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One Woman's Opinion

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A Year in Japan: 1965, Conclusion

by Mary Wakefield Buxton

Urbanna, Va.— Sayonara! Our year in Japan had finally come to a close. Chip was due to start law school in September but could he return in time for class? The USS Mars was on standby to the destroyer USS Frank Knox, which had gone aground in the Pacific on Pratas Reef. Chip could not leave his ship while the Navy dislodged the Knox, finally having to blow in Styrofoam to float it off the reef and tow it to port.

While Chip was stranded at sea, Liz, now a year old, and I had to return to Vermilion, Ohio, by ourselves. Before I boarded the airplane home, I was assigned a young Navy seaman on his way stateside to help with my toddler. Liz was so charmed by the sailor that she spent the entire flight home cooing and bouncing on his lap. Without his help I would never have survived that long flight to California.

As the jumbo jet took off from Tachikawa Air Force Base in Japan packed full of military and dependents I had one last glimpse of Mt. Fuji. As we headed out to sea I saw the vast blue Pacific Ocean quickly erase the coast of Japan. I wondered if I would ever return. 

Mother had been right when she had warned me how difficult life would be with a new infant so far away from home. It had not been an easy year but I thought of all that I had learned. I had an entirely new perspective of the world, religion, politics, foreign cultures and war. I knew I would never lose my attachment to the U.S. Navy and my love for the heroic men and women in the service that I had met.

It was an endless 16-hour flight trying to contain Liz who was raring to run up and down the aisles of the airplane. We arrived at Travis Air Force Base in California in the middle of the night. By then Liz, who had enjoyed a 16-hour run of nonstop fun and games, had finally fallen asleep, a hot, wet, dead weight in my arms. We transferred to a military bus and suddenly awakened, Liz screamed in misery for 20 solid minutes while the men and I in the transport were forced to listen. I could not calm her. Finally, exhausted, much to our mutual relief, she fell back in my arms asleep.

We pulled into military housing at 3 a.m. but there was no room at the inn. I must have looked desperate because a man behind the desk said he would put me in an empty VIP room. There we lay in bed, starved, like the dead, until it was time to go to San Francisco airport and catch a commercial flight to Cleveland. If only we could survive the last leg.

Mother and Father were waiting for us at the airport and we fell into their arms. It took two wretched weeks to recover from the 11-hour time change and for us to sleep and awaken on Ohio time.

Coming home was no easier for Chip. No one ever worked harder to make it back stateside to start law school. He had to hail a passing LST off Pratas Reef that pulled close enough for him to transfer across rough seas in a chair lift. He was then dropped off at Kao Chung, Taiwan, where he waited several days to be bused in a rickety old school bus to Taipei where he took off on a DC3 from a rice paddy for Taipan. Five days later he flew to Okinawa where he saw wounded Marines flown in from battle in Vietnam. He finally hitched a ride on a commercial flight to Travis Air Force Base and, alleluia, home to Cleveland.

Chip had grown a Manchurian mustache! I screamed when I saw him deplane at the Cleveland Airport. I could adjust to many shocks in life but never a Manchurian mustache. It was soon gone.

The next day we left Ohio for the College of William and Mary. It was the beginning of three very difficult years putting my husband through three years of law school. I had no idea how hard it would be to hold a full-time job, be the major bread winner for the family, lend constant moral support to my husband’s endeavor in law, manage our home, and be a good mother and wife.

My years as a Navy wife are now just a memory. They were not easy years, yet my allegiance to the U.S. Navy has never left me, and the hardships I met in military life overseas helped prepare me for what was yet to come . . . that imagined layer in Dante’s “Inferno” I would soon call what was left of “the terrible twenties.” Note: Mary Wakefield Buxton’s column will return after Labor Day. Stay tuned.  



posted 06.20.2018

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