Happy Hour Story
OLONGAPO and MOUSTACHES
Two of stories on Dirck Praeger's website SEA_SERVICE_LOGS really caught my eye and brought back memories. One on Olongapo [ EAST_END_CLUB-OLONGAPO ] and the other on Moustaches [ Parris_Island_Mustache_Caper ].
First, OLONGAPO --In 1958, I was 8 months out of flight school and fortunate enough to be assigned to a squadron that was going on a 15 month tour to WestPac--1st MAW, MAG-12, mostly out of Iwanooki. Now as a young 1/Lt and no dependents or other obligations I was a very happy young man. I had always wanted to go overseas. Enroute to Iwakuni, we were diverted to Cubi Point, landing at 0300 in one of those heavy downpours. As squadron pilots, we really did not know where we were till we off-loaded and got into a hangar, when the Skipper told us.
I loved the Philippine Islands--even the weather. Having some gypsy in my soul I did a lot of off the trail exploring. I Never got physically threatened or got sick on the native chow.
My first visit to Olongapo was on a Sunday. I went with a guy who had been there before. We hit the first bar and took on a quick load and full bladder. Then we terrorized the local Jipney drivers all the way to our destination, which was a cock fight. Hell, I had just arrived and was having a ball, so why not. The building must have been 100 feet tall, and built in a circle. Inside there were rows and rows of benches that were built near vertical on top of one another. We bribed the nearest beer vendor to keep it coming. If you have seen a cock fight, it is pretty bloody--and with the heat and the booze and the smell of about a thousand unwashed indigenous personnel and spilled cock blood, we were getting a little woozy.
Then this other vendor came thru--just like Yankee Stadium, with a box, on a strap around his neck. They were selling “Balooks” (sp?). Balooks are a large, fertilized duck egg with an unborn baby duck inside--complete with feathers. The natives would carefully peel the shell away and with lots of lip smacking eat the baby duck. This one guy kept trying to get something out of his teeth with his little finger fingernail. When he got it, he smiled and said, in perfect English, “Duck Bill.”
I visited Olongapo again in 1966 with my best buddy, Orson Swindle--who was shot down on November 11 of that year and survived the next 7 years in North Vietnam prisons. We were both serving with VMA(AW)235 (MAG-11) out of Danang. It was the Group’s most generous policy that, after 6 months (or so) in country you got to go to Cubi Point for “Survival Training” for two days. I was about to tell them what they could do with their two days when the squadron XO told me that the Survival Training was for two days, but it always turned out that people attending the school managed to miss the flights back to Danang for another 3 days--wink, wink, nudge, nudge. So we went for it. And for the last 3 days we gorged ourselves with anything that was cold, or wet or red (like meat or wine). I took my buddy Orson into Olongapo one night, just so he could say he had been there, but we left early. The beer was not as cold as the Fighter Club at Cubi. All in all, it was a good liberty. Olongapo hadn’t changed much.
MOUSTACHES --Two of them. The first MOUSTACHE story is about Steel Pike 1964. I was in VMF(AW) 451 with such great jocks as MOFAK, Black Jack Carr, Don Dilley, Bean Jellander, Bob Foley, J.I. Cunningham, Toad Lawrence, and I am sure some other great guys whose names I have forgotten. I had only joined the squadron a few weeks before we flew Trans-Atlantic in our Crusaders to Spain. I seem to recall that I had about 11 ore 12 hours in the F8 when we took off for Bermuda. We did a good job on the pierced planking runway with Fresnel Lens and arrested landings at a place in Spain called Almeria. Toad Lawrence and I had an adventure where we had to go into Malaga International Airport (Toad had a hydraulic failure). We were arrested by the Spanish Air Force and kept in the cellar of their equivalent of the Staff NCO Club for 2 or 3 days before the embassy finally caught up with us. But that is another story. By the way, I was assured that the Fresnel Lens, arresting gear and what pierced steel planking that wasn’t bent or destroyed on Steel Pike was the same hardware that went into Chu Lai about a year later.
Anyway---our last stop on the way home was in Bermuda. We launched out of there about 0800 for home base (Beaufort) and had been told that the whole base was going to be out and waiting to welcome us home. We were not disappointed. After a customary fly by, we all managed to not run into each other in the landing pattern and got safely on the ground. It was like the Recruiting Officer said it would be--”flags waving, bands playing, women weeping, etc.” Now I had grown an acceptable moustache while we were gone--maybe it was 6 weeks. My buddy Jim McRoberts returned to Beaufort early as the advanced echelon and had told my wife that I had grown a moustache. I climbed out of my beautiful Crusader, singing the Marine Corps Hymn--the warrior back from the wars. I finally found my wife and 3 children in the crowd, and it was just great. Hugs and ”what did you bring me Daddy” and big smiles from the wives. Smiles of carnal anticipation I suspect. I got the big hug and wet kiss from my wife Eileen. She then said, “I have a surprise for you.” I thought, “Oh God, she’s not pregnant again!“ Her hand was holding something behind her. It was then that she presented me with an old shaving kit. “It’s me or the moustache. Your choice.” That moustache was gone before I left the Ready Room!
