The following posts are a sampling of what we lucky few experienced on the island of Taiwan, Republic of China. There are too many stories to be told here, some can’t be told here, and some shouldn’t be told here (although Don Price has pushed the envelope). It’s interesting how the human mind recalls events from our distant past, not so much with respect to a specific day, month, year, but the sensory details; what we saw, heard, smelled, touched, and the emotions we felt. Some will say these are exaggerations from sailors whose memories are clouded by too much alcohol, and are known prevaricators of the truth. Keep in mind that these stories come from men that over 40 years ago were given Top Secret security clearances by the NSA because of their trustworthiness, high integrity, superior moral character, and ……….. well maybe not that last one, but you get the picture. As the post credits to many movies say “this story is based on actual events”. The only difference here is that names have not been changed to protect the guilty.
An attempt has been made to arrange these stories in an order that was chronologically followed by young men that experienced a 15 month tour of duty at Shu Linkou. You might think that the first event experienced by an enlisted serviceman arriving at an overseas shore station would be related to that base’s specific military mission and their work assignment. Not so in our case. Within a few hours of first arriving in the Republic of China we were taken under someone’s wing on a Liberty bus down a winding mountain road, across flat lands surrounded by rice paddies, over the Tam-shui River and into a strange city called Taipei to experience leisure time activities instead of work. There was a feeling of excitement along with some anxiety over what awaited us on that first visit. It would be natural to be apprehensive about this strange place; strange sights, strange smells, strange food, strange women ……… we couldn’t wait to get there!
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.
This story is a composite of the first few trips down the hill. I don’t have a clear recollection of the chronological order in which they happened, or if certain events happened on the same sked or different ones. This isn’t because I’m getting old, (I am) it’s because we were always hammered. I have clearer recollections of events that happened at work, when we only had a mild buzz on.
I arrived February 21st, 1971. I came in on a Northwest Orient MAC flight with a few other Navy guys and a bunch of Zoomies (Airmen) that filled the bus that picked us up at ShungShan Airport. I recall our Commanding Officer, CMDR Edwin Stein being there to greet us. There was a Zoomie SSGT on the bus that was acting as a tour guide on the way up the hill. He was coming back for his 2nd or 3rd tour, and it was obvious he had run the Taipei clubs. He pointed out a few Clubs on the way up the hill with such passion that I wanted to get off the bus right there. We pulled into Shu Linkou AS in front of the NCO club and another Zoomie SGT got on and gave directions for checking in, finishing his welcome aboard address with directions to stay on the base until we were all checked in which would take a few days. I was bummed. The Zoomies got off, but he told the Navy personnel to stay on. The bus took us around to the Navy Barracks where CT2 Pee Wee got on board. Pee Wee was a tall thin African-American that wore his hair in a huge afro with his hat seemingly pinned to the top of it not coming in contact with his skull. He welcomed us aboard, told us to take our time checking in, and have a good time. When I asked him about being restricted to the base until we got checked in, he said “Shiiiiit No man! That’s for the Zoomies. Go on downtown and get aquantied.” This was my first indication that “NSGA Taiwan” was going to be more like McHale’s Navy than the US Navy.
PeeWee advised going down with someone that could show me around and get me back. I ran into a few guys that I knew from NCTC Pensacola “A” school and tried to find someone to take me downtown. The few guys I knew were either working or broke, so I talked a guy named Gus (real name was Carl but I can’t remember his last name) into showing me around if I bought the beers. The first place he took me was the China Night. I was greeted by the girl sitting on Paul Harbours knee in the picture at the end of this post; “Delta Sked – China Night”. I think her name was Julie. She asked me the usual new guy stuff. “What’s your name, branch of service, and where stationed?” I was awe struck with the mini skirt and those legs, and was half paying attention to the line of questions. When I told her I was at Linkou she said “Oh Really” except, to me, it sounded like “Are you ready?” Maybe that’s what I wanted to hear, but as it turned out she wasn’t.
