Chapter Two – 1958-1962
The U. S. Army, The Okinawa Grand Prix, and
Investors Overseas Services (I.O.S.)
(Equivalent to 31 Pages)
October, 1958, I went to Manchester, New Hampshire and enlisted in the U.S. Army for three years!
Why not college or university? Why enlist? Why the Army? Why Manchester, N.H.? There was method in my madness — I was still the same Ted Carter.
As you must know by now, I am a terrible student of things that don’t interest me. When I have a project, it usually becomes an obsession; I want to know more about it than anyone, and from a mechanical point of view as well. Thus music, photography, and car racing figure significantly.
Structured classical learning was not my forté — now that I was out of high school, there was no way I was going to go on immediately to Williams or Yale or the like. I had a good excuse – the draft.
I was sure that after a couple of years to get my objectives and priorities in order, I would have a clear picture of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. The worst thing that could happen to me was that I would be drafted just as I launched my new life. And being drafted meant being an infantryman for two years — slogging through mud, etc.
But if I enlisted in the Army (the Marines was out of the question) my total commitment would be fulfilled in just three years.
If I did well on the aptitude exam, I could pick the MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) that required the longest training in specialized schools, and thus ensure I’d stay out of the mud. So where I took the comparative exam was crucial; I chose sleepy, rural New Hampshire. It worked, I scored the highest score ever recorded… in Manchester, N.H. ;-)
The longest training, some two years, was required for the MOS of Nike Guided Missile Maintenance and Repair. Perfect!
I now had to go to Ft. Dix, New Jersey for Basic Training; I loathed the idea.
First of all, I needed a talisman to protect my soul from the whole concept. I chose my Brooks’ Bros. socks. They were very similar to the long black socks the Army issued, but of course they weren’t the same. So all the time I was in uniform, I was “out of uniform” — punishable. This gave me the quirky satisfaction needed to endure “the system.”
I was in a Company of four Platoons — about 250 people. Each Platoon lived in a barracks with about 30 double-decker bunks and had a communal bathroom with un-partitioned toilets.
I quickly learned that the best way to get through the process was to do everything according to the regulations (except for my socks). I did the marching, the push-ups, the drills, and learned how to handle my M-1 rifle. The only bit of training that I really dreaded was the gas drill. We would have to go into a tear-gas-filled Quonset hut wearing a gas mask. We’d then have to take off the mask, state our name, rank, and serial number, put the mask back on and leave the building. Not for me.
Every day, when we exited our barracks to get into formation on the main street at the front of the building, we had to run past the door of the furnace room. The next week, toward the end of November, I pulled furnace detail in the small room dominated by an ancient, coal-burning furnace. Firing it up provided a modicum of warmth to the barracks, and fired up my hopes of avoiding the gas chamber — the door’s latch didn’t work very well and I left it very slightly ajar. Next day, we had to exercise at a far-off range. Enroute to the trucks, I side-stepped right into the furnace room. When the Company left, I went to the library. Later in the day, I went back into the furnace room, and as my buddies ran by, I jumped back into the line and no one was the wiser.
I used this technique quite often, and, of course, never had to endure the gas torture!
Basic Training done, I was promoted to Private First Class, and I met my parents at The Lake Placid Club for Christmas. They were all for my decision to join the Army, but we did discuss my doing something for the long term. Photography was a passion that seemed to stick. I decided to enroll in a correspondence course that, if I persevered, could grant me a BA in photography; I was accepted by Stafford University in London.
As usual, during the season, there were many recognizable faces and international dignitaries staying at The Club. A fan of books about Colditz Castle, I discussed the war with Jim Donovan, the famous WWII spy.
But the most fun was going home. I had been introduced to Andy McBurney, the father of some friends I’d met this season, who was a Vice-President of the New York Central Railroad. He had a private car (with windshield wipers on the outside of every window) and offered to take me with his family as far as Harmon, NY where my Dad would meet me. It was so exciting, I got very drunk, and wobbled up and down the car singing, “When the Saints Come Marching In.”
Next stop: U.S. Radio School at Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey.
Actually, all I was taught was how to make a basic radio. The most important thing I learned at Ft. Monmouth was that the most powerful person in the Army was the Company Clerk. Company Clerks cut orders to ship people all over the world, assign and reassign people to various positions, and, for example, don’t have to stand inspections.
At the end of my school at Ft. Monmouth, there was a long delay in issuing my orders to go on to advanced training at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Coincidentally, my Company found itself temporarily without a Company clerk… I volunteered.
I could type and file and, working with the First Sergeant, I quickly learned how to fill in the mandatory Morning Report, and administratively handle the Company. The First Sergeant made me an acting Corporal; I sewed on the double stripes and enjoyed the privileges of not needing to queue, and having a comfortable, private room. It took three months for my orders to come through. In the meantime, I changed my MOS to Administrative Assistant.
