Okinawa (Part IV)

May 17

Okinawa in the Vietnam era.  Let’s meet the guys; where and how we lived in Sukiran – photos from December 1970 through December 1971.

[This, again, is John Morton.  Guess I knew him better than I thought.  But he had been here a while before I arrived.  I think he left for home shortly after this photo in December 1970 . . . ]

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[This is my barracks locker in December 1970.  Still a relative newbie I hadn’t acquired much yet in the way of stuff (one shirt?).  I may have been a PFC at the time . . . ]

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[The same locker 5 months later . . . ]


[This is Chet.  This is Chet’s GI locker.  Chet’s locker interior is “wallpapered” in the common GI style.  I think Chet’s last name is Lepinski.  But memory, like a hairline, recedes over time . . . ]

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[This is the road home from work to our barracks . . . ]

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[Officers’ club named “Top of the Rock.”  I wasn’t an officer . . . ]

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[Where I worked, the communications center of the universe.  That appears to be Gary Barnett, a fine chap from Pennsylvania, as I recall . . . ]

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[This is Phil Graf.  I think Phil was from Texas.  We called Phil the Old Fly.  I don’t know why.  Old fly was the same as lifer (career military).  I don’t think Phil was going to be a lifer, but I could be wrong?]

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[Based on above photo, self explanatory . . . ]

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[This is McKinley Burns.  From Kansas City, I think.  Good all around athlete.  Can’t tell who’s on the receiving end of his pass – he could throw it a long way . . . ]

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[This is a Spec-5 two-person room.  Not mine.  Large groups tended to gather in these rooms.  Here we have, standing l-r:  Roy Gorena from Texas, Earl Fust from North Dakota, Dolomite (what we called him (don’t know why?), don’t recall his real name), Tom Morris from Fridley, Minnesota; and I remember the seated guy but not his name.]

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[Barracks parking lot (obviously) – my Daihatsu featured center.  I remember the biker, but not his name; his passenger is Solomon Bramlett from Chicago . . . ]

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[Picnic!  (Life is tough in the army).  Starting with Dolomite on the left, Roy, me, and I can’t remember his name, nor the kneeling guy whose name I also couldn’t remember seated in a previous photo.  Oh, and I remember the guy to Dolomite’s right, but not his name . . . ]

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[Minnesota Tom and Texas Roy . . . ]

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[It’s a PAR-TAY!]

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[My Daihatsu outside the house of Tom Morris (he must have been married and had his wife there).  The sporty Honda I believe belonged to his house neighbor, Captain Dave Medlar – I have no idea why I would remember his name?]

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[A little volleyball where I’m providing the action.  The guy holding the net pole was our first sergeant.  First sergeant’s are called “Top,” because as senior (and thus experienced) NCO’s they know a lot more about running a company than the young lieutenant or captain they report to.  I can’t remember his name, but he was a good guy.  Also smart – he was getting straight A’s in a correspondence graduate school program through the University of Maryland . . . ]

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[And a football intrudes on the volleyball game.  GI’s could bring their families while stationed on Okinawa – thus, the kids . . . ]

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[And the following are shots of Sukiran, our military living and entertainment complex.  The center building is a barracks, though not of our company, and that’s the field house behind it . . . ]

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[This was our immediate area.  On the far right along the left side of the road is the paratroopers barracks.  The next barracks up the hill from them is one of our barracks, and specifically the one I lived in when “I got a room.”  The next one up the hill, facing directly at us, is our other barracks and where I stayed when I lived in the bay.  The foreground buildings are basically our equivalent of a shopping mall, the PX (post exchange) – there’s a theater, library, and other stuff.  In the distant far right, the tall building (6 stories) is the East-West Shop in downtown Futema – I will later feature photos from its rooftop . . . ]

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[Further up the hill from our living area, on the left is the satellite dome of our Fort Buckner communications center . . . ]

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[Looking back down hill at our PX . . . ]

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[That’s one of our green barracks on the left . . . ]

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[The all-in-one photo . . . ]

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[Obviously a telephoto shot down to our waterfront . . . ]

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[A chopper is landing, with (likely) Kume-shima in the distant background . . . ]

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[Our PX (post exchange) where a carton – CARTON – of cigarettes was $1.30!  No wonder we all got hooked . . . ]

