While Amethyst McMillian stood before the wreckage of her apartment, ravaged by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake that triggered one of the most devastating tsunami’s in Japan’s history, her twin sister Amber was aboard the USS Ronald Reagan just a few miles off shore, on her way to bring aid.
It’s been three years since the twins and Naval officers have seen each other.
“They grew up hearing my stories from when I served in the army,” said their dad Alonzo Philmore of Live Oak.
Although the twins had scholarships to Florida A&M University, they decided to follow in their dad’s footsteps after graduating Suwannee High School in 2007.
“They said, ‘We don’t want to just go to Tallahassee and come home on the weekends. We want to see the world. We want to travel,” he said.
Philmore was proud of their decision to serve in the military. He never anticipated that decision would lead them both to being involved in one of the most terrifying disasters in history together. However, he said it was not terribly ironic, since they have always done everything together.
“I knew they would be alright, but Mom,” he said, “now she was worried.”
A few hours after Philmore saw the first news reports that a tsunami had wreaked havoc on northern Japan, where Amethyst was stationed, he got a call.
“Amethyst called right away from the ship. She was at work when the earthquake and tsunami hit, so she was safe,” he said. “Her apartment was not totally destroyed, but it was torn up.”
But the earthquake did not shake Amethyst’s spirits.
“Amethyst told us it was a frightening experience, but she was calm. She was just concerned for the people and wanted to help,” he said. “She told us everything around her was just piled up, and there were cars on top of buildings. It was the tsunami, not the earthquake, that did the real damage.”
When Amethyst returned to her apartment, she gathered everything she could salvage and gave it away to her neighbors, many of them now homeless.
“She just felt so sorry for the people. So many had lost their homes, business people couldn’t work, or had lost their businesses, and transportation was shut down everywhere,” Philmore said.
He said if the same tsunami had occurred at night, Amethyst would have been home when her apartment was torn apart. From now on, she will live aboard the carrier she is stationed on, the USS George Washington, instead of residing on shore, he said.
Amethyst’s twin Amber, both 22, is currently aboard the carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which was dispatched to Japan immediately after the event to give aid and health support to the people of Japan. However, the US Navy moved the carrier away from the Japanese coast on concerns radioactive material was blowing in its direction. The ship is reportedly on hold several miles out to sea until government officials can assess the situation to be sure it is safe for military personnel on the coast.
“Amber is doing fine, she’s just very bored. They’re just out there sailing around and around, biding time. She is discouraged since they were sent to help, and now they can’t get in there,” Philmore said.
The USS George Washington was also ordered to pull out of base after concerns arose that radiation levels were too high.
Philmore currently has little contact with the twins and has not spoken to Amethyst in nine days. At press, it was unclear whether the George Washington and Reagan have moved back toward the Japanese coast.
Last Philmore heard, Amethyst was not thrilled to be leaving the Japanese people, and Japanese food.
“She called from the ship before they pulled out and said, ‘I’m fine, but I want to go back down and get something to eat before we ship out,’” he laughed. “She’s in good spirits.”
Philmore said his twin daughters have always done everything together. Although the situation is precarious and they both have jobs to do, he hopes Amber and Amethyst have the chance to see each other soon.
“At one point last year, their ships were only a mile apart, but, of course they couldn’t see each other,” he said. “That’s the closest they’ve been in three years.”