On weekends, I often drove to Manhattan. My brother, Chris, gave me permission to stay at the Yale Club on his membership. I always carried a suit and a sports jacket; the Army’s green, uniform dress-trousers matched my Abercrombie & Fitch jacket — not by chance.
One evening in the bar of the Yale Club, Mr. Gimbel of Gimbel’s bought me a Vodka, and complimented me on my jacket and especially my trousers. I was so amused but didn’t tell him they were G.I. Issue.
That was a bizarre evening. I moved from the bar to one of the dark-green, horse-shoe shaped, leather banquettes opposite. I had another drink and ordered dinner. Suddenly, I needed to go to the bathroom very badly; then equally suddenly, I didn’t.
Now, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a small yellow stream moving around the curve of the banquette. I threw my napkin on it and strided to the men’s room. One leg of my trousers was many shades darker than the other; yes, I had peed in my pants! I went upstairs to bed, never thinking I was ever going to tell anyone this.
Sunday I went back to Ft. Monmouth, picked up my orders of transfer to Redstone Arsenal, drove my Volvo to Huntsville, and checked in with Personnel. There was some confusion due to my MOS, so instead of enrolling me into the Guided Missile School, I became its Company Clerk! (I was still wearing my Corporal stripes.)
Wikipedia: Gimbel Brothers (Gimbels) was an American department store corporation from 1887 until 1987. The company is known for creating the Gimbels Thanksgiving Day Parade, the oldest parade in the country. Macy's did not start a parade until 1924. Gimbels was also once the largest department store chain in the country. By the time it closed in 1987, Gimbels had 36 stores throughout the United States.
Everything went swimmingly; my First Sergeant thought I was “terrific;” Werner von Braun was scuttering around building the Saturn Rocket that would take men into space; and I joined the local SCCA chapter and competed in rallies and gymkhanas.
At the meets, I fell so in love with a classic MG TD that I traded my more valuable Volvo for it. I spent every free hour in Redstone’s hobby garage, totally stripped it down, souped-up the engine, and repainted it a lovely charcoal-grey.
This was my Christmas card:
Enroute to a dinner party, top down in the cool air, I headed up the twisty mountain road outside of town. Suddenly, fog swept down and I couldn’t see the road. I opened the little driver-side door (it hinged at the rear), and slowed to follow the dotted yellow line down the center of the road. Wisp, wisp, wisp — the lines went by; …then I came to!
I had driven off a cliff and my forehead was torn open by the top of the windshield - I could put my finger tips inside my head! I crawled up the hill, and flagged down an 18-wheeler that took me to the hospital at the base. I had forty stitches inside my head and forty to close up the gash.
I mended (the car didn’t), and went back to work. One evening, my First Sergeant was hysterical. He was in his room screaming for me. I made him sit on his bunk, and using every bit of “bedside manner” I had, managed to calm him down.
His CO was pressuring him to find out what had happened to one of the students that was supposed to have come down from Ft. Monmouth to attend his vaunted Nike Guided Missile Program. The First Sergeant’s career was at stake and, just moments ago, he had finally figured out that I was the missing person. Why had my MOS been changed, and why didn’t anyone spot it?! On top of that, I wasn’t even a Corporal!
I convinced him that it wasn’t his fault, and that there was no point in pursuing it because I was due for overseas assignment anyway. It worked.
The next week, the head of Personnel called me in and said that while I was very valuable to him as a Company Clerk, I really should disappear asap by fulfilling my obligatory stint abroad - where did I want to go?
As long as I needed to go, I best go somewhere exotic. The East China Sea sounded romantic, and since I had a brushing acquaintance with secret stuff, like missiles, etc., Okinawa seemed natural.
I took a military DC-7 (8 hours) to Oakland to pick up another propeller flight to Okinawa via Guam two days later. (The military wasn’t using passenger jets in those days.)
I’d never been to San Francisco and I looked forward to seeing the town. Donning my trusted sports jacket and green trousers, I went to the landmark bar, “The Top of the Mark.”
I hadn’t sat at the bar for five minutes when a good-looking, older (over 30 :-) man came over and bought me a drink. (What was it about that jacket and trousers?!) I was such an ingénue that I didn’t know that accepting a drink is tantamount to accepting anything that might follow. But he was charming and convinced me to have dinner with him at a nearby restaurant. It was a cute, rustic, Italian place with exposed brick walls and romantic lighting. I was getting nervous.
Following my best instincts, when he went to the men’s room, I went out the front door, into a taxi, and was back in Oakland in no time!
The flight was sooo long. Finally, we landed in Guam to refuel; we were only halfway to Okinawa.
In the airport bookshop, I bought a guide to scuba diving. The only time I had had scuba gear on was in the Ransom School swimming pool. It was a Scott Hydro-Pac, a full-face model (not like an Aqua-Lung with separate regulator and mask) — just like putting your head in a bucket of water. I didn’t like it at all.
