Japanese troops can’t help falling in love with Maj. Manuel Sam Wong.
The Yama Sakura 59 war game was now or never for strategic intelligence officer, whose Elvis impersonation is a special brand of cultural exchange, reports 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. Wong, with I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., became the devil in disguise, trading his ACUs for a sequined white jumpsuit and his oak leaf for a sideburn wig.
“Elvis is known throughout the world,” said Spc. Gerard White, also with I Corps, who met Wong in Iraq in 2009. “So, if you have an American soldier dressed as Elvis jumping in with the Japanese soldiers and mingling, it gets a rise out of the U.S. soldiers and the Japanese soldiers as well.”
Wong, of San Francisco, has been all shook up over The King since he was a kid. And as an adult company commander in Iraq, Wong donned his Elvis suit on Halloween in 2003 to raise the morale of troops singing the G.I. blues.
“I enjoy putting a smile on everyone’s faces, when deployed or just during this exercise; for people who may be a little homesick,” he said. “To have a little laughter goes a long way.”
It’s the second time in Japan for Wong, one of more than 70 Soldiers chosen from I Corps to augment the U.S. Army Pacific’s premier bilateral training exercise with Japan’s Ground Self Defense Force, taking place this year in Kumamoto, Japan.
Wong’s first Japan performance was on Jan. 21 when “Elvis” jumped on stage and joined a famous Japanese country music singer who was entertaining U.S. and Japanese troops. Wong covered a few Elvis favorites, like “Suspicious Minds,” and even added an Elvis-inspired rendition by pop goddess Lady GaGa.
When the war game started, however, Wong engaged in a little less conversation as his alter ego and a little more action as an intelligence officer.
“I’m here to assist the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force and to help them improve their intelligence capabilities, and also to provide special guest star Elvis impersonations,” said Wong.
But there are sacrifices. Wong said that packing his jumpsuit meant he remembered to forget something important.
“I’ve already run out of undergarments,” he said. “I had to make room for the suit.”