The below short story originally appeared in American Crime Magazine.
By Paul Davis
I lived in what we considered a tough neighborhood in South Philadelphia when I was a teenager in the 1960s. I ran with a tough street corner crowd on the mean streets of “Little Italy” in South Philly, but I would later discover that Olongapo in the early 1970s was a truly tough town.
I recall an old Navy chief telling me and other young sailors about the notorious port city as the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk sailed towards the Philippines. The chief, who had been around the world while serving in the U.S. Navy, told us Olongapo was the wildest place he had ever seen.
“Once you walk across the bridge over Shit River into Olongapo, you’ll be corrupted quickly by bar girls, booze, drugs, and crime,” the old chief said with a mischievous grin.
During the Vietnam War, Olongapo, the city located next to the U.S. Navy Base at Subic Bay in the Philippines, was like Dodge City, Las Vegas and Sodom and Gomorrah all rolled into one. The U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet ships that operated off the coast of Vietnam during the war were frequent visitors to Subic Bay, as the naval base provided repairs and replenishment to the warships.
Throughout the Vietnam War, the U.S. Navy assigned three aircraft carriers and their battle groups the 7th Fleet’s Task Force 77. The carriers operated on “Yankee Station” in the Gulf of Tonkin in the South China Sea off the coast of North Vietnam.
Two of the three carriers were continuously on Yankee Station, launching aircraft that performed combat sorties against the Communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, as a third carrier rotated visits to port of calls to Sasebo, Japan or Hong Kong for much needed R&R. The carriers also rotated in and out of Subic Bay in the Philippines for “upkeep” and to let the sailors go crazy in Olongapo.
As the bent-up American sailors left the ships and swarmed into Olongapo, the city’s shadier elements were waiting. Sailors walked past the naval base’s gate and crossed over the small bridge above the Olongapo River, called by the Americans “Shit River” due to the pungent smell. Despite the filth and pollution, several small children were on boats in the shallow river and begged the American sailors crossing the bridge to toss coins in the river, which they dove in for and came up smiling while holding the coin.
On the other side of the bridge was Olongapo’s main street, Magsaysay Drive, where there was a seemingly endless line of bars, restaurants and hotels all lit up in colorful lights. The street was noisy and crowded with passing American sailors and Marines, drug dealers, pickpockets, thieves, con artists, armed robbers and innocent-looking young shoeshine boys who were known to hold a razor against a sailor’s heel until he handed over his wallet. There were also many street vendors selling “monkey meat” on a stick, which was probably beef and chicken, although some of the older American sailors insisted the mystery meat was monkey, dog, cat or rat.
Also on the crowded street were scores of young, attractive Filipinas enticing sailors to come into their bar with blown kisses, swaying hips, pushed out breasts, and shaking bottoms. Occasionally, a girl would use more strong-arm tactics, such as grabbing a young sailor by the arm and yanking him into the bar and announcing loudly that she had a “Cherry Boy” virgin.
Crossing the Magsaysay Drive was often a case of bravery or foolhardiness, as one could be hit by one of the ubiquitous “Jeepneys,” Olongapo’s colorfully decorated jeeps that taxied sailors across town.
The American dollar was like gold in the early 1970s, and one could spend a wild and sinful night in Olongapo drinking, eating, dancing and buying companionship for only about $20.
I was only 18 years old when I visited Olongapo, but I was a cocky, street-smart South Philly kid, as well as a lean, muscular amateur middleweight boxer, so I was not intimidated by the barrage of sounds, smells and sights of this strange town like so many other young sailors who first experience it. I was also not fazed when a bar girl grabbed my arm outside of a bar and yanked me towards the bar’s entrance.
“You so young and handsome,” the pretty Filipina said as she tugged my arm. “You Cherry Boy?”
I pulled my arm loose from her grip and replied, “Not hardly.”
Thankfully, I had good friends on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk who had visited Olongapo during the previous combat cruise, and they warned me about the dangers and pitfalls, as well as the delights, of the notorious Sin City.
The Kitty Hawk, an 80,000-ton carrier, was 1,047 feet long, with a beam of 129 feet, and a 250-foot flight deck. The ship had more than 90 aircraft aboard.
