When our convoy was twelve days out of Pearl Harbor we received orders directing the USS Seminole to White Beach, Okinawa. Myself and the four Marines with me would receive further orders when we off loaded at White Beach. Thirty three days later we tied up at White Beach. If there was a beach, we missed it. We stayed with our assigned equipment as it was off loaded and assigned to a group going to Marine Corps Air Facility, Futema, Okinawa. Our chopper squadron HMM-161 was mobilizing off the Iwo Jima to Futema also. Futema was a single runway support base for Asia flights, primarily a refuel stop for USMC cargo aircraft. Our crash crew mustered with HMM-161 and our equipment was based at their hanger. A week after we arrived the Base Commander realized we were on base when he saw our crash truck on the taxiway. He immediately cut orders for all five of us and our equipment. He made us permanent base personnel. The base had a small crash crew, but they were completely understaffed to handle the air traffic associated with the Vietnam mobilization. HMM-161 just received new HU1E helicopters to replace their old UH-34’s. We wanted to stay with the squadron when they mobilized to Vietnam.
We hounded the HMM-161 Operations Officer for a familiarization flight on the new HU1E helicopter. He finally relented. Two of us from crash crew buckled into the back seats and off we went. The new chopper was pretty impressive as we flew out over the small Ryuku Islands in the China Sea. We came back over base at a high altitude. The pilot told us to make sure our belts were tight. He flipped the engine off and we dropped like a rock, auto-rotating in a controlled fall. Our knees were even with our noses and it felt like the belts were going to cut us in half. It seemed like we dropped forever before the pilot restarted the engine. We climbed rapidly to a high elevation twice more and auto-rotated down again. Finally the pilot asked us if we thought we were familiar with his bird. We had seen all we wanted to see.
We recovered from the disappointment of not going to Vietnam. The structural fireman on base were all local Okinawans and we shared the same building with them. All of the crash crew were Marines. Futema was a very busy place. We worked twenty four hours on and twenty four hours off. All base liberty terminated at midnight. If you respected the local people and their customs Okinawa wasn’t bad duty. You could buy a Typhoon Fifth (2 liter) of saki for about eighty cents. We would sprinkle dry kool aid in it for flavor. When we got low on money towards the end of the pay period we drank saki. Right after payday we drank Crown Royal. We worked hard and played hard.
We learned a lot about raw fish and local food………….there’s nothing that can’t be washed down with a glass full of whiskey