GreetingsI am sending this e-mail to provide further insight into life at Camp Onna Point as seen through the eyes of a Marine.
I am retired now, but in 1980 I was a young Lieutenant stationed at Camp Onna Point with the Marine Corps' Third Reconnaissance Battalion (-) Rein. The years since 1980 have caused some memories to fade, but these recollections are "to the best of my knowledge" so the reader should attribute all outrageous commentary to Storey's loss of memory!
Even in 1980 the Camp looked "tired". Years of exposure to the salt air, and lack of all the steady facilities maintenance required in such a corrosive environment, was gradually wearing down Camp Onna Point. Perimeter fence? There were more than a few holes in the fence where "Mama-san" came and went, taking a shortcut across the nearby sugar cane fields to "Onna-ville" where they all lived. The salt air was corrosive to the point it was eating the chain link "cyclone" fence.
Except for a few buildings, there was no air conditioning. Sure the headquarters, the mess hall, one of the enlisted barracks, and the communications building…they had the A.C., but in those days, the Marine line companies lived in open squad-bays one step removed from Quonset huts. The Staff and Officer's barracks was not air conditioned. Not too bad really, we laughed about how quickly we "acclimatized" living like that. As the battalion's motor transport officer, the maintenance facilities I dealt with were pretty basic; somewhere between a rundown garrison shop and being in a "field environment". But we managed all right, just the same. I often think of the Marines I served with at 3d Recon, particularly those in the Motor Transport Section: it was a fine group of Marines to be associated with.
During the year I was there, the Southern end of the island experienced water rationing, and those folks had to deal with water "hours" and boiling their drinking water and other inconveniences, but that wasn't the case at Onna Point. We had plenty of water. I often went through two sets of cammies and took 2-3 showers a day in the June-August timeframe. Laundry service was about $20 a payday for whatever you needed washed / ironed / startched / polished, etc. There was no limit: what a luxury!
In 1980 the Marines were working 5.5 days a week. Saturday morning was reserved for a battalion run than invariably went out the front gate to route 58, where we sometimes went to the right and to "the beach", either "Moon" or "Tiger" beach, they were to the South. Or sometimes we went left along the wide sidewalk North to "Onna-ville" and ran out to "Manza" cliffs. Sometimes the Colonel would run us back through the sugar cane fields and we would pass an old USAF listening station that dated from surely the '60's and probably before then.
One of the older Marines, for whom his current tour with 3d Recon was not his first, said the surveillance equipment was so sensitive, the U.S. could hear Ho Chi Min "fart" in Hanoi! Okay, perhaps a slight embellishment there...but you get the idea. After the run we would recover and account for everyone on the street in front of the CP, then do cal esthetics for a loooonnnngggg time, ending with "flutter kicks", the signature exercise of the Reconnaissance Marines. I was a half-decent runner in those days and was not fazed by routine Recon PT. Then we would break to clean up, have breakfast, and do something not too demanding until noon, when liberty sounded.
The "Habu" snake, stray dogs, whacky MWR shows in the enlisted club, the theater "evolving" into a racquet ball court....oh yea, the "theater". Talk about your tax dollars at work....in 1980 the rumors of Recon moving and Onna Point closing were gaining legitimacy. So, clearly, the writing was on the wall...the Camp is going to close someday, probably sooner than later. Seemingly out of nowhere, the battalion is advised that work would soon begin on the theater conversion to a racquet ball court. Right.
And it happened. About half the seats were removed and a court was built inside the theater. Not too bad really, except that the ceiling lighting fixtures were not remodeled into a "flush" design so you could play the ball off the ceiling predictably. No, rather, there were so many nooks and crannies still among the exposed ceiling beams and the wire lighting fixtures that the ball hit or deflected into the ceiling might ricochet anywhere, or get stuck in the lighting fixture, never to come down. That project was a case of the funding juggernaut plowing along impossible to be "turned off" or redirected. By gosh the MWR had money to build a racquet ball court at Onna Point and, torpedo's be damned!, a racquet ball court would be built! (even if we were going to move within 24 months and abandon the Camp)
Anyway. The Marines had Onna Point in 1980, despite the encouragement offered from Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington DC to close the Camp and move the Recon Battalion to Camp Schwab, on the East side of the island. There was some speculation that a severe case of "foot dragging" had gone on for some years…..and still Recon was at Onna Point.
Well, just about the time I was to "rotate" back to CONUS, that was about May of 1981, I heard a good rumor that the Commandant himself had learned that Recon was still at Onna Point, (despite official direction for the battalion to move to Camp Schwab). He was said to have picked up the phone and told the senior Marine leadership on Okinawa to have Recon moved to Schwab by a certain date (seems like it was July '81) or else! Needless to say, Recon closed up shop in record time and got themselves over the hill to Camp Schwab in a hurry. I believe they are still at Camp Schwab.
I visited Onna Point again in 1990, by that time the JSDF had been its caretaker for some time. There was a solitary guard who let me in to look around after I made clear to him (sorta) that I had been stationed there before. Most all of the buildings (maybe all of them) were still intact, though the salt air was rapidly rusting any unpainted window frame and any exposed reinforcing rod.
Finally, I visited in 1998 and it was impossible to tell that an installation ever existed there. Virtually everything was gone and all that was left was a grassy field. I had a hard time orienting myself on the ground, in relation to where the buildings used to be. The USAF communications towers were gone, of course, but the big concrete foundations were gone too. Even the streets and curbs were gone. The only hint of the American presence at Onna Point remaining in 1998 was the slight remnant of the crushed corral road/path leading from the back of the communications building down toward the beach. That was it.
Many good memories. Semper Fi / JD Storey
Many thanks, JD. As we Air Force guys say, "Semper FLY