Some short PI vignettes

It was a big day was when the wife-telephone network came alive and reported that the Commissary had a new shipment of … (fill in your favorite staple here).  Real milk was once in a while provided from Australia; the rest of the time we made do with ‘reconstructed’ milk which meant powder added to water.  Beef was another major event.  The Australians did this big time for us.  Every couple of weeks a reefer truck would secretly back up to the rear entrance of the Commissary and unload sides of beef.  Being that this was a watchstanding base, and people were up at all hours, there was actually NO time when EVERYONE was asleep.  The second the truck came through the gate, the telephones came alive.

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Our housegirl had adapted to having a baby in the house easily.  She’d rigged up a swing for the cradle and tied it to her elbow so when she ironed, the cradle gently rocked.  Since she lived right downstairs she was available to watch over our house all the time.  She kept a meanly clean house and was very protective of our baby.

Our neighbors in the duplex to the north were bachelor Chiefs (E-8’s) and they lived three to a house (each in their own separate rooms, of course).  They’d get to partying and anything could happen.  Once evening, Maria was taking a walk and was not really ‘accosted’ by one guy, but he was pretty aggressive.  He followed her back to our house and kept knocking on her door.  He just wanted to talk he said.  Maria finally had had enough of this and opened the door – with a two and a half foot long cane machete in her hands.  He turned a couple shades of white, backed off, and couldn’t get out of the yard fast enough.

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My wife and I enjoyed going down to “The Roads” once in a while.  We did this mostly during the daytime so as to not inhibit the evening trade.  We usually took our new daughter down with us.  The wife got to know a lot of the girls who worked down there and was made to feel at home in one special bar called Mona’s Place.  Mona was a large woman who laughed a lot.  She declared that she was Kathryn’s Philippino grandmother.  She would take over and watch the baby while the two of us sat and talked to the girls.  The wife drank orange soda; I usually had a San Miguel.  The brand my wife liked best was Fanta Orange Squash.  The jukebox would be roaring out songs and the girls would dance to them.  I remember one song in particular that was very popular at the time called “The House of the Rising Sun”.  Kathryn would look around, smile, and gurgle at all the girls as they made a fuss over her.

As a result of every bar girl in The Roads knowing I was not only married, but had a great wife and a small child, my wife trusted me implicitly to go out on my own also.  One evening in particular stands out in my mind.  A friend had come over from Clark AB and was staying with us.  The two of us decided to go down to the Roads and have a few.  We piled into my convertible VW and headed out.

Along the course of the evening, we gathered up several things: 1) two extremely beautiful (and well known) bar girls who just wanted to have some fun, 2) two VERY large (3-foot in diameter) Mexican Sombreros, and 3) a Shore Patrol escort who followed us from bar to bar.  My friend and I knew them well enough so there was no hassle.  We finished up our tour-de-farce and went back on base; less the two girls of course.

Before I even got parked (a distance of about a half-mile) my wife was phoned twice with the “bad news” that I was carousing down at The Roads with bad girls.  We had a very good laugh at that.

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I reported to work one day and got called into the Ops Chief’s office.  “Here are your orders” he said.  “They only gave you four weeks to pack up so you’d better get started.”  He smiled a really snarky smile.  He and I had been at odds for almost my whole time in the PI.  He was a Marine (one of the rare ones I didn’t like) and loved to hand out bad news with a smile.  My argument that I had only been here for less than half my regular tour (3 years) fell on deaf ears.

My wife took the news pretty hard when I told her.  After I showed her my orders, she just asked what kind of ship the USS Oxford was; she already knew where it was going and she didn’t like it one bit.  I was headed “Fordu supt billet SEA” which meant simply “For duty in a support billet in Southeast Asia”.  I was headed into Vietnamese waters.  All I could tell her was that we would stay well offshore and just ‘listen’.  I wouldn’t be getting shot at (I hoped I wasn’t telling a lie).

We didn’t do much laughing after that.  Our household good were packed up, we made arrangements to ship our car back to Oakland (it took four months this time), and sat in our empty house until it came time for us to leave for Clark Air Base.  No car this time.  We ended up sitting in two seats on a long, grey, navy bus with about forty sailors making the trip to Clark also for various reasons.  None of them cared enough to even let us sit together.

We pulled up to the terminal and the seven of us that were leaving San Miguel to join the Oxford hustled our families into the building.  We milled around smartly for about ten minutes until an Air Force type called our attention and began to read off names.  When he got to my wife an assistant took her arm and led her away into an area enclosed by a low iron fence.  We both thought that this was just for processing but we were wrong.  Within minutes, she was moved again – out the door and onto the tarmac.  I didn’t even have a chance to kiss her, and Kathryn, goodbye – she was gone; boarding the plane.  Shit.

Somberly, myself and the other six guys were loaded into a small minivan and run down to Subic Bay.  I left the airport before the plane even got off the ground.  We pulled up at the main gate, showed our orders and were directed down to the pier where our ship awaited us.  Hoisting my seabag on my shoulder I climbed the gangway to my next assignment.

Next:  Life aboard a Navy ship