I think every soldier looked forward to R & R and I was certainly no exception. There were many places to pick from; Australia, Hawaii, Vung Tau (in country), Japan and a few others that have slipped my mind. Initially, my new wife and I were thinking of spending our precious 6 days in Hawaii, but some Japanese friends of our family suggested we stay with their parents in Tokyo. So, that’s what we did. Actually, my wife got to stay for 30 days, long after I had to return to Vietnam.
I caught a helicopter ride back to the base camp in Cu Chi and from there we were flown to Bien Hoa AFB on a rather tired looking C-123. In spite of its looks, the C-123 was a surprisingly good performer and yanked us out of the short strip with ease. I was impressed.
The flight to Japan didn’t take long, maybe a few hours. It all happened so fast I really don’t remember the details of the flight. I was probably day-dreaming about my wife. After we disembarked I caught a taxi and with directions in hand, headed off into the maze called Tokyo. Finding our hosts home proved to be a daunting task but the taxi driver was a very patient fellow and he found it at about 1:00 AM. My wife was waiting on the front steps.
Our hosts were in their 60’s and retired. They were very traditional Japanese in their style of living. There were few hints of any westernization. Not even a refrigerator. Yet, they were considered well-off by Japanese standards. We slept on mats and sat on the floor when we ate. Most of the food was cooked right next to the low dinner table. I think it was some of the best cuisine I’ve ever enjoyed.
Since these fine people were old enough to be our grandparents, they allowed us to call them “grandma” and “grandpa.” For some reason, they really seemed to enjoy that. I’ve since learned that “grandpa” was a high ranking artillery officer in the Japanese Army during World War II. Recently, his daughter showed me some pictures of her dad “grandpa” with Hirohito, the Japanese Emporer during WWII. He was obviously well connected during that period of history. I feel quite honored to have been a guest in this gentleman’s home.
Just before we arrived in Tokyo, “grandpa” had gone to the trouble to learn a word of english and he used it moments after my wife and I arrived and were shown our room. “Grandpa” held out his arms and gently pushed us together and said, “honeymoon, honeymoon.” I’ll never forget the little gleem in his eyes as he spoke. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he too, had once been to war and separated from his wife.
We throughly enjoyed the sights of Tokyo. We bought some nice things at the commissary in Yokohama. I couldn’t believe how attractive the prices were so we splurged a bit and got 2 pairs of snow skis, a 35mm Asahi Pentax camera, a Seiko watch and a few other odds and ends. We had the skis shipped home on a slow boat (I almost beat them home!).
All too soon our time was up and I had to catch my flight back to Vietnam. The traffic was terrible and I almost missed my flight. In the rush to the airplane I tossed my now unneeded jacket to my wife without realizing my wallet and ID were in the pocket. Interestingly, I had little trouble getting back to my unit without it. I imagine they figured no one in their right mind would want to fake their way into the Army and a war.
After getting back into uniform and gathering up my gear I caught a helicopter ride back out to the ARVN infantry camp near Loc Giang. It seemed unreal as I gazed down at the rice paddies from the helicopter when not many hours before I was with my *wife. Soon enough, we began our descent and then landed near a smoke marker just outside the camp perimeter. My best friend was waiting for me in the ¾ ton truck. Within a few minutes we’re back to our area where I received much ribbing and kidding about R & R, “hey Staff, what did you do on R & R?” I grinned without saying a word. I think they were jealous.
* We will celebrate our 50th Wedding Anniversary in February, 2019.