Half-Minded: Okinawa

Donna and I consider the Okinawa Hash House Harriers our mother hash. We ran our first few trails with the Tampa club in 1988, but Okinawa gave us our first full taste of hashing. It was our first hash family. It’s where we got our hash names, Flying Booger and Pick’n’Flick (if you’re not a hasher that may not seem a big deal, but trust me, it is).

When I see mention of Okinawa H3, I pay attention. Things were becoming fraught for the club when we left Japan for Hawaii in 1992, and got even more so in the few years that followed. So I was fascinated to read an article about those days in the latest issue of On On, “the history magazine of the Hash House Harriers.”

January2021issueofOnOn-Magazine

The article, titled “The Okinawa Scandal,” appears on pages 14-16. I took the trouble to search the Stars & Stripes archives for the story it references, Members say Hash House Harrier club’s image unfairly tarnished by Marine’s trial, which is dated February 19, 2004. On On Magazine’s story at first glance seems to be about current problems in the Okinawa H3, but no, it’s about things that happened when we were there in the early 1990s and a few years beyond, an era of strife and drama I hope is firmly in the past.

From On On Magazine:

An army captain, having hared a run that disturbed a General’s game of golf, was ordered to report to his commanding officer. He turned up with several hashers, including a Japanese Colonel, and the matter was dropped.

I thought this was pretty funny, because that Army captain wasn’t the first hasher to be called on the carpet over the Okinawa H3. In 1991, I was grandmaster of Okinawa H3. I was also a US Air Force lieutenant colonel, an F-15 pilot and wing chief of plans at Kadena Air Base. One day I picked up the phone in my office and General Hurd, the wing commander, was on the other end. “Woodford,” he said, “I’m told you’re the guy I need to talk to about the Hash House Harriers.” “You bet,” I said, “do you want to join us next Saturday?”

We’d only recently said goodbye to our highest-ranking Okinawa hasher, a Marine one-star, who’d been transferred to US Central Command (and was soon to lead USMC forces in Desert Storm), so perhaps my innocence can be excused. General Hurd, it turned out, was not the least bit interested in becoming a member. He wanted me to cancel Saturday’s hash, because Okinawa elections were that day and anti-American sentiment was running high. My explanation that several prominent Okinawan citizens and high-ranking Japanese Self-Defense Force officers were members of the club and would run trail no matter what I said was met with incredulity (the general thought being GM meant I could issue orders). But it was true (for the record: I did ask the hash to cancel that weekend, and they ran anyway). I wish I’d had the foresight to do what the Army captain did a few years later, and bring some of those prominent Okinawans and JSDF officers with me to the general’s office.

The On On Magazine story is based on later incidents referenced in the 2004 Stars & Stripes article. Not in the story is the first Okinawa H3 scandal, which happened in 1992, just a week or so before Donna and I left the island for our next assignment at Pacific Air Forces headquarters in Honolulu. We’d gone to a post-trail, post-circle party at an American member’s off-base apartment. Hashers at the party, already drunk from the circle, were now into hard liquor and getting shit-faced, so we didn’t stay long. Later that night some partiers, rather than risk DUIs, decided to stay and sleep on the apartment floor. One of them, an Air Force officer who was a doctor at the Kadena clinic, sexually assaulted one of the sleepers, an enlisted Marine. The Marine woke up, fended him off, and on the following day reported him. The doctor resigned his commission and flew home to the States as a civilian.

This, of course, brought the Okinawa club to the military’s attention. My visit with the general the year before was strictly in-house and didn’t go any higher up the chain of command, but the sexual assault raised flags throughout the US military community in the Pacific. Not so much because it was sexual assault — the military has a long and continuing track record of ignoring that — but because it was fraternization between officer and enlisted, and moreover fraternization across service branches. The USAF and USMC make up most of the military force based on Okinawa, but the Army and Navy were pulled in as well, and restrictions on US military-majority hash clubs in Okinawa, “mainland” Japan, and South Korea were quick to follow.

As chief of flight safety for Pacific Air Forces, I had occasion to visit Kadena a few times in the mid-1990s, and always tried to stay over a weekend so I could run with my mother hash. For a couple of years after that sexual assault incident, Okinawa H3 was a far cry from what it had been in its heyday; it was deep underground, hashing out of the eye of the military whenever possible, with weekly turnouts of 20 to 30 hashers — not the hundreds we got every week when I was GM.

Then, in the late 1990s, two other incidents made things even worse for US military hashers in the Pacific. These incidents, which I believe are the ones mentioned in the Stars & Stripes article, involved consensual sex between hashers who were married to other people — adultery, in short, and also fraternization (both adulterous couples were officer/enlisted, and at least one couple were members of different services). Okinawa H3 in Japan and Osan Bulgogi H3 in South Korea (my favorite “away” hash when I worked in the Pacific theater), were the clubs involved in these scandals.

Retaliation was swift. The military command in Korea literally tried to outlaw hashing, I recall. On Okinawa, military members were prohibited from buying beer in quantity and taking it off base, which was meant to put a crimp in hashing. I recall reading somewhere that off-base consumption of alcohol by military members in Japan and Korea was actually banned outright for a while during the mid-2000s. This was in reaction to rapes and murders of Okinawan women by American troops, but I bet another factor was continuing command efforts to discourage hashing. I’m pretty sure those measures were temporary and are no longer in effect.

I’m not here to debate the military’s fixation on fraternization, beyond pointing out it’s an enduring issue of concern to military leaders, and that the hashers involved in the “scandals” should have known better, but hey, alcohol. And to point out that the military will happily try to crush hashing again should military hashers let things get as out of control as they did not that many years ago.

Okinawa H3 and Osan Bulgogi H3 are still hashing, I’m happy to say. Okinawa H3 has a Facebook page, where I learned they suspended weekly trails for a few months in 2020 to help control the spread of COVID-19, but resumed weekly trails in September 2020, limiting hares to pre-laid “dead” trails and controlling the number of runners on trail. Presumably hashers in Korea have adopted similar controls, which are common these days throughout the worldwide hashing community.

Hashers can and will continue to get themselves in trouble, but most of the big scandals, the kind that get us in the news and bring down unwanted attention from The Man, seem to have peaked 15 to 16 years ago, our era of strife and drama, now just a dot, I hope, in the rearview mirror.

© 2021, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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4 thoughts on “Half-Minded: Okinawa

  • Wow, I got out of there just before things blew up, it appears. It was fun seeing you and Donna in HI on the way to my new assignment when I left Okinawa!

  • FB,
    I have nothing but good memories of Okinawa H3 (my mother hash too). I first hashed in 1986-87 and then returned in 1994. On my return, there was no mention of any troubles in the past and your post was the first I’d heard of them. I will say that the 1994 hash was nothing like the 1986-87 one. The packs were not as large but definitely more R rated than my earlier experiences. It also included my first trip to Yuron. What a blast! OnOn!

  • Rather than revise my post, I’ll add some information here in the comments. Okinawa H3 and Osan Bulgogi H3, the two US military dominated hashes I’m most familiar with, had (and probably still have) very diverse memberships. Not only a great mix of enlisted and officer ranks, but also sexual and racial diversity, the US military being one of the most diverse and integrated institutions in the world. You can read my story, above, and get the idea these hashes were dominated by male officers. Not so, not even close. Hashing with either club was a great break from the strictures of military life, and that’s what everyone loved about those hashes.

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