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Phillip Tutor: A bride’s path from Tokyo to Blue Mountain

Price couple

Kay Price and Chester Price are shown in Japan in the early 1950s in an image provided by Wallace Price, their son.

Baby Doll. That’s what he called her. Baby Doll.

Before the war, Baby Doll lived first in Kyoto, and later a suburb of Tokyo, the sixth of seven children born to a middle-class Japanese family who subsisted on her father’s businessman wages.

When war came, when she had passed her 10th birthday, her father tried to grow a garden because fresh food was rare. He planted sweet potatoes, but they came out the size of pencils. He was still proud of them.

No one called her Baby Doll during the war. That didn’t happen until she met Chester Price, an American soldier from Blue Mountain who wanted her to be his bride. He called her Baby Doll because she was tiny, about 4-foot-11 and less than 100 pounds, and because he loved her.

Baby Doll’s given name was Kazuyo Kanda. She died last week at the age of 90 and is buried at Anniston Memorial Gardens. For decades, English-speakers called her Kay because it was easier to pronounce. So with marriage she became Kazuyo Kay Price, her maiden name discarded.

But to Chester, she was Baby Doll.

“Dad thought the world of mom,” said their son, Wallace Price, an Anniston dentist.

There was a time when Kay Price wasn’t an Anniston rarity. American wartime servicemen returned from Asia and Europe with brides by the thousands — perhaps as many as 45,000 from Japan alone — and Fort McClellan became a magnet for these international families. Kay was merely one of many.

That’s no longer the case, though. Less than 400,000 of America’s 16 million World War II servicemen and women are still alive; the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that nearly 300 die each day. America’s war brides are leaving us, too.  

Chester, a Blue Mountain boy, entered the Army twice. He volunteered when he was 17 and was destined for a landing on Wake Island; his age prevented him from getting on the boat. “And he lived to be my dad,” Wallace said. In July 1947 Chester enlisted again, this time becoming a member of the U.S. occupational force in Japan. He worked in transportation at a military stockade near Tokyo.

Before long, Chester’s buddy asked Kay’s younger sister out for a date, but national customs required a chaperone, so Kay tagged along. So, too, did Chester — at his buddy’s urging. 

“And my dad and my mom hit it off better than the buddy and the younger sister,” Chester said, laughing.

Chester and Kay were married Feb. 18, 1951, in Tokyo. 

Actually, they were married three times that day: once at the Japanese consulate, once at the U.S. consulate, and a third time in a church, all because of military red tape and the bureaucracy of the Americans’ occupation of Japan.

That’s when Kay became Baby Doll.

Chester and Baby Doll first came to Calhoun County. Kay, seven months pregnant when she arrived in the United States, gave birth to Wallace at Fort McClellan and became a U.S. citizen in 1959. Over the years they hopscotched from duty station to duty station, from Okinawa to South Korea to Germany, from Fort Rucker in Alabama to Fort Gordon in Georgia to Sacramento, Calif., to Fort McClellan.

Wallace attended 14 different schools before graduating from Anniston High School and heading off to the University of Alabama.

By then, Kay and Chester had settled in Blue Mountain. Kay was quiet, industrious, committed to her church. Memories of wartime shortages in Tokyo made her obsessively frugal. As a youngster her beauty landed her a spot in a Japanese television commercial for shampoo; as an adult she always dressed well in public, Wallace recalls. She decorated her home with proud visuals of Japanese culture and cooked food from her homeland. Her English was exquisite because she’d learned it in school and college — proper English, Wallace said, as if taught in England. Southern-styled English, not so much. 

Kay worked as a payroll accountant at Blue Mountain Industries and volunteered at her Baptist church. Chester retired from the military in 1967 and became a tank inspector at Anniston Army Depot. He died young in 1986 at the age of 59.

Kay, Chester’s Baby Doll, never remarried.

Until the end she remained in Blue Mountain, her Alabama home far removed from the war that ravaged her nation and introduced her to her American husband.

“She was definitely from Japan but she was a naturalized American citizen,” Wallace said. “She felt that being with dad all these years and working in America and paying her taxes that she had done her part to be a part of the  financial and social system of the United States.”

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is a Star columnist. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.

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