Family Secrets – Part 3

This part of Family Secrets explains how tracks are covered as a family travels in secrecy.

Welcome back. The previous part of this story revealed triple layers of activities ingeniously designed to cover up both the primary objective of the organization and an important service performed for the Air Force.

Removing secret material from downed aircraft in a clandestine manner was part of their primary mission world wide. It was also performed in a friendly manner for our own aircraft on our own soil. We saw how this secondary mission was covered up with the guise of performing UFO investigations. This benign trick was successful and brought notoriety to the 4602nd Air Intelligence Service Squadron.

Now that you have a familiarity with the genius of clandestine operations, we now see how a family of one of these men is brought into the stratosphere of their intrigue as he goes from protecting secrets to finding them.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

When dad came home with the orders to go to Japan with his family a great adventure for me began. We were to pack differently. This time a moving van was not going to come. Everything was going to be put into large crates. Because Japanese eat dogs, we could not bring her with us.

This was a lie because he know what we would be going through for the next six months and there would be no room for a dog. On the ship going to Japan, each day a bunch of us would go to the stern where the cages of dogs were kept and helped feed them. Don’t remember if there were cats, only remember the dogs.

They came and loaded the crates that were then nailed shut and sealed. The Plymouth station wagon was loaded for the long drive across the country to California. We loved living in this old farm house on the hill overlooking a dale and its creek. Learned to ice skate on the pond in the winter and bale hay in the summer. Pennsylvania people had been gracious and very hospitable.

The dog usually stayed in the yard but this one time she chased us down the dirt road to the corner breathing in the dust thrown up by the car. She stopped and barked a couple of times when we reached the main paved road. In the car, it was silent till all the farms and houses we knew and had friends were out of sight. This family would not have a pet again till their days in the Air Force were over.?

The night before we left, we invited the young man that worked on the dairy farm on the other side of the dale over for dinner. I was never asked over to dinner to so many different homes as in Pennsylvania. It was just the way the people were. For a period spanning two summers, the family that owned the farm allowed me to do anything I wanted.

One hot day we were stacking bales of hay in the barn the farmer’s wife brought in a bucket of buttermilk she had made. I was so hot and thirsty, I drank the strange stuff. Nothing ever tasted so good. Now I never drink buttermilk without thinking of that kind lady. Working and playing on the farm was a great experience and just what I needed to build up my frail body. It was the farmer’s hired hand that had taken me everywhere and taught me everything that we were having over.

We told him we were going to Japan and thanked him for all he had done for me. My life began its change when he asked if we were going to take the bridge to Japan. Actually, he did not know much less than the rest of the country about where I was going.?

Okay, Now We Get Serious

I was always given more information than the rest, including mother. This time, dad had some special instructions for me that I would not follow but told me the seriousness of what was happening. If anyone were to ask what he did, I was to say he was a B-29 pilot. He figured the Japanese were not too fond of the particular air plane so mentioning it would stop any further quires.

Telling this story today makes me realize how much we have changed in the past 50 years. I never had to tell any of them this because the polite Japanese do not pry. Still, dad got his point across and even my closest friends for the next 20 years had no clue of what he did.

After the tour was over, there were a couple of situations where brat friends made in Japan showed up at the same bases we had been transferred to. I was told to not reveal anything for 20 years. Seeing the same faces at bases we lived after dad’s clandestine period was over made me nervous. I was prepared to handle strangers but not people who knew me closely for over five years so did not handle this problem well.

* * *

When I met Steve in Japan, not many kids would have anything to do with him because he was epileptic. They were afraid of his having an episode around them because, back then, epileptic episodes were called fits. Steve’s aggressive personality only exasperated his situation. I was not afraid of his affliction and brought him into my circle of friends. Perhaps my history of asthma had something to do with it. Back then it was treated as a mental disorder. Sometimes I would lose three days of memory after some of the drugs they gave me.

As the years went by, I watched him develop an out going nature and his popularity grow. He never had an epileptic episode when he was with me.

When both our fathers retired to the same town. I was convinced I would slip up with Steve some time over the next 15 years when the restriction would be over. I regret to this day how badly I handled distancing myself from him. Hopefully Steve C. will see this now and forgive me. He was closer to me than any other brat I ever knew.

