Life became twice as large when the family moves into Tokyo. Too soon it’s over and the family has to escape from murder.
A short stay in Tokyo following their crossing the Pacific Ocean by boat gave the family a chance to reunite and get them familiar with the country that would be their new home. A lot happened in those two short days including communist demonstrators waiving the Russian flag in front of their hotel room window.
It is now time to load back into the station wagon for a drive out of the city to the new home that the father built for them during the coverup period the family had to survive in an out of the way cheap motel.
?The House That Dad Built
The introductory tour of Tokyo had been excellent and it was time to leave. We all pile into the Plymouth station wagon we brought from Pennsylvania to the far east and head north. As we move from the heart of Tokyo to the country side, more different things appear making us feel more in a foreign land than disappointingly modern Tokyo.
The buildings became all wood, rice paddies began to appear, and smell. I got to see my pointy hats on the men and women working their fields. There were no farm animals like horses and cows. Just an occasional water buffalo effortlessly pulling a plow in a muddy field. Colors also began to appear. The rich green crops and trees were the background to a lively display of signs over shops, banners and flags.
In place of the color red, the Japanese used what looked like a fluorescent crimson. It is a color I will always associate with the country mainly because it would be seen where there is fun and joy. Many toys, candies, and doll clothes used this color.
The drive took a couple of hours although the distance was way under 30 miles. Speeds rarely got up to 35. There seemed to be a small village every half mile. This densely populated, mountainous island chain needed every square inch it had to grow food. All buildings would be next to the roads and only crops were seen on the rest of the open land. The road had no shoulders. The land was farmed right up to the edge. Any small bits of land in nooks and crannies that could not be farmed had garlic growing in it.
We went to look at our new home before going onto the base to our temporary quarters. The furniture that got to travel a lot more than us would be trucked out from the warehouse tomorrow. We just stopped outside the house and did not go in because the ground was muddy all around it. It was a plain house. Japanese touches could be seen here and there. It had extra windows for natural flow for example. We then headed for the base knowing we will be back tomorrow.
Shiroi Air Force Station has never been known to any person I knew for the rest of my life. Guess they called it a station because it had no runway. What it did have were hundreds of very tall radio towers.
It was a decent sized base. Right inside the front gate was an exquisitely styled pond and rock garden. Dad explained that this used to be the emperor’s golf course and the whole base did have that coifed country club look. A stream ran through the center of the base. The ground all along it was higher one side than the other. The water would trickle between two housing areas, under the main road and separate the base hobby shop from the serviceman’s’ club that we also made our hangout.
All the housing on the base was nestled in those oriental trees with the flat tops and the base school was the first building we went by. If you are familiar with the Monterey Pine on the coast of California, this is what the trees looked like only with taller, straighter trunks. Further down the road was the post office and across the street was the flag pole which had been place right in front of a long, one story building with a big sign over the entrance identifying it as the 4602nd Air Intelligence Service Squadron.
* * *
It’s not sure what they were doing here is the same as what they did in the States. After all the twists and turns they did back there, will only believe what I see. This is what is being researched through the Freedom of Information Act at this time. You were promised no more complicated stories anyway so lets move on.
* * *
It was a Quonset hut with a zinc metal ( like a garbage can) shower. The bamboo growing around it was over eight inches in diameter. Why didn’t we know bamboo could grow this thick? Other than staying in a building that had the same outer appearance as a drainage pipe under the freeway, this place was magical.
I had not seen a zinc metal shower since I was seven years old living in a barrack with seven other families back in the States. This place felt like we were in Japan and not just driving by and looking. The emperor had picked a beautiful place for his golf course. It was on a rise and the view was spectacular.
We got our stuff inside and went back out to watch the sun set. It was much more beautiful out there than inside that corrugated tube. It was absolutely calm. Throughout the night, the only sound we heard was an occasional cricket looking for amore’.
The Japanese kept crickets as pets in little cages that were sold at festivals. They were supposed to bring good luck. This place was a far cry from the previous day’s events in Tokyo. I started experiencing the peace the Japanese bring to their lives. After six months on the road, we were finally all back together again setting up another home. For now…
The furniture was taken to our new house and we proceeded to move in. It was an American style home with Japanese influence and a kerosene stove in the middle. My job was always to keep the tank on the back of it full from a 55 gallon drum behind the house. I soon discovered a couple of drops of kerosene on top of the hot stove gave great fireworks effects. So did my parents if they caught me doing it. Being the number one son (ichi-bon san), I got my own room. All 8 by 10 of it.
