ODD JOBS IN THE ARMY
CONTINUING THE STORY FROM THE LAST POST ON THIS THREAD. Until now, this has been mostly about those little adventures that happened to me during my three years in the U.S. Army in the late 1950s. And there will be more of that later. But on this post, I'd like to discuss just what I did to earn my pitiful monthly wages as an SP4 peon.
Having been trained for a job that didn't exist, I arrived in Japan with only one useful asset — I could type. And that got me a good job at Camp Oji and, a few months later in May of 1958, a transfer to an even better situation at North Camp Drake, on the outskirts of Tokyo.
Officially, I was the detachment clerk for the U.S. Army Element, Joint Communications Relay Center Japan, a unit of the Army Security Agency, which in turn was a military arm of the NSA. In truth, there really wasn't much for me to do except prepare reports:
- Daily Morning Report — takes about 10 minutes, and our secretary did the typing.
- Monthly report summarizing the above.
- Quarterly report on estimation of future needs — this was classified so I had to type it myself.
- Annual Report on operations — a big deal taking at least a week, and highly classified.
Since we had fewer than 100 assigned personnel, worked round the clock, were very casually organized, and had no unit activities other than our mission, there was little in the way of paperwork required.
SO, I was given other small tasks such as courier and mail duty. These I enjoyed because they took me, once or twice a week, to exotic locations such as Camp Zama by Mount Fuji, Tachikawa Air Force Base, Yokosuka Naval Base, the Yokohama docks, and Haneda International Airport. I usually traveled to these in a staff car with a uniformed Japanese driver, although sometimes I got to use our one-and-only Jeep. And I was armed with a loaded 45-calibre pistol as some of the stuff I carried was classified. After a month or so, one of our sergeants asked if I had ever fired this small cannon. No, never. So I had to go out on the range to demonstrate my meager abilities at hitting targets. Or not hitting them. At least I didn't blow my foot off.
THE SAGA OF THE MAIL BOXES:
Bored with the task of delivering mail, I looked about for a way to make this more interesting, and easier. The problem we had with mail was that everyone worked on a different schedule, with some toiling away in the communications center while others slept, and still others were out boozing. So, mail calls were impractical.
I suggested to the commander that we get individual mail boxes that would be accessible to everyone at all times. He replied that the army would never pay for such an extravagance, but if I could find a way to finance this I could go ahead. It then dawned on me that we had quite a bit of money in the bank in the form of a unit fund. Every month the army deposited cold cash into this, which was intended to be used for morale activities like unit picnics, softball games, and so on. The only thing we used it for was a few magazine subscriptions. There were thousands more than we would ever need just waiting for the picking!
I then asked Gus, our Japanese interpreter, to find a manufacturer of mail boxes. He arranged a meeting, I toured the factory, and brought back a sample. This was approved, and within weeks we had our mail boxes. Problem solved.
A BRIDGE IS BUILT:
Now on to bigger things. Between our building and the PX/Snack Bar/Craft Shop flowed a tiny stream. Very tiny, only a few inches deep by maybe four feet across. You had to go almost a block out of the way to cross it. Wouldn't a foot bridge be a wonderful idea? With this in mind, I put together a report on what could happen if our concrete-and-steel building caught on fire and people were trapped between the conflargation and the water, with no way to cross and certain death to follow. The C.O. laughed at my ingenuity, but signed it anyway. A week later the Corps of Engineers came and built us our bridge. I was enjoying this new-found power!
One day, while strolling at the far end of our parking lot, I noticed that for one short length there was no curb, just grass coming right up to the asphalt. This looked suspicious. I stuck a pencil into the ground at several places and realized that an area large enough for four cars was actually paved. And we never had enough parking spaces! The problem was how to get someone to dig up this bit of earth.
While pondering this, the solution arrived in the form of one of our guys going on a bender in a Japanese bar, starting a fight, and winding up in a Japanese jail. The next day he was turned over to the MPs, who brought him to us and demanded that he be court-martialed. Our kindly C.O. decided that a small reduction in rank would be sufficient, from SP4 to PFC. At this point I mentioned the little bit of earth to be dug, which could — by a stretch — be called hard labor. This would satify the MPs, the guy would not be busted, he would get some healthy excercise, and all would be happy. And so it was.
SHAPING UP THE MESS SERGEANT:
For various reasons we did not have our own mess hall. Instead, we used one belonging to another outfit. Everything was fine until they got a new mess sergeant, who was a lazy slob. The food suffered. The troops suffered even more. Complaints poured in, to no avail. I even suggested to our C.O. that things might improve if some of the officers ate there, which they never did. Well, maybe he heard me, or maybe he thought of it himself, but after a few weeks he ordered the lieutenants and captains to eat there on a rotating schedule. At every meal serving there was one officer present and dining. Things improved right away and everyone was happy, except possibly the officers.
Since I was an experienced photographer, and I had both a Nikon and a Rolleiflex, I got to take the unit photos. Most of these were of operations, used on reports. They were, of course, classified so I have no copies. But I do have a few used to decorate the reports, such as this highly contrived scene showing how interested everyone was in local culture. Of course, no one actually ever wore uniforms off post, and they certainly didn't wear those silly hats. The girls are two of our secretaries, delighted to have a few hours off for this location shoot. I used the darkroom in the craft shop for developing and printing the black and white photos.
MEETING THE GENERAL:
The strangest task I had was just a few weeks before my service ended, in September 1959. Our C.O. asked me to go down to Haneda Airport, wearing a civilian business suit, to meet a general on a commercial flight from Saigon. He would also be in civies, posing as a businessman. As a reward, I could use the car (mine was already sold) for my own purposes the rest of the day. The flight was in mid-afternoon, so I got a driver and staff car and went first to the Akai electronics plant to have my tape recorder adjusted to American current, then to Yokosuka Naval Base to grab some bargains at the Ship's Store.
I was supposed to escort the general to our operations center at North Camp Drake, a drive of over an hour. He had other ideas. After checking my security badge, he asked if I was armed. When I said no, sir, he opened his briefcase, took out a pistol, handed it to me, and said "you are now." He then added that there was no reason for him to visit our outfit as he was only delivering an envelope, and I could do that just as well. So I was to drop him off at his hotel, then take this envelope to the duty officer at the communications center. I then asked him what the security level of the contents was. When he replied "codeword," I just about choked. Not only did you need both a top secret and crypto clearance (I had both) to be left alone with this, you also had to be a least a major.
When I reminded him of this, he was a little annoyed and told me to call my outfit from the hotel and have them send a major to meet him in the bar. This I did, and was surprised when he asked me to join him for a drink. Well, we chatted over a few beers until our only major showed up an hour later. I dismissed my driver and returned with the major, the pistol still stuck in my belt under the suit jacket.
THat was the last odd job I had before leaving for home two weeks later.
Interested in photography? Check out my "Assisting Avedon" blog.
SO, just what Little Adventure am I up to now in 2013? Why, just the most challenging one of them all! CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT.