Japan was a scary place - for me, in February, 1947. We were off the ship and headed for what was once, the Japanese "West Point". On the train, it seemed that we were climbing up a hill, moving slow enough to allow us to look into the homes of Japanese families along the way. I was surprised to see that they looked like normal families, not the enemy nation I had feared.
We would live in tents while we were briefed on our responsibilities as the "occupying" force in what was once, an enemy nation. He did not mince words. He was very clear and I came away with a sense that this might not be as bad as I had begun to think it would be.
When they called out our new duty stations, I learned that I would be headed for JAMA, the Japan Air Material Area, Northeast of Tokyo. Assigned to the Motor Pool, I was asked about my skills and told the Sergeant, I could drive tractors and milk cows. I wound up driving truck tractors as we both learned, I was good at backing the trailers into their assigned places. Then, one day, I was asked to drive the General into Tokyo for a meeting and on the way home, he wondered aloud, why they would have me - a white man, doing chauffeur duties. I tried to explain it was only temporary, but as he learned what else I was doing, he decided to transfer me to another base where I might find a "real" job. With that I went to Itazuke AFB on the island of Kyushu and met M/Sgt. Max Miller, the man who would head me into the career I would follow for next twenty-five years, only because I knew the alphabet and those who had come before me did not.
I took to that job as if it was my life - and it was for years. I would eventually replace Sgt. Miller and learn more about the beautiful island on which we were stationed and its people. One turned out to be a former Colonel in the Japanese army who wanted to learn English as eagerly as I wanted to learn Japanese. We would become close friends and I would learn how easy it is to learn from people who were once your enemies.
I also learned - as a white man, the beauty of black people who were every bit as skilled in their jobs as people of my race. Prior to my assignment to guide blacks into our white ranks because the military had finally decided to integrate the forces, I had never known black people. Three of the seven in our "experiment" (to some) and I would become long standing friends.
I also learned about "queers" - that was the common name for homosexuals who, if they were discovered in the military, were subjected to "Section 8" discharges where they would lose everything they had worked for during their service to our nation. When I became an NCO (non-commissioned officer), three of these men, all with more than ten years of service, and knowing that I was now heading our Personnel office, they confessed to me their personal circumstances and asked that I give them a "heads up" if I ever heard of any investigation. It would never happen but dealing with many who regarded such people as being "without merit" haunted my life for the rest of my service.
My assignment also afforded me with an opportunity to temporarily return to the States to attend a school where we learned about a new process by which we would be reporting an individual's skill qualifications when the "new" U. S. Air Force came into being.
Ironically, I was also involved in interrogating our men who had fallen in love with Japanese women and wanted to marry them, prior to their return to the States. All the while, I was secretly involved with a Japanese woman and we were seriously considering the possibility of marriage. I was the one with the "problem" that would eventually end our relationship.
My return to the States for the school I attended was an "eye opener" for me. My sister had been sent to a religious school in Tennessee after our Mother had decided that her life in Detroit was possibly in jeopardy and with my furlough making the trip a possibility, Mother decided we could drive down to see her and take our grand parents along. This was the first time in my life that I would spend personal time with the Mother who had brought me into the world and the grandparents who had literally raised me, I realized that I knew nothing - really, about them and it became apparent, they knew very little about me. My grandparents love for me was obvious, but they knew very little about the man I had become. All I can say is that my Mother's love - for me, was questionable. I liked my sister, but I hardly knew her. And this is what I would be coming "home" to....
And what was really strange to me was their lack of concern about my spiritual life. My "life" with Hireo (my Japanese friend) was filled with spiritual questions; he believing in the religion of his parents prior to the war with Korea and China and then, the Americans, was confusing and my attending the church of my youth and the religious impressions I "learned" in military chapels was equally so. The only place where we heard of spiritual meanings came from the teaching of the Samurai's who held sessions we would attend, all of which we wuold attend together and Hireo would have to translate for me.
All the while, I would think of that night aboard ship where I had "seen" the universe of the One so many others seemed to know was their God.
I came "home" to a nation I hardly knew and a life that seemed to become more questionable with every passing day. What troubled me more than anything was the lack of love I sensed from those who had cared enough to provide me with a name and a place of birth.