30 Years Later – the Terrorist that Time Forgot

“You going to the party?”

“Yeah, you want to go?”

“I’m kind of tired. I think I’m going back to the barracks and going to sleep – thank you though.”

That conversation was 30 years ago today with someone I barely knew. It happened as Angela was walking out of the Naval Communications Area Master Station Mediterranean (NAVCAMS Med) where, as someone new to the command, I was on security duty. I was about the 150th line of defense, if you even want to call it that  and pretty much defenseless, but this was a secure command on a very secure base. Right next to me was a U.S. Marine (with his service weapon) and outside of the door, just down a hill, were a lot of Carabinieri (Italian military police) guarding the gate to the base. NAVCAMS MED was located at AFSOUTH (Headquarters Allied Forces Southern Europe). This was an important NATO command, including the offices of the Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Southern Europe. Although NAVCAMS MED itself was strictly American, just beyond its doors were all of our allied partners – Turks, Greeks, Italians, Brits, French, etc. In other words, we had a lot of military personnel and a lot of security. AFSOUTH was located not far from Fleet Landing, where the Naples USO was located. Two ships were in and the party I had just asked Angela about, the one she was going to, was because those ships were in town.

AFSOUTH – image via JFK Library

Being new to the command and to Naples, I had just been through ICR – Intercultural Relations. It was a fun class where you’re thrown in with a bunch of new people just reporting to Naples. They showed us around town and taught us everything we needed to know about Naples and beyond – things like don’t ever bring chrysanthemums to Italian people (it’s a death flower or one used for funerals). That’s where I learned Americans had a bubble and we don’t like our bubbles (the space directly around our bodies) being invaded, but because Italians are so incredibly warm, and don’t have this bubble, they often invade ours to hug and kiss us.  True. With ICR, we went all over and I’m not sure if this is when I saw the Achille Lauro for the first time – but Naples was its homeport (right next to where the U.S. Navy ships pulled in). In ICR, they had warned us about terrorism. Don’t gather in places where there are a lot of Americans, don’t wear uniforms off base, don’t wear clothes that scream you’re an American. There had been incidents, but not in Naples. According to the New York Times, “The bombing in April 1986 of a West Berlin discotheque frequented by American military personnel prompted the air raids on Libya after the Reagan Administration charged that Libya was responsible. Clubs for American soldiers in Greece have also been targets of bombings, and a grenade attack on a U.S.O. club in Barcelona, Spain, in December killed an American sailor.”

And now here I was, in April 1988, two years to the month later after we raided Libya. I don’t think I realized that at the time. I was blissfully ignorant. Maybe it would have been good to know. Maybe? I wasn’t hyper-vigilant at that time. That would come. Thinking back on all of this now, as I do quite often, I think I was tired that night. It hadn’t even been two weeks since I arrived in Naples and I still didn’t know many people. I thought it was cool Angela, not knowing me, had asked if I wanted to go and I do remember being conflicted about it –  going to the party at the USO or going back to the barracks and going to sleep. How else would I make friends? As Angela walked out of the door at NAVCAMS Med, she smiled and waved goodbye.

Would I have been standing with Angela when the bomb detonated? Would I have survived? Should I have gone?  How did this happen? We had so much security at AFSOUTH, but where was the security at Fleet Landing? Angela was dead, along with four Italians. Everything changed for us in Naples and around Europe after the bombing, especially security procedures. I changed. Going into any crowded space is painful for me. If I’m inside of an area I can’t easily get out of, it’s awful. I’m way too hypervigilant. If I mention to you I’m claustrophobic, you now know why.  In terms of terrorism, for most Americans it was 9/11 that changed their world. It was 4/14/88 for me. As it was for Angela Santos.

Image via USO

All of these years later, you’d think I’d be able to process it differently, stop asking these questions, stop asking why, stop wondering why Junzo Okudaira hasn’t been caught and perhaps now, 30 years later, I shouldn’t be furious that his name isn’t on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list and it can’t even be found on the FBI’s website. Okudaira was indicted (in absentia) in the United States for this bombing and he’s a suspect in other terrorist attacks. There’s no mention of his name on Interpol either. Not on any law enforcement website that I can find. Why is that? Did they forget? WHY ISN’T HE ON A MOST WANTED LIST? ANY MOST WANTED LIST? Is anyone looking for him? RM3 Angela Santos was killed by a terrorist while serving her country. That shouldn’t be forgotten.  Nor should bringing justice to the terrorist that killed her. 

If you know the whereabouts of Junzo Okudaira, please contact police. He’s a terrorist and a murderer who is still on the loose. He shouldn’t be.

