The problem with being in the service when you are posted overseas is that you are a stranger in a strange land. The military service is an extraordinary experience in itself. First of all, one can’t simply quite and and find something else to do, these is no choice. One will service time one way or another. Of course there is the ultimate authority issue. One either has rank and authority or one doesn’t. Most of us had little of the authority of rank that comes from being at lease a non commissioned officer. Corporal or airman first class or whatever the Navy rates as an E-4 has little value. Your authority comes from the sergeant and not your rank. Not too many ever make E-5, non commissioned officer in their first hitch. Of course that is one of the proffered benefits or re-enlistment, that promise of becoming a non com. But promises are easily broken unless one has the foresight to “get it in writing”. And when one is stationed overseas, one rarely speaks the local language and the locals don’t particularly like you. They like your money well enough, but you, they can do with out. Of course back when I was shanghaied we would receive a booklet about the country we were posted and I remember that one little phrase. “Remember, when you go downtown looking for the action, you are the action for all the locals.”
Now the base usually had the various recreation facilities such as gyms and movies theaters. There were pool tables and ping pong tables and swimming pools. And every major base has at least one very good golf course. The biggest obstacles on the golf course were the officers. Usually every base had a library and the larger ones might have several. There were bowling alleys and even skeet shooting. The reason for all these facilities was that boredom set in after awhile. The minimum tour for a single man, enlisted or officer was eighteen months and some were as long as three years. Anything shorter was a war zone. War zones were special because the amenities were very limited. True, there might be clubs for the officers, non coms and enlisted, but don’t count of floor shows and fine dining. So one had to find some release according to one’s tastes. For a few of us, it was motorcycles. Now once could try and depend on the base bus system or walk, which is good for you, but having your own personal transportation was preferred.
I bought an old Lambretta motorscooter. As an E-3 I couldn’t afford anything better. It had three gears and a two stroke motor. Of course the acceleration and top speed were pitiful. It was slow, couldn’t do more than 35 mph on a good day. One of the guys has Norton 500, a single cylinder bike that was loud. Loud is good. You may not travel any faster but at least it gives the illusion of doing so. In our barracks we had about twenty cyclists. some had Honda 90s, some had larger motorcycles. But we all shared that comradery of two wheel transportation. I found that I could improve the performance of a tired old engine but reducing back pressure. The exhaust pipe from a Honda 305 Dream fit on my lambretta and boosted by sped by ten miles per hours. It was also considerably louder. I could not ride with the big boys. And we would take trips on the weekends, get out on the roads for a couple of hours. Okinawa was a unique place. It had enough automobiles and trucks to cover the roads three vehicles deep and an island wide speed limit of 35 mph. We weren’t going to go anywhere fast.
On one morning we had gathered and started our rid on the west side highway of the island, headed north. Traffic was a bit thick and the only way to make any speed was to constantly pass the slower four wheeled vehicles. Hell, I think we might have been averaging a little over 40 mph when the Military police stopped us as a group. They were going to give us all tickets for speeding. that meant a big fine and suspension of our driving privileges. Now on of the guys had bought one of the first Honda trail bikes. This was a sort of mini motorcycle. The wheels were slightly smaller than my Lambretta and the frame was shorter. I think it had a 60 cc engine but it was a quick little thing. Well, the owner, I have forgotten his name, said, “Look, we couldn’t have been speeding, my speedometer only goes to 30 mph.” the Mp took a long look at that and said,”My error, I guess our speedometers need to be recalculated.” They let us go, no tickets. The military police aren’t chosen for their brains. that bike could easily do 45 mph.
Our first sergeant hated motorcycles, said they were too loud and caused lax discipline. We were always having run ins with him. Now we had gotten a new squadron commander, a Colonel McIlroy. Our last commander was an old timer out of touch with the world. An idiot, if you like, all brass and no brain. This new guy was different and made a point to visit with his men. So one day about noon we found him out in the parking lot looking at our bikes. the man could take shop about the cycles and was curious about my modified Lambretta. But what caught his attention was that Honda mini trailbike. the airman who owned it was there with a few of us and when the Colonel was admiring the bike, the E-4 said, “You want to ride it?’ Well, of course he did. so the E-4 handed him the keys and said, “Take it for a spin.” With that, McIlroy hopped on the bike, started it up and commenced to ride it around the parking lot. After a few minutes, the First Sergeant came out yelling, “You airmen, I told you next time I caught you making all that noise”…and then he saw the Colonel ride up to him. He saluted and said, “Sir, good to see you here. Anything I can do, Sir?” McIlroy just said, “Carry on, sergeant.” and drove off. We never had any more problems with our First Sergeant about our bikes after that.