On my second trip into Taipei I was escorted by my roommate, Gary ‘snake’ Snaith, who I had just met. The liberty bus dropped us off near one of the main intersections of Taipei; Chung-shan North Rd, and Min-chuan Rd. near the Florida Bakery and OK Bar. It was around 7 pm. After crossing to the west side of Chung-Shan North Road from the liberty bus stop Gary stopped in front of a leather goods shop. He was telling me the guys that run this shop make really good quality leather goods, boots, belts, vests, etc. He said he wanted to take a look to see if there was anything new in the window. The shop had a recessed doorway off the main sidewalk giving the shop a lot of display-window space. The recess between the show-windows was wide and there were several bicycles parked there. One of the main modes of transportation in Taiwan was the bicycle. I was minding my business looking at the leather goods on display and converting the price tags to US dollars. It was fairly easy, as the US dollar equaled 40 NT (New Taiwanese) Dollars.
As I was thinking this stuff isn’t that cheap, I don’t anticipate buying any boots in the near future on my E-3 pay, I noticed Gary out of the corner of my eye giving the row of parked bicycles a swift kick knocking them all down like falling dominoes, and then he ran North on Chung-Shan Rd. The falling bikes made a loud clatter which caught the attention of about 4 or 5 Chinese men inside the shop. Of course when they looked out the doorway I was the only one standing there. They came charging out at me yelling in Chinese. My first reaction was to run, as I had no idea if I would be able to explain to them who did the damage. I took off in the same direction Gary had. Once out on the sidewalk and heading north I had already lost sight of Gary and I could hear several sets of footsteps running behind me. Within a few steps there was a narrow street off to my left where I caught site of Gary running like a madman. I made a quick left and sprinted down that street and followed Gary down an even narrower alley. Gary jumped into a darkened doorway that led up a narrow flight of stairs to a landing and dark hallway. It was an old building. There were doorways along the dimly lit hallway and you could hear an occasional voice speaking in Chinese. Gary motioned for me to be quiet. Apparently we were in an apartment building. We didn’t know if we lost our pursuers. Gary pulled open some heavy curtains or drapes that hung along the hallway and discovered a small room, not much bigger than a closet. Inside there was a small bed and someone’s personal belongings. Gary went in and motioned for me to come in also and then closed the drapes. He whispered that we should hide out here for a few minutes to make sure the guys from the leather shop weren’t still looking for us. I looked at him like he was nuts, what if the person that lives here comes in and finds us. I shook my head and quietly left the same way we had come in. I slowly stuck my head out the doorway into the alley and didn’t see anyone. Gary followed me and I asked him what the hell was wrong with him? He just laughed. “Where to now?”, I asked him, not really wanting to go anywhere with him, but I was totally lost in this dark alley.
He never explained why he did it, just that it was one hell of an adrenalin rush, which I didn’t care for all that much. When we got back to the narrow street that runs off Chung-Shan North Rd. he turned left instead of heading back to the main drag. There were a few smaller clubs on this street and we went in one, I think it was the Queen’s Club. We ordered a mixed drink. Each club in Taipei had rock glasses with the club logo on them. Before we had finished our drinks Gary suggested we leave. He said to take the glasses, they’re souvenirs.
When we got back out on the side street Gary said he was trying to collect a rock glass from every club in Taipei and he didn’t have this one yet. At about that point the military PMO squad was walking up the street. The PMO is like the Navy Shore Patrol, but here it was a four man crew, one US Sailor, one US Airman, one US Soldier, and one Chinese Military Policeman. They were approaching us from the direction of the leather goods store; probably called by the proprietor to complain about us. They stopped us because of the glasses. You’re not supposed to be drinking on the street, and you’re not supposed to be “stealing” them from the clubs. They made us dump the drinks and took the glasses from us. I was grateful that they let it go at that. I wasn’t back in town for half an hour and this snake I was with had put me at risk of getting “run-in” with the local authorities twice. We took another narrow side street heading south that led to Min-chuan West Rd.
The next stop was the Kings Club, which was probably a different night because everyone was there, so it must have been after payday. The Kings Club girls were different as it was about the only club where you weren’t greeted as a valued customer. In fact you could usually count on being insulted. I was given the usual new guy 3rd degree but with far less tact. She wasn’t at all interested in my name so she didn’t ask. It was a simple “You’re new, Are you Navy?” I said yes. She looked at who I came in with and asked “Are you Linkou Navy?”. With pride I said yes, to which she responded “Linkou Navy sucks!” and walked away.
