NAF Atsugi, Japan
When I joined the Navy in 1980, I had dreams of adventures in exotic places. Atsugi, Japan was not on my list of places I wanted to visit. I didn’t even know where it was! But little things like that do not matter to the Navy. They sent me anyway. Not only did I meet some great people and had some great adventures, I also came back with ghost stories.
The Naval Air Facility Atsugi is located on the island of Honshu, the main island of Japan. It was built in 1938 by the Japanese Imperial Navy as Emperor Hirohito’s Naval Air Base. In 1938, this was a rural area of farmland and forests. It was decided that this was a good place to train pilots. An underground defense system was also built in the form of tunnels. They still exist, but to my knowledge, they are not used.
On August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced that Japan would surrender, ending World War II. Many in Japan refused to surrender, and this included Kozono and his pilots in Atsugi. They swore to defend Japan “to the end”. They printed and dropped thousands of leaflets over Tokyo, Yokosuka, Yokohama, and surrounding areas that proclaimed that anyone who surrendered was guilty of treason. They urged the continuation of the war. The base was held captive for seven days until the airmen concluded that the surrender of Japan was a reality. The pilots took off in 33 planes and the disarmament began.
On August 30, General Douglas MacArthur landed at Atsugi to accept the formal surrender aboard the USS Missouri and assume the duties of Military Governor of Japan. Before he arrived, paratroopers of the 11th Airborne Division landed at Atsugi Airfield. 123 planes and several thousands of troops moved in from Okinawa to Honshu. The war was officially over.
Nowhere in my research did I find that kamikaze pilots committed suicide when surrender was announced, but that was what I was always told about the base and its haunted history.
I was walking to work one evening, going down a road that crosses over at least one of the tunnels. I heard loud voices coming from one of the tunnel entrances. As far as I knew, these were sealed and not used by the Americans for anything, especially for a party, which is what it sounded like. I was later told about the suicides that supposedly took place in the tunnel. I was also told that the Navy chapel was haunted – no specifics were ever given to me. This building was once a Buddhist temple and stories are told of suicides there also.
Japan is a very haunted country. The history is bloody, the suicide rate high. Then there are the deaths by natural disasters, such as earthquakes. One story I was told was by an American who lived off-base. He would hear loud footsteps going up thirteen steps. His home was a single story, but was located in a neighborhood that was destroyed in a past earthquake.
One of the oddities of NAF Atsugi was the tree on the flight line. Flight lines are kept free of trees, bushes, rocks, debris, etc. for the safety of the planes and people that work around them. There were many attempts to remove this particular tree but it was deemed impossible. Body parts and lives were lost when removal attempts were made. So, they stuck a red light on it to allow pilots to see it at night. I have recently been informed that the tree is no longer standing. It seems Mother Nature was the only one that could safely remove it.
For the two years that I lived in Japan, I was told stories of Old Red Eyes. Red eyes were seen floating in the corrosion hanger at night by some of the sailors that had to pull watch duty. I have learned a long time ago that when you are tired and alone, your imagination can run away with you. Many people didn’t take those reports seriously, until one night a hanger door flew off of its hinges shortly after the sailor saw red eyes. The unbelievers were hard pressed to come up with an explanation on how that large, extremely heavy metal door could be pulled down.
My friend Anne was a parachute rigger. They had a tower building that they worked in, rigging parachutes for the airplanes. In the military, we always pull watch duty of some sort and Anne had to pull the occasional duty overnight in the tower. She didn’t mind it most of the time, but there were some nights when “Charlie” came to visit. It is believed that the ghost of a rigger who was killed in a furnace explosion still hangs around. Anne told me of time when staples would be continuously shot at the radiator, the trash can would slide back and forth on its own, or the old dial phone would ring like someone was dialing. Most of the time she could ask him to stop and he would. There were other times she finished her guard duty from her car.
A few miles away, there was a smaller Navy base called Kami Seya. Some years before my arrival, there was a fire at one of the buildings that killed four sailors. There have been reports ever since that “burning” figures are seen walking down the halls of the restored building.