Memories of Subic Bay and Olongapo,
By: Dave Taylor... .... Time Period of 1944 - 1945
My memories in and of Subic Bay and Olongapo / Luzon Philippines, begins I suppose with my arrival at the Naval Advance Base ship repair facility at San Bruno, California about October of 1944 where I was attached to a unit designated as E6-15. Here we were housed and trained in what had been a horse racing track and our quarters were, for a time in the horse stalls vacated by the horses.
Our Navy blues, white hats, white and blue uniforms, shiny black shoes all were sent home, they were replaced with drab green clothing similar to that worn by the Navy CBs. Helmets, packs, carbines, pith helmets, (few ever wore them) and every sixth man or so got a machete, I often wished I'd gotten a machete as they traded well in the Philippines.
Their were many many of these regular Naval Advance Base units sent to the Pacific Islands, all had peculiar names or designations such as E6-15, Lion-S, Cub-6. etc. I'm sure that these units were all thought by others to be CB units, much to the chagrin I think of the CBs themselves; I believe all of these units were disbanded after the war and most unknown and forgotten.
As our training concluded after probably not more than a month in which I believe we learned not much at all, we were given a ten day Pre-embarkation leave. After a three day train ride home I was met by my father who had in his possession a telegram instructing me to return to California at once, my father asked what I was going to do and I said, I will stay home for the remainder of my leave and return as my leave indicated, my father surprisingly agreed.
On returning to San Bruno I found that of the four or five hundred of us, only about thirty men had ignored the telegram and the rest of the unit was already aboard ship. It was at this time that we late arrivers were issued all the new equipment which included the carbine covered with grease which we had to clean immediately, and within days we would be aboard ship without ever having fired or had any familiarity with this rifle.
About Dec. 29, 1944, we were loaded aboard trucks and while traveling to San Francisco, our last hurrah was held by several men who began shooting out of the rear of the truck as we passed through the countryside, this alarmed the woman driver who threatened to report the wild behavior, nothing came of it of course. We went aboard the S.S. Exeria, a United Fruit ship converted to carry troops, of course at that time we had no idea we were about to spend a month aboard this ship; the only entertainment would be chow time when we would bring our tray to the table and stand while we ate because their were no chairs and we could watch an occasional cockroach run for it's life across the table.
After a week or more, some of the men discovered a method of washing their clothes, it involved tying the clothes to a long rope and dropping them over the side of the ship, letting the wake and speed of the ship through the water clean them. Often the clothes would break free of the rope and were lost, it was not too long before an order was made forbidding that method of laundering, the reasoning being that the clothes might be found by Japanese vessels.
Occasionally some of us were assigned guard duty, I recall being assigned on at least one night to guard the rear of the ships fantail with a 38 revolver on my side to indicate my authority; what I was supposed to guard is still a mystery unless I was supposed to shoot any sailor that was intending to jump overboard to commit suicide.
The bunks were constructed in the ships holds 8 bunks high, made of canvas and the rows of them only about 2 feet apart; in order to climb to the higher bunks one had to alternately step on a bunk on each side as you ascended, many was the unfortunate man who fell from the upper bunks, happy campers they were not.
We left San Francisco on December 30, 1944 without a convoy as the ship traveled better than 21 knots and it was thought to be able to outrun any submarine, (so they said). We arrived at Pearl Harbor on January 5th 1945 and left Pearl Harbor on January 10, 1945 en route to Eniwetok in the Marshal Islands with only one destroyer as escort; arriving off Eniwetok about January 17,1945.
DAVE IN OLONGAPO ON HIS 18th BIRTHDAY
The Marshal Islands were secured from the Japanese by American forces on February 21 of 1944 and had become so covered with supplies and equipment by the time we arrived, it is surprising it didn't sink into the sea. It was very flat and dry with few trees or foliage remaining. Most, if not all of the men aboard ship had an opportunity to go ashore for a day on Eniwetok, and many a can of peaches were stolen, consumed or returned with the men to the ship.