The Kitty Hawk departed San Diego in November of 1970 for the carrier’s fifth combat cruise during the Vietnam War. After a week’s stop at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the aircraft carrier sailed on to Subic Bay, the U.S. Navy’s huge repair and resupply base. Called “Septic Bay” by witty sailors, Subic Bay also served as a rest and relaxation facility for American sailors and Marines.
American servicemen were duly warned of the dangers when visiting Olongapo’s bars and other establishments. As a young sailor serving on the USS Kitty Hawk in 1970 and 1971, I recall both the official and unofficial warnings I received before visiting Olongapo.
One rule pounded into the sailors by the older sailors was not to “Butterfly” in individual bars. To butterfly was to associate with two bar girls, called “Hostesses,” in any one bar. The bar girls were protective of their claimed sailors and the money they earned from the sailors buying them whisky (actually Coke) and champagne (actually 7-Up). They resented another bar girl poaching on their claim and moneymakers. When a sailor would butterfly, whether on his own initiative or by the encouragement of another bar girl, the aggrieved bar girl would often fly into a rage and attack the other bar girl, and sometimes the offending sailor.
Even before I set foot in Olongapo, I heard the much-repeated cautionary tale about an American sailor who committed the offense and paid a dear price. The bar girl he had been seeing was so mad when he butterflied with another bar girl that she attacked the girl on the dance floor. To the consternation of the bar’s manager and the utter delight of the American sailors, the two girls pulled hair, and kicked and punched each other.
The Filipino manager and his waiters pulled the two girls apart. The offended girl then went to her purse and pulled out her Batangas knife, a weapon more commonly known as a “Butterfly” knife. The knife had two handles with the blade concealed in the groves of the handles. When flashed, flipped and fanned by someone who knew what they are doing, the butterfly knife was a most scary and deadly thing.
This bar girl knew how to use the butterfly knife and she charged the butterflying sailor and slit his throat as he sat in a chair. He died on the way to the base hospital.
On my first visit to Olongapo in early December of 1970, I went into one of the bars with some shipmates and met a pretty girl who sat with me as I bought her drinks. I had fun drinking and dancing with her, and we ended up in a hotel room for the night. I returned to the ship the following morning and we soon shoved off for our first Yankee Station line period off the coast of North Vietnam.
We spent Christmas on Yankee Station, but we pulled back into Subic Bay on December 31st, New Year's Eve. Not everyone was glad to see us. The American sailors stationed on the base and on smaller ships hated when an aircraft carrier pulled into port. With the carrier’s 5,500 men going ashore with money in their pockets and eager for action, the city’s inhabitants went all out to receive them.
In a case of reverse butterflying, two sailors stationed on the base at Subic resented the Kitty Hawk’s sailors taking over the city on that first night in port. One base sailor was truly angry, as his regular girl at the bar ignored him and cuddled up to a young Kitty Hawk sailor. The base sailor got drunk along with his pal and when the girl went to the restroom, the two base sailors pounced on the Kitty Hawk sailor. They beat him to the floor and one of the two assailants broke a bottle of Sam Miguel beer over his head.
The Kitty Hawk sailor was beaten unconscious before other sailors and the Filipino waiters could break it up. The Philippine police and the U.S. Navy Shore Patrol rushed into the bar and took hold of the two base sailors.
The Kitty Hawk sailor was gravely injured, and he was taken by two Shore Patrol petty officers to the base hospital. The two base sailors were released by the Philippine police into the custody of two other Shore Patrol petty officers and a junior officer. The Shore Patrol petty officers handcuffed the pair and escorted them to the base, where they were charged with aggravated assault and attempted murder by civilian Naval Investigative Service (NIS) special agents.
The story of the assault on the Kitty Hawk sailor spread quickly all over Olongapo. I heard the story from another sailor as I sat in the Starlight bar with my shipmates, Dino Ingemi, an outgoing and funny guy from the Bronx, and Mike Hunt, a laid-back Californian whose easygoing manner belied his background as an outlaw biker prior to enlisting in the Navy to avoid being drafted into the Army.
Ingemi convinced me to join him at the Starlight, which he called the best bar in Olongapo. Ingemi shrugged the base sailors on Kitty Hawk sailor fight off as an isolated incident and said we should just sit here and enjoy the best music and girls in Olongapo.
