Olongapo – Subic Bay – Philippines – 72

I hear tell that this area underwent quite the transformation. It’s now a Worldwide Tourist Destination. Resorts. Glorious beaches. A special place in Paradise.

I knew it in a much different era, in another time, almost like living in the old west – Filipino style.

Heading for Subic Bay signaled the end of my 68 day tour of duty on the gun crew. Finally, a break. The first time we pulled into Subic Bay was a memorable event. There was a ship there that had suffered a lot of damage from an attack. Its hull and decks scorched from the fire, metal twisted by the heat. This was the real thing.

We had the usual lectures, but we couldn’t believe we were getting the “Loose Lips Sink Ships” routine. We didn’t even know what we were doing there, let along give anything anyway. lol But we developed our “cover stories” anyway. We made jokes that if we all had the SAME information “they” might take it seriously. We all signed onto the roster of the USS NeverSail, with its imaginary compliment of Navy and Marine personnel.

I hadn’t gotten half way through the first block of Olongapo before I’d been asked at least a half dozen times what ship I was from. Unbelieveable! Oh yeah, those girls were VERY interested in how many Marines were on my ship and what kind of ship it was. I could NOT believe how bold and straightforward they were. I thought information gathering was supposed to be subtle.

But I get ahead of myself.

In order to even GET to Olongapo, you needed to leave the Naval Base at Subic Bay. There was a bridge, right at the main gate, that lead across the river to Olongapo. And conveniently, right next to the main gate was the bank! Gotta get some local currency.

The inside of the bank looked just like every other bank with one notable exception, the bank guard. You may erase the image in your head of an old man in a uniform with a mothballed revolver. Replace it with a BIG burly guy with a sawed off pump shotgun with a bandolier of shotgun shells draped across his chest! They must take security here very seriously.

With money in hand, we exit the base and onto the bridge (quickly putting out money away) I have NO idea what the name of the river IS, but back THEN it was called “shit river”. It served as the main drainage for the cities waste. IN the river were kids, lots of kids. They are calling for us to toss them coins. If they couldn’t manage to actually catch it, they would disappear under the surface and come up with the coin in their hands or even their teeth. I remember this one kid was eating an ice cream cone (probably from his collected wealth). He still managed to dive down and come up with the coin in his other hand! And then went back to eating his ice cream cone.

It is an amazing place of sights and sounds. Ttreet vendors hawking “chicken on a stick” which was more likely monkey on a stick. Every square inch of “store front” was in use, if not by the store owner, then by street vendors or beggars. Every bar had an armed guard at their door, their weapons plainly visible. People pushed along dirty crowded streets. Brightly decorated Jeepneys are the only traffic. At the Fire Station the guard had a Thompson submachine gun, with magazines taped back to back.

The main street ends where another road intersects. We were warned not to go left (there’s even places a Marine doesn’t want to go) and that to the right was just natives (which wasn’t all that safe either) So, pretty much, we had the run of main street. Up and down that street was every conceivable enterprise to part a man from his money as quickly as possible.

I got one of those massages where the lady walks on your back. They had pipes running above for stability. She would just hold on to the pipe over her head while she was walking on my back. It actually eased MY mind. I was afraid I would twitch or something that she would fall down. And to tell the truth I am certain that I am feeling better than any of my other friends. Well, most of them anyway.

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