Next Stop is Okinawa

Posted in Love Letters | 10 comments

After arriving home in Texas late on the evening of December 20, 1968, Frank and I had only a few days to shop for gifts for our families before Christmas.  Since Frank’s car had been left at his folk’s house while we were in Ayer, Massachusetts, we actually had a car we could drive into Bay City or Houston to shop.

Frank’s little sister, Cindy, was not yet two years old, so there was a lot of excitement going on with that little one in Frank’s folk’s home.  She really loved her big brother, and he absolutely adored her.  As a matter of fact, they looked so much alike that when we were out in stores with her in tow, people thought she was our little girl.

Child and Woman by Christmas Tree

Cindy and Nancy Christmas 1969

Our first Christmas together was awesome.  We spent a lot of time visiting with everyone and eating the most excellent food.  The New Year was ushered in, and we all celebrated together, but with the new year came the realization that Frank was running out of leave time. Frank would soon depart for Okinawa, leaving me behind in Texas for a while.

Mid-January 1969,  Frank, his family, and I would travel to Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas, to say good-bye before Frank loaded onto an airplane to fly to Okinawa.  After telling Frank how much I loved him, hugging him, and then kissing him before he loaded the plane,  I stood at the window and watched as his plane took off.  Tears ran down my face, but strength came to my heart as I realized that I would do all in my power to get to Okinawa to be by his side again as soon as possible.

I needed a passport, lots of shots, and a job to make money for my ticket to Okinawa, which would cost at least $600.  Frank would be working to getting approval for me to go to Okinawa and get lots of paperwork done through his superiors on the base for us to live in off-base housing and then permission for me to get a visa to live in Okinawa.

Frank and I could talk through shortwave radio operators, which was an exciting way of talking on the phone.  When he wanted to speak to me, Frank would go to the base radio operators, and then they would try to reach an operator closest to Van Vleck, Texas, then the operator would make a collect call to my folk’s or Frank’s parent “s home.

When the phone was answered, the fun really started.  Every statement or question was followed by “Over,” then the other end of the line got to answer your question or make a statement followed by “Over.”  Of course, this was never a private conversation due to the operators listening in and the party lines in Van Vleck, Texas, but it was real voice communication.  I always hated the “Out” part, which meant the conversation had ended, and the call is done.

After getting my passport done, ten thousand shots and a physical at Ellington Airforce Base in Houston, I applied for and was hired as a grocery store checker at H.E.B. in Bay City, Texas.  I would reach into the grocery basket, grab an item,  key the price in manually on the cash register because of the amount of each item that was stamped on it in ink.  There were no scan tags on the grocery items.   Then I would bag the groceries myself in brown paper bags.

My Name Tag HEB 1969

Each day I arrived early to look over a table full of different grocery items that had been placed at the front of the store, which would be on sale that day because I had to memorize the sale price of them.  The grocery items could not be scanned, so price changes were our responsibility as checkers through memorization.

This whole process was fun, and the checkers all challenged each other to see who could check out the most significant number of people in a day.  On a busy payday Saturday, I worked from opening to closing (twelve hours, including two breaks and a thirty-minute lunch) checking out  243 people, and my end cash register money total was exactly correct.

Manual Cash Register from the 1960s

Manual Cash Register

I was so proud of that particular accomplishment that I told Frank all about in our next long-distance “Over” conversation.

Oh, I forgot to mention, we had to know how to make correct change, there was not a machine telling us how much change to give the customer back.  Also, if our register money came out short, you were responsible, and the shortage came out of your paycheck.

Finally, on April 9, 1969, eighty days after Frank left for Okinawa, I boarded a plane at Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas.  The next story is all about how my trip went to Okinawa. Enjoy.

“A Really Long Flight”

After arriving at Hobby Airport, I said good-byes to all of my family and friends that had gone to wish me a safe journey to Okinawa then I loaded on to the airplane.  My Uncle Billy,  my Dad’s brother, was an Air Traffic Controller at Hobby Airport. and once everyone had loaded the Pilot of the aircraft came on the loudspeaker saying, “Ladies and Gentlemen today we have a Nancy Blakley Henderson on board, and her Uncle Billy wishes  her ” A happy Bon voyage and a safe trip.”

