I was bored, so I volunteered to do some temporary duty in the Philippines during a joint services exercises. A military exercise is the peacetime equivalent of war. As a whole, military exercises give the phrase “busy-work” a perversely whole new meaning.
Besides, the First Sergeant and I both agreed it would be best if I left town for a few weeks after “that little misunderstanding” in that quaint little Japanese town that was next to my home base. Regardless of the culture, some people just don’t have a sense of humor. So what if the Mikoshi was two hundred years old.
So there I was on my way to Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands, just three miles from Angeles City. A town so full of vice it makes Las Vegas look like Vatican City during Easter. I was in a C-130 Hercules. I was assisting my buddy “Bob-san” the plane’s Crew Chief. Don’t ask me how Bob got his moniker, because I can’t tell you. Bob-san ran a tight airship. He was a stand-up guy, but he was no nonsense either. His C-130 was one of the most airworthy aircraft in the Far East. I asked around if anyone needed an assistant crew chief during Global Shield: the mother of all military exercises. I was directed to Bob-san.
Normally, I worked on the transient side of the squadron. We serviced anything that flew and was manmade. A few years earlier, I was stationed stateside and worked on B-52s. Those Boeing Stratofortresses were the ultimate killing machine. I’ll take one of those puppies stuffed with nukes over an easy-to shoot-out-of-the-sky fighter any old day. If you have ever marveled over how much research and development goes into making a digital camera, laptop computer or anything else for that matter, you too would sit in awe if you ever saw a B-52 take off with a payload of potential death. It is amazing to see how so much science and engineering goes into killing our fellow man. I’m neither a hawk nor a dove, so don’t judge me.
Somewhere over water between Japan and the Philippines and at 43,000 feet in the sky, Bob-san drops a nuclear grade bomb on my lap. It is the kind of news that you’d expect from one of your flakier buddies, but not from a straight shooter like Bob-san. The guy only drank two beers a month for crying out loud. I felt a little uncomfortable when he sat next to me in that dimly-lit empty cargo deck. Except for the flight crew members (who were in the flight cabin), Bob and I were the only other people in the Hercules. So naturally I felt a little uneasy when he sat so close to me.
“Trudge,” he said looking at me like he was about to tell me something that he shouldn’t be telling me, and that I would have never dared to ask. This was way before the Clinton years if you know what I mean.
“Trudge,” he said, “I’m holding something deep inside, and if I don’t tell someone soon I’m going to burst.”
“Shouldn’t we be checking on those hydraulic pumps? I didn’t like the noise they made when the landing gear was going up,” I said trying to delay what was already mushrooming.
“They make those noises all the time,” said Bob looking at me like I was slow on the uptake. “Buddy,” he continued, “I’m in love really bad. Have you ever been in love, Trudge? You know not lust, but love?”
“Uh... not really,” I stammered with eyes wider than craters on the Ho Chi Minh Trail after several 750 pound bombs had kissed said trail’s brown soil several times. Suddenly, I got a very queasy feeling in the pit of my beer sloshed gut and it wasn’t from the pickled octopus tentacles I ate the night before at New Dream Bar in Fussa Chi.
"Well, I’m madly in love with the most beautiful girl in the world and you’re going to meet her on this trip. She and I are getting married this week, and you’re going to be my Best Man. How about that?” he said with a look in his eyes usually reserved for guys who have spent too much time in the bush.
“Well, congratulations,” I said thinking he was going to marry some homely young WAF (Women in the Air Force) who was stationed at Clark, AB, PI. Knowing the type of guy Bob was, I figured she was some Iowa farm girl who baked cookies and taught Bible School to orphaned Filipino children outside the base on Sundays.
“I met her at Gentle Ben’s,” Bob said. Then it hit me like a stream of 20 mm rounds being fired from an M61 Vulcan Gatling-style rotary cannon mounted on an F-4 Phantom jet fighter flown by a pilot who was hot to fuck. Gentle Ben’s was one of the most notorious “clubs” just outside Clark Air Base. I had heard a lot of stories about Gentle Ben’s. Quite frankly, I was looking to make some of my own when I visited that house of ill repute. Even in the late seventies, there weren’t that many places left on God’s green earth where a guy could get two LBFMs (Little Brown Fucking Machines: nickname for a Filipina prostitute; I know not very PC, but the term political correctness did not exist back then, so sue me), a case of San Miguel rot gut beer, a hotel room for the weekend all for $40 and still have some cash for breakfast. Gentle Ben’s was one of the last bastions for unbridled, wanton male debauchery. And Bob-san was going to marry one of its whores. In some sick, twisted, perverted way, it all made sense.
