The General's Laughing Wazoo

Warning: In the interest of historical accuracy, this story has the F word and other cursing in it.

The General’s Laughing Wazoo

One day, Two Star General Smith came to the 30th Artillery Brigade Headquarters Battery Company Barracks to conduct a command inspection of our barracks and us troops (In the interest of historical accuracy, I remember it as being General Smith, but if it isn’t, we can consider it a generic name). You ain’t gonna’ wanna’ believe this one anyway, because, the second or third highest ranking US Army Officer on Okinawa didn’t give a hoot about military manners when he gave his own obligatory, periodic command inspections.

We 30th Arty Bgde HHB troops had our barracks spick and span, top to bottom, inside out for that one. Capt. Leroy Sawyer was in command of the cleanup preparations, so you know it wasn’t about team work, male bonding and clean living; with Leroy in charge, it was more about subordinanteness to his demands than maintaining necessary living area cleanliness. That jackass captain had no clue whatsoever as how to be a good team leader.

On the evening before the general’s inspection, after we had all finished our cleaning assignments, I strolled on out behind the barracks to get some air. It was a nice, warm, although rather humid, typical Okinawa evening time.

A buddy of mine, from the barracks next door, came walking by on his way back from the PX snack bar. He inquired as to why I looked so hot, sweaty and tired in my dirty Army fatigues at that time of the evening, a time when most GIs over there back then had civilian clothes on and were relaxed, clean and casual looking.

I replied that Two Star General Smith was going to inspect my barracks and company the next day.

My buddy said, "What? General Smith! Are you kiddin’ me man? You’re all dirty and tired lookin’ cause General Smith is comin’ tomorrow. What’sa’ mattah’ Crews, don’t you know about his inspections? You ain’t ever heard? He inspected my company about three and half months ago. You know what he does? Let me tell you what the fuckin’ guy does. First, he shows up in front of the barracks in his long, black, chauffeur driven limousine. Then he comes in and eats lunch. He knows it’s the best damn lunch that will ever be served in your barracks. Don’t miss that meal. The officers and NCOs (Non Commissioned Officers—sergeants) in your company will be right up his ass the whole time. They will all be brown nosing and sniffing around for the best angles to get close to the General and vie for compliments from him, that they think might lead to a promotion in rank or somethin’. After the big man finishes his meal, his adjutant (personal aid) will stand up in the chow hall, and ask who are the two best pool players among the lower ranking guys in the company. Then General Smith is going to take them two guys, along with your company’s officers and top NCOs, into your day room. Meanwhile, his adjutant will go back out to the limousine and fetch the general’s personal, custom, hand made pool stick. It’s a beautiful piece of wood, all hand carved and perfectly balanced, it was made in Thailand or Japan or somewhere, I sure as hell wish I could afford one like it. Then the general will play each of them two guys in one game of pool each. He will most likely beat them both. They may loose because they’re scared to beat a gahdamned general, but most likely they’ll just be outranked in skill on the table. Smith is good, real fuckin’ good, I never heard of him loosing to anyone during any of his inspections. After that bullshit, when the kiss asses in your company think it’s time for the big ass general to put on his white gloves and check your barracks over for dust and dirt left in cracks and crevices and then look all you guys over for any crooked creases on your nice clean, starched and strack uniforms, the man will walk out the front door and leave."

"Are you fuckin’ shitin’ me man!!?"

"Crews, my brother, I’m fuckin’ aye serious. Awe man, don’t look so down bro, don’t even worry about it. I’ve been here for over a year, I know what da’ fuck I’m talkin’ about. We all felt like shit when it happened to us. Smith knows that the barracks is in top shape and that the men are lookin’ their best that day. There isn’t gonna’ be any inspection of anything but the gahdamned pool table. He don’t want to look at all you fuckin’ assholes up real close. We’re a fuckin’ peasant army to him jack, nuthin’ but lowly ass, gahdamned fuckin’ cannon fodder. Gahdamn man, the whole fukin’ island knows that General Smith’s inspections ain’t nuthin’ but a bunch of bullshit, how come your dumb ass officers don’t know that?"

(Authors note: What my buddy meant when he said that the whole island knew about those fake inspections is that most of the Army personnel on Okinawa knew about them, not the civilians or Marines, Airmen, and Sailors. The sour look that he had on his face as he was telling me this stuff showed true contempt for that bullshit, so his emotions got the best of him, and he exaggerated a bit.)

The next day, it all went down exactly as my buddy had said that it would.

I did not miss that meal. But let me tell ya’ somethin’, it was a strange scene in my barracks’s mess hall that day. 30th Arty NCOs and officers were hangin’ around that general like a pack of adolescent aged puppies sniffing at their moma’s butt and dried up teats while vying for nonexistent, tasty, nourishing treats, like a good word from the general about their military manners or something—anything to talk about and gloat over later in front all the other soldiers. The sights and sounds of them 30th Arty soldiers kissing the general’s ass like that, well, shit, that sickening scene gahdamned near ruin’t my appetite.

I had gone over to Okinawa believing that any member of the United States Army who has conducted themselves as normally as I had during my basic training and the US Army Photographic Laboratory Technician School has earned the right to stand proud and tall and be counted while being inspected by soldiers who were superior in rank to them. I saw no legitamate reason for anyone in the Army to kiss anybody else’s ass. I believed that we soldiers were supposed to train hard, work hard, do our duty, and show each other proper respect amongst the ranks, not play little political games like Kiss The Higher Ranking Soldier’s Keyster. I may have been wrong about that, but I had never witnessed any soldiers in basic training or Army Photo Lab Tech School acting so worthless and weird the way that those higher ranking soldiers in the 30th Arty mess hall had that day. I may be wrong, but I still can’t see any reason why those 30th Arty kiss asses could not have conducted themselves in a more manly, self respecting, military manner when showing the proper respect which any general’s well earned, high rank deserves and requires for sensible, efficient military discipline.

When General Smith and his aid walked out the front door of my barracks, after they had eaten that good meal and then the general had beaten two low ranking 30th Arty guys on the pool table, I was standing up in my third floor, squad bay, bunk area looking out of an open window and watching down onto the front lawn of our barracks. Several times though, I had looked out over the barracks directly across the street to glance at some comfortably soft looking, well defined, cottony clouds which were floating by in an azure-blue, subtropical sky. It was
absolutely beautiful outside there that day on Okinawa. I had gone up there to the third floor see if the faked inspection was going to end the way that my buddy from the barracks next door had said that it would. From up there, it was a clear, bird’s eye view of mangled military brew-ha-ha. It turned out to be an unforgettable, demoralizing experience.

I heard, then saw, the front door of my barracks open up wide down there below me. General Smith and his aid calmly strolled out the door and onto the front sidewalk.

My 30th Arty HHB Company’s administrative officers and top NCOs followed right behind, or slightly to the sides of, them two military inspection fakers. The 30th Arty butt kissers had a steady flow of useless small talk spilling out through their brown tinged lips, as they were trying to figure out what was happening—they were wondering why the general hadn’t commenced to carefully inspecting the barracks and troops.

