Living on Okinawa, 1971-1973

Photographs by Michael Broschat

I arrived on Okinawa in April of 1971. Lynn followed in May. I remember that very well, because it was my birthday and we went out to dinner both for her arrival and for the birthday. I then spent the next couple days with what I believe in fondly described as Montezuma's Revenge. Getting acclimated.

Speaking of dinner, there were some fine ones on Okinawa, and at prices even we with airman salaries could afford. One I remember distinctly was a fillet mignon dinner at a local hotel. Two fillet on each dish, with all the trimmings. $1.50. As with anything in such situations, you don't ask where the raw materials came from. There are also plenty of Kobi Beef places (where the chef makes it all at your table), but being closer to $5, we seldom indulged.

I see from the photographs that there was a division marking our time there. It coincided with the change of apartment we experienced, but also with the transfer of several friends who decided not to extend their Okinawa tour. The apartment situation is interesting to me. When I was preparing the digitized photographs a few years ago, I asked my then former wife why I didn't recognize the location of certain domestic photos. "Oh, you mean our first apartment?" I was stunned. We had two apartments? The second one is the only one I remember, and I know it so well that I have had trouble imagining we could have lived elsewhere. She suggests that I was so busy—both flying and also acclimating to my job—that I had little reason to concentrate on the apartment. She on the other hand had nowhere else to be.

We became friends with Rick Hutchinson and his wife, Barri. Barri became pregnant soon upon arrival, and their son would be born a few months before Rick's tour ended (he was among the several who elected to transfer to the drone station in Thailand than stay on Okinawa).

Kadena was and is a major military base. It had everything one needed for an American life abroad. We felt fortunate in living off-base (not to imply that we had any choice), as it was the desire of both of us to experience Japanese-Okinawan life as fully as possible. Lynn had a linguistic informant (or two) as she was writing her senior thesis for UC Santa Cruz, and I remember coming home once as their session ended. The young woman was very uncomfortable in my presence, and Lynn then told me that this informant was excited about the impending return to Japanese control of the island. At last they would be free. I don't really want to know how that worked out, but I certainly hope she had the life she dreamed of.

I discovered a few years ago that Lynn and I had not gotten much around Okinawa. This discovery came in the form of comparing my experience with that of an Army guy who was stationed on Okinawa a couple years after I left the service. Judging from his stories (at our Washington, DC place of business), he traveled all over the island, and his stay was a great deal shorter than mine. I guess this is one more indication of the time that the airborne job occupied in my life, but also that we had no more than native transportation. We did make it into Naha a couple times. I went up to Nago with a couple friends when Lynn made the first of her trips to Japan to meet with family, and we went to Taiwan for the first of two vacations I recall. The second was to Japan, just a few months before my discharge.

Our encounter with the Marsh family was quite fortuitous. Dwight was a CIA officer overseeing the monitoring of Chinese commercial broadcasting. His operatives were native speakers of Chinese, usually from Taiwan. They used some receiving station I probably knew about at the time but cannot now recall. Joanne and Lynn worked for the Army as counselors, which is how they got to know each other, and the relationship blossomed with the introduction of the two husbands. The family included four children, and soon after we got to know each other, Dwight and Jo wanted to go off and climb the Himalayas or something. So we moved in for a couple weeks (and got to drive the car!). The kids remember me cooking and baking a lot, which surprises me. I'm sure I didn't drive to Torii Station, so I'm wondering how I got to work, etc, but as we know, one can do anything that needs doing.

We remained friends for years afterward, and I visited with them many times in their DC home while I lived in that area. The kids, of course, have their own kids now, and—perhaps—even a grandchild or two. My, how time flies.