Subic Bay: My favorite
active duty assignment
John Stacy, USMCR Subic Bay: Aug 1950-Apr 1952, PFC and Corporal
Warning: This story contains no wild liberty stories, is merely a young Reserve Marine's recollections of life in a peaceful garrison and may be boring to some. It might, however, strike some responsive chords with my old buddies.
It was easy to make Subic Bay my favorite, as I am not only a Subic Bay Marine, but a Subic-Bay-Only Marine. I am not unique in that distinction as many of my buddies were reservists activated at the start of the Korean "Police Action" and not all of us made it to Korea. In my case, my reserve unit (18th) Infantry, Milwaukee, WI was activated two months after my June 1950 graduation from high school. Immediately after reaching Camp Pendleton, some of us were assigned to the First Provisional Replacement Draft for immediate overseas assignment. We were to replace Marines that were stripped from garrisons across the Pacific to bolster our drastically outnumbered forces in Korea. I wound up being assigned to Subic Bay and we were flown to Japan, (via Hawaii and Wake) and then the Philippines. Many of the rest of my original reserve unit made the landing at Inchon . Although we all volunteered for Korea several times during 1950 and 1951, it apparently was easier to send replacements directly to Korea from the U.S. than to send us and replace us. So Subic Bay became our only assignment, until we were released from active duty in 1952.
When we arrived at Subic Bay, the men in the detachment were happy to see us, as their normal duty cycle of "4 on and 12 off " had become what they called "day on and stay on" since the reassignment of their comrades to Korea. I never felt that our reserve status was an impediment to our being accepted as fellow Marines by the "regulars" . Many of us had joined the reserves because of our admiration for the Corps and we were proud to serve anywhere we were needed. We had followed the exploits of the Corps as 9 to 12 year old boys during WW-II and knew what was expected of us to uphold the tradition.
The "Marine Detachment" as it was called in those days, lived in Quonset huts across the company street from the bay, the slop-chute and an outdoor movie area. The chairs in the movie area were stenciled on the back with the name of a location in China (I think it was Tientsin) and I always wondered if they were brought there by China Marines in 1941 or later. Our huts had screens with roll down canvas which were adequate, except in monsoons when we moved out of the front half and doubled up in the rear. Barracks life was calm, with only an occasional practical joke to break the routine. There were few problems between the men , we had no apparent drug problems and even the occasional drunks were mostly good-natured. Fights were few, if any; everyone did their duty and disciplinary action was quite limited. We had great house-boys to help keep our barracks ship-shape. We still had "field musics" instead of phonographs for the bugle calls and the sound of "tattoo" echoing over the parade field at 2100 hours was inspiring. The slop-chute carried two kinds of beer (San Miguel and Heineken) and it cost all of 10 cents a bottle. Mixed drinks at the EM club were 15 cents. Our pay wasn't much but it went a long way. We were young and without much experience drinking; we soon found that ordering mixed drinks alphabetically from the EM Club list got you sick before it got you drunk.
The base itself had what seemed to be a low level of activity. We rarely saw ships other than the AKL that ferried personnel and equipment from Cavite. We stood watches at the main gate, a tower at the side gate, water plant, Subic and Manila checkpoints as well as brig and reservation police. The town itself was basically one long street with eating places, souvenir shops, bars and miscellaneous businesses and residences. Although pleasures of the flesh were available, it was a far cry from the sin city described by one of our members in later years when it was a fleet liberty town. A typical night on the town for me and my buddies was to get our hair and mustache's trimmed, have some Chinese food, a couple of beers and a visit to one of the Del Rosario gift shops. We sometimes went to our house-boy's home and played Mahjong, sampled native food and learned some Tagolog. I was a Naval Reservation Police Officer for a while and had a lot of contact with the citizens of Olongapo. I generally liked them and we seemed to get along well. They didn't like one of our rules requiring the men to keep their shirts tucked into their pants (making it harder to conceal weapons). They wore loose shirts to get the circulation and this little rule caused much friction. I even learned how to say it in Tagolog when the civilians pre-tended they didn't understand English.
Cubi Point was a jungle peninsula with some native dwellings. Grande Island was an abandoned coastal defense area with large guns and powder magazines occupied by lizards and overgrown with vines. The guns had "Brooklyn Navy Yard 1940"on their muzzles. I never knew when they were installed. if they were ever used or anything more about them. I spent some nights on Grande guarding construction equipment as they began to convert it into a recreation area. Cubi Point still had a row of beached LCI's and several half sunken freighters were in the bay. One of them washed up on the beach in front of our hut during a monsoon and we were shocked by the size of it in our front yard; lucky it didn't keep coming !
