My years of service to my country in Japan were, for the most part, uneventful, but for the many earthquakes and the day a fireworks factory in the next town blew up. But as it is May once again, I offer for your enjoyment this memorable occasion.

May Day in 1952 in Tokyo.

This is what a leading Japanese newspaper, Mainichi Shimbun, said about that day’s events:

“Riots in front of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Demonstrators opposed to the treaty terms entered the Imperial Palace grounds, which were off-limits, and clashed with police.”

 

SCENE 1

That late morning, I happened to be in the neighborhood. This is what I remember.

I was having breakfast at the Diamond Hotel (3,000 yen a night), which, I recall, was right behind the British Embassy, with a very tall, red-haired Red Cross “Gray Lady” volunteer named Barbara from Lake Forest, Illinois. How we happened to be there as players in this historic moment remains classified.

After breakfast, she and I went for a nice walk up along the moat that surrounds the Royal Palace grounds. As I had been on a three-day pass and had no communication with the base, I was unaware that this historic riot was going on.

We soon became aware. Two blocks ahead of us, two sailors were running away from what seemed to be 100 students coming our way. I later read that the mob had tossed the two sailors into the royal moat and stoned them.

At that moment, Barbara grabbed my hand and dragged me up some big concrete stairs to a glass-walled building that turned out, if I’m correct, to be the Bank of America building. I could be wrong. There were a lot of Americans and Europeans inside looking out. They let us in and locked the doors and filled us in on the news.

Military police were all over the city’s streets that day and night, rounding up stragglers like me and putting us on big blue buses to get us back to our bases. My Red Cross lady was swept up by her people.

I was surprised and grateful that my best friend, Sgt. Dick Basinger, from Athens, Georgia (cousin to film star Kim Basinger), was already aboard.

Dick was bigger than I. A former Georgia Tech footballer, Dick was bigger than everyone, especially the houseboys who referred to him as “Giantu.”

One of my fond memories was his grandfather’s Civil War Georgia battle flag, which he kept hanging in the orderly room.

The bus driver, a tiny, frightened Japanese national, froze up when the mob started throwing rocks at the bus. Some windows were broken. Dick shouted for all of us to get on the floor.

Dick pulled the tiny driver from his seat, got behind the wheel and plowed through the mob. No fatalities were reported. An hour later, we were back at Fuchu Air Base.

 

SCENE 2

The next day, a gang of Japanese students and unionists eager to extend the protest appeared atop the cyclone fences surrounding the base.

We, all professional typists who hadn’t seen a gun since basic training, were issued carbines and helmets and ordered to form a line of defense some 100 yards back from the fence.

Dick came stomping up, flag over his shoulder, and stood in front of me in what he imagined was a heroic Georgian pose, and patted my helmet.

“Stay behind me,” he whispered.

The students seemed to be enjoying the event, laughing because surely they could see that our carbines had no ammo clips attached. I was told that our superiors wanted no dead students and were counting on the hoses of the firetrucks behind us to stem the tide. True story.

 

SCENE 3

Maine, 1985. I was introduced to some visiting Georgians in the admissions building at Colby. They were from Dick’s hometown of Athens and informed me that Dick had died.

It seemed that, after all of that in Japan, he had tripped over a lawn mower in his garage, cut his leg and died from the infection. I hope they buried him with that flag.

See you on the other side, Dick. I’ll always be right behind you.

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

 


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