The New York couple did not go to this base. He worked in Tokyo. Again, we still don’t have a clue about what they did. We caught up to them on the next move and we practically lived next door to each other for the rest of our stay in Japan.
Forget And Forgive
Intelligence people seemed to be more social. That is, we had lots of parties among ourselves like the ones with the Hungarians in Pennsylvania. They probably are more relaxed in their own groups than out in public when liquor is involved. This group was even more diverse than the Pennsylvania one.
Two master sergeants in the unit had survived the Bataan Death March after Japanese invasion of the Philippines. We often forget that Pearl Harbor was not the only place the Japanese attacked that day. They spent their youth as POW’s in Japan through the entire four years of the war. Somehow they survived the starvation, disease and torture of the camps and were now healthy specimens showing no clue of once being walking skeletons with only a rag to wear as a loin cloth. While in the camps, they both learned to speak Japanese fluently. This could have been the reason they survived. Being able to develop a relationship with their captors certainly did not hurt. This, Stockholm syndrome, had not been defined till after the war.
Get ready for this…
They both married Japanese women and they both had their receptions at our house.
A lot of GI’s meet girls that speak English from places next to the bases. The military really makes it difficult for them to marry because many of these girls were muse’mes or “mooses” as the GI’s called them. You know the rest. It’s a sad, difficult situation.
Our maid told us of finding a carrot one day towards the end of the war. The Japanese were starving. The carrot became a family celebration. The end of the war did not immediately fix the economy. Woman were most venerable and many turned to their womanhood to survive. Our maid did not live with us but did eat with us. She was so pleased to have us and her $20 a month pay. Still remembered the “Johnny son” name she called me.
The girls our Bataan guys married were the real-deal Japanese women that were immediate hits with the whole group. If you think the military was rough the traditional Japanese courtship rituals these guys had to go through with the girls’ families was brutal. Japanese are surprisingly prejudiced by our standards which made the challenge even that more difficult.
Japanese can trace their families back many, many generations. Someone coming in from “off the map” throws their entire social system a loop. Their civilization is over 2,000 years old, ours is 250. We don’t have a lot of leverage with them.
Frankly, since both of these guys were master sergeants and with their war records, their papers were probably rubber stamped through the military with the squadron commander carrying them. With what they went through, they could have been allowed to marry a rock if they wanted to.
Of my entire experiences in Japan, this is the most astonishing. It had to be included with the other stories here. It can’t be completely appreciated without knowing the overall feelings of the time.
One of them was an avid stamp collector—a hobby we shared. About once a week I would go over to his barrack where he showed me his extensive albums and first day of issue envelopes. He took on an entirely different personality when he was in his stamps. Maybe that is the only thing he had to hold onto after the war. From there, an incredible man was reborn.
* * *
While in Japan, I would scour every village and shop for postage stamps. It was surprising that many different types of shops would have a few old Japanese stamps in the back they would sell. One day I got a treasure but did not know till I got home and looked it up. It was in mint condition, never used. Had to look twice at the catalog but finally was convinced this was the one of the first Japanese postage stamps.
I spent more time hiking and camping in the Japanese country side than most American kids. Knowing our stay there was temporary, I wanted to soak up as much of the country I could. What a fantastic experience Japan was for me.
* * *
On the road again
We would live at Shiroi for a little over a year and then we had to move into Tokyo. We lived at Grant Heights and I went to Narimasu High School. Grant Heights had a lot of what Shiroi didn’t: teenagers. These were the Andy Hardy years of tons of activities, summers at the pool, parties and the birth of rock and roll.
It was a giant American town with everything except a drive-in movie that none of us missed because we did not have cars. All branches and all ranks lived together. We even had a malt shop and our own dentists to go with it.
Mom got a maid at our new house and I didn’t have to lug kerosene any more. No, didn’t mean the maid had to lug it. The heating was conventional gas or electric. By golly, she would have, though. I hope here memories of us are as fond as our memories of her.