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[Our NCO club and other things here . . . ]

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[Remember the guy but not his name (not Billy Crystal, though I think he was a New Yorker).  He was going home – ETSing (estimated termination of service) out of the army.  Whenever anybody was going home, a caravan would follow him to the airport for hugs all around . . . ]

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[Terry Bess, one of a group who were transferred to Okinawa from Vietnam when the drawdown began.  He played football for Purdue, a 6’3″ receiver . . . ]

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[I remember the sleepy beer guy, but not his name.  Then Roy’s telling me he’s No. 1 . . . ]

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[Litte known factoid:  I invented the selfie in June 1971 . . . ]

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[Our room – we painted it purple because we could . . . ]

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[Our room attracted a lot of visitors.  Roy dropped in to do some reading . . . ]

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[My in room entertainment center.  Sansui amplifier, TEAC reel-to-reel tape deck, Sonic speakers, and a . . . TV, which soon shortly replaced by a Sony Trinitron, the first super-duper color TV’s.  The semi-literate GI at the time was reading such as The Pentax WayCatch 22, Atlas Shrugged (for opposition research), Unveiling Man’s Origins, and I can’t read any of the others in the bookshelf . . . ]

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[Earl and Roy at nap time . . . ]

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[Bill Petronus, from New Jersey, another transfer from Vietnam . . . ]

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[Gary Mertz, from Olivia, Minnesota . . . ]

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[We were at the University of Minnesota together, in the same dorm house, and he somehow found me in Okinawa though he was in a completely different organization?  As curiously happens with GI’s sometime, Gary died in a car accident shortly after he was discharged and returned home . . . ]

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[Terry Bess again – also a very good golfer . . . ]

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[Remember him but don’t have a name . . . ]

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[And here’s my roommate Larry Webb (‘Webbo’), from Phoenix.  He also had half ownership of the Daihatsu – we never seemed to have issues over who was going to use it and when?]

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[Back in “my room” after an exhausting day at work . . . ]

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[Dick Frook, also an excapee from Vietnam, who was a 1 or 2-handicap golfer (what we did when not working) . . . ]

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[Petronus again, with a falsie . . . ]

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[Bill caught some shrapnel in his face from a claymore mine in Vietnam . . . ]

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[Terry getting used to contact lenses . . . ]

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[The guy in the mirror shot I didn’t know – still don’t  . . . ]

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[I think he was a guitar player . . . ]

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[Ohhh, my eyes!]

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[Looks like the end of a typhoon . . . ]

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[I recall at least two while I was there.  All the married guys stayed home with their families; all the single guys (moi) were stationed at the communications site full-time until it was over, some times two days (we slept on cots).  The building had no windows (it was top secret) and thus safe in a storm.  We didn’t know what had happened in the surrounding area until we were released when the storm was over . . . ]

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[Our room is starting it reach its peak in luxury design and application . . . ]

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[Nice place to nap.  I’ve now gone to the much cooler wire-framed glasses . . . ]

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[Mr. Fust, in all his glory . . . ]

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[Roy enjoying a cat nap . . . ]

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[Webbo!  Tried to find him again civilian life through Facebook, et al, but no luck . . . ]

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[Lots of photography experimentation went on in our room.  Of course, one of the reasons we were so popular is we bought a window air conditioner.  I’m surprised with all the electronics in our room we didn’t blow fuses all over the island?]

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[Two full stereo sets and a color TV . . . ]

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[And a papa-san chair.  Brought it home with me.  Dad loved to nap in it . . . ]

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[Though I haven’t smoked in years, I may still have that ashtray somewhere?]

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[Here’s lookin’ at you, Webbo!]

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[Ahhh, remember black lights and day-glo?]

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[A skill I picked up over there . . . ]

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[Almost a mustache – and I was 23 then . . . ]

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[Remember, but no name . . . ]


[Sol Bramlett, again, and Tom Magnuson . . . ]


[Bringing home the groceries . . . ]


[Sol had a great, booming laugh.  And the Unitas poster on our door was Webbo’s – he was a big fan.  And like McKinley Burns, Webbo could throw a football a mile . . . ]


The military don’t start wars. Politicians start wars.  ~  William Westmoreland

Up Next:  Track in the can, more Okinawa, a big music weekend ahead?

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