The love between a mother and her son can never truly be severed, even by time and distance.
When Nobue Ouchi of Shizuoka, Japan was just nineteen, she met and fell in love with an American military man. The two planned to marry, but before they could complete the paperwork he was shipped back home to South Carolina.
After Nobue gave birth, her father, a humble fisherman, offered to support her and her baby boy, but she knew how hard it would be to raise a child of mixed-race in her small Japanese village. It was then that Nobue made the heart wrenching decision to give her son a better life by giving him up for adoption.
Edward and Eleanor Hollywood were stationed in Japan with the United States Air Force. They gladly adopted Nobue’s baby when he was just an infant, calling him Bruce.
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“I always knew I was adopted because I had Asian features and [my father] was an Irishman and [my mother] was a Norwegian lady,” Bruce said. “And they always told me, ‘…We picked you out special. So you’re even more special than everyone else.’ ”
Bruce grew up in a loving and supportive family, and he always imagined that one day he might return to Japan to find his birth mother, but he thought it might be impossible to find her. His parents told him Nobue’s name and offered to send him to Japan to find her, but he declined.
Then, in 2005, Bruce suffered a heart attack on his way into work at the United States Pentagon. As he lay on the pavement, wondering if he was experiencing the final moments of his life, he found himself filled with regret about not working harder to find Nobue.
Bruce dreamed of sending his birth mother a letter, just to tell her how grateful he was that she had selflessly given him the best possible life. “I lived the best life ever. I’m a colonel in the United States Air Force. I’ve got beautiful children. Life is really good,” Bruce imagined telling her.
Bruce sent what little he knew about Nobue to the Japanese Embassy and hired a private detective, but when their searches turned up empty, he figured it wasn’t meant to be. “I thought, ‘You know what, I’ve tried. I’ve made all the effort that I can make. It’s just unfortunate,’ ” he said.
Then, a simple twist of fate occured. As Bruce was on his way to a military conference in Germany, he found himself seated next to another military man in a wine bar at the Dulles International Airport. Bruce had a lot in common with Admiral Harry Harris, whose mother was also Japanese. As they talked, Bruce told Harris about the heart attack, and how it inspired him to find his birth mother after all these years.
“He said, ‘Bruce, I can help you.’ And I said, ‘You know what, you’re an admiral and all, but you can’t. I’ve been to the embassy. I’ve tried this, and you just can’t help any.'”
Just ten days later, Admiral Harris made good on his promise. Bruce was at work when the phone rang, and a voice at the Japanese Embassy on the other side of the world told him that his prayers had been answered.
“‘Colonel Hollywood we’re really pleased to tell you that we found your mother, Nobue Ouchi.’
“And I said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is wonderful. You’ve got to help me start writing this letter. And I want it to be accurate, and I want it to be culturally sensitive. And you’ve got to help me.'”
“There’s not going to be a letter. She’s going to call you at this phone number in 10 minutes, and she doesn’t speak English. Good luck!”
Bruce scrambled to find a translator to conference in, and ten minutes later, Nobue called him on the phone, sobbing. Mother and son shared a conversation via the translator, and Nobue finally got to tell him about the circumstances behind his adoption.
She also confessed that the next day was her 65th birthday, and the present she’d always hoped to receive was that Bruce would come back to her, somehow. Nobue never married, “because she said in her heart there was only room for one man. And it was you, and she knew you would be back.”
The translator then told Bruce something incredible that made his heart skip a beat. His mother owned and operated a small restaurant in Japan… named Bruce.
As impossible as it may sound, it turned out to be 100% true. All those years ago, Bruce’s adoptive mother had contacted Nobue to thank her for the greatest gift of her life. She had sent a photo of Bruce, and told Nobue his name. She promised to give him a good life.
Bruce wasted no time in going to Japan to meet Nobue. Just ten days later, he showed up in his village and saw the restaurant named “Bruce,” and finally met the woman who had given him life — in more ways than one.
Over the next few years, Bruce returned to Japan often to see Nobue, and he even flew her to Washington, D.C. to meet his family. She took English lessons, and he learned Japanese. Bruce got to meet his large, extended family in Japan, too.
Sadly, Nobue passed away just three years after they reunited, but Bruce says that finding her made him incredibly proud of his heritage for the first time.
Bruce is now a proud Japanese American who is active in the Japanese American community. He sits on the boards of the Japanese American Veterans Association and the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in World War II.
“The last 12 years, I finally became a Japanese American. Before that I had no Japanese American identity. I just had Japanese American features. … But as I got integrated in this community, I ended up becoming incredibly proud of this heritage that I had.”
Now retired from the Pentagon, Bruce and his wife Megan live in Vienna, Virginia, surrounded by a large, loving family. He says his life is blessed, and not a day goes by that he doesn’t thank his mother, and fate, for the enduring love that enabled him to achieve all that he has in his life.
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