In the spring of 1970 the carrier USS Kitty Hawk pulled into the port of Sasabo Japan. I was one of about two thousand Navy service men standing at parade rest as we pulled into slip. I didn’t know it at the time, but we did this as a sign of respect.
We were explained a lot while at sea, more than any other port. Or relationship with Japan is complicated. There were discussions on our ship’s closed circuit TV, and a variety of mandatory general briefings went on for weeks before we arrived. Among a lot of information, we were told that no nuclear carriers were allowed to dock, that no civilian clothing would be allowed on shore leave, that we were to be on our best behavior, and that any breach of conduct would be dealt with harshly.
My two best friends, Al Moore and Gary Hammitt, both four by six, had already made two West Pac tours. They knew the ropes, and had been to Japan twice before. In the chow hall we discussed where to go, deciding to give one of our three days to the village of Nagasaki. We would stay in a quaint bed and breakfast next to a “hotsie bath”, close to ground zero. It was the place where we had dropped the second nuclear bomb less then thirty years before. These gardens and museum we planned to see stood at the very epicenter.
1970 is thirty four years ago. At the time it had been just twenty-six years since the bomb. I thought 26 years was an awful long time back then, as my first 20 years had crawled by slowly.
In dress blues, spit polished shoes, and zippered haircuts, we made it through the gambit of old Chiefs and Petty Officers looking for any excuse to turn us around. We all slid through, and with a practiced and proper salute of the ensign we walked the aft plank to a very busy peer, and a bright spring day.
Pea Coats slung over our shoulders, and swinging our overnight bags, we made our way to the Base Exchange where our rental car waited. Past the jar head guards who gave us a final look-over, we were out of the gate and on the road, free at last. Gary’s international driver’s license had again come in handy.
There were fields of flowering fruit trees, and amazing rice paddies built on steps into the hills. Colorful pagodas, brightly painted bridges over clear swift moving streams, and elaborate manicured flower gardens were an artist’s dream. Hanging baskets were everywhere, holding delicate clusters of every conceivable color.
In three hours we were on the outskirts of this famed city of Nagasaki. If I hadn’t known, I would never have guessed this city had been completely razed. It was beautiful. Industry, suburbs, open shops, electric train stations, children flying silk kites, new American and Japanese cars mixed with hundreds of bicycles, all blended so as to dazzle the senses. We stopped for lunch and I had Sukiyaki for the first time, eating everything but the raw egg in the middle. I was mesmerized.