Myself and two other buddies stayed together while on the Island and the only recreation we had was the opportunity to walk on solid ground for a few hours and go for a swim, which the three of us did for an hour or so. At one point while in neck deep water we decided to quit and go ashore, my two buddies swam for the beach and I who cannot swim above water dove under and also swam toward the beach; when I figured I was close enough to the beach I surfaced and then found there was no bottom. I started yelling for my pals who figured this was a big joke on my part, and stood on the beach laughing until I started to go under, at which time they swam out and did the rescue, I had swam unknowingly over a bomb crater which created a very deep hole.
We left the Marshal Islands on January 19, 1945 in the company of at least six destroyers and a relatively large convoy which traveled at a much slower rate than we had earlier. It was rumored at this time that we were heading for Lingayen Gulf, which meant nothing to us as up to this time we had no idea of our ultimate destination, much less where Lingayen Gulf was.
As we moved through the mid Pacific waters the temperatures below deck in the holds became unbearable, most of the men would attempt to sleep on deck where it was a lot cooler and the only cushion available of course were the May West life preservers we were all required to keep with us at all times. Most men had a particular personal sleeping spot they used regularly, a lucky few had staked out a life raft as their own and could get quite angry if someone else got it ahead of them, otherwise we all slept on the steel deck with the May West life preserver for a pillow.
We arrived somewhere in Leyte on January 25, 1945, and I believe we left under cover of darkness the next evening; in all probability we were still heading for Lingayen Gulf at that time, but was diverted to Subic Bay when the Lingayen Gulf landings were determined to be not as difficult as had been anticipated. We traveled at a very slow pace and converged with an American A.P .D. which passed lines to us with a metal canister attached, as we continued under way. According to my journal we left Leyte on January 26th, and didn't arrive at Subic Bay until February 2, 1945. I presume we must have been left in limbo while it was decided what to do with us, surely it does not normally take seven days to travel from Leyte to Subic Bay. My journal does indicate our arrival date of February 2, 1945 just three weeks short of my 18th birthday, but according to some letters I had written home from Olongapo, their is some indication that we were ashore in Olongapo on February 2, 1945.
As we approached the left side of Grande Island a small tug boat dragged what I presumed to be a submarine net into the clear so that we could pass, I've always wondered how the American forces were able to either install or capture intact the Japanese net or cable equipment in order to protect the channel as Olongapo did not fall until January 30th just two or three days before our arrival. Grande Island stands at the entrance to the Bay with a deep water channel on the left of the island as you enter and to the right a very wide channel, but so shallow that (as I remember it) only small boats could pass through.
Over the next ten months I was to travel over that shallow side many times while operating landing craft of one kind or another. The navy could not teach me to swim, and I frequently operated boats out of Subic Bay always on the shallow side, (didn't want to bottom out too far from shore and sink) so I would run the boat as close to Grande Island as possible and frequently the struts protecting the propellers would bounce along the bottom, the water so clear at that time it was difficult to tell the depth.
We had to disembark down the side of the ship on cargo nets into landing craft, (never did that before), the boats were riding up and down in the sea swells so I decided to jump the last 5 feet loaded with all my equipment, hit the deck and thought I had broken my back, god did that hurt, I stood with my back leaning against the side of the boat all the way to the shore.
When we arrived ashore at Olongapo the area had been cleared and a Navy CB unit had preceded us and set up a field kitchen and refused to feed us, (said we could eat C-rations). It was noted that the field kitchen was designated E6-15, a civil war was avoided and they fed us.
The Philipino's gave us the Winston Churchill victory sign with the two fmgers and the children wearing only a T shirt yelling victory Joe. As we finished eating it was not uncommon in those early days to see a Philipino taking left over food from the garbage barrel. I met Bayony, a boy of about 15 years of age shortly after our arrival ashore, he was accompanied by a friend a bit younger than he, this friend had a terribly enlarged stomach; Bayony informed me that his friend had been suspected of running messages for the Philipino Gorillas and the Japanese forced water into his stomach to make him talk, I never saw that boy again and often wondered what happened to him.