* * *

As soon as my family was settled in at our temporary location, dad had to leave and go ahead of us to Japan. He had to build our house over there with Japanese labor as a private residence because, after all, the military could not provide housing for a family that was not really supposed to be there could they.

And they say military intelligence is an oxymoron!

He took us to a motel with no name behind some buildings on a main street in Sacramento, CA. We could rent by the day or week there. We waited each day for the port call telling us to go to a pier in San Francisco and catch a slow boat to . . .

Days went into weeks and weeks into months. I made friends with the family next door so I occasionally got to watch their TV. I remember watching a show on the construction of Disney Land (the first one) narrated by Walt Disney himself. Not many motels those days had television. Naturally, we got one of the cheaper ones in town.

While in Sacramento, we got our sixteen required shots at McClellan AFB. Although my parents had many friends in Sacramento from WWII days, we spent that Christmas alone. Dad probably chose this town for us to hide out because of those friends. If something happened to him, they would be close by for mom. Most of the other residents in that place were there on short term basis.

They were all transients for one reason or another. Did not see one car ever parked in front of the place. Did I say it was a dive yet? It was on an alley behind the other houses facing sideways between a junk yard and a dirt lot. That alley was my main street. Walked down it to school, the grocery store and Sunday school.

A couple of paper boys in the area were brothers and we became good friends. Would sometimes spend the weekends at their home a block or so down the street sleeping on their screened porch during those hot Sacramento Valley evenings.

Because of the secrecy involved, it was quite appropriate to claim our home was the quintessential no-tell-motel.

Again, I was lucky to be placed among some wonderful people that would have made great life long friends. Naturally, they could not hear from me again once we left for Japan. They all knew I was only going to be there temporarily but took me into their lives anyway. We did not need to keep it a secret that we were going to Japan and dad was in the Air Force.

We acted as though this was an average transfer for an Air Force family which was easy to do. Only at the other end we did not exist. When it was time to go, the First Baptist Church gave me a Bible. Yes, still have it. Their services were always followed by a pot luck meal. Toughest chicken ever but killed an otherwise boring afternoon.

Traveling often produced stories told years later. Besides this one, my favorite was one about the trip to Pennsylvania. The first good thing about that trip was that we were leaving Colorado Springs. That place had been nice but not so many of the people were.

Mom was upset that we were traveling on a train on Easter. She was meticulously dedicated to the conviction that we were never to miss out on any holiday celebrations. It was bad enough we had no extended family life, by golly, we were going to have a life as a family no matter what!

When we woke on the train that Sunday, mom was obviously withdrawn and pensive. I asked her why and she told me it was because we were missing Easter. No baskets, no egg hunt no dinner for her to prepare… What! “Mom, don’t you get it? We are on a train ride. Look out that window!“ There was no hesitation with this coming out of my mouth and mom’s face immediately lit up. She was singing with us (How Much is that Doggie in the Window) as the train pulled into the misty Pittsburgh station that Easter morning.

Now we were coming to another Easter-on-a-trip in our back alley motel. With dirt for a front yard and no back, where could she hide eggs? As it turned out, mom did not have to worry about this one either. We had a beautiful one because the family of my two paperboy friends invited us over for the day. I was going to stay with their boys the night before. Mom gave me all the colored eggs to take with me and hide. They had a big grassy back yard we played croquet on all summer. This Easter there would be colored eggs that my brother and sister hunted while mom smiled once again.

During this waiting time in the Taj-ma-dump, our household goods had been crated up and sent to Europe. Yes, Europe. Do not know where it went from there but it did catch up to us in Japan. This is just one of the things they did to cover our tracks. Dad had taken the family station wagon with him to Japan. Mothers did not drive those days. The paperwork on it showed it was still in Pennsylvania and he did not bring it back to the States when we were done over there. It’s no secret GI’s could make a nice little profit selling their cars overseas in countries still digging out from the rubble of WWII.

For Christmas dad sent me a camera because he knew something that he did not tell me yet. People in intelligence work with lots of dark room stuff including paper and chemicals that go out of date.