Possibly the stay at Shiroi allowed them to cover us up enough so we could go back into the system. Socially, it was going from famine to feast. Dad would not say a thing about his being transferred from 4602nd in Shiroi to 6004th in Tokyo. His 4602nd CO in Pennsylvania came from the 6004th in Tokyo. How I discovered that is a story in itself.
We got our own separate house and did not have to live in the many multifamily buildings there. It was one block from Narimasu High. One of the most well known DOD school, it remained active for over 50 years. I was there before their 20th year. Class of 1960 but left in the sophomore year. Go Dragons.
The Grant Heights pool was a teens’ country club. Anybody could drop by any time and there would be someone that they knew. There was always a card game going on, music playing and, sometimes, we would even swim. We all had million dollar tans. Often this was the jumping off point for other activities such as taking the train downtown to the roller rink, go to the movies, someone’s house for a sock hop and a few would even go hiking with me.
Great times and the most friends I ever had in one place in my life. We were from all branches of service and we were all brats from all over the world. Bases in the States had the same facilities but not nearly the quality of social life as Grant Heights. I would never have this experience again.
It would end too soon with a knock on our door….
Dad answered the door and talked quietly to two men. Why hadn’t they just phoned? They were obviously talking about work. They did not come in. Nobody ever came to our house from the squadron to talk to dad like this. Ever. We knew something serious was going on.
When the conversation was over, the men faded into the darkness and dad came back into the front room. He asked all of us to come in and sit down. I noticed a little shakiness in his voice that he tried to cover up by talking very softly and very slowly.
Two of his squadron members had been found dead. Their bodies washed up on the Yokohama shore just south of Tokyo. We used to swim and picnic on the Yokohama beaches. They usually went to off limits ones for privacy. We would see an entire village strip to the waist (yes, everyone) and pull in a drag net that had been set out in the bay about 100 yards. When the net got to shore, everyone got their pick of the fish, bit their heads, went home and cooked supper. I wondered how many hundreds of years this ritual had gone on.
One day, the undertow at one nearly got me. There was a reason they made them off limits, guys! Well, maybe it was the daily topless show that made the beach off limits. It would be quite unseemly for bunches of GI’s leering at them all the time. The pearl divers would go topless. The GI’s could go down there and watch them.
Was it those villagers that discovered the bodies? They might have even recognized the men. We hoped not.
They think it just happened that day but did not know for sure yet. Our friend from New York was not one of them. We were leaving Japan immediately.
Before we got up from the meeting, dad gave me one of the strangest orders ever. I was to wear my Boy Scout uniform on the trip. I was to wear it every day and never take it off. It would be a three day trip. He never told me why. He also filled two foot lockers full with bottles of booze the next day.
I can only guess he had been hording ration coupons for a long time. He was not a regular drinking person so it was obvious what he was up to. I asked about getting caught when we went through customs in Hawaii. He told me not to worry and to finish my packing. I finished packing but did not follow the rest of his instructions.
The majority of the cost of alcohol is taxes. Before income tax, it was a major source of income to the government. There was no tax on alcohol on base in Japan. It cost one fourth as much as in the States. It was easy to sell the car at a nice profit that same day.
There is always a waiting list. His cover was blown, they weren’t sure “they” knew where he was but they knew for sure they would eventually find him—and dad is hustling booze ! This gave me an idea of why they had selected him to become a spy. In my life, I never heard him cuss or raise his voice yet, with one glance, my spine would tingle. He was one cool dude.
I had the most to pack of all us kids because, dad being in intelligence, had access to all the squadron’s surplus photo chemicals and paper. They used lots of the stuff. My bedroom was now also a dark room and this is why he had sent me the camera over three years ago while I was still in the States and why I spent so much time in Shiroi‘s hobby shop learning to make pictures. When we moved to Tokyo, we went down town and, for $25, got a photo enlarger.
With a few trays and a pair of bamboo tongs, we were set to go. He was even able to get 35mm film that was packed in metal cans that were about six inches across as surplus. I was able to make thousands of pictures at practically no cost.
The darkroom fit into its own olive drab foot locker that would catch up to us some time in the future at some location in the States. We didn’t know where. We didn’t know when. Why did those guys die !
