Recent inquiries about life in Japan from reader Terry in Vancouver, have prompted me to go back, write and re-write about life as I experienced in Japan as a military wife.
Life in the fifties, no matter where one lived it was quite different from life today in many respects. On the other hand much that is taking place today relative to government policies and military operations, seems so familiar and repetitious to me.
Reading about Iraq, the long expensive involvement in the war there, then the decision to pull up and pull out, and leave so much behind in the way of expensive equipment, tanks, trucks, arms, planes, etc. Like a recent story of the airplanes costing millions of tax-payer money sold for peanuts as scrap, then the current enemy of ISIS threatening to destoy us, with equipment “made in USA.”
My husband, a professional pilot, as a Reserve officer was recalled back into the military during the early Korean war, serving a year there in Air-Sea Rescue flying helicopters. Then in the mid-fifties was re-assigned to Itami airbase near Osaka, still flying helicopters in Air-Sea rescue. I joined him there in 1956, when that base closed and we were re-assigned to Nagoya, fifth Air-Force 4th Headquarters, when that base was being phased out.
We moved into a community of about 25 American families, called Smithtown, with two kids and a German Shepherd dog, driving there from Itami in my little Buick Rivera automobile I had purchased in the States and shipped there. We had lived there several months, when a flash fllood resulting from a broken dam, flooded all of us out. I have written about it in previous articles.
In the middle of the night, we got out just in time as all of the homes and belongings flooded, and went to 5th Air Force headquarters, and slept in an empty building on the floor, where we remained for a time, and the men recovered our water soaked furnishings and belongings after the water subsided. All was dumped in another empty building, we spent time drying out to salvage as much as we could. Subsequently being assigned housing in an area of Gifu about 15 miles away from Nagoya.
In a previous article I describe arriving there along with a truck of furniture and personal belongings to discover the house had been vandalized, while my husband, kids, dog, maid and houseboy waited for the cleaning to be able to move in, when a phone call came through a neighbor, informing my husband that orders had been cut and a plane was waiting for him to fly to Burma on a nine month tour there. Before we unloaded the truck to move in, I drove him back to Nagoya to board the flight to Burma, along with several other members of Troop Carrier Wing 214, re-assigned to Burma. This was in 1957.
Upon his return, we were re-assigned housing on base, and moved into very nice housing where previously a general lived. Fifth Air-Force headquarters had been re-assigned, leaving a large area of office buildings, homes and equipment behind, eventually turned over to the Japanese government as part of Status Forces agreement signed by MacArthur and our President. After winning the war, the Japanese then were in charge and Americans were considered guests in this foreign land.
I was never a typical text-book military wife, but was more involved in military life the four years in Japan than ever before or after that tour.
Living in Nagoya, I did a lot of shopping and sight-seeing with my children and a lot of entertaining. I got to know young officers in my husband’s squadron, and other military wives, and a number of personnel, like a Base Commander’s Secretary I played bridge with and through her became friends with the Base Commander, on a tour there without his family. So was the base doctor, I also became friends with and they frequently came for dinner.
Living in this nice large house on base, with live-in maid and houseboy, I loved to cook and play bridge, and I often had the young co-pilots, base doctor, base commander, other officer’s wives and bridge partners in for dinners. As I reflect back, a time I really enjoyed, living there.
For one reason or another, my husband was in a squadron there with a lot of conflict among the personnel. The commander of the squadron was not well liked, and seemed there was always on-going problems among Squadron members. I recall one instance where two young lieutenant co-pilots had a dispute with their Captain Pilot and refused to follow his orders. Which caused a huge upheaval with two very scared young airmen, reminded me of mutiny at the time, because the military does not tolerate any disobedience to orders.
There was a rather involved investigation and the dispute eventually settled, with all remaining in the military and no serious consequences. The captain pilot was reprimanded, and the two young co-pilots unscathed from the incident in the end of it.
Eventually all personnel were re-assigned and the Nagoya base closed and turned over to the Japanese. We were re-assigned to Tachikawa in Tokyo and lived in Grants Heights for the remaining tour of duty. Grants Heights was a very large housing facility for Air-force, Marine and Navy personnel with an officer’s club just outside our house, which was a rather large, very nice house.
I’m not a very groupy person but did become involved in wives’ club activities, running for president of the club and losing by one vote. Took a lot of classes, including arts and crafts. Shopped a lot, partied a great deal, played a lot of bridge, worked in movies and television ads. Took a trip of a couple of weeks to visit friends in Okinawa. Involved the children in the Japanese culture, dance and sports while they attended school. My husband spent a lot of time on temporary duty in other assignments.
I played a lot of duplicate bridge at Tokyo Press club, frequently with young Japanese college students. One student’s father owned a jewelry store and before leaving these partners had a going away party for me. The father gave me a lovely silver pen with pearls and a key to Tokyo as a going away gift, which I still have.
After my experience in a Japanese jail while living near Itami Air-base, I spent a great deal of time reading, studying to learn about Freedom and political governments in general. Continuing my pursuit when I returned to the States in the early sixties, we were re-assigned to Reno, Nevada and later a second tour in Smyrna, Tennessee, and the last assignment was Wright-Patterson Air-Force base in Dayton, Ohio.
I feel Divinely Blessed, having crammed so many varied and interesting experiences into this one life-time.
Let Freedom Ring
Just Me AC