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Living Abroad In A Bygone Era

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A short story of living abroad as a Military dependent in the fifties and sixties.

A short story of living abroad as a Military dependent in the fifties and sixties.

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  • 1. In 1955 a DC-6 was cleared from ground control and began a long taxi from the MATS terminal at Hickam AFB that would take it to the Honolulu International Airports main runway. All commercial and military transports shared the runway in those days. I was five years old when that birds engines spit and fired and popped its engines, as we revved down that runway. Then with the slow climb of the DC-6 we eventually glided over downtown Honolulu easing itself to port over the blue pacific, while leaving the island of Oahu behind. Its destination, Anderson AFB, Terr. Of Guam, sixteen hours to the west, with a re-fueling stop at Wake Island That was a long time ago, fifty four years actually, and I must tell you, I honestly don’t feel that old. Our family, was cutting our teeth on what was to be a continuous ordeal for the next thirteen years of our lives. Journeys that found us criss crossing the Pacific between the West Coast and Japan, with a side trip to San Antonio, Tex. thrown in for good measure. The planes that chartered us half way around the globe are considered classics from the golden age of air travel.DC-5’s, DC-6’s, C-121 Constellations, even a C-130 at one point, you took whatever the USAF threw at you in the form of a MATS transport. Life was different then, and expectations were much simpler. Your in-flight meal on these piston driven firecrackers, a box lunch, and I’m not kidding, it really came in a box, a white one to be precise, containing a baloney sandwich and some potato chips. Your beverage of choice, milk or kool aid, try that menu on a sixteen hour flight to Tokyo today. The Air Force was slow to change in those days, as was the culture of the country itself. In 1947, its first year of existence the Military Air Transport Service, or MATS as it was called was one of the largest wings in the Air Force. After WW II, the United States deployed more men overseas during peacetime then at any other time in our countries history. Moreover, for the first time their dependents, i.e. Wives and children, were going with them. Flights, as the one that took off from Hickam Field that day, was but one of a countless number that year. The DC-6 and the Lockheed Constellation were the back of bone the Air Force’s transport wing from the late 40’s to the end of the 50’s. Our family flew them to Guam, Japan, Wake Island, and back again to Hawai’i during those years. Sixteen hour flights from Hawai’i to the Far East were a given
  • 2. in those days, with a stop or even two stops expected. Those birds were pretty dependable; they just didn’t have the fuel capacity for those long distances. However, advances in air technology, provided military personnel and their dependents newer options as the 1960’s rolled in. By the early sixties, air transportation for military personnel and dependents, were being farmed out via contracts to companies such as Pan Am, United, and Braniff Air. This afforded us our first experiences with the Boeing 707, and the DC-8. We liked it, top to bottom, no complaints from this family. It could be a whirlwind life at times, traveling so often and far away from home. Yet, it afforded us an opportunity, really the privilege, to actually be the first generation of kids to live our youthful years outside the boundaries of the USA. In reality, it was quite the life for a kid growing up; we had immediate medical care, lived on bases that provided every activity a child could want. In Japan, which had a climate similar to the Midwest, passing through the front gates of a large housing area such as Grant Heights, just west of Tokyo, could wax you nostalgic, as if you were in Nebraska, Ohio, or Indiana. I can tell you this; the football that was played on those bases was very reminiscent of the Midwest. As for my own personal view, I believe that every citizen of this country would benefit greatly from the experience of living a year or two abroad. Moreover, my definition of abroad does not include Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. I would like to think that if this theory had been practiced by a majority of Americans over the last fifty years, we would not be so intolerant of cultures that are quite different then our own. We tend to think, and have for quite some time, that the world revolves around the lower 48. Life abroad teaches you that it doesn’t. Yet at the same time it gives you a greater appreciation of what you have left behind. Yes the rest of the world is catching up to us in technology, hell some have past us. And unless you are trapped in Tibet or New Guinea, you will never experience what the Newtsons did in Japan or Guam, but the point is that it will force you to understand and assimilate into a foreign culture, rendering you the ability, to in essence, find the middle ground. In this country we have lost the ability to find that middle ground, it has become a “my way or the highway” mentality. And this is one of the reasons we are now viewed differently around the world.
  • 3. In our travels, I think at least, with respect to me and my sisters and brother have learned to accept not only those cultures of which we were privileged to have visited, but also the diversity of personnel who we coexisted with as dependents of the USAF. Was it hard pulling up stakes every 18 months or 3 years? Sure, and it got harder as you got older. It was never easy being the new kid every couple of years, never having someone to call your best friend as most youngsters do. We were just like any other kids, we never thought farther ahead than the lunch bell. And being kids we would not realize for years to come, that these hardships would enable communication skills that would greatly aid us in our abilities to meet new people, and settle easily into new surroundings and situations. I know that it has helped me communicably, and I’m pretty sure it has done the same for my brother and three sisters.