As those, higher ranking than me, headquarters company personnel tried to make small talk with the general and his aid, the general and his aid kept turning backwards and sideways to look and delightfully grin at the bewildered, brown tinted faces of the 30th Arty soldiers. General Smith and his aid both had real big, broad, toothy, ha-ha I got ya’ type, mischievous grins on their faces as they continued to slowly move towards their waiting limo—all the while laughing out their asses at the other soldiers.

Them thar’ 30th Arty butt kissers were all smooches and smiles as they kept steadily sticking their distinctly dark brown noses up the general’s laughing wazoo. I clearly saw them each turning slightly back towards the barracks and ever so lamely beginning to limply motion with their hands and arms from the direction of the general back towards the front door of the barracks in an obviously useless, pleading attempt to ask the general about the missing formal barracks inspection. The grinning general’s aid glanced down at the butt kissers’ limp limb movements, and then back towards the limo waiting at the curb, and as he did he briefly brushed his hand across his mouth to gain control of an ever expanding grin and stifle an involuntary snicker. The general gleefully looked right between the pleading eyes of the faked out, fuckin’ dumb ass 30th Arty soldiers, he damn near laughed out loud at their darkening brown noses, smiled with sincere satisfaction, went to his limo, got in and rode away.

My 30th Arty ‘superiors’ looked like a pack of bewildered puppies being weaned from their mamma’s teats for the final time. They stood there and waved bye-bye to the highest ranking Army officer who had ever come into their beloved Headquarters Company. Then they lamely looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders at each other, mumbled some puzzled questions or half-ass explanations amongst themselves, then slowly, without any purpose in their movements, walked back through the front door and disappeared into the barracks.

I had chosen my high angle of view well, like a sniper looking for a safe and secure advantage point to shoot from. I had observed that weird scene from up there and stood at the window without worrying about being seen by them down below because that third floor window was just high enough above them that they most likely would not notice me, but then I could sure enough see and hear them quite clearly.

After that strange scene, which I wish I had never seen, dissipated and went away, I stood there at the window for a moment enjoying a warm, moist sub tropical breeze which was gently flowing in upon me. I looked out over at my left towards the Mole Hole and the 30th Arty Bge HHB Company office building. I didn’t feel anything inside of me, not even numbness; it was an odd thing that I found no humor in the experience, if I hadn't already been through so much soul crushing bullshit because of my illegal assignment to the 30th Arty as brigade photographer, it would have been a hilarious scene to witness—it was like a funny, rib ticklin' comedy skit in a Hollywood movie; on the other hand, I wasn’t angry, disgusted, sad, or anything like that.

On that strange afternoon, on the beautiful, blue skied, warm and humid Far Eastern Island of Okinawa, in the 30th Artillery Brigade Headquarters Company barracks, the demoralizing idea seeped into my psyche that there did not seem to be any worthwhile purpose left in life. I don’t know exactly what happened to me that day, but I lost something which I have been struggling to recover ever since.


In Okinawa, 1970-71

In this part of my working manuscript about my time spent as an Army Photographer stationed on Okinawa (The Rock), I tell some more about what it was like for the average American GI who was stationed there. This part is about what typical GIs are like when stationed in foreign countries. In response to other parts of this manuscript, which are published here and on Magic City News, other veterans of The Rock have sent me several emails which shared their similar, personal experiences about Okinawa with me. My writings here speak for many. And I say this: 1.These are the kinds of things that our troops would be doing more of in Iraq and Afghanistan today if they could; 2.The media doesn’t report enough about the good things that our troops are doing over there.

Like many other GIs who were stationed on Okinawa (The Rock), during 1970-71, I loved being in Okinawa.

Being in the Far Eastern, sub-tropical, Prefecture of Okinawa was a great, soul satisfying adventure for me, and for many other American military personnel who were also stationed on The Rock, along with any of their family members who were living there with them at the time.

Many of us GIs serving there spent a goodly amount of our off duty time as far back into the side streets of the island and as far deep into the wonderful Asian culture there as we could politely, safely go without offending any Okinawans and getting our keysters karate kicked. We liked walking through the side streets, the same way that we used to like to take Sunday drives back home. Sometimes we had a destination picked out, other times we went exploring. We were always friendly, polite and respectful to the local population; the locals treated us the same.

The sub-tropical weather was often hot and humid, but usually tolerable. The sky over the island tended to be a sensational, rich, blue color and have gorgeous cloud formations floating through it, except in rainy season, which was wet and gray, but still fun to walk around in at times. In the winter it got chilly, but never cold.

At night, walking through the side streets was a wonderful adventure. When it was dark outside, we had to be real quiet and polite as we traveled, because Okinawan homes were mostly small, open air houses with no insulation, thin wood and paper sliding doors and their windows were often no more than sheets of plywood with hinges at their top edges. The poorest homes had no screens anywhere, so the occupants burned mosquito coil repellent at night.

The coolest thing, at night, was when we encountered Okinawan Folk Musicians playing their centuries old music in the doorway of their home. They plucked and strummed delicately and expertly on ancient style, Asian musical instruments. It was sweetener for one’s soul.

Oh, geeze, it was magical.

We GIs learned fast that the musicians needed their privacy from Americans’ intrusion into their personal space. If we stopped and admired their musicianship, right there in front of their home, they became embarrassed and felt that we were rude, so they would loose their musical flow, stop playing and go inside the house.

We learned to bow and wave as we walked by any musicians playing their personal culture’s ancient folk music, and to go on a short ways, then sit down and listen for a bit. It felt like being in an old black and white movie about some happy Americans living in Asia.

Four of my closest friends rented a house off post. They paid thirty-five bucks a month for it. It was a civilian style bachelor pad, an escape from constant military madness. Friends and their friends were welcomed there anytime. I crashed out there often. It was deep in an all Okinawan neighborhood, and we young American Men loved it there.

The house had a parachute, which was painted like a giant spider web, draped up inside of its living room. It really added some cool atmosphere that made the room more intimate for sharing stories about our families, girl friends, wives or lovers back home, our civilian school days, the cars-motorcycles-boats we owned or wanted to own, favorite sports teams, our Army experiences (both good and bad), Okinawan girls, Okinawan anything, etceteras.

The parachute house was furnished with old style, thin Army mattresses, to sit or lay upon, placed one each along all four walls in the living room, a coffee table in the center of that room, a stereo on a home built stand was in there too, along with hundreds of record albums. In the only bed room was a TV on a stand along with two mattresses placed against two opposite walls. There was a little kitchen that didn’t get much use other than for chilling beer in the small fridge.
That was actually close to how Okinawans furnished their homes. They rarely had chairs or sofas or beds, just mats to sleep on and little tables for lamps, artworks and things like that.

We GIs got along well with the Okinawans who lived in the neighborhood around the parachute house.

We often trod across the road next to the house, down through a tiny valley, then up another road about fifty yards to a little papasan store--they were like the old mom and pop corner stores of American inner cities. The man who ran that store liked us a lot. We bought sodas, snacks and canned goods like beans and sausages.