This was from five years ago —

In July 2019, Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department released age-adjusted drawings of wanted members of the Red Army. Junzō Okudaira is among them – https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20190726/p2a/00m/0na/007000c

Further reading –

Police today were looking for a suspected Japanese terrorist (UPI) – https://www.upi.com/Archives/1988/04/15/Police-today-were-looking-for-a-suspected-Japanese-terrorist/9518577080000/

5 Die in Blast Outside U.S.O. in Naples (New York Times) – https://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/15/world/5-die-in-blast-outside-uso-in-naples.html

A Japanese With Lebanese Links Blamed in Naples U.S.O. Bombing (New York Times) – https://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/16/world/a-japanese-with-lebanese-links-blamed-in-naples-uso-bombing.html

Alleged Japanese Terrorist Indicted in ’88 Bombing of USO Club (Los Angeles Times) – http://articles.latimes.com/1993-04-10/news/mn-21346_1_world-trade-center-bombing

9 Replies to “30 Years Later – the Terrorist that Time Forgot”

  1. Wow,
    I was back on the ship throughout the party…as the ships Gyro was needing repair. The party was an idea that the guys in my work center came up with, after voicing my dilemma as DAPA.
    Ya see, we left Polarmo after some terrible incidents by the crew…who chose to DRINK was beyond responsible. Well, the Skipper directed me to “Fix It”…and the ~Talent Show~ was born.
    Words cannot describe the feelings when the ship went to General Quarters (In Port), and the crew was running up the pier…as the billowing black cloud rose, from the buildings behind them.

    I’m gonna share this out of my respect for the greatest ships crew…in the Navy.
    With a heavy heart, my prayers remain with Angela. And with the crew who lived through HELL that day.

    IC1 Strauss

  2. I’m not sure what was more scary, being inside when the bomb went off or running up to the ship with twenty guns pointed at me.

    1. John – I’m sorry you also experienced this horrific incident. My hope is someday the bomber is brought to justice. Thank you for your service and all the best in your future.

  3. Donna, thank you for this report and memorial to Angela. + Memory Eternal

    I made port call at Naples over half a dozen times in the late ’70s (Saratoga, JFK), and was in that USO several times.

  4. Every Memorial Day I try to remember RM3 Angela Santos. Her and I worked in the same building in different departments both of us were RM3s. She and I would get breakfast for our sections.We would hang out together. She was a very caring and friendly lady. I was stationed in Mayport, FL when I heard the horrible news of her death. So sad. 😪💔

  5. Donna:

    Thanks fore keeping this alive. I was in charge of the Navy Hospital First Responder team that night. I was paged from my home and was arrived at the hospital about 25 minutes later, quickly leaving in the last remaining ambulance to join the staff who had already arrived at the USO. I remember the toxic gases, smell of explosives and burning smoke billowing from the scene, and of course in the smoldering rubble we searched, unaware the hissing gas near me could explode at any moment. I didn’t care – the bravery and naivety that accompanies youth. I remember seeing Angela’s body, and knew she had died, but stayed focused on getting the sailors injured out of nearby hospitals and safely back to our Navy team waiting at the hospital in Naples. The shipmate in my ambulance and others I found with my broken Italian and a very fluent Italian driver, were really as glad to see me as I was to sweep them back to the familiarity of our Navy hospital.

  6. This is the first time that I have seen this article. I was on the USS Capodanno. I was enjoying the food, talking to my parents on the phone and then the Gong Show that was happening in the basement. At the end of the show I went to the top of the stairs, my friend Don and I were talking to Angela and we were talking about going to the base the next night. We finished our conversation and she was walking to the front door and that’s when it happened. I felt responsible for a long time about delaying her exit from the building. I was 18 at the time of the explosion. There are very few days that pass that I don’t think of her and what type of person she would have been. The family she never had. Every anniversary I text with her younger sister, Jenny. After the Navy, I was lucky enough to go to college and also played baseball. I played many years after college as well. Today I coach young youth players and High School Varsity in NJ.
    When that National Anthem is playing I think about Angela.
    Angela Santos is the person that I have know the least and has had the biggest impact on my life. RIP

  7. I definitely remember when this happened. I was in the 8th grade at Naples American High School on Via Scarfoglio. My dad was stationed at AFSOUTH, and by the time this happened we had been in Naples a little over four years. The night it happened we were watching a movie on SEB, and then all of a sudden the TV flashed to the announcement screen with “Code Red” in bright letters. It stayed that way for quite some time (an hour or so, maybe). Since a lot of us didn’t have phone service in our homes, making announcements via SEB was a great way to reach a lot of people. I just remember being bewildered because I’d never seen that before. The next morning at school we found out exactly what happened.

    It was a reality check. All the terrorism craziness that had been going in the world had finally come to Naples. Before that, I’d say my 6th grade year (’85-’86) had been the most chaotic period. Between the summer of ’85 and the summer of ’86, all kinds of craziness had happened: a TWA hijacking that ended up in Algeria; the hijacking of the Achille Lauro; the Challenger expl0sion; another TWA hijacking and bombing; the German Disco bombing; the bombing of Libya; and the Chernobyl. Most of these events weren’t happening in “faraway” plays; they were fairly close…and we got to see it on SEB and read about it in the Stars and Stripes. I remember seeing the security folks at the NSA (Naval Support Activity) pulling over cars to search them, and things at AFSOUTH got tighter. That was all a couple of years before the USO bombing, and I remember feeling a bit more relaxed by the spring of 1988.

    As a kid, I knew we were in dangerous times, but I never expected to see the terrorism in Naples (and I knew NOTHING of the on-going local Camorra wars at the time time, but that’s another story). Yes, we’d had bomb drills at school and things like that, but it was definitely a wake-up call to what had been a pleasant experience for a kid. Knowing that the perpetrator is still out there all these years–DECADES–later is quite sobering.

    Thanks for the write-up.

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