Panama Canal Zone and First Carrier Landing
My first trap was in the S2F “Tracker” flying out of Howard Air Force Base at Fort Kobbe, Canal Zone, in 1962. The aircraft was sent by USS CONSTELLATION (CVA 64) to pick up me and an Army mopic photographer. “Connie” was on her maiden cruise around the Horn from Philadelphia to San Diego and we were sent to document her arrival in the Pacific port of Balboa. After two days of interviews with Captain Walker and his crew, we were launched back to the beach to cover the arrival from pierside. We were strapped into the aircrew seats facing forward like the pilots. It was the last time I got to do that. All the rest were in the COD facing aft.
Funny thing: As the SP4 and I came up the brow to document the meeting of the Captain, the CZ Governor, and the President of Panama, a school bus full of kids pulled up to the pier and they started pointing and shouting: “Joe Ciokon!”…at the time CFN was the only TV station in Panama and everyone knew me from the Six O’Clock News. The VIPs were not amused. But, the admiral who was Com15 and NavForCarib at the time loved it. He was just tickled to have a Sailor on the tube after all the pros drafted by the Army before me.
Note: This conversation possibly started when someone (Joe?) published a presentation of
Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C Sharp Minor on YouTube and mentioned that he once played the piano.
Playing the Piano when Young
March 17. 2013
My teacher was the soloist for the Saint Louis Symphony. What impressed him the most about me was my reach on the keys which meant I was able to play the most complicated of compositions. Rachmaninoff appealed to me at the time because I was always in a dark mood and I identified with his life. I felt a kinship with him. You know, as part of my studies I also had to study the lives of the Masters. So, that particular piece touched me in a way no other did. I still hear it in my head to this day. Sad, but as soon as I became a Sophomore in high school, I quit piano to focus on rebelling against society and my Mom who had forced me to take piano first from the Nuns at Saint Louis Cathedral who were cruel tyrants in those times, and finally from the private teacher whom she had to pay. I had a Steinway upright at home. I once played a duet recital using back to back grands with an Italian kid who was way better than me, but we made it through just fine. My teacher actually wept when I left. He was steering me into composition and a solo career. I hated it then, but now I wish I had held onto some of it. Sheet music now looks Greek to me and I used to be fluent. Makes me angry and sad.
Now, see what you've done?
Comment from Jack Holsomback
March 17, 2013
Joe: I would love for you to play Rachmaninoff. I love his prelude in C sharp major. I have heard the argument that a woman cannot properly play this piece because of the lack of a hand span. Yet, I heard women do a fine job. Perhaps you have an opinion? Never the less, why don't you try with a few cords, and I am sure the music will return.
Comment from John "Randy" Kafka
March 18, 2013
Yes, things would have been different if you had stayed with the music...ok, you did not. But...you did come into the military...and for that, I am grateful, for if you had not chosen that path, I would never had meet you. And having meet you, I am that much the better off for it.
Response from Joe Ciokon
March 18, 2013
Randy, You are too kind to this old reprobate. I get too much credit for the work of my students and colleagues. You and they, did it themselves. The one thing that irks me? At every assignment, I either started a Judo club or taught at an established one on or near the base. The only broadcasters or Navy PAOs/Journalists who ever took my classes were the broadcast engineers, none of the “talents” save one, an Army draftee during my last SCN-Panama tour in the 70s. I got him the brown belt before he DEROS’d. One of the Army 26-Tango’s made it to black belt and national competition. I’m a national coach, the Navy’s Judo Coach, and Olympic trainer, and the classes are FREE, for Pete’s sake! My Navy students were SEALs, techies, mechanics, and medics, along with a handful of Marines who happened to be on staff or with the Marine Barracks on base. Sheesh! Love you guys, anyway.
P.S. my next door neighbor is a piano teacher. Dare I approach her to help pry out my lost talent? After a couple of my favorite classics, I’d like to try Stan Kenton’s signature piece “Artistry in Rhythm”, and then Latin Jazz (such as Jobim, Valle, Gilberto). One of my aunts, though classically trained, could play a mean Honky Tonk!
