As I’ve noted here in my previous posts, a fellow Navy veteran who visited Olongapo in the Philippines during the Vietnam War asked me to post some of the chapters from Olongapo, my crime novel that I hope to soon publish.
Below is chapter five of Olongapo, which was originally published in American Crime Magazine.
Join The Navy and See Olongapo
By Paul Davis
The United States Navy back in my day advertised that one could “Join the Navy and see the World.” But for young sailors like me serving on a 7th Fleet aircraft carrier in the early 1970s, we thought the recruiting pitch should have been, “Join the Navy and see Olongapo.”
During the Vietnam War, the
U.S. Navy assigned three aircraft carriers and their battle groups to 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 Vietnam. The USS Kitty Hawk, an 80,000-ton warship that measured 1,047 feet
long, with a beam of 129 feet, and a 250-foot flight deck with 80 aircraft, was
one of the three carriers that operated on
Yankee Station in 1970 and 1971.
Two of the three carriers
were on Yankee Station continuously, launching aircraft that performed combat
sorties against the Communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong around the clock,
as the 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.
I had been duly warned by
older sailors that Olongapo was a dangerous and treacherous town. My older
friends who had visited Olongapo on
the previous combat cruise had warned me that it was so very easy
to be robbed, cheated and even murdered in Olongapo.
I recall a particularly
shocking illustration of just how rough and heartless Olongapo could be. A shore patrol jeep pulled up to the carrier’s
enlisted brow as I was departing the Kitty Hawk, and out stepped a young sailor
who appeared to be naked under a gray blanket that was wrapped around his
He looked as if he were in
shock as hundreds of American sailors and Filipino yard workers and vendors
laughed wildly at him as he walked up the brow. To make matters even worse, a
cruel sailor grabbed the tip of the blanket and yanked it off of him and tossed
it into the water. The humiliated young sailor, now naked, covered his crotch
with his hands and ran up the brow. He was then escorted away from the laughing
I learned later from the
ship’s “scuttlebutt,” which is what sailors call gossip, that the sailor had
passed out drunk in a hotel room and a Filipina prostitute robbed him of
everything from his glasses and watch to his underwear and socks. The hotel clerks
pulled the crying sailor out of his room and threw him into the street naked.
The Navy’s Shore Patrol showed up, placed a blanket around him and brought him
back to the aircraft carrier.
To add insult to the
proverbial injury, the sailor was reprimanded for losing his Navy ID card and
he went to Captain’s Mass, a sort of naval hearing. The captain busted him down
a rank, but his real punishment was that he was ridiculed by nearly everyone on
the carrier for the rest of his time on the ship.
I felt sorry for the sailor,
although I was only 18 years old at the time, and this sailor might have been a
year or two older than me. But I was a street guy from South Philly. Being
robbed of all of my possessions, including my clothes, would never happen to
I spent the first day we were
back in port with Hunt on Grande Island, the U.S. Navy’s recreational island in
Subic Bay. We went scuba diving in the beautiful, clear water off the island.
Afterwards, I played first base in a softball game, and I eat a hot dog and a
hamburger and drank several bottles of San Miguel beer. Then Hunt and I napped
in chairs on the beach, enjoying the strong Southeast Asian sun and the cool
nap, Hunt and I, along with about two dozen other tired, hot and somewhat drunk
sailors and Marines, boarded the amphibious landing craft that would take us
back to the base. The boat, which resembled the landing craft that landed
allied troops at Normandy in WWII, was crowded. I heeded my older friend's
warning and stepped back against the bulkhead.
Just as Hunt had warned, and
true to the crazy tradition, as soon as the boat cast off its lines, the
passengers in the hold of the boat began punching each other indiscriminately.
The coxswain who drove the boat was elevated at his station above the fray and
he ignored the ruckus below. Hunt pulled me against the bulkhead and we pushed
away sailors who got too close and tried to punch us.
The short voyage to the base
seemed to take forever as Hunt and I defended ourselves. When we finally
landed, Hunt and I stepped over the sailors who lay on the deck stunned or
unconscious and stepped ashore. Unscathed, we returned to the Kitty Hawk.
Back in the berthing
compartment, I took a shower and laid down in my rack with my happy thoughts
about going back into Olongapo that evening and seeing Zeny again.
Everything I heard about
Olongapo turned out to be true. I could see why young American sailors loved
the city. There were plentiful attractive hostesses in the bars on Magsaysay Drive who laid in wait for the American sailors looking for a good time and had money to
During the early evenings
some anxious sailors opted to pay a fee to the bar’s mama-san so
they could take the girls out of the bar for a spell and go to a hotel room for
“short-time,” as the brief sexual encounter was called in Olongapo. The
Americans sailors called the act a “Quickie.”
But most sailors partied with
the girls until the end of the evening when the bar closed, and the girls were
free to leave the bar without paying the mama-san.
