BITS and PIECES # 41

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December 13, 2013 by palamow

HeBITS and PIECES # 41
Hello again from Luquillo,
Since the Christmas season is upon us, my focus turns to the glorious story of the birth of our Savior twenty centuries ago. Clearly, no story can (or should) attempt to compete with the ‘Greatest Story Ever Told’, so this will be my final BITS and PIECES entry for 2013…
Pamela and I look forward to joyous reunions with far-flung family and dear friends — regrettably, these get-togethers will be enacted solely through e-mail, telephone and ‘snail mail’ given our ‘remote’ Caribbean island setting, but they will be precious none the less…
Last Saturday marked the 72nd anniversary of the (then) Japanese empire’s surprise attack on the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, an event that swiftly tumbled us into World War II. I wrote the following piece some years ago, and after some thoughtful editing, included it in ‘Snapshots From The Road’, my small book of reminiscences published in 2011 — here it is again for your examination…
Best wishes for a blessed, relaxing and safe Christmas season, and a flourishing and uplifting New Year…

SANNO SERENDIPITY
In September 1963 I traveled from my Honolulu home to Tokyo. With three colleagues from our PACAF office, I was scheduled to attend a meeting with members of the JASDF (Japan Air Self Defense Force) General Staff to discuss the current design status of Japan’s new JADE air defense system. We were to meet at the Sanno Hotel in Tokyo’s Minatoku district. The Sanno was (and still is) a smallish Tokyo Hotel that was appropriated as a military billeting facility shortly after World War II ended. I stayed there whenever I visited Tokyo in the 1960s…
After landing at Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, I collected my bag and quickly cleared Japanese customs and immigration. I flagged-down a taxi outside the main terminal and endured the usual ‘white-knuckle’ ride through the busy Tokyo traffic to the Sanno. It was late in the afternoon by the time that I registered at the hotel’s front desk…
I was advised by the polite but beleaguered Japanese manager that the hotel was currently over-booked, and thus, “Would I mind sharing a two bedroom suite with a fellow officer of similar rank?”
I must pause here to explain that despite my modest 28 years, my job as a senior systems engineer with the RAND Corporation spin-off; System Development Corporation, had garnered me a temporary GS-13 federal grade that placed me on equal footing with military field-grade officers up to and including the rank of Lt. Colonel (O-5), although in reality, my military status at the time was that of a humble, ‘Week-end Warrior’, Air National Guard 1st Lieutenant (O-2). I admit to have shamelessly relished the perquisites that this transitory standing afforded…
I readily agreed to accept the proffered ‘downgrade’ in accommodation, eager to check-in, get to my room and take a long, hot recuperative shower after a grueling nine hour flight from Hawaii on an overcrowded Pan American Airways military charter flight…
I signed the register and got my room key, followed the uniformed Japanese bellman to the elevator and up to my shared suite on the top floor. Opening the door to the suite revealed a sizeable, nicely-appointed sitting room containing a red-leather sofa and some similarly upholstered chairs arranged around a highly polished wooden coffee table, with an intricate Japanese flower arrangement as a centerpiece – and thankfully, a well-stocked wet bar under the window against the far wall…
My bedroom was located through a doorway at the left – the other bedroom was on the right. I thanked and tipped the bellman after he deposited my well-worn, olive-drab canvas B-4 bag (a treasured memento of my Korean War service) in the closet. I hastily un-zipped an outer pocket on the bag, retrieved some clean linens and toiletries and headed for the shower. After luxuriating under the steaming hot water for a few minutes, I emerged, wrapped a bath towel around my middle and headed for the wet bar in the sitting room in hopes of snagging a frosty bottle of Asahi beer to drink while I shaved and got dressed…
As I was opening the beer, I was surprised by a booming baritone voice behind me, that drawled “Hey amigo, I’m Hap Arnold, who the hell are you? I turned and replied “I’m Alan Mowbray, I guess we’re going to be neighbors for a few days” My new neighbor was a tall, erect, square-jawed Air Force Lt. Colonel with close-cropped blond hair and steel blue eyes – I took in the command pilot wings and array of ‘fruit salad’ above the left pocket of his blue uniform blouse as he peered at me quizzically, and replied “Alan Mowbray, huh? Isn’t he that British movie actor – the one who played a lot of comic butler parts? – and hey, didn’t he write and direct that stage play called Flameout that played on air bases all over the world — he any relation to you?