The First Flex reflex camera gave me something to do while in limbo so I started studying photography…just as he had figured I would. I could not resist anything mechanical. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree even if it is over 5,000 miles away. During Korea, he had sent a microscope for Christmas. It would not focus clearly so I took it apart and found a lens out of place. It was a lot of fun after that.?

Finally It Comes

The port call finally came in mid April. We had also been instructed to meet a lady at the pier who would be accompanying on the ship. Once again I had to say good bye to all the friends that made a dreadful situation enjoyable. We packed up and went to the San Francisco YMCA for a night or two. I ate my first pizza without knowing it would be three years and 12,000 miles to the second one.

We then reported to the Army post next to the piers. From then on, it was military chow. Nothing could be worse than what we had been through and we were right. We were billeted one night in a dormitory type building (ok, a barracks) with other passengers that would also be boarding with us. There were a couple of the standard going- overseas -lectures and movies we attended there . There was one us kids didn’t have to go to. Wonder what it was about?

The mysterious lady appeared at this point and a life long relationship started. She had to fly all the way in from New York to hook up with us the day before getting on board. She was the wife of one of dad’s intelligence partners in Japan. She had one child with her and had been going through the same thing we had. She was also overjoyed that the hiding out was behind her and excited to get on board Being an outgoing character, we immediately bonded with her. She had the ability to not talk down to kids. Later we found her husband was also a cool guy and we were close during all of our stay in Japan. He was an up person; always had rosy cheeks and a big smile . He never let on to what dark burdens he carried.

We found that what we had been waiting for these six months was going to be a two week trip across the Pacific on a WWII troop transport with one smoke stack and a round bottom. It was one of the famous Liberty Ships that could be built in one week’s time. We only hoped it was not a holiday week. The Pacific is the largest ocean in the world.

The two mothers knew that this was to be a trip and were not expecting a cruise. Did they know it was built by the lowest bidder? It turned out to be a grand ship. I still have the King Neptune certificate for crossing the international date line with the name of USNS General Aultman on it. We were to board the next morning.

After spending the night at the courtesy of the U.S. Army, they served us a royal breakfast and ,with extreme excitement, we were loaded onto buses for the very short trip down to the ship. There were crowds of people there and a big Navy band playing military music. Wow! Just like Armed Forces day on the base and it was all for us!

Because of my max adrenalin from the six month wait being supercharged with John Phillips Sousa in the background, as soon as we were across the gang plank, I headed right for the bridge of the ship with my sister in tow. After all, this is where we would get the best view when we pulled away from the dock…they were very nice and showed us a place we could stand, uh, outside. This probably got us our first Brat star. No. Come to think of it, sneaking into the officer’s pool on our first base, Mather AFB. Realized one day there was no way for them to know what my rank was in just a bathing suit and no I.D. Such a bad,bad way for a six-year-old to start life.

* * *

One of the early lessons a brat learns is that it is easier to apologize for doing something than ask permission. What can they do, eat us? The post WWII GI’s I knew were especially happy to see us around the bases I think we kind of reminded them of home. Besides, they were almost kids themselves. They were able to allow us to do a lot more things then than today. We actually got to play in planes.

One was a B-29. What about a B-52? Even though I had a security clearance to work in a snack bar on the flight line of a SAC base and later had a security badge punched out all around to go into missile silos, 4 – get – it! Went back to visit the base a couple of years ago. Couldn’t even get on. They say it’s dark and cramped in those BUFFs anyway. Besides, the B-29 had more windows and a cool tunnel slide.

* * *

Meanwhile, back at the San Francisco pier:

The Navy band played “Anchors Away”… and we were! One inch at a time. Once far enough from the pier, they were able to finally head out of the bay.

Soon the loudspeakers announced a life boat drill and everyone was to report to their stations. They gave us a map showing how to get to our station when we came on board. We had to run down to mom who had the map, get some life jackets and find our life boat station. Our spot was easy to remember so future drills while at sea became routine and a fun diversion.

The lady who met up with us had a toddler son and so did mother. These kids had to wear a harness with a leash whenever on deck. When the deck was wet and pitching, the railings did not give us a lot of reassurance and were useless in stopping a small child from sliding right under.

That first boat drill had a great reward. All of us were standing on deck when we went below the Golden Gate Bridge. Many stayed on deck to watch it disappear behind us.

