The Philippines changed my life even before I got there (and by a curious coincidence, I was born on the day in August 1946 that the Republic of the Philippines was proclaimed by President Harry Truman). Dad had been sent to Clark in November, 1958. Initially, we were all going to go together, but we got bumped by somebody. The next month, the rest of us had to go to Luke AFB near Phoenix to get shots for tropical diseases. When we got our first typhoid shots, I was the only one in the family that did not have any side effects. A few weeks later, I took the second typhoid shot and did have a side effect - I was in a coma for more than a week. I went to the base hospital just before Christmas, 1958. The next thing I knew, I was watching the Rose Bowl Parade, in a long ward filled with sick airmen. Mom swears that my little brother Sammy got out of shots by running out of the line when nobody was looking - he had the right idea.
We moved out to Clark the following April. We were one of the last families that had to make the trek on propellor-driven airplanes. The trip from San Francisco to Clark lasted 36 hours of almost non-stop flying (due to the earth's rotation, four fifths of the trip was at night). On the way to Hawaii, the crew was nice enough to let me up into the cabin (this was before the days of plane hijackings), where I got a wide-angle look at the ocean ahead. I was impressed that the ocean waves, which look entirely random from sea level looked like a orderly patchwork from the sky. We got box lunches at each of the stops, but the nicest was the one from Hawaii that included pineapple and candy bars. I fell in love with Hawaii then, but it would be 23 years before I really saw it. At Guam, my brother Sammy went into a gift shop and bought a Major's insignia, which he pinned on to his cap. These lasted until we landed at Clark and my Dad saw it - a serious breach of military protocol.
We had arrived in the Spring of 1959, right in the middle of the Easter activities. I remember being alone in the house with other kids one night, looking out the window and seeing a large circle of torches. The next time you looked out there were none. Then they were back..pure terror.
In succeeding nights, the torch ceremonies were replaced with parades - each night more elaborate and with more floats. It culminated in the famous Good Friday celebration. Some Filipino men had their backs cut with razors, and they marched down the streets beating the wounded area with bamboo cords to enhance the bleeding. A smaller number (the ones who really had some repenting to do?) were lashed to crosses.
Looking back on it, it seems pretty disgusting, but the Americans took it with a carnival-like atmosphere, taking lots of pictures. When we got back, our car was blood-spattered.
The area around Mountain View was a magical thing for kids who had lived in Arizona their entire lives. Our house was right next to rice paddies, where water buffalo roamed leisurely through the fields looking for grass to munch.
More fierce looking were the black and tan brahma bulls. Eventually, we worked up the nerve to ride on the buffalo, at the urging of a Filipino boy named Tony who took care of the animals. Sure enough, the animals were as docile as sheep. Only Tony was bold enough to ride the brahmas.
Just past our street there was, incongruously, an enormous Baptist church.
The dirt roads were full of strange and colorful new vehicles.
There were horse drawn carts called Calesas, human-powered pedicabs, and chrome-plated vehicles of all shapes and sizes generally known as jeepneys. It was believed that most of these jeepneys were once U.S. government property and that they were unwittingly surplused to the Filipinos. There was a story going around the base that a band of natives had the audacity to steal a fire truck right out of the station and run it out the gate with lights flashing and sirens blaring. It is said that halfway out, they were spotted by air policemen who gave them a police escort out the gate and into anonymity. This was likely the Clark version of an urban legend, because it was recounted by nearly every Clark veteran I talked to, no matter which decade they lived there.
At the Mountain View facility, we were 'guarded' by military-looking natives armed with rifles. It was believed that this protection was somewhat compulsory. One story said that a family was a day late in their vacation, allowing their security contract to expire. At the stroke of midnight they were cleaned out, with the former security guard loading the truck.
