infamous Subic Bay, Philippines. Formerly the site of one of the
largest military installations in the world especially so if you
incorporate what was once Clarke Airforce Base in Angeles City,
a lttle further north.
During the Vietnam era this particular port was perhaps the busiest
I have ever seen. And, perhaps the most fun! Subic
Bay - My first impressions were those of a 16 year old boy, my first
port in Sth East Asia, a war still raging just north of here, yet
this place was mad, a mixture of the serious and of the absurd.
fighters and bombers of all makes and models screaming low overhead
taking off and landing at the Naval Air Station across the bay at
Cubi Point, never ceasing 24 hours. Helicopters, like busy bees,
picking up and setting down. Platoons of bare chested Marines, mostly
black, doubling in squads, chanting cadences, around this enormous
city within a city, the clang of metal on metal, the hiss of steam,
the sounds of numerous ships at various stages of repair, this huge
busy shipyard and naval base, the dust, the noise - Subic Bay in
a hot, dry March 1970.
boat ashore sees us with Yank greenbacks in hand heading for the
San Paquita Club, the enlisted men's boozer. For Petty Officers
the China Seas Club is open too. The old hands know the way and
I tag behind gaping in wonder at the extent of this place. We enter
the EM's (Enlisted Men's) Club; it's huge, like a 'up market' Sydney
Leagues Club. Packed with yank servicemen in all manner of uniforms.
The sign boards announce visiting artists, international Hollywood
and Las Vegas celebrities. This is just for the enlisted blokes?
We get a table and the Filippina waitresses hover, smiling, flirting
with us I remember thinking how stunningly attractive and friendly
they were. Many of the Yanks had what was obviously their own local
steady girlfriends with them.
The base was
extensive incorporating golf courses, picture theatres, bowling
alley, go-kart track, archery range, commissary, taxis, Naval Exchange
or PX, skeet and trap range, MARS Station, Clubs and Boozers, horse
riding, trail riding, scuba diving, sports fields and numerous other
facilties. There was alot to do here and over at Cubi Point, the
US Naval Air Station across the bay. However after getting a taste
for San Miguel and wanting to see more of the local population and
some action we take the long walk to the main gate. There are base
taxis (Gueverro Taxi Company) run by locals but they are hard to
hail on such a busy and well populated base.The main gate is like
the MCG on Grand Final Day, there are thousands of servicemen and
civilians entering and leaving, the stony faced 'Jarheads' ,Marines,
stand stiffly, passing people through with a curt military flip
of the hand, and clicking his counter in the other. He is amused
when he looks at our ID Cards for they are still written by hand
on a piece of cardboard and not plasticised or laminated like other
navies. He passes us through anyway, shaking his head.
gate the first thing you come upon is the bridge spanning the prutrid,
crawling, stagnant, Olongapo River where scores of children tread
water whilst they wait for the GIs to throw pesos or centavos for
them to dive for. The stench assaults the nostrils, you can nearly
taste the foul odour. How the kids could survive for very long diving
in this filth is beyond me.
Old Hands tell me to keep my hands on my money and any other valuables
as we head over the bridge into what can only be described as the
'Wild West'. Everyone has a gun - Automatics, sawn-offs, M16s, .45s,
you name it and someone has it, and everyone is screaming, load
speakers blaring out money change rates, music blaring from 'jeepney'
radios. The main road from the main gate, Magsaysay Drive, is gravel
and the red dust kicked up by the jeeps in the scorching heat is
choking. The main road is one endless line of bars on both sides.
We head for Paulines Bar. Paulines
was a famous institution in Olongapo City along with the New Jollo
Bar. You name it, it was there for the asking. Live shows, exhibitionism,
movies, gambling, sex, fights and rock and roll. Paulines was also
the home of the infamous crocadile which was kept in a small pen
outside the front of the bar on the track designated the footpath.
Small children would wander up and down trying to sell ducklings
for a peso each to feed to the crocadile. He was the fattest and
laziest reptile I have ever seen and must have been really bored
with duck on the menu constantly. Now and again a drunken sailor
would occasionly get angry enough with the croc's lack of appetite
so as to jump the fence and give him a belting. 'Hypo' Birmingham
a burly AB Stoker tried it once and was lucky to get out with all
of his body parts intact.
Angles City and Subic City was home to at least 500,000 working
'hospitality' girls, who came from all over the country to escape
the poverty and privation of the provinces. The midnight - 5:00
am curfew applied to all servicemen and locals at all times in and
around Olongapo City regardless of Martial Law. This could be a
bonus when the Carrier Task Group was out at sea and if one was
alone and wanted to meet and escort a nice young lady home. For
all one had to do was to leave the bar at 11:30 pm like everyone
else when it closed and walk up the main street (Magsaysay Drive)
in the opposite direction to
the base - one of the hundreds of thousands of dateless girls, would,
after scaring off the opposition, take charge and lead you off to
her humble abode down by the festering river or out in the bush
towards Santa Rita. - Any port in a storm - as seen by both parties.
At this bewitching hour it was not uncommon to have as many as half
a dozen girls literally fighting each other whilst trying to drag
you into the back of a jeepney. What the hell, let the best girl
win I say.