After finding out the good news that we newlyweds were going to have a baby, I got orders in March to report to VMA 211, a light anti-aircraft attack squadron in Iwakuni, Japan. The only problem was the Marine Corps forgot to tell me. It seems that the General Office of the Corps thought it was a good idea that I serve in Japan but my Group, MAG 26, did not want to release me. Eventually Command won and I was finally ordered to report to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and MAG 12. I had twenty-one (21) days to report.
Irene and I packed up a U-Haul trailer attached to our 1966 AMC Rambler and headed west. We made the trip in fifty-four (54) hours from Jacksonville, NC to San Jose, CA. Irene moved in with her parents and I made plans to join my unit in Iwakuni, Japan.
I spent thirteen (13) months in Iwakuni with VMA 211 as an NBC NCO, Training NCO, and an S-3 Operations Clerk. This was quite an adventure for a nineteen (19) year old. While there I made a trip to Hiroshima and saw the Museum and the effects of the Atom Bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. That was probably the second most sobering experience in all of my life up to that point. I can’t even begin to tell you, some thirty-eight (38) years later the devastating effects of that single bomb. I will never forget it.
We flew a number of training missions in Korea, Japan, Philippines, and Australia while I was with VMA 211. One tragic day we lost a Major when his plane crashed in Luzon, Republic of the Philippines. I lived under martial law under Ferdinand Marcos. That was truly an experience. His “special troops” had absolute power, including life and death in their hands.
The two most devastating experiences I endured while stationed in Iwakuni was missing the birth of my daughter Shannon Annette, September 6, 1974 and being out-ranked for an assignment to Australia. I could not get leave and Irene delivered our first daughter without me. I am thankful to this day her family was with her during this time. Shannon was about eight (8) months old before I saw her for the first time. I have a picture (unfortunately not on the computer) of the very first time I got to feed my daughter.
Half way thru the thirteen (13) month tour of duty in Japan, VMA 211 was ordered to Olangapo City Philippines for temporary duty. Actually we were assigned to the base at Subic Bay but Olangapo was the villa where we Marines hit the beach and partied like animals. The Marine Corps, which does not like the idea of “accompanied tours” thought that work could keep you from thinking of home, worked us to death. It was nothing to work sixteen (16) hour days six (6) days a week.
So for six (6) months we endured monsoons, monkeys in the barracks, and tedious duty of practice bomb and strafing sorties in the jungles of the Philippines. Moneys would invade our barracks stealing anything that was not tied down. I never thought about until now but I wonder if the monsoons prepared me for Washington State?
Almost all service personnel who endure overseas tours have what is called a short-timers calendar. Yes, mine, I am ashamed to say was in the shape of a girl. She was divided up into blocks, with each block representing a day. Every day I colored a block and that placed me closer to home. After coloring three hundred and ninety six (396) blocks I was eligible to rotate back to the “world,” the term for the United States.
I was ordered to report to VMA 311 stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina. I loved South Carolina. Don’t get me wrong, I loved North Carolina, and even though Irene and I were married in Jacksonville, NC, I loved living in Bluffton, SC. More to come in Part IV.