I read the book chapter by chapter enroute to Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa. (Living on an island, I never know whether I should say I live in Okinawa or on Okinawa; I still don’t.)
I was assigned to the Personnel Department of the U.S. Army Ordnance Group at Machinato. Machinato is roughly in the middle of the island on the west coast, a bit south of Kadena and north of the capital city of Naha.
We lived in “typhoon-proof,” three-storey, concrete buildings incorporating offices, mess halls, and living quarters. The living arrangements were open-plan rooms with typical Army cots divided by steel gym lockers.
Our bunks and lockers had to be ready for inspection without notice. I learned it was easier to spray my boots with glossy automotive lacquer than polish them. I never wore them anyway — I was an Admin specialist/brat-face, and “didn’t have to go to formations or stand inspections.”
My job was simple, and I soon got promoted to Specialist Fourth Class, equal to a Corporal.
The Scuba Club
After scouting the island, I was ready for my new “project.” I put an ad in the Stars and Stripes, the Army’s international newspaper:
“Scuba Diving Club forming; please contact Sp4 Carter.”
About 20 people eventually signed up. I rented a classroom, and every week covered the next chapter of the book I had bought in Guam. My students didn’t know I got my lesson plans from a book; they trusted me and were very eager.
One week, we all went out to find used CO2 fire extinguishers, and had the steel tanks chemically cleaned and sand blasted. The next week we formed sheet metal bands and fashioned harnesses.
Then we cast lead weights for our own-made weight belts; finally, we bought new regulators and fins at the PX, et voilà, we were fully equipped!
At last it was time to actually get in the water. We got inner tubes, diving flags, and ropes. In small groups, I taught them the buddy system.
Then I took them down off the reef; it was the first time for me (unless you count my misadventure in the Ransom School swimming pool four years earlier). We practiced all the safety drills like switching mouthpieces and masks under water, and became truly proficient.
When there wasn’t a typhoon warning, I led them at least once a week for almost a year before I moved to a new base up-island. The club continued for years.
Okinawa, blow by blow...
Nowadays, Okinawa is threatened frequently by typhoons. In the early ‘60’s, the season for severe typhoons lasted about three months but the island would be at an Alert Level for nearly eight!
My desk job was monotonous. I rifled through the headquarters’ files looking for an idea. Can you believe it, I found a regulation that required someone to be on constant typhoon patrol whenever the island was on alert?! Guess who got appointed?
Vacating my desk, I was assigned a jeep and a radio. The jeep worked; the radio didn’t. Well, it did, but there wasn’t anyone at the other end!
So I spent nearly every day roaming the beaches and inlets of this most beautiful island. I knew all the teeny towns like the back of my hand, and I learned enough Okinawan to teach English. I even learned how to get the young students to pronounce “L” and “R” correctly.
When I was there, Okinawa was under United States Military Government of the Ryukyu Islands. Today, Okinawa is a prefecture of Japan.
Wikipedia: Okinawa Prefecture is the southernmost prefecture of Japan. It comprises hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long. The Ryukyus extend southwest from Kyushu (the southwesternmost of Japan's main four islands) to Taiwan. The Okinawa Prefecture encompasses the southern two thirds of that chain. Naha, Okinawa's capital, is located in the southern part of Okinawa Island.
Near the end of World War II, in 1945, the US Army and Marine Corps invaded Okinawa with 185,000 troops. A third of the civilian population were killed; a quarter of the civilian population were killed during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa alone. The dead, of all nationalities, are commemorated at the Cornerstone of Peace. After the end of World War II in 1945 the Ryukyu independence movement developed, while Okinawa was under United States Military Government of the Ryukyu Islands administration for 27 years. During this "trusteeship rule", the United States established numerous military bases on the Ryukyu islands.
Since 1960, the U.S. and Japan have maintained an agreement that allows the U.S. to secretly bring nuclear weapons into Japanese ports. The Japanese tended to oppose the introduction of nuclear arms into Japanese territory by the government's assertion of Japan's non-nuclear policy and a statement of the Three Non-Nuclear Principles. Most of the weapons were alleged to be stored in ammunition bunkers at Kadena Air Base. Between 1954 and 1972, 19 different types of nuclear weapons were deployed in Okinawa, but with fewer than around 1,000 warheads at any one time.
My jeep and I explored every nook and cranny: the caves where the last fighters died, the cliffs from which they hurled themselves, and the turtle-back tombs where they are buried.
In the early 60’s, the Okinawans were gregarious and marvellously friendly. Remember, if anyone had a reason to dislike Americans, it was certainly the Okinawans, but they didn’t. I don’t know about today.
One day, my goof-off job bit me on the backside; we had a real typhoon. Typhoon Nancy: 215 mph winds – the strongest winds ever measured; rain horizontal! My jeep was blown across the parking lot sideways; I watched plywood storm shutters peel away, layer by layer; and my pinkie ring (normally, almost impossible to remove) came off! There were 173 deaths, and there was no one on the other end of the radio!
