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Through Airmen's Eyes: Old memories revisited

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. John Buchanan visits his former Stearley Heights home Sept. 10, 2015, on Kadena Air Base, Japan. Buchanan was the first resident of the base housing unit upon its completion in 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jason W. Edwards)

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. John Buchanan visits his former Stearley Heights home Sept. 10, 2015, on Kadena Air Base, Japan. Buchanan was the first resident of the base housing unit upon its completion in 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jason W. Edwards)

John Buchanan (Center) while stationed on Okinawa. (courtesy photo)

John Buchanan (Center) while stationed on Okinawa. (courtesy photo)

KADENA AIR BASE, JAPAN -- John Buchanan left Okinawa, an island fresh to the idea of industrialization, a place that now exists only in memory. He returned in September of 2015, although not quite as he had planned.

"I knew that I would come back to Okinawa," Buchanan said. "I was going to come back with a friend of mine, but he died before we could."

Buchanan enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1940 and after the end of World War II, he was released. But in the fall of 1950, he joined the ranks of the Air Force and made the journey to Okinawa, Japan, as his first overseas assignment to be the base protocol officer.  The island he arrived at was nothing like the one it is today. At the time, there was almost no housing on base, no hardtop road and no airplane hangars. The first hardtop road was paved from Kadena Air Base to Naha Air Base while he was assigned here.

"The housing was so limited on base, we were living in huts, and when typhoons came, we would evacuate the 'birds' to Tokyo because there weren't any hangars," Buchanan said. "I remember I had to wait six months before I got on base."

There was a house built off-base on land purchased from locals, which Buchanan rented out for the six months he waited to move on base and into his future house in Stearley Heights. When he finally moved into his house, there wasn't much to look at. All the houses and land around him were either new or under development.

"There was no grass or trees, just dirt and this nice house," Buchanan said. "It was a thrill to get on base here."

Being Kadena Air Base's protocol officer gave Buchanan opportunities to experience many things, from meeting the Secretary of Defense to generals and many other officials. He even witnessed something that would become Air Force history, the MIG-15 that was brought to Kadena and flown by Chuck Yeager.

"The MIG and Chuck Yeager coming to Kadena, it was a big secret, but being the protocol officer I got to see it, and as a first lieutenant, that was really exciting." Buchanan said.

Being a protocol officer was one of Buchanan's favorite parts of being stationed at Kadena, thanks to all the things the position allowed him to experience, not only on the job, but off. Buchanan got to experience mainland Japan, flying to Hong Kong and sailing on a ship back to the United States.

Coming back to Kadena after fifty some years and seeing all the changes that were started when he first came to the island was an experience that Buchanan won't soon forget, from revisiting his old house that still stands today, to touring the base with the wing commander.

"This base is the best thing I've seen in a long time," Buchanan said.