Yoni’s father, Jay Warren, served two tours as a Marine during the war in Vietnam. During that time, Okinawa (then a relatively new acquisition for the Americans) was used as a staging ground and training area for troops headed into battle. As such, Jay spent several months on Okinawa during (I believe) 1968-69 and 1972-73.
Before their trip out here, I spent some time thinking about the kinds of things Jay and Tova might like to do (much like I did for my parents). I knew there would be museums, and shopping, and probably a trip to the aquarium. But I don’t think I really understood how much time Jay had spent here, and so I didn’t factor touring his old stomping-grounds into my plans. Luckily, Jay spoke up, plans were revised, and we spent an afternoon visiting Camps Schwab and Hansen.
Those of you who pay very close attention and have excellent memories might know that Yoni’s office is on Camp Hansen, which is a 45-60 minute drive from our apartment on Camp Foster. Camp Schwab is an additional 35 minutes north past Hansen. All of which is to say – there wasn’t too much for Jay to remember in our neighborhood (although, according to Yoni, apparently one light switch outside the Jewish Chapel had really stuck in his memory). This is especially true considering the fact that Jay and other young Marines were not allowed to have cars, as well as the fact that, in those days, there was no inter-camp bus system. But the further north we got, the more Jay remembered. Most of the businesses had changed, but apparently some of the structures are the same.
Once we got onto Schwab, things became a lot more familiar for Jay. He was able to direct me to the area of the Camp where his barracks had been, and the buildings were still standing – repurposed, but standing nonetheless. He pointed out a beach where they did “rubber boat training,” a building that was used as the Mess Hall, and even where he thought the Exchange had been (a tiny room compared to today’s). The same was true when we arrived at Hansen.
There was something incredibly poignant and cool about seeing Schwab and Hansen through Jay’s eyes. I know that American troops are stationed in Okinawa because of our history with this island, but while it’s easy to remember that history when you’re at a museum, it can be hard (at least for me) to remember it when you’re shopping at the Exchange or eating at Subway. Seeing the island through Jay’s eyes, even just for a few hours, helped me to remember that we are not the first people to be stuck out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And while Okinawa is no longer a jumping off point for Marines headed to Vietnam, it is a home base for many members of the military deployed to Afghanistan. The bars change owners, the barracks get rebuilt, the island gets developed – but some things don’t change. I hope that, at some point in the not-so-distant future, there will be a time when Okinawa is not a staging ground for any war. In the meantime, we’ll be here, carrying the torch.