Friday, July 5, 2019

Vocational Tourism in Occupied Japan

From the Leon Netardus Collection
The first American troops committed to the Korean War were drawn from the ranks of the U.S. Eighth Army in Japan. The Eighth deployed four infantry divisions in Japan at the end of World War II.  Theirs was "occupation duty," which involved nationwide demilitarization while keeping law and order during the reconstruction of Japan's economy and infrastructure. Occupation forces, overwhelmingly American in its constituency, met with virtually no resistance.  The Japanese people were eager to better their post-war fortunes through cooperation.

Leon Netardus, a 1946 high school graduate from Gonzalez, Texas, arrived in Yokohama Bay after a 12-day ocean crossing. He was immediately struck by the contrasts before him. "The devastation was complete," he recalled. "There were burnt out buildings everywhere and massive piles of rubble. But let me say this: During the entire time I was there, I never saw a Japanese citizen show one sign of disrespect for any allied soldier. Not one."

The Eighth Army employed no fewer than 100,000 men for occupation duty through the late 1940s. On one hand, military planners felt this number was necessary to thwart any possible aggression against Japan by nearby Soviet forces. But for practical purposes, the number of U.S. troops committed to the occupation meant that the average soldier was underutilized.  On-base training and education programs filled the gaps, but these men still had plenty of free time.

Tourism became a useful distraction.  The Japanese train system was quickly restored after World War II, providing prompt, reliable service.  Armed now with locally purchased cameras, Americans could easily criss-cross the country to take in the sights.

PVT Philip Hughes began his army career on occupation duty with the 24th Infantry Division on Kyushu, the southernmost of the Japanese islands.  For a few short weeks during the spring of 1950, 17-year old Philip enjoyed the idyllic lifestyle of peacetime occupation.  His tenure there was all too brief, interrupted when the 24th became the first U.S. Army ground unit committed to the Korean War.

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