Just across the street from us was a row of native nipa huts. My parents said that the dogs outside never got very old, because the Filipinos treated them as domestic animals in more ways than Americans would - they ate them. This might seem unnecessarily harsh on the natives, but I saw a PBS special that confirmed that aspect of their diet. A reader of this page told me that the practice has since been outlawed. Another legendary Filipino staple was the balut - a duck egg that was fertilized and then lightly cooked just before hatching. Then the delicacy would age - the longer it aged, the more valuable. Other local specialties were enthusiastically adopted by the Americans. Lumpia was a Philippine adaptation of the egg roll - most similar to what our Chinese restaurants call Spring rolls. Early in my stay at Clark, there was a gathering in the picnic area behind Wurtsmith school where several whole pigs were barbequed in the Philippine fashion in pits buried in the ground and covered with charcoal. The first local food that we actually tried was sugar cane, which was growing in fields just a block away. It was something of a disappointment - it looked like bamboo. It was reedy, and you had to spit out most of it. The sweet flavor that you got was about half as intense as watermelon.
Milk. I can still taste that reconstituted (we called it regurgitated) milk from the first day I poured it over a bowl of corn flakes. Ugh. Like everyone else, I ordered a large glass of milk when I landed in San Francisco after our time on the island. Soft drinks were cheap and bought by the case. They, too were reconsituted but it was less noticeable, except that they were more sugary than normal. The adults could get a variety of American beers, but everybody drank San Miguel.
Mountain View even had recreational facilities of a sort. There was a privately run park at one end of the development with a pond in the middle of a dense jungle landscape. There were one or two rowboats to rent. The local sari sari stores were the Philippine equivalent of convenience markets.
Between Mountain View and the town of Angeles (A big, bustling overgrown village with one disfunctional traffic light), there was a busy establishment called the Bamboo Hut. We didn't have to wonder what the women there did when they weren't playing volleyball out front in their starched white uniforms (they wore large numbers on their backs for convenience sake) - the other kids told us that.
We were told never to go to the barrio, except during the Easter events. However, our maid Honora invited me and my brother to spend the night with her family, and I accepted. We rode out in an open-air bus. The two things I remember most vividly were the dinner of fish heads and rice (although they fried me up a few pieces of chicken - I still feel guilty) and the bathroom facilities which consisted of a pit below their patio. On another day, Honora's husband Max took me to Angeles and we saw a Japanese Starman movie with subtitles in two or three languages, none of which was English.
The weather there ranged from hot and muggy in the summer to warm and muggy in the winter. When you opened a box of corn flakes, you would have a few minutes to eat them before they started to turn soggy from the ever-present humidity. I think the constancy of the warm weather along with the lack of air conditioning slowed people down - it was like living in a Tennessee Williams play.
Clark was on a high plateau, so typhoons didn't usually make it to the base, although several tried when I was there. There were three levels of typhoon warnings, and the first time we got a level one, my parents followed the rules and tied all of the furniture up in the center of the living room. I was disappointed that the storm was not wild enough to send us out as refugees to an emergency shelter. My parents remember this, however, as a severe storm that sent water right up into the house.
When we got to Clark, songs by the recently departed Buddy Holly were all over the Filipino radio stations. Americans got the newest popular hits at the BX after about a four month delay. The first song I remember there was 'Itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini.' I also remember Wurtsmith students at the adjacent snack bar singing 'Waterloo,' keeping rhythm by banging their Pepsi bottles on the counter.
Another monster hit that arrived during our stay was 'El Paso,' by Marty Robbins. My mother, Flossie, had grown up with Robbins in Glendale, Arizona. When he was starting out as a club singer, he would interject "Hello, Flossie" into whatever song he was singing when my parents entered the club. My brother and I saw him perform at the Arizona State Fair in 1958, and he made a big fuss over us when we saw him backstage and told him who our parents were. They wrote him from the Philippines to congratulate him on his new level of success, but never heard from him again.
As soon as we got to the Philippines, I joined the Boy Scouts, because I had been in the troop in Phoenix, rising to the rank of Second Class scout. The leader was a sergeant who had married a Filipina, and he was planning on staying there the rest of his life. His name was Mr. Franklin. Right after I joined, we were lining up for a big Memorial Day ceremony at the base cemetery near the entrance gate. It was a bright hot day, and during the ceremony, a number of the scouts passed out from the heat. Strangely, I didn't. As an Arizona kid, I was used to heat.
Afterwards, we drank multiple bottles of soda, and wandered around the graveyard. The saddest part was seeing the section for babies who died a few days after being born.
