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Cosentino preparing for a mission at Udorn Air Base in Thailand during December 1972.

As part of JUMP’s ongoing initiative to reach out to those who have served or lived in Japan, JUMP Program Assistant Troy Robinson interviewed and edited a story submitted by Cornelius “Neil” Cosentino, a retired Air Force fighter pilot who served in the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Misawa Air Base in the late 1960s.

His story recalls the process of building his home off base in Misawa in the late 1960s. Following his time in Japan, Cosentino served as a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War and later retired from the 62nd Tactical Flight Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, in 1978. He has over 6,000 hours of flying time and over 760 hours in combat. He has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Joint Service Commendation Medal, and the Air Medal with nine Oak Leaf Clusters for flying in combat.

1. How did you find out about JUMP? What prompted you to join?
There was a JUMP event in Tampa last year at the Port Cruise Terminal. We were invited to attend by the Consulate-General of Japan in Miami.

2. What did you enjoy most about living in Misawa?
Flying around Japan made me a quick study of the Japanese landscape, but I really enjoyed learning more about Japanese culture and cinema.

3. Did you become friends with many locals? How did you meet them?
Our home was located on the beach, and we had many neighbors that were very kind to my wife and I. Maria made many more connections with the locals than I did as I was often flying or on temporary duty assignments in Korea or other parts of Japan. I would have liked to meet Japanese pilots but there was no way to mix back in my day. From what I understand, Misawa is now a joint base.

4. Have you been back to Japan since you lived there?
No, we have never had the opportunity to return. We plan to go back someday soon.

5. Tell us about a cultural difference that took some time to get used to.
Japan in 1969 was a completely foreign environment for my wife and I. Everything from driving to signage was different and took some time to get used to. Even things as mundane as tatami mat hotels, but we learned to enjoy all of it. One of the most interesting shocks to me was a very large museum in Tokyo that was devoted entirely to calligraphy. I found it beautiful, but I would have liked to dive deeper and understand that art more.

6. Any advice for individuals/families that will be stationed in Japan?
Honestly, if you are going to be stationed in Japan you should try to find resources from those who have previously lived there. Join JUMP because they can help educate you about what to expect before you go. Perhaps it is a little different than it was in the 1960s or 1970s but using these resources can help you plan tours or choose vacation destinations. They can also help you engage in local events and get to know the local customs.

Neil’s Story:

“Hello Everyone,

I hope you enjoy this story. There are many more good ones, but this is one of my best stories about Japan. It is one I always enjoying telling about my tour of duty with the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Misawa Air Base.

I have always admired Japanese culture. For example, I have always admired award winning Japanese movies like Rashomon or Seven Samurai. My enjoyment of these movies goes way back before my pilot training and I joke that when you go to one of these movies bring an umbrella. Why? Because in addition to the interesting costumes and the realism, only in Japanese movies does rain fall seem so real that you feel like you need an umbrella.

It was a welcome surprise then that my first assignment as a fighter pilot out of my Replacement Training Unit was to Misawa Air Base. Flying the F-4 Phantom in Japan and deploying and flying in Korea was a super assignment, with great flying missions and many interesting episodes. There are many other stories I am compiling into a book, like my temporary assignment to Fuchu where I watched the first moon landing sitting on tatami mats in our off-base Japanese apartment. We watched the video on Japanese TV but listened in English on AFN Radio.

The story I would like to share is why and how I designed and had a house built east of Misawa Air Base overlooking the beach and the Pacific Ocean.

I arrived in Misawa by train just after an earthquake. My wife was in California waiting for me to find quarters but there were none due the earthquake. For her to join me we would have to find a place in the town of Misawa which had a very limited selection of homes due to the earthquake damage. For her to come, I had to find another solution, and this is where my story starts.

I asked about building a house and was told that I could but would have to lease the land first. I located Charlie Uno, a contractor who spoke good English. He told me to find a site and he would make the arrangements to lease the property and start building. I gave him a few, rough hand-drawings of the house and garage and we signed an agreement on a price.

My roommate in the Bachelor Officer Quarters was the Air Base Air Rescue helicopter pilot. I recruited him, riding in the helicopter on his proficiency flying missions looking for a building site. The challenge was to find a site that was a reasonable distance from Misawa Air Base. The site had to have nearby electric power, water, and a paved highway. The best locations were east of the air base along the north-south beach road.

