Life in Okinawa Part 3

While I was in Okinawa in the mid sixties it was still an occupied country. There was a civil administrator, an American, who ran the country. Most of the people were happy with this situation because they had freedom and prosperity compared to the war period and even before the war. It was a third world environment in that they still had open sewers, a reality which was very hard on the Americans when they first arrived on the island. In the city and

Rural village shop with children in the streets.

even in parts of the country side, the stench was overwhelming. Along the city sidewalks next to the building there were concrete trenches, a few inches wide, covered with concrete lids each about 2 feet long. Each of these covers had openings near the ends so that they could easily be removed for maintenance. These holes allowed the sewerage gasses to vent right into the sidewalk areas. They did have clean water though, complements of the American military. In the interest of economy and speed of delivery, the water pipes were laid on top of the ground in many areas so the water was not very cold coming from the tap but it was clean.

From time to time they had water shortages because of lack of rain or storms that contaminated the fresh water supply. In these cases the military delivered salt water, in large tanks, to the neighborhoods, each family would carry this water in buckets to their houses to flush the toilets thus reducing the amount of fresh water needed.

We moved about the island freely feeling completely safe. Most of the people lived on the south end of the island. The North end was almost completely uninhabited. In fact there was only one road that went all the way to the end and it was very primitive. It was an adventure which the more daring Americans talked about and some actually went. Keep in mind that the entire island is only 60 miles long and only a few miles wide. When I got a car we drove up and enjoyed the feeling of being in the wilderness. We saw a cobra crossing the road as we drove which caused the desire to get out and explore to leave us.

During the war the island was so heavily bombarded there were virtually no trees left alive. There was one pretty place about one third of the way up the island that had a grove of trees tall enough to climb in and this was a popular picnic place. The rest of the island had small trees and brush which they had begun to harvest but they were little more than sticks by our lumbering standards.

When I first came to the island I was assigned the odious task of looking up names in a card file. Every morning I would take all the card file drawers out of the cabinets and place them on tables. When all the drawers were set side by side they stretched about 30 feet. Each morning I received an alphabetical list of the people who were planning on traveling or doing some other event that brought them to our attention. This is perhaps the worst job that I could imagine having to look all day, every day. I almost never found a match. I remember to this day the big event when I found the head of the Okinawan Communist Party. That was about the only interesting event that happened for weeks. I got so I could do this job while thinking about other things. What I thought about most of the time was HOW CAN I GET OUT OF THE FILE ROOM.

During this time I had a part time job working in the woodworking shop at the base crafts shop. I earned $1.00 per hour and was allowed to work a maximum of 100 hours per month. The money was very useful but it was fun to work there. One day my unit commander came into the shop with a black lacquer coffee table that had been scratched and dented severely. He approached me and asked if I could help him refinish it, which meant will you refinish my table. Of course I was MORE THAN HAPPY to help him, it would have been unwise to do otherwise. Okinawa is a famous place for lacquer work and we had several local Okinawans working in the shop as instructors and I consulted with them and together we sanded the table down, filled the holes and hand painted the top then sanded and buffed it to a mirror finish. The Lt Colonel was delighted.

Not long after this incident the base photographer put in for Vietnam, I know! Who would do that. Anyway when I heard he was leaving I went to the Colonel and explained that I was a photographer and I would love to work in the photo department. I can still remember his exact words, “That’s all I needed to know. You got the job.” He and I were buds. This was like moving from hell straight to heaven. I worked with the other techies, but I was the only photographer.I had a darkroom and lots of cameras. I even had some classified lenses that looked like regular lenses but were extreme telephoto. I also had a Questar Telescope which I mounted a camera on and could fill the frame with the moon. I had so many toys that I filled my time with all sorts of fun projects in the name of OJT, on the job training.

Andre Parker, my friend and fellow photographer in Okinawa.

The unit clerk was upset that I got the photo job and because I didn’t pay enough homage to him, he requisitioned a photographer, thinking that I would be put back into the file room but instead I gained an assistant. His name was Andre Parker. We became good friends.



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One Response to Life in Okinawa Part 3

  1. Peggy Jones says:

    I didn’t know a lot of this stuff. Thanks daddy. Have you ever tried to look up your assistant? That could be interesting.

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