Mothers' helper ... when GIs behave badly
When Masae Uechi had her son, she named him Anthony - and Ruri for the times when he'd need a Japanese name.Skip to next paragraph
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Her boyfriend, a US serviceman at nearby Kadena Airbase, acknowledged the child as his, and went with Ms. Uechi to register his birth.
But the soldier didn't marry her as she had hoped. Money and visits became infrequent. Then, he skipped town for a new assignment in Oklahoma, married someone else, and, Uechi says, stopped paying any child support.
That's when Uechi, working nights at a bar to support Anthony, now 2-1/2, and two children from a previous marriage, went to see Annette Eddie-Callagain.
Ms. Eddie-Callagain, the first and only foreign lawyer in this southernmost prefecture of Japan, has become something of a guru to the jilted.
They are Japanese wives and girlfriends who, after falling for an American man in uniform, later found them-selves abandoned or divorced without any financial support for their children.
They come to Eddie-Callagain because she's the only lawyer qualified and willing to chase down deadbeat dads from Okinawa to Oklahoma. She does it pro bono. And, in a sense, she's been there.
"I read in the local paper that she used to be a military lawyer and saw too much of this problem, and that's why she wants to help," says Uechi, recalling how she found her way to the E-C Law Office along a homely stretch of commercial highway in Ginowan City, Okinawa.
US troop presence
Currently juggling about 50 such cases, Eddie-Callagain has zeroed in on a problem with wider implications. As discontent swells higher against the 28,000 US troops based here - the largest concentration of the 48,000 stationed in Japan - how those soldiers behave on Japanese soil has become a touchy issue.
During the G-8 summit held here last month, tens of thousands of activists protested against the US military presence here, and President Clinton responded with a promise to "reduce our footprint" on this island. Okinawa's governor will present the Japanese government and the American Embassy in Tokyo with a proposal that would make it easier to prosecute US military personnel for any crime under Japanese law, and would encourage the military to garnish a serviceman's wages if he fails to make child-support payments.
The 11-point plan, agreed on two weeks ago by the Okinawa prefectural government, proposes to revise the US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which allows US military personnel here to be prosecuted in Japan only for very serious crimes, such as murder and rape.
That leaves a wide range of misdeeds uncovered - as Eddie-Callagain would know. From 1990 to 1993, she was a military lawyer at the Kadena Air Force Base here, dealing with the regular run of court-martials and criminal cases. Seeing justice done, however, seemed out of reach when it came to local women who were left to raise the children of US servicemen without any child support.
"People would pull me aside and say: 'The baby needs milk and the lights are off, and we can't pay any of the bills. Please help,' " says Eddie-Callagain, whose pink suit and neat hair swept into a bun seem to demand alertness. With huge, light-brown eyes that grow a bit bigger each time she makes a point for emphasis, she has an animated demeanor that stands out from the crowd in Japan, a nation that reveres quiet and controlled speech.
But then, there isn't much about Eddie-Callagain that doesn't set her apart.
She is an African-American living in a country that has demonstrated its share of racist tendencies; she is a lawyer in a prefecture that only has three other women in its bar association. She is representing women who made the socially frowned-upon decision to become involved with foreign men and raise "Amerasian" children, who may not find acceptance as Japanese. And she is making life difficult for American servicemen who might otherwise move on without any strings attached.
In her days on the inside, she found she could do little but call a troop's commander and complain.
"When you see a woman coming in with a baby pulling at her dress saying she can't feed her kids, do you send her right out the door? I said, this is terrible, something's got to be done," Eddie-Callagain recalls.
Eddie-Callagain quit the military in 1993 and returned to the US. She came back to Okinawa in 1995 to set up a private law practice to deal with what she knew were loads of non-criminal cases here involving military personnel - still her bread and butter - that were in need of representation.