There’s something I’ve been thinking about for more than 40 years.
Something I did back when I was a 33-year-old family man with a wife and two small children to support. Something so incredibly stupid, so likely to end in disaster, that to this day, I still do not understand why I did it.
Maybe you can explain it.
It happened on Okinawa in 1965. I had to wait six months before I was able to bring my wife Lolly and our two children over. Because I was temporarily one of the “unaccompanied” troops living in the barracks, I spent a lot of time doing the kinds of things that they did, including swimming at a beach nestled in a cove over on the other side of the island from Kadena Air Base.
For me and the men in my outfit, the stretch of sand down in the cove seemed like our own private beach. It sat between two high promontories which separated it from nearby beaches and could only be reached by a trek down a narrow path running down the face of a steep slope. Since we were the only ones who ever made the climb down, the beach was literally our private domain.
I was popular with the troops in the barracks because I had already shipped my little red four-door Mercury Comet over, and so I could provide transportation to our private beach. I would drive across the island by way of a nice paved road and then creep along a narrow, dirt track that ran right along the edge of the cliff overlooking the beach. Once out onto the grassy promontory, I parked the car and down we went.
We loved swimming down there, particularly on warm moonlit nights. A full moon. A warm summer breeze. Waves breaking on the sand. A six pack and a bag of sandwiches from the base deli.
Let me tell you, there are worse things in this world.
Incredibly, considering the fact that it lies in Typhoon Alley, Okinawa was suffering from a drought when I got there, a drought so severe that the reservoir serving the base was nearly dry and pipes had been run down to the Pacific in the expectation that we would soon be showering with salt water and getting our drinking water from a desalination plant.
To say the island was dry is an understatement. There were wide cracks in the ground near our barracks.
We lowered a rock a hundred feet down into one of them without ever touching bottom.
That ground was dry! DRY dry!
And then came the rain. In the form of a pair of typhoons spaced about a month apart.
And suddenly the ground was wet. WET wet.
Well, Lolly and the kids came over and I promptly forgot about our “private” beach. Probably because there was another one maintained by the military that was fairly close to home. Lolly, I, and our two kids used to swim there all the time.
But one bright moonlit night, as I was driving home from a class I taught at an Army base down by Naha, the main city on the island, I realized that I was going to pass our little beach.
“Why not take a look at it?” I asked myself, thinking that maybe I could bring Lolly and the kids there some afternoon to picnic on the promontory about the beach. I turned off the highway and took the little dirt track along edge of the cliff, smiling as I thought about seeing the old beach by the full moon.
That smile lasted about 15 seconds.
I rolled onto the dirt track, drove about a hundred feet, and got the shock of my life as the road ahead of me suddenly fell off into the sea. And then, to make matters even worse, the road under my Comet slid away, leaving a 20-foot-long, 3-foot-deep gap into which I slid. I thought I was a goner, but incredibly enough the Comet dropped into the space left by the mudslide, slumped over onto its left side, and stayed put as I climbed out the passenger side door and high-tailed it back to the road.
So, having escaped with my life, what did I do?
Did I catch a ride back to the base and leave the question of how and when to retrieve my little red Comet to daylight and a tow truck with a long chain?
Would I be telling you this if I had?
Uh-uh. Having recruited some help, I walked back down that muddy track and hooked a tow rope to the Comet.
And climbed back into the dumb thing!
And stayed in it as two vehicles I had recruited slowly pulled me back into an upright position!
At that point, I started my engine, and with all three cars doing everything they could, the Comet slowly rolled back onto the paved road as slabs of the muddy track fell off into the sea.
How stupid is that?
I’ll tell you how stupid it is. I went back there the next day and looked at the place where my car had lain on its side.
And guess what?
An entire hundred foot long section of that muddy track was gone, having fallen over a hundred feet down into the sea below.
And here’s the best part. The Comet was fully insured. I had nothing to lose by just letting it go.
Except for some loose change in the ashtray, I guess.
I’ve thought about what I did a thousand times. I still think about it occasionally.
I wasn’t some dumb teenager. I didn’t have my life savings in the trunk of the car. My wife and kids weren’t trapped in the back seat. I had everything to lose and nothing to gain by doing what I did.
So tell me something, will you?
Why do we do things like that?