OKINAWA: Forgotten Island

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On Okinawa, where more than four years ago U.S. arms won a famous and a costly victory (80,000 dead & wounded), General Douglas MacArthur's Pacific command has carried on a postwar occupation without much notice from the outside world. TIME Correspondent Frank Gibney toured the all-but-forgotten island, cabled:

The rice and sweet potato fields of Okinawa creep over the slate volcanic soil, covering the shell holes and the bloodstained caves where two great armies fought for eleven weeks. Weeds cover the charred foundations of what once were neat stone houses. Near by rise clusters of lean-tos made of cloth, battered boards and castoff American corrugated iron.

For the past four years, poor, typhoon-swept Okinawa has dangled at what bitter Army men call "the logistical end of the line," and some of its commanders have been lax and inefficient. More than 15,000 U.S. troops, whose morale and discipline have probably been worse than that of any U.S. force in the world, have policed 600,000 natives who live in hopeless poverty. When a typhoon (dubbed "Gloria" by meteorologists) swept the island last summer and caused widespread damage, the Army finally investigated the situation. The island's command was shaken up. Major General William W. Eagles, commander of ground forces, was replaced by breezy Major General Josef R. Sheetz, a convivial hustler who had done an able military government job in Korea. Air Force troops on Okinawa are commanded by grey, quiet-spoken Major General Alvin C. ("Ack-Ack") Kincaid, whose slightly absent-minded philosopher's air belies his hardheaded attention to discipline and morale. Since the change of command, Okinawa's scandalous decline has been arrested. But Sheetz and Kincaid still have a tough situation on their hands.

Plight of the Occupation. Most American occupation families live in run-down Quonset communities that look like hobo camps. A few officers are quartered in small concrete houses (built with materials brought in from the U.S., at a cost of $40,000 apiece). The rest of Okinawa's garrison live in hovels. Complained one young officer: "You get tired after a while of nailing the same piece of tin onto your house, watching it blow off in the typhoon, and then nailing it back." It will take an estimated three years of building, and at least $75 million, before the Okinawa garrison will have adequate housing. (Congress has so far appropriated $58 million.)

Sheetz and Kincaid are faced with other morale hazards. Recreational facilities consisted of a few broken-down movie shacks and football fields. Okinawa had become a dumping ground for Army misfits and rejects from more comfortable posts. In the six months ending last September, U.S. soldiers committed an appalling number of crimes—29 murders, 18 rape cases, 16 robberies, 33 assaults.

Sheetz promptly set up classes to improve conduct. "You are ambassadors without portfolio of the U.S. Government," he sternly told officers &men.

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