"Duty Station: Japan"
Misawa Air Base, on the northeastern shore of the island of Honshu in Japan, was a lonely base and I was stationed there from 1960 to 1963. The base was sort of an island of Americans surrounded on three sides by Japanese mustard farmers and one one side by the North Pacific Ocean. A town, O-Misawa-Shi, outside the main gate was typical of towns ouitside any American military installation: whore houses and bars. But there were several good restaurants in the town, clothertiers, bookshops and a movie theater that played first-run American movies. Unfortunately, the benjo [shit house] in the movie theater was for both sexes and had a swinging door right off the main viewing area and stunk like a, well, like a shit house.
The streets in down town O-Misawa-Shi were just a bit worse than any street you've seen or read about in the States. We all wondered why one of our pilots, Tony Munger, took delivery of his brand new Jaguar XKE sports car on base. Any speed over 35 mph would tear any vehicle, save military vehicles, to pieces.
Wealthy JNs [Japanese Nationals] liked large back automobiles and Americans, stationed in Japan, were authorized to bring one automobile over if stationed in there. So some Americans would bring large black automobiles over and sell them to JNs for huge prices. The auto had to be two years old and in-country for two years before it could be sold. One of our pilots, Jack Parker, brought over a new Mercedes Benz 220 and stored it in a garage for later sale. The MB was stolen from the garage before Jack was able to sell it.
The US goverment halted the practice in 1962.
One of my best friends, Jack Van Loan, purchased a 1960 Cadillac sedan to be brought over for him to sell. Wealthy JNs had agents at Hachinohe, the port just a few miles south of Misawa, where the autos were unloaded from ships. They would obtain contact information of any auto that interested them. Jack could not have picked a better automobile to sell to a JN. So it was with some distress that Jack suffered when I told him that the longshoremen had dropped his beautiful vehicle into the ocean. When I saw that he believed me, it was not the custom to take it all back and tell him the truth, rather one enlisted as many other squadron mates who would back up my story of an underseas Cadillac.
We told him that his automobile was okay [as far as we knew] when the squadon commander ordered us to do so.
Back then in the Far East, we didn't use greenbacks for money. We had to turn them in and were issued MPC [Military Pay Certificates] for use on military installations only. The Japanese were not allowed to have them. MPC came in bills, the lowest being 5 cents and the highest being $10.00. The bills were not unattractive and it didn't bother me to use them on base. While disallowed by the U.S. government, they could also be used down town as all JN merchants and restaurants would accept them. But, every other once in a while, our government would change out the MPC for bills of a different style. When they did this, the gates were closed to keep every American on base [all US installations in the Far East] and to keep any JNs, who had illicid MPC, from coming on base. An American had to change all his old MPC for the new bills in, I believe, 2 days.
If a JN was able to throw a bundle of MPC over the fence to a waiting American military friend - and the American tried to exchange it for new bills, the American could easlily come under fire from federal authories for "having too much MPC."
Housing was limited on base, so many of our pilots had houses built in town. The cost of a two bedroom, one bath house was $2,000.00. The houses were certainly not as sturdy as an American built house but they served minimum purpose. With one dollar worth 360 Yen, money was not much of a problem for officers and the higher ranking NCOs.
The awesome exchange rate would mean that one could buy a steak dinner at one of the two good steak restaurants [Kenny's & Kaniko's] for a couple of bucks. Both restaurants served Sendai beef which was almost as well-known and good as Kobe beef.
Isolated as we were, we were even more isolated when we'd go to Kunsan AB, Korea to pull nuke [nuclear] alert for one week out of every three or four [nuclear weapons were not allowed in Japan]. At Kunsan, we slept, ate and lived at the fenced-in nuclear facilily only yards away from our nuclear bomb laden F-100s.
If we were spending a weekend at Misawa, many of us would try to take a cross-country flight to another base. Only one other base in Japan [Okinawa was not considered a part of Japan at the time] had F-100s and that was Itazuke AB down on the southern island of Shikoku, next to one of the ten largest citiies in Japan: Fukuoka.
