You’re Kidding — A Military Career?
By Shokichi Tokita
For The North American Post
I can’t believe I did that! A 24-year military career? Me? Someone who purposely scheduled class breaks before and after scheduled Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) classes so that I wouldn’t have to wear the U.S. Air Force ROTC uniform on campus?
That’s right! After Garfield High School, while attending the University of Washington where ROTC was mandatory, I would always schedule a class break before and after my ROTC class so that I would not have to wear that military uniform any more than was absolutely necessary. Fortunately, I was a member of the SYNKOA House, adjacent to the campus, for “quick changes” from civvies to uniform and back again. (See “What is the UW Nikkei Alumni Association?” napost.com, Oct. 2022)
At that time, the Korean War (1950 – 1953) was in progress, as was the military draft, so a number of my friends had been drafted into the U.S. Army. Many also wound up serving in Korea, so my goal was to make sure that I retained my student deferment while attending the UW.
However, there was one major problem. I was enrolled in the business school and didn’t find the subjects very interesting. Courses like Accounting 101, Psych 101, Anthropology… “yuck, yuck, yuck!” As you might have guessed, my grades reflected those yucks, and I suddenly realized that my grade point was suffering. I decided that I’d better go to summer school to retake some of those classes to get my grade point up. I did well enough to get those grades up, so I was quite relieved.
When I came home from that summer session, my mother handed me a postcard. When I looked at it, it was from the local draft board! Wow, they realized I had raised my grade point and could maintain my student deferment! Wrong… it simply stated that instead of being classified 1S, which is a student deferment, I was now classified 1A, eligible for the draft!
Oh, my gosh, I was eligible for the draft! What could I do?
At that time, a friend and classmate of mine, James Hino, former star basketball player for Garfield, had joined the Air Force, had gone through flight training, and was in town; so I had a chance to talk to him. He said that if I joined the Air Force and finished flight training, I could serve four years in the Air Force and get out. However, four years didn’t appeal to me, so he suggested that an individual could go through flight training, but one month before graduating, you could resign and spend the balance of one year for a total of two years in the Air Force. That was it! Two years in the Air Force vs two years in the Army. That’s what I would do.
I joined the Air Force, qualified for flight training and two months before graduation, started thinking about resigning and leaving flight training. I looked into resigning and found that it was quite simple, but there were two major conflicts that I had to mentally entertain. One was that I enjoyed flying. The other was that my father’s training of never quitting something that I started was firmly entrenched in my psyche. (See “Tokita Tales, Lessons Realized, napost.com, Feb. 2023).
So, guess what? I finished flight training, received my wings and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. Early on, I wound up with a short six-month tour of duty at Portland Air Base, Oregon, then a longer one-year tour at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. I finally ended up at McChord AFB at Tacoma, Washington (today’s Joint Base Lewis McChord, or JBLM). And guess what I did there… I flew passenger and cargo planes across the Pacific through California, Hawaii, Wake Island, to Japan and back, with layovers in Hawaii, Wake Island (west of Hawaii), and Japan! What a life!
While I was at McChord AFB, I met the love of my life, Elsie Yukiko Tanaka of Hawaii, and eventually married her in 1961. A few years later, I received orders to report for missile officer duty at Francis E. Warren AFB at Cheyenne, Wyoming! I had no desire to become a missile officer, nor to live in Cheyenne, Wyoming. No way! I pondered what I should do, considering whether Mom Tokita needed help in Seattle — Mom indicated she did not — and having discussions with Elsie who ended up telling me that she liked the Air Force way of life! So, guess what? I decided to make it a career!
I served 24 years as a career officer. I also obtained my BS in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA while in the Air Force. I had a great time in the Air Force. Some of my most enjoyable years were serving in it in the prime of my life!