I had a little adventure on Cubi Point just after the Seabees had set up a camp to do the survey for the future airfield, in February 1951. The Philippine Army was concerned about Huk guerrillas operating in that area and since it was on the Naval Reservation they had to have a Marine accompany them. I got the assignment and was picked up at the dock by a Philippine patrol boat carrying several native outrigger canoes (Bancas). They became our landing craft when we went ashore on Cubi Point. We found no Huks, but there were leaflets and other evidence that they had visited some of the natives. We almost had an accidental fire-fight, however, as we came out of the jungle into a clearing and saw a small building being used by the surveyors. It was very early in the morning and a sleepy Seabee sat up suddenly pointing a Thompson submachine gun at us. What he saw was a group of dark skinned, short men in dark dungarees carrying weapons at the ready. As he pondered his next action, I got his attention by saying "Good morning sailor" and when he looked and saw me -- tall, white skinned and in salty Marine fatigues, he lowered his weapon. We were all glad he hesitated long enough to assess the situation as the range was point-blank.
We had excitement one other evening when we were advised of an ambush of civilians outside the checkpoint on the road to Manila. I was in the motor pool then and I drove one of our navy trucks filled with Marines up to the site. We found two dead American civilians, one had an auto parts store in Olongapo and the other ran the station at Half Moon Bay recruiting Filipino workers for Guam. We saw no sign of the attackers and carried the bodies back to the base hospital. We occasionally staked out trails leading into town when it was rumored that Huks might enter, but no results.
We generally liked our officers. A special favorite of mine, and probably everyone else, was our CO, LtCol Robert Hanna, who wore the silver W on his AsiaticPacific campaign ribbon, identifying him as a Defender of Wake Island. We read the official report of the gallant defense and Lt Hanna was credited with knocking the bridge off a Japanese destroyer with his gun "bore-sighting it, after the regular sights had been destroyed". I mentioned earlier that I had learned to play mahjong and somehow the Colonel found that out. I was surprised and pleased when he invited me to his quarters on a number of occasions to play mahjong with him, his wife and young daughter. A pleasant evening with a nice family was a treat in itself after barracks life, but to do so with your CO, a Wake Island Marine, was more than a young corporal could expect.
I also remember Captain Casimer Linkiewicz, who came with us from the states. I admired him from the beginning because he had the John Wayne appearance that I expected Marine Captains to have. He was tall, gaunt, had a scar, salty uniforms and he was one of those who commanded by his presence. Many years later I heard that a man by that name had been appointed Police Chief of the tough town, Calumet City, Illinois, and somehow I knew that was our old captain.
Most of us reservists left in April , 1952 when the Corps had enough regulars to release us. We were on the General Ainsworth for twenty- one days. The ship was a MSTS one with the aft 2/3 having private cabins for officers and dependents and 1/3 a classical troopship, divided between troops and Filipino workers headed for Guam. The Marines aboard naturally drew guard duty in the officer/dependent area so we saw how the other half lived.
We were released from active duty when we reached California. We had done our duty as assigned and returned to our civilian lives with a lifetime of memories. I stayed in the reserve unit for another 5 years serving as a company First Sergeant and for a while as Battalion Sergeant Major. When I retired from the U. S. Department of Energy in 1995, I had a Marine color guard and felt all the pride return. I am currently joining a new Marine Corps League Chapter. What they say is true, "Once a Marine, always a Marine".
I would really like to hear the stories of other Marines from other time periods.
That's probably enough of my rambling recollections, but I still have some questions that some of you might be able to answer: If you can answer them, put the answers on the web site or send it directly to me at the address on the roster, or by E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
1.Does anyone know what happened to Col Hanna after Subic?
2. When were the big guns put on Grande Island, were they ever manned, and where are they now ? (I heard they might be in Oregon (one of our members who was at Subic in 41 said they were not on Grande then)
3. Did the base continue to commemorate the sinking of the Okuru Maru in the harbor in the years after 1951 ? (a Japanese freighter full of allied prisoners of war bombed by U S planes in WWII who didn't know the cargo) Does anyone know any more about the story ?
4. What ever happened to the submarine nets and floats that were delivered while we were there and remained stacked outside the main gate?
5. What was it like to be at the base when the volcano erupted?
6. Why were the bright lights at the water plant directed inward at the Marines on guard duty and not outward at potential attackers?
7. Did they ever change the ammo you carried on Guard Duty before it became useless due to age? ( one of my buddies in 1951 fired a 45 round by mistake and it never got out of the barrel).
8. Did you have the fun of chopping the rifle range out of the year's growth of foliage, so we could qualify, while fire ants attacked wherever they could get at you?
9. Anyone get any good special liberties? I wish we could have gotten to Corregidor and Bagio. We got to Manila once, made a supply run to Clark, climbed the little mountain across the bay and that was about it.
Let me hear from you , Semper Fi !!
John (Jack) Stacy, PFC-CPL 1950-1952