When we had a few extra nickels, we always treated any little neighborhood kids, who were in the store there, to some candy bars and soda--as long as their parents were there to approve or if the store owner OK’d it. The average hourly wage for Okinawans was about a measly thirty-five cents an hour, so we didn’t want to offend any low income parents, cross any anti-American boundaries or give sugar to a diabetic child. Any group of friends usually has some member who has a diabetic sibling, neighbor back home or ex-schoolmate. One of my friends on The Rock had warned the rest of us about the diabetic danger.

The local kids over there were great. We were all friendly with each other, but we usually kept a respectable, invisible barrier between us. They had their culture, and we had ours. So we were careful not to impose our Western Culture attitudes--hey kid how ya doin’ there shorty, on Eastern Culture attitudes--children should be polite and respectful to adults. But, sometimes us GIs got to make up for missing our little relatives and neighbors back home by having a bit of friendly interaction with the local kids.

Many nonexplosive type fireworks were legal on The Rock, so now and then us guys, who hung out at the parachute house, would buy a bag of fireworks to shoot off. That always brought out a few Okinawan neighborhood kids to watch the show. We would always plan for that and have some sparklers or some other things that were more or less safe for them to set off. Their families could rarely afford to buy themselves fireworks, except on certain Okinawan holidays. Again, we were careful not to give those children more than what would be respectful to their parents’ wishes.

There was a local school right up the road from the parachute house that had a dusty soccer field on its grounds. One Sunday, eight of us guys from the parachute house went up to the school field to play some four on four touch football. There were about fifteen or twenty Okinawan boys playing some soccer there; it not a serious game, they were just having fun. The kids were all in their middle teenage years.

One of our long, forward passes went over in amongst the kids playing soccer. They laughed, waved and hollered to us, one of them picked up the American style football, looked at it with a screwy, puzzled look on his face, tried to get a good grip on it, and then threw it our way. He had no idea what the ball was all about, because it was the first time that any of them had seen an oblong ball with pointed ends.

Us GIs looked at each other, thought about it, and someone said that they must have seen our style of football on television at least once or twice in their lives. But, then we guessed not.

We walked on over to the crowd of kids. It was unlikely that any of them had ever had any personal contact with an American before. They were very curious about us young, healthy GIs with friendly smiles on our faces, a few rudimentary words in Japanese stumbling out of our mouths and a real weird sports game ball in our hands. They crowded all around us and tried some of their school taught English on us.

We held the football up and asked if they had any idea what it was. They didn’t. The ball was handed around to them, and they could not figure what could possibly be the right way to handle it. Then one kid dropped it on the ground and it turned into a wobbly soccer ball being passed about between their feet. They thought that that was hilarious; it was just as enjoyable to us GIs too.

One of us suggested that we teach them some basic ball handling and running and stuff. Hey, that sounded good to all.

That football fun then went on for over an hour.

We had them practicing pass patterns in no time. We would draw the patterns into the dirt, set up two lines of kids, and then out one kid would go a running and one of us would throw the ball to him. After a few good catches, the patterns would get a tad bit more difficult. They missed a few catches each, and they started getting frustrated, but that is how all football practices go.

We GIs got into it more than them kids did. We felt like coaches back home at our old neighborhood YMCAs. It was gratifying.

The kids started getting more frustrated, when they missed catches, so some one of us took a coin out of his pocket, put it on the ground next to a pass pattern drawn in the dirt, and the kids got the message. Catch the ball, and then come back and pick up the coin to keep. All eight of us GI guys there ended up dropping our pocket change, one coin at a time, onto the ground, till the kids had all gotten real familiar with catching a football, and we ran out of coins.

Then we set up two equal numbered teams and had a little scrimmage game. Us GIs had to do the quarterbacking; the ball always went to a kid, and we made sure that all the boys had a good chance at getting the ball. It was a demonstration game, no winning or loosing involved. The kids all ribbed each other for their misses and catches. It was all laughs, harmless pokes-shoves and hollers between the Okinawan boys.

Just before the kids got over tired and started acting too differently from their self controlled Asian male character, a few had started acting goofy and imitating American stereotypes (their parents would find that offensive), we eight guys called the demo game off. At least one of us always knew when it was time to quit our intermingling with locals. That’s one of the reasons why we never had a problem living in their neighborhood.

One evening, just after dark, when I was leaving the parachute house, I encountered two of the guys who rented the place, my good friends John and Chris, coming into the house. They had just been trying to help an Okinawan family get their car out of the Benjo Ditch that was out front, along side the road, there. Those ditches were about 2 ½ feet deep, 1 ½ feet wide, rectangular in shape, made of cement slabs and usually covered by cement slabs on top. That was the Okinawan sewer system. Their toilets and sinks all drained into the Benjo Ditches. When the public utilities workers had to unclog a Benjo Ditch, they simply shoveled the crap out of it and piled it on the side of the road. That had happened next to the parachute house, but unfortunately the dang workers didn’t put the cement slab back on top of the ditch, there, though. The Okinawan family’s car’s front right wheel had gone into that opening.

Chris and John saw me and said that they were just coming in to see who else was in the house who could help them lift the car out of the ditch. There was one other guy in the house, Jim from Cleveland, and Chris went on in there to get him.

I took one look at the way that the car was jammed in the ditch and knew right away that with my help and Jim’s, along with Chris, John and two Okinawan men who were standing there, who had been riding in the car, we could all six lift the car up out of there without hardly breaking a sweat. And that we did.
We GIs were standing there shaking hands and exchanging polite, Asian style, bows with the two Okinawan gentlemen, and one Okinawan lady who was with them, when John tapped me on my shoulder, pointed into the back seat of the car and whispered, "Dave, look."

In the back seat of car, there was a small, four or five year old girl. She had the fingers of her right hand pressed against the side of her head, next to her ear. The girl had a deep, red gash in her flesh, right where the front of her ear met the side of her cute, innocent face. She looked like she was in some pain, her face did have a worried look on it, but she was not crying or making any sounds at all. Then John discretely informed our other two friends about the injured child.

There was an Okinawan civilian health clinic about seven blocks away from the parachute house, but it was on a different road. We often walked by it on the way down through some twisty, turny side roads that separated the parachute house from any American military families’ houses or apartments. The Okinawan man driving the car had taken the wrong fork in the road, down about a block below my friends’ house. He was upset about the injured child in the back seat, and when he got lost, he lost control of his driving and wrecked. When we all four realized what was up, with the girl and her family, we did our best to communicate the directions to the health clinic for them. Then we hoped that they would find it fast.

As we four friends walked into the house, we commented on the little girl’s self control and bravery; it was an Asian Culture phenomena; it really impressed us; no little American child, including ourselves, that we ever knew of, would ever sit there with an awful cut like that on their body and not be crying and completely upset.

John was from the mountains of Colorado. One of his favorite songs was Soapstone Mountain by the group It’s A Beautiful Day; the song is on their second album, Marrying Maiden. John said that it reminded him of home, because his family lived in a cabin on a mountain side. John hated cowboys. I don’t know exactly why, but he hated cowboys. It had something to do with the, oft seen in cowboy movies, struggle of hard working, peaceful homesteaders vs. hard working, red neck cowboys.