I was shocked and happy that my Uncle would be helping with the take-off of the airplane but not as surprised as when the Stewardess came toward my seat with my Daddy following her.  Daddy had told her that he had forgotten to see if I needed some extra money, but I knew that Daddy knew it would be two years before he would see me again.   He just needed to hug his only daughter one more time and say a private goodbye.   I was nineteen and married, but I would always be my “Daddy’s Sugar.”

As the plane took off, I was not afraid at all because soon there would be a wonderful reunion with the love of my life at the end of my journey.  I could not wait to see Frank, hold him, and kiss him.  The two weeks we were separated before I had arrived at Ayer, Massachusetts, were nothing compared to the eighty days we had then been apart.

The plane landed at Seattle Washington Airport, where there would be a short layover before my boarding a flight to Japan.  There were four other women in the waiting room, so I sat down by them.  A soldier came into the waiting room then sat down, not two seats from me.  He looked familiar, but I couldn’t place where I might have seen him.  He kept watching me, which made me uncomfortable, so I decided to start up a conversation with one of the women sitting beside me.  All of the women were going to Okinawa to live with their husbands. They would also, like me, be spending the night in Japan before flying to Okinawa the next morning.  I was so happy to have company for my entire trip to Okinawa.

Finally, my flight number was called over the loudspeaker, and we all loaded on to the airplane.  All of the women I had been sitting with loaded the aircraft with me.  After we all set down, then one male soldier, after another male soldier, after another male soldier loaded the plane until it was absolutely full.  The four women and I had been put on a military flight to Japan.  Evidently, I had paid $600 for a seat on a military plane.  The other women who were going to Okinawa to be with their husbands must have been traveling for free by military flights.  Why I was on board that plane was anyone’s guess, but I certainly wasn’t going to get off. The aircraft had seats on both sides, and each row had three seats. One of the women sat down near a window, then I sat down in the middle seat next to her.  We were talking when I  heard a male voice asked me, “Ma’am, may I sit in this seat?” When I turned to see who it was, it was the soldier who had been watching me in the waiting room.  Not knowing what to do, I told him sure, but in my mind, I wanted to say “No.”  He sat down, then said, “I don’t mean to scare you.  I flew out of Hobby Airport on the same plane that you did.  Your Dad approached me before I loaded that plane, asked where I was headed, and asked if I would look out for you until we part ways in Japan.”  Since knowing this was so my Daddy, instantly, I started to relax.

We were told to buckle our seatbelts by a male Steward,, then I noticed that we had all-male Stewards, which was strange and the first time I had ever witnessed it.  Evidently, unless the Pilot was female, there were only five women on the flight. Once we were in the air, the Stewards started taking drink orders.

Of course, I ordered a coke (Coca-Cola), but it seems the rest of the plane except for the three in my row of seats were drinking “straight” liquor. It didn’t take long for the flight to get loud and rowdy. I asked the soldier next to me where he was going, and he told me to Korea then told me that all of the other soldiers on the flight were headed there too.  I told him where I was going, all about Frank, then showed him Frank’s picture.

After we flew over the International Dateline, the Stewards were handing out large amounts of booze by the bottles.  I could hear some of the women in the back of the plane laughing loudly, giggling, and drunk.  It sounded like they were being really loyal and faithful to their husbands.

As I was talking to the soldier beside me about Frank, a soldier in the seat in front of me turn around to face us.  He was obviously drunk when he said,  “You know your husband is screwing around on you, don’t you?  Lots of bars and hookers in Okinawa.”

Before I could say anything, the soldier sitting next to me punched him in the face, then the whole plane erupted into some kind of drunk mayhem.  People started yelling, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”  The soldier next to me grabbed the other soldier by the throat and told him to apologize to me, but instead, the guy went to swinging.

