...Joe Rattigan takes a rookie under his wing to avoid temptation in Japan.
It was late August 1953 and the weather was beautiful. The cease fire was still in effect and looked like it was going to hold despite the middle-of-the-night practice alerts.
For Joe ”Murphy” Rattigan this was a time of living large. He’d been promoted to Staff Sergeant and was enjoying his improved pay grade. When he joined the 8th Field he had become a saver and by the time he made Sergeant he had accumulated a neat little bundle of dough the majority of which was stashed in the Army Savings Bank. The 55 bucks-a-month combat pay was gone but so was the situation that entitled you to earn it. That’s a deal he would take anytime.
Best of all was that he was eligible for his second R&R leave in Japan. With the shooting stopped R&R leave had been increased from five to seven days. Moreover, he had been assigned to Tokyo as his destination a coveted spot for this leave. R&R was not limited to sight-seeing for many of the troopers. There was a nasty joke that said if you could build a roof over Japan you would have the biggest house of ill fame in the world. Those weren’t, of course, the exact words used by the troopers in their description.
Meanwhile back at the base.
The ladies of the night were providing a big problem for the Army. In Korea no civilians were allowed in the areas involved in the fighting. Even so, in January 1953 22% of the troopers in Headquarters Battery had some form of venereal disease. The only place they could have contracted these maladies was Japan. The remedy for the disease was 21 shots of penicillin, one a day, for 21 days. The time leading up to a trooper’s R&R was one of high anticipation. Some of the most intense, hilarious descriptions Joe had ever heard were from the guys describing what they would do when they got there. The troopers broke down into two groups, those who would visit the ladies and those who wouldn’t. There was
considerable teasing and badgering of the guys who wouldn’t. Even Joe had to giggle when one of his pals described him as “the blessed virgin.”
Not that there wasn’t a temptation. The virtuous guys would hang together when they went to Japan. This could be only two or three guys. If one of them had been on R&R previously he knew how to stay out of trouble.
A rookies initiation.
Joe remembered his first R&R in April. The R&R city was Osaka. When he left the R&R center in nearby Nara a gate was opened to let out the troopers who had been congregating behind it. Standing outside almost shoulder to shoulder were the pimps who were shouting the availability of women who were virgins, or school teachers. Joe was scared to death.
He pushed his way through the pimps and began walking down a very narrow street. Each side of the street were small buildings that were completely open . Inside each one was a bar with a bartender and standing in front of the bars were near naked girls who were shrieking to the troopers who were walking by. “Hey, GI! You have fun with me!” was one of the more significantly less explicit invitations.
Joe kept walking past bar after bar thinking he would eventually get by them. The street ended after he passed the last bar. He looked out to see a huge flooded rice paddy. What the hell do I do now? With a feeling of building desperation he walked back passing by the bars again and the now quiet girls. I’ll get a cab and get the hell out of here.
A lucky save
When he got back to the gate the crowd had significantly thinned. He saw a black Dodge sedan with Japanese writing on the side door. He waved to it. It pulled up in front of him. There were two guys in the front. Joe looked in and said ,”Taxi?” The guy on the driver side leaned back and opened the door. Just as he was about to step in he felt someone grab his arm and pull him back from the car. He turned to look into the face of a
soldier in his forties, maybe fifties. He wore SFC chevrons. Sill holding his arm he said,” Hey kid, there are no 1951 taxis in Japan.”
Joe’s face flushed with this totally naïve embarrassment. “You gotta be careful.” the SFC said while giving Joe a reassuring little tap on his shoulder. Exhaling, Joe said, “thanks, Sarge, I will.” God knows where those guys would have taken me, he said to himself. In an absolute quandary Joe lamented, where am I going to go?
Two guys, obviously late comers came through the gate, Without intending to do so they stood directly beside Joe. The older one, a corporal, was filling in the other guy with his plan. “Getting the hell out of here. A cab will get us to Kyoto in about an hour. It’s a great place.” Joe had no idea of why Kyoto was supposed to be great but he turned to the guy and said would you like to split the fare?”
Mildly surprised he looked at Joe and said, “Yah, I guess so.”
Riding shotgun to Kyoto,
Sitting in the front seat beside the driver Joe saw what a real Japanese taxi looked like. This was a 1935 Ford that was in meticulous shape. The driver, a Japanese kid in his 20’s wore round, steel-rimmed glasses. He wore white gloves. Neat as a pin. He had smiled and nodded to Joe when he first got in but never took his eye off the road all the way to Kyoto.
Joe was able to get some very helpful information from his companions. They were going to the Hotel Rakuyu in Kyoto. It was a Special Service hotel operating for the Armed Services. Fifteen bucks a night for a real bed with sheets and breakfast in the morning. You might end up sharing a room with a guy you never saw before.
Kyoto was a fabulous city. It had been the capital city before Tokyo was given this honor. The old imperial palace was centuries old. During a tour the guide had pointed to some marks high up on a wall. He said they were marks left by arrows 1,400 years ago during an attempt to overthrow the Emperor.
It occurred to Joe what a total luckout this deal had been for him. If he hadn’t bumped into those two guys in Nara he had no idea of what could have happened.
Getiing ready for round two.
Joe was preparing for his second R&R in August of 1953. He wasn’t the only guy from Headquarters Battery who was on the Tokyo drop. A kid in the Wire Section would be going, too. Hubert Crystallis, a stocky Texan would be included. Hubert asked Joe if they could buddy up since this was only his first R&R. Joe suspected the real reason was that Chris was married and wanted to stay out of girlfriend trouble. Joe thought Hubert was a hell of a kid and knew he would be comfortable with him.