John was a cook in my 30th Arty Bge Company. He had done a year as a cook in Nam, before he came to The Rock. He said it wasn’t too bad for him over in Nam, except when the rockets and mortars started coming in or his compound was under direct infantry attack. Then it was time to drop the spatula and pick up an M16.

One Saturday afternoon, John asked a group of us guys, who were visiting the parachute house, if we wouldn’t mind helping him help his neighbor by removing a large stump, from a blown down tree, that was in the neighbor’s vegetable garden. John told us that he had grown up helping his family take care of their vegetable garden. He said that not only was the stump taking up good, fertile planting space in the small garden next door, its was obtrusively putting shade on some of the growing plants. He said that he knew how important every inch of a good vegetable garden can be to a hungry family.

John said, "I told the old papasan next door that I would help him move it as soon as I got enough of you guys here to help me."

Naturally, all John had to do was ask.

A minute or two after he asked us, about eight of us guys were over there in Papasan’s garden looking down at the stump and figuring out where to grab onto it and where it should go, where it would be totally out of the way for Papasan. It was one of them deals with the roots all sticking up in the air, so it was free from any gripping attachment down in the ground. The trunk and limbs had already been sawed off and probably burned for firewood.

We surrounded that stump, grabbed a good hold of it, lifted, heaved, hoed and hauled it on over to the side of the garden, where it could rot away unobtrusively. We loved the physical challenge and team effort--it was male ego a-go-go all the way.

John had let Ole Papasan know that we were doing it, before we started our heavy lift. The old fella had come out and pointed to where the stump needed to go. After we finished moving it, he ran into his house and ran back out with a hand full of homemade Okinawan cookies for us. He was extremely happy; we were happy too.

The next day, when a couple of us guys walked from the parachute house over to our favorite papasan store, the neighbors, whom we encountered in that tiny valley, were really outgoing in their usual friendly waves and smiles to us. We knew why, of course, news spreads fast in a tiny community like that. We had been accepted as friendly foreigners, before the stump move, then good neighbors, after the stump move. All because one Colorado mountain boy knew what needed to be done.

Chris was the only buddy of mine who had found true love with an Okinawan girl. She was a senior in high school at the time. Her father was against her dating Chris, but that did not stop her. She was a mighty fine young woman. I spent a fair amount of time in her company, over at the parachute house, when she was there with Chris. There is no doubt in my mind that it was as good of a relationship as a young couple could have.

When I left The Rock, they were still dating. I used to think about writing Chris’s parents to tell them not to worry about any racial or cultural differences if Chris decided to marry his mighty fine girl friend and take her back home with him. But, I left The Rock before it was time for the young couple to decide on what their future would be.

I loved being in Okinawa. Ya wanna see some photos?


The Illegality And Immorality Of My Assignment To The 30th Artillery Brigade On Okinawa

When I enlisted into the Army, in 1969, I signed up for three years - which was one year over the military draft’s requirement of two years of service. I voluntarily enlisted for a third year so that I could go to the US Army Photographic Laboratory Technician School at Ft. Monmuoth, NJ.. After graduating from Photo Lab Tech School, I attained the rank of Specialist Fourth Class (E-4 after only ten months of military service, three months inactive - before I had to report to basic training - plus seven months active duty and I made E4 is an awesome accomplishment, which required hard work and dedication to duty). I had become a damned good soldier. Then I was sent to Okinawa.

My assignment to Okinawa was great news to me. Because, during the time that I was in Army basic training and studying at Photo Lab Tech School in Ft. Monmuoth, not one soldier, whom I ever knew of, wanted to be sent to Vietnam. Neither did I.

Besides being trained in a set of professional skills, that I had an interest in, and natural talent at making good use of, the one thing that I wanted most, to get to do while serving my country in the military, was to be sent as far away from the East Coast of the United States as possible. I had lived all of my nineteen years on Earth there, and it was time for a change; I wanted to travel, and see some of the rest of world.

Plus, during the time that I was in Army basic training and studying at Photo Lab Tech School in Ft. Monmuoth, not one soldier, whom I ever knew of, wanted to be sent to Vietnam. Neither did I.

On Okinawa, the Army assigned me to Headquarters Battery 30th Artillery Brigade as ‘Official’ Brigade Photographer.

The 30th Arty Bgde was a missile unit. We had great big Nike Hercules Nuclear Missiles on some of my unit’s thirteen missile sites! And, we had smaller Hawk Missiles on some of our missile sites too.

Our brigade motto was, "Always On Target."

The Island of Okinawa sets way out from Communist China’s coast line, at just exactly the right spot for an alert, fully prepared missile brigade to be able to steadfastly maintain a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year missile defense shield. The 30th Artillery Air Defense Brigade was assigned to be there, on Okinawa, to help defend the free world from Communist Chinese nuclear attack.

I was the first Army trained photographer to be assigned to work as the 30th Arty Brigade’s ‘official photographer’. The 30th Arty had finagled paperwork to get themselves a real photographer. They wanted their-picture-taken as often as possible. The entire situation thoroughly violated countless Army Rules and Regulations. I do not know what I was listed as on the unit roster, or if I was listed at all.

Before I was assigned to the 30th Arty Bgde, their photographers had been soldiers from the brigade who were supposed to be working there as radar techs, company clerks or whatever their original jobs had been in the brigade. But they wanted to be photographers, so they eagerly volunteered to shoot and print photos of the 30th Arty personnel at work and play.

The man whom I was replacing, as brigade photographer, was Spec 5 Swigget (Swiggert? I’m not sure of the spelling). Swigget told me that his mother owned the franchises to three Pepsi Cola bottling plants somewhere in the Mid-West States, and that she used to send him a check every month that equaled half of his Army pay, so that she could declare him as a deduction on her income tax. His mother used to donate tons of Pepsi Cola to political campaigns. She used those political connections to help her son in the Army get away with lots of crap that no one else could. Swigget told me that he had "HAS POLITICAL INFLUENCE" stamped on his Army record folders, so that everyone knew not to mess with him and to outright coddle the guy.

When Swiggett gave me my inaugural tour of the 30th Arty Bgde photo lab, I was stunned by the real crotch kicker in this historic narrative == the brigade's photo lab was not only illegal, it was set up in the nuclear fallout decontamination chamber for an underground nuclear fallout shelter communications bunker called "The Mole Hole." That secretive bunker was hidden in a hillside next to the 30th Artillery Brigade Headquarters office building.

Holy cow chips Batman!!

That photo lab compromised our stated military mission!!!

The Mole Hole was snuggled into that hillside right next to headquarters, because if America got into a nuclear boxing match with Communist China, the 30th Arty would need a safe, secure nuclear fallout chamber full of radio gear and other equipment that we would need to be able to coordinate offensive and defensive strikes with our missiles, along with the missiles of stateside military units, US Navy submarines and other war ships, US Air Force and US Marine jet planes, etcetteras, against enemy aircraft with nuclear bombs aboard and passing overhead of us on their way to obliterate my family, friends, neighbors, former school teachers and school mates and everyone else in America.