Comment from Jim White
March 18, 2013
Have enjoyed your recent messages about playing the piano and your judo work. Also found them very interesting. Just curious, but when and where were you when you first developed an interest in Judo. You certainly carried it a long way, and Judo has carried you a long way also. By chance, the attached article on a scandal in the All Japan Judo Federation was in today's paper. Most likely not really "news" to you but thought you might find it interesting. Jim
Reply from Joe Ciokon
March 19, 2013
Thanks, and yes we are aware of this. Japan, and in fact other sports coaches and administrators are not alone in these kinds of scandals including sexual abuse of students. The military has also had its share. I’ve forwarded this to my colleagues, USAF LtCol Paul Maruyama, one of the first Judo Olympians, and Kenji Osugi, also an Air Force Veteran and past president of Nanka Judo Yudanshakai, the southern Califoriia governing body for Judo. I have also studied at the Kodokan and my Navy Sensei, RM1 Ed Alseika, was the Navy’s highest rank at 7th Dan (red and white belt) and once head of the Kodokan Foreign Section. I was introduced to Judo when Professor Masao Ichinoe, 8-dan, stopped in Panama and the Canal Zone during a whirlwind world tour. I was assigned by the SCN-TV News Director to go interview him at the Canal Zone Judo Club, located in the ASYMCA there. Like a good journalist, I went to the library and read all I could on the subject and, since his English was not so good, a representative of Hitachi Ltd., came across the border to interpret for me. The gentleman had been a Nidan (2nd black belt) in college. After the initial interview, we brought them to the studio for an on-air interview and demonstration. I was hooked and followed him around the Zone and Panama for his two-week visit to their clubs. Noriega was a Major in the Panama Guardia Nacional and in charge of G-2 Intelligence at the time and was given an Honorary black belt. That was August, 1963, and my next assignment was NAS North Island where Ed Alseika had established the Navy’s Judo Team and club on the West Coast. Our competitors came from Sasebo, Yokosuka, Atsugi, Iwakuni, and Misawa. Of course, the Air Force was already well established at Yokota and Tachikawa, and GEN LeMay made it part of the curriculum at SAC and, he too, was given an honorary black belt. Major Phil Porter took over USAF/AFJA Judo and when he retired created USJA for both US civilian and military judoka in 1965. There are now three organizations in the U.S.” USA JUDO (the national governing body), United States Judo Federation (USJF), formerly known as the JBBF: Judo Black Belt Federation; and USJA (mostly USAF, Marines, and other “Gaijin”, who felt rebuffed by the Japanese senseis for belt promotions). I am a Life Member of all three as well as Nanka. There is corruption and favoritism in all such organizations. Man is basically flawed, as you well know. My colleagues and I teach the traditional Kodokan Judo of the Founder: Jigoro Kano. Alseika gave me the charge before he went back to Japan and eventually passed away in Guam some years ago. So, you might say I am the Navy’s last Judo Coach. And, Paul is the last for the Armed Forces and the Air Force. No one else has picked up the mantle of leadership. The Army has a COL in charge of Judo at West Point and a Major at Fort Leavenworth. The Marines have a LtCol at Quantico. But, none of the services can field a full team which requires at least one black belt and an alternate in each of the seven Olympic weight divisions. Other martial arts have seduced military athletes away. Quantico has established a mixed martial arts academy and, it looks like the Army is headed in the same direction. Such is history. Thanks for asking. Joe
Comment from John Holsomback
March 19, 2013
Joe. I shall repeat myself. Please sit and try starting with chop sticks. I would love to hear you play.. anything. It may make you feel a bit better. If I promise to visit sometimes, would you promise to play for me?
Reply from Joe Ciokon
March 19, 2013
Give me a few more years.
Joe Ciokon JO1, USN 1968
Stories and comments about the Beruit Barracks Bombing, Joe playing piano when young, teaching judo, receiving awards from AFVN but being allowed to wear them "as awarded" and first carrier landing.
1983 Beirut Barracks Bombing
From a Message from Dick Ellis
Individual Photo Albums & Stories
A "cool looking" picture of Joe Ciokon on board the USS Midway.
[Taken from Facebook in March 2018.]
The Beirut Barracks Bombing (October 23, 1983 in Beirut, Lebanon) occurred during the Lebanese Civil War, when two truck bombs struck separate buildings housing United States and French military forces―members of the Multinational Force in Lebanon―killing 299 American and French servicemen. The organization Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Suicide bombers detonated each of the truck bombs. In the attack on the American Marines barracks, the death toll was 241 American servicemen: 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers, along with sixty Americans injured, representing the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima of World War II, the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States military since the first day of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War, and the deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since World War II. In addition, the elderly Lebanese custodian of the building was killed in the first blast. The explosives used were equivalent to 5,400 kg (12,000 pounds) of TNT.
In the attack on the French barracks, the eight-story 'Drakkar' building, two minutes after the attack, 58 paratroopers from the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment were killed and 15 injured, in the single worst military loss for France since the end of the Algerian War. The wife and four children of a Lebanese janitor at the French building were also killed.
The blasts led to the withdrawal of the international peacekeeping force from Lebanon, where they had been stationed since the withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization following the Israeli 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
Comment from John Kafka
And for those that don't know. Our own Joe Ciokon was the Senior Navy Enlisted attached to Navy Broadcasting Mobile Detachment ONE, Wave FIVE this October day in 1983. Joe and his Wave had gone in to inform and entertain the Marines with radio and TV. Early the following year I was able to attend the ceremony in which Joe was awarded his Purple Heart. GOOD ON YOU JOE, AND YOUR ENTIRE TEAM NOT ALL RETIRED.
Comment from Jean LeRoy
Thank God Joe made it through, he is such a big part of the lives of all of us as well as Southern California Veterans, not to mention he is definitely one of the truly genuine men I have ever met. Joe Ciokin is definitely one of those rare folks that goes far beyond "What you see is what you get." A conversation with him goes far deeper than the basics I had the pleasure of a really nice visit with him the last morning of the reunion. We are lucky to have such a man among us.
Not be able to wear Awards "as Received"
February 24, 2013
When the Colonel presented my JSCM as I out-procesed, it included a Combat “V.” I thought [that was] because John Aubuchon and I had taken the initiative to grab a camera and recorder along with Sgt Conda [Condo?] from Engineering who had the only weapon and go to the Embassy to cover the attack. We were the first “newsies” on the scene, followed soon after by Kate Webb of UPI. But, when I got to a Navy command, they said [that the] “V” is for Valor and made me remove it. They also did not count the number of stars for TET that the Army awarded us on our VN Campaign medal. The Navy would only authorize one. MACV told us we had been in four campaigns; pre-TET, TET, and the several responses from TET. I dunno. PacFlt got real stingy about awarding medals to enlisted personnel. Doesn’t matter much anymore, does it?
Comment by Bob Nelson
February 25, 2013
Joe, have the ribbons on a a set of mess dress in the closet and wear the miniatures on Memorial Day, etc. Their history is in my memories and as we get older those stories become more meaningful when we ask ourselves--did we make a difference. I like to think we did--individually and collectively.