Enjoying Asia  

Richard Franklin Bishop


© Copyright 2014 by Richard Franklin  Bishop   

My Military Life Series (Without Deadly Force)

Part One - Enjoying Asia
Part Three - My Life As A Non-Combatant
Part Four - A Mysterious Disappearance
Part Five - Controlling An English Disaster
                        (Of American Origin)
Part Six - Well, Major, What Do You Know?

Photo of a USAF C-124.

We were stationed in Japan for three years beginning in 1959. The assignment was at Tachikawa AB about 15 miles from downtown Tokyo on the big Island of Honshu, Japan.

The runway split the Base into two parts: Tachikawa-West where most of the Base activities, including on-Base housing and a brand-new Officer's Club were located and Tachikawa-East where the Old Officer's Club, the Civilian Club and a large warehouse-type Annex of the Base Exchange were located. The town of Tachikawa abutted the gate of Tachikawa-East and was spread out for a couple of miles like a fan in that general direction.

I was assigned to the 1503rd Air Transport Wing of MATS (Military Air Transport Service) as their Wing Accounting Officer. It was the largest "tenant" organization on the Base (which means a "visiting" organization of uncertain tenure which really is a permanent arrangement) while all regular activities of the Base belonged to (and were operated by) PACAF (Pacific Air Forces). Because of this arrangement, I was an Accounting & Finance Officer without a disbursing account (kind of like an Ambassador without Portfolio) -- i.e., paydays were someone else's business and were conducted by the Base Finance Office.

Our Wing operated large, four-engined, C-124 cargo transport aircraft around the Pacific area. Also, we were the terminus of MATS' longest overwater flights for the Military and Civilian Contract Flights starting at Travis AFB, California; then to Hickam AFB, Hawaii; then on to Midway Island; Wake Island; and finally, Tachikawa AB, Japan.

Additionally, our Wing was responsible for both financial and logistical support of the MATS Traffic Offices on the Southeast Asian "Embassy Run," i.e., at Saigon, Viet Nam; Bangkok, Thailand; Karachi, Pakistan; New Delhi, India; Calcutta, India; and Beirut, Lebanon. We also were responsible for both financial and logistical support of two Support Squadrons; one at Anderson AFB, Guam and one at Kadena AFB, Okinawa and the MATS Traffic Office at Taipei, Taiwan (formerly called Formosa). We had very little to do with Korea; airlift to that country being solely supported by PACAF and their in-theatre Partner, Air America, Inc. The same was true for airlift within and around the Islands of Japan.

I remember one item of “Embassy Run” expenses that we paid for that was certainly different. The MATS Traffic Officer at Saigon requested that we reimburse him for the money he had spent on an alarm system for the Bungalow that he lived in. Apparently he lived in a dangerous area (somewhere off of the Ton Son Nhut Air Base) noted for thievery - especially “breaking and entering” crimes. He said that the local Police had advised him to buy a pregnant monkey to serve this purpose - and so he did. And so we paid.

My wife, Elfi, joined me while there and we set up housekeeping in an off-Base rental while waiting for on-Base housing. After about a year, our name came up and we moved on Base. The housing was "house-trailer" type units and it was de- rigueur to hire a maid. Ours was named "Satoko;" she was married, very dependable and exacting in her house-cleaning.

The Civilian Club had an Austrian cook; a Master Confectioner (Konditor) and among his specialties was the art of baking tall, layered cakes with lots of eggs, smothered in thick frostings. Naturally, with all that talent on hand, the Club had an outlet (Confiserie) with a mouth-watering menu for ordering Layer Cakes for every occasion; Birthdays being the most popular event and this garnered especially attractive artistic decorations. As a popular departure from Cakes he also made small fruit tarts crowned with lemon frosting, just right for afternoon tea. And if you were a Coffee drinker, nothing could be better than the famous Vienna (Hotel Sacher) Torte liberally decorated with thick whipped cream, to accompany a nice steaming cup.

We were once invited to a Japanese household for afternoon refreshment. I might add that the Host and Hostess spoke good English, were very polite, friendly, and quite well-off. Some friends (a Lieutenant Colonel who was the Budget Officer at WESTAF Headquarters at Travis AFB, California, and who, with his Wife, formerly had been stationed in Tokyo) had sent us a Letter of Introduction. Our Host was a successful business man and possessed a membership in a Honshu Golf Club (in crowded Japan, getting that takes lots of "clout" - and money - to get to the top of the waiting list). He also could afford a piano-player to come in once or twice a week for their entertainment as a "change" from Television.

It was winter and we were introduced to the Hibachi and the Tatami. The Japanese households usually have several rooms with a large square hole in the floor that is stepped-down in size with a charcoal brazier at the bottom called a Hibachi. And so you sit around the hole on a traditional rectangular grass mat called the Tatami (on cushions) with your legs down the opening - warming your feet, legs and, by “osmosis,” your whole body! A round table with dwarf legs is placed above the hole and you can dine or drink or play cards in complete comfort in the coldest temperatures as long as the upper part of your body is fairly well-wrapped.

