Dallas and Sendai united by grief and friendship

Mark Berry
Mark Berry, the chairman of the Dallas Sendai committee, on a visit to Japan.

Dallas is about as far from Japan as you can get. And local residents the Berrys are about as Asian as apple pie.

CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports they are a typical Texas family with a very atypical attachment to one Japanese community. Mark Berry, 50, said when he saw the tsunami hit the town of Sendai, it was like watching it roll through his own backyard.

"It's just like I feel what they're feeling," Berry said. "I see that wave coming through, throwing around their cars - that hurts me almost as if I was there."

Berry got to know the people of Sendai because the two towns are International Friendship cities. Dallas kids go there on exchanges. Sendai kids come to Dallas. Berry is now he is chairman of the Dallas/Sendai committee and has already made nine trips there. He's toured the ancient shrines, which are "toothpicks now," dined at homes of dignitaries, which are now gone, and visited local high schools which he thinks have been destroyed.

Complete coverage: Disaster in Japan

For the last week, he's been trying to track down friends in Sendai, with mixed results. For example, there were 10 kids who came to Dallas in the last exchange. Six are accounted for, and four are not.

"I kind of feel like, in this case, no news is bad news," Berry said.

His pain really shows the power these sister-city type connections - how they can make neighbors out of people who might otherwise say they couldn't care less.

Berry's 82-year-old father never even knew a Japanese person - until Berry started bringing his visitors around.

"The ones that I met here I learned to love in a very short period of time," Berry's father said. "So I personally feel an obligation to help the people of Sendai."

To that end, the Dallas Japan/America Society has teamed up with their local CBS affiliate to do a phone-a-thon.

Japan-America Society of Dallas/Fort Worth on Facebook

Other American towns with sister city relationships are doing the same. It all proves, once again - that if you really want to be someone who values humanity - the best thing you can do - is meet a lot of different humans.

The United States has more sister-cities in Japan than another other country - 188 in all.

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.