We then went down to Tachikawa AFB (TIA) and boarded a big Flying Tiger Lines (precursor to Air America). It was commercial triple tail Constellation, the last of the propeller driven long distance passenger planes.
That night I watched the wings glow red outside my window from the exhaust heat of those gigantic radial engines. It finally struck me I had not cleaned out my locker at school. We flew all night . Then we landed on Wake Island for fuel long after the sun had come up the next day. Once we were all off the plane, they announced we would have to stay on the island a few days due to a typhoon in Hawaii. The Pacific is the most misnamed ocean in the world. Lucky it has a great P.R. department in Hollywood. Hurricanes on the way in and typhoons on the way out.
It was beautiful where we were and there is nothing more beautiful than a South Pacific island on a sunny day.
Guess there aren’t too many alternate air ports in the Pacific so our destination had to be clear before taking off for Hawaii. A Red Cross girl came running up in a jeep with two natives in the back. Wake Island has no natives so they must have been from another island. They were not Hawaiian.
She saw me in the Boy Scout uniform and called me over to the jeep. I waved at mom and dad and jumped in. She had asked me to help her out and we went tooling around the island getting bedding for everyone. Man, she could have asked me to rotate her tires and I would have jumped in!
The natives in the back of the jeep were constantly cracking jokes in their language as we drove from one storage place to another and then going over to the long, low building with the bunks in it. It had become dark by now. I was suspecting the jokes were at the expense of the Red Cross girl and myself. She must have understood them but made no reaction to what they were saying.
We were able to spend a couple of days on this three square miles of coral atoll all by itself out in the Pacific. It had originally been a Navy coaling station. The Pan American Clipper would land in the lagoon there to fuel up till WWII started and we eventually turned the island into an airport in time for the Japanese to capture it early in the war. As a matter of fact, the civilian workers were still on the island when it was attacked and taken over.
I explored rusting tanks at the edge of the water. They were so thick with rust, climbing on them did not look pleasant. There was a Japanese ship that had been run aground. It had been hit by one of our torpedoes after the island had been captured by the Japanese and the captain of the wounded cargo vessel ran it up on the beach.
We (my sidekick sister again) went through some of the shallow trenches, mortar pits and machine gun nests still on the edges of beeches. They were made of stacked stone or coral. Stones like this would become shrapnel when hit by an explosive charge but there they were. There was nothing else to build with on this treeless atoll. The war had ended only a dozen years earlier.
The area had already been picked clean of any war debris by previous explorers or storms. Then it hit me that men had died in the trenches where we stood. This was not a playground. Men from both sides died here. There were no memorials, crosses or plaques. It was just a sensation that came over me all at once so I silently walked away with my sister in tow. The ghosts had their expensive territory back to themselves.
Back on the road, we could not see anybody around. Then we found out why. Without a cloud in the sky, it began to rain. Apparently it rained exactly at this time every day and everybody finds cover. We were able to dodge most of it and got under some tall plants In the hot, dry sun, we dried out pretty quickly.
A Grand Tour
The next day, my Red Cross friend took me around the island in her jeep. At the far side of the lagoon a couple of miles away, she showed me where the Pan Am Clipper would land in the lagoon to be refueled. The long, high wooden pier was still there.
Several people were swimming off the end of the pier in the beautifully clear water of the lagoon. The water under the pier reflected a turquoise glow that made the decking look like a magic carpet. She pulled the jeep over to some shade and we watched.
When we had boarded the plane back in Tokyo, I noticed the stewardesses ( they weren’t flight attendants yet) had the heaviest tans I had ever seen and I could now see why. I also noticed they were a tad bit older than regular stewardesses and wore a little more makeup than I was used to seeing on grown women. Was this possibly due to the heavy tans or my lack of exposure to adult western females other than moms? Could I have been becoming Japanese? The Red Cross girl was their age and lived on the island full time. She did not have a tan like theirs or wore make up like them.
Also noticed an M1 carbine at the end of the decking. It was leaning on a post. The Red Cross girl explained whenever anyone went to the pier to swim, they had to take the carbine with them. Someone in a swimming party had to remain on the pier while the others swam and fire a few shots at any sharks that got nosey. The term ‘Life Guard‘ had extra meaning here.
