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One Woman's Opinion

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A Year in Japan: 1965, Part 14

Mary Wakefield Buxton

by Mary Wakefield Buxton

Urbanna, Va.—That summer of 1965 I was standing on the top deck holding my baby as the MSTS General Hugh Gaffey, a military transit steamship, was preparing to depart Yokohoma, Japan. As the U.S. Air Force band struck up “Stars and Stripes Forever,” Captain Master Hans von Weien stepped out on the main deck to observe the jovial throngs of uniformed men kissing wives and girlfriends goodbye. Streams of red, white and blue crepe paper danced in the breeze as the tugboats inched us out to sea.
We were on a pleasure trip to Okinawa and Korea but the Gaffey carried a full load of Marines headed for Vietnam. President Johnson had ordered a buildup of troops in the war zone that July. As I watched the emotional farewells, this Navy wife’s heart was breaking.
The sea took hold of us and we were at once cradled in her eternal arms. I watched Yokohama fade into the afternoon mist. As we passed the U.S. Navy port of Yokosuka, American warships came into view. The American flag flying from the masts of so many mighty ships filled me with pride, yet my heart ached for the coming war.
As we steamed south the weather became warmer and we gravitated to the upper sun deck and settled down to bask in the sun. I tried to forget about the young Marines in the belly of the ship bound for battle.
Two days later we arrived at Naha, Okinawa, a green, tropical island jutting up from the ocean, for a two-day visit. Shortly after we docked the gangway was lowered and out ran the Marines, 2 by 2, holding rifles and singing their battle song.
It was a sight forever etched in my brain. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I had no illusion as to their destiny: to be flown to the coast of Vietnam and landed by helicopter behind enemy lines for immediate battle. I think in that terrible vision I finally became an adult.
The civilians followed the Marines exiting the ship and there was great excitement from natives as we disembarked. I felt the emotion an islander must feel waiting for a ship to come into port. I thought of the bloody WWII battle between the Japanese and Americans for Okinawa that lasted two months where many Americans had lost their lives.
In 1965 we still owned Okinawa (which is no longer the case), an island almost completely inhabited by Japanese. Today it is home to a vital air, land and sea base for American defense.
Our “entertainment” was touring the military bases and dining at the various officers’ clubs. It felt good so far away from home to feel the warm welcome of American hospitality. Chip had been at sea for several months running supplies to Vietnam and I was lonely.
Next stop was Incheon, Korea. It was low tide in the Bay of Incheon and miles of mud flats separated us from port. I could see the coastline of Communist China across the bay.
Like General MacArthur landing his troops in the Korean War, we had to wait for the rising tide. Finally the mud flats disappeared and the U.S. Army came out to pick us up in landing craft. Even in high tide the smell of mud flats was terrible. Riding to shore I imagined MacArthur landing on such a beach under fire from the enemy.
A large sign “Freedom Frontier” welcomed us as it had many refugees streaming in from Northern Korea to a better life. (Incheon’s population  in 1964 was 200,000 but in 2015 it was 2.8 million.)
The U.S. Army was a great host and gave us a tour of the city and dinner at the Army Officer’s Club. I noticed quite different dress of the Korean women: a long full skirt which fell to their feet with a simple long sleeve blouse. Shoes were petite with upturned, pointed toes. I was stunned by apparent poverty, to the point I had never seen before.
We arrived at the site of the General Douglas MacArthur monument, which stood high on the hill overlooking the Bay of Incheon. There he stood, magnificent, like a Roman general, cast eternally in bronze, binocular in hand and eyes watching, ever watching, the coast of Red China across the bay. It read . . . “We shall never forget what he and his valiant officers and men of the United Nations Command did here for us and for freedom.  And until the last battle against the malignant infection of Communism has finally been won, may we never forget that it was he who said, ‘In war there is no substitute for Victory!’ ”
After leaving Korea, we steamed back to Japan. I felt older and wiser. My heart was still with the U.S. Marines. I still cry, these many years later, whenever I see the Marines.

(To be continued)


posted 06.14.2018

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