. Army Health Clinic, where Furukawa currently volunteers, honored her 95th birthday and her 73rd year supporting the U.S. Army medical community in Japan during a hail-and-farewell party Nov. 15.
Furukawa began her lengthy career with the U.S. Army in 1945 not due to a burgeoning interest in joining the medical field, but practically by coincidence.
Furukawa was born in 1923 in the Philippines, where her father was working at the time. Although her native language is Japanese, she learned to speak English and Tagalog while growing up there. She came to Japan after graduating high school.
Following World War II in 1945, the general headquarters of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then the supreme commander for the Allied Powers, was established in Tokyo. Furukawa explained that it was common to see U.S. service members at that time selling chocolate, gum and tobacco on the street to locals.
One day, a Soldier came up to Furukawa to ask if she wanted to buy some of the items he was selling. She responded to the Soldier in fluent English that he would have to ask her aunt, who was with her. The Soldier was surprised and told Furukawa she didn't have to buy anything, but that she needed to come and work for the U.S. Army. As requested, she later visited the hiring office and was hired on the spot.
Furukawa began working for the 361st U.S. Army Station Hospital Annex, 49th U.S. Army General Hospital, as a receptionist and interpreter, and later at the Sagami Ono U.S. Army Hospital and for U.S. Army Medical Activity -- Japan on Camp Zama. She retired from MEDDAC-J after 50 years of service, and started volunteering in the same building the following day. She continues to come to BG Sams for eight hours, four days a week.
Furukawa said she enjoys working at the clinic because she feels there is still a lot she can learn from the young generation. Working with the staff almost every day gives her energy, she said.
"I want to volunteer until I die, if I can," said Furukawa. "That motivation has stayed the same since my first day working for the Army."
Teresa Fukuzawa, an administrative specialist at BG Sams who works closely with Furukawa, said the staff affectionately refer to her as "Mama Yukie" because "she is like a mom to everyone."
"Mama Yukie has devoted her life to working here," said Fukuzawa, "She is part of the foundation of MEDDAC-J."
Staff Sgt. Edgar Valencia, who also works at BG Sams, said Furukawa's long career with the U.S. Army medical community is a testament not only to her dedication, but also "to the organization, to the community and to the Army." It is always a pleasure to see Furukawa at work he said.
"She is like a beacon … to brighten up your day," said Valencia.