The Scrap House
The streets were littered with flotsam and jetsam. I got an idea — let’s build a house. Jeff, a buddy from my office, had a great sense of humor, and a decrepit motor scooter. Puttering around not far from our headquarters, we discovered an empty, flat piece of land overlooking the East China Sea about the size of a tennis court.
I welded “L” shaped brackets fore and aft on either side of the scooter, and we wobbled along the roads loading it up with lumber from the typhoon.
We traced a 30 x 12-foot outline on the ground and dug 3-foot-deep holes every six feet along the lines. We put a piece of 2x4 flat on the bottom of each hole and buried a 6-foot 4x4 on top. So we had fifteen posts sticking 3-feet out of the ground and we connected all of them with horizontal 2x6’s, giving us a 30 x 12 platform foundation. It was easy to cover all this with plywood and we had a great sea-viewing platform. In time, we built 2x4-framed walls and added a lean-to roof. By the time we couldn’t find any more wood, the “house” had three rooms — theoretically, a large living room with a bedroom on either side.
It was great fun building, but I never even stayed in it one night.
Six Little Indians
I put a CB radio in my mother’s car when I was at Horace Greeley, and loved to chat. I thought about getting an Amateur Radio Operators (ham) License but was too impatient to learn the required Morse Code. My office in Machinato seemed to breed talent – a colleague had a ham license, and a nice 250cc Yamaha bike. He let me borrow both.
The CO, a young, ingenuous Lieutenant allowed me to use a corner of his office to set up a desk with built-in radio consoles. Needless to say, I elbowed him out in about a week, and had my own radio studio! The call sign was:
KR6LI — “King Roger, 6 Little Indians.”
I erected a huge antenna on the roof and tuned it to San Francisco. Most mornings, I’d CQ, flip the receive switch, and hear a friend in the Bay Area stirring his coffee.
When the Lieutenant started getting antsy, I offered to record American baseball games at night and play them back for our troops during the day. It worked; he left me alone.
A Long Weekend in Hong Kong
I’d accumulated some leave time and grabbed a MATS (Military Air Transport Service) flight to Hong Kong. I checked into a flea-bag hotel off Nathan Road, and went down to a bar next door. It was full of U.S. Air Force pilots who were drinking MiG-21s — shots of Drambuie and Scotch (Straight Up Rusty Nail) — deadly. We ended the evening racing — pulling rickshaw drivers around in their own rickshaws! Typical G.I. drunkenness in those days.
The next day I had a suit made (’natch), and ordered a custom leather case, lined with suede-covered foam rubber, for my two Rolleiflexes. I don’t know why I had two; I think I didn’t want to run out of film too fast. That evening, back at the bar, the pilots told me they had seen a Hollywood movie being made in front of the Peninsula Hotel.
In the morning, I picked up a dozen copies of LIFE magazine, and headed for the Pen with my Rollei’s around my neck. As I approached the movie set, a script girl tried to fend me off.
“Have a complimentary copy,” I said as I brushed past her.
“What, what? you can’t do that!”
That evening I was being wined and dined by Wesley Ruggles, the producer; Tim Whelan, Jr., the director, and the California crew. Somehow they thought I had something to do with LIFE magazine, and would I “enjoy going on site with them to the New Territories?” They gave me some details: The film was called “Out of the Tiger’s Mouth,” and was about a little Chinese girl and her brother trying to escape from Mainland China to Hong Kong. (It was released in 1962.)
I went with them to the New Territories — a rural region, far north of Kowloon and south of the border with China. It was incredibly primitive compared to Okinawa; I saw an animal there that looked like a mixture of pig and dog. It was all very strange and fun; as was my adventure! (The photographs would be great for my BA at Stafford.)
We all got back into Kowloon and I made excuses about “having to get back to New York;” they gave me a copy of the script, and we agreed to stay in touch.
The next day, I was returning on a MATS flight to Okinawa and had to be in my uniform to get on board. Waiting for the flight, I was sitting in the departure hall when Mr. Ruggles strode up! Whoops!
“What are you doing in that uniform?!” he asked.
I bluffed that I had received an assignment during the night to go to Okinawa on a story, and had to borrow a uniform.
“Funny coincidence that it has C A R T E R stencilled on the name tag!” he said cynically.
Just then my flight was called… I ran!
That wasn’t the only stormy moment.
I ran through the rain to a small, four-engine, Air Force, V.I.P. plane. Inside, it had a couple of seats and a bunk bolted to the fuselage. Three Generals and I were the only people on board. Halfway to Okinawa, we hit a squall line and each General, loving the challenge, vied to take turns at the yoke! The “musical chair” routine included the bunk, and the man stretched out on it would lift into the air, then slam back into the blankets as the plane rode out the storm.
My new suit fell apart a few weeks later; so much for Hong Kong in 1960.
