One of the daily routines that Papa Sam’s little family had been enjoying Monday through Friday without fail was a little jaunt to a local park in D.C. where Yua could play with the other children her age. Peter would always tag along as an extra pair of eyes for either his stepmother or stepaunt. Little Yua took after her Grandpa Gordon, she was a force of nature unto herself. She had the energy of any three children her age, and if they weren’t able to get to the park to tire her out there was no getting her to take a nap in the afternoon.
Unfortunately, on this particular day Peter was sick and Sakura remained at home to care for him. Over the last nine months the family unit had come together very nicely. Everybody got along famously, with little to no bickering. This was quite impressive considering the small quarters everybody lived in. Peter and Yua had bonded very closely and despite their age differences they were quite inseparable. Many young men his age would consider it a pain to go to the park with their kid sister, not Peter. He loved going with her. As a matter of fact, he wanted to go on that particular day. It was only on Sakura’s insistence to the contrary that he agreed to stay at home in bed.
The previous day Papa Sam had said his goodbyes to the family. He kissed Little Yua and gave a male “bro” hug to Peter. Peter who was used to not seeing his father for long periods of time didn’t display real emotion. Being her first time being separated from Papa Sam, Sakura was quite overwrought with emotion. They clung together quite some time until Peter cheerily quipped, “Get a room, guys.”
Not in the darkest recesses of Papa Sam’s mind lurked a thought that he would never see Little Yua again. If he could have imagined it, there is no way he would have walked out that door even if it meant a court marshal.
On a typical summer day, they went to the park at or around one o’clock in the afternoon. When school was in session, they would go later to allow time for Peter to get home from school so that he could join them. Since Peter was not only too sick to go to school but also too sick to go to the park, Aunt Ichika and little Yua left earlier than usual for the park.
Their routine had been repeated scores of times, so there is no doubt that some complacency had set in on the part of the chaperone, i.e., Aunt. Ichika. It was sunny a Tuesday with a slightly cooling breeze blowing off the Potomac, so the weather was quite idyllic. Ichika is sitting on a park bench chatting with a couple of other park regulars when she was momentarily distracted by a boy chasing a dog across the grassy field next to the playground. It couldn’t have been more than 15 seconds or so that she had her eyes off little Yua. When she looked back, the wayward child was nowhere to be seen. Immediately, she jumped up and ran to where Little Yua had been playing and started frantically looking everywhere.
It was only a moment before her daily companions joined her and started yelling Little Yua’s name. Being the ever proud aunt, Ichika had a wallet full of photos and was soon showing little Yua’s photo to everyone who would stop and look. This went on for a good 15 minutes until finally the D.C. police showed up being escorted by the park security guard. By this time, Aunt Ichika was hysterical as she continued to run around frantically calling out Yua’s name and feverishly looking in every bush and under every table and bench, all the while knowing how futile her efforts were.
The police officers tried to calm Ichika down as they questioned her. They discovered that she was not the mother but only the aunt. They asked her if her sister, Yua’s mother, had been notified and she nearly went wild again when she realized that Sakura had not been. The police officer suspecting that the sister was going to totally lose it, told her that they would send over an officer to escort Sakura back to the park and a social worker to stay with Sakura’s stepson while she was away.
The arrangements were quickly made and within an hour, Sakura was at the park with the inconsolable Ichika. Surprisingly, Sakura remains calm throughout the whole process. Unfortunately, it wasn’t calmness it was in actuality shock. She did not know how to respond. She was new to the country and her husband was overseas on assignment with the exception of her sister who was even newer to the US, all of her immediate family members were living in Japan. Additionally, all of her husband’s family was either living in Arizona or Nevada so they could offer little immediate assistance. She simply did not have any support structure and as a result, didn’t know which way to turn. The only thing she knew was that she wanted Papa Sam by her side. He would know what to do.
Thankfully, the police officers were all very kind, patient,and helpful. Before too long, detective Charles Gault from the local precinct arrived at the park with FBI special agent James Pierany in tow. Every kidnapping immediately fell under the jurisdiction of the FBI. Because the victim was the child of a military personage who had a sensitive position and access albeit indirectly to the president, Captain Ronald Stewart, a special liaison from Andrews AFB showed up as well. He would act as an intermediary for the family and would assist in contacting Papa Sam in Europe. He would also assist Sakura in contacting any other family members that required notification and updates. Captain Stewart was also a trained psychologist who specialized in PTSD with family and military personnel. By this time, the whole park was cordoned off with cones and the actual playground is roped off with crime tape.
Forensic specialists are examining the area for any trace evidence but the likelihood of finding anything of value is next to none. You can tell by the determined but resigned looks on the faces of the criminologists that they know how fruitless their efforts are. Their only real hope is if someone comes forward with an eye witness account or if one of the cameras surrounding the park catches something. Even the person chasing after the dog has disappeared. So it is looking like he was in cohoots with the kidnappers, or he was paid to be a distraction. Whatever the answer was it is quite evident that the plan was well-thought out and had been performed flawlessly.
