My Years in the Air Force
This was my first experience of being in a foreign country. We were reminded that this was only seven years after the Japanese surrendered and there were a lot of them that still hated us for this. Japan was still being occupied by the United States. Tachikawa had two air bases, Tachikawa East and Tachikawa West, about a mile apart. From our base, we had to walk about twenty blocks to the main part of town. There were Japanese girls three deep all the way down and from every side street. A lot of them were sent by their parents to make money for them to live on. It was a sobering sight. All the way down, they would be tugging and begging for you to take them home.
When I arrived on base, I was informed that I was not needed as a carpenter and I would be assigned to work at the food storage warehouses of the Food Service Division. Another airman, Frank Horn, was also in the same position as I was. We became best friends and I still remember him as if it were yesterday. He was from Beckley, West Vrginia. Our duties at the warehouse were to supervise the Japanese laborers who worked there. They would unload the box cars and load trucks with supplies for the commissary, service clubs and dining halls. No one could pronounce my name because they could not pronounce the letter "L" They would give it a good try. Even though we had been at war with them, I treated them with respect. There was one man who hardly ever spoke. After being there for several months, his supervisor told me his story. He was being trained as a Kamikazi pilot when the war ended. He informed me that I was the only American whom he ever liked. That meant lot to me.
One of things that I liked working there was that I made the fresh vegetables pickup at the Army hydroponic farm once a week. This was a huge farm where vegetables were grown in fertilized water and the farm supplied several military bases. in our The base mess hall had the best food any where in the service. It was all you could eat including pies and ice cream. Every month each person working with foods would have a complete physical to make sure that he was in good health and did not have any veneral disease which was rapant in Asia. When na
One day, Horn and I were told that we were being transferred to the Supply Squadron to work in Packing and Crating section. Carpenters were needed for making crates. Some of the service men had their wives there and when they went home, we packed their household goods. There were a lot of United Nation officers who lived on base and we also had to pack their household goods. I made friends with a lot of these officers who were from Thailand, Turkey, Australia, and other countries.We also made a lot of speciality furniture for the senior officers and I made some for my room. This was a no pressure job and I enjoyed doing it. The Japenese working there were highly skilled cabinet makers and they earned top dollar for their work. Every Japanese worker ate the same food for lunch day in and day out; a tin container filled with boiled white rice with a piece of raw fish on top.
Once a month, we packed cash for the base finance office to be sent back to the Air Force controllor in the states. It would be around a million dollars. There was always an armed guard accompaning the shipment. One time, they came in and set the cash down. We had several Japanese working for us and one of them was assigned to pack it. It was his first time and he went over to the box and picked it up and started walking off with it not knowing what was inside. The guards stood there startled to see him carrying it off. We screamed at him to put it down. When he was told what was inside the box, he stood there shaking because he had never heard of so much money and he realized what he had done.
I spent most of my free time going to the movies and using free facilities that were provided. Tachikawa had the best Model Airplane and Railroad Clubs in the world. They had clubs from all over the Far East coming to compete. There were service clubs that had free services such as bingo, tours, and etc. They had entertainers coming from all over. There was an Airmen's Club for the lower grades that served liquor and beer and they had entertainment that including women dancers who would strip naked. I never went because I never drank and I had seen naked women before. I thought that it was a waste of time.
The Armed Forces used script for money in place of American currency and it was issued from five cents to ten dollars that supposedly could be used only on military facilities. There were people in town who had a lot of it and it was not only illegal, but could be costly for the ones who owned it. About every six months, there would be a lockdown at the base and no one was able to get in or off. New currency was being exchanged for the old and after midnight, the old currency would be invalid. Any old curency that the blackmarketeers had was a complete loss.
