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Left to right, Misawa high school alumni Martha Jones, Paula Levitsky Graves, Gloria Rodriguez Crawford and an unidentified classmate, page through a old yearbook while visiting Edgren High School on Monday. Thirteen former students from the late 60s and early 70s came back to their alma mater for the first time in more than 30 years.
Left to right, Misawa high school alumni Martha Jones, Paula Levitsky Graves, Gloria Rodriguez Crawford and an unidentified classmate, page through a old yearbook while visiting Edgren High School on Monday. Thirteen former students from the late 60s and early 70s came back to their alma mater for the first time in more than 30 years. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — For a fleeting moment, everything seemed as it once was to Sharon Mehaffey Laubenstein and her former classmates as they drove through the main gate and saw the Misawa Air Base sign.

That familiarity quickly faded when the group glimpsed the base exchange shopping center and vast parking lot.

“When I was here, when we first went through the gate, there was a bus stop, a baseball diamond,” Laubenstein said.

Laubenstein and 12 Misawa alumni visited their old stomping grounds Monday, putting the present on hold to take a stroll down memory lane — or, at least, what was left of it.

All graduated between 1969 and 1974, when Edgren High School was called Misawa High School, the classrooms and senior lounge were in Quonset huts and the mascot was “The Mighty Missile.”

The women can remember freezing in skirts at the bus stop — girls couldn’t wear slacks until halfway through Laubenstein’s junior year in 1970, she said — going to prom in the ski lodge and splitting a seven-course meal for 500 yen at Old Miyaki’s downtown.

Monday night the group had plans to see a movie at Richard Bong Theater, one of the few buildings they remembered.

“We don’t even know what’s playing,” Laubenstein said. “We want to be able to stand up with the national anthem because that’s not something they do stateside.”

Most of the former students were military brats, passing through Misawa for only a few years, but the place still has a strong pull on them more than 30 years later.

“I was so young, I was just living everything, that I wanted to come back and appreciate Japan, the base, the closeness,” said Paula Levitsky Graves, 56, who lived at Misawa in 1968 and ’69 and would have graduated with the Class of ’70.

Growing up at bases around the globe left them without deep childhood roots. But most said they have few regrets, and through hindsight, realize how lucky they were to pass through Misawa.

“There’s something almost magical about Misawa in particular,” said Laubenstein said. “We were kind of almost forced to get close to one another because there was nothing else to do.”

But as products of the transient military lifestyle, “you assume you’re never going to see any of these people again because they’re all over the world,” said Gloria Rodriguez Crawford, Class of ’70.

Along came e-mail and Google.

Laubenstein got the ball rolling in the mid-1990s. She started with a database from an overseas military brat organization that in 1996 had 250 names.

Laubenstein eventually created a Misawa Edgren Web site, which now holds a database of more than 4,000 names of alumni from the 1950s through the current decade.

The group held its first reunion in 1998 in Las Vegas, and has held one every other year since then. This was the first meeting in Misawa.

For Laubenstein, it was her first trip back to Misawa since leaving May 20, 1972, with her first husband, an airman she met at Misawa.

“We were in that group where you got to a base, became close with a group of friends, and you intend to keep in touch but you don’t,” she said. “We left here never thinking we would see each other again.”

Internet reunions

Technology has made it much easier for military brats to stay in touch or reconnect with old friends. Students who graduated from Edgren High School — or Misawa High School, as it was formerly called — can track down alumni through the Web site http://misawa-edgren.com.

Class of ’71 graduate Sharon Mehaffey Laubenstein created the site, which now includes a database of more than 4,000 alumni names. Alumni also can check out reunion photos or the lyrics to school songs or post a message.

— Jennifer H. Svan

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