Rich Cincotta, aka The Red Header, was the one who convinced me to go to Taiwan. We were both stationed in Edzell, Scotland at Christmas time 1970, when the decision was made to cut the base back from 500 to 300 personnel. I had recently been transferred from the ditty bopping division to traffic analysis. My old division had put my name on the list for transfer but my new division had decided to keep me. By the time I found out about all of this I had orders to Taiwan, as did Cincotta. My new division told me that they could get the orders cancelled which meant that I was in the rare position of being able to decide whether to go or not. Rich told me that he’d heard that Taiwan was the best duty in Asia and we had just had nine months of what everyone told us was the best duty in Europe. CTRs usually did two overseas tours before they had one in the States and I was very aware of where people stationed at Edzell tended to go after a tour there—places like Adak or Midway. Taiwan started sounding really good to me.
I arrived in Taipei a couple of weeks after Cincotta, on Valentine’s Day 1971. I still remember stepping out the door of the plane and wanting to know “What the fuck is that smell?” It was, as all of you know, the aroma of the river that was really just one giant benjou. They loaded us onto a bus driven by a Chinese army sergeant for the trip up the hill. I made the mistake of sitting on the right hand side by the window—the perfect spot to look out the window and see nothing but air—where you expected to see a shoulder—as our driver headed up the hill like we were in a grand prix race.
Having lived through the bus ride and being totally exhausted from an 18-hour flight, I dumped my belongings in the room they assigned me and walked across the hall to the dayroom where some guys were playing cards. One of the first people I met was a guy from Des Arc, Arkansas, a town 35 miles from my home town of Searcy. I knew Des Arc well because it was the home of the Sportman’s One Stop, a liquor store that sold to me for at least two years before my 21st birthday. The guy from Des Arc decides that I need to get back on the bus and go downtown that night and since Cincotta had duty that night, he’d take it upon himself to show me around. What I didn’t know was that he was supposed to already have left the island for the Canal Zone but he (a) had the clap and (b) didn’t want to leave so he was going down town every night and drinking away the effectiveness of his medical treatments. I’ve heard that they shipped him out with the clap but the way I remember it is they restricted him to base to get him well enough to ship out. I don’t think he was the one on whose room they put guards to keep him from getting on the bus but he might have been. For those of you who didn’t know or remember him, Jim Gage or Gaggy was my first night tour guide. I was told the nickname was from some hammer’s attempt to pronounce his name after seeing it written out.
My first stop with Gaggy was the Sea Dragon, the navy enlisted men’s club that closed not too long after I arrived—I think it was the only time I went there. Gage’s reason for going there was that the drinks were cheaper that the 50 cents you paid in the clubs so we could load up before my first trip to the King’s Club. I wasn’t ready for Gage. He was counting my drinks and continually telling how many I was behind. He finally gave up on me and turned me over to another guy who I think was named Snaith or something like that. My new guide and I shortly left for the King’s Club but we stopped to get a bottle of Ooh Mei Jiyou for the trip, a distance of only a few blocks. I don’t think we drank the whole bottle but I do remember that he disposed of the bottle by tossing it over a stone or cinder block wall and bouncing it off a building—a building in front of which was flying the flag of the country of Spain. I expected to be arrested at any moment (remember I’d only been on the island for a few hours).
We, nonetheless, arrived safely at the King’s Club and I was given a seat at the bar between two older Americans who asked me the usual questions about where I was from and the like. One of them even bought me a drink. Nice guys. They also waited until I seemed to be fading and gave me wet-willies in both ears. I had just met Dirty Dan and Uncle Harry, the two senior enlisted men at Linkou Navy. Nice guys. They decided that I needed to be introduced to my first Chinese girl so, at their urging, I asked one of the best-looking girls behind the bar her name. She leaned over close and replied “Lisa (*#%#* expletive deleted).” Nice girl. All of this fun eventually led to my being poured into a Yu-Long taxi for my first of many drunken rides up the hill.
On day two, Cincotta was off duty and decided that it was high time that I went to Johnny’s New Life Hotel in Peitou. I’ve got to admit that this place beat the hell out of Gaggy, Snaith, Dirty Dan, and Uncle Harry! It was at the end of a row of hotels that catered mainly to Japanese businessmen. We drank Taiwan beer (it only came in quarts) and had quite a party. It was a night like none I had ever experienced. We took a break sometime that night for a hot spring bath that Peitou is noted for. I had such a good time that I had trouble standing up straight the next morning. I still remember the price—750 NT or $18.75 American.
On day 3, I reported for work.
On a mid-watch one night, some of us with “time on the ROC” were lamenting the tendency of every NUG to, on their first trip down the hill, get off the bus, walk into the first club they saw,—usually the China Night—fall instantly in love and be rooted to the spot for the first month or so. We decided that they needed to be introduced to the pleasures of the island and that the best way to do this was an initiation that required them to visit every club that we could name at least once during their first month on the island. We spent the rest of the watch coming up with a list of every club any of us knew, all 44 of them. We had all of the Linkou Navy hangouts, all of the back-alley places, all of businessman’s row, the row of four clubs around the corner from the compound (across the side street from where so many of had jackets made by the tailor shop on the corner), and at least one Japanese businessman club. The initiation was this: the NUG was given a list with a blank beside the club’s name that had to be signed by a club girl in each of the 44 clubs. When we were sure that the list was complete (as complete as we could make it), some idiot—I believe it was Don Price—decided that we, having so much time on the ROC, should be to able to do it in one night.
The night began where all good nights began, at the King’s Club, with everyone agreeing to have one drink (remember how small those glasses were) in each club. Before I had gotten my first Scotch (Long John was the standard bar Scotch), a couple of guys were ready to go. They were ordering ice and splashing some Ooh Mei Jiou over it and heading for the next club. I don’t remember how I kept up but we lost a number of guys along the way to the GiGi Club, number 40 on the list. Why would I remember the GiGi Club, a club I only went into once? They had a great time with my list and one of the girls kept it. The home stretch was the four clubs in a row on the crossing street just around the corner from the compound. In the first club, one the survivors started giving me shit about losing my list and how no one was going believe that I’d made it to all 44 if I didn’t have the list. I even went back to the GiGi Club (ok, technically I went there twice) and tried to get my list back. They laughed and told me they didn’t know what I was talking about. Fompi! I continued running clubs and got more shit in the next bar only to reach the point where I was convinced that no one was going to believe that I had hit all 44–even if I did finish. I walked out of club number 42, went straight the curb, got in a cab, and said “Jienton.” I was told that one person actually had a drink in all 44 clubs. That didn’t help my hangover very much.
Just a few of the 44.
One of my roommates, Rich Cincotta, had an unusual ability for getting things into places where others thought they didn’t belong. Sometimes Rich, aka, the Red Header, made no effort to hide anything. A good example was the time when he brought a girl from the short-time house in the alley near the Imperial Club to the Air Force Christmas Party (this was the same guy who insisted upon putting up a Christmas tree in our Jientan apartment despite my complete apathy).
At other times, however, Rich resorted to smuggling—he was natural. I can remember when he told me that he was taking a tour of Hong Kong and Singapore that was organized by the Navy Hospital. I thought he was crazy—a single guy, Linkou Navy no less—going on a tour with a bunch of service wives. Sure we knew service wives existed but if they didn’t hang out at the King’s Club or the China Night or the Imperial, they might as well be back in the States. The trip sounded pretty tame for the Red Header. When he came back into the ROC, however, he smuggled in several copies of the ROC’s number one banned book—Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. I know it wasn’t his main reason for going but if you think it makes a better story you can believe that.
Banned books are one thing but I prefer someone who can smuggle raw odorous flesh into top-secret cryptographic facilities. The Operations Officer (Lt. Murphy), a day worker with the rank of Lt. Commander, had a desk facing almost directly into the ditty bopping work space and file cabinets behind the desk. I don’t remember the guy’s name but I do remember what Rich did to him.(Added comment, heard from Lt. Murphy about this incident, so we know it was him) On a weekend eve watch, Rich smuggled a fish that he had purchased in a street market into our highly secured, top-secret space—he put it in his pocket and walked through the gate. He then put the fish in the Ops Officer’s filing cabinet and opened the plastic bag containing it just enough to let the smell out (but not enough to make a mess)—in Rich’s words “a clean (but stinky) prank.” I’m told that by Monday morning the only thing that was obvious was the smell—and it took them a long time to find its source.
Our trips to Keelung always started at the Ships Movement Board in traffic analysis space on base. I think checking the Ships Movement Board was the Red Header’s, i.e., Rich Cincotta’s idea but whoever came up with it, it was a good idea. On the ships movement board the USS Pueblo was always shown to be in port in North Korea. The important thing from our standpoint, however, whether there were any American ships due into Keelung. You always planned Keelung skeds when there were no ships in. There was nothing better than running bars in Keelung when you were the only Americans in town. There might be a few merchant seamen in but those crews were so small that they didn’t create much competition.
I don’t remember how many Keeling trips I took—they all run together so this is not a story about one trip. I know I went several times because I remember making trips back to see the same girl (don’t remember the name but she is featured in a ‘before’ picture on this website). I do remember that my roomies; the Red Header and Glen, ‘Radar’ Nelson; were usually, maybe always along. From what was written on the back of one of the photos, a guy named George Kingston (I think he was day puke friend of Radar but I don’t really remember) went along at least once.
A Yu-long (i.e., a Datsun assembled in Taiwan) taxi would deliver you directly to the docks in Keelung. There was a small pier directly across what I remember as a very wide street from what was to become my favorite Keelung bar. I don’t remember the name but it was the one in which my ‘before’ picture on this website was taken. We usually shopped around and hit most of the bars, promising in every bar that we would come back when our friends found girls they liked and, being the honest type that I was, I always told the truth to one of the girls—whichever one took me to the Pacific Hotel. They always seemed to know her (whoever ‘her’ was) and the service was great. I never wanted to leave the Pacific.