In my position, although I wasn’t in it very often, I would communicate with other Army bases as to their personnel requirements. One of my best friends was Sp5 Latham at the 137th Ordnance Company in the north of the island.
Latham was soon to return to the United States and suggested that come up and have a look with the idea that I would replace him. After a long bus ride through beautiful countryside and dazzling views of the emerald East China Sea, the immaculate property had a motor pool, a rec-room/library, and a few one-storey barracks and BOQs. Looked a lovely spot. On top of that, the two-bunked bedrooms had built-in modern closets and bookcases, and each room had a houseboy assigned to it who did all the cleaning, shoe polishing, bed making, and laundry!
Innocent as it looked, there was much more going on. What you don’t know is that the fence is a force-field security device that “sees” anything approaching it from either side, and what you don’t see are the kennels for the guard dogs; the underground, special-weapons, storage facilities; and the underground headquarters building (under the flag). At the time (if not now), this was probably one of the most important facilities in the entire Asian theater, with most vital and top-secret responsibilities.
As I said, the office was underground. The door, down a dozen steps, was probably a foot thick; there was very sophisticated, positive-pressure, air-conditioning; and one thing’s for sure, if there were trouble anywhere in the world, a dozen trucks from the motor pool would whisk everyone to Kadena Air Force Base and back to the “Good ole, U.S. of A.”
It was worth enlisting for three years to live like this!
I took Latham’s place as Company Clerk under First Sergeant MacCracken. Captain (he later became Major) Sims was our CO.
So the personnel consisted of Dog Handlers “from Georgia,” Nuclear Physicists “from Princeton,” and a few motor mechanics and admin types. Fascinating.
My most important job was typing up the Morning Report. These were the days of mechanical typewriters and the Morning Report had to be perfect — no erasures, no strike-overs. This report kept tabs on every person in the Company.
One day, a new second Lieutenant arrived. He was on the nuclear side and very self-important. He thought he would impress Capt. Sims, and be a disciplinarian. As I was the most visible in the office, he started with me …
“Why haven’t I seen you on parade?” he jeered.
My response was easy, looking at a clipboard on my desk, I said,
“Gee, Lieutenant, I see there’s an opening for your MOS in Korea. You want to stay or would you prefer to be transferred? I can cut the records myself right here.”
I didn’t see him again for weeks.
I concentrated on my job, and spent my free time in the library. There was a sound-proof listening room where I studied classical music, and sometimes “conducted” Offenbach’s Gaîté Parisienne.
I had a particular friend who really was a dog handler from Georgia. He wanted to learn how to play the drums. I tried to teach him but when he didn’t get the beat, I’d hit him on the head with his drumsticks. The sound-proof room absorbed the lessons.
Another friend was better; I bought him a drum set. I don’t really know why.
Occasionally, I went south to restaurants and bars in Koza near Kadena.
There was a good Japanese restaurant in the Awase Meadows Shopping Center. One evening, I was sitting at the bar when a First Lieutenant came over and offered me a drink. He asked where I was stationed, and took unusual interest when I said I worked up north. He tried plying me with drinks and kept up a round of questions that bordered on spying.
The next day, I told Major Sims about the incident and he launched an investigation. I was questioned by the MPs and a series of plain-clothes security officers. Later I heard that the Lieutenant had been court-martialed. As I said, our outfit’s mission was classified, and the Army took security very seriously. If you didn’t need to know something, you shouldn’t be interested – Need to Know; that was the catchphrase.
I didn’t need to know about the storage and maintenance activities at the base but one day I needed to check some administrative procedures in the huge underground facility. During my visit, the officer in charge asked if I’d like to see one of the nuclear weapons!
It was mechanically beautiful — a large sphere with multi-colored external wiring and an elegant control panel. (I thought to myself, “What a shame to destroy such an intricately elaborate device.”) I was told that the deadliest of the weapons stored there, were not nuclear bombs. I didn’t need to know any more, and didn’t ask.
With today’s continual domestic and international violence on CNN, it must be surprising that, at twenty years old, I had never seen or experienced violence of any kind… until one night on a bus from Koza.
I came and went by military bus. With a Marine base nearby and a Naval base on the same route, the bus service on Highway 13 was regular.
Returning from an evening at the bars, I was seated near the front of the bus. As it lurched along the winding road in the wilderness, there were rumblings behind me.
“There’s gunna to be white blood spilt.”
I got up to see what looked to me like a bus-full of Marines in night make-up. One of them was in the aisle, swinging from the roof hand-rails.
I needed to get to forward.
When I moved, the “swinger’s” feet clobbered me on the back of the head and I went sprawling. Now others were getting out of their seats.
Then, the biggest of them all, threw me into an empty window seat, sat down next to me and… with one gesture to the mob, stopped what might have been very serious - that was the closest I came to combat in the Army!