Terror and fright hit me!  I was so afraid they would make the plane crash!  Tears streamed down my face as I stood up then shouted at the top of my lungs, “Please stop! You are scaring me! I have to get to my husband!”

For some reason, the plane suddenly got quiet.  Standing there and staring into the face of the drunk soldier while blood trickled from his nose, I told him, “My husband doesn’t cheat on me, he loves me, and if you ever speak to me again, this Texas girl will slap your face so hard that your buddies will see you cry.  You just don’t mess with Frank’s wife.” then I sat back down in my seat.  The soldier who was sitting next to me sat back down too, then he told me he was sorry he had scared me.  I told him, “No, thank you for taking up for another soldier’s wife.  I will tell Frank your name and all about what you did for me.”

We made it to Japan just as the sunset, just like it had been doing the whole trip.  After going through customs, the women and I were taxied by bus to a hotel where we would spend the night.  The next morning we were taxied back to the airport then we loaded a small plane that flew us the short trip to Okinawa.

When we unloaded the plane in Okinawa, I could see the owner of my heart standing in the crowd.  My heart was pounding so hard that I could barely breathe as I rushed into his arms.  Frank hugged me, kissed me, and told me how much he loved me, and then I cried because I knew that we were now complete again.

“I got him back in my arms again, so satisfied!”

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  1. Another heartfelt vignetter form a wonderful love story.
    Can you imagine young people today have in to Endure the grueling and almost slave-like duties of being a grocery clerk? ~~smile
    “I worked from opening to closing (twelve hours, including two breaks and a thirty-minute lunch) checking out 243 people and my end cash register money total was exactly correct.
    And OMG:
    “Oh, I forgot to mention, we had to know how to make correct change, there was not a machine telling us how much change to give the customer back. Also if our register money came out short, you were responsible, and the shortage came out of your paycheck.”

    • Thank you, Chuck for your wonderful comment. Funny how I don’t remember being enslaved but just making money to go live in Okinawa with Frank.
      Responsibility was the name of the game which came with always doing your best plus.
      God Bless You

  2. Thank you for posting this. It radiates love and devotion. We need more of such in today’s world.

    • Thank you for commenting KB. Frank and I were soulmates. Our hearts and souls were totally entwined. We were totally devoted to each other and to God, who took care of us always.
      God Bless You,

  3. Thank you Nancy, your lovely story brings back memories of my national service in the military, my initial training started in June 1969, just a couple of months after you got on that plane to Okinawa. I remember well the grocery stores of that time with manual cash registers.

    • Peter the funny thing about the cash registers was that we became very quick at hitting those keys while checking those groceries. Of course, we had to use our brains to make change but I am so happy I have the knowledge we from back then. Minds need to be worked more now.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.
      God Bless You,

  4. Another thing: I wonder how in the world you cashiers were able to memorize the prices of items on sale, when the prices were constantly changing! Also, the plane trip you describe had to have been quite an adventure, and the brawl that broke out truly scary. So heartwarming the way you describe the closeness of your family. Thanks again for this post!

    • We figured out a game to play with the names to be memorized of sales. The sales items stayed for a week si not too much changing going on.
      Yeas the plane trip to Okinawa was a real adventure at eighteen years old but I don’t remember being afraid except during the fight with on the plane.
      I was very close to my family and Frank’s family. My younge adds t two brothers were only 10 and 12 when I left for Okinawa.
      Thank you for your comment KB.God Bless You,

  5. Wow! That was some plane ride. I don’t wonder at your being scared. But you had me laughing when you yelled at those soldiers. You certainly got their attention. Good work!

    • Those soldiers nearly scared me to death. Lol! Frank tried really hard to get in touch with the soldier who came to my defense but he never found him. I always think he was one of God’s soldiers sent to protect me. Of course, my Dad was part of God’s plan too.
      Anyway. I made to onto Frank’s arms safely.
      Thank you for your comment Diane.
      You are fixing to get to some fun reading in the Okinawan stories.
      God Bless You,

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