If the area immediately around brigade headquarters and the Mole Hole bunker was not obliterated by a direct hit from an enemy nuclear war head, the area might be contaminated with nuclear fallout snow from war heads that had dropped on other parts of the island. In the case of that scenario, certain, pertinent 30th Arty technicians and command personnel, who were authorized and trained to use secret codes and all that stuff, had to be in the bunker. They had to be able to verify who they were when they contacted outside military commands to inform them of what condition the Okinawan US Military’s Bases were in and to supply any info that the Mole Hole guys had on enemy movements, casualty figures and all that jazz. If any of those pertinent personnel were not in the bunker at the time of the nuclear attack, they would have to hightail it over to the bunker; but before they could be allowed into the bunker, they would have had to have been decontaminated of any nuclear snow that may have fallen on them.

The main door that we used to enter the Mole Hole, to go to work everyday, was a large, thick, steel, bank vault style door that was to be closed, locked and guarded if a nuke attack occurred. About thirty feet from the vault door, there was a regular sized steel door that was the entrance to the decontamination chamber. That second door was never used and was always padlocked inside and out. In the case of a nuclear attack, there would have been armed guards at that door too, after the two padlocks on it - one inside and one outside - were removed.

When the hightailing technicians and command personnel made it to the Mole Hole, they were to identify themselves to the guards, then step through the regular sized door and into an outer chamber, disrobe, and step into a shower to wash off the nuclear snow - so that they did not contaminate the other soldiers who were already in the Mole Hole; then the authorized personnel stepped into an inner chamber to receive some of the clothing that was kept in the bunker in large wooden crates that were full of necessaries and were always kept there for a two week stay underground.

The lab’s photo enlarger and print developing trays were on a tall, heavy metal table that blocked the padlocked door which gave access from the outside into the tiny outer room of the decontamination chamber. There was also a refrigerator in that cramped space for keeping film and photo paper in. Black curtains were hung across both open sides of the decontamination shower, so that we could keep white light (it ruins photo paper) out of the enlarging area of the darkroom. Then, in a small, janitorial closet sized inner chamber, where the decontaminated soldiers were to be given clean clothes, was where the photographers' print washing and drying equipment was located. There was also shelving in there for photo supply storage. There is no doubt that all of that negated any possibility of any quick, efficient use of the nuclear emergency decontamination aspect of the chamber.

Had that decontamination chamber ever been needed in an emergency, it would have been quite a frantic mess when the Mole Hole guys would have had to try disassembling and moving all of those heavy metal photo lab furnishings, the darkroom and other photo equipment plus the photo developing chemical supplies out of their way while dealing with freaked out, semi-nuked soldiers who were trying to get past armed guards and into the relative safety of the underground bunker. Of course, there would have also been all kind'sa unauthorized personnel trying to bust their way in with their wives and kids and all. "JUST TAKE MY BABY; PLEASE LET MY LITTLE BABY IN THERE!!"

Clearly, my photo lab was against Army Rules and Regulations.

Then Swiggett informed me that I could neither order any photo equipment nor any kinds of supplies - at all - to do my Army photo assignments. I had to find some way to scrounge them up somehow. That really took me aback.

In those days, both photo and stereo equipment that was sold on Okinawa usually cost no more than 40% of its stateside prices. Naturally, at those low prices on Okinawa, I intended to buy myself some top notch professional camera equipment anyway, so I ended up using my personal camera gear, and sometimes my money for film, to do all of my Army photo assignments.

On my second or third day at the 30th Arty Bgde, Swigget informed me that I could not advance in rank while I was there.

I was assigned to that unit for eighteen months, and, at that time, in the US Army, anyone who was posted overseas for a year or more usually got a promotion in rank if they did just a half-decent job at their MOS (Military Occupation Specialty -official job). So, I asked him why I could never advance in rank at the 30th Arty.

He told me that his MOS was not photography, but that he was being paid, by the Army, to work in an office in the 30th Arty Bgde’s headquarters office building. Then it sure enough shocked me, when the next thing that he informed me of was the hard, cold fact that there was no slot for a photographer anywhere in the 30th Arty Bgde. Consequently, when promotion opportunities came down from above, I could not apply for one.

Swiggert told me that when opportunities for promotion came down they would be distributed amongst the various army units something like this: three soldiers in a unit get to go from E2 up to E3, one soldier gets to go from E3 up to E4, and so on. The individual soldiers in each unit then had to compete for the promotions by proving that they were most worthy for them through their personal conduct and efficiency ratings, their MOS evaluations, maybe recommendations from their sergeants and officers. I don’t recall all of the exact terms or requirements that he cited, but it was by achieving requirements like that that a soldier had to show that they were worthy of the prize of a promotion in rank. Swiggert informed me that it was the fact that I could never receive an evaluation of my MOS that prevented me from getting a promotion, because my MOS was not authorized to be in the 30th Brigade.

I received my discharge from the Army while in the 30th Arty, and I can show you on my discharge records this official statement: “Soldier has no record of evaluation in his MOS.”

There were two guys working as photographers for the 30th, when I was first assigned to work there. One was Swiggert and the other was named Medley (not sure of the spelling). They were about as lackadaisical, nonproductive and sloppy about their photography as could be. Medley turned in 8×10 photos printed backwards and with white, photo chemical thumb prints all over them. Medley was off photographing, then in the lab developing and printing, his own stuff more than the 30th Arty’s; because he had a contract with a travel magazine that had paid him to do travel photos of Okinawa. It infuriated me. Swiggert just didn’t give a damn. Them two individuals had reputations for taking three months to get photos printed after they had shot an Army assignment. But when I took over the lab, it averaged me three days from assignment to handing in a full set of prints.

I asked Swiggert how he got away with being the way he was in the Army. He replied, while pointing his finger over at the 30th Brigade Headquarters office building, “I’ve got too much on too many of them for them to do anything about it.” My immediate guess at the time was that he meant the ins and outs of our illegal photo lab situation.

I later figured out it had as much to do with his mother and her political connections as anything else. But I have heard that he had been selling Army photo supplies to certain officers - including medical officers who would write him fake medical excuses, so he could get out of being a real soldier.

Those two clerks/jerks masquerading as official photographers had been in the Army, and assigned to the 30th Arty, for long enough times for them to acquire the army know-how and contacts to scrounge up photo supplies. Unfortunately for me, they never took the time and made the effort to introduce me to the right supply clerks or photographers in other units who could help me to get into a photo equipment and supply scrounging and swapping circuit. Those two Army jerks didn’t mind using their own camera equipment to do the job, because to them it was much better than working at a desk tap-tap-tapping their days away on an Army issue typewriter, or whatever their official jobs were.

I have natural abilities and compulsions to work hard at photography, and I did that for the 30th Arty, despite my film stock running low, then running out at times. I had to buy some film with my own money now and then, and then my film stock would be replenished with any old stuff that my 30th Artillery Brigade Headquarters Battery Public Information Office bosses (non-coms and commissioned officers) could scrounge up for me. I had no choice on the black and white film types that I had to use, and most of it was past its expiration date. No professional photographer wants to have to go shoot a sunny, outdoor job using high speed film that is designed for low light conditions, or visa versa. Nor do we want to use any expired film at all to do a job, unless we want some hazy, muddy looking negatives to print artistic, special effects photographs from.

