Ken and Bill's Excellent Adventure
III. Ken's Story

Ken’s father had been trained as a kamikaze pilot during the Second World War, but the war had ended before he’d gotten his chance to die for the Emperor. 
       Eking out a living as an itinerant actor, he had met and wooed Ken’s mother, took her on the road with him, and gotten her pregnant.  But he was a man struggling with demons, and was never going to be a husband or a father.  There was no future in Japan for an unmarried young mother, so Katsuko left Ken with her parents and set out on her own, eventually ending up in New York and starting a new family.

       Ken’s grandfather was a fish merchant in the coastal city of Yatsushiro, Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu, and by the time Ken was fifteen, he realized that was likely to be his own future if he stayed where he was, so he joined his mother and her new family in the U.S., finishing high school in three years and enrolling at City College of New York.  As a permanent resident, however, he was subject to U.S. draft laws, and in 1966 Uncle Sam came knocking.

       Ken’s father and grandfather had both served in the Japanese navy, so Ken decided he’d join the navy, too, even if it was the American navy, but he discovered that he’d have to enlist for four years.  When he pointed out that the army only required two years’ service, the recruiter told him he could join a special branch of the navy for just two years.  It was called the Marine Corps.  Kenny joined.  When he got to Parris Island, Ken says he told the drill instructors, “I think I’m in the wrong place.  Where are the ships?”
      With an introduction like that, I do not to this day understand how Ken ever got off Parris Island alive.  But he did, and in April 1967 he was assigned as my fellow intelligence assistant with 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, replacing Bob Ross, who’d died on a hospital ship ten days after getting shot in the lung during an operation in Tam Ky.  I’d hardly gotten to know Ross before he was killed, but Kenny and I spent ten months together before that morning when the world exploded.  That’s a long time when people are trying to kill you.

       Kenny introduced me to kimchi, fiery hot fermented cabbage some relative of his used to send him in cans.  I’d always be right there by his side whenever another “Care” package came for him at mail call, knowing there’d be kimchi in it.  Some years later, I learned that kimchi is a Korean specialty, not Japanese.  I spent many more years wondering why Kenny’s relatives were sending him Korean food.  Only after I found Ken again was this small mystery solved: I’m sure I must have known at the time, but I’d long since forgotten that Kenny was already married when he got to Vietnam—and his wife was Korean.
The front entrance to Parris Island as it looked in 1966. (WDE)
       After Ken got out of the Marines, he stayed in the U.S. for the next twelve years, working for Pan Am and becoming a U.S. citizen (he has dual citizenship these days).  In the early 1980s, he returned to Japan.  But he continued to work, as he does to this day, in the travel and tourism industry.  Along the way, he’s been married and divorced seven times—the first time he told me this, he looked at me deadpan and asked, ‘”Do you think I have PTSD, Bill?”—and has nine children ranging in age from the early forties down to elementary school-age.  He has a huge scar on his upper right arm, though you don’t notice at first that his use of that arm is limited, and another big scar on his head.
(Background photo by AGE)
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