As I sit here this evening listening to Santana’s Greatest hits on my vintage stereo system I’m inspired to write about the detour several of us took to the Island of Luzon in the Republic of the Philippines. About the second week of April 1971 a rumor started floating around that several CT’s were getting TAD orders for NSGD San Miguel, RPI for 6 months that would include a 3 month sojourn to Phu-Bai, Republic of South Viet Nam. The rumor turned into a reality when a list of about 30 Linkou CT’s came out with departure dates for Naval Communications Station San Miguel. Fortunately for me at the time, my name wasn’t on the list which was surprising as the majority of those on the list had arrived in Taiwan about the same time I had. This obvious ommission did not go unnoticed within Delta section. One member, Skinny Dan was on the list, not only did he out rank me, but he had considerably more time on the ROC than I. To make his situation worse, he was married and had just finalized arrangements to bring his wife over from the ‘world’. She would be arriving just in time to see Dan off on his TAD to the PI and beyond. She would have to adjust to Taiwan on her own. With some ‘gentle’ coaxing by the likes of Fat Gary I volunteered to take his place. Fat Gary was going also and he assured me that it would be ‘Ace’ as he would say about anything that would involve drinking and partying.
Before departing for the PI several of us had the opportunity to accompany Dan to Shung-Shan airport to greet his arriving wife one evening in late April 1971. The flight arrived on time, streams of American servicemen and dependent family members got off the plane and filed by us, but not Dan’s wife. After enduring my NUG pranks I was somewhat suspicious of my duty section mates and wondered if the Mrs. was a figment of their imagination. It turns out there was a spouse, but she decided she wasn’t coming to Taiwan, and left Dan off that memo. A few years ago I exchanged e-mails with Dan and he told me he got divorced and made a career of the Navy. Some time after his tour in Taiwan he got regular orders for San Miguel. He met a lovely Filipina and got married – now that’s irony.
So off we went to the PI. The best part of it for me, an E3 that was always broke, was the extra per diem pay, $180 up front. Some how I wound up partying all night in Taipei the night before my flight departed for Clark AFB and missed the last Liberty Bus back to Linkou. I Almost didn’t get back to Linkou in time to pack and catch my flight to Clark Air Base in the Philippines. As I jumped into a cab cursing the thought of having to pay the fare all way back to Linkou I heard a voice yelling to “wait”. Running out of the same establishment I had been in was Uncle Mike, also scheduled to be on the same flight as I. Amazing how geniuses think alike.
The PI was ‘Ace’ as Fat Man said. Much more forgiving to my wallet, but less sophisticated than Taipei. Yes, I would say we behaved with a certain level of sophistication while on the town in Taipei, as compared to the way we behaved at the Cross Roads outside the gates of NAVCOMSTA Phil. I recall walking into the UAC (Ugly American Club) one afternoon and did a double take of a table where two Linkou sailors were sitting with two Filipinas in various stages of disrobement; one of the girls had nothing but her underwear on. I noticed there were cards on the table; ah ha – strip poker game. In Taipei we would play Black Jack at the Kings Club bar and loose our money to one of the girls – much more sophisticated.
One of the “When in Rome, Do as the Romans” adventures that had to be taken while in the PI was a trip to the Subic Bay Naval Base and the city of Olongapo, which had the reputation of being the best Liberty Port in the Westpac. If you were there, you’d know what we’re talking about, if not……… well, you just had to be there.
Above: Some of the Linkou Navy contingent at Subic Bay.
One of the more humorous things I witnessed in the PI was at a little club called the “Blue Heavan” (I think). Lynn Hintergart, Linkou Alpha section, and I were having a cold San Miguel beer at a table, Lynn sitting across from me. A little Filipina girl about 12 years old was sneaking up behind Lynn. She had a huge hairy spider in her hand and she motioned for me to be quiet. She came up behind Lynn, pulled his shirt collar back, and dropped the spider in. Lynn started screaming like a little girl and ripped all the buttons off his shirt to get it off. So, Axe, getting a little cold water on you while taking a dump isn’t so bad.