The Army had trained me for fifteen good weeks, five days a week for seven-eight hours a day to be a photographer. It was top notch training, no doubt about it. I loved that training.

But, when I enlisted and signed up for the United States Army Photographic Laboratory Technician School, my recruiter informed me that the Army only guaranteed that I be trained as a photographer, not that I would work as one. The Army could have assigned me to do any job that they needed me in. The 30th Arty Bgde could have made me work for them as a clerk, a cook, a missile crewman, garbage can scrubber or anything else where they had a slot to fill, but there was no slot for a photographer there. I would have accepted working at any MOS they needed me in, as long as it was legal, there was a slot for me there and they supplied the equipment and supplies.

Despite all of that illegality and immorality, I kept up my good photography work until those gross infractions of rules and regulations caused me too many unnecessary and insurmountable problems.

When a person is in the military, they are government property. If I had taken any kind of legal military action against the 30th Arty for stealing me, in order to make me their personal photographer, or if I had contacted my Congressman about it, or had done anything like that back then, it would have meant the probability of retaliation from the personnel at 30th Arty who were guilty of stealing me as government property. I knew that if they could finagle the paperwork to get me there when it was against Army Rules and Regulations, then they would most likely pull a fast one and send me to the worst duty station possible, or something, before I could do anything about it.

Despite all of that illegality and immorality of my assignment to the 30th Artillery Brigade HHB on Okinawa, I worked hard at being
the best photographer that I could be for the 30th Artillery Brigade Air Defense Hawk and Nike Hercules missile unit on Okinawa, during 1970-71. The 30th Arty Brigade personnel were thrilled by my printed photographs due to the way that my photos of them at work and play turned out real nice.

I had to print photos for publication in our brigade monthly magazine and other army publications, plus for display on our brigade’s bulletin boards. Also, I was always ordered to print extra copies of my photos that were to be given to the troops who were pictured in them. That made me feel quite complete inside, because I knew that my work would be important to those comrades of mine and their families for years and decades to come.

The 30th Arty’s photo lab had been set up, several years before I got there, by a guy named Jim Whitcomb of Houston, Texas. I found Jim through Internet searches using – ”30th Artillery Brigade” + photographer – as a search term. Jim is a successful photographer, and he had been featured in an issue of the American Society of Media Photographer’s magazine, which was on the Internet.

I spoke to Jim on the phone about a year or so ago; we talked for over an hour about how he had scrounged photo equipment and supplies through contacts that he already had had in the military and about the lab being set up illegally in the decontamination chamber, etc.. Not only had Jim been in the 30th Arty Bgde for awhile before he set up the lab, his father was a career soldier. I didn't ask what rank his dad had held, but Jim was an enlisted man who hung out after work on Okinawa with officers, not the enlisted men in the 30th Arty Headquarters Battery, where he had a private room in the barracks. When Jim could not get a promotion in rank, because there was no slot for a photographer in the 30th, an Army General - who was a drinking buddy of Jim's, personally saw that Jim received a promotion.

You can contact Jim at:
Studio Houston Digital Photography
5401 Mitchelldale Suite B2
Houston, Texas
Phone 713 682 0067
Fax 713 682 0067
Email sales@studiohouston.com

I believe that there is government evidence to prove that there was no authorization for the 30th Arty to have any photographers. The evidence is in the morning reports and unit rosters for the 30th Arty Bgde that are on file at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO.. The evidence could possibly be the lack of any entries that state a person with a photography MOS was assigned to the 30th Arty.

Something that can help me must be there. I tried to get all of the 30th Arty Bgde HHB morning reports and unit rosters, but I cannot afford to pay for the research, copying and shipping of them.

I did manage to order an official list of the number of clerks, cooks, etc. that my army unit was composed of, I have a copy of the Table Of Organization and Equipment dated 31 July 1967 for Headquarters and Headquarters Battery Air Defense Artillery Brigade, and there is no slot for a photographer on it.

A Wild Start

In 1970, when I arrived on the Island of Okinawa, I had enough cash in my pocket to buy an Asahi (Honeywell in the states) Pentax Spotmatic Camera, with one Pentax Lens, during my second trip off post. At that time, the Spotmatic was the most popular camera among professional photographers around the world.

I really don’t want to discuss my first trip off post, which occurred only 3½ hours after I landed on Okinawa. You see, we newly arrived soldiers were supposed to stay on our posts for our first three days there, so our Army ID Cards were taken away from us when we landed and kept from us for our first three days on the island. When I took my first trip off post, I didn’t have my Army ID Card, which was the only pass that we soldiers needed to go legally off post. But my newly assigned base, Sukiran, didn’t have any gates guarded by MPs (Military Police), and there were no barriers to stop me from going into town and coming back a bit inebriated. Consequently, I went out bar hopping as soon as I could, and because prostitution was legal over there back then, I had sex with a prostitute for the first time, during my first evening on the island.

That three day rule was good for most new guys, because they often went wild if they went into town before they had a few days to settle in and adjust to being so far away from home. After World War Two, but previous to 1970, many of the GIs who landed on Okinawa -- realizing that they were about 10,000 miles from anybody they knew who could tell their families and friends about their getting loony drunk in the wild and crazy bar scene that was rockin’ and rollin’ on Okinawa at the time -- sometimes went way too wild and got into big trouble. The Army wanted their expensively trained troops to start work at their assigned jobs on Okinawa as soon after landing there as possible, not after spending an extended stay in the hospital and/or stockade. In a worst case scenario, of a wild drunken mistake made by a GI going out for the first time to get drunk and laid, the Army really hated sending bad news to a soldier’s family back home.

Fortunately for me, though, a GI gentleman who had sat next to me on the plane across the Pacific Ocean, when I had flown from the U.S. to Okinawa for the first time, was returning to The Rock (GI jargon for Okinawa) after being home on thirty-day leave. Previous to his leave, he had spent a year on The Rock. On that plane ride he became a true buddy of mine, because he gave me explicit instructions on the ins and outs of the entire bar and babe scene on Okinawa. Also, the way my young mind figured it, I happened to be an experienced booze consumer and was therefore rather well controlled when under the influence. So I exempted myself from that three day rule and headed for the downtown bar and red light district after only 3½ short hours on The Rock.

OK, I can admit it now. I knew I was taking a risk by going AWOL for a few hours, but I was just plain horny and thirsty, so I went into town anyway.

