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Rare Zeal Makes Ignorant Military Man

By: Angelina Esparza

Date Posted: 2000-06-02

This story is about Robert Oechsle, from Pennsylvania, who arrived in Okinawa in 1973, believing at first he was stationed on an island off Africa. Later he settled here and married his island Lolita. Today he is an expert on the culture and history of this piece of Pacific paradise.

There are many instances of Military men falling in love and marrying the foreign women they meet overseas. But it takes a man with a special perspective to fall in love and figuratively marry the foreign country they are stationed in.

This is the case of Robert Oechsle. He is, in short, Okinawa's very own Renaissance man. This eccentric mind cannot be placed under a single title. Rob is a photographer, publisher, writer, historian, inventor, artist, teacher and a local personality. His Japanese business card roughly translates "imaginative technical engineer-boss" which shows just how ambiguous his expertise really is.

Originally from Philadelphia Pennsylvania, Rob was stationed on Camp Lester and worked in the Medical Corps in 1973. His initial knowledge of Okinawa was shameful. He admitted to assuming he was on an island off Africa until realizing the signs read kanji characters.

But the achievement that followed several years later is harshly on the contrary. After separating on island and becoming a full-time photographer in 1988, Rob discovered a unique and valuable niche in the Okinawa community. His dominant passion and work was researching and unearthing forgotten books and photographs from the 19th century.

It wasn't long after that he was offered a position on a local television show as an expert on the influence of western art In the Ryukyu. He became a spokesperson for commercials and was often approached by both private collectors and large cooperation to contribute his knowledge of Okinawa. Rob's popularity is largely due to his fluency and literacy In Japanese, and his undying enthusiasm for cultural projects. Currently Rob is working as a creative director for pre-summit Okinawa museums in two locations. His book, The Great Lewchew Discovered, first published In 1987, has just been re-published as a small edition in celebration of the upcoming Summit.

Though it is only for Japanese readers, this exhaustive reference on the 19th Century Ryukyu is packed with 240 pages of pictures, depicting Ryukyu life through the eyes of foreigners and locals. Naha mall, Pallette Kumoji, will be exhibiting this book as well as the actual collection of photographs; lithographs and other forms of art

recovered by Mr.Oechsle himself till the 28th of this month. Recently, his biography and work has been featured In the Japanese State department Issue of Nipponia. This prestigious publication, published in 14 languages, four times a year, has acknowledged Mr. Oechsle as one of the most reliable historians on the subject of Okinawa.

According to Rob, the state department Initially accused him of giving false Information about early photographs. Yet, to their embarrassment, Rob Oechsle was redeemed of this accusation when more reliable sources contradicted the government record on the subject.

A similar event took place several years ago when he visited the Washington Monument. According to well-recorded history, Okinawa had contributed a stone to the monument in 150 years ago, when Commodore Perry returned from his trip to Japan. But to Mr. Oechsle's surprise, the stone was nowhere to be found during his tour of the monument. After thorough Investigation he discovered that It had been thrown out by the US army after it had been on display in the Smithsonian. Eventually Okinawa was recognized for its contribution in 1989, when 10 students from Okinawa placed the stone in the monument during a rededication ceremony- all thanks to Mr. Oechsle's research and letter to the National Park Service. Though his achievement list goes on and on, with stereograph projects and architectural contributions, it is essential to stress that Mr. Rob Oechsle's expertise is a rare form of zeal. He did eventually marry that Okinawa Lolita and is a father of three teenage girls. But his reason for staying on Island is beyond the bond of family. Perhaps he is one of the truest Ushinaa spirits. I think the summit is a great opportunity for Okinawa to really make a lasting Impression on the world. He agrees that Okinawa's crash renovation for the July Summit will reap great rewards.According to this Asianeconomic expert the Summit is more then an economic blessing for the Island's tourist Industry, but will also open doors for the world to better understand the glories of this Asian Island. After all, many might assume that Okinawa is an Island off Africa!

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