It took time but after several flights we located a very large open field that was not being farmed. We started looking for a large rock so that I could mark the location where the house would be built. I guess I could have used a wooden stake, but it appeared to me a good idea to use a large stone. We took a plywood sheet with us and wooden poles. We finally found a large stone and loaded it on the helicopter and flew to the building sight.

There was a line of trees along the beach and, since the trees could not be cut, for the best view we had to maneuver the helicopter a few feet above the ground. We moved north and south until I found the right location for the best view of the beach and ocean. We landed the helicopter next to the site and pushed the big rock out on to the field.

My contractor was able to get a lease from the owner, a nearby farmer who had a reed-roof house about 300 yards to the south toward Hachinohe. A passer-by who saw that lone large rock in the middle of field could wonder how and why it got there. I drove out to the site with the contractor and showed him the rock—the spot where he would build our home.

Uno and Cosentino

The house was built on concrete pedestals–footings using a post and beam system to absorb earthquake movement. There were many other aspects but one of the most memorable observations was when the truck full of wood arrived for the construction and the carpenter went to work. I noted that no two pieces of wood on the truck were the same in species, length, width, or thickness. Also interesting to me was the pull saw he used. It seemed so smart and efficient with one side for cross cutting teeth and the other for rip cutting teeth.

The house was completed in a very short time, but we had a small problem with the bathroom. When I asked to see the architectural drawings to see if they match our drawings, he smiled at me, saying the house was built using our drafts. How cool was that!? We moved in and the first thing we did was buy an Akita puppy—one of the best dogs in the world. We enjoyed living on the beach in our happily-ever-after-house in Japan.

My only regret about my tour of duty in Japan was that it was way too short. That is our story. I hope you enjoy it and we hope to revisit Japan and Misawa soon to enjoy the country and culture again. And to see if our beach house in still there after all this time.”

Do you have an interesting story to tell about your time serving in Japan? Let us know and you could be the next member featured on JUMP Spotlight Series! Read previous editions of the JUMP Spotlight Series here.

As part of JUMP’s ongoing initiative to reach out to those who have served or lived in Japan, JUMP intern Tyler Burton interviewed Charlotte Slaney Lewis, daughter of Captain Lesley Calhoun, who lived in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture from 1949-1951. Following her stay in Japan, Slaney Lewis’ family was sent to Fort Riley, Kansas, and then to Fairbanks, Alaska.

1. How did you find out about JUMP? What prompted you to join?
I was planning a trip back to Japan and researching on the internet for info on Otsu. It was during this time that I ran across information about JUMP.

2. What did you enjoy most about living in Japan?
I was 12 years old when we (my mother, brother, and I) were shipped to Yokohama to join my father, Captain Lesley Calhoun. He would have been a Sergeant then. I loved every moment of living there and would like to meet others that lived there too. I also loved our two maids that took care of us. I was a twelve-year-old young girl, interested in about everything! The people were kind and very interested in my blond hair!

Slaney Lewis and one of her maids

3. Did you become friends with many locals? How did you meet them?
My two maids were my favorite people and everyone I met was always very nice to me. I attended an American school in Kyoto. I took a bus there every day and it took a while to get there, so I didn’t have much free time at home. I do remember dancing around a camp fire with some Japanese girls, though.
I attended the military church in Otsu and my best friend was Carolyn, the daughter of the minister. I have lost touch with her and would love to see her.

4. Have you been back to Japan since 1951? If so, how does your impression of Japan now differ from that of Japan at that time?
I was thinking of going back for to visit but I decided not to go after finding all the high rises, and it looked like it had changed a great deal. I am very sorry now that I didn’t go!

5. Tell us about a cultural difference that took some time to get used to.
About the only cultural thing I can think of was in the bathroom of our home. The bath tub was sunken into the floor. I loved baths, so it took some time to get used to.

The Calhoun family. Slaney Lewis is second from right.

