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
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
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
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.
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