Delta Section was celebrating the departure of CT1 ‘Wally’ Wallace, one of Fatman’s buddies. A former Linkou Navy named Tom Cribbs was back on the ROC visiting his former Bravo Section buddies including Larry Johnson and Steve Carpener at the Kings Club that night. For some reason Fatman felt that the Bravo Section reunion for Tom Cribbs was interfering with Wally’s farewell ‘sked’. Words were exchanged and Fatman decided to get into it with Cribbs. Gary was at the end of the bar closest to the door and Cribbs was up toward the unisex bathroom. Sitting between them at the bar were a mixed bunch of Linkou Navy. One of them, Steve Carpenter I think, had the enviable talent of being able to puke any time he felt like it. It really impressed the girls. As Fatman was charging up the aisle to crack Cribbs, Carpenter upchucked on the floor just ahead of him. Fatman had his fist cocked and was just letting loose with a viscious right cross when he slipped on the barf and went down smashing his knuckles on the floor. I think he broke it, his hand, not the floor. All the Kings Club girls seemed to be having a great time and enjoying the show. I was thinking this is nuts, I’ve got to get out of here. I had gotten in a little AWOL trouble at Pensacola (another story), stood a mast, and didn’t want to risk any more problems. As I was about to leave one of the girls told me I was a chicken shit. So I stuck around. Next thing I know someone yells out “Anyone that can’t tap dance on the bar is queer.” I’m not the quickest guy after a few beers, so before I had a chance to get clarification on that last announcement I realized I was the only one on the floor. Everyone else was tap dancing on the bar, so up I went, wondering why Papa San Johnny wan’t mad. I guess it wasn’t his bar. Man, what a three ring circus we could create.
Afterwards Larry Tinker asked Fatman why he went after Cribbs. Gary said “Cribbs had his time (on the ROC), and his time was gone.” Our time on the ROC was sacred.
Linkou Navy Delta Sked in front of the China Night.
“Get some time on the ROC!” was one of Dennis Bass’ favorite retorts. Well everyone of us was a NUG at some point. And until someone else came along to take your place, it seemed that you would never get enough time and would continue to be the victim of some creative practical jokes. I arrived on the ROC in Feb of 1971.
I think I was also the victim of the more elaborate EMHO Log pranks. Ron Fulcher assigned me to take the EMHO log to every intercept operator in the house about 0300 one mid watch. This included NSA, ASA, and Zoomie positions. In addition to having each operator record wave-length and band width, (which seemed to vary between 6″ x 1″ and 8″ x 2″) they would describe their contact in terms such as throbbing, and pulsing. I was also directed to calculate the average frequency for every R390A receiver in the joint, which was quite a few. Now keep in mind that was 1971, when the closest thing to an electronic calculator around was the Chinese abacus Chou Di-Di used to tally up beers tossed during the deusch parties at the Kings Club. The final assignment I was given was to have the EMHO Log signed and approved by the ranking officer of the watch. This happened to be a very stern looking Lt. WAF (female officer), who seemed pretty annoyed at my request for her autograph. “Sorry, Just following orders Ma’m”.
On another watch I was told to go around the section and take donut orders. “Donut orders?” I asked. Yeah, donut orders, you know plain, glazed, jelly filled, Boston cream. Many of the crew were bewildered with my request “what kind of donuts do you want?”. But I took their orders just the same. I went to the security shack and waited……, waited….., waited……… Finally the Air Force Security guard asked me why I was hanging around and I told him I was waiting for the donut truck. He said he never heard of such a thing. Busted again. There is a story of a NUG actually coming back to the watch section with donuts.
My butt was set on fire at least once, my ball cap’s brim folded in half and stapled together, with holes punched in it.
The only time I got even was when a higher ranking member of the section ‘ordered’ me to make coffee. I didn’t drink coffee at the time and saw no reason why I should make it. But, I followed orders and made the worst batch of coffee anyone had ever tasted. I wasn’t allowed to make coffee again.
