Pearl City Tavern
By John Wallace
Capt. U.S. Navy 1955 – 1989
In the summer of 1962, as USS Polk County made preparations for deployment from homeport San Diego to Pearl Harbor, old timers were looking forward to the chance to sip a few cool ones at the legendary “Monkey Bar” in the Pearl City Tavern (PCT). Making my first visit to the islands as a fresh-caught Ensign, I was intrigued by the idea of live monkeys in the bar and I put it high on my list of things to see and do in Hawaii. Little did I suspect that the PCT was going to leave an indelible mark on my career in the Navy – an innocent led astray by a member of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Lt. Nelson B., USMC, when sober and at sea, flew helicopters off USS Iwo Jima. When ashore, “Nels” was a party guy. For some reason which escapes me to this day, I found myself beach crawling with old Nels, finishing up an extended evening at the Monkey Bar; and there indeed were live monkeys behind the bar (not tending bar, just doing monkey things behind the glass enclosure), providing the live entertainment for this popular watering hole. With the proper blood alcohol level, one could while away many hours observing the social interaction of these sometimes shameless primates (this may be where Jane Goodall got her inspiration).
On this particular evening (probably early morning by then), having finally tired of the simian follies, Nels went off to call us a cab to return to Pearl Harbor. After an extended wait, I suspected he had run into problems and went off to track him down, arriving just in time to see him rip the last of three pay phones from the wall of the PCT lobby (Marines define “fun” differently than the rest of us). My arrival coincided with that of the HASP (Hawaiian Armed Services Police), summoned by the manager after phone number one bit the dust. The HASP, a select group of military police established specifically to deal with miscreant military service members, were all big, no-nonsense, intimidating guys, selected primarily for their size and inability to smile.
“They did it,” yelled the manager, pointing at a grinning Nels and an innocent me. A short walk later, encouraged along the way by our stone-faced escorts, we found ourselves at HASP Headquarters being fingerprinted and photographed. We barely escaped an overnighter when Nels arranged to reimburse the phone company and wrote a check on the spot.
That brush with the law had a permanent and not necessarily negative impact on the rest of my naval career, although from that day forward, whenever I was required to answer the question “Have you ever been arrested?”, I had to check the “yes” box and attempt to explain away in great detail my association with fun-loving Nels and the Monkey Bar incident. On the positive side, I think the experience made me more understanding and receptive to “extenuating and mitigating circumstances” when I was later in a position to pass judgement on sailors accused of disciplinary infractions or violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. As a Commanding Officer with Article 15 authority and authority to refer cases to courts martial, I think having been on the wrong side of the system, however briefly, stimulated a compassion that might not otherwise have been there.
As for Nels, we never crossed paths again; and after only a few years I was able to say “Marine” without adding any colorful adjectives. The Monkey Bar is long gone, replaced by a Japanese restaurant, then a used car lot and more recently bulldozed to make way for some other more mundane enterprise. I think the monkeys were moved to a small island in Kaneohe Bay (oddly enough named Monkey Island) and are the subjects of behavioral research by the University of Hawaii.
The HASP still strikes fear into the hearts of military members gone astray in Hawaii but their image and tactics have softened over the years. Some say former HASP members have been spotted on Monkey Island trying to intimidate the inhabitants into more acceptable behavior.
Entered the Naval Air Reserve out of high school in 1955, serving with VF-782 as an AT striker at Los Alamitos NAS, CA.
After graduation from college, attended OCS and was commissioned in March 1961. His duty assignments included USS Polk County (LST 1084)as Deck and Gunnery Officer; Navy Language School in Anacostia, MD, studying the Russian language; ACNSG Fort Meade, MD. as a submarine rider; NSGA Bremerhaven, Germany as Communications Officer; Vietnam as OIC of Special Support Group to MACV SOG; NSG HQ in Washington, DC; Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA; NCS Rota, Spain as Operations Officer; NSG HQ; ACNSG at Fort Meade; CINCUSNAVEUR London, UK as Deputy DNSGEur; NSGA Puerto Rico as Commanding Officer; NSA Fort Meade; NCPAC Hawaii as Deputy NCPAC.
Retired in January 1989 and remains in Hawaii.