Black marketing cigarettes was a common way to get some extra cash. A carton of cigarettes cost a dollar on base and could be sold very quickly off base for two dollars. We were allowed a carton a week and since I didn't smoke, I took advantage of it and I was one of hundreds. Usually, a blind eye was was turned at this practice. I found out one day that the blind eye was able to see. I was carrying a carton of cigarettes to a house to sell when I saw the Air Police and a Japanese policeman hauling a woman with several cartons of cigaretes and an airman out of the house that I was going to. Another minute later, there would have been two airmen. No more of that! One day, I had a Japanese man offer me a fifty dollar profit if I would buy him a Leica camera at the Base Exchange. The cost of the camera was fifty dollars and he would pay for it. I needed the money and I did. Then, he wanted me to go to other bases and do the same. This really scared me for I was getting into a real black market game. I was scared to tell him no because I feared for my life if I refused him. I told him that I would meet him the next day. I went back to the base and never left it for a month and I was scared all the time. That put the fear of God into me and I walked the straight and narrow line with the law after that.
One of the most tragic accidents that ever happened to our servicemen was the night of June 18th, 1953 when a C-124 aircraft carrying one hundred twenty-nine passengers and crew members crashed in a rice paddy outside of Tachikawa killing everyone. I had an overnight pass and did not hear about it until the next day when I arrived at the barracks. I was asked where I was and did I know what happened.? I soon found out that every available airman had spent the night pulling burnt bodies from the wreckage. It was a horrible experience and I was sorry that I did not help, but also relieved that I had not experienced this. Two weeks later while watching a movie at the base, Fox Movietone News showed this wreckage with my friends helping.
I had a serious problem with my joints and bones aching. I would be walking and sudenly, my legs would begin to hurt and I would have to stop until the pain eased. I knew what the problem was, but I never told anyone. I had polio when I was eleven years old and had been paralised for a week. The paralysis ended and the stiffness ligered for several years. I did a lot of running that help to end it. The aching would come and go, but never fully stopped. After going on sick call several times, the doctors said that I was "nervous in the servous" and wanted to call me a chronic complainer. One doctor told me that he would have a chiropractor examine me. The chriopractor got hold of me and he twisted me every which way and I looked like a pretzel,. I never had any more pains and I became a firm believer in chiropractory .
During my time in the service, I had a lot of First Sergeants that I did not like. One of the worst was the one that I had there. I was assigned to the 374th Supply Squadron. When he read my records, he learned that I was waiting for a vacancy in the Army OCS. He told me that he was going to make my life misereable for me until I left and he did. I made a vow that if I ever saw him where I could beat the tar out of him without being caught, I would do it and I would still do it today.
I was there for three months when I received notice that there was a vacancy for the Officer Candidate School, but because it had been six months from my last physical, I had to take another one. I also would have to sign up for three additional years in the Army. When one of my friends told me that the prime target for the Chinese was a young lieutenant with a bright brass bar on his helmet, I decided that I woud rather be a live airman than a dead lieutenant. In July of 1953, the United States and North Korea decided to sign an armistace meaning that all actions would cease. No treaty has been signed to this day and, technically, they could resume warfare. The US prisoners of war came through Tachikawa on their way home. As they disembarked, we saw what they had suffered and that some were barely able to walk and a lot had to be carried. These servicemen had really been mistreated.
In November, the Air Force gave word that any member with less than six months left on their enlistment could put in for a discharge. I was in this group and in December I was sent back to the Parks Air Force Base in Richmond, Ca. to be discharged. We were sent back on a troop carrier, but this time, sea sickness didn't me as much as my first trip. We stopped at Okinawa to pick up more servicemen and when we left the next morning , we ran into some bigger waves. I did get woozy , but not sick. We left on a Monday, went across the International Date Line on Monday and since we were gaining a day the next day was a Monday. When we got to San Francisco, it was on a Monday. We had four Mondays in two weeks on this trip.
I had to stay at Parks AFB that was near Pittsburg, Ca. until I had a physical examination before being discharged. After determining that I was in good physical condition, I was given an honorable discharge and three hundred dollars for mustering out pay.