Elie, my Philipino Gorilla acquaintance and friend, later confirmed that both boys had worked with the Gorilla's. I became very well acquainted with Bayony over the next months and he became my laundry boy who took my laundry to his mother to be washed, I do not recall how much I paid him but his family did my wash for the entire time I was in Olongapo, even cutting a pair of navy white pants I had into a pair of shorts, I believe that made me the only sailor with white shorts in Olongapo.
While still living in tents Bayony came and asked me to come to his home which was in a small village (forgot the name) but is located today, where the new Olongapo eventually was built, his home was much larger than most and was actually about six feet above ground.
When we entered the home their were several people there, and a girl sitting at a table by a window, Bayony introduced me to the girl as his sister and I sat down across the table from her, when I looked around the room everybody had disappeared including Bayony. The girl and I talked for awhile and after some time she asked how old I was, I said 18 but she wouldn't believe me, I then gave her my ID card and she began to yell "Baby, Baby. Baby," the room suddenly erupted with people.
Bayony and I then walked back to the base together, he was very subdued and I couldn't get an answer from him as to what this was all about. I was pretty sure I knew, just couldn't understand why she thought I was too young. Other than Bayony, my Gorilla friend Elie was the only Philipino that I became particularly friendly with while in Olongapo, and the local Philipino headquarters was almost direcly across the dirt road from Bayony's home.
Frequently when accompanying Elie he would enter the Philipino Headquarters but always told me to stay outside; the front of the place appeared to have more armed men standing around the front of it than General MacArthures headquarters probably had. As I recall, the last time Elie and I went to the Gorilla headquarters he had just been promoted to sergeant and was quite proud of himself, he went inside and quickly came back out. He said it was OK for me to come inside and as I glanced at the group of men in front of the door who were all looking at us, I declined.
I know I was apprehensive being the lone American among so many armed men and Elie appeared disappointed. Thinking back on the incident, it is possible that I missed out on making some friends among those men. It was a very special thing for them to invite me into their world, and because of my declining their invitation I may even have offended them. On the other hand, it was always difficult to tell their reaction to people not there own, It was not uncommon for Gorilla groups to be unable to even get along with each other.
I thought that Olongapo had little of value left as a usable Naval base and the only remnant of the Japanese was the machine gun emplacements dug into the earth and bordered with coconut logs, all facing the shoreline. We lived in tents and had the usual camp cots familiar to most service people of the era, can't remember a mattress while living in a tent though.
Most of the later occupants of Subic Bay and Olongapo probably are unaware of the very fierce and terrible battle losses that the American forces took only a few miles beyond on Zig Zag Pass, (Route #7) the only direct access to Manila 80 miles away. According to some historical sources, "General Charles P. Hall's troops captured Olongapo without too much difficulty, but at Zig Zag Pass ran into heavy Japanese opposition, the Americans suffered a severe loss of men, Officers and NCO's with little gain and was withdrawn, it's commander relieved and replaced with General Chase.
At fIrst he also had difficulty in clearing the pass but with additional forces and air support Zig Zag was finally cleared; " there is probably little doubt that the battle for Zig Zag pass should rank among those of the most bloody that took place in the recapture of Luzon: From my own observation, small groups of American soldiers continued to be encountered on the Pass for some time thereafter.
Only three or four miles up Zig Zag pass from Olongapo, months after it was cleared; Japanese tanks, mortar detonators, ammunition and body parts were still to be found laying about, off what was then just a dirt road, and the smell still very offensive.
It seemed to me that it took pretty near a month before the Navy units and CB's could get organized enough with the supplies and necessary equipment to begin to rebuild Olongapo and during that interim, many of us were, what might be referred to as rather free agents, we came and went as we pleased, several times spending unauthorized time on Zig Zag.
On one occasion, a buddy (Nemeth) & I managed to hitch a ride on a truck heading up the pass shortly after Zig Zag was cleared, we were dressed for the event and had our carbines, helmets, cartridge belts etc. We jumped off the truck on the first sharp curve to the left as the truck slowed to shift gears for the climb at the beginning of Zig Zag. To the left of the road was an area pretty well cleared where a destroyed Jap tank had been positioned so as to present a field of fire on anything coming up to and beyond the curve.