Instead of relating a story or specific episode, I would simply like to do a memory flash back of an unforgettable friend. Most of the guys on this website will remember him. Most of you skedded with him. Anbd I can say without any reservation that most of you liked him. He was known as Panza, Fat Man, or simply Gary. To the best of my recolection he arrived on the ROC around late summer or early fall of 1970. I think that Dennis “Pennis” Bass, Dennis “Smoking Penis” Griffin, Ron “Ras” Rasmussen, and myself had just been transferred to Delta from Charlie section so that the basketball team could all be in the same section. My first impression of him was not favorable. He was loud, arrogant, and presumptuous. He acted as if had been on the ROC longer than anyone. Being a 1st Class, he didn’t even get the traditional “Get some time on the ROC” from Dennis Bass. Of course, it didn’t take long to realize that all these negative attributes didn’t apply to the “Fat Man”. He was simply being Gary. Delta section at this time (to the best of my fading memory) consisted of Penis, Smoke, Ras, myself, plus Gary “Seb” Sebranek, Denny “The Kid” Haley, Doug “Pete” Peterson, Doug King, Carl “Georgie” Wallace, Greg “Groucho” Ardire (this guy really looked like Groucho Marx, and he hated the nickname.) and “Wally” Wallace, 1st Class. I’m not sure if Ron Fulcher, 2nd Class, had arrived yet. This is the section that would, in the winter of 1970, comprise the cast of that famous, (or infamous) episode in Linkou Navy history, “The Great Sad Buddha Sacrilegious, Glad We Weren’t Arrested, Boat Race.” (That story follows this one, make sure you read it.) Like all sections, some guys skedded more than others and Delta was no exception, but Gary skedded with anyone and everyone. I’ve seen mean skedders, destructive skedders, very active tap dancing skedders, cry-in-your-beer skedders, ball-sucking skedders (usually reserved for the USAF), but “Fat Man” was a happy skedder. His personality and appearance would have it no other way. People smiled when he walked by. Little kids would follow him. Club girls gleefuylly yelled his name when he entered a club. (They never yelled my name.) And they loved him. Jim Valkwitch says that he wished he had kept a journal. I agree, Jim. The next best thing is of course, pictrures. And although I didn’t save money, buy stereo gear, of ship home Oriental furniture, I did buy a $20 Olympus half-frame camera (at the urging of Larry Johnson and Steve Carpenter). And I proceeded to take many slides. The images that I have very recently relived have brought a great deal of joy to me. With this Ihave also discovered that a great deal of the images captured were images of Gary Hughes. It was easy to take pictures of him because it was as if he were always posing. He loved life, and it showed, and he was an easy target. So f you see pictures from me on the website, be prepared t view the “Fat Man”. Coming off a mid watch, the routine was to get a room at the King’s Hotel and make the King’s Club our base of operations. Of course the King’s Club was home. We would run the bars, periodically checking in at the King’s until we couldn’t go anymore. Then sleep for a few hours and start again. I loved skedding off a mid. I ran the clubs with “Fat Man” from Fall of 1970 until he left TAD to Vietnam with Ron Anderson, Jim Valkwitch,Chuck Fredrick, Rodger Olson, and others. I saw him off at the airport that day and told him that I would see him later. He said that I wouldn’t and he was right. So here’s to you, Gary, I raise my beer in a Linkou salute to you remembering all the great times we had. And if by chance you should discover this website, I’m sure that there are some choice stories that you could share with us all.
Tink and Fat Man
One mid watch while seating around with little to do, but cause havoc, someone came up with an idea to lock our seats together and become a rowing team that rowed around the spaces as if we were going down a river. I remember Harry Hobbs was the guy with his hat on backgrounds and a drinking cup with the bottom out of it so that he could yell STROKE, STROKE over and over again. We started in the NSA area rowing around and you just knew we had to share this with our Zoomie friends. Well a couple of minutes later we took off to their area and proceeded to row up and down all of their stations a couple of times. Then it was off to the army and do the same thing to them. Then back to our area. I would think all total we were rowing for well over 30 minutes around the whole building. But it doesn’t end there. Because of the success of this activity several months later the “Rowing Team” was altered to include Chuck Fredricks as Santa and the rest of us as elves and we starting throwing Christmas packages (bags of shredding) to all of zoomies on the way by. The thing I remember the most about both of these incidents are the fact that we never even got talked to from someone. It just goes to show you the great group we had on the Rock including most of the officers, etc.
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.