A Story About My Dad: A WWII Glider Pilot

In 1960 my father was an Air Force master sergeant stationed at Tachikawa Air Base, Japan. His job was editor of the base newspaper and sometimes he would take me with him when he went out for a story or to take photos. I was 9 years old and on this day a big general was arriving on base and I went with him to the base terminal to watch his plane land and see my dad get his story. When we arrived he took me outside by the fence to stand and wait for him. The plane landed and the general came out and talked on a speaker to the people greeting him. After a while they walked away and got into cars and left.

My father was standing near the plane writing into his notepad when one of the plane’s pilots got out and walked by him. After a few steps the captain stopped and backed up talking to my father. They talked for about 10-15 minutes, then they shook hands and the pilot took a step back and gave a hard salute to my father who returned his salute and then the captain walked away.

My father walked over and got me and we got into our car. I ask my father, “Daddy, that man was an officer and you’re not an officer, why did he salute you?” My dad smiled and said, “See the wings I have on my uniform?” I said “yes,” and then he said, “well, my wings have a ‘G’ in the middle and that means I was a ‘Glider Pilot’ during World War II and he knew that was ‘special’ and he wanted to thank me for my service.” That was the first time my dad ever told me he had been a glider pilot during the war.

Growing Up In Japan

My memories of Japan start on May 1, 1958 when our passenger ship, a converted World War II attack transport ship , the USS Frederick Funston (APA-89), pulled into the port of Yokohama and seeing all these red flags waving and signs that said “Go home Yankees.” I asked my dad about it and he told me that some of the Japanese didn’t like Americans and I didn’t need to worry about it, but as a seven-year-old that made me wonder if we should go back to Kansas the next day on another ship.

The place we would call home was Tachikawa Air Base which was about 18 miles from Tokyo and we made the trip that first day in a very small taxi which took over 2 hours. I remember my mother was very worried that we would all be killed on the way because of all the traffic and so many people on bicycles on the road, but we made it.

My father’s Air Force tour of duty would be as the managing editor of the Tachikawa Air Base newspaper.

What a place “Tachi” as it was called was to grow up. The base was divided into 2 parts with the airplane hangars and runway dividing it, the west side which included the main housing area and east side that had the largest military hospital in Japan.

For a family you had anything and everything you could want located on the base, kindergarten and grade school thru jr. high, with the high school located at Yamato Air Station a few miles away.  The base had 2 theaters, 2 base exchanges, 2 gyms, a teen club, 3 clubs for the military and 1 club for the civilian personnel, a commissary, 3 swimming pools, 2 football fields, hobby shop, 8 baseball fields, twelve tennis courts, two churches, an event service center where you could take all kinds of classes or weekend trips. The base buses ran every 15 minutes going in opposite directions around the base.

I would finish up the first grade upon my arrival and complete the 5th grade before we would leave to go back to the states in June 1962 heading for Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts. Little did I imagine then that I would be going back to Tachikawa, Japan again, but in May 1967 my father accepted a Civil Service position as the 6100th Support Wing Historian at “Tachi.”

My family arrived at Tachikawa Air Base, Japan for the second time in May 1967 and I would attend my junior and senior years at Yamato High School, Home of the Warriors, where I would graduate from on June 6, 1969.

Growing up at Tachikawa Air Base was a wonderful time in my life and my memories and adventures of being there are still fresh in my mind, like the time I attended the summer base open house and met two Japanese college students who asked if they could write me to practice writing in English, which I said was fine. About 2 weeks later my Dad got a call from the base post office that I had received some mail. Stopping by the post office I went in and asked for my mail and the airman said, “Come over to the side door, I have two bags for you.” I wondered who had sent me something, maybe an early birthday gift, but it turned out to be over 500 letters! Its seems the Japanese college students I met at the base open house had posted my name and address on the college school bulletin board and I got letters from most of the students that were taking the English writing course.

But as they say, if I could do it all over again… I would in a heartbeat.


Scot Steenson

I really don’t know where to start, but I’ll try to keep it short. All I can say is that my life has been one hell of a journey. One fucking adventure after another. Initially groomed as an Air Force brat, I transitioned to a contractors kid after my father retired from the Air Force. From my birth in Japan until I graduated high school in Turkey, I have traveled to many incredible parts of the world and met many fascinating human beings. Seen shit and did shit. An absolutely fascinating lifestyle.

