Veteran recalls ice skating competition in post-WWII Japan
BEAVER, Pa. — For young airmen accustomed to bunking on cots in a Quonset hut, gaining a week's leave at a lakeside resort at the foot of Mount Fuji was nirvana.
An even greater thrill for Pfc. Richard "Dick" Kalinoski was an opportunity to compete with about 60 other servicemen in the All-Japan Skating Derby.
The Brighton Township man, who served in the US Army Air Corps from 1946 to 1948, was stationed with the 13th Air Depot, Fifth Air Force at the Tachikawa Army Air Base near Yokohama.
He was among the first troops in occupied Japan after World War II, part of the Allied Powers efforts to demilitarize the nation and establish a democracy. The base served as a supply depot for military operations in the Tokyo area, and Kalinoski was a heavy equipment operator.
In February 1947, his commanding officer organized a competition — speed skating and ice hockey — at a winter resort on Lake Yamanaka for servicemen who were part of his unit and the 11th Airborne Division, Fifth Cavalry Regiment and Eighth Army.
"I participated in both (events)," said the 85-year-old Kalinoski, whose father, John, taught him and his sister, June Futato, how to skate. His hockey team won third place.
"We didn't have the advantage of the equipment they have today," he said. No protective pads, gloves or helmets — just single-blade hockey skates, their military uniforms and numbered bibs.
"It was wild," he said. "It was a break from work."
Kalinoski said he also delighted in the upscale meals served at the resort, quite a difference from those at the base mess hall.
"It was unbelievable. Good food," he remembered, especially the steaks. Even liver and onions tasted good, he said. "It was the best money could buy."
For more than 30 years, Kalinoski kept in touch with Ted Murzyn, now deceased, who was part of the six-member hockey team representing the 13th Air Depot.
"We were real good friends," he said, recalling visits to Murzyn's home in Stratford, Conn. "He bunked right next to me," Kalinoski said, describing Murzyn as "a real joker."
The enlisted men were not permitted to drink Japanese beer or sake, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. Late one night, Kalinoski heard pounding on the barracks door. Murzyn hollered, "Sky," Kalinoski's nickname in the service. "Come and get me. I'm blind. I can't see."
Kalinoski said he went to the door, dragged his buddy to his cot, only to learn that Murzyn hadn't been drinking at all.
"He was pulling my leg," Kalinoski said.
"We weren't allowed to eat any fruit or vegetables that the Japanese grew," he said, "because they fertilized their fields with stuff out of the latrines ... They called them honey buckets."
Kalinoski's last assignment before discharge from the service was at Mitchel Air Force Base on Long Island, N.Y., where he was part of an aircraft refueling unit.
One day, while reading in a day room, he saw an ad for an ice-skating rink in midtown Manhattan.
"I gotta go there," he remembered thinking.
The following weekend, he got a pass, returned home to Rochester to pick up his ice skates and went back to the base. The first chance he got, he went to the Big Apple. He took a bus to Hempstead, N.Y., where he got the subway into the city, and then walked to the rink.
Turns out it was the Rink at Rockefeller Center.
"It's the one you see on NBC all the time in the winter."
He returned one time in uniform and was given free admission.
"That was nice," he said.
Kalinoski only went into the heart of the city three times to skate, he said, because it was such a hassle to get there.
"But it was a lot of fun."
Kalinoski, originally from Rochester, said he was 17 when he dropped out of high school to enlist in the service, receiving his basic training in San Antonio, Texas.
"It was something I wanted to do when I was 15," he said.
After the service, he went back to school to get his diploma.
He worked at Babcock & Wilcox Co. in Beaver Falls, Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. in Aliquippa and retired from Crucible Steel Co. in Midland in 1982.