Nemeth and I began our explorations of the area off to the rear of the tank, and hidden by brush their were bodies that had not been buried and body parts among abandoned Japanese military hardware. While investigating a destroyed truck at the bottom of a ravine we heard someone yell "what the #$@% are you guys doing down there, are you trying to get killed, get the hell up out of there".
As I recall he was an Army sergeant and he and several other soldiers were occupying a tent or some kind of shelter, we spent the rest of the day with them, as they searched an area that they thought might have been disturbed by scattered Japanese scavenging for food during the night. I presume that after the Zig Zag and Route #7 was cleared, the 38th Division, or other involved units probably left small groups of soldiers along the road to protect it and those I met were likely among them.
My buddy and I walked back to Olongapo that night but we went back again and later did get a ride to Manila and Cavite, but remember little of it. I was attached to the Advanced Base Unit E6-15 while at Subic and operated LCVP and LCM landing craft for a boat pool supplying equipment and transporting people to and from ships in the Bay as well as other ground locations within the Bay and up the coast of Luzon.
On one such trip, several miles up the coast under the direction of a Navy Lieutenant with half dozen armed men, whom all went ashore to what appeared to be a relatively large town which I remember as being referred to as Baton or Moron?? , they were not gone long as they came back in a hurry having been told there were Japanese still there. I rarely went ashore on these occasions as the landing craft had a habit of broaching if left unattended, so I generally stayed with the boat.
I remember being coerced on one occasion to run a LCVP load of several fellows across the inner Bay at Olongapo in the dead of night with one man hanging on the ramp at the bow with a battle lantern and the LCVP just putt putting along in the hope we wouldn't hit anything. We all finally disembarked to a small inland village consisting of a half dozen thatch, bamboo huts, all occupied by a female. While all my passengers were busy in the huts I sat on a tree stump outside and a young girl approached me saying "what bout you, what bout you" I said I was saving it for my girl back home, she broke into high pitch laughter, and seemed to think that was the biggest joke she had ever heard; in the meantime heads kept popping up in the widows of all the huts wondering what was going on outside.
I never provided that taxi service again. I lied to her, I didn't have a girl back home. While at Subic City with my buddy Nemeth, we heard some local gunfire and upon investigating we found an older Philipino man who was firing a bolt action springfield rifle into a pond, he was shooting at small fish and the shock of the bullets impact would stun the fish and he would pick them out, we decided to help him out but he didn't anticipate all the gunfire and asked us to stop. He did climb a coconut tree and toss a couple of coconuts down to us, watching a Philipino climb a coconut tree barefooted and without a rope is a sight to see.
Another method of bum boat fishing by the locals was to toss a hand grenade into the water whereby the fish would be either killed or stunned and they would collect them. Nemeth was frequently coming up with new adventures and on another occasion I took an LCM out of Subic Bay on the shallow left side, and traveled perhaps three or four miles up the coast and under Nemeth's direction I turned into what appeared to be a rather small cove. Upon entering, it opened into a quite large beautiful jungle enveloped area, the water clear and as calm as a windless lake; I beached the LCM firmly and dropped the ramp. I felt the boat was well secured, so we left it and walked a trail for about 20 minutes and arrived at what I remember as a contingent of American soldiers, none of which were concerned or curious about our presence.
At one area they had set up a target range and Nemeth using his 1911- 45 automatic which he had brought from home, emptied it of all the ammunition he had, I did likewise with my carbine. Nemeth then inquired as to where to get more ammunition and we were directed to a tent close by, we both refiled clips and soon after left the area. At the time I had no idea as to who those soldiers were, but later learned they were members of the 6th Ranger Battalion, who, with the American Alamo Scouts and Filipino Gorilla's had made that dash through enemy Japanese lines to free 500 American and Filipino prisoners at Cabanatuan Prison on January 30, 1945, many of which were survivors of the so-called "Bataan Death March" in 1941.
My older brother was a gunners mate aboard the Cruiser U.S.S. Cleveland (55) which was attached to the 7th fleet as were we, and had just arrived from an area around Borneo. I had not seen him in over a year so I had a buddy take me out to the ship, as I came up the gangway and approached the O.D. and boatswain mate I asked where I might find my brother and was directed forward, I became the focus of curious attention and it finally occurred to me that I was completely out of place dressed as I was; no tee shirt, boots, green rumpled shirt tied at the waist, green shorts and socks that probably were a fugitive from soap and water and of course the green baseball cap.
My brother brought me below to the ships canteen, I couldn't believe what I was seeing, ice cream, and ice cream dishes of all kinds, candy, gum and miracle of miracles, mountains of cigarettes. I actually got an ice cream and several cartons of cigarettes that my brother managed to get for me because they were limited in the number even they could buy, (ashore we could only get three packs per week at 5 cents a pack, so it was good to have a non smoking buddy.
Many years later my brother told me that the O.D (Officer of the deck) told him that he should tell me to be better dressed when coming aboard the ship, can't imagine what that officer was thinking but those of us ashore didn't have any better clothes. Anyway I was a wealthy guy when I returned to Olongapo with my cigarettes.
Another time when I was about to go out to see my brother, my guerrilla acquaintance (Elie) showed up and wanted to go along, he carried his carbine with a broken hand guard, 45 automatic, knife and a string of cartridges over his chest like Poncho Villa of Mexico fame. I told him he wouldn't be allowed on board with all that hardware, he went somewhere to get rid of it and in the meantime I ducked down in the well of the LCVP and left in the boat, I didn't have the heart to tell him that their was no way they would let him aboard, armed or not.
On another occasion I reluctantly was instructed to take a Navy Lieutenant up the Kalaklan River which entered Subic Bay at Kalaklan point & Light, the water there had a relatively long shallow beach and the ground swells could be dangerous and I knew we had lost a couple of VP's there already, but the Lieutenant was adamant. As we approached the entrance to the river we were caught in one swell after another and the LCVP rode them like a surf board until they rolled under us. Closer to shore they got worse and I had my machinist line man take the wheel while I climbed the ramp on the next swell, what I saw was the front of the ramp riding about a foot from the bottom and the rear of the boat pointing skyward, I began yelling at my line man to back the boat and not to try turning.
We managed to return to our tent base without any conversation what so ever from the Lieutenant, I think he had turned pale and (1 wasn't far from it myself). To this day I cannot understand why he wanted to go up that river, I thought at the time it was too shallow, but in retrospect, had we been able to enter the river, the LCVP with it's short draft probably would have made it OK. It was referred to by later Navy occupants as shit river.
Another time while two of us were asleep at 2:AM in our base of operations (a tent) we were awakened by two Lieutenants who demanded we take them out to their ship somewhere out in Subic Bay. It was still wartime, so few lights were visible anywhere and they wanted us to find a particular ship in the dark, It was more likely that we would have a collision with a ship before we ever saw one. We refused and got away with it. If l learned anything of Naval Officers it was that Navy Lieutenants know everything, (or so they thought).
The most aggravating thing about transporting Officers to ships in the bay was when they stepped off the boat to the ships gangway, they would generally say "wait for me". Then I would circle the ship sometimes for hours in the hot sun without water or food and chow time was over by the time we got called to the gangway to pick up our passenger. Most, if not all of us who were operating boats, mostly landing craft of one kind or another and were only seaman 1st or even 2nd class, none were actually coxswains.
Our Lieutenant, Mr. Cantor decided that we should all get promotions to at least third class. I was made aware of the situation when I was called to the tent where all of the small boat repair faculty had gathered, perhaps six or eight of us in all. Lieutenant Cantor gave me a form requesting promotion and told me to fill it out, I said I didn't want any promotion, he said "fill out the form", I said I don't have a pencil, he said "go down to the post office and get one". I walked about a quarter mile to the post office, such as it was, and came back with the pencil, "Lieutenant Cantor said forget it, I already filled it out". At the appropriate day and time we gathered in a tent, sat down and took the test, if any of us actually passed it legitimately it was a miracle; at any rate we all got promotions and I became a Coxswain with an increase in pay.
I was attached to the Small Boat Repair Pool" operating LCVP & LCM's almost the entire time at Olongapo and by October of 1945 most of the occupants of Subic & Olongapo were counting points in order to be shipped home for discharge and I knew I too would soon be leaving. For some reason or other I did not want to leave and inquired about staying at Subic if I reenlisted, I was assured that if I did so I could spend my two year enlistment at Subic.
