Last “Ticket to Ride!!!!”


“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”  ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher

I got the news a few days ago of the passing of a friend and fellow skydiving brother, Daniel Eric Morgan.  When I first heard, it was via a biker friend of mine through a FaceBook message, and I’ll be honest:  I didn’t even recognize his name, or the connection due to the convoluted path of the message.

But that wholly understates the importance Eric had on my life – and so many others’.  You see, I became known in skydiving circles for shouting “TICKET TO RIDE!!!” in the jump plane as it took off on its climb to altitude so we its passengers could fling ourselves from two miles up in the sky.  People in proximity would often brace for this moment; I often would grab and vehemently shake the person closest to me, or perhaps someone I wished to target on that particular jump.  BUT, truth be told and in full disclosure, Eric was the originator of this phrase – and it will always belong to him.

That notion – of illuminating the charged emotions of a skydive in voice, gesture and motion, captures the very notion of life and living.  Skydivers now this feeling all too well.  That we experience life to the fullest by accepting that death may be just around the corner, or in our case, a mere 50 seconds away….  And it reflects the gregarious nature that Eric would extrude from his very pores at those times when he could be found at the dropzone.

I didn’t know Eric well.  Actually, I didn’t know him really at all.  I probably knew his last name at one time, but over the years, it slipped away.  He was a Navy “bubblehead” veteran of the submarine force, and worked in some IT or technical capacity based on his navy experience and training.  He was a family man, although I can’t even say how many kids he has or whether he was/is currently married or not.  He wasn’t what I would consider a “regular” at Emerald Coast Skydiving Center (ECSC, our home dropzone, now sadly defunct), but when he was around, his charismatic presence was unmistakable.  In a sense, he was a caricature of himself, a zany personality full of smiles and laughter.  Because of this, I came to refer to him as “Crazy Eric.”

I have almost 10,000 photos on my Flickr photostream tagged “skydiving.”  But I can only find a single photo of Crazy Eric.  That makes me sad, but his loss causes an emptiness that I can only really fill by capturing and sharing our intersection, our story.  In this one photo, however, one can gleam all that needs to be known about Eric:  his welcoming smile, kind eyes, and a rig on his back ready to jump.  And clearly, just beneath his calm exterior, that clever grin, ready to exclaim in only the way in which he could, “TICKET TO RIDE!”

Crazy Eric has a TICKET TO RIDE!

Eric’s life indeed can be warmly found in the happy memories of the skydiving family he left behind.

Blue Skies, Black Death My Friend.

Ride on.

Okinawan Traces of War: Lily Corps, The Himeyuri Schoolgirls


Haunting Apparitions

Haunting Apparitions

The room is haunted, of that there is no question. The ghosts, most fuzzy and out of focus, manifest in black and white, gazing outward from the dark recesses of their vault like wallflowers often do, in silence, inanimate and expressing little emotion.

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But unlike most paranormal activity that is ultimately debunked, the apparitions of the young girls of the “Lily Corps” are real: striking black and white portraits of all those who died line this gloomy chamber.  With each victim is the circumstance of their demise.  Visitors can’t help but read about such horrific endings.  How their jaws were blown off and they bled out.  Or how they were horribly burned by flamethrower, or napalmed in their caves, or how they used hand grenades to kill themselves.  It is inconceivable to imagine such fates for these young mostly 15 or 16 year olds given the very promise of youth found indelibly inscribed on each of their faces.  And these phantoms, covering three walls of this dark, mournful space, all stare towards the deep recesses of a life-sized diorama of the Himeyuri “Cave of Virgins,” where there were only three survivors out of the nine soldiers, 28 doctors and nurses, eight civilians and 51 student nurses which hunkered down there.

The Cave of Virgins at the Himeyuri Monument

The Cave of Virgins at the Himeyuri Monument

 

Each of these girls has a story to tell; all we have to do is listen. So many of these young ladies needlessly and tragically either committed suicide or were overcome by the more disgusting realities of war.