Back to the office. I don’t remember the significance of my editorial at the end of a basic, weekly announcement bulletin, but for what it’s worth, here it is:
137TH ORDNANCE COMPANY
APO 331, San Francisco, California
- - - - - B U L L E T I N - - - - -
BULLETIN NUMBER 2, 3 August 1961
I had enlisted in October of ‘58 and would have been discharged in October of ‘61. But, when one’s overseas assignment is complete, and if you are near to your normal discharge date, the Army lets you get out when you return home from overseas instead of incurring the costs of reassigning you in the States for just a few months. So, since my overseas assignment was nearly done, I was getting out about a month early, and was counting the days.
August 15, 1961
During the early years of the Cold War, West Berlin was a geographical loophole through which thousands of East Germans fled to the democratic West. In response, the Communist East German authorities built the Berlin Wall that totally encircled West Berlin. It was thrown up overnight, on August 13, 1961.
On August 15th, the U.S. Army reacted by immediately extending everyone’s duty for an indefinite period.
It was a shock! The minute before the announcement, I was a “short-timer” — counting the days before I would go home. Now, none of us had a clue as to when we would get out. We all had a lot more time to do than the day before — at least all the way to the end of one’s initial enlistment. In my case, instead of three years, it would come to three years, three months, and eleven days!
Just as some women buy a new hat “to feel better,” I went down to Machinato and bought an Austin-Healey 3000 sports car! It was my 21st birthday and I’d dreamt of having an Austin-Healey for years.
I tore all over the island. There was an island-wide speed limit of 30 mph, but I’d cheat. Frankly, it was very dangerous because the rural Okinawans didn’t have any regard for automobiles. Never having been in one, most of them had no idea of the limitations of steering or braking, and would wander onto the road regardless of the traffic.
One day in mid-September, poking around isolated villages and onto dirt tracks, I bumped up a rise and found myself on an old, abandoned airfield. For twenty minutes, I squealed around the taxiways and screamed down the runways. Then I stopped and just looked…
I didn’t see the worn-out field of scraggly grass and stained concrete; I saw flags flying, crowds waving, cars racing; I saw The First Annual Okinawa Grand Prix!
I had discovered Yomitan Air Strip, and my new “project.”
Wikipedia: Yontan (Yomitan) Airfield was originally established by Imperial Japanese Army in 1944 as Kita Airfield. During the Battle of Okinawa on April 1, 1945, United States Marine Corps and United States Army forces seized the airfield on the first day of the landing. It was quickly repaired and became the first airfield on Okinawa to be used by the American forces. Later, it was developed into a major American base for Army, Marine, and Navy aircraft. Boeing B-29 Bockscar landed at Yomitan after the successful atomic bombing of Nagasaki. By 1950, Yontan was redesignated as a parachute drop training facility due to its runways not being feasible for large/jet aircraft operations. By that time, local residents were started farming at the airfield with the tacit permission of the Air Force, there were no fences installed on the base boundaries except administrative areas.
In my mind, my obsession with racing, my membership in the Sports Car Club of America, and my many weekends at Lime Rock, Connecticut winning events in my graduation Volvo PV444, made me an expert.
Without telling anyone, I spent hours driving around the many variations provided by the taxiways and runways and devised a challenging “course.” I measured it out by foot, made scale drawings, determined the flag-station positions, where grandstands might go, and how many ambulances and firetrucks would be needed.
Now I’m a firm believer in “Balls, Bullshit, Imagination, and Organization” and I knew this project could work.
Mid-October, I completed the S.O.P. and contacted the president of the Okinawa Sports Car Club, Mr. William Baxter, the automobile dealer from whom I bought my car. I presented the proposal and he said, “Let us know when you’re going to hold it and we’ll come and watch.”
Not what I was expecting.
I called the headquarters of the United States Military Government of the Ryukyu Islands and made an appointment with the Commanding General of Okinawa.
I didn’t tell them I was the Sp4 Company Clerk of the 137th Ordnance Company; I told them I was the Far East Representative of the Sports Car Club of America, of course!
I put on my Brooks Bros. seersucker suit, went to meet the General, and presented the idea of creating an annual grand prix under the concept of President Kennedy’s People to People Program — a way of promoting cross-cultural understanding and cooperation.
I explained that I would need, among other things, the use of Yomitan Air Strip, twelve field intercoms connect by three miles of wire, three miles of temporary fencing, portable grandstands for 250 people, two water tankers, five ambulances with crews, and two firetrucks with crews.
The General laughed, “It’s a great idea! I can take care of all of it except for Yomitan. I don’t have the authority to grant you the use of the air strip. That’s under the auspices of COMSUBPAC in Hawaii. Get their approval and we’ll go from there.”
Get it? Balls, Bullshit, Imagination, and Organization. I booked a MATS flight to Hawaii.
