Last time, I had just arrived at my duty station, Wakkanai, Japan, October, 1963, a long way from Tokyo, and a very long way from Maine, USA! Let’s continue to explore my military experiences, with a view to appreciating our great nation that was established by some of the wisest, honorable and most sacrificial people ever to step foot on this terrestrial ball called earth. We are now on the island of Hokkaido, Japan, just twenty six miles from Sakhlin Island, USSR or for some friends of mine back in the Williwacs of Maine, Russia! During my eighteen month stay, three events relating to consequences of war are forever etched in my mind. They have shaped my emotions, my choices, my life. Here they are:
The first was the night I arrived. That 800 mile plane ride was tiring, and I was hoping to get checked in and get some sleep. Not gonna happen, GI! In the CQ’s office, I was signing in, when a large plain wooden box about six or seven feet long caught my eye. “What’s that,” I asked the sergeant? “That’s the kid, you’re replacing,” he said without hesitation. “What happened to him,” I asked. “Which story do you want,” he replied? “How many are there,” I said? “Well, there’s the one that happened, and the one we are sending back home.” “Ok,” I said, “tell me both.” The Sarge proceeded to inform me that Russian military sailors sometimes docked at the waterfront. Their ship contained listening devices as well as other weaponry, and they were eager to show any foolish American that this island was supposed to be Russian territory. He told me, my younger comrade had disobeyed orders, gone near the waterfront, he was killed, thrown on the beach for the crabs, and his body was going back to the states. “The official story,” he said, “was that he went down to the beach, slipped and fell.” I suddenly realized, I didn’t have to go to Nam to be involved in war.
My next event came early early one awful morning; my sergeant Greer burst into my room and pulled me off my top bunk. He looked furious and he yelled for me to get dressed, we were on full alert; some people had just killed President Kennedy! We stayed on full alert until well after the New Year. Not given to smoking anything but a pipe, I gave up trying to mess with all that preparation and bought cigarettes like all my buds. From our base on a clear day we could see Russian territory; war was becoming more real.
The third event came in August, ’64, I had learned Japanese with a class on base, and another correspondence course from the University of Maryland, not to mention, my new family’s help. The Ishigaki family owned a small restaurant, the Misakasu, just outside the main gate of our compound. It was very small, one counter about ten feet long, and four small tables with no chairs; locals sat barefoot on mats on the floor, so did I. Mrs. Ishigaki and her mother in law ran the restaurant. Mr. Ishigaki was a policeman, who was in charge of patrolling the outside of our compound. I was most often the only GI in the place. Most GI’s frequented several other places where food, booze, and girls were plentiful, not to mention an occasional illness!! I taught Mrs. Ishigaki some English, while she
graciously helped me with my Japanese. In time, she had “adopted” me, gave me my Japanese name, “Kengi Asaoka.” I was most honored; Kengi, I understood was “faithful,” asa- morning, oka- early.
A faithful early morning sounded very good to me! A few weeks before, that day in August, Mrs. Ishigaki’s niece came from another city to visit. I was allowed to show her around the base, and even to travel into the city to a restaurant. In early August, we had gone to town to see a movie. Their movies were of course in Japanese, but they usually had French subtitles which helped me to understand. As we entered the theatre, there was no place to sit. Several flags and a few men were standing on the stage. This was a Japanese memorial for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I was the only American in the place!! Following several short speeches, the film left little to the imagination of the horrendous devastation. While I had always believed the logic in dropping those two bombs and ending the war quickly, in that theatre on that day, I felt most inadequate to defend that position. War, anywhere at any time, is awful.
In 1965, my tour in Japan was up; I had earlier volunteered for Nam, but was turned down because, at that time, there were no Russian speaking pilots over North Viet Nam. Instead I came back to Security Service Headquarters in San Antonio, and completed my obligation. I was offered a Civil Service assignment, but setting up listening posts in faraway places, just didn’t have the same pull I had felt a few years back. I entered civilian life, grateful to be alive, more grateful for the mission and the men with whom I served, but most of all grateful for my buds, all twelve, who gave the last and greatest measure of devotion to America’s freedom, so I could marry, raise kids, and even complain about my government without fear of harm from within! America exists today because of these few and thousands like them!
So, on this July 4th and throughout this next year, I will remember sacrifices of my own family members, my great grandfather in the Civil War, my great uncle in World War I, my buds in Nam, my son in law, serving 24 years in the Navy, and our son, an Air Force captain in ballistic missiles for over six years. Then I will recall the numerous funerals at which I have been most privileged to officiate at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery here in San Antonio. Rows and rows of honorable reminders that FREEDOM ANYWHERE AT ANY TIME HAS NEVER BEEN FREE! May our Heavenly Father help the resolute and good patriots of this nation to never yield but to VOTE COWARDS AND COMPROMISERS OUT OF OFFICE, to lift our flag high, with proud salutes, and hands over our hearts, resolving to teach our children and grandchildren, and anyone that will listen, that freedom in America is a fight worth every drop of blood, and that our forefathers were brilliant in writing the second greatest document known to man besides The Bible, The United States Constitution! May her enemies continue to be defeated! May God bless America; LET FREEDOM EVER RING!
“from my heart to yours”…see ya next time!