National Geographic : 1968 Jul
control of both island groups in the spring or early summer of 1968. On the eve of that much-discussed event, Uncle Charlie Washington said, "I can't say anything against the Japs. They treated us O.K. Of course I was born under the round ball, the rising sun." Yet we found that many of Chichi's older people were worried. "To tell you the God's truth," one of them told me, "I wish they never would come back. We're content. The Navy has always treated us good. What more could we want?" Young islanders, however, hope that the Japanese will liven up Chichi Jima. They anticipate, perhaps too optimistically, instant resort hotels, tourists, new stores, and new faces to spice the quiet routine. "The Japanese will be more active and progressive," 20-year-old Diana Washington declared. But she added, wistfully, "I guess there won't be as much running around bare foot and picking oranges in the hills." Terror Follows Boredom on Chichi Bird Joe and I saw many barefoot girls but few oranges on Chichi Jima. For a time I feared we would not even see Chichi. Getting there was half the trouble. At the time of our trip, two main routes spanned the blue Pacific from Guam to Chi chi Jima. For years three valiant old Navy Grumman HU-16D's, amphibious planes col lectively dubbed the "Chichi Bird," flew there on an irregular schedule. The flight, one pas senger told me, meant "five hours of boredom and ten seconds of sheer terror." (The mo ments of terror came when the Bird skimmed Scourges of paradise Giant African snails, brough from Japan only 30 year: ago, ravage gardens. Wher the five-inch mollusks climi high, islanders say, a ty phoon approaches. Leafy ginkokai grows ii impenetrable walls; the Jap anese planted the Centra American shrub to camou flage gun positions. Nov children at play blow it seeds through peashooters mountaintops, twin engines sputtering, and plummeted into the tiny harbor.) A typhoon had grounded the Chichi Bird, so Joe and I took the alternative. We boarded the USS San JoaquinCounty, a Landing Ship, Tank, that shuttled back and forth from Guam to Chichi to Japan. The LST brought supplies to the islanders and the 30-man Navy facility, and carried the island's fish catch to Guam. The cargo on our trip was typically varied: 10,000 pounds of rice, a drill press, 125 cases of beer, a portable water cooler, 1,088 pounds of bread, a reflector antenna, 2,300 pounds of plywood, a pinball machine. For five long days the flat-bottomed LST wallowed from trough to trough. Finally, we sailed into the sheltered harbor called Futami Ko-a remnant of a volcanic crater-at Chichi Jima. Rolling ceased; spirits soared. The dull orange sun was disappearing into the Pacific behind us. A petty officer came on deck, pointed to the golden afterglow on the green mountains, and said, "I'll always re member the Bonins. These people are good, real good. The natives and the Navy here are just like a big family." Joe and I joined the family. Though the only telephones on Chichi were the Navy's eight rural-style crank sets, word of mouth transmits news at teletype speed. No one seemed surprised to see two strangers stroll ing the oiled dirt road that serves as main street of Omura, Chichi's sole village. Soon after I arrived on Chichi, I was stopped on the main street by a gray-haired man. "My name is Willie Savory," he said. "I work just now as a painter for the Navy, but I'm a fisherman" (pages 132-3). Grand old man of Chichi Jima, 87-year-old Uncle Charlie Washington reminisces about his youth. His father, a Negro cabin boy from Bermuda, deserted a vessel here in 1843; his mother was a daughter of Nathaniel Savory. During the days of sail, Charlie shipped aboard whalers and sealers that called at Alaska and San Francisco. Through it all, he recalls, "I never had hard times, you know."