The Seventh Fleet Effect
By: Garland Davis
Yesterday I explored and opined about our legacy of the Viet Nam war. My shipmate Jack Thomas postulated a legacy that I hadn’t considered. His comment was that we sailors had supported thousands of Asian women while pulling liberty in Asian ports. Not to mention, how many small businesses, bars, taxi and jeepney drivers, and cathouses did we keep out of the red. I often wonder what happened to the bar owners, the bartenders, waitresses, the hostesses, and the jeepney drivers when the fleet sailed away. But most of all, I wonder what happened to the children who depended on the sailors’ money for food.
This brings to mind an incident that happened to me in Olongapo. I don’t remember the ship, probably one of the FF’s I served in. I stopped in a bar in Olongapo for a beer on my way to the Barrio. This became one of those nights that I never made it to the Irish Rose. I fell in love (or at least my dick got hard) with a lovely young thing in that bar. After a few beers for me, as many ladies drinks as she could con me out of (quite a few, my dick was ordering, I was paying), a few dances and some bargaining, I paid the bar fine and we set out for her place. On the way, she asked if I would pay her some of the money I promised so she could stop and buy some food. I gave her some P’s and she went into a store and bought a loaf of bread and some other items.
We arrived at her place, a two room apartment. She went into the other room and came out with two adorable half-blood children, a pretty girl of about six and a younger boy. The mother told me she wanted to feed them since they hadn’t had any food since the day before. She made them jelly sandwiches and sent them back into their room. The thought of those kids not eating was heart wrenching.
When on liberty, I always wore denim jeans or denim shorts. Both my jeans and shorts had secret pockets where I usually carried two or three one hundred dollar bills in case I ran into an emergency while on liberty. I considered giving the girl one of those bills to help feed those two kids. But if I gave her a large American bill, when she went to change it into Pesos, someone would take it from her or cheat her out of it. After leaving her the next morning, I went to the money changer, changed the bill, went back to her house and gave her the Pesos.
I never saw her or those children again. I have wondered many times if my gesture made their life better for a time or did she just blow the money and end up back in the same predicament again. I guess it is best I don’t know, but one cannot help but wonder.
Then there was a young lady I met in Manilla, who often met my ship in Olongapo. All she ever asked of me was to pay her college tuition for the semester. I don’t know that she was actually attending college although she was carrying college texts when I first met her. This went on for a couple of years and then she told me she had met a young man and intended to marry. I wished her luck and gave her a wedding present. When thought of her crosses my mind, I often wonder what became of her and what she accomplished in her life.
How much of the economy of Olongapo, Pattaya Beach, the more verdant cities of Hong Kong and Singapore, and the wellbeing of many of their occupants was dependent upon the presence of the Seventh Fleet and the sailors’ dollars? Did the fleet contribute positively to the countries we visited or did we create and prolong the bars and the debauchery of the sex industry in those nations?
Deep thoughts, but I wouldn’t change a bit of my time in the Far East. Well, maybe a few more days in port and more early liberty.
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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.