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Survivors Today

Survivors Today

The Himeyuri students (ひめゆり学徒隊, Himeyuri Gakutotai), sometimes called “Lily Corps,” was a group of 222 students and 18 teachers of the Okinawa Daiichi Women’s High School and Okinawa Shihan Women’s School formed into a nursing unit for the Imperial Japanese Army during the Battle of Okinawa. Daughters of Okinawa’s privileged class, most hoped to become teachers. But instead they were mobilized by the Japanese army on March 23, 1945, an act which sealed their untimely, unfortunate fates.  The name of their unit is derived from one of the schools anthems, “Star Lily” or “Princess Lily,” depending on the source of translation.

Prewar Group Photo and a Cave of their Demise

Prewar Group Photo and a Cave of their Demise

Indoctrination:  Bowing to an Alter of a portrait of the Emperor of Japan.

Indoctrination: Bowing to an Alter of a portrait of the Emperor of Japan.

At the outset of their mobilization, their spirits were high. After decades of political and militaristic indoctrination in the Imperial Japanese culture of the time, the Okinawans held some notion of nationalism for the Emperor and Empire of the Rising Sun that had plunged the Eastern Hemisphere of the world into brutal conflict starting in the 1930s.  In fact, many of the Himeyuri students thought that the Japanese Army would defeat the Allies in a matter of days, and accordingly, brought school books and supplies to ensure their expected graduation later that spring.  While the girls (and their teachers) had little military training, hours of nursing indoctrination had replaced subjects such as English, and physical education shifted from learning traditional dances to marching in step over the preceding year.

Beautiful Tickets

Beautiful Tickets

Carry provisions to the hospitals.

Carry provisions to the hospitals.

The Himeyuri Peace Monument and Museum offers a unique and moving window into the lives, struggles and sacrifices of this group of girls, aged 14 to 19 years old, recruited and pressed into service. The museum chronicles the lives, studies, and trials faced by these girls.  Caught in the crossfire of raging battles and rampant disease, roughly 200 lost their lives, most in the dark, dank caves which served as shelters, hospitals and fighting positions (often all at the same time) in the southern reaches of Okinawa Island.  After visiting, in a very real sense, these young women put faces to all the innocent victims who suffer while fighting someone else’s war, regardless of time or place….

Remembering the past...Educating for the future....

Remembering the past…Educating for the future….

“News of their mobilization to [an] Army Field Hospital had led the students to believe that they would conduct their medical duties in safe wards flying Red Cross flags,” a museum display states. “The reality was that they were thrown into the hellish war front full of oncoming shells and bullets.”  During the nearly 3-month-long battle, the Himeyuri students served all along the serpentine front lines performing surgery and other difficult duties.  For the duration, most lived deep within improvised and impoverished cave hospitals filled with countless gravely injured and dead soldiers.

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The Japanese military, who then held the Okinawans with some measure of disdain, mobilized a huge number of civilians to compensate for their falling ranks. They conscripted Okinawa’s children and elderly for menial labor, where they too were often directly exposed to fatal combat conditions despite their supposed non-combatant nature.  To the Okinawans’ credit, they served the Japanese military well and with honor, despite their forced colonization and open discrimination by Japan proper.  Okinawa, seen more as a backwards place populated by an unworthy people rather than an integral part of Japan, was largely sacrificed by the Japanese leadership while executing their pointless war of attrition.  In that sense, the Japanese military treated Okinawans as outsiders and deemed their safety or needs as blatantly insignificant.  Quite surprisingly, many Okinawans continued to enthusiastically assist the Japanese, exactly in the hopes that they would finally and fairly be recognized and in turn treated as true Japanese.

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Origami Cranes

Origami Cranes

To the Japanese leadership, however, there was no illusion to their sure defeat. After six weeks of fighting on Okinawa, being pushed back further and further south, an “order of dissolution” was issued to the Lily Corps on June 18, 1945.  Up until that time, only 19 of the students had been killed, but in the following week after being simply told to “go home,” approximately 80% of the girls and their teachers perished.  Survivors committed suicide in various ways because of fears of systematic rape by US soldiers, throwing themselves off cliffs, or killing themselves with hand grenades or cyanide poison given them by Japanese soldiers and even their Doctors.

The Himeyuri Monument

The Himeyuri Monument

The Himeyuri Monument was built on April 7, 1946, in memory of those from the Okinawan schools who so needlessly and carelessly died. Many survivors of the Lily Corps helped build the facility, and in fact continue to volunteer there today.  There are still Himeyuri students alive, but all are now well into their 80s.  Sadly, they won’t be with us much longer to offer their firsthand, emotional testimonies to the more horrific nature of war.