6. Could you tell us a bit about your father’s military service? What did your mother do in Japan?
My mother worked as a volunteer at the military hospital during that time. My father was stationed at Camp Otsu as an Army Sergeant in the 25th Infantry Division, 27th Infantry Regiment. He was an excellent Army man and was very happy with his jobs. While we lived in Japan, my father went to Korea to fight when that war broke out. However, he was wounded in Korea and suffered a bad knee for years. He was promoted to Lieutenant after the war, and later became a Captain before retiring at the end of the 1950s.

7. Any advice for individuals/families that will be stationed in Japan?
I would just say to relax and enjoy every minute. And be sure to travel to Nara: it is beautiful. Also visit the mountains around Otsu. My brother and I used to hike up there and camp out overnight.

Do you have an interesting story to tell about your time serving in Japan? Let us know and you could be the next member featured on JUMP Spotlight Series! Read previous editions of the JUMP Spotlight Series here.

The Japan-U.S. Military Program connects past and present service members, families, and government civilians who have served in Japan. Through social networks and events, JUMP builds relationships and provides opportunities for service members to engage with each other. JUMP provides a powerful foundation for sustaining the solid alliance and relationship that exists between the United States and Japan.

We’re working on updates to the JUMP website to make visiting here more beneficial to the JUMP community. We’re planning to add more content, make the site more user-friendly, and provide resources that benefit members in the United States as well as those currently living in Japan.

We’d like to hear from you. Tell us where you look when you need information regarding travel, food, advice pages, news sources, and cultural activities outside the base gate. Please contact and share your favorite travel sites, news sites, Facebook pages, or Japanese language resources. We’ll work on compiling your suggestions and will share them here on the JUMP website.

As part of JUMP’s ongoing initiative to reach out to those who have served in Japan, JUMP intern Nina Udagawa interviewed Yuji Toda, who served six years in the JMSDF (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force) and is currently in the U.S. Navy.

How did you find out about JUMP? What prompted you to join?
I wanted to join some kind of Japanese organizations to expand my Japanese heritage network. So, I researched on the internet and found this program that I thought was interesting. Because the scope of JUMP is to bring Japan and the U.S. closer together, I thought my experience would be very suitable since I have experienced both the JMSDF and U.S. Navy.

What compelled you to join the U.S. Navy given your JMSDF (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force) experience?

I met my wife when I was Sasebo, Japan, as JMSDF and she brought me to the U.S. Then I joined the U.S. Navy because I wanted to travel the world again and obtain the benefits the U.S. Navy offers, like health and education.

Describe one of the most memorable experiences you had while in the Navy?
Every time we have a joint exercise with JMSDF or have Japanese distinct visitors come onboard our ship, I get picked up for translator. I feel like I’m contributing to bringing the Japan and U.S. relationship closer together. Also, I had an opportunity to work with the U.S. Navy Seals and JMSDF Special Boarding Unit for the 2019 bilateral exercise [Iron Fist] as a translator. It was a very interesting experience.

What kinds of activities do you recommend to someone new to Japan?
Climbing Mount Fuji is a must (which I have never done.) Visit Japanese convenience stores. Try to talk to local people in Japanese as much as you can. They will try to talk to you using English, as much as they know.

Do you have advice for individuals/families getting ready to be stationed in Japan?

Go out there and explore Japan rather than staying on base. Japan has a unique culture.

Seeing that you have a lot of experience moving, how do you adjust when moving to a new location?
Talk to local people and become friends. That makes the new place fun and lovable.

I am assuming you have been exposed to many cultures both in your personal and professional life; do you have any advice on how to network and form friendships/relationships with others across cultures?
Communication is key. Even if they can’t speak English, you can use gestures. Show that you have an interest in their culture and people.

How do you view the future of the U.S.-Japan relationship?
The U.S. and Japan rely on each other like brothers. To have this relationship last long, we need to interact more with one another. To do so, our bond is getting stronger than ever.

At a JUMP event held at the closing of the 2019 Iron Fist exercise in San Diego, JUMP Director Chris Rodeman (far right) met U.S. Navy Petty Officer Toda (right) and, from left, LT Ohta of the Maritime Self-Defense Force and his U.S. Navy counterpart, LT Wininger.

Do you have an interesting story to tell about your time serving in Japan? Let us know and you could be the next member featured on JUMP Spotlight Series! Read previous editions of the JUMP Spotlight Series here.

2024 The Japan U.S. Military Program (JUMP)

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