The girls accompanied the
dipsy sailors to near-by hotels. In the morning, the happy sailors left the
girls money on the bedside table. Unlike prostitutes, Olongapo bar girls did
not set a fee for sex prior to going to the hotel, but the American sailors
usually left the girls a generous amount of Philippine Pesos and American
dollars before they left the hotel.
I recall a Filipino priest
telling me that the bar girls did not consider themselves to be prostitutes.
They earned their money from a percentage of the money sailors spent buying
them drinks, and they had sex with the sailors as they considered them to be
their boyfriends. The goal of many of them was to marry an American sailor and
move to the United States for a better life, and many of them did.
I departed the carrier that
evening dressed in "civies," civilian clothes, and headed into
Olongapo with Mike Hunt and Dino Ingemi. Also
going into Olongapo with us was a 2nd Class Radioman named Owen
Trent, a tall, lean and quiet Texan. I called him the “Tall-T,” which he found
amusing. Trent, like Hunt and Ingemi, had all been to Olongapo on the Kitty
Hawk’s previous combat cruise.
As we were walking down Magsaysay Drive, a street vendor
near us called out, “Hey, Joe. You want sunglasses? Cheap!”
As we walked past him, I told my friends that I met a
sailor who told me he really hated it when Filipinos called him “Joe.”
“I explained to him that
Filipinos have called all Americans Joe since World War Two,” I told my walking
companions. “He said he knew that, but he still hated it when they called him
Joe. I asked him why and he said, “Because my name is Joe.””
Ingemi and Trent laughed. Hunt groaned.
I and my friends visited the Starlight and
Zeny rushed up to me. She kissed and hugged me, and she pulled me to a table.
Hunt, Trent and Ingemi had corralled their girls and we all sat at the table
and ordered San Miguel beer. The band was outstanding, and we all danced and
drank and had a good time.
Jeffrey Greenberg, a thin 3rd Class Radioman from
Connecticut with a brown moustache and small, round glasses, came into the bar
and joined us. I liked Greenberg, as he, like me, loved books. Greenberg was a
college graduate with a degree in in English Literature, and we often discussed
literature on our down-time aboard the carrier.
He shared my great fondness for Mark Twain, and I
introduced him to Raymond Chandler, one of my favorite writers. Greenberg
became a devotee of Raymond Chandler’s fictional private eye Philip Marlowe
after he borrowed, read and enjoyed the four Chandler paperback crime novels I
had with me on the carrier.
Ronald Redmond waddled over to our table in Greenberg’s
wake and joined us. Redmond was a 3rd Class Radioman who
claimed proudly that he was a “lifer.” Redmond found Navy life far preferable
to the poor and rugged rural life in Oklahoma that he endured prior to joining
the Navy. Short and wide, loud and profane, most of the other sailors tried to
avoid him. No one had invited him to join us at our table.
“These little brown fuck
machines are something else, but I like me a “heifer,” a big ole gal,” Redmond
told us. “Not these skinny little “Flips.”
“There are some water
buffaloes outside of town in the rice paddies, if you’re interested,” I replied
drolly. The other sailors at the table laughed.
“Shit, Davis, I might just
head out there.”
“Redmond, you’re an animal,”
I said. “They ought to lock you up in a cage, hose you down once a day, and
feed you raw meat.”
“Hell, Davis, throw in some
pussy and it don’t sound bad.”
“I rest my case.”
I turned away from Redmond
and ignored him and concentrated on my beautiful companion Zeny, whom I called
“Zany Zeny.” I don’t think she ever got the joke.
As our party was just getting started, I saw Lorino walk in the bar with his distinctive South Philly swagger. He pushed off two girls gently but firmly who tried to pull him to a table. He saw me and I waved him over. Lorino knew the other sailors from the Communications Radio Division from his frequent visits to me while at sea, so he sat down at our table without introductions.
We were all having a grand
time when a short and stocky seaman named John Bland from our division
staggered in. His face was bruised and bloody and his shirt was
torn. Bland came over to our table and the girls got up and left to go to
the rest room.
“What the fuck happened to
you?” Ingemi asked.
Bland explained that he had
gone into an alley next to the Ritz bar with a street
prostitute who promised him fellatio. Two Filipino men followed them into the
alley, and they beat Bland and stole his money and watch.
“I think it’s time for a
little payback,” Hunt said.
“I’m in,” Lorino said quickly.
Hunt told Bland to stay with
Trent, Greenberg and Redmond at the Starlight and said the
rest of us will go to the alley next to the Ritz Cracker and
confront the girl and her two friends.
“She’s wearing a bright, red
dress,” Bland said. “You can’t miss her.”
I didn’t like Bland. He was
an ingratiating guy from Darby, Pennsylvania. He thought he was clever, and he
was always trying to scam people over small things, like a Coke or a minor work
detail. The dislike was reciprocal. Bland didn’t like me because I would call
him out on his shady, small-time schemes. I also told the other sailors that
his name was also a description of his personality.
