Life in San Miguel, PI

It didn’t take us long to settle down into our new house.  The wife was still taking in the fact that she was away, really AWAY, from her family, the States, and everything else.  We were over the International Date line, which made us a day ahead of everyone else back home.  The only real communications we had was by mail.  Telephoning, back in the early sixties, was pretty primitive and cost both an arm and a leg.

I got put immediately to work.  I was on what was called ‘watchstanding’ status.  The way it worked was that we did a series of eight-hour watches – two evenings (or ‘eves’), two midnight to morning (or ‘mids’) and two days (normal daytime shift).  They were arranged as follows:

Day 1 – 1600 to 0000

Day 2 – 1600 to 0000 (then sleep for the 0800 to 1600)

Day 3 – 0800 to 1600

Day 4 – 0800 to 1600 (then sleep for the 0000 to 0800)

Day 5 – 0000 to 0800

Day 6 – 0000 to 0800

Day 7 and 8 – off until 1600 on Day 8.

Then the cycle started again.  The whole thing was known as ‘two, two, two, and eighty’.  Now, you might thing this was pretty harsh to have two short, back to back, watches, and it was.  But, once you got used to them, and were able to sleep during the day with bright sunlight pouring into the bedroom, it wasn’t so bad.

What was more problematic was that during your time “off” there were loads of extra assigned duties; some important, some pretty strange.  We had a commanding officer who was a Captain (O-6 – same as Colonel) who desperately wanted to make flag rank (Admiral).  He would volunteer his troops to do most anything to improve Phil-Am relations.  It was not surprising, therefore, to find that we had all volunteered to paint a civilian school during our time off.  This is where it gets into the realm of bizarre.

The only paint he was usually able to locate was either battleship grey or yellow chromate; both colors were hideous.  He’d haul a truck full of it to the school, set up huge tubs of San Miguel beer and sodas, start up the barbeque pits and load them down with hamburgers and hot dogs, and pass out paper plates to the natives.  These same natives were trying very hard to keep from laughing at us and our weird CO whom they’d named Frantic Frank.

We’d have a beer then erect scaffolding along the sides of the building.  With ramps and ladders in place, we’d have another beer or two and gather up our paintbrushes and buckets.  While we were working in the hot sun, the friendly natives would bring us numerous cold beers to help us through our day.  So, as you may have guessed, there was as much paint on the ground, and us, as there was on the building.  He never tumbled to the fact that he would get much better results if he held off on the beer until AFTER the painting was done.

You have to remember that these usually hit right off our last watch – which was a midwatch.  So, we’d been up since about 2300 the day before and here it was around 1600 or 1700 the following day.  No sleep, and perhaps ten beers or so, made for a very festive time to be had by all.  When we were released from our ‘voluntary’ duties, we’d go home and crash.  There went almost half of your time off.

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Another pastime, off the mid, was to go down to the Nipa Hut.  Our base, San Miguel, is located directly on the shores of the South China Sea.  Our house was a very short walk from the beach.

NOTE: This was well before Mount Pinatubo obliterated most of it.  San Miguel can be found on Google Maps.  Look for “Philippines” first then Olangapo City (yes, that infamous liberty spot) and move north slightly and west to the coast.  There is a town called San Antonio.  San Miguel Naval Base is located just west of that.  If you zoom in closer, you will see two hook-like courts in the road to the south on the base.  Change to satellite view to see the actual houses.  We lived on the easternmost loop, in the center of three houses on the east side of that loop.  7156A Tripoli Court.

Anyway, here we were off the mid.  Keeping in mind that we’d been asleep from around 1800 to 2330 or so the night before, and this was our “afternoon” actually so we took advantage of it.  We’d hang around the Nipa Hut, drink beer and play volleyball, snorkel, ride around in Banca Boats (outrigger canoes), and just generally lounge around for a while.

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Parties were called for pretty much any reason; and pretty much anytime.  We hung around with the same people we stood watches with.  A lot were unmarried, so when they came to parties hosted by the married guys, they’d show up bringing booze.  It was customary to always invite the couple on the other side of your duplex because of the noise.  They were really great parties.

Parties were often given when an individual got back of TAD (Temporary Attached Duty).  This usually meant they were back from some hush-hush location (Vietnam) where they weren’t supposed to be.  Official statement for our rate was “We have no Communications Technicians in Vietnam”.  We knew better.  Fortunately, when one of our guys went over there they were guarded by Marines 24/7, bless ‘em.  I will never have anything bad to say about Marines.

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Another primary reason for a party was a typhoon.  When a typhoon blew into town, those of us who were off watch would gather at a given married person’s house and move all the furniture to the center of the building – away from the louvered windows.  Then, you would carefully pull all the glass louvers out of each window and lay them flat on the floor, or in a closet.  This reduced the chances of flying glass, you see.

We went from house to house preparing it for the blow.  At the last one (we took turns hosting typhoon parties) was where the party got under way.  Halfway through the typhoon, the sky cleared a bit, the winds dropped to just small wafts of current.  This was the eye of the storm.  Now, everyone (who could still stand, that is) would rush around frantically from house to house undoing the moved furniture and moving the furniture in the other half of the duplex because the winds would now come from the other side of the house.  At the last house, we’d re-party.

A great time was had by all.

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One morning, not long too long after we’d arrived, my wife informed me that we were pregnant.  Well, gosh.  Now what?  We told our housegirl, Maria, about it and she immediately began bustling around making an already spotless house into a hospital zone.  She had her brother, who was our yardboy, hang a small hammock down in her maid’s quarters so she could iron and rock the hammock at the same time.

She went around hopping on one foot, pushing a halved coconut husk all over our tile floor like a human buffing machine.  Our cat, Sassy, loved this.  He would jump up on her foot and ride around while Maria pushed that husk to and fro.  The wife did a bit of reading on what to expect when expecting and I kept standing watches getting more and more nervous as the months went by.

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First, a bit of background to a really funny incident.  Rumors were always rampant on a small base such as San Miguel.  Tell a story at one end and by the time you could walk to the other, someone would be bursting to tell you what they just heard.  In some cases, our little fun-loving group would START rumors just to hear how garbled they got at the other end.

When my wife was about seven months along, she went down to visit her friend in Subic Bay.  This is an hour long trip and was not undertaken at night at all.  So she remained there overnight.  Unknown to the both of us, another couple whom we’d befriended on the ship coming over, arrived to visit from Clark AB.  I put them up in our bedroom and slept out on the couch when I got home from my midwatch.

The resident snoop (doesn’t EVERY neighborhood have one?) across the street was actively scanning windows that night and happened to fall on our window.  Now, she knew my wife was gone for the night, and where she had gone, so when she spied a silhouetted couple on the drawn curtains she drew the conclusion that I had a ‘guest’.  She was on the phone immediately to Subic and reluctantly told my wife that I was seeing another woman.

My wife, whom I had already called and told her about our friends, answered sweetly “well, you know, Dear, since I’m very pregnant he just has to find comfort somewhere”.  There was dead silence on the line and then a strangled “really?”  She never bothered to rumor us any more.

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Next:  Daughter #1 makes her debut.