We envied the F-100 pilots at Itazuke. In addition to pulling their nuke Alert at Osan AB in Korea, a larger more acrtive base than Kunsan. Many of their bachelor pilots lived in two large mansions off base: the Suinaga and Zash Houses. The bachelor pilots living at the two houses did not come under any military authory, so they did pretty much what they pleased about live-in girl friends and such.
The Itazuke pilots also had a flight line stag bar. No women were allowed in the stag bars of that era and the conduct in the bars was quite raucous.
All F-100 pilots and B-57 crews had to attend the week long Bomb Commander's School and the school was located at Itazuke. We learned about atomic and hydrogen weapons; how they were made, armed and detonated. We did not learn how to build them. After class each day, we wouild gather at the Itazuke stag bar. The stag bar was part of one of two officers' clubs at Itazuke and close to the flight line' it was called "Top 'o the MACH." Every stag bar in the Far East at the time, had a ship's bell located behind the bar and a cord that was attached to the clapper and strung around in a manner where anyone standing at the bar could ring it. Any stag bar bell in the Far East would be rung if a person entered the stag bar covered [with his headgear on] or a promotion had just been announced.
Every stag bar had dice cups with five dice in them and the custom was to "roll for drinks." Anyone rolling five aces on the first roll of the cup would have to ring the bell. At the Itazuke stag bar, one also had his named engraved on a plaque and hung above the bar. Names on plaques dating back to 1950 were above the bar. Once, I was rolling for drinks and Swede Olsen, also from Misawa, rolled five aces on his first roll. It's the only time in my 29 years in the Air Force that I've seen it done and I've rolled for drinks many, many times.
The Itazuke bell was also a trophy. Pilots from different bases were always plotting to steal the bell. Shakey Reed, from Misawa, did manage to steal it and it hung in our officers club until our Director of Operations, Colonel Dean Davenport, returned the bell as a gesture of good will.
Once, standing at the bar with an Itazuke friend, I noticed a guy urinating on one of the columns that supported the stag bar ceiling. I asked my friend, "who's the guy pissing on that column?"
"Oh," he replied, "that's just Wee Willie Wilson." Wee Willie Wilson was an Itazuke fighter pilot who, according to other Itazuke pilots, was about the best fighter pilot that they had ever seen. To me, he looked like Jonathan Winters, a TV comedian of the era.
At a later time, I was the range officer of Koon-ni gunnery range on the west coast of Korea when Wee Willie checked in his flight of four F-100s for some practice nuclear deliveries. The target was a 300 x 400 foot island immediately off the coast. One of our practice nuclear deliveries was to approach the target at 500 knots and 500 feet above ground level [AGL] and pickle off the practice bomb using the gun sight in a depressed mode. Approaching the target, Wee Willie would roll up side down, pickle off his practice bomb while inverted and consistenty get a better score than the other three members of his flight.
Fukuoka was also home to a bar and whore house that was very well known in Air Force circles, The Diamond Horseshoe ["The Shoe"]. I had heard of it before ever being stationed in the Far East.
My first visit were with four members of my squadron, including my squadron commander, Eugene S. Williams. Colonel Williams introdued me the most well known whore in all of Shintoland, Big Sal. Big Sal was so well known that she was a celebity and I felt like I was meeting a movie star. It was said that she serviced the entire starting line up for the New York Giants football team.
The Shoe also had a ship's bell at the end of the bar. Their bell would be an even greater trophy than the Zuke stag bar bell, so four of us decided to steal it one evening. At a table for four, a squadron mate was to lunge at me from across the low table and we were to pretend to be fighting as we rolled around on the table and floor. The two other guys, positioned at the table's edge were to jump over to the bell, rip it from the wall and disappear out the main door. Unfortunately, as soon as my friend attacked me, two bartenders dropped what they were doing and ran to the bell, one had picked up a very large wooden spoon. Both stood close to the bell, facing outward. The two bell stealers, seeing that the bell was protected, ran right out the front door without stopping.
We were all headed for dinner at a nearby restaurant, so we all met up at the restaurant, sans bell, for the best shrimp salad ever devised and a Kobi beef steak.
The Shoe seemed to be near the epicenter of all the things on our want list, like the fantastic shrimp salad; but there was an airplane model builder near by who would wood-carve a model of any airplane in any configuration that a person wanted. The models were expensive, about $30.00 in 1960 or so, a very expensive price. Over my three years at Misawa, I purchased a PA-18, T-28, T-33, F-86H and F-100D. All but the F-86H have suffered some damage over the years, but I still display it and the F-100D.
