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Touring the Philippines in an Austin A40

The following story originally appeared in the Readers' Corner of BRITISH CAR magazine April-May 2000.
Thanks to story-teller Tom Graham and to Gary Anderson, Editor and Publisher of BRITISH CAR magazine,, for allowing me to reproduce it here.

USS Renville In April of 1961, the USS Renville (APA-227) was due to deploy to the Far East. To have wheels before leaving, two of us in the ship's company chipped in $50 each and bought a well-used 1949 Austin A40. It was perfect around San Diego, and we planned to give it away when the ship left.
A couple of beers one night led to a request to the ship's captain to take the car to the Far East with us. The ship was to sail with its giant holds empty, and we told the captain that if there was ever any problem, the car could go over the side, no questions.

Tom Graham

So we left San Diego for Okinawa. I was a brand-new navigator and after nearly three weeks plotting star sights, there was some relief when Okinawa came up on the radar screen.

We anchored in Buckner Bay, named after a general who was killed nearby in WWII, and the Austin went ashore by landing craft. The A40 was the perfect car for exploring the island. The electric starter failed, so we used the crank to start the engine. Then the crank broke and we push-started it. We spent $4 to have the front seats reupholstered and $4 more for a tire. The tire was used, with no tread, but the salesman said it was the only tire that size in Okinawa.

Ferry Ride

The ship's doctor had read about a leper colony on an island off Okinawa, and asked us to drive him there. He had a map he had bought in the US showing a bridge to the island. Three of us left one morning to drive the twenty-five miles to the leper colony.
We drove through Nago ona dirt road (it is now a city), waving to lines of Okinawan school children in yellow baseball hats. We came to the site of the bridge and found it gone. It apparently had been blown up during WWII. To the side of the bridge site were what looked like the remains of submarine bunkers. A local directed us to a ferry boat a WWII "Mike" boat, an amphibious craft with a ramp that had been adapted to Far East duty. We paid twenty cents and drove our car onto the ramp.

Along the beach

The leper colony was on Yagagi Shima, near the island where Ernie Pyle was killed. We landed on the island and followed an ox cart to the leper colony. After the doctor's visit, we returned to the island by the same ferry, finding out that the twenty cents was the cost of a round trip.

The A40 stayed on the beach when we sailed to avoid a typhoon. After that we embarked the A40 and a Battalion Landing Team of the Third Marine Division, then headed for the Philippines. This was before the Vietnam War and we were to be part of a distant presence, we were told.

In the Philippines we had to get large red local license plates. We made one trip with the car - from Subic Bay to a Navy Communications Facility at San Miguel, driving in very heavy rain and dodging water buffalo carts with large wheels. It took an hour to drive ten miles.

Our ship became very busy during our Philippine stay, and it seemed a good time to sell the car. It would have been worth a great deal if we could have sold it on the local economy. but the rules were that you had to own it for a year before you could sell it off the base. We sold it to a friend and left the Phillipines with $50 each.

Tom Graham

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