Now I didn’t exactly know what COMSUBPAC meant but every document I ever saw or originated in Okinawa had cc. COMSUBPAC. Today, as I write this, I learned as follows:
Wikipedia: Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC) is the principal advisor to the Commander, United States Pacific Fleet (COMPACFLT) for submarine matters. The Pacific Submarine Force (SUBPAC) includes attack, ballistic missile and auxiliary submarines, submarine tenders, floating submarine docks, deep submergence vehicles and submarine rescue vehicles throughout the Pacific.
The Force provides anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare, precision land strike, mine warfare, intelligence, surveillance and early warning and special warfare capabilities to the U.S. Pacific and strategic deterrence capabilities to the U.S. Strategic Command.
ComSubPac's mission is to provide the training, logistical plans, manpower and operational plans and support and tactical development necessary to maintain the ability of the Force to respond to both peacetime and wartime demands.
My meeting went swimmingly and I returned to Okinawa with all necessary approvals. This was going to be fun!
The beginning of November, I had another meeting with Bill Baxter. I explained I had the go-ahead, and thought the event should be held under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce (of which he was also the president) and the Okinawa Sports Car Club. The Chamber and the Club actually didn’t have to do anything but take credit for the event. I would be responsible for all Operations including dealing with the Army. The members of the club would be the competitors. I would train the drivers how to race, and the flagmen how to control. I would also organize the publication of the race program and the selling of the advertising therein.
When I told him that all the cars would need to pass strict safety regulations, have proper safety belts, and racing tires, Bill started rubbing his hands. Yes, this was going to be fun!
The next week, Bill said the club was very excited and asked me to be a member and vice-president.
Every weekend after that, I conducted a driving school and a flagman school.
So my days were filled with the usual Company Morning Reports and my evenings with planning the Grand Prix.
My Dad retired the year I joined the Army and my parents spent a considerable time traveling. They decided to spend Christmas in Okinawa — Major Sims got nervous. No one had ever heard of a soldier’s parents visiting Okinawa; I think he thought they must be part of a Senate Investigation Committee. Nope, they just wanted to see their “Teddy boy.”
I booked us all into the small Dai-Ichi Hotel in Naha.
We toured the island, visited Major Sims at my base, and went to see my Scrap House — it had disappeared completely, even the foundation posts! That’s why the road signs are made of steel-reinforced concrete.
One of my favorite night spots was the Enlisted Man’s Club on Kadena Air Base. The base was on the itineraries of some of the best known entertainers in the world — I had seen Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald performing there. I took my parents to see it. All of a sudden I saw the place through their eyes, and the scales fell off mine. Values tend to change in the face of different cultures. Since then, I’ve discovered mine get stronger.
The beginning of January, my parents went on to the Caribbean and I settled down to doing my job and planning the grand prix.
Three days later, Major Sims walked in to my office and said, “Well, I guess congratulations are in order, your tour is over. Next week you are going back to the States and to be honorably discharged!”
Stunned, I said I couldn’t possibly go home! That I was in the middle of organizing the First Annual Okinawa Prix, and that I would have to be discharged here in Okinawa. Thank God he was a reasonable man and would do what he could, as long as I had a sponsor.
I went to see Bill Baxter. He applied for a visa for me, and February 1st hired me as Sales Manager, Automotive Division, Baxter Trading Company! Except for a temporary summer position at the Reader’s Digest across from home in Lawrence Farms (Chapter One), this was my first job.
I rented a ten tatami-mat house (180 sq. ft. — a tatami is 3 feet by 6 feet) with a cold-water pipe outside, in a village in the countryside. I wore geta (elevated wooden “flip-flops” that didn’t; flip-flop, that is) and was the only “round-eye” in the village.
The Baxter Trading Company offered the American Motor’s Rambler, known as the most economical, sensible cars made in America; Jaguar (Bill’s wife bought him the only one we had), Ferrari (not really, but it looked good on the stationery), and I guess almost anything we could buy and sell on. There wasn’t much of a market in Okinawa, and our service department consisted of one kindly, Chinese mechanic.
Rambler was a decent car, and it was inexpensive. The father of a classmate at Hotchkiss was Roy Chapin, the President of American Motors. They had a special program for overseas buyers who could take delivery of their new car in Carson City, Nevada. So this was very convenient for service men and women in Okinawa who would return to the United States via the West Coast.
Here I am manning the Baxter Trading Company stand at the Okinawa Motor Show.
The Okinawa Grand Prix Circuit is on the floor, far right.
Taking the bit between my teeth, I would go to one of the entrance gates of Kadena AF Base loaded with Rambler brochures. As each driver slowed down to show his ID, I would toss a brochure in the window. Bill gave me a big office, and I sold 22 Ramblers in my first month!
In March, after my selling successes, I converted a storefront on the main street in Machinato into my apartment. I put up a plywood partition to make a separate bedroom. There was a bathroom with a squat toilet (if you don’t know, don’t ask) and a cold-water pipe served as a shower.
In May, correspondence with Stafford University was getting hectic. I had been diligently following the syllabus for the BA – Photography Degree Program, which I found very simple, and it was now time for me to take the final exam. I went back to Major Sims to see if he would proctor my taking the exam, and it went off without a hitch.
