Recognizing our penchant to get offended by just about anything, i want to preface this entry with my assessment i really am not prejudice against any race of people, especially the Japanese. Having spent some significant time there in the 1970’s, i found their culture and their customs wonderful. For those that don’t know, i was very close to becoming engaged to a beautiful Japanese woman when i did some really stupid things that ruined the relationship.
i also enjoy making fun and finding humor in many situations, even those that are embarrassing to me. So i hope everyone who reads this will take it as i intended: funny, not malicious, and certainly not racist.
This morning on the front page of the San Diego Union-Tribune, a feature story with two photos caught my eye:
It is the story of the son of a US Army Air Corps officer in WWII returning personal items to the Japanese family of a pilot who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is a heartwarming story of grace and forgiveness.
It also brought to mind one of my favorite sea stories involving two Navy officers in 1975. One was me. I was a lieutenant in the billet of First Lieutenant on the USS Anchorage (LSD 36). The other officer was Commander Arthur St. Clair Wright, the commanding officer of the Anchorage. We had developed a bond through the constant relationship we had on the ship.
The first lieutenant on a landing ship dock is a spectacular job if you like to work. i was in charge of well deck operations, boat operations, flight operations, weapons, cargo loads and unloads, troop embarkations and debarkations, all deck operations, and maintenance of all weather deck spaces. In addition, i was the sea detail and general quarters officer of the deck. i loved every minute of it.
Art was one of the three best commanding officers under whom i served. He was a Naval Academy graduate and had a great career at the time. He had a rich heritage in the Navy and Annapolis. He was robust; he was smart; and he thought out of the box. He had a previous tour in Sasebo, Japan as commanding officer of an ocean going minesweeper. During that tour, he immersed himself into the Japanese culture.
The Anchorage was in Sasebo for a month when a stern gate default required major maintenance. There were three distinct party districts in Sasebo. There was “sailor town,” an area for Navy sailors, stuffed with small bars and diners, a red light district of high order. There was “merchant town,” a smaller but perhaps even rougher area for merchant seamen. Finally, there was “sake town,” the area with restaurants and nightclubs for the Japanese populace. Art always went to sake town. On several occasions, he took me to his favorite sushi bars, and to this day, my dining there, picking the fresh seafood off the ice in the glass cases and then watching the sushi chefs perform their magic carving, remains one of my all time best recollections of dining.
Art had been to sake town one evening when i had the on-board duty as command duty officer. The next morning when i had reported to his stateroom for some order of business, he interrupted me to tell me he and i were going out that night, that he had found a place he knew i would like.
That evening, he and i went to sake town. As the sun was setting, we ate at one of those wonderful sushi bars. Then we walked to the real night life section where there were themed bars and entertainment venues. Next to one night club where the exterior resembled the fuselage of a 747, were stairs up to a second story establishment. As we walked up the stairs, a man dressed in a Japanese sailor uniform announced us “on board” with a bullhorn. Entering, we found the place to resemble the interior compartment of a ship complete with portholes looking out. There were about twenty tables toward the back, full of Japanese couples. The waitresses, including the bartenders wore mini-skirt versions of Japanese sailor outfits.
We sat at the bar and ordered our favorite Kirin Beer.
Art could drink beer, and he did not like to wait in between them. So he would order two, put one in his back pocket and drink the other. When through with the first one, he would order another, pull the second one out of his pocket. When the next beer arrived, he would put it in his back pocket and repeat the process. We were on our second beers, when Art directed me to look behind me.
There was a photography area set up with several sliding panels for backgrounds. They included a WWII Japanese zero, a Japanese tank, and one where it appeared you were standing on the bow of a Japanese battleship. To the side was a rack of clothes. Each was a different uniform of the military services the Japanese wore during World War II. i loved it. Art and i decided we would get the Anchorage officers to come down and everyone get their photos taken in one of those uniforms behind one of those backdrops. Then we would hang those photos in the wardroom.
As we returned to our beers, an older Japanese man and his date sat down next to me. He introduced himself to me. He told me he owned a tailor shop at the beginning of the large downtown mall. I realized it was the shop where i had a suit, sports coat, and a wool “camel hair” overcoat tailored for me five years earlier. We had a nice conversation about our past meeting.
As we were talking, the bartenders had put some marching band music records on the stereo. All of the Japanese patrons began singing boisterously and waving their arms to the tempo of the music. i asked my new friend what was the music about.
“They are spirit songs,” he answered.
“Spirit songs,” i questioned, “What are they.”
“They are the songs we sang and our sailors, pilots, and soldiers sang as they prepared for battle.”
Interested, but a bit wary since Art and i were the only Americans in the place, i decided to not pursue that subject.
Art and i returned to our Kirins.
My new friend leaned over to me and spoke again. “You know, my brother was a kamikaze pilot during the war.”
“Really!” i responded, not exactly, knowing how to react, but curious.
“Yes,” he confirmed, “But he lived through it.”
“What?” Art, overhearing the conversation, “What did you say?”
My friend repeated, “My brother was a kamikaze pilot during the war, but he lived through it.”
Art stared at his beer, contemplating for a second or two, then replied.
“Must not have been a very good one.”
The patrons stopped singing. We quickly paid our bill and left.
We never did take the wardroom back for those pictures.