Now I sit here at the tender age of forty… Two wonderful children, a failed marriage and on my third career. I constantly feel caught between two different worlds. The contrasts have been reason for my success and reason for my failure. Growing up with a unique lifestyle. Growing old in a more commonplace manner.

Traveling to over twenty five countries, living in three countries, traveling to forty seven states, living in six states… How does one claim identity? Maybe not having an identity is my identity. Can one be lost and found at the same time? I think so. It can be frustrating at times. When people seek conversation or friendship, it’s usually based on common grounds. But, I have almost nothing in common with the common American. Most of my fellow Americans, in my experience, aren’t concerned about the world beyond our walls. American football? Fixing up old cars? Watching reruns of the Jeffersons? Sorry, I didn’t grow up with any of that. How about we talk about Ottoman culture and it’s impact on the world? What’s Ottoman culture? Oh, well, nevermind. Lets just talk about the weather… I struggle to fit in, I struggle to be different.

Friendship is odd for me when I do find people I can relate with on some plane. Don’t get too close Scot, you never now when they will leave. Don’t get too close Scot, you never know when you will leave them. Ultimately, I find it rather sad. I don’t allow myself to get close to anyone and I don’t allow anyone to get too close to me. What’s to share when you can’t share souls?

Turkey was by far the most amazing time in my life it was intoxicating. The Turks were beautiful. The land was beautiful. Turkey was beautiful. During my time in Turkey I sought out as many experiences as I could. I learned the language fairly well and tried to meet locals. Maybe I’m wrong, but I felt my fellow classmates didn’t want to meet the locals. Our parties and trips never involved local Turks. This was strange for me to a degree. I had one life with my international friends, then I had my other life with my local Turkish friends. Many people lost out on meeting people from a fascinating culture.

One great gift I’ve received from my upbringing is the ability to ask “why.” I’m not religious because of the questions brought up while living overseas. I’m extremely patriotic because of the questions I asked myself while living overseas. It’s difficult to form solid opinions at times because I can see things from so many angles thanks to my upbringing.

Patricia Self

We were really lucky as a family, because we went to Japan in 1953 and Germany in 1960. My dad was sent to Korea in 1952 and we moved to Riverside, CA to be close to March AFB. When hostilities ended, he was assigned to FEAF in Tokyo and we boarded the E.D. Patrick to cross the Pacific and join him. My mom, sister, brother, and I went to Fort Mason while we waited for the process to begin. We’d all had our shots (so many) and immunizations. My mom came down with the ‘flu and there I was, age 9, with siblings 3 and 1. Off we went to find a meal, three times a day. Finally, it was time to board the ship. My mom was a little better, but that soon changed as we went under the Golden Gate Bridge and out into the ocean. Seasick? Oh, yes, all of us! My mom had been an Army RN in WWII and sailed both Atlantic and Pacific, but I think having had the flu weakened her system. Still, the day the ship docked in Yokohama was one of great happiness for all of us.

Off-base housing was “private rental,” and we lived in a large home owned by a Tokyo banker and his family. One wing was ours, with a private garden. Tatami mats in every room, a kitchen that I loved but was a nightmare for my mom and Sumiko, our maid. Water was obtained from huge bottles of purified origin. School (at Washington Heights) was reached via bus, which arrived each day at the bottom of a long hill beside our house. One day while waiting at the bus stop, I heard a scream that echoed in the air around us. When I returned from school that day, I discovered that Sumiko had caught her hand in the wringer of our quartermaster washing machine.

After Japan, it was Northern Virginia while my dad was at the Pentagon. And then, off to Wiesbaden where he was at USAFE. It was my junior year in high school, 1960, and HH Arnold High School (now Wiesbaden High School) was located in the Hainerberg housing area. The BX was also there, as well as the Taunus theater (where our graduation was held). We were there four years, and I went to the U of MD at Munich, where I lived in a dorm. Back to Wiesbaden, where I married after a year or so.

My then-husband couldn’t wait to be ex-Air Force, although I’d envisioned life as an Air Force wife, traveling forever. That didn’t happen, but all my ex-husbands were prior service, and I guess that counts for something! Instead, I travel by auto, whenever I can. My last airplane ride was to and from Hawai’i, and all the fun has gone out of traveling in the air. Awful seats, nothing in the way of “service,” and has anybody ever had to change flights and found the necessary boarding gates to be close together? My personal worst is DFW, where it is possible to transit and still be in time for boarding the next flight, but the last time I had to do it I was so happy that I was healthy and nimble!

