About - My Time On Okinawa  |  1958-1959

Dick BruceTHE INNOCENTS AND THE STRONG

  The 13 months I spent on Okinawa was probably the most important growth period of my life.

   I enlisted in the Marines right out of high-school to escape from a step mother that would make Cinderella’s step mother seem like Mary Poppins. Life was not good at home.

  After boot-camp I was assigned to Band duty, as I had played clarinet in the band at my high-school. My first assignment was El Toro Marine Air Base in Southern California. While there I met and married my wife (I had to get my father’s permission since I was only 20 years old at that time), and 10 days later I was on my way to Okinawa, not a good way to start a marriage.

  To avoid some obvious and very strong temptation, I knew I would need a good diversion to keep myself out of places I shouldn’t go. Thus was born my interest (and pre-occupation) with photography. The nice Okinawan Lady at the P.X. showed me how to load the camera, change lenses etc. She gave me the condensed version of photography 101. I went from the P.X. to the closest village nest to Camp Courtney and began shooting up rolls of black and white film.

  Soon I learned of the recreation center at Kadena Air Base, and there, learned how to develop and print my pictures. I have a picture of myself, and the Okinawan man that worked there. He became a good friend, and I learned a great deal from him. He had an easy and friendly way about him. He helped me to be able to provide the villagers with copies of photos of their children.

  The first thing I noticed about the children was how happy they were, and how they all took care of each other. I saw seven or eight year old children carrying three of four year olds on their backs, I never saw anyone squabbling or fighting. I saw boys playing baseball with sticks and rocks! Whatever they were doing, they were just kids having fun. I rarely saw any dolls or toys.

  I spent a lot of time out in the villages and soon the moms began to see me with my camera, and gather the kids up for group photos. It was so much fun, and they loved it when I would come back with 4 x 5’s and occasional 8 x 10’s for them.

  Some of my photos still have very special meaning to me. Some have stories that make them even more significant. Over the last 53 years I’ve been inspired each time I look at them, as I recall what calm, gentle, friendly people they were. I learned so much from them. I believe a significant reason for my feelings of closeness to most of these people began in the darkroom during the printing process. The negative is placed in the enlarger, you focus, looking to get a nice crisp image, and always you are looking in their eyes. Then, in the developing process you watch the image gradually appear, always looking at their eyes. I always felt as though I was looking into their souls. What I saw was gentle, easy, honest innocence.

  The printing process always left me with a feeling of closeness. Fifty three years later and I still feel that way. I will be forever grateful to the Okinawan People, of all ages, for showing me that life is precious, and that we have control of our own happiness.

What my heart and my eyes saw when taking these pictures, was much more than these photos can reveal.

They touched my life,
and I touched theirs.

Nuchi du Takara

Dick Bruce