The Filipino band at the Starlight had everyone jumping and dancing to their renditions of popular American songs of the time. The Filipino musicians were incredible mimics, sounding like Sly and the Family Stone with one song and then went on to sound eerily like the Beatles in their next number.
As we sat at a table drinking beers, I was approached by Linda Divita, a slim, pretty girl who swayed around me to the music and then pulled me up from my chair to dance with her.
Linda had long dark hair and light brown skin. She also had lovely legs beneath her short black dress, and the low cut of her dress afforded one the view of her mostly exposed small breasts.
Dino Ingemi approved.
“She’s got a great ass and cute little tits,” Ingemi said to me when we finally sat back down. I nodded in agreement. Ingemi was then smacked on the arm by Marlena Fernandez, the pretty girl he had been seeing since he first visited Olongapo the year before.
Dino Ingemi was very social and made friends easily. He had become close with the Starlight manager, Samuel Rosalita. Rosalita joined us at our table and laughed and drank with us. He gave me his business card. I mentioned to Ingemi that Rosalita looked like the entertainer Sammy Davis Jr, and Ingemi began to call him “Sammy,” much to the manager’s delight. Rosalita chuckled and shook his head at everything Ingemi said.
I had a fun night drinking and dancing with Linda that New Year's Eve at the Starlight, and when the bar closed, I took her to a nearby hotel. Linda was loopy drunk, but she was wild and fun in bed with me right up until the moment she passed out in my arms.
In the morning, I could not wake her. I knew she was alive, as she moaned and muttered, but she would not move from her face down position on the bed. I found a handful of “Red Devils,” a barbiturate, on the bedside table next to her purse. I didn’t know how many of the pills she took, but I was concerned.
I dressed her and left the room. Rosalita’s business card did not have a telephone number on it, but I went to the front desk and gave a five-dollar bill to one of the hotel clerks and asked him to go get the Starlight manager.
I went back to the room and saw that Linda was still out. About a half hour later, there was a knock on the door. Rosalita came in, accompanied by one of his waiters and an older woman who was the mama-San for the bar. Rosalita thanked me for calling him and then looked at Linda on the bed. He cursed her in Tagalog. The two men lifted Linda and took her out of the room. I left the hotel soon after and went back to the ship.
I spent New Year's Day on Grande Island, the U.S. Navy’s recreational island in the bay. I went scuba diving in the beautiful, clear water off the island. Afterwards, I played first base in a softball game, and I eat hot dogs and hamburgers and drank San Miguel beer. I napped in a chair on the beach, enjoying the strong Southeast Asian sun and the cool ocean breezes.
After I returned to the ship, I showered and changed into a black dress shirt and light gray slacks. I was something of a clothes horse in those days, and I tended to stand out among most of the other sailors, who were usually clad simply in tye-dyed t-shirts and jeans. Thankfully, the then-chief of naval operations, Admiral Zumwalt, the enlisted man’s hero, allowed sailors to go ashore in “civies,” rather than uniforms.
I joined Dino Ingemi and Mike Hunt and the three of us stopped at the naval base restaurant, where we had a fine steak and a glass of wine. After that hearty meal, we walked into Olongapo and into the Starlight. We took a table and Marlena and Mike Hunt’s girl came over and sat with us. I was thankful that I didn’t see Linda. Rosalita came over to the table with a waiter armed with a tray of San Miguel beers.
Marlena whispered into Ingemi’s ear, and he nodded. Marlena got up and left the table. She returned to our table with a beautiful girl that she introduced to us as her friend, Zenalita Abadiano, known as “Zeny.”
Zeny had long, raven hair with bangs cut just above her dark, sultry eyes. She was short with a pretty face and a full figure. At 5’ 10’ I towered over her five-foot stature when we danced. I was drawn to her immediately. She was beautiful, sexy, smart and funny.
I forgot all about Linda.
After the bar closed, Ingemi, Hunt and I took the girls to a hotel. In my hotel room, I took Zeny in my arms, kissed her, and we fell across the bed.
An hour or so later, I heard a pounding on the door. I jumped up and retrieved my pocketknife from under the pillow. I heard Linda on the other side of the door.
“Paul! Paul! Open up!” I heard her holler. “I want to talk to you!”