Radar, on the other hand, says that he once made the mistake of going out late at night by himself in Keelung. He was stopped by a ROC soldier with an M16 who was asking him questions in broken English. Radar was drunk (that’s how we all remember him) and not the Chinese language scholar that the Red Header and I were. He studied Chinese at the China Night Club after his orientation at the OK Bar, instead of at Taipei American School (Taipei Mei-gwo Sywei-syau) like Rich and me. All he really understood was that the M16 was in the hands of a soldier who was becoming increasingly frustrated as he tried to talk to him. Radar eventually figured out, when the soldier pointed to his wallet, that he was asking for a passport. Radar showed him his military ID and the guy didn’t shoot him—being a pervert was not a crime.
On the return trips—this was also the Red Header’s idea—we took the regular Chinese bus. I think we coughed up a couple of NT$ (New Taiwan dollars) more and rode the express bus. The local made numerous stops between Keelung and Taipei. It was a lot cheaper than the taxi either way. I never rode it going to Keelung—I was usually in a hurry and I probably wouldn’t have known where to catch it anyway. In Keelung the bus station was, I think, by the docks. When we got back into Taipei, we still needed a taxi because we didn’t really know where we were.
After I was sent to the fleet, abroad the USS Orleck (DD-886), I was on a WestPac where the ship (built in 1945) was scheduled to go into Kaoshuing for minor repairs, go out on exercises in the Taiwan Straits for a week or so, and then put into Keelung. I imagined my triumphant return when I put in a chit to go on leave as soon as we hit Kaoshuing, to check in from leave and stand a day of duty in Keelung and then go back out on liberty for a couple of days. Everybody kept trying to talk me out of it by telling me stuff like I needed a passport (I didn’t—your military ID was good enough for the ROC) and that I’d be the last one to go on leave when we got to the States. I was due to get out shortly after we got back and anyway I never had as much fun in the States. When we did get back to San Diego, Cincotta was standing on the dock with a “Price is Short” sign—a double entente if there ever was one, some might argue a triple entente but I it wasn’t that short—I loved the navy so much that I started counting days in boot camp. They broke down and okayed my leave.
Halfway between Hong Kong and Kaoshuing the damn ship broke down and we limped into Subic for a three-week stay. Damn piece of junk is a floating museum in Orange, Texas (27 miles from where I now live–it was the last ship out of the Orange shipyard in WWII) but after what it did to my plans, I’ll be damned if I’m going to help them restore it.
I remember two great escapes and what they both have in common is Tom Sherman and Mike Sopchak, two guys who always seemed to be mentioned in the same breath. The first was an escape from the King’s Club. I heard that they tore the sink off the wall in the King’s Club bathroom—you really have to do something bad to get cussed out (for real) by King’s Club girls and have them call the Provost Marshall (PMO) on you.
Late at night, in downtown Taipei, all the slow moving traffic, carts and farm animals, would move from one side of the city to another. When Sherman and Sopchak came out of the King’s Club they spotted an old man who was moving his water buffalo across town. They somehow talked the old man, who spoke no English, into letting two crazy Americans ride his water buffalo to the next bar, the China Night. There are two things you need to remember about drunks riding a water buffalo: (1) you ride bareback and hold on with all fours and (2) since water buffalo cool off by wallowing in the mud, it becomes caked to their skin when dry. Our heroes arrived at the China Night with the front of their clothing completely black. Oh yeah, there is one other thing to remember. Be careful on the dismount. One of them, I think it was Sherman, fell on the pavement and broke his arm.
The night of the second great escape began at a ship-over party in the Prince Club. I’ve forgotten who was shipping over but it was a sufficiently rare event, despite the highest VRB in the navy, to cause someone to buy out the Prince Club for the several hours to celebrate. The Prince Club wasn’t one of the more popular places so they agreed to close the club for a private party for an agreed upon amount (maybe $150) where everyone was allowed to drink as much as they wanted. It quickly became clear to the owner that free drinks and Linkou Navy was a lethal combination. The executive officer was even drinking with us. The C. O. would have been there but he was off the island at the time. The guy running the club eventually cut us off early and the party moved to the Imperial Club. The Imperial Club was a popular spot but they weren’t as tolerant as the King’s Club. With people dancing on the bar, the exec among them, they called the PMO. Just as the PMO arrived, so did the drunken pair of Sherman and Sopchak, on a motorcycle which they promptly dumped in front of the paddy wagon. You guys know the routine—they took their IDs and put them in the back. Then they went inside to run in a good part of Linkou Navy. After some negotiation, the exec got them to agree to take him in for the whole command. They went outside and found the paddy wagon empty—they did not bother to lock the door. I guess they thought taking IDs was enough. It wasn’t. Later, that night when I was sitting in the China Night, the PMO came in and came straight to me—they knew all Linkou Navy on sight. “Have you seen Sherman and Sopchak?” “If you do, you tell them that they better turn themselves in. They’re in real trouble this time.” I don’t remember how much trouble they got into but as I remember punishment priorities on the ROC. Our base was Air Force but the admiral always told them, in matters of jurisdiction, that it was a navy island. The navy liked or tolerated Linkou Navy a lot better than the Air Force or Army. I wonder if the Air Force and Army guys had any fun at all.