Flying back to K-13, fighting tears threatening to flow... knowing I will very likely never return to Kokura, I am determined to find a way to free Keiko...to give her a chance...a chance to do...I really don't know what I am thinking...only that I must find a way to help. I immerse myself in work at Base Camp.
At one time, I am writing to 17 different girls back in the USA. My mention of Kokura and Keiko ends all that...not a single letter arrives. I begin to wonder if I have any friends at all.
Once in a great while, Dad writes me...always typed on toilet paper...never saying much of what is happening back home. I do receive a package from Mother, two bed sheets and a pillow case...leaving me feeling even more guilty as now I am the only one in our tent able to wipe his butt - they wash off from a faucet of hot water...and no one else has sheets or pillow case.
An addition to our latrine is made to Base Camp for enlisted personnel...an oil burning heater for water allows hot showers.
As Christmas approaches, we write home for ornaments and decorations. On my walks into the hills, I come across two scrawny fir trees about 5 feet tall. I pull both out by the roots, carrying them back to Base Camp. We wire the trees together, add our decorations, hang up streamers, set up a "bar" in our tent and welcome all...officers and enlisted alike...to our celebration. Our tent is the only one to have a real live Christmas tree (see previous blog for pictures of Christmas 1953 at PANMUNJOM).
Tour of duty in Korea is one year. Nearly everyone has their FIGMO (Fuck It Got My Orders) Chart...little squares counting down the number days until rotation back to the United States As my FIGMO chart squares fill up, I am torn; I very nearly submit my request to remain one more year in Korea...in the hope that I can continue to travel to Kokura. I talk about it with Lt. J...there is an exodus underway...moving units out of Korea...if you extend, you will probably be reassigned...no more access to K-13 Gooney Bird...no more sneaking to Japan...
In the final few days, new orders send me from UNC-MAC back to K-13. I check in at HQ HQ of 8th Fighter Bomber Wing...no more job for me...just return to my barracks and wait the final few days until rotation. I brood lying on my cot...then get an idea;
Returning to the Orderly Room, I ask if I may travel to Kokura on my way to Yokohama where we will return by MSTS (Military Sea Transport System) ship to Seattle. Sure, why not. I write my own orders once again and for the last time, board our C-47 Gooney Bird bound for Kokura. I have five days before reporting in at Yokohama.
Keiko is home when I step off the bus in Seaside...screams, hugs, kisses, squeeze from Auntie; I am welcomed home. We two spend endless hours talking in "our" room, walking the shores of the Sea of Japan, and taking the bus into the city of Kokura. We stop in at a professional photographer where we have pictures taken...Keiko in her kimono and in western clothes...me always in my Class A Blue uniform. I mail a photograph of the two of us to my mother.
We visit a bank in downtown Kokura, where we establish a joint account. I deposit $150.00...the first of $50.00 monthly deposits I will wire from America for the next two years...my assurance to Keiko that I will return for her. Keiko is no longer indentured...as long as I keep my part of the bargain.
Keiko presents me with a gift...an ebony black music / jewelry box painted with colorful pigments, covering the sides with Japanese Gardens...the top with more gardens dominated by Mount Fujiyama in the background...
Keiko's gift to me sits at my elbow, having never been far from my bedside.
It is time for me to fly to Yokohama. Keiko goes with me on the bus to the front gate of the Kokura US Air Base. She stands beside the closed gate as I board the military bus...I watch Keiko standing, waving, until I can see her no longer.
I never set eyes on Keiko again.