Airman Sends Plea For Compassion From Japan

by Free Speech on March 21, 2011

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

By Joshua Rapp
March 18, 2011

It is astounding the degree to which one’s life can change at the drop of a hat, or to put it more aptly, the drop of a box of ramen from atop a shelf. One such box, committing itself to martyrdom, selflessly sacrificed the integrity of its perfectly packed noodles to serve as an early warning of the forthcoming catastrophe. Within moments, the entire building shook in a terrifying tantrum, as if being unearthed from the ground by a giant.

Our unit award plaques, each anchored to the drywall with a thumbtack, hung on for dear life afloat the smoky slate-colored wallpaper. My coworkers and I began darting around the room in frantic anticipation of falling office equipment. The floor coiled violently under our feet and it soon became difficult to stand.
The first earthquake lasted a full seven minutes, enough time for us to secure sensitive military documents and evacuate the building. Standing outside, we watched in awe as the old air traffic control tower, now being used as a weather observation platform, swayed back and forth adjacent to our office building, praying in silence its thirty-year-old foundation would withstand the turbulent tremor. To be quite honest, the initial quake was somewhat fun. Our nerves were a bit taut, to be sure, but there was no immediate sense of devastation. We even joked about how the ground wobbled like a birthday bouncy castle, and we took turns performing theatrical gestures with our arms and legs, as if freefalling from the sky.
Then reality set in.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” remarked Mr. Driskell, our civilian weather forecaster and an eight-year resident of Japan. “This is gonna be bad.”
For the next five hours, we found ourselves scrambling between answering the nonstop symphony of ringing telephones and taking refuge under door frames during the most intense of the one hundred-plus aftershocks. Reflecting back, even in the deepest recesses of my mind I cannot recall a period of more than sixty seconds when the earth had stopped shaking. Despite the constant barrage of aftershocks, our building sustained no structural damages or personal injuries.
Permeating even greater panic and peril, however, were the tsunami warnings issued by the Japan Meteorological Agency, increasing in severity from three to nine to eighteen to thirty feet within a period of half an hour. Because of our installation’s proximity to the coastline, a mere mile and a half, we immediately began making calculations on the possibility of a surge reaching our location. In the end, we did not evacuate, but no one amongst us felt safe. In a feeble attempt to pacify our escalating anxiety, we continued to make light of the situation, offering tepid merriment to one another after each passing quip.
As the news reports filtered in, all levity vanished, and the gravity of the devastation drenched our spirits with sorrow. Chilling footage of cars, vans and trucks being tossed
like Matchbox toys, rushing across rice patties and ripping through houses and office buildings served as a stark reminder of the raw power of environmental forces. News flashes proffering estimations on the number of fatalities multiplied faster than the rising water itself; their numbers started out in the single digits, and rose quickly to the tens, hundreds, and then to the thousands. Unedited photographic images, taken from iPhones and Androids, began flooding the Internet, rendering anguish in the minds of the world that watched. The tsunami, spreading out rapidly along the eastern coastline, made its way to the northeastern reaches of Japan’s main island, stopping just a few hundred yards short of the place I call home.
The extent of damage to my house: a 24-hour power outage and one broken wine glass. Because I was without electricity, the first night I slept in my office, comforted by generator powered heat, bottled water and an endless cache of microwavable Hot Pockets. The next evening I returned to my house physically unscathed, but emotionally dejected, and cried myself to sleep in the warmth of my own bed, every molecule of my body wishing I could do more to provide assistance to those who had lost everything – to those still alive, but slowly suffocating under thousands of pounds of rubble.
The calamity continues to this day and will impact millions of Japanese citizens well into the foreseeable future. In tandem, frustration compounds in the hearts of the thousands of service men and women and their families stationed at Misawa Air Base, desperate to help, but left almost powerless to do so. The logistical challenges left behind in the aftermath of the quake require more than just a fat wallet and the determination to lend a helping hand; they require heavy equipment, complex strategies and the mighty intellect of those skilled in disaster recovery. Although well-endowed with these resources, the U.S. military waits, mobilized but patient, for a call for aid from the government of Japan.
Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick, and those lying naked in the ruins pass over into the afterlife, as international rescue workers solemnly pack their bags for home, expecting to find only frozen corpses from this day forward.
In spite of these horrendous casualties, the incredible spirit of the Japanese will endure. As you sit in your homes in Lodi, Wisconsin, thousands of miles detached from this tragedy, I beg of you to pray for those who are suffering, and ask that you attempt to imagine everything – your home, business, priceless heirlooms hundreds of years old, your friends and family – completely gone, swept away to sea, taken by the hands of Mother Nature; and your earliest warning was not a siren nor a loudspeaker announcement nor a telephone call, but a box of ramen falling from a shelf.
Joshua Rapp is a meteorologist in the U.S. Air Force and a 2001 graduate of Lodi High School. He currently resides in Misawa, Japan – a small town only 200 miles from the epicenter of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan on March 11, 2011.

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