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Located adjacent to the monument, the Himeyuri Peace Museum compliments the site as a befitting memorial. It was modeled after one of the main school buildings in which many of the girls had once studied.  The museum is spread across five different rooms, all which display in chronological order photos, personal mementos, and school documents from well before the battle, moving through the girls’ time spent at the Haebaru Army Field Hospital (read about my visit there here), and finally the circumstance of their demise.

Girls making rice balls at the Haebaru Field Hospital

Girls making rice balls at the Haebaru Field Hospital

HimeyuriDuring our visit, we witnessed one of the Himeyuri survivors giving a special talk at a mock-up of the Haebaru’s field hospital. Although we couldn’t understand a word, her animated gesturing coupled with the rhythmic tenor and inflection of her testament helped breathe life into a facility which seems so centered on death and loss.  “It was dark and humid and unsanitary.  There was no adequate treatment of the wounded; their condition was indescribably bad.  All the wounded soldiers were infested with maggots, especially their mouths and ears, and it was our [student nurses] job to remove the maggots from their wounds.”  Many of the nursing aids assisted in restraining unanesthesized patients during amputation, and would end their shifts by having to bury the rejected, mangled flesh.

Mockup of a Haebaru Army Field Hospital Tunnel

Mockup of a Haebaru Army Field Hospital Tunnel

0But there are also uncomfortably comical recollections. One survivor recounts her capture:  “We were hiding between rocks on a cliff when the enemy found us and started pouring gasoline from above to set it afire.  With no other choice but be burned, we climbed the cliff and saw American soldiers pointing their guns at us.  It was the first time in my life that I saw blue eyes.”

Admiral Minoru Ota

Admiral Minoru Ota

In retrospect, even the Japanese in charge of their futile defense of Okinawa realized their culpability. Masahide Ota, a high-ranking Japanese Army Officer who survived the battle, claimed, “…had the [Japanese] military regarded non-combatants as coming under their protection, evacuations [of Okinawan civilians] would have been unnecessary and the collective self-killings that took place in the Kerama Islands, Ie-jima, Yomitan, and Mabuni would never have been carried out.  In reality, non-combatants were far from being protected by the military.  Instead, they found themselves in a situation where they were attacked by tigers at the front gate (the enemy troops) and wolves at the back gate (their own troops).”  Similarly, Admiral Ota (no relation), the ranking Japanese Navy Officer on Okinawa, made the suffering and conduct of the Okinawans patently clear in his final telegram to his superiors before he himself committed ritual suicide (read my blog about the Japanese Naval Underground).  He pleaded that the Okinawans be not just remembered for their unwavering support even in the face of their grave mistreatment, but that Japan as a nation must see to Okinawa’s future prosperity.

Okinawa 2014, Navy Underground, the agony of the Okinawan People

7f3d9_himeyuriDuring the 83-day engagement that has come to be called Okinawa’s “Typhoon of Steel, more than 220,000 people were murdered, including a full third of Okinawa’s civilian population (read my blog concerning the nature of the Battle of Okinawa).  Himeyuri survivors eagerly volunteer as they feel it’s their “…duty to tell people of the reality of war, the brutality and stupidity of war.  It is our duty to speak for our friends who fell in the war and to repose their souls.”

okinawa-himeyuri-museumAlthough literally over 1000,000 Okinawans died here in 1945, it is the deaths of around 200 teenage girls that have captured hearts and speak volumes. The Lily Corps will always reflect the faces of daughters, sisters, and friends, all of whom hold happy hopes and destined dreams of the future.  The Himeyuri students will always remind us of the preciousness of life, that no one should be mistreated, cast away, and killed as if they were inconsequentially expendable.  “Collateral damage,” the sterile and unknowing cliché under which civilian deaths are so easily categorized and brushed aside in our modern times, falls so very short of capturing the true impact of conflict in terms of aggregate human suffering and loss.  Memorials are often about numbers in literal sense, or display innumerable names displayed for public contemplation.  The Himeyuri Peace Monument and Museum, however, offers a haunting humanization of the true reality of war:  pain, suffering, loss and tragedy.