Several days after I had left the East Coast of the U.S. to wait for a few days at Oakland Army Base in California, until the Army flew me to Okinawa on a chartered commercial jetliner, my father sold a 1961 VW Bug for me that I had bought while going to US Army Photo Lab Tech School. He sent me the money during my first week on The Rock. I immediately went to the Post Exchange, the giant main PX (military Wall Mart) on Okinawa, and used some of the cash to buy two more Pentax lenses and some assorted photographer’s necessities like lens filters, lens cleaners and such. Then I went through the PX and did some other shopping. I hit the men’s clothing department and picked out some nice short- sleeved shirts and in-style pants, socks and a belt. I bought a small, used stereo from a guy in my barracks to play part of my record collection that I'd carried with me to Okinawa. I purchased some other odds and ends here and there and so started out on my tour of overseas duty with plenty of civilian amenities to help me feel comfortable in my own skin.

After that, I went out bar hopping again.

Gate Two Street and BC Street in Koza City was where the best wide-open bar district action was, except for the majority of Afro-American servicemen. Some of those guys did party with us Euro-American and Latino-American servicemen and go bar hopping with us, but most GI Soul Brothers stuck to "The Bush."

The Bush was an all black environment. The Soul Brothers had nearly completely segregated themselves out of all the other bar districts on The Rock a long time before I got there.

Oh, that probably isn’t correct. I bet that they had been segregated out of the light-skinned GI’s bar districts way back in the beginning of American troop occupation of the island. Then the black guys had liked what they were left with, because they had made themselves a place of their own that fit their lifestyles and cultural tastes, so they kept it.

I remember going by The Bush while riding in taxis or friends’ cars. It was located down a side street that, I think, lay off a main highway that ran between Gate Two and BC Streets. When I looked down that street, especially on a pay-day night, there were thousands of Soul Brothers walking all over the place in a dark, thick, smoky crowd. White Brothers and Latino Brothers weren’t allowed there, and if they made the mistake of entering The Bush, they got jumped by a bunch of black dudes.

During my time on The Rock, I heard one or two white dudes say that they had gone to The Bush a couple of times with some black friend of theirs, but I don’t know. Maybe it was at the end of the month, when the bar districts were sparsely populated, because most GIs were out of cash. Maybe they knew one bad-ass black dude who could keep the other Soul Brothers from thumping their white faces, but I never saw any white faces in The Bush.

We rarely had any kind of racial segregation in our barracks. We white, black, and brown GIs all usually got along fine while working, living and partying together. There were times when I had some serious conversations with a black GI friend or two, a few of whom had lived through a lot of combat in Vietnam. We felt the same about a many things in our lives, and we partied hard together, but The Bush was off limits to me.

Around 1989, when I was a patient in Ft. Howard Veterans Hospital, I got into a conversation with two African-Americans about The Bush. One was a male Army veteran, who was a patient there at the time, and the other was a female VA employee who was also an Army veteran. Both had been stationed on The Rock during their military service. One day we were swapping memories of our individual experiences on The Rock, and when I mentioned that I knew about The Bush, the male veteran said to me, kindly and sincerely, as he was a buddy of mine, "Ya know, a lot of white guys like to say that they went down into The Bush with some great big, bad-ass black friend of theirs, but they never did; them brothers down there wouldn’t ever have allowed that to happen. They woulda’ jumped both the white and black guy and kicked their asses." The female veteran looked at me and nodded in solemn but friendly agreement and said, "Yep, that’s right, no white guys were ever allowed in The Bush."

Bars on Okinawa were either A-Sign or non A-Sign. An A-Sign bar was designated by a large letter A that was printed on a two by three foot placard nailed in place over the top of the bar’s front entrance. The A stood for Army approved, but it was meant for all branches of the service. It was illegal for GIs to enter a non A-Sign bar. Each bar was inspected by the military before an A-Sign was given to the place. If there was something about a bar that the inspectors didn’t like, then no A- Sign went up. Bars were denied A-Signs because of fire hazards, filth, potential or actual drug activity, etc. If the Okinawan who owned a particular bar didn’t like GIs, he could refuse to have an A-Sign. In some non A-Sign bars, any GI who entered would get his butt kicked real bad, real fast, by the Okinawan men hanging out in the bar, and in a few others it was a definite ear-to-ear throat slice for the errant GI. All Okinawan men knew at least the rudiments of karate. Fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers and school gym teachers taught their male kids karate. Some Okinawan males practiced it religiously, from the time they were little boys until the day they died. There were a few non A-Sign bars which it was OK to go into as far as the bar owners, bartenders and any Okinawan clientele were concerned, but most places that did not have an A-Sign had refused to allow one and thus were 100% dangerous for GIs to enter.

There were good reasons for Okinawan bars not to want American GIs as clientele.

Some GIs drinking in bars were ignorant and would start to insult any Okinawans in the place, try to wreck the joint, and then get into a fight with a bunch of Okinawan men who were lifelong karate experts. Sometimes the Okinawans simply needed to have a private peaceful-and-quiet place where there weren’t any intrusive foreigners around, or maybe they just wanted some place to enjoy their own culture and music and to have some raucous good times. But the most important reason why it was usually no good to have GIs drinking alcohol in a bar alongside Okinawan men was that at least 99% of the Okinawan men did not want anything to do with Okinawan women who had dated a GI. So fights over women were inevitable in bars where Okinawan women were present and GIs and Okinawan men were drinking and thinking of spending time with the same women.

Only Okinawans worked in the civilian bars on The Rock. In a Gate Two/BC Street type of A-Sign bar, there were bartenders, bar bouncers and doormen who were all good at fighting Karate style. When a fight started in an A-Sign bar, between a GI, or GIs, and one of the Okinawans working there, if the GI, or GIs, didn’t give up, back off and get the hell out of there real quick, or get knocked unconscious right away, the unfortunate GIs got the crap Karate kicked out of them by some, or all, of the Okinawan men working in that bar. If any of the fighting occurred outside a bar, then the bouncers and doormen from the other bars in the immediate area came over and jumped into the action and backed up their brethren Okinawans; that way any other GIs in the immediate area would be discouraged from jumping in on the side of the unfortunate GIs. If any GI got knocked on the ground by the bouncers, then the Okinawans all took turns kicking the poor guy.

Rarely would any other GIs step in and try to rescue GIs getting beat up by Okinawans. In most cases, it would have been a bad mistake for the would be rescuers, as they would have been outnumbered and outfought as more Okinawan men in the area jumped into the fight and the Okinawans’ Karate strikes and kicks became more intense, numerous, and vicious. The Okinawans had all the martial arts advantages, along with the highest numbers of available and willing street fighters, who often carried knives; consequently, GIs had little chance of winning any street fights against those odds.

One time I saw two big US Army MPs using their night sticks to push two even bigger drunken Marines down the sidewalk on the opposite side of Gate Two Street. There were several angry bar bouncers following close behind them.

One of those Okinawan bouncers was no more than about four feet tall, but he was a regular Mighty Mouse. The top of his head only came up to about the bottom of the two Marines’ chests. That short bouncer looked almost as wide, at his thick, muscular shoulders, as he was tall; he had his coal black hair all greased down and slicked back, like a 1950s American-style hoodlum, and he was wearing pointed toe shoes with big Cuban heels that had metal cleats on them. His legs were short and solid, and he moved with a steady stride that showed he had some powerhouse kicking abilities in those short legs. As he walked on that sidewalk with a deep sounding thunk, thunk, thunk from his cleated hoodlum heels, it was clear that those boots were made for stomping.

