It was August 1960. Carol and I sat in the American Airlines lounge at Idlewild Airport (later named JFK International). We talked quietly, self-isolated in our morose bubble from the faceless people around us. It was hard for me to look at her when we did talk; moist eyes were not suitable for an officer in uniform. We had been married a little over two years and we now faced a one year separation.
After twenty-two changes of orders in the last four months, thanks to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, I had finally been dropped from the international political whipsaw. I now held orders to be the Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard LORAN Station Okinawa, Japan. My footlocker, however, a victim of the fiasco, was aboard a U.S. Navy transport being delivered to the other side of the globe—Naples, Italy.
The garbled PA announcement sounded like they called my flight. I turned in my seat to face Carol, a strained smile on my face, “Remember, although I’m boarding this plane for San Francisco in a few minutes, you cannot believe I’m really going to end up in Okinawa until you get a post card from there.” She smiled back weakly, gave me a publically presentable kiss on the cheek, and said good bye. I turned and walked toward the boarding ramp. I never looked back.
My initial orders were to station Tarumpitao in the Philippines. But, I was a designated standby emergency relief, so I attended LORAN school one cycle early and my orders read “….unless relief is required elsewhere earlier, report for duty to the CG LORAN Station Tarumpitao Point, Philippines Islands. “Unless” was the key word.
I had focused on Trumpitao. The station was located on the western tip of the island of Palawan in a heavy jungle area. I exchanged letters with the current CO who shared a few photos and gave me a heads-up as to what he found to be important concerns: Keeping the jungle from encroaching on the grass air strip, the station’s lifeline; preparing for the inevitable raid from hostile Borneo Pirates (an active tribe of headhunters from nearby Borneo); and avoiding the poisonous cobras that were often found on the station, most recently, one wrapped around the door handle of the CO’s quarters.
I could prepare for the first two. I would keep hacking away at the jungle, and give the pirates whatever the hell they wanted. They usually took food and a small weird selection of “trinkets” for souvenirs. It was the King Cobras that gave me pause.
My first change of orders came two days before I completed Loran school. I was now assigned as the PCO of a new Loran C station that the Coast Guard was building at the site of Rite 3. That was the classified code name for a secret location that the headquarters message assured me, “I would know when I needed to know.” The people at Loran school couldn’t even answer my question, “So, do I pack a fur parka or pith helmet and shorts?”
Eventually, I knew I was going to L’Estartit, Spain, on the Mediterranean coast in the crescent of the Spanish, French, and Italian Riviera. I was to report during the last phase of construction in July and be the CO when it was commissioned. It would eventually be a family station, a two year assignment, and I could bring Carol over probably for the second year.
That is, until the NY Times Headline on May 1 1960.
“Soviets Down American Plane;
U.S. Says It Was Weather Craft;
Khrushchev Sees Summit Blow.”
President Eisenhower issued statements that our U-2 spy plane was a “weather observer” that had navigational problems and inadvertently drifted over the Russian air space. Then Premier Khrushchev, in one of the great diplomatic “gottcha” moves, revealed that he had in fact captured our pilot and his pictures of their ICBM sites. Colonel Powers was now in a Russian prison. The Eisenhower administration, greatly embarrassed, caught spying and lying, needed to lay low, especially after Khrushchev’s speech, “….U.S. must not build another military base on foreign soil…”
After twenty-one go-nogo changes to my orders, Carol and I were on leave at her family’s house on Long Island, only a few days from my departing for Spain, Then, the Western Union man came to the door. Of course, the message was for me, “Report without delay to CCGD3(p) for change in orders”. Carol and I made the short drive to New York City without comment. Carol cooled her heels in Battery Park while I seethed my way to the third floor of CG District Office. Now I was going to Okinawa, Japan.
I gazed out my window seat in the Boeing 707 across the tarmac to the large terminal windows knowing that Carol was among the crowd watching the takeoff. Cross country flights with the new jet powered passenger planes, only in their second year, still drew a crowd who cheered each takeoff in amazement.
I had a short stopover in San Francisco and a long flight to Honolulu where I met with a few other Loran CO’s for a two day logistics briefing from the 14th District engineering staff. Then on to Tokyo and a short welcome from the Commander, Far East Section. His yeoman handed me a piece of paper and said, “Sir, this has instructions in Japanese for you to show the taxi driver. You’ll have to catch a local taxi-boat from Yakina Basin to get to your station. Good luck, Sir.” Finally–I was on the last leg to Okinawa. I thought, “If our marriage stood up through this transfer, we were meant to be.”
At the Tokyo airport I stopped at the magazine counter, picked up a picture postcard of an Okinawan Shinto shrine and its famous Torii Gate and scribbled a short note, “Finally on a plane to Okinawa for last leg. Wish you were here. See you in a year. Love, Dick.”
My footlocker arrived in November