We went to the Boy Scout Jamboree that first year, when the Philippines was hosting 12,000 scouts from all over the world - it was only the tenth world jamboree, and the first to be held in Asia. I remember five days of living in mud. We ate water buffalo steak which looked like grey shoeleather. At least it was more or less digestable. The same could not be said for the green coconuts we tried. The next day, there was a dysintery epidemic of biblical proportions.
A staff sergeant was sent along to cook for us, and he couldn't believe the sight of kids who could not crack an egg. "I fear the day when these kids have to fight a war," he said. I wonder if he remembered that statement five or ten years later.
We didn't have to wait for a war - the boy scouts started one of their own, as day after day of rains turned the camp into a giant mud pack. Wooden ladders were laid down so the scouts could walk from one tent to another, but eventually, even the ladders were overwhelmed with mud. The cabin fever got to a few of the scouts one day - one boy stabbed another in the face with the tip of a flagpole, resulting in several stitches and a quick trip back to Clark.
The better scouts like my friend Harold Wilson were invited to visit the estate of a rich sugar magnate (it might have been Marcos). They were impressed with the signs of extreme wealthy like the private bowling alleys in the mansion.
We were encouraged to trade things with scouts from other countries. I remember that I traded something I had for a sleek stiletto knife, but I decided my parents wouldn't like that, so I traded the knife for a model boat. The boatmaker was from the island where Magellan had been killed. The native who did the deed was still revered as a hero - I was scandalized at the thought. British scouts went around singing 'The Battle of New Orleans' with new lyrics and a different outcome.
There was a game that became a sensation during the scout jamboree. I forgot the name of it (later, Gary McClellan told me that it was and still is called Stratego), but it was a cross between chess and dominoes, with pieces that represented different kinds of artillery. As soon as two pieces occupied the same space, you found out what the other piece was. I brought it back to Arizona, and then promptly lost all the pieces.
There was a big dinner afterwards for the scouts and their parents at the VFW Hall. I remember that several of the speakers went past the normal etiquette at events of this sort and told the truth. I remember phrases like "this is the worst bunch of kids I've worked with in my entire life." So ended my career as a Boy Scout.
After six months or so in Mountain View, we were moved to on-base housing. These houses came in two major varieties. There were fairly modern concrete ranch-style houses, not too different from what we had in Arizona. Then there were pre-war "barn" houses, made of wood and screen. These had more personality and floor space - that's what we got.
The most memorable feature of barn-house ambience was the toilet, which consisted of a tank near the ceiling and the bowl at ground level.
The houses were cleaned in two major ways. The maids would go over the wooden floors with half coconut shells treated with wax. They also swept the floors with broad, loosely strung 'sige brooms.' ('sige' is the tagalog word for 'hurry,' and one of the only Tagalog words we learned that was not scatalogical in nature).
Because the walls were very thin, they didn't keep sound in or out very well. We had a neighbor, a burly paratrooper who had a long-running dispute with his wife, whose conversations were clearly audible to all of us. However, we only heard his end of the conversation. We suspected that her part of the dialog consisted mainly of "I'm sorry."
The house was on Maverick Street, right at the bottom of Lily Hill, which then had a mushroom-shaped radar installation that they apparently took away sometime in the early 1960's. This photo was taken around 1960:
The masonry houses were built well enough that they survived the volcano - sort of.
These photographs by Dick Stanland show the extent of the devastation.
Stanland says that barn houses like ours didn't even fare that well.
These pictures hold more than casual interest t0 Stanland - they show the ruins of his own house.
The number one activity of kids my age was collecting leftover junk from WW2. There was an active unit of the Air Force that went around confiscating the treasures that we found (a couple of kids we knew managed to smuggle a live grenade back to the states. They wanted to see what was inside, so they pried a screwdriver against it, and hit it with a hammer. It blew up in their hands, taking out several fingers). Air Police were fondly referred to as 'Apes.' Kids said that the dreaded EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) kept a map of the airbase with colored pins showing where they confiscated their best weaponry. I was never lucky enough to make the kind of find that would get the attention of the EOD, but 50 callibre bullet heads were as common as pennies.
Lily Hill was probably the epicenter of the war remnants. It was thought to be off limits, but nobody had ever seen that in writing. We all wondered what it would be like to climb the hill, but nobody I know ever tried it, although it was rumored that a teacher found a wrecked plane up there and took the serial plate off its engine. (A reader told me that after I left, they burned off the foliage and the wrecked plane was visible to the whole world - until the EOD hauled it away)..