Nearby was the Army’s Hobby Garage where I met Harry Gima, a Hawaiian civilian who worked for the Army. He was a precise mechanic who was building a go-kart. The welds flowed into the tubes like mercury — I’d never seen such beautiful work. I got inspired, bought a go-kart, and built a covered trailer (a la Briggs Cunningham). A group of us raced in parking lots.
I also joined the Okinawa Yacht Club; the Baxters were regulars. There were class sailboat races every weekend and always an extra boat for me to use. The club was very social, a good way to enjoy the ex-pat community, and, at 21, being the youngest by far, I was a curiosity.
In 1962, in Okinawa, there was little chance to have a sensitive meeting of the minds or bodies. I visited all the bars in Naha; they were all attractively traditional with no more than five stools, but none were very gay in any sense of the word.
A young Japanese movie star came into my life for a weekend of sailing, but the weekend ended with him sprawled under the cold shower nursing a bottle of Crème de Menthe!
Life did have its funny moments: I vaguely remember trysts in a graveyard, and wondering why six-packed eighteen-year-olds wrap themselves with Ace Bandages under their shirts.
April saw lots of sports car activity: slaloms at Yomitan, more driver training. One night I spun my car on some gravel and it careened down a narrow country road bouncing off the high banks, first the nose, then the tail.
I found a car body repair shop with some ingenious people who could work galvanized sheet metal as though it were molten glass. I commissioned them to repair the car and the result was so wonderful, I decided to build a custom race car for the Grand Prix, and sold the Austin-Healey.
British Motors made something called an MG Midget, they also built almost the same thing that was marketed as the Austin-Healey Sprite. I asked Bill to find one, and the shop built a new body. It ended up looking sort of like a miniature E-Type Jaguar. It was light and fast.
Bireley’s was a local soda soft-drink bottler; the president was a member of the Yacht Club and he was interested in sponsoring me in the Grand Prix. So in return for a super-charger, I agreed to paint the car in his livery. It was even faster now.
On behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, Bill came up with a brilliant idea – hold a local soap box derby to help promote the Grand Prix, and sponsor the winner to compete in the World Championship Soap Box Derby in America. The Soap Box Derby is a youth soap-box car racing program which has been run in the United States since 1934. World Championship finals are held each July at Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio. Using standardized wheels with precision ball bearings (provided by the organizers), the gravity-powered racers start at a ramp on top of a hill, attaining speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.
We ordered a set of standard wheels from Akron, and a group of local lads built the racer. (The image above is just an example, not the one built in Okinawa) On June 24, hundreds of villagers cheered the timed runs down a steep road near Yomitan. The winner was appropriately laurelled and prepared to go to Ohio!
Again, thinking ahead, it didn’t take a genius to know that tourism would be one of the hottest industries in the years to come; I enrolled in Stafford’s two-year Master of Science Degree Course – MS/Hospitality & Tourism Management.
I started cold-calling shops up and down the main street of Koza selling advertising for the race program. In addition to a print ad, two gentlemen wanted to put their company’s name on the Start/Finish banner that would be hung across the track. Clever — their name would be in every start and finish photo. The name was IOS — Investors Overseas Services.
That month Bill ordered four Michelin X tires for each competing car; nice sale!
Then it was August 17th and 18th
Flags were flying, crowds were waving, and cars were racing;
it was the First Annual Okinawa Grand Prix!
Eleven months from conception, the race weekend was a reality. The Army delivered twelve field intercoms connected by three miles of wire, three miles of temporary fencing, portable grandstands for 250 people, two water tankers, five ambulances with crews, and two firetrucks with crews.
Some 30 motorcyclists competed on Saturday, and, on Sunday, The Grand Prix itself.
The Soap Box Derby winner dropped the green flag, there were some 250,000 spectators, and 30 entrants (most of whom I had taught to race).
Bill Baxter won overall First Place in his E-Type Jaguar and I won in my class.
When I took my victory lap, the local hero, who had arrived back from Akron, sat next to me — undoubtedly the happiest boy in the world.
Here are the various winners with their trophies, mustachioed Bill Baxter is holding the silver coffee pot and on his left is Harry Gima, who raced an MG Midget. I am seated front left:
After the finish, my favorite General walked over and said he thought it was all magnificent, but he was sorry to say that at 5:00 the next morning, there would be a parachute drop on the field!
At 11:30 that night, I was still coiling up the rope fences and had to miss the “People to People” party.
The same day I got the letter from the Chamber, I received my diploma from Stafford University. I had achieved a 3.61 Grade Point Average, and graduated Magna Cum Laude!
It turned out to be the “Last Annual Okinawa Grand Prix” but more excitement was around the corner fueled by “Balls, Bullshit, Imagination, and Organization,” and was the start of a whole new chapter in my life.
END OF CHAPTER TWO
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