When we pulled alert at Kunsan, we sat on a Mark 28 free-fall hydrogen weapon with a 'dial-a-yield options. One of the higest options was 1.1 megaton [one million, one-hundred thousand tons of explosive]. The bomb was a top secret device and we were told to never discuss nor take photos of it. The bomb was carried on the center line station and barely cleared the ground, so before someone thougth to put the tail fins in an 'X' configeration, the bomb had a motor that would drive the lowest fin to the side or as we called it, "folded." I was with a guy buying a model who wanted the Mark 28 included. The model maker asked him, "do you want the fin folded?" So much for secrecy.
That isn't an actual Mark 28 under my airplane. it is a concrete dummy. I was surprised when the photographer stood me in front of this F-100 to take my squadron picture since so much secrecy surrounded the weapon.
Years later, I heard the model builder had cut this thumb off and could no longer make models.
Once, after ordering an airplane model, I dropped into the Shoe to have a drink. A lady of the pavement joined me at the bar and since her English was good, we chatted for a while. She asked me "what do you call a person who comes into your home and steals your things?" We went through sevreral English language definitions and settled on the word, "robber [pronounced 'lobber' in Japanese]." She said, "a lobber is coming in to my home while I am asleep and stealing my things."
"What things?" I asked
"He has taken my blender and my waffle iron," she said.
"Maybe I should stay with you tonight to help protect your things," I replied jokenly.
She surprised me with, "okay, I'm ready to leave, we can take a taxi to my house." We did take a taxi but she didn't actually live in a house, it was more like a couple of rooms in someone else's house. I noticed that she had both a blender and a waffle iron on a counter near the sink.
"I thought you said your blender and waffle iron were stolen," I said.
"They were," she responded, "but my sugar daddy bought me new ones."
"Why doesn't your sugar daddy stay with you then?"
She sighed and said, "because he in Korea now."
While we were talking, she undressed, put on a night gown and hopped into her king sized bed and patted the side for me. I undressed and jumped into bed with her. Uh-oh. She made it clear that I was there as a guard and not there for sex - even though I tried to get next to her several times, she would push me away.
Finally, I fell asleep and woke up the next morning to the smell of coffee. She offered me a cup and while I sipped it, I noticed no one came in to steal her things. I think she credited me with keeping her items from being stolen. She led me out to a major street and flagged down a taxi for me. In parting, she said, "come see me again." I never saw her again although the Shoe was always a regular stop for any of us at Misawa, visiting Itazuke.
Taxi drivers in Fukioka were known as Kyushu Danji. In English, that translated out to 'the wildmen of the island of Kyushu.' If we wanted a scary ride, all we had to do was shout "Hayaku" [hurry or go faster] at the cab driver. Once, my friend, Everett T. Raspberry and I, had had drinks at the Shoe and were headed back to Itazuke in a taxi. A taxi immediately ahead of us hit a Caucasian and knocked him to the ground. The taxi stopped and two men in the taxi got out, picked up the unconscius [or dead] Caucasian and put him in their back seat. I remarked, "looks like they are taking him to a hospital."
Razz yelled, "like hell they are, they are going to take him to an alley somewhere and dump him." With that, Razz started yelling at our driver to make the other taxi take the unresponsive guy to the base. I don't believe our taxi driver spoke any English, but he understood what Razz was trying to say and pulled up along side of the other taxi and yelled at him. The other taxi took off with us close behind as he headed to the base. At the base gate, the other taxi driver stopped and spoke with the gate guard, who was a JN. An ambulence was called and Razz and I proceeded through the gate on foot [JN taxies were not allowed on base] to the bus stop and on to the VOQ [visiting officers quarters] by base bus. We never learned anything about the guy who was hit by the taxi.
Another time I was in the Shoe under similar circumstances as the "robber" situation. I told the lady of the doorways that I was interested in a special kind of Hakata Doll, one that had a tattoist tattooing a Ghisha girl. However if the doll was turned over, they were having sex.