I was certain that Bland
thought he had scammed the prostitute by convincing her to perform the sex act
in the alley for free. Incredible, but that was Bland. Yet, I joined eagerly
the avenging patrol, and we headed out.
It was decided that Ingemi
would talk to the girl on the corner after Hunt and Lorino slipped into the
narrow alley. Ingemi would then allow her to take him into the alley, as she
had done with Bland.
As I was the youngest guy in
the group, Hunt told me to stand at the foot of the alley and keep a lookout
for the Navy’s Shore Patrol and the Olongapo police.
Ingemi approached the girl in
the red dress on the corner. After a brief discussion, they walked up the
alley. Only a moment or so later, two Filipinos charged into the alley. One was
of average height and lean, and the other looked like a big Japanese sumo
As the two bruisers jumped on
Ingemi, Hunt and Lorino came out of the shadows and pounced on the two Filipino
robbers. I stood sideways at the foot of the alley, one eye on the fight and
the other eye on the street looking for Navy Shore Patrol or local cops.
The girl in the red dress
bolted from the fracas and Ingemi kicked her in the behind with the side of his
foot and she fell forward and splayed out on the ground. She rose quickly and
scampered past me and into the street.
I saw the lean Filipino break
from the fight as Hunt, Lorino and Ingemi beat on the sumo. As the lean one ran
up the alley I stepped into the middle and dropped my right hand at my
The Filipino thief stopped
and went into a martial arts stance. I went into my boxing stance. He swung at
my face, but I reared my head back and to the right and slipped the blow. He
then threw a kick at me, but I stepped back, and he missed. I leaned in and hit
him in the face with a good stiff left jab and hard right combo.
He fell back against the
wall, but he bounced back quickly, and his right leg flew up and his foot
kicked me hard on my left side. I caught his pant leg in the air after the
kick. I pulled on his leg, and he lost balance and fell against the alley wall.
Holding on to his raised leg, I pinned him to the wall. I hit him in the face
with several good short rights, and he collapsed.
I looked past the knocked
cold Filipino and saw that Hunt, Lorino and Ingemi had finally laid out the
sumo in the alley. Hunt took off the three watches that the thief was wearing
and went through his pockets and took all of his cash.
Ingemi took two watches off
the thief I knocked out and took his money as well.
“Who says Italians lose all
the wars,” Lorino said to Ingemi with a broad, lopsided grin.
We all went back to the Starlight. My knuckles were scrapped and bloody and I lifted my shirt and saw a deep purple bruise where the Filipino thief had kicked me. The other sailors had similar minor injuries. The girls passed around bandages. My side was sore, so I ordered a beer and a shot of vodka to help ease the pain.
Hunt laid the watches on the
table and Bland picked out his. He also said they stole $100 dollars from him,
although I suspected the actual figure was more like $10. Hunt gave him $100
from the money he had taken from the two thieves. He gave the other watches and
some cash to the girls.
He held up the rest of the
cash and proclaimed, “The rest of tonight is on the girl in the red
After the Starlight closed, our crowd broke up and we went our separate ways. Zeny and I headed to a nearby hotel. We took a room and had a fine time together in bed until I passed out from drinking far too much San Miguel beer and vodka.
I woke up the following
morning and discovered that Zeny was gone. Also gone was my watch, my wallet,
my shoes, and all of my clothes. The only thing left was my pocketknife, which
I had placed under my pillow the night before.
I was in shock. I knew Zeny
from my previous visits to Olongapo, and I trusted her. I panicked. I thought
of the poor slob sailor who had returned to the ship naked under a blanket.
This could not happen to me. I was too smart. Too streetwise. Too cool.
But it was happening
to me. I wrapped a sheet around my middle and paced the floor, wondering what I
was going to do. I cursed. I punched a wall. I looked out the window, hoping to
see one of my friends.
It was perhaps only a
half-hour later, but it seemed like an eternity, when there was a knock on the door.
I opened the door and there stood beautiful Zeny. She was holding my brightly
polished shoes in her right hand and holding a hanger with my cleaned and pressed
shirt and slacks in her left hand. My chain and dog tags hung around her neck
and my watch hung loosely on her wrist. My folded underwear and socks were
under her right arm.
She told me that she took my
clothes to her home and cleaned and pressed them. She shined my shoes. She said
she didn’t know that my slim black leather wallet, which held my Navy ID and
cash, had been in my pants pocket. I kissed her full on the lips and hugged
As I walked down Magsaysay
Drive back towards the naval base, I saw other returning sailors staggering
along, hung over and disheveled.
I smiled, as I knew I looked
sharp in my polished shoes and cleaned and pressed clothes.
© 2022 By Paul Davis
Note: You can read the other posted chapters via the below links: