Sunday, June 14, 2009

Request Permission to Come Aboard

This is a continuation of a series of writings about my time in the Navy. The first in this series of posts can be found here or go here for the most recent.

My ship was still out to sea when I arrived at the base in Subic Bay so I was checked into some temporary quarters until she arrived a couple days later.

Walking up the ship's brow and going aboard for the first time was certainly a bit intimidating. Much of what I'd been taught up to now would come in useful at some point but I knew little about actual shipboard life. I didn't even know if I'd be prone to seasickness; how could I? Remember to salute the Officer of the Deck and request permission to come aboard I reminded myself. That much I knew for sure. It would've been easier if I was part of a larger group going through the same check-in process but I wasn't. I was with one other guy, David Vernor, who I barely knew and once we got on board we'd see little of each other.

The crew seemed very friendly and whatever fears I carried with me up the brow I soon lost as one shipmate after another made me feel welcome. The maze of passageways and ladders did their best to confuse me at first but it didn't take long before I had mapped out the parts of the ship where I'd spend my time.

This would be my home for the next three and a half years. Of all the guys I met that first day I'm sure none was happier to meet me than John Winton. Prior to my arrival John had been the junior Operations Specialist on board and he'd now have somebody junior than himself to insulate him from all the working party details which had fallen on his shoulders the past several months. It's sort of a hazing in slow motion. You just deal with it and know that before too long there will be another new face making his way into the department who will take your place.

Our ship would remain in port for the next couple weeks. Most of us from OI Division spent our nights at the Sampaguita Club on base where we enjoyed the .35 cent drinks or San Miguel beer as we sat around a table trading stories. I'm guessing I probably didn't have a lot to add to those conversations and did a good deal of listening. I don't remember for sure but that would've been my style.

Olongapo was the city outside the base and to get there you had to cross the bridge over 'shit river' where kids would dive in the muddy water for whatever coin you would toss over the side. The putrid, sewage smell of the river gave way to barbecue aromas just beyond the bridge but what was being barbequed was anybody's guess. It was tasty stuff but often referred to as 'monkey meat'. Gosh I hope not.

Olongapo was a bustling city with bar after bar of cheap drinks and a seemingly endless supply of women looking for a serviceman to cozy up to. But you didn't necessarily have to leave the base to find a strange woman to get close to. The Navy would pay for the Enlisted Men's Club (Sampaguita Club) to hire women to come in and sit with you at your table to keep you company. It was all a bit surreal but that was Subic Bay. You'd very seldom have trouble working Shore Patrol in the port as most of the sailors were quite content with their whiskey and women.

I can't write about the bars of Olongapo without mentioning the rock bands that cranked out the music within. While the vocals would at times come across with a Philippine accent, the instruments did not. The musicians probably did a better job at performing the music than the actual bands did. They were that good.

We'd leave Subic Bay for Hong Kong when our stay was done and I'd know soon enough if I had the stomach for our flat bottom girl, the USS Fresno.

To be continued...


Anonymous said...

Hope to hear more, very interesting stuff! I like how you mentioned the bands in Olongapo City, I am from there, but have not been back for a very long time. The place has definitely changed since your days there. So it is nice to hear stories from the days of American Base times.
Keep it up!!

Kevin said...

Thanks for your comment. I hope to pick back up on this story before too long.

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