The time was 1953 to 1954. My husband, Mac, was a Captain in the USAF, flying F-84 combat missions in the Korean War. His squadron was headquartered at a base called K-2, near Taegu, Korea. K-2 was a short distance from Itazuke AFB near the city of Fukuoka on Japan’s southernmost island of Kyushu. The F-84 pilots routinely flew their aircraft to Itazuke AFB for maintenance. I lived in a barracks on that base and taught American kindergarten children in a poorly heated, black metal Quonset hut.
When Mac’s young lieutenant pilots flew to Itazuke, he would say to them “Take my wife out to dinner while you’re there”, and they did. As Mac foresaw, they were always perfect gentlemen. I wish I could remember the name of one young man I spent the day with, roaming the streets of Fukuoka and seeing the sights.
When Mac came to Itazuke to have maintenance done on his aircraft, which was colorfully labeled THE GIRL PAT, we had to find a hotel, as the women’s barracks where I lived offered no privacy or amenities. This resulted in our trying various hotels which were always charming and served delicious teriyaki and a powerful rice wine called sake, pronounced sah-keh
Word got around among Americans that Beppu was a good getaway destination. It was a famous tourist attraction due to its hot springs and lovely mountain location near the sea. One thing still available to do today at Beppu is lie on the beach while attendants shovel hot wet black sand onto you. An umbrella is positioned over your face to block the sun. This supposedly cures all kinds of ailments due to the minerals in the hot spring water that wets the sand.
We made arrangements to travel by train from Fukuoka to Beppu. We never owned a car while there, always relying on taxis and trains. Our hotel concierge was expecting us and sent a driver. When we got off the train at Beppu station, we saw, in the crowd of people, one Japanese man holding a white cardboard sign aloft with M-A-C-U-R-D-Y printed boldly in black ink. We went with him.
Japan is known for its public baths and our hotel had a public bath as large as a swimming pool, but with no deep-end. The water was warm and comfortable. Wooden buckets and large white towels were provided. I was twenty-four at the time and, having had no pregnancies as yet, I looked okay naked. At least my husband thought so. Mac and I had the public bath to ourselves, though I suspected others were watching or about to walk in. I adopted a “when in Rome” attitude and after enjoying some time naked in the pool, stood exposed and let Mac pour wooden buckets full of warm water over my body. It was wartime and I wanted to do my part.
At one of our hotel meals, our waitress left dinner sizzling beside our table on a skillet/griddle arrangement. We were seated cross legged on floor cushions. With gestures, the trusting waitress indicated I should take care of the food in her absence. On her return to check on us, she was obviously dismayed by what I had done to it. But, I was happily high on sake and did not care one bit. We ate the overly stirred food and thought it was delicious.
We probably stayed there two nights. It must have been summer as we went for a hike along the mountainous countryside and had sex under a lone tree. Another vivid summer memory is farmers carrying “honey buckets” filled with human waste through green rice paddies. Brightly colored umbrellas were carried by everyone during Japan’s frequent rains.
I was well-suited to the lifestyle of a young fighter pilot’s wife near a combat zone. The travel, the drinking, the exposure to a different culture, the sense of danger, and uncertain future matched my attitude at the time. Ah, youth! It was only sixty-five years ago, and I remember it well.