Most of Lily Hill was covered with dense jungle foliage, but along the ridge, there was a road leading to the domed radar installation. There is a wonderful book An annotated pictorial history of Clark AFB, edited by David Rosmer, that showed Lily Hill later on minus the radar mushroom. I also remember one expedition to a (presumably Japanese) bunker on the side of the hill.
One day, a pack of us were walking around near a blockhouse by the base of the hill, and a truck drove up. "Air Police!" one of the kids yelled, and we ran through a rough field towards our homes. Incredibly, the truck raced away to try and head us off. I took such a running dive that I landed in the dirt, spat out mud and kept going. We made it to the houses and hid out as we saw the truck drive by, with the drivers anxiously looking for us. Afterwards, our parents called the authorities to find out what was going on, but nobody admitted knowing anything about it. I imagine they were a couple of rogue EOD agents, out to harass their natural enemy. Recently, I heard from a former Air Policeman at Clark who helped to explain why they were so skittish about that hill. They had good information that a holdout Japanese soldier was still hiding out there.
One of the key features of the war culture among the boys was a constant interest in the kinds of torture that the Japanese troops used on American prisoners, the tamest being the classic "flaming bamboo splints under the fingernails." One of the things I heard so often that it became imprinted was the phrase, "Hey, I've got a new torture."
Down the street from our house, at the base of Lily Hill, there was an army camp (Air force kids called them 'Groundpounders'), a huge base swimming pool (where I took my first leap off the incredibly high diving board), and the airman's club, which was named Coconut Grove (I didn't really remember that- it's in the
The NCO club was called the Top Three Club. I remember that you could get an enormous stack of onion rings for 75 cents. The big social event at the Top Three was Bingo. I also remember seeing the world Hula Hoop champion - a tiny Asian girl the size and shape of a fire hydrant who could keep more than a dozen hoops going at one time in 13 different directions. At night, music was provided by Iggy de Guzman and his big band (remember, this was the fifties).
Kelly theater then:
Kelly theater now, after the volcano1:
The commissary tried its best to be an appealing supermarket, even though it didn't have any competition. Shopping for food was just about the only chore that the wives had to do, after all the other work was done by the maids and yard boys.
The Base exchange was a large building that sold everything but food. It was surrounded by a series of specialty shops. Our favorite shop was a shoe store that would put taps on your shoes for 35 cents (75 for larger horseshoe taps). This served two purposes. First, you could make a lot of noise when you walked. Secondly, at night you could scrape your shoes on the pavement and create an instant fireworks show.
We provided a bigger show one day when a group of us created a model rocket made from scraps that included a spent cardboard engine from the proper model rockets that they sold at the Hobby Shop. It was out of fuel, so we filled it with gunpowder, packing it in as tightly was we could. The fuselage was a toilet paper tube. We went to one of the concrete bases that lay exposed at the center of each block of barn houses, and lit the fuse. It sputtered out, so one of the kids held the rocket in one hand and held a match under the filled rocket engine. It exploded into a million pieces, making enough of a shock wave to blow us all to the ground. Amazingly, nobody was hurt, except for a few minor burns on the shoulder of the kid holding the rocket. Once we made sure that nobody was injured, six kids ran off in six different directions, well before the Air Police arrived to nose around the site.
We were there for two summers, but I don't remember the official fireworks shows. I do remember Philippine fireworks. The most interesting thing about them was the fuse - it might burn in ten seconds, or it might surprise you and burn out in one second. We'd put the fireworks under a can and light the fuse - sending the empty can into a brief orbit. Another type of fireworks were balls that you threw at the ground, and they exploded on impact.
There was a football stadium called the Bamboo Bowl, but I don't specifically remember any of the games there. I do remember a game that was played in Manila between the Clark All-stars and their counterparts from Formosa or Okinawa. It was a blowout against our guys. The other team actually had offensive and defensive units. Our side just had one team that did everything, but none of it very well. I think the opposing team mercifully let up before their score ran into three figures.