Zeny pulled the sheet over her head and giggled.
“Oh, you think this is funny?”
I told Linda to go away.
“Paul, open up. I want to talk to you!” Linda said in a screeching and blood-curdling voice.
Of course, I didn’t open the door.
I then heard what I presumed were hotel employees arguing with Linda in Tagalog, and thankfully the voices outside the door finally ceased.
“So, you thought a crazy, drugged girl coming to the room was funny,” I said to Zeny as I took her once again in my arms.
I was awakened in the morning by a pounding on the door. Not again, I thought. But then I heard Ingemi’s voice. I got out of bed and wrapped a towel around my waist and answered the door.
Ingemi bade me to get dressed as we were all going to White Rock, a resort just outside of Olongapo. I took a shower with Zeny and afterwards I sat in a chair, and she stood in front of me nude and dried my hair with a towel. She took my pocket comb and parted my short dark brown hair on the left side, and I pulled towards me and hugged her.
After we dressed and met Ingemi and Marlena in front of the hotel. Dino Ingemi said Mike Hunt wanted to spend the day in bed with his girl, so the four of hailed a Jeepney.
Our first stop was the home Marlena and Zeny shared. The girls changed into bathing suits and then we all piled back into the Jeepney and drove to White Rock.
Dino and I went into a store at White Rock and bought swim trunks. White Rock was situated by a beautiful beach and had a large swimming pool. The four of us went swimming in the pool. Ingemi took a photo of Zeny and Marlena on my shoulders as I stood in the pool, and then I took a similar photo of Ingemi with the girls. We later took photos on the beach.
As we sat around the pool, Zeny mimicked Linda.
"Paul, Paul, open up. I want to talk to you!"
The two girls and Ingemi laughed, and after a second or two, I joined in and laughed as well.
We swam, eat, drank, and laughed. We had a fine day.
We later dropped the girls off at their house and we headed back to the ship to shower and change clothes. Afterwards, we ventured back to the Starlight in Olongapo.
Zeny and Marlena were waiting for us and the four of us took a table. Rosalita waved to us and motioned to a waiter, who quickly came over with San Miguel beers.
While we were drinking at the table, Linda suddenly appeared by my side. Zeny grabbed my arm and snuggled up close to me. Linda was clearly angry and deranged.
“You butterfly, you motherfucker!”
“Get the fuck out of here,” I replied calmly, tilting my head slightly to the right while trying to sound like a South Philly half-a-hoodlum.
“I get you good, motherfucker,” Linda said with a snarl.
Rosalita rushed over to the table and spoke harshly in Tagalog to Linda. She spat on the table and walked away. Rosalita apologized and left us. Zeny and Marlena were unfazed, and Ingemi was laughing uncontrollably.
Linda sat at a nearby table with some poor sailor and began cursing us loudly in English and Tagalog.
“She crazy,” Zeny said, kissing me to further anger Linda.
Linda then began to fling several Monkey Meat sticks at us. One of the sticks hit our table and knocked over a beer. Ingemi, who was no longer laughing, got up and walked over to Rosalita. Rosalita listened briefly to Ingemi and then marched over to Linda, and he must have told her in no uncertain terms to cut it out.
We resumed drinking, dancing, and having fun and I tried to ignore Linda. A while later I got up to go to the men’s room, which was on the other side of a wall that separated the bar from the rest rooms, the kitchen, and storerooms. When I came out of the men’s room, I encountered Linda in my path.
“You butterfly me, you son a bitch,” Linda hissed. “I kill you.”
From behind her back, Linda produced a Butterfly knife and began to twirl it in front of me. As she twirled the knife in a menacing fashion, I threw a short right punch that hit her square in the face.
She went down, her nose and teeth bloody, and she lay motionless on the floor. Rosalita and two waiters rushed in, and my immediate thought was that I would have to fight them all. But Rosalita cursed Linda, who lay unconscious, and he kicked her twice. The two waiters picked up Linda and took her away.
Rosalita apologized profusely to me, and I walked back to the table and told everyone what happened.
From then on, whenever the carrier visited Subic Bay, I went to the Starlight and stayed with Zeny.
I never again saw Linda, and no one ever said what had become of her.
And I never asked.
© 2022 By Paul Davis
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