Offerings of Peace

Offerings of Peace

The girls continue their static stare in my mind’s eye, an uncomfortable confrontation which makes me yearn for peace. I am happy and relieved to be divorced from my role in the US Military, now free to do what I can to repose not just these girls, but for everyone, everywhere, who suffered a violent, untimely end in a needless war.

In Happier Times

In Happier Times

Himeyuri Peace Monument & Museum

Address: 671-1 Aza Ihara, Itoman city, Okinawa

Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM

Admission: Adult 350 yen, High School 200 yen, Elementary 100 yen

Web:   www.okinawastory.jp/en/view/portal/0110987100/

Paradise Lost: Okinawa 2004-2005


PARADISE_LOST5“The only paradise is paradise lost.”  ~ Marcel Proust

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”  ~~ John Milton, Paradise Lost

My wife (at the time) was getting glammed up for another practice with the Okinawan rock-band (Pavlov’s Dogs) she had befriended while I was deployed and who with she was going to sing a gig in the coming weeks.  Her being naturally theatrically inclined and blessed with an alluring presence much more than a singing voice, I actively supported this opportunity for her.

Taken the night she spent "with the band."

Taken the night she spent “with the band.”

“Just don’t sleep with the band,” I half-jokingly commented as I righted her head scarf, readying her to head out into the chilly night air.

But she did….  And so much worse.

My ex's haunt while I was away.

My ex’s haunt while I was away.

I’ve written extensively about my first time living on Okinawa (1999-2001) in Shipwrecked on the Island of Misfit Toys, and this reflection serves as the 2nd installment of what will become a three-part series covering my drastically different flirtations with the Far East.  While my first can best be characterized as a fun-filled and zany-at-times misfit adventure, my second foray in Japan bypasses all the shades of gray and takes a much darker turn to black.

My Mother ended up passing away in 2001 while I was half-a-world-away on some stinkin’ gray-hulled ship off the coast of Australia.  Her death was expected, and thankfully I had been previously sent home when she was diagnosed with inoperable and rather advanced, terminal lung cancer.  Oddly enough, that was my second time home on Emergency Leave within a year from Okinawa, since months prior my brother was diagnosed with advanced stage 3 kidney cancer.  It was a tough time on my family, but particularly for my ex.

My spouse, “DJ”’ as she was called, seemed to react increasingly poorly to these crises, particularly to my mother’s death, but these were probably only precipitating events.  She entered a very dark time in our collective lives.  After a year or two of intense therapy and treatment once we moved back to the states in 2001, she was diagnosed as suffering from intense Bipolar Disorder.  In hindsight, it made perfect sense:  her highs were what set her apart and made her so intriguingly creative, energetic and attractive, but the days and sometimes weeks of zombie-like lack of participation in life (sans the brains-eating perhaps) was the price everyone had to pay.  There was treatment (primarily meds), and slowly, she started to come back to more “normal” life (if there is such a thing) starting in 2003.

Sunabe Seawall, a special place for my whole family.

Sunabe Seawall, a special place for my whole family.

My ex and kids had become enthralled with Okinawa during our short time spent living there from 1999-2001, so much so that we jointly and mutually agreed as a family to ask for reassignment back to Japan at the end of my duty in Miami, Florida, in 2004.  This was an easy assignment to get; remember, the job I asked for was as the de facto Misfit Toy-in-Charge in the land of many.  My Detailer, the officer who assigns jobs out to the fleet was more than eager to “pencil me in” to that specific billet exceedingly early, since filling the job was historically like pulling teeth…from a pissed off rabid cat…with sharpened claws.

Of course I did have some ulterior motives in seeking and taking these orders.  Recall at the time that we were intensely engaged in active combat operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Now this isn’t meant to be a discussion focused on politics or even war; suffice it to say that I, back then and now, simply couldn’t support any of our actions in the Middle East, and wanted no part of what has turned out to be insanely bad ideas and perhaps America’s worst decisions of the new century.  The military forces I would be assigned to in Okinawa have historically been “fenced” or set aside from potential out-of-area global commitments so that they would always be ready and available to respond to certain likely, more local contingencies.  Namely, issues concerning North & South Korea, but more so, supporting Taiwan if China made any aggressive moves.  Oh yeah, and there’s the defense of Japan against, uhm, maybe the pissed-off whales that they continue to kill every year under the lame guise of “scientific research.”  So, in taking these orders I would return to a treasured 2nd home, and I would not be going to the dessert…either one (take your pick)…again.