Finally after several hours went by, Sakura and Ichika were escorted back to their apartment by Captain Stewart. By this time it was deemed that the two two ladies had been mined for all pertinent information. Besides, Detective Gault already had taken Ichika’s statement and had Little Yua’s most recent photo therefore it was pointless for the ladies to remain at the park. As soon as they arrived back at their apartment, Captain Stewart obtained a list of all the family members that needed to be notified and started immediately making the calls from the kitchen. The first one to be notified, of course, was Papa Sam. While he was doing this, Sakura, Ichika, and young Peter were all hugging and sobbing uncontrollably in the living room.
When Papa Sam received the news of Yua’s kidnapping from Captain Stewart, he was inspecting his plane in the hangar at a US AFB in Germany. He had been feeling quite poorly the last day. In his weakened state, apparently, the shock was too much for him because he immediately became lightheaded and blacked out. When he came to, he was already strapped to a gurney and was being loaded into an ambulance. By the time he arrived at the base hospital, he had Lactated Ringers running into a large bore IV in his external jugular vein. Due to his being dehydrated, the neck was the only site the paramedics could access.
Over the next two days, they ran a whole battery of tests. The tests produced definitive results and unfortunately, the results were quite sobering. Papa Sam had a multitude of nodules on the right lung. Which indicated that he had stage three non-small cell carcinoma. When the results were discovered, a Pulmonologist and a Hematologist/Oncologist were immediately consulted.
Once Papa Sam’s initial health status was established, he was withdrawn temporarily from service until the consulting doctors could arrive at a prognosis. Under the extraordinary circumstances Papa Sam found himself, it was deemed that he would not be able to perform his duties, so he was transferred back to Andrews AFB for rest and further testing and treatment. Considering what his wife Sakura was going through, he opted not to tell her about his condition. He did, however, call and tell his father and mother. He told his mother because of her medical background, and he frankly wanted her honest opinion on his condition and likely outcome. He wanted his father to know because he wanted his honest opinion on what he should do with his career and whether or not he had a winnable lawsuit on his hands. He had a nagging feeling that he had been knowingly exposed to hazardous circumstances with his repeated orders for flights over the burning oil wells in Kuwait.
Of course, as soon as Grandpa Gordon heard the news, he and Mama Clara immediately hopped on a plane to Andrews AFB. Their foreman gladly agreed to feed the dogs and keep an eye on things while they were away. Even though Grandpa Gordon was retired, the commander at Andrews AFB reserved accommodations for them, especially when he heard the news of what happened to Grandpa Gordon’s son and granddaughter. Besides, the CO of the base knew Grandpa Gordon had served as a lieutenant under his command when he was Brigadier General.
When Grandpa Gordon heard that his son, Papa Sam was on his way back to Andrews AFB he decided to wait there at the base so that at least, he would have a familiar and friendly face to greet him when he got off the transport plane. Meanwhile as agreed, Mama Clara took a taxi to Papa Sam and Sakura’s apartment to give comfort to Sakura and young Peter. When she arrived at their apartment, Captain Stewart had long since returned back to the base as his initial duties had been completed. Before he left he gave a card to each of them and left the following instructions, “Each of you may call me any time of the day no matter what if you feel the need.”
Mama Clara had already met Ichika when Sakura and Papa Sam were married in Japan, so no introductions were needed. When she entered their apartment she immediately hugged them all. There was not one mention of blame or look of recrimination to be laid on any of them. She was not there in search of answers but to give comfort where it was needed and to help heal the broken hearts that were present there on that day. Answers would be searched for and discovered by Grandpa Gordon as he would most assuredly use every ounce of his considerable influence to find out what happened to his beautiful granddaughter, Yua. But alas, even his considerable powers of influence would not be enough to discover what happened to her. It would take Peter 22 years to finally find the answers his Grandfather had so vainly searched for.
When Grandpa Gordon saw his son step out of the transport plane, he was shocked by his appearance. What he saw was a broken man. He was hunched over and was nothing but a mere shadow of his former self. He had always been robust and he walked with a confident stride. One who was full of confidence in his own abilities. None of this was present any longer. His powerful stride was replaced by a shambling and hesitant gait. When Papa Sam saw his father, there was only a brief glimmer in his eyes, and then it was quickly replaced by dull and lifeless eyes. Grandpa Gordon hugged his son in a tight embrace but Papa Sam only reciprocated in a half-hearted manner.
Grandpa Gordon asked his son, “What do you need me to do for you?” Papa Sam wearily replied, “I now know that my days on this earth are short, and all I ask is that you help me provide for my family. I feel so helpless about little Yua, I think she is beyond our help at this time. Based on the report I received, the kidnapping was a real professional operation. She is probably already out of the country by now.”