Aboard the USS Oxford, mid April 1967, we were some 50 kilometers from Subic Bay, Philippines, the biggest US Naval facility in Asia. Though being some 50 kilometers away, the wind was right and we could smell the stench from the Olongapo River, derogatorily refered to as Shit River. A very apt name, because it actually had turds floating down it, it was a drainage canal for the whole city.
We moored next to a Destroyer, and had to cross her decks to get to the dock. One sailor asked: "What the hell kind of ship you on? It's like none we've ever seen." We gave our standard reply: "Don't you know an aircraft carrier when you see one?!"
The advantages of being a Communications Technician were terrific. Because of the sensitivity of our work, we were not allowed off base in uniform. Our dress white uniform had the CT insignia, the pen, crossed with a bolt of lightning , clearly identifying us as holding a security clearance, a target for any country gathering intelligence on the United States and the Vietnam Conflict. We were made to wear "civies," (civillian clothes), a real advantage since dress white navy uniforms are hard to keep clean on the dusty crowded streets of Olongapo City. Dress white Navy uniforms are a lot of work to keep white and spotless for inspection. Bar girls would sometimes leave lipstick all over the collar, and you'd have to throw away a $20 set of dress whites, (just multiply by 4 to convert to black market Peso rates.) You could never get the stains out. One guy claimed he could blow smoke out his asshole. He said he had the nicotine stains in his dress white pants to prove it! I don't think his wash-girl ever got those stains out, either.
Guys in "civies" got more chicks. There were very few sailors on the beach who were allowed to wear civillian clothes. We took a bus to the gate, taking our US Dollars outside the gate to change since the rate on base was Peso 3.65 to the Dollar. Outside, in the black market it was four to the Dollar. I learned not to change on base from my year up in San Miguel, Zamballes. I was no stranger to liberty in Olongapo City, I had been there a hundred times or more and knew many bar owners and girls.
Passing through the main gate you cross a bridge 50 yards long, over Shit River, the stench was overpowering. It was no surprise to see bankas, small two-man canoes, under the bridge holding out wicker funnels to catch coins, it's a common sight, they're at the bridge, day and night. Everyone has to make a living. I took a Peso coin, and deliberately missed the wicker catch funnel. A little kid about five years old dived between the turds, and out of sight, and came up with the coin, of course. I had done it a hundred times. I wondered how these poor souls didn't end up in the hospital, swimming in such waters.
At the other end of the bridge begins the strip. Picture 500 bars on one street, all with 50 to 200 prostitutes in each bar. Most of the larger establishments had live bands, as good as any Stateside bands playing at the time. The Seventh Fleet was in, including two carriers, and escourts. Both carriers were moored to the deep-water dock at Cubie Point. 15,000 sailors a day were within the confines of the City of Olongapo at the time, but there were more than 25,000 prostitutes, not counting the streetwalkers. Plenty to go around. Streetwalkers were to be avoided, they had no gynecological examinations as required of all girls working in bars, and unlucky sailors could end up with the Vietnamese strain of the "Black Clap," which meant a General Discharge from the Navy (and the penis!) for medical reasons, it could not be cured with any known antibiotics at the time. That, and the occasional case of syphilis were the only big worries. It was fortunate that AIDS had not began its rampage on the world until years later.
The city, even at an early hour, was always bustling. Beggars of all ages had their hands out, and uncountable pimps propositioned us every five steps. Street vendors, selling every ware imaginable, from Samurai swords, to The Man In the Barrel, that novelty where you lift the woodcarving's wooden barrel and the man's wooden penis sticks out with an obscene boner, spring loaded, of course. Prostitutes and streewalkers were pouring out the bar doors, hustling for us to come in and buy them lady's drinks. Fat chance, we were too wise to their actions. It was better to take any jeepney ride heading in the direction you wanted to go; that way you could get off at the bar of your choice, thus avoiding about seven or so thousand hustlers of all kinds. The Philippine Constables (PC) patrolled the streets with "grease guns." Magsaysay was president and the county was under Martial Law.
The De Oro Club was biggest, located up at the circle where the two main drags met, Magsaysay Boulevard and Rizal Avenue. The club was best in the daytime, plenty of chicks to gawk at, and flirt with, and really no need to buy any of them lady's drinks, just sit and enjoy. Beer, the best San Miguel, cost about 20-50 cents US, depending on the bar you were in. We got ourselves a hotel room, with aircon, for the whole night for just $5.00. We had overnight liberty, but had to be off the streets and in our rooms by 1AM. Curfew began then, and you could be arrested if found anywhere on the street either by the Shore Patrol, or the PC. It was much better to be caught by the Shore Patrol. PC jail was not a nice place to spend the rest of your night, or any night for that matter.