Of course when you actively try to dodge an unwanted fate, sometimes you unknowingly dodge right into fate’s crosshairs.  So, we show up on Okinawa for the 2nd time in August 2004 and find out that the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which I was tasked to support with Tactical Air Control, was on a no-notice open-ended deployment order for Iraq.

Fate is a bitch. But what I was to learn is that this deployment would be the least of my worries.

Afloat on the USS Essex 2004-2005

Afloat on the USS Essex 2004-2005

The three-ship Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and 3,500 of my fellow sailors and marines were due to leave within two weeks.  Luckily for me, a series of serious typhoons in the area – a common occurrence in “typhoon alley” in every fall – delayed our departure (see Typhoons: A Divinely Okinawan Experience), enough so that I could buy and register the family two vehicles, secure an adequate domicile out in town, and get my pay settled and the kids enrolled in school.  I was PISSED at my command, particularly my commanding officer, who elected to tell me NOTHING of this situation prior to my family’s overseas move.

My initial 2-man stateroom on USS Essex.  I moved to a larger room later in the deployment.

My initial 2-man stateroom on USS Essex. I moved to a larger room later in the deployment.

“But it was classified, and we had no way of contacting you through secure means,” my Skipper protested in his defense.  “C’mon Skipper, how ‘bout ‘Hey Elvis, might want to leave your family and cats in the states for now….’  It’s not f–king rocket-surgery,” I complained, strongly voicing my disapproval of his lack of concern over my family.  I most certainly would have left my family in-place in Miami while I deployed for what turned out to be nearly 8 months; it seems I already sensed that nothing good would come of leaving my ex alone and mentally vulnerable.  Let’s just say the charged and colorful conversation with that particularly bad CO was the most insubordinate and disrespectful I’ve ever been while serving on Active Duty.  He deserved it.  He knew it, and as a result, said – and did little in return.

My Tactical Air Control detachment aboard USS Essex

My Tactical Air Control detachment aboard USS Essex

Off I go to war…again.  Ah, the Middle East.  I had already spent a year of my life deployed to the region in 1991 and 1993.  Now I was going back, this time assigned to the relatively safety of a ship instead of flying into harm’s way.  I admit I found myself in an increasingly depressed place.  I had not expected to be shipped away from my family for such a long period of time and to a combat zone that I would find almost ridiculous…if it weren’t for Americans spilling their blood and spending our treasure.  I held absolutely no support for the undeclared “war” that our privileged politicians elected to fight in Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9-11, and certainly had even less to do with weapons of mass destruction.  But under these fanatical tenets that lamely justified our deadly actions, whole masses of people were to be slaughtered.

While I was at war, my wife was hooking up on Gat 2 Street.

While I was at war, my wife was hooking up on Gat 2 Street.

176441272_a67bf93025_bFinding myself angry most of the time, I spent a lot of time in the ship’s gym.  Unfortunately, I seriously injured myself there early in our transit to the Persian Gulf.  Tearing a rhomboid muscle in my upper back, I no longer could work out or even be active, which was one of the few things allowing me to hang onto to my already stressed and strained sanity.  Worse, at the time there were only two qualified watch officers in the ship’s Tactical Air Control Center (TACC), and I was one of them.  As a result, I ended up standing “port and starboard” watch, working for 12 hours a day, every day, week after week.  More damaging, my work center more resembled an Okinawan cave than an office:  a constantly dark and dank radar room, kept at a morgue-like 60-65 degrees….  You know it’s bad that when you do go outside in the sunlight, your eyes actually HURT from being under fluorescent light for so long.

Me and "Sarge" on the Essex; he above anyone else helped me hang on to my sanity.

Me and “Sarge” on the Essex; he above anyone else helped me hang on to my sanity.

I’m not afraid of working, but pulling this type of shift-work for six or seven weeks at a time puts a heavy strain on anyone.  I found myself staring into the abyss; I was troubled, mentally and physically.  I started pulling back and becoming less and less interactive with my friends and shipmates afloat with me.