Partly in polite jest, I asked our Host, why, if the Japanese were so well known around the world for their reputed politeness, there was such a pushing, crowding, shoving, squeezing mêlée at the train stations at boarding time. He laughed and said: "The Japanese People are polite, but only on the Tatami!"

About four miles away was a PACAF Air Force Base named Yokota Air Base. (Fifteen years into the future, in 1974, it was to become the Headquarters of the U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) and Headquarters, 5th Air Force). Their Officer's Club had a good restaurant and we often drove over after work to have dinner "out" and a few drinks. We were actually surrounded with facilities for Americans; relicts from the Occupation. Downtown Tokyo was where the Sano Hotel was located, an AFRC (Armed Forces Recreation Center) hotel for Officers. It had an exemplary dining facility. Fuchu Air Station was nearby and was the Headquarters for FEAF (Far Eastern Air Forces) at one time before a reorganization and the creation of the 5th Air Force had made that organization obsolete. Green Park was their American housing area and was located half-way to Tokyo. Yamato Air Station was just across the road from Tachikawa-West and had a Movie Theater and nice little BX Snack Bar.

About 30 miles away was Johnson Air Base. And of course, a myriad of Army Bases and Navy facilities all the way South past the Tokyo International Airport on the Bay, to the Yokosuka Naval Air Station and to the Port of Yokohama where the best Navy Liquor Locker (roughly equivalent to the Air Force's Class 6 Liquor Stores) in the Asian World was located. Both Naval facilities had excellent clubs, movie houses, exchanges & commissaries. Then 50 miles away there was the Atsugi Naval Air Facility and Camp Zama of the U.S. Army.

Downtown Yokohama possessed a real German Bakery and Downtown Tokyo possessed a real German Beer-Garden, complete with an annual "Oktoberfest." Both places were run by different German families caught out there in the Far East by WWII and who now were fully integrated into the Japanese Culture by marriages.

When we first arrived in Japan, we were impressed with the fleet of Taxis operated on the base. Always it was the same Driver assigned to each car. Every auto was scrupulously clean and shiny from having been waxed and constantly polished and dusted. The interiors were spic & span and not a scratch was to be seen inside or outside the sedans. Between trips they were vacuumed often; thus no trash or cigarette butts. Of course, the uniformed Japanese Drivers (complete with hats and white gloves) were responsible for this exemplary display of tidiness and you could not miss their (almost ownership) pride in keeping everything “just so.”

Then, one day, a stroke of the pen quashed all that; a Command decision. The Taxi Fleets were to be taken over and operated by the Morale and Welfare Funds of the U. S. Defense Department and would be staffed with only American Drivers. With no more (quasi-ownership) pride shown for each car, in less than six months the fleets were rattle-traps, all with ripped or torn seats, filthy inside and out, and you could not find a more surly bunch of “Hippy” operators (changing with each Shift) outside of a Pool Hall and who also looked the part!

We fell for the attractive advertising by the Military Rest & Recreation Travel Office and booked a cruise on a MSTS ship (Military Sea Transport Service). This was to occur over the Thanksgiving Holiday and the Ports of Call were at Okinawa and Taiwan. It was for about 7 days and the ships were both Cargo and Passenger equipped. The Cabins were small, but nicely equipped with all the essentials (including a shower) although the beds were actually narrow bunks. Before the 10:00 A.M. boarding time, we parked our car in a secure Yokohama Naval Station Parking Lot and locked it.

The Passengers were a mixed bag of Enlisted, Officer and Civilian Personnel together with their Dependents. The first day out was the day before Thanksgiving and their mid-day meal was exemplary. We all obviously ate too much - because when we got beyond the breakwater the sea became really rough. All around the ship, the food came back up. I suppose that perhaps 20% of the Passengers did not get seasick. My wife and I made the mistake of not taking Seasick Pills before boarding and we tried to rectify this too late and spent the first night on board retching before we finally woke up to the fact that the Resident Nurse had plenty of these pills to give to all who needed them.

After a bad night, we could not face breakfast and I believe the employees of the dining facility did not have too much to do. The Ship had planned a really extravagant Thanksgiving Day feast lasting from 13:00 hours until 17:00 hours. We could not abide that, either. And again I believe the employees of the dining facility did not have too much to do. Too bad, because we heard that it was an exemplary spread. . . really done well.

By the third day out, after having taken the pills regularly, we began to “get our sea legs” and could appreciate food again. We met a couple, a Navy Commissary Officer and his wife. They were not enchanted with us after they learned that we didn’t like the way Military Commissaries used pink lights over the meat counters to enhance the Meat Display (we probably should have kept our mouths shut, since the Military Commissaries were finally only getting in line with Civilian grocery chain-stores that had been doing this for years - and were proud of it!).

A stopover at Okinawa didn’t amount to much since it was at night only for just long enough to unload cargo. Later on, at Taiwan, our stopover was limited to 8 hours. After being warned by the Ship's Crew that we shouldn't over-tip the Locals, we left the ship and did the “Tourist thing,” i. e., we had our picture taken while sitting in a Rickshaw and then we visited the biggest Hotel in Taipei for a noon meal (which was an excellent Chinese multi-course dinner - although they also did serve Western food with a Menu in French). Their Vichy Sois (chilled potato soup) was a specialty of the House.

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