RT Cunningham


Okinawa, Japan and Marine Corps Air Station Futenma

MCAS Futenma, Okinawa I was transferred to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Camp Foster, Okinawa, in 1987. They assigned me to a support squadron at Camp Futenma.

It was a one-year tour, dependents-restricted. It simply means my wife and family were not allowed to join me. Because I named Olongapo as my “designated place” for dependents while overseas, the government paid for my family’s flight to Clark Air Base. We traveled together as far as Okinawa, where I got off and they continued to the Philippines.

I Enjoyed being on Okinawa

I was 26 and 27-years old when I was stationed there. Maybe that has a lot to do with it. The humidity didn’t bother me back then, except when I was trying to sleep.

The only thing Okinawa has in common with the Philippines is the weather, including typhoons every year. Some of the typhoons hit the Philippines first and some don’t.

There was a trail on the base called the “Habu Trail”. I don’t think it had an official name. Me and some other Marines would run on part of it two or three times a week, enough to reach three miles. Sometimes it was all the way around, which was more than five miles.

I probably enjoyed it more than other Marines for various reasons. One reason is that Josie (my wife) was with me for about six months.

A Bike, an Island Car and an Apartment

For the first three months, I lived in the barracks. It took about 20 minutes to walk to the squadron headquarters and another 20 minutes to walk back. It didn’t take me long to figure out riding a bike would be a better idea.

One of my coworkers and I went to the post exchange at Camp Foster, where I bought a 10-speed mountain bike. I used it until I bought an island car. It was a 1978 Mitsubishi Galant. I had to replace the automatic transmission, which only cost me about $100 at a junkyard. The total cost was about $700. I sold it for $500 when I left the country.

Driving on Okinawa was a challenge. I had to memorize all the signs, which were mostly written in Japanese. I drove on the left side of the road instead of the right. The steering wheel was on the right instead of the left. I had to shift with my left hand. The side mirrors were near the front of the hood, not next to the windows.

I wouldn’t have bought that car if Josie didn’t decide to join me. She bought a one-way ticket and we had to go somewhere to get a visa for a year. I don’t remember anything about it. Just before she arrived, I rented an apartment in Ginowan, which is right outside the Camp Futenma gate. Driving from the apartment to where I worked took no more than 15 minutes on a bad day.

We went everywhere we had time to go on the island. I remember a place called “the expo” but I don’t know what it was officially called.

Jealous People

Our children stayed with Josie’s family in Olongapo and didn’t leave until we all left when I was transferred again. The government granted me circuitous travel by air from Okinawa to Phoenix, Arizona, and by car from Phoenix to Jacksonville, North Carolina. I was able to stop in the Philippines and pick up the family.

There were plenty of Filipino military wives that accused us of cheating the government, stealing or something because it didn’t cost me anything to move them to the Philippines and back. Just because their husbands didn’t know what they were doing didn’t mean I was doing anything wrong.

I worked in administration. That was my career. I made it my business to know everything I could about military travel. I made sure my travel orders were correct and the disbursing office reimbursed me for most of my out-of-pocket expenses. After all, pulling up roots and moving from place to place was never a choice I could make until after I retired.

Photo Attribution: Sonata [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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By RT Cunningham
February 8, 2017

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