A month of leave before going overseas caused a lot of that dearly won knowledge to slide right on out of my brain. While I really enjoyed that leave, it might have been smarter to head to the flight line right after tech school, while that training was still fresh.
On the other hand, after setting foot on Okinawa (with a brief interlude of two weeks emergency leave when my grandfather Louis died) I didn't set foot on American soil again for over six years.
I left the U.S. an overgrown boy, single without a care in the world. Six years later I had a wife, a son and another baby on the way. One could make the argument that my time in Asia helped me to grow up. In some ways. (I'm not what you'd call a complete adult. I can be when I force myself. Which I perhaps don't do enough. Oh well.)
While looking for photos of those days so long ago (1976 to 1978 on Okinawa) I was amazed at how much the place has changed. I'm quite sure there's not much left that I'd recognize. The three photos in this post are all from the 60s and 70s and I recognize each place. Not like it was yesterday, but, as Patton wrote, "as through a glass, and darkly." The details fade but the memories linger.
The commissary these days looks nothing like it did in my time. Back then it seemed, I don't know, foreign and somehow quaint. Nowadays you couldn't tell that were you overseas. I suppose things have to change, progress and all dontcha know.
Another thing which struck me is how much the Air Force has changed over the years. We still have some damn fine kids out there serving the nation. But, like with many organizations, we have our share of strap hangars, social justice warriors, diversity bullies and just plain idiots.
In my time of service I knew a handful of senior non-commissioned officers who were any good. Most were political animals once you got past Master Sergeant. I knew one, that's right one good Chief Master Sergeant. He was one of the sergeants who straightened my ass out on Okinawa. Chief Colonna (I don't even remember the correct spelling of his last name, to us he was just "Chief" - said with a great deal of respect and yes, affection) was everywhere on the flight line.
Need a power unit at 0300? Odds are the Chief found you one. Then he'd be at his desk in the hangar most of the day doing his paperwork. I swear, Chief never slept.
But this isn't a tale of the "new" Air Force. You want the straight dope on that, read Tony. I do. When I can stomach it that is.
I lived in the shadow of that radar for the entire two and a half years I was at Kadena. Woke up one morning after a typhoon had brushed the island to see every single shrub on that hill completely stripped of its leaves. Big winds out that way, I can tell you.
This picture seems to be taken from the roof of the chow hall I used to eat at. There are two barracks in the background, up next to the hill. I do believe my first barracks is the one to the left. As I recall our squadron, the 18th Avionics Maintenance Squadron, had two barracks for us single enlisted types.
Eventually they refurbished most of these buildings and we moved to another building just around the corner of the hill to the left. As barracks go, they weren't bad. One man rooms, we had a fridge, a desk and a bed. Which is about all I needed. A place to sit and read. A place to store my comestibles and adult beverages (think beer) and a place to lay my head when the urge for sleep was upon me.
The first barracks was not air conditioned, a fan seemed to do the trick. I seem to recall that after the renovations, my second barracks had central air.
Not a bad existence to tell the truth.
Now the first six months on the Rock we were on 12-hour shifts. Which entailed a lot of sitting around and playing cards, if we could get away with it. Seems there was always some brand new lieutenant waltzing around wanting us to do more martial things. Like read tech orders.
We put paid to that on one memorable Saturday morning at or around 0400.
While we did work 12-hour shifts, we did get a two day break. Just so happened that our pinochle-playing, beer-guzzling social club all had this one weekend off. Friday night we gathered after sleeping the day away (we had gotten off work at 0700 that morning) and purchased adult beverages and headed to one of the guy's rooms for an all night pinochle-playing, beer-guzzling social event.
In the wee hours of the morning they blew the recall siren. All hands on deck, get your ass to work, Maybe it's a drill, maybe it's not. (FYI, in the entire time I was at Kadena there was one recall which was dead solid real. Two Army officers had been butchered in the DMZ by the NORKS. Within 48 hours the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing had two squadrons of Phantoms in country and loaded for bear. But that's the only time it was for real. Scary days those were.)
So this time was another drill. We all rushed back to our barracks, threw our uniforms on and headed down to the shop.
Once there, we were all sitting around rather bleary eyed when in comes the lieutenant.
"You men seem to have been drinking! That's a violation of..."
I don't remember which of us suggested that the lieutenant go somewhere and perform an unnatural act of reproduction with himself. But words to that effect were spoken and the room got real quiet.
That's when one of the sergeants came over, took the lieutenant by the elbow and into a back room where the young lad was told the error of his ways.
The powers that be moved the lieutenant to day shift. Probably better for him, definitely better for us.
In those days we worked hard and oh my Lord did we party hard.
Now one day, when we had moved to our second barracks (which might actually be the one in the photo above, I'm not sure) our other squadron mates were in visual range. Across a street and then a parking lot. Which is important to the tale which follows.
Now it might have been around the Fourth of July, it might not have been. Heck, maybe Russ might remember, I'm not sure if he was still there, Like I said, it was a long time ago.
But it was a pleasant evening. A bunch of us WCS gorillas were in the parking lot and hanging out on those stairs you can see above. Imbibing adult beverages (as was our wont) and taking the air on a pleasant Okinawan evening. The sun was going, the breeze off the East China Sea was pleasing and we were in our element. Young Americans a long ways from home, making ourselves at home.
Across the way, at our sister barracks, we could see some of the fellows up on the roof of the barracks (why they gave us access to the roof, I'll never know). They were doing much like we were, having a few brews and a few laughs. But there was something much more purposeful about their movements.
Moments later we watched, with joy and amazement, as a bottle rocket lifted off from the roof and up into the gloaming. Boom. Sparkly stuff drifting to earth. Then whoosh, a volley of five rockets lifted heavenward.
Oohs and aahs emanated from our side of the street. It was entertained we were.
Then after a few more volleys, the kettenhunde* showed up in a couple of cars. They were ordering our squadron mates to cease and desist. Furthermore they were commanded to come down off of that roof and turn in their bottle rockets forthwith.
Perhaps our lads were confused as to the order of events they were supposed to execute. Seems they decided to turn over the rockets first. A few at a time and in order to facilitate delivery to the security cops, they lit the rockets off and let them fly down.
The kettenhunde were astonished, confused and concerned. They were being defied. No, they were being mocked as well. A number of the local barracks dwellers gathered round to watch the security types huddling behind their vehicles as they were showered with rockets.
One or two of them even rushed the building to discover that all doors had been secured to keep out intruders.
'Tis frustrated they were. Thank God they kept their wits about them. I mean after all, these guys were all actually armed with pistols and no doubt there may have been an M-16 or shotgun in one or both of their cars.
Eventually our lads ran out of ammunition and some of our senior squadron types showed up. The security types were sent off with promises of dire consequences for the rocketeers.
I don't remember what the aftermath was. In those days it was more than likely that the perpetrators got their asses chewed by the squadron commander (who we respected) and by the First Sergeant (who we did not). An ass chewing by the old man could be epic. Not that I had any (ahem) personal knowledge of that.
Nowadays I'm sure they'd all be dishonorably discharged or something equally foul.
Those were kinder, gentler, more logical times.
Ah, what a night...
The rocket's red glare,
The bombs bursting in air.
On that note, I think I'll lift a glass to the old days.
* See here as well.