With the USS Kitty Hawk, and the USS Enterprise both tied up at Cubie Point, the De Oro Club was hopping, even at four in the afternoon. We had our Oxford group seated as far way as possible from the two carrier groups in the club, it was a big place, with plenty of tables and girls. Everyone was drunk, and I could hear nasty cat-calls between the sailors of the Kitty Hawk and sailors of the Enterprise. This could be trouble. You could feel it in the air. It wasn't long coming, a sailor from the Kitty Hawk threw a full beer bottle at one of the sailors from the Enterprise, just missing his head, but catching another Enterprise sailor in the sholder.
All hell broke loose. Bottles flew everywhere, chairs, tables. Fist fights broke out, and over a hundred men were going at it. USS Oxford guys quietly slipped out a side door just as a PC came in with his grease gun raised. We heard him scream for everyone to stop fighting. There was no response, everyone was brawling tooth and nail. The PC slid back the bolt on his grease gun and sent a burst of 30 rounds across the ceiling. Everyone stopped fighting and hit the deck with hands over their heads in a prone position.
"Don't move you fuk'in GI's," the PC screamed, "I will shoot you cocksuckers. Stay down!"
Nobody moved. People who had been upstairs in the De Oro Club came down looking like ghosts. Luckily, no one caught a bullet coming through the ceiling. The Shore Patrol arrived in force and took over from the PC, though the PC brought in some re-enforcments just in case. Busses were called in, and all sailors from both carriers were loaded onto about 15 busses, and taken to Shore Patrol Headquarters, at the main gate of the base, to be booked, or released into ship's custody.
The club was a disaster area, and the sailors of both carriers were ordered to take up a collection. Both carriers had to pay all damages to the club.
The rest of the day was uneventful. We bar-hopped, and didn't start buying lady's drinks until about 11PM. All us CT's had to do was pick out a pretty girl sitting with a uniformed sailor. He would buy her all the drinks. By the stripes on his sleeves, we knew the guy would have to run for the gate at 11:30PM, and would just wait for him to run. Then I would move in on the girl, and buy her one or two drinks, she would be half-pissed because of the previous guy. I didn't have to pay any bar fine, a charge to take the girl out earlier than closing time very costly! Because I had until 1AM to stay out, I didn't have to worry about bar fines. The girl got off at 12:30AM and could do what she wanted. I'd take her to my room, order some food, and did whatever came natural after that. If she wasn't up to par, there were other girls sleeping in the corridors of the hotel. I'd kick out the unresponsive one and go to the corridor and shake a pretty one, she would gladly come for nothing just to have a bed to sleep in. What a Paradise, I really loved Olongapo City. It was, at the time, the best liberty port in the whole wide world, and many sailors of the Seventh Fleet will attest to that.
But, working next day, loading provisions into the ship's stores, in the hot sun, passing box after box was not fun. With a hangover from all the drinking the night before, it was pure hell. But, everyone would have their little tale to tell of their lastest escapades in the Sodom and Gommorah of the Far East, Olongapo City, and as badly hungover as we were, we'd laugh so hard our heads would split, and we couldn't hold a box of tissue paper. "Hit me with that fire-hose kind Sir, I'm about to burn up!" We'd all be burning later that night, once all the work was done. In that Hell of a town, Olongapo City, all gluttons for punishment.
As a post-script to this story. All sailors below the rank of paygrade E-3 had to serve at least four weeks on the mess decks. A ship rule. While in Olongapo, I ran out of condoms, and took no less than three different girls from the corridor of my favorite hotel the last night in. We sailed the next day. The day after we sailed, I was schedualed to do my four week stint on the mess decks. It really sucks having to get up at 4AM to start making breakfast for the crew. But, I came down with a bad strain of clap, and had to go for no less than 16 shots of penicillin, over a two week period. With the clap, I was not allowed to work on the mess decks making food, for obvious reasons. I had escaped it altogther! I never did a day on the mess decks the whole year on the Ox, and the shots killed my very first dose of VD I ever had, but not to be my last. They put an E-4, CT on the mess decks in my place, and this guy hated me the rest of my months on the Ox, and I don't blame him for feeling that way. My supervisors were happy since I was much better at copying ditties than that E-4 that replaced me on the mess decks. He was just a victim of circumstance, and I was just one lucky guy, with one very sore ass.