I could now say I have been on, over and under the Golden Gate bridge. It was a rare blue sky day on the bay. We went under the bridge, turned right and headed north towards Alaska, What, not Hawaii? The northern, circular route was the shortest way to Japan… if you call two weeks short. Did they take into account all the up and down movement? Little did I know I would later spend twenty years of my life in San Francisco yet that day on the ol’ USNS Aultman will always be remembered as the most beautiful.

With the excitement behind us, we are settled down. That’s when we noticed the boat constantly swayed back and forth…back and forth…?

Land Swells Aren’t Swell

After three days of viewing the bottom of a barf bag, we cleared the Pacific land swells and hit calmer waters. Barf bags were stuffed in the hand rails along the main passageways in the ship. On deck they were harder to find. Maybe the Navy figured that is what the railings were for.

The ship then became our playground. We went all over the place, got lost in the below deck passageways and stairs and got wet in the spray coming over the bow. Some poor people stayed sick the whole trip. After we cleared the land swells, I was okay from then on.

Ever watch “Deadliest Catch” on TV? We had reached the peak of the circular route at the time we were hit by one of those horrendous north Pacific storms. At one point, the ship took a forty degree roll. All of the lockers in the hallway fell over and the stuff in our cabin flew all over the place. Mothers and their babies were screaming and older kids were excitedly waiting for the next one to hit. They told us we had to stay below deck. We weren’t about to go out there anyway.

None of Walt Disney’s new rides I saw on that neighbor’s TV in Sacramento could beat this — not even the Matterhorn!

The morning after the storm, the decks were covered with flying fish and the seas were as smooth as glass. A small breeze could be followed by the little ripples it made on the glassy water. We had gone through a hurricane. Well, not through yet, we were in the eye. After this next bouncing around, we finally were able to get out. Those flying fish didn’t have a chance against our hyper horde. Nobody would touch them. They were kicked off our ship. Our efforts were appreciated by the crew. Anything beat being ping-ponged between walls four and five decks down. After a while, it was not fun living in that steel box we had been assigned right at the water line of the ship. We would sleep there and get out ASAP every day.

While cleaning off the flying fish, up on the starboard bow, people were leaning over the railing and pointing down. I went to look but froze in my tracks when I heard the word “MINE“. It probably had broken loose from its tether in the storm. Just as I leaned over the rail to get a better look, a wave washed it right up to the side of the ship. The picture of those big black spikes sticking out of that ugly black ball with the chain whipping around will always remain with me. If I had seen it alone, I would figure it was my imagination.

It may have been left over from the time the Japanese attacked the Alution Island chain that spread across the northern pacific from Alaska. Seeing a dozen adults jumping around shouting left me with no doubt that tingling I felt was for real or I was starting puberty a bit early. Fortunately it did not go off or I wouldn’t have had anything to start puberty with. No wonder they draft teenagers first.

The earth is actually very small up there. Most of us live in the big fat part of the globe forgetting the diameter gets smaller every step north. This is why arching up there was a shorter distance to Japan. Now that we had reached the peak of that arch, each day will find better seas. We were paying more attention to the position of the ship on the map in the lounge. The newness of the adventure had pretty much worn off. We started playing board games and building models.

One kid’s birthday hit the day we were to cross the international date line and it was the day that was going to be skipped. To cheer him up, they had a gigantic birthday party that all the kids on board attended. This probably happens often because the crew had balloons and all the trimmings ready. Instead of a disaster, that kid got a memory of a life time. Throughout the trip the crew did everything they could for us. The made that big hunk of welded steel very livable and were seldom in sight.

Then we had days and days of calm seas. Would spend hours up at the bow watching it cut through the water. Dolphins would often show up and ride the bow wave. It didn’t take much to realize they were very intelligent creatures. Having gone through one hurricane too many, the coke machine broke one day and the syrup kept coming out.

With nothing better to do, collected it in cups and stashed them in a cabinet. The next day only the seltzer came out. Eureka! The people in the lounge that watched me collecting the syrup the day before cheered us on as we poured some in each cup and then put it into the stream of seltzer. Entertainment was where you could find it.

Next, Part 4: The ship continues on to its destination. 

Just one day after arrival, we take a big bite out of a reality sandwich.

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