I signed up for the teen club the day I turned 13, but I only went for about a week. It was, to say the least, dominated by the older teens, so the chances of playing pool or playing a song on the jukebox were almost nil. The jukebox was free, so every so often one of the more aggressive older teens would just unplug it to clear past requests and then push the buttons for the songs he wanted. The signup sheet for the pool tables were handled in the same fashion.
I was only on base for one Christmas (1959), and I remember that the Christmas trees were late in coming - they arrived at the "Toyland" facility two or three days before Christmas and there were lines for blocks in the 80 degree weather.
I remember that the radio station would make announcements to a tape loop that changed between elevator music renditions of "You do something to me" and "Where and when." Years later, my dad played a tape of this - it sounded kind of ghostly hearing about meetings and pot lucks that had occurred years ago, and 9000 miles away. Unfortunately, that tape didn't make the transition from reel to reel
The television station played the major hit shows from the U.S. with the expected delays. The big programs were Perry Mason and Rawhide. Because the shows were timed for commercials, the base station would fill in with musical clips. My favorite was a Chaplinesque rendition of the novelty song 'One Meatball.' I also remember that some of my classmates (including a boy named Donald Devers) volunteered to be in a show called "Pantomime Teens," where they acted out popular songs of the day.
Things weren't always so good for base families. We were told that Clark dependents during the war were herded into barns which were ignited by the Japanese. Those who tried to run away were gunned down with machine guns. I never found out if that was true or not. It is certainly true that Clark was attacked almost immediately after Pearl Harbor, but only history buffs remember that. The Japanese pilots managed to catch most of our planes on the ground.
I never went to see the negrito village at Clark, but I'd heard plenty of stories about how they hated the Japanese so much during the war that they sneaked into a Japanese barracks one night and decapitated every other soldier, so that when the survivors woke up, they had dead comrades on either side. The account of negrito myth-making in the book Anything You Say Sir seems to ring a bit truer in retrospect. On the other hand, the Rosmer book shows pictures of American military men with the king of the negritos in 1919, so they were not a recent event at Clark.
At age 9, my little brother Sammy is already taller than the King of the Negritos (He's 6'7" now)
Painting by Sam Ballard in 1999
The high spirits culminated in an incident where a gang of Clark kids went out cruising in Angeles one night and beat a Philippine student within an inch of his life. The next day it was all over the front page of the Manila Times, and the day after that, there was absolute silence. For 30 years, I didn't know if the kid lived or died.
I found out, curiously enough, when I posted some of the recollections to the Wagner/Wurtsmith list. One of the people indirectly involved wrote me and told me more of the story. A Filipino had committed a particular daring crime against several American families. The beating was in revenge against the man that they thought was responsible. The victim did pull through and at least one of the attackers was punished and did some time in Philippine jails.
Wurtsmith was housed in several locations during my brief stay there. At first, it was in a facility near the golf course. We moved to the Wurtsmith facility near the base perimeter halfway through my 1959-1960 eighth grade year (And I believe that they built Wagner High in the school area that I first attended). School started fairly early in the morning - around 7 or 7:30, and got out quite early in the afternoon - I think it was 1:30. Considering the long tropical days, this left a lot of kids with a lot of time to kill. For many, this meant cruising in the free buses at night. The bus lines were named after colors - it was the yellow or blue line that went past our house on Maverick Street, on its way to the central depot right next to the BX.
The first teacher that I remember from seventh grade was a science teacher, a no-nonsense black woman named Mrs. Butler. She had each student recite a verse from the Bible at the beginning of every class. One kid, a rather rough-hewn red-headed fellow named Tom Naylor, always quoted "Though shall not covet thy neighbor's ass."
Our home room teacher was Mr. Gilbert Rethmeyer, the social studies teacher. A Miss Bovers was the math teacher and Mr. Rickerts was English. The coach, at least in 9th grade, was named Don Blow. In the second half of eighth grade, we had a series of lectures about Philippine culture from a teen-aged Filipina. Mr. Rethmeyer read us Animal Farm over a period of a week. I still remember the chilling words "All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others." It didn't occur to me at the time, but those words had special resonance in the two-tiered system that permeated every aspect of base life - Officer or Enlisted. In all fairness, this stratification was our perception at the time. Many people who lived on Clark and wrote to the Internet list said that they encountered no caste system.