You had to bring your own shooter or you couldn’t swim Guess that Marine at the island H.Q. was pretty popular with the stewardesses. He was probably the best shot on the island. Two girls and one other guy were swimming in the turquoise glow of the water. The bottom was pure white sand this close to shore. With no glare, you could not see the water at all. It looked like people were floating in air. The Marine was at the end of the high peer with his pith helmet and swimming trunks keeping an eye out.
Having seen enough, we start rolling again. She gave them a toot of the horn from the jeep as we wined by with a noise only a Willys could make. Semper Fi you lucky…
On the other side of the air field was a small recreation area. It had a bar with its own small, man-made lagoon and little beach. It had a shark wall at the entrance from the ocean end. Water could splash over the top to keep the lagoon full and fresh while, supposedly, blocking any sharks from coming in. There were people in the bar and none in the water.
Or, maybe they had to spend some time in the bar before they would go near the water! I really wasn’t interested in swimming myself. It was entertaining enough to be riding around with a girl and her jeep. Of course, the old Boy Scout uniform did not help this pubescent 15-year-old’s style (dream on, you tenderfoot in paradise.)
Dad would not let me take the thing off. Mom must have washed and ironed it at least once. Wake certainly had facilities for this. Why is it I can’t remember this but can remember the plywood sheet with copper pipes winding all around it? Had never even heard of solar water heating. It worked and kept the shower water hot.
Like when we entered Tokyo, things were not the way Hollywood made them seem. Here I was on a beautiful South Pacific island surrounded by its clear, blue water but would be putting my life in peril if I went into that water. Still, it wasn’t all that bad. All I had to do was look at who was driving me in a jeep among all those other men standing around and watching.
The Last Leg
The theater at Wake Island was out doors. They stopped the show to tell us they got the all clear and we would be leaving very early next morning. We all went back to the long hut that had been our home, packed and got some early shut eye.
When the sun was up the bus came around to get us. Its last stop was the bar by the man-made lagoon with the shark wall. We were still all bleary eyed and pretty quiet as the bus jerked to a stop. Then things began to liven up.
There was an incident between an oriental (ok, a moos) wife on the bus and her GI husband who just came out of the bar. He had disappeared the night before. She swore that she knew that, even on this microscopic dot in the middle of the Pacific, he had found another woman to spend the night with. She was standing in the middle of the bus aisle wearing a floor length fur coat in the South Pacific. I am sure, to all the adults aboard, she was already a bimbo before she opened her mouth. I liked her big hoop ear rings. Was she wearing real shack up shoes under that fur coat?
The bar was the only other building in the area. Didn’t the screaming idiot think to drop in there last night? There was no doubt she knew how to do that. Everyone else on the bus thought the same thing, were tired and just remained silent till she was done embarrassing her self. I gave mom a wink and she blushed. We then continued on to the flight line. I said goodbye to my Red Cross friend. Regardless of the accusations of the natives in the back of the jeep, what happened between us was a donut. Scout’s honor!
When we landed in Hawaii, we had to go through customs before having a bite of lunch while the giant plane fueled up.?
The Moment of Truth
They took us from the plane right through the customs door. We were in line for just a minute when a customs agent came over to ask us to follow him to a closed room at the side of the hall. How did he know who we were? Oh no, they found out about dad’s booze!
In the private room, all our unopened luggage was waiting for us at the end of a long table…including the boot leg footlockers! An officer was there with customs guys in grey uniforms. Nothing was said. Dad went over, saluted the officer and showed his I.D. ( oh, oh, maybe it wasn’t his, I saw ten different ones on his dresser once.)
They quickly took some chalk and just made big white ‘X’s on each piece of luggage including the foot lockers and left the room. Nothing was touched. The officer then asked us to go through a far door and stayed behind so he was not seen with us. We walked alone through the door and found it lead to the lunch room with the high glass walls. That was it.
Think I’ll have a BLT. The L and the T were the freshest I had had in three years. The glass of whole milk almost gagged me. We had not had fress milk in three years.
Dad knew about the pass we would get at customs all along but let me sweat it out. That was his sense of humor. He just sat there pleasantly looking around the sunny room. Was that a little sparkle in his eye?
The next time we saw our luggage, it was sitting on the floor of the San Francisco International Airport.