Sending the Marines ashore to fight the Battle for Fallujah, 2004

Sending the Marines ashore to fight the Battle for Fallujah, 2004

Christmas 2004; she had already started cheating.

Christmas 2004; she had already started cheating.

And while my wife certainly was fighting her own battles back home, our lives were slowly becoming unraveled.  It would seem obvious that we would be openly communicating at this difficult juncture in our lives.  However, given our individual trials and tribulations, instead of positive, reinforcing and mutually support, neither of us could find the means to back the other.

Clear evidence of Bipolar Disorder.

Clear evidence of Bipolar Disorder.

She also claimed to be a victim

She also claimed to be a victim

Yes, or course I am in-part culpable for some, maybe many of the problems that existed between my ex and I; I am clearly no saint and have skeletons in my closet just like everyone else.  BUT, I certainly did not turn to promiscuity as a solution.  Long before my ex even hinted at her growing displeasure with our marriage, she was already looking for solace in places one shouldn’t – someone else’s bed.  Worse, her close friends and family knew, and not one of them actively stepped in to give her some hard advice and tough love.  By the time I returned from this deployment, the marriage was lost.  I just didn’t know it yet.

Another frequented bar for my ex

Another frequented bar for my ex

My proof was about this good.

My proof was about this good.

Returning back home early in the spring of 2005 due to on-going problems with my neck (bulging disc) stemming from the poorly healed muscle tears in my upper back, DJ acted excited and happy.  Maybe she was.  However, she had already established her secret, slutty double-life.  And like anyone living a lie, it’s not long until the truth comes out.  She was caught, sticky-handed as it were, just before Easter in 2004.  “Black Friday” is what it became to be known.

One lady in my life stayed with me!  my loyal Okinawan cat "Tora"

One lady in my life stayed with me! my loyal Okinawan cat “Tora”

Dressed for the buffet of boys

Dressed for the buffet of boys

She moved out, and took up independent residence a few blocks away from my apartment in Chatan-cho, Okinawa.  The kids initially alternated a week there and then a week with me, but ultimately it was decided (against my wishes) that my son would stay with me and my daughter with her mother.  We even split our two cats.  Splitting the family was bad enough, but my ex’s repeated seconds at her all-you-could-eat “buffet of boys” constantly and readily available on Okinawa was where we both, I believe, bottomed-out.

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Maybe she was just bad to begin with.

Maybe she was just bad to begin with.

She claimed to be “in love” with a punk she met in a bar.  Her relationship with this newly proclaimed “soul mate” – the 2nd soul mate on the island counting the lead singer of the band mentioned in this blog’s opening – is a tale as old as time.  Screwing anyone in a minivan forty minutes after meeting in a bar is not love, it’s just skankiness.  I was pissed, partly because my ex was being played so badly, and everyone knew it, it appeared, except her.  When I tracked this hooligan down, it turned out he had a wife and kids back in Hawaii (and the band’s singer was married with kids as well) where he was stationed as a Marine.  Oh, but it gets better:  a Thai bar-girl, a nicety for prostitute, showed up on Okinawa a week or three after his affair with my ex was found out, claiming that her infant was his.  He did not deny it to the Marine Corps or to my ex (who believed that he was just helping the prostitute out of the kindness of his heart), and actually declared the child his dependent.  Karma is a bitch; while the USMC wouldn’t do much about his affair with my wife, there was no way to dodge a charge of adultery when there is ultimate physical proof:  a baby.  He was, at best, looking at forced separation from the service, and potentially even a Courts Martial.  He certainly doesn’t deserve to be called “Marine.”

Unfortunately the shirt no longer applied.

Unfortunately the shirt no longer applied.

For a few months I made this untenable situation work.  But not well.  Initially I tried to repair and patch the marriage.  I was entirely unhappy and rather depressed; I stopped eating, attempted run my anger away into miles of pavement, and generally ignored work and the more enjoyable aspects of life.  I felt lost on the island that I considered a second home; my passion for the Okinawan culture and scuba diving that had so much subsumed my attentions of the past seemed to have been lost.

Sunabe Seawall from my daughter's bedroom window, 2004

Sunabe Seawall from my daughter’s bedroom window, 2004

Because of my ex’s corrupt conduct, and as she was not only putting me in a difficult situation, but a whole slew of enlisted men in similar circumstance, I approached my Chain of Command asking that my dependents be returned early to the states.  In conversation with my Chief of Staff at the time, I distinctly remember telling him, “Nothing good will come of this; this island is too small for both of us [my ex and I] to share….”