That little powerhouse bouncer kept inviting the two great big dumb Jar Head Marines to come back and visit him any time. The stupidly unafraid Marines were huge; they had no problem looking back over top of the two MPs, who were six foot plus tall and all beefed up themselves. But the two dumb Jar Heads kept grinning at, and steadily insulting, the Okinawan Mighty Mouse stomping down the sidewalk behind them.

That bouncer was not acting tough because the well-armed MPs were between him and his two foolish adversaries; he was tough. I had been on The Rock long enough by then to be able to see clearly that this pair of drunken Jar Heads was lucky the MPs had encountered them in time. Mighty Mouse would have kicked their giant legs out from under them, with crippling, pain inflicting, precision and then bounced all over their big dumb heads and very large bodies like a gymnastic circus performer doing a double trampoline act.

I myself never had any problems like that on Okinawa because, luckily, that kind GI gentleman who had sat next to me on my first plane ride to The Rock had taught me how to avoid trouble with Karate trained bar bouncers. He had taught me that they were mostly very nice fellows until some dumb, drunk GI changed their attitude. He had also instructed me on how not to get hustled by bar girls, what the written and unwritten rules of engagement with prostitutes were, and how The Rock’s numerous steam bath-massage parlors operated. With all of that helpful information ‘under my belt’, the part of my VW Bug money that I didn’t have to spend right away on my camera equipment, which I needed for the photo jobs that the 30th Artillery Brigade made me do, lasted through several weeks of shopping, bar hopping and buying drinks for bar girls, plus a few trips to brothels and steam bath-massage parlors.

The bar girls were only there for conversation. A bar girl would intimate and promise sex to a GI as long as he was buying himself and her drinks, but whenever a GI’s cash ran out, so did she. My buddy on the plane had taught me never to buy a bar girl more than three drinks, and I never did. I liked their company and would buy them the maximum three drinks while talking to them until they had to move on, when the bartender signaled them to do so or after the girl saw that I wasn’t falling for the hustle.

The bar girls, steam-bath girls and prostitutes were all about the same age as I was at the time: twenty years old. I usually enjoyed the company of these working girls, and the feeling often seemed to be mutual. Some of them reminded me of girls back home I had had a crush on during my school days. Others were new flames that I would never get to fully ignite.

After had I finished getting a massage or enjoying some sexcapades, I liked to sit and talk with the young-lady/stranger who had just been so physically intimate with me.

I never used Pidgin English when I talked with Okinawans, it seems to me that when regular English speaking people do that they are belittling Asians. As in, "I come-a from-a Texas, ebby ting-a bigg-a bigg-a in-a Texas." It’s downright ignorant and often emotionally cruel.

When I tried to say some Japanese words and phrases to Okinawans, I sounded just as goofy to them as they did to me, when they tried speaking English. Sometimes it ticked me off when some Okinawan dudes laughed at my Japanese language goofs, so I learned to respect all Okinawans’ limited abilities to speak English.

I spoke English to Okinawans a tad bit slower than I normally talked and with clear diction, sans my Baltimore accent. One of the first questions that I usually asked the Okinawan girls was what high school they used to go to. That’s what I often used to do when I met American girls. The look I would see in an Okinawan girl’s pretty face when I asked her that was one of endearing appreciation of my question. We usually bonded in the next few minutes as if we could go on being together forever.

Unfortunately, in every brothel or massage parlor there was an intercom speaker in the corner of every room and the mamasan or papasan who owned the place, or one of their henchmen, would start yapping over the intercom, telling her to get me out of there. The girl never did that right away. As I would rise in response to the voice on the intercom, she would always put her hand on my thigh and say, "No dats-a OK-a, nex-a customer can-a wait." Then we would talk for a few minutes longer.

The truly great part of it was that many of the girls were desirable in every way.
The worst part of it was that most of them had been sold into their tragic lives by their own fathers.

The majority of the working girls’ fathers had borrowed money from the mamasan or papasan who owned the bar, brothel or massage parlor in order to -- and this is a direct quote from two different sweet young ladies with whom I had just made prepurchased love -- "fix-a da house-a, buy-a da car." Each of the two girls told me that right after most of Okinawa’s ‘working girls’ had graduated from high school, they had been forced to ‘work’ off their fathers' debts.

One girl told me that when she had been assigned to her bedroom in the brothel, where I was visiting her at the time, the mamasan had set her up with a nice selection of new clothes, a small stereo phonograph and some record albums, along with plenty of make-up and toiletries. That girl had never before had so many personal possessions; she was only eighteen years old and from a poor family. Her new possessions made her think that perhaps her life might not be as terrible as she had feared when she had learned that her father had used her as collateral on a loan, and that she had to work as a prostitute to pay off her father’s debt. But then the mamasan informed the poor girl that the cost of all of that stuff had been tacked onto her father’s debt, plus the cost of her room and board. The mamasan also let the girl know right away that out of every four dollars that a GI paid to have sex with her, only $1.50 went toward paying off her father’s debts. Those cruel facts meant that she had to work for several years longer than she had expected and dreaded, often deeply shocking and depressing her.

When the bar, brothel, massage parlor girls were eighteen years old, after studying hard during twelve years of going to school, six days a week, for eleven months a year, life as they had known it was over. If any girl ran away from the mamasan/papasan, who held her in bonded servitude, the Okinawan cops went and fetched her back. It’s a small island, after all: where was she going to hide for long?

They were locked into their unfortunate lives.

They were held in human bondage.

I was aware that most of those girls had not chosen to live the lives they were forced to endure. I believed, and still believe, that if love could have blossomed between one of them and myself, I could have dealt with what she had had to do before I met her. The devil be damned, though, they were all owned and operated by the mamasan or papasan for whom they worked. It was no use trying to get emotionally close to one of those attractive young ladies.

The brothel girls usually aged quite prematurely. They were often burnt out physically, mentally and emotionally by the time they were set free from their bonded, sexual servitude. This was drastically, tragically evident in their old and worn-out looking, but still rather young, faces and bodies. Then they had to struggle to survive because they were basically outcast by Okinawan society and their families, and they were rarely still attractive enough for a GI to want them for his live-in girlfriend, wife, or just a sexual partner and partial financial dependent.

If any former bar girls or massage parlor girls had had sexual intercourse with an American man, then 99% of Okinawan men never, ever wanted anything to do with them. Okinawan men believed that their peckers were always shorter and skinnier than those of most American men, so they did not want to try and sexually satisfy themselves with women whom they believed had been stretched inside by us American guys. That is what several Okinawan men told me, as well as some of my GI buddies, during my stay on The Rock. But it probably had more to do with Asian style racial prejudice and segregation.

Some former Okinawan working girls did marry GIs and went on to have good lives, but most of those had been bar girls or massage parlor girls who had most likely only had premarital sex with one or two GIs who had been their steady boyfriends.

I don’t know how the girls who provided sex for GIs but did not marry one, and who did not marry an Asian man, have managed to get along for the rest of their lives. I would love to see someone write a book about the fates of those former Okinawan working girls.