There were not too many of my classmates that I remember fondly, but there were a few. Ted Jones, a half Filipino kid, assumed that he would never be living in America (When I saw the 1963 yearbook on the Web, he was the only person I knew from my class). We used to pass cartoons back and forth, drawing interstellar wars between his starfleet and mine. I found out from a reader recently that Ted moved to Japan and married a Japanese woman.
Others that I remember were Law Henderson (who was the envy of everybody because he had the entire album of Big Bopper songs), L.G. Young and Gordon Ward. A kid named David Dawson was one year younger than me - I remember that he had his own full-sized pool table. One of the girls in Mr. Rethmeyer's home room, D'Arcy Guerin, read my page and became the first person from my class to get in touch with me.
My dad was a master sergeant and flight inspector in the 509th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. The insignia was a precursor of a rock band that would come into existence 6 years later - a skull with a rose growing through its eye socket. My dad told me that it was against the rules for master sergeants to work weekends, so the timesheets carried the days Friday, Friday1 and Friday2. Dad was an enlisted man by circumstance and by temperament. He told me that there are only two kinds of people in the world - officers and enlisted. "When I say 'Yes sir,' in my mind I am saying 'Cur.'" I didn't inherit a single one of his mechanical ability genes, but he told me something that has served me well all of my life - 'In dealing with machines, if something doesn't want to go - don't force it."
He was already an active Mason when he got to Clark, and became extremely active in the Leonard Wood Lodge. The lodge was named after a general who led some troops after a tribe of Filipinos who would not accept American authority after the Spanish-American war. Wood chased the natives to the cone of an extinct volcano and then shelled them from the sides of the crater. This made him an instant hero in America, and also a target for Mark Twain who thought the operation was hideous. The lodge was memorable for its pot lucks - at least that's what I remember best. At one of them a man told my father, "You know, I've been watching that skinny kid over there. Every time somebody comes in late, he runs over and tries whatever they brought." My dad said, "Yes, I know that kid. He's my son."
There was a lot of commerce going on with liquor and cigarettes. It seems that everybody bought their full allotment even if they didn't smoke. I heard a lot of statements from a lot of people to the tune of "Well, everybody does it." Indeed - and everybody went back loaded with treasures of furniture and native art.
The artwork tended to be the sort of thing you might see in Mexican border towns. Lots of black velvet paintings - nudes and bullfights for the most part. By far, the most popular artifact seemed to be the 'Happy Buddha,' which would give good luck to those who rubbed his tummy. Another was the giant fork - about the height of a yardstick. `I still have one of the caribou bookends in my living room.
My favorite place on base was the library, which had the best selection of science fiction that I would ever see in any library. When I got there, I was reading the adolescent science fiction books by Heinlein and Clarke, but I soon took advantage of the base library's awesome collection and started reading adult science fiction - by Heinlein and Clarke. Later I branched out to Lewis Padgett, E. Everett Evans and Robert E. Howard. I would spend many hours there, leaving when I had to because of 9 pm closing.
|Thanks to Sgt. Jim Clark, who served at Clark in the early 1950's for this wonderful shot of my second home at Clark.|
Sometimes walking back at night, the mosquito control trucks would be driving by, creating an artificial fog. Other nights, the base was running low on power, and this resulted in "brownouts," where lights ran at 50% capacity.
One of my greatest regrets was that I never learned astronomy at the time. I remember that you could see the stars very well, and I must have seen the Southern Cross any number of times, but I just didn't know what I was looking at. On those nights coming back from the library, I was so saturated with science fiction that I would pick out moving objects in the sky (almost certainly weather balloons) and imagine that they were UFO's. I would send telepathic thoughts to them - "Come and get me. Take me out of this place."
Another time, I was walking back from the library during the day, thinking that I would soon forget this perfectly ordinary moment, so of course I remember it to this day.
Another memorable night included a dinner visit for two Australians who were on the base for a meeting of "SEATO," the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. They were great fun, full of stories, and possessed an uncanny ability to put away San Miguel. Years later, one of the two happened to come across my page and realized that he was reading about people he had met, so he dropped me a line. Here is a picture from that night:
My dad went around with a camera collecting unusual road signs. His favorite was "Look Out! One way only!" Another was the shingle for a doctor who specialized in "the diseases of women" or the "painless dentist" in an open air clinic.
