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The Kyushu Escapades of Harry & Andy in 1951

By Andy Bisaccia, May 2003 


Harry & Andy 1986, Buddies Still


It seems an anomaly that smack dab in the middle of the Korean Conflict that our ship, the Whitehurst, would allow crew members to take leave.

Harry Bongiorni and I got fed up with the honey bucket stench emanating from the filthy environs of Pusan, but how to escape it was another matter.  When word came down that leaves could be granted, Harry and I got our heads together and hatched out a brilliant plan. Shortly thereafter, we kicked it into gear.

Being granted leave, we boarded a Japanese ferry line ship (name forgotten) and crossed the Sea of Japan heading for the Port of Sasebo on the island of Kyushu. As it turned out, we were the only Americans on board and we slept on mats alongside Japanese and Korean passengers. We were given chopsticks in a fancy little red lacquered box, which I still have, to dine on Kimchi, a mixture of fermented veggies and fish, and rice served in bowls.

We disembarked in Sasebo and boarded a bus that took us to a hotel in Karatsu on the Inland Sea of the Nagasaki Peninsula. I would imagine that today this is no longer a quaint little seaside village with one small hotel to accommodate the few travelers who ventured there fifty some odd years ago. It's probably now an international tourist destination and attraction with modern multi-storied luxury hotels, shopping centers, and the dress of the day would be western attire. Back then, it was still the old traditional Japan where the kimono or wafuku was still the dress of choice.

After getting settled in our hotel, Harry and I went out and reconnoitered: exploring the sights around Karatsu, trying to get our bearings and a feel for the land, its people, and its culture. We stayed in a small hotel down by the waters of the inland sea. It had its own little restaurant which made it convenient. I recall one amusing incident when we first got there and had lunch. The waiter was a young man who spoke broken English. He asked us what we would like to drink with our lunch. We gave him our order and he left to fill it, but was stopped on his way to the kitchen by the manager. We couldn't help but hear him scolding the waiter: "You never ask an American what he likes to drink, he drinks anything!" To this day, I'm still puzzling over that logic. They also had a 'Western' band that played in the evening. The band members were all, of course, stereotypically Japanese: some with thick eyeglasses and buck teeth; a perfect personification of the caricatures of Japanese folk back in those days.  They were dressed in glitzy rhinestone American cowboy attire and sang American country western songs with an oriental twangy accent. It was pretty funny, pathetic, and cute all at the same time.

The day after our arrival we were eager to get out and see the sights. We rented a couple of bicycles. Our plan was to travel light wearing our dungarees, taking only a pair of swim trunks, and wearing a conical shaped, coulee-type straw hat that we purchased in town. We weren't sure if we would just do a day excursion or try and stay somewhere along the way. An adventure is the result of lousy planning, so we would just play it by ear and find out what the fates had in store for us.

Harry and I took off early in the morning on our bicycles and peddled down a road that followed the inland sea surrounded by fragrant pine trees. We passed farmers along the way plowing in their rice paddies with plows drawn by water buffalo. We would wave to people in the fields as we sailed along on our bikes shouting ohio, ohio which means good morning in Japanese. The people would wave back with big smiles on their faces and echo our greeting. We were told later that some of those people had never seen Caucasians.

Along the way, we visited some beautiful ancient Buddhist Shrines. We even located a couple of Hachiman Shrines that we were told were dedicated to the God of War. There were offerings of yen and little miniature Samurai swords left by worshipers who undoubtedly still cherish the idea of armed combat. We also visited Shinto Shrines with the black and red Torii gates so symbolic of Japan. The followers of Shintoism believe that death is evil, so you never see any cemeteries around their shrines. Perhaps they hide bodies from death. Now you know why they call 'Orientals' inscrutable.

In our odyssey, we came upon a group of young boys of Little League age playing baseball. American Baseball is a favorite sport in Japan. They only had a stick for a bat and a rock for a ball. Harry and I went to a nearby village and purchased a bat and ball, and a couple of mitts. The kids were ecstatic when we returned and they surmised what we were up to. Harry and I organized them into two teams and got a game going. We joined in and had a wonderful time amidst the peal of childish laughter and sheer contentment. After a while, we waved good-bye to our new won friends amidst cheers of arigato, arigato lingering in our ears as the ambassadors of good will peddled off to new adventures with a smile on our faces. I took movies of this event over fifty-two years ago. When I watch the film, I can't help but wonder, as I look at those delightful, innocent, cheerful, little boy's faces, what they are doing now and if they are telling their grandchildren about the two Americans who appeared suddenly out of nowhere to leave them a gift and to play ball with them. We must have seemed to them like aliens from another planet. That's the way Harry and I felt.

