Freedom comes with a price!
In the 1950s and 1960s, Wakkanai, Japan was considered one of the most isolated duty stations for cryptologists of the U.S. Air Force Security Service and the U.S. Naval Security Group.
The following is a poem written by an U.S. Air Force cryptologist stationed at Wakkanai, Japan in the 1950s, titled ‘A Hitch in Hell,’ reflects not only the terrible living and working conditions, but also the feelings of loneliness and perhaps even despair which afflicted the airmen. Six of its stanzas are as follows:
It was just across the ocean,
Wakkanai was the spot.
We were doomed to spend our time,
In a land which God forgot.
In the land of snow and mud,
Down where man gets blue,
Right in the middle of nowhere,
Ten thousand miles from you.
We’re soldiers of Security,
Earning our measly pay,
Guarding millions of people,
For a few damn bucks a day.
We swear, sweat, slave and freeze.
It’s more than man can stand.
Supposedly we are not convicts,
Just defenders of our fair land.
Nobody knows we are living,
Nobody gives a damn,
I guess we are all forgotten,
For we belong to Uncle Sam.
But when we pass through those pearly gates,
You will hear St. Peter yell,
“Fall out men of Security,
You’ve spent your time in hell.”
Nevertheless, personnel retention rates at Wakkanai were remarkably high. In 1958, the 6920th Security Wing at Shiroi conducted a ‘morale survey’ to determine ‘why, since Wakkanai was a “remote tour”, no-one wanted to leave there’ For many young men, it was an exciting and exotic experience, with high group camaraderie.
4 August 2019 at 13:10
The more challenging the assignment, the closer the group.
4 August 2019 at 14:38
WAKKANI O’ WAKKANI, still can’t be the ‘view’, ramen, or friendships forged in snow…CT’s 4-Eva!!!
5 August 2019 at 00:03
I went TAD to Wakkani in 85 or 86. Absolutely loved it. Had restrictions on travel at night, but not during the day. Beautiful there. 10′ of snow for Halloween.
5 August 2019 at 01:06
It couldn’t have been worse than NSGA Adak….that place was really remote in the 60’s. I understand that later (80’s or 90’s) they had females serving at Commsta Adak. None were there when I was there (65-66).
8 August 2019 at 00:14
I thought attu and shemia was their isolated duty … Adak was cool!
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20 September 2020 at 23:07
I spent eight months Wakkani 1953’ I have very fond memories of the area And was sorry to leave there.
5 January 2021 at 23:35
I was for a year in 1963….isolated, yes; remote, that too, but it was a great duty station. Have many good memories of that place.
4 November 2021 at 12:15
This “poem” is very disturbing – it seems to have been written by a deeply depressed (or extremely bitter) individual. If it truly was written by a member of our armed forces, he (or she) should never have been in the service to begin with, or at the very least should have sought some help.
My experience at WAS was a mixed bag. I was indeed excited to be going to Japan, not just for the adventure, but because as a lifelong audio guy, I was finally going to be able to buy stereo equipment that I would never have been able to afford stateside. My disappointment was finding out, on the very day I arrived at the base, that the entire operation was being shut down permanently. This typically takes a year or more to accomplish, and I ended up being there for the first two thirds of that process.
The tour started out nicely – the folks I worked with and lived with in the dorm were all good friends, as was my supervisor at work. TSgt. Rudy Koch was the best! We stayed in touch over the years, up until this past November. I spoke with him via a video call a week before he died.
My career field was 30450 – ground electronic maintenance. Because of the downsizing, Rudy and I had to learn to do some other things, like maintaining the AP and EMT mobile radios. We eventually had to take over Tech Control, and we had to learn how to take care of the equipment at the base telephone exchange. Additionally, as a part-time job, I also ended up working for FEN / AFRTS at the tv station producing the news and running the board. (And I was the only USAF guy there – the news and sports anchors were Army, the weather guy was Navy.)
The Wakkanai experience was a good one, in spite of the sometime demoralizing process of watching the base being taken away from us a finger and toe at a time. Amenities would suddenly disappear one by one, and almost every week we would see one or more of our coworkers or friends leave forever to return stateside. Toward the ends of our tours, we were left with nothing much to do, either at work or with our free time, something of which we had tons.
There was one guy in the dorm with whom I developed a really strong friendship, which was a huge boon to both of us. On the occasions when the isolation on that base became overwhelming, we were able to talk each other out of some pretty bad moods, always landing on our feet and pressing on.
Fortunately, neither one of us was made to stay until it was time to turn off the lights and lock the doors – and there were times during our last couple of months there when it was pretty hard. But it always passed.
Up until recently, there was a website hosted by CityMax called “Wakkanai Was My Home.” There were hundreds of photos and other mementos of WAS on that site, including some photos I had posted. The site closed down a couple of months ago – I suspect the fellow in charge may be in ill health or has died. It was a great site, and I’m really sorry that it’s gone.
