Local media makes no mention of father-of-three’s sacrifice, triggers angry, embarrassed reactions from Japanese nationals.


Early in the morning of December 1, a six-car accident occurred on the Okinawa Expressway in the Chibana neighborhood of Okinawa City. Both Japanese nationals and U.S. military personnel were involved in the accident, one of whom was 44-year-old Marine master sergeant Hector Trujillo.

The Okinawa Times, one of two prominent local newspapers, reported on the incident with:

“According to police, an ultra-compact kei car struck a passenger car, causing it to turn over. Another kei car reacted to the accident and came to a stop, and was rear-ended by a car driven by a 44-year-old U.S. Marine master sergeant. The master sergeant parked his car on the side of the road, exited the vehicle, and while in the road he was struck by a car driven by a 28-year-old Marine staff sergeant [and was rushed to Chubu Hospital, unconscious and in critical condition]. The driver of the car that overturned, a man in his 50s, sustained light injuries.”

The other major local media outlet, Ryukyu Shimpo, had a similar report, though its recap begins with Trujillo rear-ending the car before later describing the initial between-Japanese-drivers collision. Like the Okinawa Times, Ryukyu Shimpo’s account also simply states that “the master sergeant was struck by the staff sergeant’s car after exiting his vehicle” (neither paper mentions the driver of the car Trujillo rear-ended being injured).

Absent from both reports is any mention of why Trujillo, a married man and father of three, was still in the road after getting out of his own car. The reason is that he noticed that the above-mentioned 50-something driver of the overturned car was still trapped inside, and rather than get himself to safety as quickly as possible, Trujillo made the choice to get the driver out of danger first.

But while the overturned car’s driver made it out of the incident with only minor injuries, Trujillo fared much worse. When the car hit Trujillo, it fractured his skull and damaged his neck and spine. He has since been transferred to Naval Medical Center in Balboa for continuing treatment (a donation website to help his family cover travel expenses to be with him has been set up here).

The lack of Okinawan media coverage of Trujillo’s unhesitant courage to help a stranger is perhaps not entirely shocking, given the often strained relationship between Okinawan political and media organizations and the American military, which has maintained multiple facilities on the islands since the end of World War II. However, regardless of the sociopolitical debate about the U.S. military presence, Keiichi Takagi, head of Sankei News’ Naha (Okinawa) Bureau, finds the lack of respect shown for Trujillo’s sacrifice deplorable, saying:

“Cars regularly drive along the Okinawa Expressway at speeds of 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour. Getting out into the road is incredibly dangerous, but Trujillo sacrificed his own safety to save the life of a Japanese citizen. It is thanks to Trujillo’s courageous actions that the driver of the car was able to escape with only light injuries.

Ignoring what he did is conduct unbecoming media and news organizations, and as a citizen of Japan, I find it shameful. I am praying for Trujillo’s swift recovery.”

As news of what Trujillo did has begun making its way around the Internet, Japanese Twitter users’ comments have included:

“Why aren’t the paper talking more about what he did? I want to express my respect for Trujillo’s courage, and am earnestly praying for his full recovery.”

“I have the deepest appreciation for his heroic actions, and am embarrassed by, and want to apologize for, the pitiful media organizations of my country.”

“Everyone in Okinawa, no, in all Japan, should hear about what he did.”

“There are some Americans who are atrocious, but there are also Americans like Trujillo. You can’t lump everyone together, you have to look at people on an individual basis.”

“Thank you for your amazing heroism.”

This isn’t the first time in recent memory that Japan-stationed U.S. Marines have come to the aid of host country nationals, as last summer a group of Marines came across a woman who’d collapsed on the slope of Mt. Fuji and carried her to safety.

As heated as political debates can get, it can sometimes be hard to remember that government entities, militaries included, are still made up of human beings. There’s no indication as to how the man Trujillo pulled out of his car feels about the issue of U.S. bases on Okinawa, but we imagine that on the morning of the accident, he was glad that Trujillo was close by.

Sources: Livedoor News/Samnkei News via Jin, Okinawa Times, Ryukyu Shimpo, Go Fund a Hero, NBC San Diego
Featured image: Twitter/@GoFundAHero1