Livin’ large at the Rocker Four
When they left the R&R Center in Tokyo they headed, by train, for the Rocker Four Club in Yokohama. The train system was a lot like Joe’s MTA in Boston but with much nicer and cleaner cars. Following the directions Joe had picked up they had a short walk to the Rocker Four. The Rocker Four Club was an Army installation a recreation center where the troops could stay with the intent of keeping them out of trouble. The sleeping quarters were Army barracks with cots but with clean sheets and OD blankets and someone would make up your cot in the morning. If you wanted, you also got your meals. Total cost? Three bucks a day. If they stayed in a hotel in Tokyo it would cost them at least ten times that.
In the Rocker Four’s courtyard there was a shrine-like arrangement that looked like a little island with miniature pagodas and the like. A moat about three feet wide and filled with water surrounded the shrine if that’s what it was intended to be.
Another service was the setting up tours. You’d go on an Army bus with a Japanese guide who would point out the sights. He and the bus driver, also Japanese, had a great deal. In addition to their compensation they would get tips from the touring soldiers. The outer walls of the Imperial Palace, the great Budda of Kamakura, and a tour of the Noratake china factory were just some of the sights they got to see.
Checking out the Ginza,
They took the train into Tokyo one of the days specifically to see the Ginza the famed shopping area of Japan. While they were walking down the street Joe told Chris he had promised his house boy, Kim, that he would buy him a harmonica. They stopped in one of the small kiosks that lined the boulevard. Joe looked around until he found a small display of them. He picked up one and showed it to the clerk and said , ”How much? ” The
clerk, a young man said, “Ahhh. You have picked the best one, Sahgin. Ten dollar.” It was a game, Joe pulled a horrified face. “No, no!” he said shaking his head side to side almost violently. “Much too much!”
The clerk, now with a pained face responded, “No. Sahgin. You pick best one, Ten dollar.” Joe picked up his hand and extended two fingers. “Two dollars!” he said. The clerk grabbed the harmonica from Joe’s grasp and put it back in the display He was shaking his head sadly from side to side while saying in an agonizing tone, No, Sahgin, No. No. No. Joe turned to Chris and said, “Let’s go.”
They had gone about twenty feet from the kiosk when Joe felt a hand tugging at his upper arm. It was the clerk. He held up the packaged harmonica and said, “Two dollar, Sahgin.” Chris had gone into hysterical laughter while Joe picked the two singles out of his wallet. The clerk gave him a little head bow and said, “Thank you Sahgin.”
Chris was still laughing when he said, “Murphy, you drive a hard bargin. Wouldin’ want to be doin any hoss tradin’ with you.” Joe said, “That wasn’t bargaining, that was show business. If I was any good at it I’da got the thing for a buck.”
Chris buys a boat.
They stopped into another couple of kiosks. One of them featured model boats that were astonishing in their realty. Each one was only about a foot long and beautifully finished. Chris was captivated by one that looked like a Cris Craft. It was beautifully finished in a bright blue paint. The steering wheel and other components inside the open cabin looked authentic even though they were miniaturized.
The boat was watertight and could be operated in water. It was powered by two miniature propellers that were operated by two batteries that were located under a hatch on the deck. The clerk flipped the switch that started the twin propellers turning. That did it for Chris. He was more than happy that the boat model fit into a wooden carrying case.
They kept their purchases with them when they sat down for dinner at the Rocker Four. Afterwards they went into the adjacent beer garden and picked out a table near the bandstand. When the Japanese waitress came over to take their drink orders Joe ordered a Whisky Sour which he knew was made with a powdery mix instead of being created by the bartender.
Lips that touch liquor.
There was a pause before Chris gave his order. Said he believed he’d have “One of those, too.” Joe was suspicious that Chris took so long to order his drink when it dawned on him that Chris was quite likely a Baptist a religion that was death on liquor. At least that’s what he picked up on when they kidded about it with each other back at the Battery. Maybe being with Joe kept him from one vice but had led him into another.
They sat back and listened to the entertainment which was a couple doing show tunes alternating with another guy whose specialty was country music. In a conversation with the girl doing the show tunes, Joe learned she was enlisted into the Army precisely for entertainment as was her partner who she met and married while they were in Japan. Joe knew this was more interesting because of the Whisky Sours. He wasn’t quite sure how many he had but knew Chris was staying right with him. He’d be finished with his long before Joe would. Joe told him to slow down that it wasn’t a Doctor Pepper on a hot day.
A man goes missing.
When Joe came back from a men’s room break Chris was gone. Joe waited a while then became uneasy and got up and started looking for him. He was definitely not in the beer garden. Now anxious he went outside to continue his search.
It didn’t take too long, Although he was about forty feet away Joe knew it was Chris standing beside the little shrine island with the moat. Joe started to walk over wondering what the hell he was doing over there. As he got closer he could see his sleeves were rolled up over his elbows. Finally he was close enough to see what was going on. Chris had taken his new boat model out of it’s carrying case. The boat was wet so even
though Chris was holding it upward and adjusting the rudder so Joe knew it had been in the water.
“What the hell are you doing?” Joe asked. “Tryin’ to fix the rudder so’s it will go all the way round and come back here.” The moat was elliptical. There was no way this could happen.
“It’s going to need one more Whisky Sour.” Joe said.
“Whot?” Chris said with a measure of hostility.
Joe smiled and said, “put it back in the case and let’s go back to the bar.”.
June 2, 2017