That Happened to Me Once

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Trying to warn shipmates of a scam was a great idea but one sailor would have been better off not hearing the warning!

THAT HAPPENED TO ME ONCE

When you are a West Coast Sailor the one port visit you are told about from day one is the Philippines. All the “old timers” the “salty dogs” the guys who have been there will always tell the stories about their days in the PI! They’ll tell you the tales with a smile and a wink and leave you saying “No Way”! Then they’ll reply “You’ll see”!

In February of 1979 the USS Tarawa LHA 1 took me on my first West Pacific Cruise commonly known as WestPac. I was in serious anticipation of visiting the PI and especially Subic Bay. Subic is the home port for US Navy vessels deployed on West Pac. Right outside the gates of the naval base was the town of Olongapo. Olongapo was party town with every genre of night club you could want. Country bars, discos, rock clubs, jazz clubs all on one street named Magsaysay Drive. The clubs had plenty of young ladies to keep a sailor company called “bar maids”. These maidens would dance with you, drink with you and take you home if you treated them right and were willing to pay the bar manager who was known as Mamasan. I could write a whole other story about this night life but what Olongapo was like at midnight and the next morning was a sight to remember!

The town had a curfew at that time so all sailors had to be off the streets and out of the bars at midnight. The guys who hadn’t hooked up with a girl or didn’t have a hotel room could be seen running or in most cases staggering in the direction of the naval station front gate. The next morning would be more of the same with the hotels emptying out and sailors charging down the sidewalks sometimes putting on shirts and pants as they made their way in a hurry. Everyone trying to make it back to the ship before morning muster. This leads to my story.

One Friday night I had the weekend off so I decided to take a bus to Manila at the invitation of a young lady I’d met a few weeks earlier. I had a great weekend and Monday came around way too quick so early that morning I hopped a bus back to Olongapo. Arriving about 6 O’clock in the morning I had just enough time to get back to the base and take a cab to the ship. I literally had two dollars in my pocket, the cab fare I’d need to keep from walking from the gate to the ship. As I hurried down Magsaysay drive with all the other sailors a young Filipino man stepped out and grabbed my arm. He asked me if I was headed back to the base and I replied yes I was and needed to get going. He said I could do him a big favor by returning an ID card that one of his customers had left in the hotel the night before. He said he didn’t want the guy to get in trouble because he was one of his regular customers. I thought about it for a second and then told him I’d do it but to hurry and get it. He thanked me and then turned and ran into the hotel lobby.

As I waited one of his buddies who was selling cold drinks from a cooler on the side walk thanked me again and then offered me a coke. I told him no thanks that I only had enough money to get a cab back to the ship. I then showed him by pulling out my two dollars so he could see I was telling the truth then put it back in my pocket. He said no charge because I was doing them a favor. He then took out a bottle from the cooler, opened it and handed it to me. When I took the coke bottle from him he went in my pocket and took out my dollars! Seriously, it was so quick it was like magic! He never even took his eyes off mine!

I looked down and back at him and made the accusation in which he denied. I accused him again and then as I was gesturing with my arms the coke bottle slipped out of my hand and shattered on the sidewalk! All of a sudden I was surrounded by four or five guys and felt a hand go into my other pocket. Now I was close to panic time as they started pushing me from side to side and demanding that I pay for the coke! I’m thinking "are you kidding me"! I ride a bus across the country, spend the weekend in the big city and now I’m going to get beat up two blocks from the security of the base fence line!

At this time I felt another hand grab me by the shoulder and pull me right out of the crowd. It was my buddy George from the ship. George grew up in the mean streets of Chicago and you didn’t want to mess with him. He said he just happened to be walking by when he saw me. We made it through the gates, got a cab that he paid for and returned to the ship. It was a good story and also a pretty good scam so I made sure and let all my friends know about it.

Six months later I transferred to the USS John Paul Jones DDG 32 and was headed back to the Philippines on my second WestPac. The difference now was that I was the "old timer" the "salty dog" telling all the rookies about what to expect in Olongapo. Now it was only right for me to include the story of the scam of the guy with the lost ID, coke bottle and slick pick pocket.

A week after we pulled into Subic Bay a Radioman named Josh seeks me out on the ship and tells me that on his way back to the ship that morning a guy stopped him and asked him to take an ID card back to the base. He said the whole thing played out just as I had told him it would. Man goes back into the hotel, another guy offers him a coke and then puts his hand in his pocket. When he did this, Josh grabbed the guys hand and snapped his thumb back so hard that he heard the bone crack! He said the guy went running and screaming down the street holding his hand in severe pain. Yes! My warning had paid off! I saved one of my shipmates from falling victim to a scam like I did! This was great, Josh told everyone and I became a minor hero on board that is until Josh failed to show up for muster the next morning.

At first no one was very alarmed by this due to the fact that ole Josh was a bit of rebel and known to party hard. Everyone expected him to come staggering in by noon, get restricted to the ship for a day or two and then be right back at it. Josh didn’t return to the ship that day nor did he show up the next day. By muster of the third day we were all very concerned. He was a wild card but this was unlike him and our fears were growing with every muster he missed.

About noon the third day a shore patrol van pulled up to the ship, opened the rear doors and Josh stepped out. He was escorted to the Quarter Deck and turned over to the Officer of the Deck. He looked terrible, worn out, dirty and beat up! He had a black eye, busted lip and generally looked like he’d been drug behind a truck!

This is the story he told me. He said he was in a hotel room about 9pm with a girl he had picked up in one of the bars. Suddenly the door was kicked open and three local police offers burst in and behind them was a guy with his arm in a cast. He pointed at Josh and told them that he was the guy who broke his thumb! The police beat him down, paid off the girl for setting him up with money they took from him and hauled him off to jail! Turned out the guy whose thumb he broke was a nephew of one of the police officers. While he was in jail he was beaten and robbed of about fifty dollars.

For the next two years he never quit thanking me for the warning about the scam. He also reminded me that the day he was stopped on the street and asked to take the ID back to the ship, he had a little over three dollars in his pocket!

All I could say was "That happened to me once"!


Submitted: October 12, 2014

© Copyright 2022 Billy Coy Sample. All rights reserved.

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