“I’m honored,” I said, “So what does she do there bookkeeping? Is she a waitress? Is she the barker?”
Bob-san raised one dark eyebrow over his government issued, horned-rimmed, black eyeglasses and smirked. I knew right then what the love of his life did at Gentle Ben’s.
We got to Clark AB at 0930 hours. We headed straight for billeting. That’s Air Force lingo for temporary housing (military hotel). We got separate rooms. After a hot shower and some chow, Bob rented a car and we were off to Gentle Ben’s.
Like most nightclubs during the day, Ben’s looked pretty depressing. The smell of cigarettes, beer, and urine permeated the place. Black paint was peeling from the walls. A short Filipino man was scrubbing the vinyl seats from the booths when we entered. He kept muttering half in Tagalog, and half in English peppered with Spanish about G.I.s and hand jobs. He looked at me and Bob with contempt. The Mama-san who looked after the place during the day approached us. She and Bob broke into some mishmash of the native tongue and English. Bob’s deep baritone voice started to take on the high-pitched shrill of the cuckold.
“Let’s get the fuck outta here,” he said as he stormed out of the joint. In the car, Bob slammed the steering wheel with the heel of his palm.
“What happened?” I asked already knowing the answer, but I had to ask.
“The bitch took off with some squid,” he said through clenched teeth.
“She left you for a sailor,” I said feigning horror.
“Roger that,” he shouted and punched the roof of the car. He then fished inside his pants pocket and pulled out a little black box.
“Take this!” he said as he dropped the box on my lap. Before I could react, he fired the rental to life and we fished tailed it out of the parking lot. In the rearview mirror, I could see the Mama-san standing in the doorway; she was laughing.
I opened the box as Bob drove like a madman through the streets of Angeles City. Inside the box was a solid gold wedding band with a silver inlay in the form of a vine going all the way around the ring. Inscribed on the inside of the ring was Bob and whore-bitch’s never to be wedding date.
“Bob, I can’t take this,” I said, “Take it back to wherever you got it from. I’m sure they’ll give you something for it.”
“No!” he growled, “This never happened. We will never speak of this. Got it?”
“Roger that,” I said as I stuffed the ring box in my shirt pocket. We got back to the base. Looking in the rearview mirror, I had that strange feeling that I would not be returning to Gentle Ben’s.
“I’ll see you on the flight line tomorrow at 0700 hours,” Bob said in a very calm manner.
That night I went walked over to the NCO Club and got stinking drunk. I met some lonely female GI and after some small talk we went back to my room. We talked some more, watched TV, sucked face, and fell asleep with our clothes on. At 0630 hours, a loud bang on the door woke us up.
“Sergeant Trudge!” a booming voice shouted, “Open this fucking door now!”
Pissed off and wanting to coldcock the S.O.B. on the other side of that door, I jumped off the bed and in a single bound reached the door and flung it open.
“What the fuck do you want,” I shouted. I stopped my fist from connecting with the Law Enforcement (that’s Air Force lingo for Military Police) officer’s face.
Without asking if he could come in, he and his two gorilla backups barged into my room. Gina, the girl with whom I had platonically slept with, stood by the side of the bed.
“Do you know Bob?” asked the lieutenant. I nodded yes. He looked at Gina. She shook her head. The officer jerked his head. Gina grabbed her shoes and ran out of the room.
“Put on some shoes and come with me,” he said training his gaze at me.
At the LE station, they explained to me that Bob had gotten drunk and set out to find the girl and the Navy dude. Instead of them, he ran into a group of Islamic Filipinos. It got ugly.
My part in the exercise was cut short. Following an abbreviated investigation, I was sent back to Japan on funeral detail. I spent the trip alone in the cargo deck of the C-130 with Bob’s remains in a black body bag.
As to the ring, for a good number of years I wore it around my gold chain that holds my gold cross. I eventually took it off. Now it sits at the bottom of my dresser’s top drawer.
War is Hell. Peacetime is a mother-fucker!