Before WAS I spent a year at Andrews AFB in Maryland, and my next (and last) duty station after Wakkanai was the 3rd Mobile Comm Group at Tinker in Oklahoma City. And Rudy Koch was my boss again! Within a year of exiting the AF, I met my significant other, and so far we’ve been together for 47 years. I had a rewarding career in electronics for over thirty years, and was able to retire at 55. I’ve been a club dj and a cattle farmer (!) along the way – it’s been an interesting and fulfilling journey. And Wakkanai was a significant and positive part of the trip.
4 November 2021 at 13:52
And, as a postscript, I think “Hitch In Hell” is a bit strong. Most of us did not (and do not now) feel that way. Just a thought.
4 November 2021 at 13:53
That last post by “anonymous” was mine — I forgot to log in. Sorry…..
4 December 2021 at 03:00
Stationed at WAS 1964-65 and really had a great fifteen months. Spent most of my time, and my money, at the Bear Bar downtown. Made some great Japanese friends there but, unfortunately, I was too young to appreciate the value of friends and lost contact when I went stateside. Many great memories of the country and the people. Luckily, I am still in contact with several of my friends from the USAFSS days. We are a dwindling few these days. Kompai to all!
20 January 2022 at 00:13
Stationed at WAS 1965/66. Great assignment. Like Blake, I was too young to appreciate it. Spent a lot of time “across the street”. Would have loved to spend more time in Wakkanai.
20 January 2022 at 23:43
Glad to hear there are still some of us alive who remember maybe the greatest assignment in USAFSS. Wishing you a Happy New Year and a wish I heard recently. “May your best days of the last year be the worst days of the coming year.”
22 January 2022 at 17:40
I wish more people from the Wakkanai Was My Home site would find this board — I miss my ongoing quest to find others who were there the same time I was. (1971-ish) I left shortly before the base was closed for good. Dave McClay
2 March 2022 at 16:34
I was there in 1958. It was “hell” at that time! Russians “threatened us with a “buzz” scare. We evacuated to top of hill with weapons! I was in 9/11 at Pentagon…AirForce!
2 March 2022 at 16:38
In 1958 I went a year without a Coca-Cola. Lots of snow in winter. Very Isolated. Not like later…when conditions were very much improved!
2 March 2022 at 17:50
Facebook has a Wakkanai group — still trying to get “approval” to join. Another member graciously agreed to post my photos on the site a few days ago.
(Just search “Wakkanai” in Groups.)
12 January 2023 at 21:19
I must have been from a different generation of those stationed at WAS. I was there from January 1971 to January 1972 as the unit was being closed down. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about the mission…the base…the city/town. It was my first duty assignment coming out of technical training at Goodfellow AFB, San Angelo, TX.
I’m saddened, but not surprised the “Wakkanai Was My Home” website has been taken down. It was always a good place to see names from my past and to reminisce.
12 January 2023 at 21:22
BTW, Dave Lynch was the webmaster for the old Wakkanai Was My Home website.
12 January 2023 at 23:49
As I said before, Wakkanai was great. I just thought of my first roommate on Dog Flight. I believe his name was Jim Currin. He had about one month left on his tour. He was constantly saying how much he hated Wakkanai/Japan. By the way, he had only been off base once, to take pictures. Hell, if I had only been outside of that fence once, I would have hated it, too. I was there 65-66 and would do it over in a heartbeat. Great people on and off base. Learned a lot of Japanese and could write/read katakana and hiragana. Although, that has gone away with the years. Made some good friends, American and Japanese. Unfortunately, I have since lost touch with all of them. There may be only one left alive, Lou Fikes from Tyler TX, who married a Czech and I believe now live in Germany or maybe Czechoslovakia. What I would give for an ice cold mug of draft Sapporo! To those of us who loved it there, I understand 100%. To those who hated it, like my roommate, I feel sorry for you.
30 January 2023 at 21:15
I too was stationed at Wakkanai in the 6986RSM from 1958 to 1959. One hell of a kick. I loved my time there and remember when USAFSS was granted a special 10% promotion quota because of the many remote assignments around the world. That gave the non technical field greater promotion opportunities. I was in the orderly room/personnel shop. Lots of good memories of WAS, the little fishing town, and the almost daily buzzing by the MIGs and response from Chitose AS fighters who arrived just as the MIGs exited Japanese air space. I too worked at FEN-Wakkanai (“Station” WAKK before FEN arrived). My first assignment before WAS was Andrew’s AFB in the Air Reserve Squadron where many of our weekenders were members of Congress. I retired after 30 years and served around the world after 22 permanent change of station assignments.
13 February 2023 at 23:51
Wakkanai was my first assignment after Syracuse and GAFB, Nov 2, 1962 – Jan 29, 1964. Worked on Hill 1 on Charlie Trick. Comfy dorms, great chow hall, plenty to do on and off base. Excellent introduction to a 24-year career. Knew CT1 Sam Garrison in the 1960’s and LCdr Dave Keffer over many years. Pulled a 99-day TAD on USNS Arnold in 1968, refueled twice at Adak. Just bumbled across this website. Have the big NAVSECGRU website bookmarked and look at it occasionally. Happy memories of Wakkanai.