We stopped in one seaside village and found we could rent a power boat to go out on the inland sea. We had fun cruising around and found a place along the seashore made up of fascinating columnar basalt formations like those found in the Devil's Postpile National Monument in California. We also found a few caves we could explore in our boat.

We pulled into a village and visited an elementary school. A school holiday was declared on the spot by the school official who let out all the classes so they could greet their foreign visitors and benefit by the interaction. The kids were not only elated because they got the day off but also because they appeared thrilled to have strangers from another land visiting their school. They were full of childish exuberance and laughter and anxious to show us around. They all became our travel guides and we became the Pied Pipers as we peddled away and they came running down the road after us. They showed us beautiful shrines (
no, not more shrines!); gardens with statuary and ponds; a boy walking on a primitive waterwheel that raised water from a brook to irrigate the fields; and they took us to a place where they split bamboo using a knife-like blade stuck in the ground. They were eager to take us to a place where they fished crawdads out of an irrigation ditch with large butterfly like nets. After an enjoyable day and much movie making, we moved on, bidding our new won friends a hearty farewell as they waved and shouted sayonara, sayonara almost until we were out of sight.

As we happily peddled along down the winding dirt road, we passed houses along the way constructed of wood, plaster and rice paper. Large bamboo pipes split in half carried water into the homes. People waved and smiled at us and beckoned for us to stop for refreshment which we sometimes did.

We came to a beautiful beach, so we put on our swim trunks and nimbly went in for a dip in the cold waters of the inland sea. It was a hot day, so it was a welcome respite. Some curious children assembled out of nowhere to take us all in. There was a little stream nearby, so we beckoned to the kids to come and help us in building a dam just to do something to interact with them. They all willingly stood shoulder to shoulder with us and gleefully joined in the project. It was a pretty decent effort. I have it all on film. What extraordinary memories.

We spent one night in a hostel along the road. A stopover for weary foot traffic heading for a destination they couldn't make in one day. The people who ran the hostel were cheerful and painfully courteous. Harry and I left our shoes outside and settled down for the night on mats after partaking of delicious home cooked Japanese cuisine.

Altogether, we had traveled about sixty miles round trip on our Japanese odyssey.

We returned to our hotel in Karatsu and spent a couple more leisurely days soaking up the exotic sights, sounds, and smells around the little village.

My mind is a total blank insofar as returning to our ship tied up to the pier in Pusan Harbor. However, I remember in vivid detail our carefree days around the inland sea cavorting with the natives and our story book adventure, no doubt aided and abetted by my wonderful movies that have become a time machine for those long ago days when Harry and I were young and full of wonder.

Navy Rates at time of the story: Harry Bongiorni IC2 & Andy Bisaccia TM3 

Meet Andy Bisaccia


                          Comments of Al Crawford QMCM USN Ret.

Harry was the type of fellow who was game for anything, and if it even looked like a fun thing to him he was in on it.

My only comment is on the ferry boat that ran from Pusan to Sasebo.  If my memory is correct, it was called the Red Ball Express, at least by the military.  It probably had a Japanese name, but I don't know that.

I also slept on the mats Andy tells of when I made that trip.  The floor area was divided by wooden partitions about 3 feet high, with an opening to enter,  and a family would occupy one of these.
  Also they only had "oriental" toilets.  This consisted of a slab of stone on the deck perhaps 2' x 3' with two impressions for placing your feet.  There was a round hole in the slab perhaps 9" in diameter and two hand holds attached to the bulkhead. 
  To use this one would hold the hand holds, and squat down, this would position the proper part of your rear end over the hole which went to the sea.
  I can't remember if there was any flushing to this toilet.  My memory fails on that point. 
 Note: Al was QM1 when Whitehurst was in Pusan

Andy Bisaccia has contributed several  stories to the Whitehurst Web site:
Pusan Flashbacks is the most recent. Other stories by Andy: Escapades of Andy and Harry in Kyushu, The Day I Borrowed the Commandant's Limo, The Navy Way, The Great Engine Heist, Toothache, and a Great deal of material on "Jimmy" Pon Sun See, the Korean boy adopted by the Whitehurst crew in Pusan. You can learn more about Andy at this link.
Andy's Bio Sketch

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