I had to approve a comment that was in the moderation queue this morning... the default being all comments on posts over 90 days old go into moderation... a comment left on a post I wrote back in December of 2005. That particular post is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, sources of EIP Google hits and not a month goes by without someone landing on "Wakkanai Air Station." I took a look at the post this morning and saw it's pretty sorry by our standards today. So I cleaned it up a bit, added a couple o' photos and re-published it. And then I thought "why wait for one or two googlers to appreciate the wonderfulness of our efforts?" Why, indeed. So here ya go:
Monday, December 05, 2005
I got to thinking today (a dangerous pursuit, for me) that what this blog needs is a few war stories to spice things up a bit. After all, I spent 22 years in the Air Force, so I should have some pretty good stories to tell, right? Not really. Or, to put a finer point on it, most of my war stories aren't suitable for publishing in a family-rated blog. And I do want to keep this blog rated PG-13, at the very most. And then there's the other problem: memory. Unlike a lot of folks my age I don't have a treasure-trove of memory-jogging photos, documents, pins, ball caps, and all that other good stuff one accumulates over the years. Most of the photos from my AF days are in the custody of The First Mrs. Pennington, the rest I boxed up and sent to Number Two Son for safe keeping when I downsized life to fit into the RV. (Ed: I've since retrieved a lot of those pics from SN2) So, no joy there! I have to rely on my diminishing supply of brain cells, nothing else. Scary thought.
Ah. But there's the web! I googled "Wakkanai Air Station" to begin my trip down the memory hole and hit pay dirt. Indulge me for a moment before I tell you about Wakkanai; I'm gonna go off on a tangent.
Tangent: All military careers could arguably be called "different," especially for my generation. Guys in my cohort got sent all over the world; the travel opportunities today, compared to what I experienced, are very limited. Most USAF people spend their careers going from AF base to AF base. And that's where my difference comes in. In 22 years I was "permanent party" on only two Air Force bases: Yokota AB, Japan ('75 - '77) and Tinker AFB, OK ('83 - '85). You can add Keesler AFB, MS if you like - I was in a school squadron there in '63 -'64. The rest of my career was spent on Air Force Stations, literally on mountain tops (or the highest ground around) in the case of my Air Defense Command radar assignments, and isolated overseas locations during my tours on surveillance and monitoring (read as: spook) sites. Which brings us to Wakkanai!
Wakkanai AS (WAS), Japan is on the northern tip of Hokkaido, as far north as you can go in Japan without getting your feet wet. The unit had various designations over its lifetime, but it was mostly the 6986th Security Group, a unit of the late, great, USAF Security Service. Wakkanai was a surveillance site, with a (then) state of the art system known as a FLR-12. The FLR-12 had a huge antenna farm. Wakkanai opened in the mid-1950s as an Aircraft Control and Warning (AC&W) radar site, it ceased operations in late 1971 and closed in 1972. I was there twice, from 1968 - 1970, and again in 1971. WAS was an "isolated" tour, dependents were authorized, but the tour length was short: 15 months unaccompanied and two years, accompanied.
The one thing people always remember about Wakkanai is the snow: we had an average annual snow fall of 275 inches. Do the math...that's a tick shy of 23 feet of snow. Every year. And it was cold. The snow began falling in late November and stayed on the ground until late March or early April. All bases are surrounded with at least eight-foot high chain link fences, usually topped with three strands of barbed wire. In mid-winter the WAS fences were useless. Even though it was illegal to leave the base through anything but the main gate (and if you got caught you were in trouble!), we routinely scrambled up and down the snow banks that used to be a fence and went "across the street." "Across the street" was a euphemism for the three dive bars that were literally across the street from the base...the Club Seven, The Inferno, and The Shadow. And Man! - were they ever fun! "Hey Buck! Where ya goin'?" "Across the street!" That's all the further I'm gonna go: PG-13.
There wasn't a lot to do in the winter. POVs weren't allowed on the roads in the winter, so you became semi-isolated, except for busses or taxis into town. We worked, partied, worked. Rinse. Repeat. Summer was another story altogether. Summer was racing season! Wakkanai was where I learned how to ride motocross, and my buddies and I raced all over the island of Hokkaido, mostly on the sides of mountains that were used as ski slopes in the winter. We practiced on Saturday and raced on Sunday. After practice there was usually a formal dinner and serious partying with our hosts at the races, usually the local Motorcycle Federation of Japan (MFJ) affiliate club. Americans were a rarity in that part of Japan in the late 60s, so we were feted a lot. And those Nipponese racers were some sneaky guys...every single party I went to they tried (and sometimes succeeded) to get us falling-down drunk. Racing with a hangover isn't recommended... don't try this at home. (YrHmblScrb is 427 in the pic at right)
It would be easy to go on and on. Wakkanai was certainly one of the best, if not THE best, assignments in my AF career. I traveled all over Hokkaido, learned to love sushi, banged handlebars with some very cool dudes, acquired a taste for Sapporo beer, and learned to stay away from all but the best Suntory whiskies. And I loved my work, too. I won't talk about what we did, but it was important. Nuff said.
Do go visit the Wakkanai Air Station web site. There's history, mementos, and literally hundreds of pictures, and you know what they say about pics and words... David Lynch, the Website Facilitator, has done a great job of putting together a site that captures the feel of the place and the people that were stationed there. Well done, David!
As noted above, Wakkanai was one of the best of my Air Force assignments. Even with all that gotdamned snow.