Another way of portraying "nothing good will come of this"

Another way of portraying “nothing good will come of this”

To make a very long story short, I ended up involved in an altercation with one of my ex’s lovers, a 21 or 22 year-old Army Specialist.  He ended up at the ER, and I ended up being investigated by the Army’s version of NCIS.  Believe me, it’s NOTHING like the TV show.  It was a messy situation:  a very junior army enlisted man committing adultery with an officer’s wife, culminating in a fish-fight with a Navy officer in the foreign and sensitive streets of Okinawa.

The punk is still alive.

The punk is still alive.

Interestingly and justifiably so, no charges were pressed and the Army issued an Order that this particular soldier stay away from my family (the Marines did the same with the “other” guy).  I was given a “Non-Punitive Letter of Reprimand,” which was just fine with me.  At least I won the fight…and would safely retire upon reaching twenty years of service.  Oddly enough though, instead of my ex being kicked off the island, I was the one who was unjustly punished and sent home nine months early.

Leaving Okinawa was bittersweet.  One of us – my ex or I – needed to go.  But I was the one who had job as an Active Duty service member, but most importantly I didn’t cheat and ultimately cause this cascade of woe.  It was clear that my ex and kids would be much better served back in the states in more familiar territory and with a much larger support network.  And I would have financially fared much better as I ended up paying for her separate and sinister life since she remained largely unemployed on Okinawa.  The military lawyers, however, thought differently, and so did my Commanding Officer.

My ride home, late 2005.

My ride home, late 2005.

In the end, my own personal saving grace materialized quite unexpectedly.  When the Admiral I worked for, Admiral Victor G. Guillory, found out about my altercation, of course he wanted to see me ASAP.  And of course I was scared to death to see the man under such embarrassing and regretful context.  He and I had worked well and closely in the past months; in fact, I became his “briefing boy” for 7th Fleet since I could brief and stand my ground with senior officers.  When I walked into his office, he unexpectedly greeted me with a warm handshake and a smile.  I was shocked and taken aback.

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“Elvis [my callsign during my time in the Navy], we – I owe you an apology,” he started the conversation.  I was stunned into silence, expected rather to have my ass handed to me for such regretful behavior.

“I had no idea what was going on with you, and let me be clear:  The Navy has failed you,” he continued.  I had been trying for months to get help and placate the situation.  First, through the command’s Senior Medical Officer since my ex shouldn’t have ever screened for living overseas with BPD, and then through official Legal channels to force my ex back home.  My ex had her diagnosis changed to a condition that was approved for overseas, and the lawyers –being the spineless reptiles they are – ridiculously ruled that compelling my ex to leave would potentially violate her rights, a risk they were not willing to initiate.  I then attempted to get help through the Chaplain, who did nothing but offer me counsel, and both first and finally through the Admiral’s Chief of Staff, who simply failed to raise any of these issues beyond his office.  From what I understand, is was the COS who actually got his ass handed to him, the Admiral carefully explaining that he deserved to know of any serious issue affecting any of his officers.

Leaving Paradise, for the 2nd Time

Leaving Paradise, for the 2nd Time

The Admiral said he would genuinely miss me, but that Big Navy was adamant about getting me off the island due to the sensitive political situation that seems to be permanently present in Japan.  I understood.  While I wasn’t able at the time to voice my deep and sincere appreciation for the compassion and empathy that the Admiral showed, it has never left me and since has informed my own sense and style of leadership.

While my Okinawan paradise may have been lost, I slowly started to find myself again.  Between my unexpectedly honorable treatment by the Admiral at my departure, and a truly gifted PhD psychologist (thanks Dr. Ing!) who opened my eyes and mind to a stark and unwanted reality, I was able to start climbing out of the abyss.

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The mind can indeed and usually does create a prison stronger than any steel or concrete, and often fabricates a hell far worse than anything prescribed in scripture.  Having pried my mind open to the light of a brighter future, I sadly said “sayonara” to Okinawa.  However, it was with optimism for an unknown future, one that lay in the brilliant sunrise of a new day as I prepared to travel home back East.