Before Graceland, A Less-Publicized Stop At Walter Reed

By Nora Boustany
Friday, July 7, 2006

Loving tender and holding tight are about more than Elvis for Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi . Beneath the spontaneity and flamboyance that his countrymen sum up as Koizumi Theater lies heartfelt compassion.

On Thursday last week, the day before he went to Graceland, Koizumi spent some quality time with U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and recovering at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Koizumi, boyish with a bohemian hair flip, chatted with several patients and posed for pictures with them and their families on the hospital's fifth floor, the Japanese Embassy's minister for public affairs, Mitsuru Kitano , said after the visit.

"Since the wounded soldiers could not move about freely, the prime minister got close to each soldier on their beds to pose for a commemorative photo," Kitano said.

Spec. Maxwell Ramsey , 36, of the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, greeted Koizumi with: " Konnichi-wa. Hajime-mashite. Ogenki desuka ?" -- Japanese for "Hello, how do you do? Are you well?"

A surprised Koizumi, who usually chats through an interpreter, replied in English, "Your Japanese is very good."

Ramsey, whose wife was born in Japan, described Koizumi as "polite, casual, a bit reserved yet also lighthearted."

"He wanted to know about the progress in my injury and what I was going to do after I recovered," said Ramsey, whose leg had to be amputated after he was injured in Ramadi, a city in western Iraq.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth L. Farmer Jr ., commander of the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command, which includes Walter Reed, said Ramsey would soon be "jumping out of planes for a 101st Airborne celebration."

Koizumi wanted to know how many jumps Ramsey had under his belt. More than 360, Ramsey replied, adding that he hoped to accomplish his first post-injury jump in September.

After listening to soldiers describe their injuries, Koizumi encouraged them to "keep up the fight."

Koizumi declined hospital officials' recommendation of an "alcohol disinfection treatment prior to coming into contact with hospital patients to prevent the spread of any communicable diseases," Kitano said.

"I don't need anything like that," Koizumi said. "I'm not concerned about myself."

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