Back when I was in the Air Force it was not unusual for some bases to lack enough base housing to immediately house married NCOs or officers and their families upon arrival. It was an inconvenience, but not a really big one because we were always able to find suitable civilian housing in a nearby city or town; and base housing was usually available within six months.
However, back in February 1964, when I was chosen to serve a tour on Okinawa, I was stunned to discover that I would have to leave my family behind, report to the island, find off-base housing of a very special quality, and either rent or buy it. Only then could Lolly, the kids and I be together again. It was the only place in the world where that was true; and I spent a long time searching the island before I finally found a place I could buy with funds borrowed from the base bank.
Why did off-base housing have to be so special? Because of the danger of typhoons, of which 18 struck the island during the 30 months we were there.
Despite my endless daily search of the island it was six months before my wife and I and our two small children finally moved into a small two-bedroom, single bath, one story house built of concrete blocks which had been filled with concrete to form solid concrete walls. The roof was a very low-pitched single peak roof made of solid five-inch thick concrete. Yes, solid concrete!
All windows had heavy wooden shutters. When bad weather threatened, one-inch thick shutters were slid into upper and lower tracks made of heavy wood, and nailed in place. The two house doors were the reverse of what we see here in the states. The thinner door, the “screen door,” was the inside door, not the outer one. The outside door was a solid wooden door, which opened out and was held shut by a regular key lock and two heavy bolts, one at the top and one at the bottom.
For five long months I worked running a training program, spending every minute I was off-duty searching for approved housing, Frankly, I doubt that I would ever have found an approved house except for the fact that the adjutant saw how well my training program was running and decided to saddle me with the personnel office as well.
While doing that unasked for extra duty, I made an extra strong effort to get an outstanding NCO an assignment he genuinely deserved. Out of gratitude for what I had done he took me 10 miles out into the countryside and introduced me to the Japanese owner of a house on a hill many miles from the base. At last I had a place for my family!
Before they arrived, however, I happened across an announcement that there would be a special boat leaving April 18 for a trip to the nearby island of Ie Shima, where an annual ceremony was to be held in honor of a man who well deserved it — war correspondent Ernie Pyle.
You may not have heard about Ernie, but if you haven’t I can say without exaggeration that the men who served in uniform in World War II considered war correspondent Ernie Pyle to be the best friend they had. When Ernie wrote about the war he not only showed what it was like for those fighting it, but he also inspired both them and the people back home with his words.
More next week.