I signed the papers and on the appointed day I went before a Naval Commander who's first remark to me was " IS THAT THE UNIFORM OF THE DAY?" I answered! I didn't know their was a uniform of the day, (most of us hadn't had a uniform in almost a year, much less a change in clothes). At that moment I should have known that drastic life changes were about to take place for me, but I raised my hand, said I do and he told me to go pack my gear, say's I! no, I'm supposed to stay here, say's he! no! you have to return home for a 90 day reenlistment, rehabilitation leave.
Rehabilitation was what I was more in need of after my 2nd two year enlistment in the new post war navy . Some time prior to my reenlistment our carbines had been picked up from the end of our bunks where most everybody hung them, they didn't get mine because I had it under my thin mattress, and when I was packing my gear to go home, my truck driving bunk mate offered me $15.00 for it and I gave it to him; I should have broken it down and stuffed it in my sea bag.
This Motor Pool truck driving bunk mate of mine would frequently ask me to ride with him as he drove at night, and I should be sure to carry my carbine, I always declined because I worked in the daytime, you don't run small boats on a blacked out Bay. Finally one night I said OK and it turned out he was hauling gravel from a gravel pit, he would wait to get loaded in the pit and then take the load somewhere to dump it and then go back for another load. Frequently the lights in the pit would go out and that pit became so black you couldn't see your hand in front of you. I understood then why he wanted company and I never went with him again and he never asked.
I can perhaps understand the affection that so many Naval & Marine service people felt for Subic & Olongapo that obviously developed as the facilities grew, but none of that was true in 1945; even so, I remember looking back at the mountains of Luzon as the ship cleared Subic Bay and thinking I would some day come back. I never did of course but Subic obviously has a nostalgic beckoning call for some of us.
I said goodbye to Subic probably sometime in late November of 1945 just as the first contingents of Marines began to arrive. We sailed to Sasabo Japan to pick up elements of the 6th Marine division that had been engaged in the battle for Okinawa and since then, had been doing occupation duty in Japan.
We then sailed the North Pacific "great circle route" to Seattle Washington. Although the war had been over for about three months I found it interesting that the only welcome home those Marine veterans of Okinawa received was the long lineup of trucks on the pier, not a soul in sight. Seems America had enough of the welcome home buzz.. As for me! I got a new white hat etc. and after my 90 day "rehabilitation leave" I was assigned to the U.S.S. Piedmont, a destroyer tender occupied by a Commodores flag in San Francisco, California. What a revolting development!
Now I counted days until discharge. While aboard my new home the U .S.S. Piedmont, anchored at Yokosuka Japan in 1946, I was one of three Coxswains assigned to the Captains Gig. Upon my first trip to shore with the Captain I didn't hear the Captains instructions and I assumed he said return to the ship, (big mistake) what he did say was "wait for me." The next day at my Summary Court Marshal he asked! "How did a man like you become a Coxswain?" I answered, I earned it sir, ( certainly an exaggeration but it sounded good.) He was not impressed and proclaimed loudly, "take this man below and put him to work" Of course without my Coxswain stripe. I told Mr. Cantor in Olongapo that I didn't want that promotion, he should have listened to me.
I have often found how we treat and refer to our veterans of military service alike, without giving much if any thought to the individual service each veteran has performed. One need only to have been a military "veteran" to receive all the accolades and services provided by the public and the Government. The soldier that sat at a desk during the entire war, never having seen or heard a shot fired in anger receives the same benefits as a veteran having endured the Paleliu, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, or Okinawa battles, who wearing (in my view) the most honorable of decorations, "Combat Infantry Badge" or it's equivalent in the other services. The large majority of servicemen and woman are not "combat veterans;" in most instances it is not their choice but the play of the cards. I am very fond the phrase from a 1960's movie, although it may never have been verbalized other than in this film, it needs to be considered by all that served in the military at one time or another. "Their is nothing more despicable than that of a man that would steal the laurels belonging to another."