A Hero's Welcome
By Bruce Lonardo
Probably one of the most amazing memories that I have of the Midway is the welcome Japan gave us upon return from one of our shakedown cruises. The Japanese people have a strict forbiddance of any kind of nuclear weaponry in their homeland. This is for a very good reason as well, actually two very good reasons that, as an American who is very fond of the Japanese people, I personally wish never occurred... Hiroshima & Nagasaki. Well, initially, when this incident occurred, it began as a national protest in Japan against the Midway returning to her homeport in Yokosuka because the Japanese government believed the Midway was carrying nuclear arms. Upon our arrival back in Tokyo Bay, Japanese weapons inspectors came onboard to thoroughly inspect the ordinance magazines and weapons stores. When these inspectors learned that not even the slightest trace of nuclear arms or weaponry existed aboard the Midway, the Japanese government and people instantly turned the protest into a hero's welcome.
As we sailed into our homeport, there were countless numbers of Japanese ships and pleasure craft escorting us into port. From their ships and boats, Japanese people were smiling and waving to us and many of them were waving American flags. There were small sailboats swamped with beautiful Japanese women sailing right alongside of the massive Midway. They were all welcoming us with such incredible friendliness and kindness. There were Japanese news helicopters flying over our ship and our entrance into Tokyo bay was being televised throughout the entire country by every major news network in Japan. It was the order of the day that whoever wished to go topside on the flight deck had to be in their dress white uniform to man the rails and so up to the flight deck I went in my dress whites. What a gloriously respectful homecoming the Japanese people gave us that day. I have never in my life felt so proud to be an American!
That night, my best friend on the ship; Keith Beyer and I, along with some other friends of ours from VA-115, took the train from Yokosuka to downtown Tokyo. When we got to Tokyo, we went to one of the best night spots in Tokyo, "Starwood's Disco" in the downtown Shibuya district of Tokyo. This place was incredible! A cover charge of 2000 yen, which, at that time was the equivalent of ten American dollars, included admittance into the club, two complimentary drinks, all the Suntory whiskey & water (the traditionally popular mixed drink in Japan) that any sailor could want, and a full food buffet which was continually stocked all night. From the second we arrived, there were several Japanese people coming up to us and asking us if we were from the USS Midway. When we told them that we were sailors from the Midway, many of them asked us to please come and sit with them at their tables and we were happy to accept their gracious invitations. They did not ask us about anything that would be considered off limits for us to be discussing, but rather asked us how we liked Japan. We all gave them incredibly sincere answers when each of us told them that we loved Japan and that we were very privileged and honored to be stationed in their country which was absolutely beautiful.
They asked us about America and where in the states each one of us was from. They also insisted on buying us food and drinks all night. It was that very night, when I first tried sushi and I've been hooked on it ever since. In fact, I'm fanatical about Japanese food in general. It really is one of the most incredible cuisines on the planet, although I must confess, there are a few Japanese dishes that do not appeal to me but very few at that. That night in Tokyo was a really incredible experience for any Midway sailor on liberty. The Japanese people received us that night with totally VIP treatment. It was as though we were Hollywood celebrities! You know, when every serviceman of the United States Armed Forces gets stationed overseas, they are initially told by the Navy or whatever respective branch of the United States armed forces that they belong to, that they are not only military personnel assigned overseas but that they are also ambassadors of the United States of America. Well, never did I ever feel more like an ambassador of America with a more greater feeling of American pride, than that day and evening. It truly gave all of us who were privileged enough to be part of such an event, something very special indeed to look back upon and I personally cherish those fond memories very much!