Carole Piercy

I grew up in an Air Force family during the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s. Prior to my 5th birthday, I’d lived in 5 states. Fortunately for me, I only moved a few times after that. We never lived on base. My dad was enlisted and in that day he wasn’t paid much, so we lived in a trailer. I never thought much of it as we always lived in clean parks and we got to take our house with us where ever we moved. (This helped a lot with the adjustment to a new environment.)

My dad went on several TDY’s which didn’t bother us, but he also spent a longer time in Japan and then 15 months in Vietnam. My mom was a very strong and independent women and our household was not disrupted by my dad’s absences. We missed him and looked forward to deciphering his handwritten letters, but, life went on. I do remember feeling, as a child, and somewhat to this day, that whenever I heard his snoring at night, I knew I was safe.

My sister was lucky as we spent her junior and senior high years in Kansas. She actually went on to live there for college and several years as a teacher. We moved to England at the beginning of my 9th grade year. I’d gone to a base school during my kindergarten and 1st grade years, but all civilian schools after that, so attending a base school again was a new experience for me. I really hadn’t associated with military kids my age, before. So each move I’d made in the past had a few months of adjustment to new kids. I wasn’t extremely shy, but it did take me awhile to become friends with people. The difference I felt with the military kids was that they accepted me more readily as a friend. No need to explain where I’d been before, why I moved a lot, why I couldn’t explain what exactly my dad did, why I didn’t have a home town…. Thanks to Facebook and our high school’s reunions, I have reconnected with a few of those classmates and good friends. I did get to graduate from my school (Upper Hayford, England) which is something I’d worried about. We originally were suppose to relocate back to the States after my junior year, but because my dad was going to retire the next year, they extended our stay.

My love for traveling began with our family road trips to visit all the relatives every summer and expanded when I was able to travel through school trips and Girl Scouts while I was in England. I developed a great appreciation for other cultures and the beauty of
different countries. Instead of moving around as an adult (I’ve lived in Guam for over 30 years) I’ve traveled around the world on extended vacations. This kind of wanderlust is directly attributed to my life as a military brat. When I visit my relatives who’ve grown up in small towns in the midwest, I marvel at the long time friendships they’ve
developed and the closeness they have with their other cousins, but, so many have a small view of the world’s peoples and I’m sad to say, a prejudice.

There are no memories of civilian kids treating me poorly or bullying me, by my move to Kansas in the 3rd grade, many of my classmates had know each other since kindergarten or before. So breaking into the friendship groups took awhile and I only really had one or two good friends. (None of whom I’m currently connected to.) My sister, on the other hand, is best friends with 2 girlfriends she’s known since junior high! Just different timing. The only negativity I felt as a military brat was during High School in the 70’s. With the Vietnam war going on (winding down) there were always bomb threats to our base and school. In fact, during my high school graduation at the Oxford Town Hall, someone phoned in a bomb threat. Except for a few families, we all stood our ground and as we expected, the threat was just that.

I believe that growing up military but living and going to off base schools for most of that time, gave me the ability to adjust well back to the States after 4 years away. Starting my college career helped as did having one of my best friends also move to the town my dad retired to. I also feel I am open to more varieties of personalities and cultures. (Of course living in a dorm and working in a fast food joint also helped develop those skills.)

My only regret really is that I wish we’d been stationed in other parts of the world more. I would have loved to learn other languages where I could use them daily. I did get to know some English people through Girl Scouts, but not on a daily basis. If we’d lived in a neighborhood without other Americans, (we lived off base, but in a housing development for folks from the base.) that would have increased my chance to become friends with English kids and get to understand the culture more.

Today’s military families have more support than we did from the military community. When the children’s moms and dads are deployed it’s more than likely to a war zone and this might happen many times over their life. Definitely scarier times. I’m glad the schools are better equipped than ours was, and that the service men and women are paid better. There’s still the moving around and making new friends, but I think, at least for enlisted families, economics are better.

Sonja Neil

I am the child of two Air Force parents. We lived in Hokkaido Japan, San Vito Del Normandi, and Hellenikon Air Force Base. My father retired in 1983 and my mother retired in 1994 from the 3532nd Recruiting Squadron in Nashville, TN.

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