A Kick in The End
We arrived in San Francisco after midnight. Our journey was over and the buses to town would not arrive for five more hours. I heard grown men moaning and complaining. It was an exasperating trip for them. Now they are stuck at the air port for five more hours. This was their breaking point. One vowed he was not going to re-up.
It made me feel mature to realize I had just taken the news about no ground transportation in my stride and went to find something to read. While waiting in the air port. What had not come to mind that these people had been overseas for a long time and were anxous to get home. I had no home. All I was looking forward to was a week in a motel.
Dad told me to go ahead and get out of the Scout uniform now. I changed in the mens room. Our trip was over.
We were being assigned to the closest air base to San Francisco, Hamilton AFB. I went to San Rafael High a week later, This is the wealthiest school I ever attended. I have seen colleges that did not look this good. The student parking lot was huge. At the time, did not know a Ford from a Chevy and the boys were talking about were ¾ race cams and Frenched headlights all day long. One of the most beautiful things about teen age Japan, a car was not needed to complete the individual.
Each day, when school let out, San Rafael looked like the Barret-Jackson auto auctions or Hot August Nights in Reno. These were exactly the same cars that now sell into the six figures. There was more candy apple than at cheap carnival. It was 1957. The year of Sputnik. The Fench just suffered a major defeat in Viet Nam. General Motors released a new model for Chevrolet, the Impala.
The first day in gym was a wake up call. I still wore the dog tags. They didn’t even know what they were. I told them I had just returned from living in Japan and had been wearing dog tags for three years out of habit.
My god! I am talking to civilians, I forgot about them. I hadn’t talked to one of these in three years. Most of what I just said had no place to go in their brains. Their faces are like looking at the test pattern on TV. Welcome back to the United States
Can’t remember what they found to poke fun at. They don’t know much and if they are handed something they don’t know when among their peers, their first defence is ridicule. This was about the 15th school for me. No matter what is said, it all means the same anyway. I am a threat to their popularity, an imbalance to their myopic universe that they need to buried with their insecure muck. I’m already picking the one out that would be the best one to make friends with. Will wait till he is separated from the herd.
By now I can float on the muck. They would not have approached me if they weren’t interested and my automatic early warning system is not going off. Being short, the big guys were the easiest to make friends with. I would not be a challenge to them and having a big friend can’t hurt. I am a child of the world and their little blot on the map is of no interest to me. Only they are.
What could I say about any of my life they would comprehend? They were children, children much younger than me.
Thinking back about this trip a couple of years ago, and knowing a lot more about the intelligence world. I figured out the Boy Scout uniform part. I am convinced we had been accompanied on the whole trip by body guards. The uniform was so they could keep track of us in a crowd. This is how they spotted us in the customs line as soon as we came through the door, for example. They did not ask us for papers, they just took us right to the side room. They already knew who we were.
Except for running around the island with the Red Cross girl, our every move had been planned and controlled. They could do nothing about my jumping into the jeep and driving off. The typhoon in Hawaii was not planned. Even if we knew it would happen, we would have left any way just to get out of the country.
Also, on Wake, I happened to stumble onto a Captain I knew in Japan that seemed to try to ignore me till I called out his name. What are the odds of running into anyone on that place that is too small to show on a map? He claimed to have flown in from Hawaii but that air port had been shut down for several days by the storm that had us marooned on Wake. After we talked, I never saw him again even though we were all staying, eating and sleeping in the same place.
Dad never let us know about the guards because mom would have had a fit. He did everything he could to make the trip low key. It was pretty certain that the people that killed the other two men would also be after him. Usually someone is only killed in the spy business to shut them up. Otherwise, it is usually best to let a discovered spy live thereby not letting the enemy know you are on to them. A lot more can be learned from a live pigeon than a dead operative.
This is the same reason cops don’t bust small time drug dealers right away. They are after bigger fish. Fortunately, dad was the fish that got away.
You may recall that the man who was with dad when our ship pulled into Tokyo. His wife had been traveling with us. Did you pick up when first described him at the time we met his wife in San Francisco there was mention of a dark secret?
He came to visit us at Beale close to when dad retired. He looked the same and his wife was as great as ever. Not too long after his visit we got word that our friend committed suicide.?
Two of dad’s co-agents were killed in Japan. He dies from the long term effects of poison and one of the agents closest to him commits suicide. How many more are there that we do not know about?