We made one trip to Baguio, and I vividly remember the ride up, with the endless hairpin turns over the rice paddies. Some of the bridges could only handle one lane of traffic at a time. Busses would go flying across them, even though the bridge was only about six inches wider than the bus. Wherever you drove, Filipinos would wave and yell "Hey Joe!" They were still pretty happy with America for driving out the Japanese, so feelings were basically good (although my Dad was once horrified to see newsreel footage of Manila crowds in 1941 waving Japanese flags). However, we were told that if we had any traffic accident in a barrio we had to drive to the next village and turn ourselves in to authorities - even if you ran over somebody. There was just too great a risk of being surrounded by a hundred relatives and neighbors.
We stayed at John Hays in a cabin right across from a well preserved Japanese tank relic that you could climb into.
For war-obsessed kids, it was heaven. Further down the road, there was a formal Japanese garden. We drove through town, and my dad stopped to take pictures of the Baguio meat market. The only thing you knew for sure about the carcasses hanging out in the open was that they were originally mammals.
Another favorite side trip to the North was the drive to Hundred Islands. A caravan of us went out and rented a boat which took us to our own island for the day.
Some of our friends were at a beach about 100 yards away, so I decided to swim over. It wasn't as easy as it looked, because there was a large coral reef that blocked my swim. I decided to go back, so I kicked once against the coral, and got a foot full of spines from the sea urchins that lined the reef. I was limping for just a few days afterwards.
|I never made it down to Subic, but Dad did.|
There was a lighthouse at the highest point of the island - it was the first lighthouse that I ever visited. We had soft drinks in a large bamboo building that was the site of the treaty signing when the island changed hands. We also saw giant installations of rusty squat cannons. It is said that the Japanese chained American POWs to these and forced them to fire at their own planes. Their accuracy rate was not high.
We knew one sergeant who made the trip to Corregidor a number of times. He had been through the Bataan Death March, and ended up as a prisoner there. He would visit his old cell and stare at it silently for hours at a stretch. My parents were scandalized that the Air Force would be insensitive enough to send him back to the Philippines. Eventually, he was in the base hospital, in the terminal stages of self-inflicted liver disease. My parents were there the night he died, and they say that the doctors brought in a death certificate for the semi-comatose man to sign. He had enough presence to hold the pen and make some sort of squiggle. Two days later, his widow called the Red Cross, and heard from someone who bluntly asked her "Okay, what do you need to get moved out?"
After I left the Philippines, I finished high school at North High in Phoenix, went on to Phoenix College (where I was in Freshman English with Nick Nolte) and a bachelor's degree from Arizona State - I majored in English simply because it was my best subject. Then I worked for the next two decades as a paraprofessional at the Phoenix Public Library. Meantime, I had met Donna Weiss at the library and we married in 1972 and had a son named Robert Daniel ten years after that. Eventually, I got a master's degree in Instructional media, and another master's degree in library science. That got me a job as a systems librarian in New York in 1990 (where I once helped Long Island Railroad gunman Colin Ferguson at the reference desk), and we've been there ever since. Until I lived in New York, my years in the Philippines were the most interesting time of my life.
3Taken by my son, Bob Ballard.
For more about Clark, Wagner, Wurtsmith and jeepneys, please check out the WHOA Home Page. Also, check out Thomas Utts' Clark Field Scrapbooks.
Return to Terry Ballard's New and Improved Web Page
Return to Terry Ballard's New and Improved Web Page
I've heard from many people who had their own CAFB stories to tell, and I always encourage them to put that story out, but the advice usually falls on deaf ears. This summer I was particularly happy to hear from Carl Ryan, a missionary who served in the Air Force in the late 1950's. HE took the unusual step of photographing Clark in 16MM film, and the resulting video is like seeing this web page come to life. See for yourself at www.crfmedia.com/Video-PI/default.htm .
Another good read for former Air Force Brats is Above the East China Sea by Sarah Bird. Bird was a Brat herself in Okinawa, and she writes convincingly about a modern young lady and her growing connection to the mysterious forces on Okinawa. Highly recommended.