The Shoe girl said that she knew where they were sold and we left the Shoe, walked perhaps a block or so and into a Hakata Doll store. I guess my guide told the salesman what I wanted as he showed me a doll with a male tattoist tattoing a Ghisha girl. Turn it over - and there in full color he was having sex with her. My doll included a minature tatami mat.
I kept the doll until I was getting married. Since my intended had a child from a previous marriage, I did not think it appropriate to have the doll, so I gave it to a bachelor friend. I see that the doll is worth $1,600.00 now. I did not pay more than $5.00 for it in Japanese Yen in the early 60s.
While the tatami mat that my Hakata doll was on was a minature, actual tatami mats were used in almost every Japanese home and many public buildings. They were about six inches deep and made of tightly woven rice straw, so any dirt penetrating a mat was there to stay and for this reason, it was the custom to remove shoes on entering a building. Depending on the area of Japan, they generally measured about 6 feet by 3 feet and rooms were measured by the number of tatami mats that made up the floor, i.e., "that is a four tatami room" meaning that 4 tatami mats had or could be laid down. On base, almost all base housing residents adopted the shoes off custom as well as the icy or hot towel custom.
When visiting a friend in base housing or entering in any Japanese restaurant, one was offered a hot rolled up towel in the winter or a icy rolled up towel in summer.
Jack Parker, mentioned above, had one of those $2,000.00 houses down in the machi [what we called the town of Misawa]. He was going to Fighter Weapons School and taking a long leave and wanted someone to look after his house. Paul Graybill, Bunky Rever, Kurt McDonald and I volunteered. We called the place "the Waru Tochi [Evil Land]" and had parties there every Friday and Saturday night that we were at Misawa. [More to follow]
Bataan Death March during War 2. Walla Walla is also the home of Adam West who thrilled us every week as Batman on TV. The Washington State Penitentiary is also located in Walla Walla up there on the hill surrounded by wheat fields and Les was born into a wheat and cattle family cabal. Not for long however, with war clouds looming, Les and his two brothers, Jim and Roy, were ushered to the cotton fields of Benson, Louisiana, home of his Mom, Hazel Louise Ford Frazier and grandparents, the Marcel Ford grandfather, a cotton and sugar cane farmer. As the war was drawing to a successful close, the kids moved back to their dad’s wheat farm in Waitsburg, Washington, close to Walla Walla and the 2nd grade for Les. While his classmates could not understand his Louisiana cotton field language, he could understand classmates and resulted in his capturing the love of the most beautiful girl in schooldom, Lenore Blize, who was his sweetheart through the 4th grade when the family moved to Walla Walla and Les’ dad took a position with Empire Airlines. This eventually led to a move to Boise, Idaho where Les graduated from high school in 1954. Already a motor pool mechanic in the Idaho ANG, Les transferred to the regular Air Force in August of 1954. He took and passed the Aviation Cadet tests while going through basic and spent the one year delay in flying class assignments as a cook and baker at Lackland and then as a medic on a closed psychoatric ward in the major USAF hospital at Shepard AFB, Texas. Then it was back to Lackland for Pre-flight and on to Stallings Field for Primary where he flew the PA-18 then the T-28. It was on to Laughlin AFB for fighter flying school in the T-33. As a Distinguished Graduate of flying school and as a newly minted 2/Lt., Les picked F-86F fighter gunnery school at Williams AFB, near Mesa, AZ. His follow-on assignment was Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, NC where the Wing had F-86Hs. The H looked like the F until you placed them side by side; the H was half again bigger than the F and more powerful. His Wing, the 83rd Fighter Day Wing, had no mission since the base was schedluded to get the F-105. So Les spent his time on the wing of more experienced pilots who would take him down to the Cherry Point area of NC to look for Navy or Marine airplanes to attack. On the wing of Korean era pilots, Les developed a deadly skill in air combat maneuvering which he was never to use in actual combat. From Seymour Johnson, Les was transferred to Misawa AB, Japan where he sat Nuke Alert for 2 ½ years. The final six months of his tour was spent as the ALO/FAC, flying L-19s with the Phouc Bien Than Special Zone headquartered at Song Be, RVN. Les’s next assignment was as an F-100 gunnery instructor at Luke AFB, Glendale, AZ
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