My Rest and Recreation

A musical aside: If your media player can handle MP3 music (if not, you should download one that does) and if you are willing to wait a while as you look at the photo and read the story that goes with it, you will hear a real "Golden Oldie" that was very big in the early 1950's and very special to GI's who made a stop in Japan (on R&R or otherwise). It's named Shina No Yoru or, in English, China Nights. It's sung in Japanese and, I think, well worth the wait; but, it's only fair to tell you that, with my poor memory speed (no pun meant) and free media player, it takes several minutes (on the first visit) to come up.

The story that goes with it:
On the 4th day of August, 1952, I had what may have been the swiftest turn around of my life.

My hardest and most stressful four days in Korea suddenly turned into an easy and very enjoyable five days in Japan.

While I was still on or near OP Kelly, I was suddenly told to go to the rear for transport to my R&R!

There's an old barracks room ballad that has the words " ... lousy and dirty and full of fleas ... " in it. That's the way I felt, but in a very relieved way, when (before thirty minutes had passed) I was in the back of a truck with about a dozen other guys from the First Battalion - all headed for five days "Rest and Recreation" in, as it turned out, Yokohama.

I am sure that none of the guys remaining in my squad were with us and I can't recall any of the guys from my platoon being along. Maybe some of the latter were there but, because we lucky ones were guys from the whole battalion, not many for sure.

I chanced to be sitting next to a guy, obviously of Oriental descent, and we struck up a long conversation. He allowed as follows: he was from Hawaii; most guys spend their five days R&R with much boozing and whoring; he was of Japanese descent; he spoke fluent Japanese; he had always wanted to visit Japan and learn about the culture; this was his big chance, which he never expected to have, to sop up that culture by means of scenic tours, fine dining, and conversations with the local folks.

Having lived for about four years in college dormitories with veterans of WWII, I had already been exposed to GI dalliances; and, I must confess to having joined them from time to time in their innocent merrymaking. Therefore, the picture my new-found friend had painted of the way he intended to spend his R&R sounded uniquely good to me and I asked if I could tag along with him. His answer was a cheerful okay.

The truck took us to a large two-engine plane which we quickly boarded along with some other guys who looked as scroungy and haggard as we did. Not long afterwards, we all were unloaded at a large airport in Japan. Nearby was a huge building and a long line of guys being stripped of their clothes, passed through a wonderful shower, issued new dress clothing, including new boots, given their back pay, and put on one truck out of a fleet of trucks headed for various cities in Japan - probably (I heard) Kobe, Osaka, or (for sure) Tokyo-Yokohama.

In the early evening of the same day that the first truck had gathered all of us (the guys in the First Battalion) up near Kelly, that last truck dumped us in front a particular "hotel" in a busy section of Yokohama with strict orders to be back at that same spot on the stroke of twelve midnight on the 9th and with advice that we had better stay at this "approved" place rather than at one with a more dangerous clientele (read "girls") - fair enough!

The whole gang of us entered the lobby (read "bar") of the hotel, ordered drinks, and were soon engulfed by a herd of very attractive "moose-a-mays" (phonetic spelling) in whom I had little interest because of my deal with my Hawaiian friend and my greater interest in the very fine martinis which I, being out of practice, was swigging down.

It had been explained to me that a room, complete with girl but no food or drinks, cost the total of 3000 Yen a night. Quick use of mathematics told me that meant my outlay would be less than $10.00 a night whether I indulged in feminine companionship or not - still fair enough! I guess the photo does give away my final choice in that regard - but please hear more of the story that goes with it.

I looked up (read "came to") and noticed that all the guys, including my Hawaiian friend, and all the girls were gone.

The bartender, the only other person to keep me company, explained that the whole crowd had gone "upstairs". Then, making the same mistake I made too often throughout my life, I decided to strike out alone to see "the other side of the mountain".

About the rest of that first night and most of the next day, little is remembered and even less will be told. I will mention, however, my sitting at a long bar that had no other customers except for one non-Japanese and non-GI who choose to sit down right next to me. I was in no mood for conversation and none occurred until, about ten minutes later, he burst into a loud baritone rendition of a then popular song, "Kiss of Fire".

I like good music and his voice was very good but, not knowing his intentions, I again figured I had better head out into the oriental unknown a second time, and did. Further (about the rest of that night and most of the next day) deponent sayeth naught.

It was sometime the next day before I came to my senses and returned to the hotel at which my gang had abandoned me and from which I had abandoned them. The same bartender directed me to where they were - all in one room and with a girl (almost literally) attached to each, even the Hawaiian, who was happily engaged in his quest to learn about Japanese culture.

The rest of the five days was a huge success. I can boast and tell of that because: I had not yet met my first wife and mother of my first child; my second wife and mother of my other four children (what they call, in Mississippi, laying on a second crop) was then only eight years old; and, all my children are of a very understanding nature and know well the proclivities of their dear old Dad.

One of the girls kindly went out and brought back a companion for me. Yep, that's her in the photo. I remember her first name was Miki because of the letter (written on tissue thin paper and shabbily copied below) which I received not long after my return to Korea; and. I remember her last name was Saito because that was also the last name of a leading character in the movie Bridge on the River Kwai, which I saw after returning home.

She explained to me that she was of Chinese, not Japanese, descent, that she was from Hokkaido, and that she would return there when she had made enough money to buy a small house. That's all I remember of her story, and fairness made me tell what I knew. But, as you may have guessed, her letter went unanswered.

The next day, Miki and I went on a shopping trip for my mother, as related on the previous page. The day after that one, all the guys (led by my Hawaiian friend) went to a non-tourist Japanese restaurant, leaned on the floor, and had an eight course repast for less than three bucks per. I don't remember if the girls went along. That comment reminds me of the old bon mot, "I don't remember her name, but the wine was a Chateau Margaux '61."

On the last day of the R&R, I had a real scare. Miki guided me to a large (four stories, a tall building for Yokohama in 1952) department store and up the stairs (no escalator or elevator) to the third floor - man, I could feel that the Big Touch was coming. But, she had me buy only a tiny cloth doll and a tiny vial of cheap perfume which she poured on the doll and mumbled something about it bringing good luck in Korea. I guess it did.

The unmentioned parts of my R&R, including all the rest of it, were filled with events which (I suspect.) were standard agenda for all the lucky guys who had one - hot sake, hotter baths taken community style in sunken tubs, and other innocent pleasures.

That'll be all of the story because, as Miki would say, "I am very tired of."  

















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