My tour in the PI ended as abruptly as it started. A little less than 2 months into the 6 month assignment I received orders with about half our group to return to Shu Linkou.
The first group that went over were already in Phu-Bai waiting for the rest of us to relieve them after 3 months. That relief would never come and they got stuck for the full 6 months. Getting back to Taiwan was the good news. The bad news was that since I had received half my per diem pay in advance I had been overpaid by $64. I never gave it any thought since I had spent it all until I was told to pay it back in cash a few days after arriving back in Taiwan. That was an awkward moment – “you want how much cash?”
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.
When Joe Prisk was getting ready to leave Taiwan (late June) he wanted to go out big. So one day he and I went into the city (Where it was off limits) and he went about buying a bomb. Now this “Bomb” came in a large box about the size of 5 pizza boxes stacked on top of each other. The plan was to go back to the Kings club and set this bomb off. We got to the Kings club and Joe found a ladder. We went outside to the Sign that hung on the building. Joe took the bomb, which was a smaller box inside the big box and tied it to the sign. Coming out from the bomb were rows and rows of firecrackers. Each firecracker was about the size of an M-80. There were 2 streamers of these firecrackers coming out of the bomb. So Joe took one end and I took the other and we walked away from each other until they were totally spread out. Now you have to picture this. Here is Joe about 30-40 feet away from me and between us is this streamer of firecrackers going up into this bomb hanging from the sign. At the same time we each lit our ends and these firecrackers start exploding. There is paper everywhere as they start moving up the streamer on their way to the bomb. By the time the firecrackers have been exploding for about 5 minutes we have a total crowd around us on the side walk. Everyone came out of the clubs as well since the noise was unbelievable. I swear it took almost 10 minutes of exploding before each end went up into the “bomb”. As they both went into it, it took about 30-45 seconds and then the bomb exploded. It had to have been about a stick of dynamite. The sign on the Kings club started swaying back and forth, but it ended up staying on the building. I know that Joe was a little disappointed that it didn’t get blown off the building. Paper was EVERYWHERE. We had to have had 200 people watching us blow this thing off. Cars were stopping in the street and if you remember the Kings club it was right at the main intersection of the main drag of Taipei. The time was about dusk, so it wasn’t dark yet. It was great. I will never forget that experience. Here I was less than a month on the rock and damn near blew a sign off a building. We didn’t get in any trouble and even the cops were there watching it. I knew then that I was in a place that we could party hardy and not worry to much about it. Thanks Joe for the memories. Hopefully he reads this sometime.
There were at least a few of us, maybe more, that didn’t want to leave Taiwan at the end of our tours, such as Jim Gage. But definitely only a few that went to his extremes. Another, Paul Harbour just didn’t get on his flight out. Paul was in Alpha section and there was a going away sked for him the night before he was to leave, I believe late summer of 1971. A few days after his plane departed he was found sitting at the Kings Club Bar one afternoon. When asked what happened, “are you sick, missed your flight or did it get canceled, or what?” his response was “I just didn’t get on it.” OK, yeah, we see that, but why? Paul said he just liked it there in Taipei and he planned on staying until his money ran our or the Navy caught up with him. A rumor floated around years later that Paul eventually returned to Taipei in civilian life and opened a Club. Maybe just a folk story, but I always hoped it was true. I saw a post on a Navy web site a few years ago that indicated Chief “Dirty Dan” Burns retired in the Philippines. I made a 3 week trip back to Taiwan in 2011. One afternoon I went up into the northern suburbs of Taipei, past Jiantan, Shilin, and Beitou out to the Pacific coast town of Danshui. While walking along the river I passed an American my age that headed into a place called Donavan’s. (See Photo). Not a Chinese name, and the American didn’t resemble Paul at all, but still I wondered, maybe, just maybe.