An Airman On Okinawa

Les Hanson Remembers

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NOTE: All photos except that of Mr. Hanson are used only to illustrate his memories and are not actually of the places/people he mentions; these photos are owned by the webmaster

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Sad news:

"Our friend and comrade, 'Long Ago Airman' Les Hanson, lost his battle with cancer on 21 Sept 05.

He will be sorely missed."

Dave Law
623rd AC&W Sq Assn

Rest in piece, my friend - J.A. Hitchcock, WWII In The Pacific webmaster.

Back in 1949 to 1951 I was stationed at Naha air base. When I was there, it was the law that no one was to go off any road more then two feet from the edge of the pavement, this was off limits to all. Two other airman and I saw something one day and we went off one of the main roads to look at it. It was a manmade mound of earth about 20 feet high. When we got to the entrance we saw it had been a large radio center of the Japanese that was used during WWII. As we moved towards the main road to get out of this area (as we knew it was off-limits and we could be seen from two main roads buy any Air Police going by), a short distance away we came across some very low trenches about five or six feet apart with tunnels going from one to the other. They were only big enough to crawl through. We stopped to look into a couple off these tunnels and we saw some remains, but we didn't report this to anyone because we thought we would get in trouble.

hanson2.jpg - 6398 Bytes I do not know too much about the people of Okinawa; only that they are very hard-working people. We had 45 or so Okinawan men working unloading and loading C-54s during the Korean War and they worked very hard. We also had Okinawans working in our mess hall and the same there - very good workers, but as for really knowing them I did not - I couldn't speak the language, only some GI slang words.

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The villages of Okinawa were off-limits to the military till some time during the month of June 1950, just before the korean war started. Our movie theater on the base was next to base HQ, I understood that it was a Japanese hanger during WWII. Most of the roof was gone, so every time we went to the movies we made sure that we took our rain gear with us - it could rain just about any time with no warning. hanson3.jpg - 9082 Bytes It was the second week of Aug 1950 that I was with five other airman assigned to Aircraft target practice for the F-80s of the 25th and 26th Fighter Squadrons at Naha. Every day we had to travel from Naha to Bolo point (about one and a half hours away) very early in the morning. In this group was one Captain, from the 25th Fighter Squadron, who was the radio operater. The radio equipment was in a trailer pulled by a Jeep. We rode in the back of a 6x6 along with water jugs and food for the day.

On our first trip to the Point (target area) we passed a spot (some miles past Kadena AB) that was part of WWII history - not too many people knew about it. It was a surplus storage depot on the right side of road going north. It was loaded with equipment left there after the war was over. There was row upon row of tanks, trucks of all kinds, crates of airplanes, graders,bulldozers, and crates of other stuff. Most of this equipment was sent to Japan and then over to Korea in the months that followed. This storage area went on along the road for a good three miles.

Today, Bolo Point looks the same as it did back in 1950. Just south of the area where target practice was held now has a golf course and a great big hotel. To the west of the cliff there is a lighthouse that was not there in 1950.

Where there is a path going down to the water is the area we had the jeep with the radio equipment to be in contact with the F-80s. They were coming up from Naha in formation and when they were a few miles from Bolo Point, the squadron leader would radio the Captain at ground control. The captain would give the command to commence their runs at the targets. About 20 or so feet from the edge of the cliff going east is where the targets were set-up, being about 30 feet apart. Only one aircraft at a time would break away from formation and dive down from around 9,000 feet to shoot at targets. As the F-80 pulled up after passing the targets and the cliffs, the next F-80 would be on its way down.

Each plane would make six runs on their target. Between each shooting run, and after the sixth F-80 had gone by, we had to get out to the targets with a stick and a can of black paint to count how many holes were in the targets for the pilots score. After the last run, we would count their total score for the six runs and let them know their scores. Then the Captain would radio the squadron leader and inform him to commence their runs at the targets.

In the afternoon we would get a new squadron of six F-80s from the 26th Fighter Squadron to have their turn at shooting at targets. This duty went on for five days.