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Yokosuka Liberty

by Willie Lagarde

When we went into Tokyo Bay after providing air cover for the peace signing, we anchored off of Yokosuka which had been a major Japanese naval base. It was pretty well bombed out but some of the buildings were still intact, including a huge armory. There was a battleship sitting on the bottom but it appeared intact otherwise, and one or two destroyers that looked somewhat seaworthy. We were allowed to go ashore right away in groups of twenty. We went through the gates of the naval station and out on the street behind it, and the first thing that caught my eye was a Shell gas station. I doubt if there was any gasoline there.

Two of my buddies and myself soon left our assigned 20 man group (which had an officer in charge and a couple of shore patrolmen,) to go our own way. We had already been warned not to go near any of the public bath houses, which if we did would result in a general court martial. We had also been shown VD movies and told not to have any contact with women there. We carried our own water having been cautioned against the local drinking water. I had some cigarettes, a few Hershey tropical chocolate bars and some chewing gum for trading purposes.

There was a small range of hills a few blocks away from the dock area and we wanted to go on the other side of them, thinking that area may not have been bombed out too much. We saw a Jap on a three-wheeled motorcycle with a little girl about thirteen years old sitting in the back. It was more like a small three wheeled pick-up truck. They were delivering newspapers. We decided to catch a ride with him and he could hardly refuse. We piled in the back of that truck and when he couldn't make it with all of us in there we got out and pushed him up to the top of the hill. The little girl was getting a big kick out of that or maybe was just laughing out of fear. As we left them we gave the man some cigarettes and the little girl a candy bar.

As we expected the other side wasn't bombed out too much. I'm sure many of the Japs in that area were seeing Americans for the first time. The animosity we had toward the Japanese people soon began to fade. The little kids were running behind us begging for anything we might have to give to them. Almost every man of military age wore an army uniform. Many of the young boys were dressed in what looked like a school uniform consisting of a blue suit and white shirt. It was quite apparent that those people had really been deprived.

Returning to the dock area later that day, we went into the armory and were told we could take anything we wanted except automatic weapons. I picked up two rifles, a 25 caliber and a 31 caliber, a gas mask, and two paratrooper guns which were like submachine guns. One of these was Japanese made, the other Belgian made. By taking the submachine guns apart I was able to get them under my jumper and conceal them until I got them aboard ship. We were later told we could take automatic weapons if we rendered them non-automatic. But I already had mine aboard, and they remained automatic weapons as long as I had them.

After a trip (adventure) to Tokyo we spent the rest of our time in Japan just prowling around in the Yokosuka area waiting for the magic words, “going home.” Some shops were open; little jewelry shops, and they all seemed to have an oculist with trays of lenses, test frames, etc . It would appear that half of the Japanese population must need glasses. In one of those shops there were three young Japanese girls who were selling small jewelry items, (junk mostly.) I bought a bracelet and a ring both of which eventually turned green - I think I just threw them away. But the legal rate of exchange for us was ten yen to six cents of our money, and these items I purchased were about ten yen so there was no great loss. There was one Japanese girl there who could speak English fairly well and I began talking to her. She had a pictorial type magazine something on the order of Life, which was an old issue as it had pictures of some of the early Japanese victories. As she was turning the pages she came across a picture of Tojo (Hideki), and pretending to spit she said, "No good! No good!" As we continued turning the pages we would see pictures of other Japanese generals and admirals, and for all of them she would do the same and exclaim, "No good! No good!" In the center of the magazine there was a picture of Emperor Hirohito on his white horse. When she got to that she just turned the page. I reached over and turned the page back and asked, "Who is that?" Of course I knew who it was. She said very solemnly and reverently, "That is the emperor," and continued to turn the pages. At one point she rubbed my cheek and said something in Japanese to one of the other girls who nodded and smiled. I asked her what she said but she wouldn't tell me. I wish I knew what she said, she was pretty. Before I left I gave her a pack of gum telling her it was very hard to get in the U.S. She replied, "No, nothing hard to get in America."

Two things stand out in my mind about that stay in Japan: Number one, how devastated everything was except that area around Yokosuka and number two, the odor. There was a very distinctive odor, not all that offensive but very hard to describe; like mildewed wood with a very small trace of old fecal matter. No matter where we were in any of the areas we visited that odor was there. Also it looked like every Japanese house must have had a safe in it at one time because in all of the debris the safes were visible. We left shortly after this visit, stopping off at Okinawa to pick up as many passengers as we could provide for and headed for San Francisco. I only had tiny glimpse of Japan but from what I saw I couldn’t help but wonder; how in the hell did these people ever think they could take on America. We overwhelmed them with just part of our military and industrial strength.

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