- Laura Eynon / For the AJC
The flight from Atlanta to Tokyo was 19 hours, plus a stopover in Alaska to refuel. Laura Dorsey Rains sat there in her prim white shirt with the Peter Pan collar, her pantyhose itchy and hot. The burly man next to her was blowing cigar smoke in a cloud that enveloped her. She was too petrified to complain. Besides, well-bred Southern girls kept quiet and smiled. It was 1966 and she was 20 years old.
Laura thought about her grandmother’s incredulous reaction as she prepared for the trip: Men have been going to war for centuries. Women stay home and write letters — they don’t take off after their men!
Laura supposed she was naïve, but how could she just stay home and wait for news that her husband was dying? Or dead? The letter, that ominous official letter, said that Tom had been critically wounded in Vietnam and had been airlifted to a military hospital in Japan. She had to go to him. She just had to.
The first time she got off the train in Tokyo, she elbowed her way through the hustling, harried knot of people and traffic, only to suddenly step into a small, perfect, quiet space that seemed to exist in a world apart, in a movie maybe. Lush green grasses and moss spread out under meticulously pruned pines and fruit trees. There was a small wooden bridge arching over a narrow stream that trickled over rock formations. The city and its noise seemed to vanish.
Laura did not realize how much stress she’d been under until she walked into that garden.
“It felt as if I’d been thirsty and suddenly found water,” she remembers. “It was life-giving. Nurturing. Almost as if I’d been touched by the Divine.”