A couple of months ago, Randy and I traveled to Austin, Texas for a reunion of the 15th TRS (Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron) which was stationed at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan. We had an amazing time reconnecting with old friends. Most we hadn’t seen in more than 36 years, but we discovered that time didn’t matter. Our experiences had bonded us together in ways I hadn’t imagined. I couldn’t help but think that each of us had been divinely appointed to be there during those years–1978-1981.
As we reminisced, we wives wondered how we had ever survived being on an island the size of New Jersey–most of us with young children, with our husbands gone half the time. The guys flew RF-4s, the reconnaissance or “recce” counterpart of the F-4 Phantom fighter jet. They spent 2 weeks on temporary duty in South Korea where the 15th TRS operated a detachment. Then they returned to Okinawa for 2 weeks, a cycle that continued for the entire three years of our assignment. Randy never unpacked his suitcase!
At the reunion, we laughed about the challenges of coping with life on Okinawa, mostly by ourselves. Back then, it hardly seemed funny. When a typhoon threatened the island, our husbands left us behind to get the planes out of harm’s way. You’ve got to be kidding! I thought. They leave and we stay? To their credit, the squadron always left a few guys to check in on us, making sure we had everything we needed to weather the storm. We were grateful for that!
Communication (or the lack thereof) was especially challenging. We didn’t have any phones. This was long before cell phones or texting. Can you imagine? When Randy left for Korea, we were incommunicado–except for the “Phantom Express.” Other crews whose 2- week rotation was up brought letters from the guys who were still there. I still treasure a box of Randy’s “Phantom Express” letters.
Even though we dealt with our share of inconveniences, we knew we weren’t alone. Some of my dearest friendships were forged on Okinawa. The friends who sponsored us when we arrived gave us the lowdown on how to deal with life in a very foreign country, i.e., how to avoid mold growing on your shoes in those dark, damp closets among many other tidbits of helpful advice. One friend faithfully came to visit every Tuesday after work to encourage me and share her faith. Another friend’s joyful, optimistic attitude bubbled over and became contagious– no matter what you were going through. I knew I could always count on these friends. They made all the difference during those three years living overseas.
So when Randy and I received the invitation to the reunion, we hesitated to travel so far for a weekend spent with people we hadn’t seen for several decades. Neither of us anticipated the sweetness of reuniting with friends who had walked a very unique journey with us. Randy separated from the Air Force after our Okinawa assignment in 1981. Those who stayed in the service commented that they never experienced this depth of friendship at any of their future military assignments.
Maybe that’s because tough circumstances tend to draw us closer together. I’ve learned through the years to watch with anticipation to see who God brings across my path to help me find my way. After all, friendship may be the closest reflection of God’s love for us that we will ever experience. I’m convinced that some of God’s brightest reflectors happened to be on Okinawa at the same time as me.