Second MOUSTACHE Story--By the late summer of 1966 we had been in country [South Vietnam] since February and I had a grand handlebar moustache going. It would have made a Sergeant Major in the British Army proud. There was a problem with taking care of it. What with the high temperatures and humidity, and wearing an Oxygen Mask 2-3 hours a day--by the end of most of my days, my beautiful creation was not always well groomed. I had tried to use VO-5 on it (cause that was the only hair dressing they had at the PX) but VO-5 caused it to droop in some uncontrolled fashion and I would look like a character out of a Charlie Chan movie. My sister later sent me some real moustache wax and with that, I would groom myself before I ever got out of the cockpit. I had grown a 360 degree curl on the ends. Shit Hot!
Like I said it was late summer in beautiful Danang By The Sea. Our “Officers Club” in MAG-11 was a bamboo hooch about 20 feet by 20 feet with a few old chairs of various descriptions. It was right off the set of McHales Navy. We rarely had beer. When we had it, it was rarely cold, or even chilled. Evidently, no one remembered the Korea/WWII trick of taking a load of beer up to 10,000 feet in a Gooney Bird and flying around till the beer was cold. When beer was “on the way”, the word spread FAST, and the hooch filled up way before the beer arrived. I believe there might have been a few pilots who were on “suspected enemy positions” type targets who might have cut their patterns short, just to get to The Hooch earlier than planned.
At this time in my tour, I was a pretty salty Marine--Squadron Ops Officer, Flight Commander and high man in the squadron on missions and time in the F8. The beer was handed out by some guy behind the bar. He simply put beer cans into the hands that were shoved at him over the bar. There was enough camaraderie that when someone got their beers, they moved away from the bar to let someone else get their two cans. Well on this day, the crowd was small, and I was standing at the bar, with a buddy, our elbows resting on the bar top. We had already drunk more than we should have and were getting a little thick-tongued. You know--something like a martini on an empty stomach. That’s when these two field grade’s marched up to the bar and very loudly, ordered “Bartender, two beers!“ Now that wasn’t the way you did it. You didn’t order beer, you merely shoved your hand over the bar, and someone would slap a beer into it. Now I say “two field grades” because I don’t exactly remember their ranks. I think one was a Major and the other a LtCol. Maybe not. I don’t recall if either of them was wearing Wings.
Just as the Field Grades loudly ordered their beers, “Barkeep, two beers” there occurred one of those embarrassing silences, which we have all experienced. No one said a thing. We all stared at the Field Grades. No one would have expected a bunch of sweaty, stinking, half smashed Marine fighter pilots to reduce their vocal volume. But we did. One of the Field Grades was wearing probably the only pair of starched utilities and shined field boots in South East Asia. In their ignorance (arrogance) they didn’t seem to notice that all the attention in The Hooch was focused on them. They continued their Field Grade Talk, a little too loudly, as if nothing had happened.
It was then that I started to realize that the Field Grade standing next to me (the one with the starched utilities and shined field boots) was saying something about “Marine Corps Regulation Number dash umpity-ump specifically states that all moustaches must be no longer than----and neatly and trimmed and….“ and when he got to his new post he would insure that all Marine Corps Regulations regarding the care and feeding of moustaches would be strictly adhered to……” blah, blah, blah. And there was one officer here in MAG-11 who is setting a negative example for his men, by wearing an outlandish handlebar moustache, and if he thinks he can continue to flaunt….more blah, blah, blah."
Now with 3-4 beers on an empty stomach, I have been known to get a bad case of smart-mouth, aka dumb-ass. Without thinking, I turned to the Field Grade who was standing next to me (the one with the starched utilities) and said something like, “SIR, with all DUE respect, I have been up since 0300, got launched off the Hot Pad at 0400, hit a Special Forces camp with napalm before dawn, then flew a morning and afternoon Close Air Support mission up near a place called the Rock Pile. Most of the guys in here have had similar days, and have EARNED their beer!” At this point I realized I was flirting with contempt or insubordination, but--in for a penny, in for a pound. So, (unfortunately) I continued, “So my goddammed moustache doesn’t meet Marine Corps Regulations. When you’ve been in country for more than a whole friggin day, you’ll realize that out here, we don’t do things quite like they do at 8th and “I”.
Fortunately at this time, some of my pals grabbed the back of my flight suit and drug me out of The Hooch." They had all stashed a beer in each of their flight suit pockets--six pockets as I recall. We went back to our tent, finished the beer, and didn’t give my probable Court Martial another thought for that day. At least no one expressed it verbally.
And you know something--I never did see either of those two Field Grades again.