Naha AB, Okinawa

Naha AB was my first assignment to a military installation as an Air Force Officer.  I completed one year of meteorology training at Texas A&M in January, 1966 and received my orders to report to the Air Weather Service detachment at Naha AB in February.  Naha AB primarily provided the Air Defense of Okinawa.  This activity was directed from a block house on the base.  This was a pre-computer era Air Defense operation.  No computer screens or terminals, just a two story high Plexiglas map of the area behind which airmen plotted aircraft positions with grease pencils.    The Air Base was host to a C-130 wing which provided a great deal of the airlift support to operations in Vietnam and Thailand.  There was also an Air Force Rescue squadron flying HU-16 seaplanes.  This unit provided the early rescue support for the air missions over North and South Vietnam.  They were the primary rescue service for this theater until the long range helicopters (Jolly Green Giants) came into service with in-flight re-fueling capability. 

Bud Norris, who served two tours of duty on Naha AB before I arrived, has provided me with a number of pictures from his time on the island.  I have published them on the Pictures From Other Sources page.

There were also several Naval air units stationed at Naha AB.  A Composite Squadron provide logistical air support to the Pacific Fleet ships in the Okinawa area.  There was also a deployed squadron of P-3 Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft assigned to Naha AB.  The P-3s primarily patrolled the straights of Taiwan and the coast of China.  This mission appears to be still active as the mid-air collision between a P-3 and Chinese MIG proved in 2001.  Here's a link to a web site that provides detailed information on this Navy mission, past and present.

Finally Naha AB was also the civilian airport for Okinawa with an air terminal at the north end of the runway.  Northwest, All Nippon, JAL, and Cathay Pacific all flew scheduled flights in and out of Naha AB.

As a duty weather forecaster I provided weather briefings and data to all of these missions.

Here is a view of the flight line taken from our weather observer station on top of a hanger on the opposite side of the run way from Base Operations where I worked.  The F102 Air Defense Interceptors are on the ramp on the other side of the runway.

On the left and below are three views of the Naha AB flight line taken from various points on the base.  The picture on the left was taken from the vicinity of the Air Defense block house and shows the C-130 area of the ramp.  The green building barely visible on the extreme right side of this picture is Base Operations where I worked.


The picture on the left shows a C-130 just after it rotated for take-off.  The raised bern-like area on the other side of the runway housed the air defense missiles (I guess I'm allowed to point that out after all these years).  The picture on the right was taken from the weather observer station showing another C-130 (this one had not yet received its jungle camouflage) just after take off.  On the far side of the runway is the P-3 area of the ramp.

Below is a sequence of pictures of the take off of a Navy F-8. 

To the left a Navy F-4 has just landed and has not yet jettisoned its drag chute.

To the left and right are two pictures of an Air Force F102 interceptor.  In the first picture the aircraft has just been scrambled and performed a 180 turn immediately after gaining altitude and air speed to head for an intercept in the opposite direction from the active runway.  In the second picture a F102 has just landed and deployed its drag chute.

To the left is an All Nippon commuter plane taxiing from the civilian air terminal to the active runway for take off.  All Nippon was just one of a number of airlines that served Okinawa from Naha AB.  Among those airlines was the infamous Air America who operated what was probably their only non-clandestine mission by providing the inter-island service for the Ryukyus.  Air American also operated a 727 service between Japan and Saigon stopping at Okinawa and Manila.  The Air America pilots were generally characters that fit their wild west reputations.  They were a trip to provide weather briefings.

For the first few months I was on the island I had a room in the Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQ).  Eventually I was invited to share a Quonset hut with two other officers.  These Quonset huts had been family housing during and after the Korean War, but had deteriorated to the point they were substandard for family housing.  For some reason they weren't considered substandard for Bachelor Officers.  I guess the Air Force had a pretty good understanding of our lifestyles.  In any case the Quonset huts provided much more privacy, space and facilities than the rooms at the conventional BOQ. 

The picture on the left is of the Quonset area as seen from our driveway. 

The picture on the left is the Quonset hut I shared with Norm and Larry.  This at one time had been the Base Commander's quarters so it was somewhat larger than the other BOQ huts.  On the right is my first automobile, a 1965 Ford Mustang.  I bought it in 1965 less than six months before I shipped overseas to Okinawa.  The Air Force shipped it to Okinawa for me, but on a tramp steamer.  It took nearly two months for it to arrive by which time the engine block was a bright rust orange.  After a cleaning and a thorough undercoating of all body panels I finally had personal transportation on the island.

Prior to the Battle of Okinawa, the Japanese heavily fortified all military bases, including the then Japanese air field at Naha.  However few of the fortifications on Naha AB were of value during the battle because they were positioned to repel a landing from sea.  Instead the US forces landed in the middle of the island in the vicinity of Kadena AB and worked their way south to conquer the island in what was arguably the most brutal and costly battle in all of World War II.  In spite of the near total devastation of Okinawa during the battle many of the gun emplacements built by the Japanese on Naha AB were still in place over 20 years later when I was stationed on the island.  Some of the emplacements were remarkably intact.  Below are some pictures of the gun emplacements still on the base in 1966


At the completion of my 18 month tour of duty on Okinawa I volunteered for a tour of duty in Vietnam.  My volunteering didn't represent a profound wish to be assigned to a combat zone, but rather the recognition I was going to be given that opportunity whether I wanted it or not.  It made more sense to do it on my time table, not one defined by the USAF.