My positive response was equally querulous: “Yeah, he’s my father – but, wait a minute – Hap Arnold – isn’t he the General that headed-up the Army Air Force in World War II – I don’t suppose …? He nodded “Yeah, he’s my dad!”…
These brief introductory interrogations instantly put us on a congenial footing – after we shook hands, I excused myself to finish dressing while Hap retrieved a beer from the wet bar’s refrigerator. When I emerged again, we were soon trading stories about how we had survived the consequences of growing-up in the shadow of well-known fathers. We kicked around the pitfalls and advantages for a while, finally agreeing that both of our dads had watched over our subsequent educational and professional growth closely, but had mostly provided us with guidance by example…
Since we both had early morning meetings to attend, we elected to continue our discussion over a few drinks at the Sanno bar and then have an early dinner at the hotel’s excellent restaurant…
Early the next morning, I phoned my boss, industrial psychologist Dr. Joseph Fink, who was staying at the Tokyo Hilton along with human factors specialist Dave Rochlen and U.S. Air Force project officer, Captain George Eckrich, the other members of our PACAD contingent, and we agreed to meet at the Sanno for breakfast and then proceed to the meeting which was scheduled to begin at 10:00 AM…
The meeting went smoothly – JASDF Chief of Staff, General Minoru Genda turned out to be extremely courteous and fully committed to the system’s success, offering many salient observations. We broke for the day around 3:00 PM and I agreed to meet Joe, Dave and Captain Eckrich at the Sanno for cocktails and dinner around 7:00 PM to discuss the next day’s strategy…
We arrived at the Sanno’s bar around 6:30 PM, and had just seated ourselves at a table and ordered drinks when General Genda and his wife walked through the bar on their way to attend a formal dinner party in the Sanno’s main dining room, given by US Ambassador to Japan Edwin O. Reischauer. We came to our feet and greeted them, and Joe asked if they would do us the honor of joining us briefly for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. General Genda graciously accepted and we quickly made room for them both at our table…
As we chatted amiably, General Genda, who was sitting directly across from me enquired “Where do you live, Mr. Mowbray?” I replied “In Honolulu, Hawaii sir, have you ever been there?
There was a pregnant pause, before he replied with a wry smile “Why yes, I did make a brief visit there a few years ago.” I didn’t pursue the matter as the conversation quickly turned to other matters and soon it was time for the General and his wife to move on to their dinner engagement with the Ambassador.
When they had departed, I was quickly apprised of the conversational faux-pas I had made with the General – Captain Eckrich patiently explained that General Genda (then Commander Genda, Imperial Japanese Navy) had planned the mission and then led his carrier-borne aircraft flight down Kole Kole pass to sink the USS Arizona and bomb and strafe the other ships in the harbor during the fateful 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor!
This was the “brief visit a few years ago” that the General had alluded to! I found his somewhat sardonic reply to be a little off-putting – like most people my age, I had vivid memories of President Roosevelt’s Date of Infamy speech – the photos and movies of the Arizona and other battleships and cruisers burning and sinking was indelibly etched in my memory.
That evening as we sat in our suite nursing a couple of beers from the wet bar, I described my conversation with General Genda to my new friend Hap Arnold. We concluded that the exigencies of war often cause extreme decisions to be made – especially when the combatants are convinced that God is on their side. We sagely concluded (helped along by a few beers) that events such as Pearl Harbor should probably be evaluated with those factors in mind as they become footnotes to history…
As I flew back to Honolulu a few days later, I resolved to put my conversation with General Genda aside for further consideration at a future time when age might provide me with some additional insights to better understand this very brief brush with history…
© 2011 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

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One thought on “BITS and PIECES # 41

  1. mkhulu says:

    You continue to be the most interesting man in the world.

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