The Bridge

Very sad news today . . . 27 Years after the closure of Subic Bay Naval Base and Ten (10) years since it was closed to vehicular traffic due to deterioration, the famous US Navy-era bridge that served as the connection between the Former Base and Olongapo City will be torn down and replaced.Full Article @

The Bridge

By: Garland Davis

It doesn’t seem so long ago that I crossed that bridge for the first time.  It was 1962.  A couple of hours at the club to get a buzz on before you hit the gate and crossed the infamous “Shit River Bridge.”  Your shipmates had told you about Olongapo and the one peso beer and the four peso shortimes.  You halfway believed them.  You really wanted to believe them. But could it be that easy?  They were right about liberty in Sasebo and Yokosuka.  There was no way liberty in Subic could be better than Sasebo.

Stopped at the on base money changer.  The exchange rate was P3.85 to one US dollar.  Supposedly you could get a better rate from the money changers across the river, but a lot of guys had been burned with worthless Japanese occupation Pesos.  Better safe than sorry.

With almost forty P’s tucked into the inside pocket of my white jumper, My watch in my pocket. (I had heard about the watch snatchers.) I headed for the gate only to be blocked by Marine Private brandishing a billy club.  He looked my uniform over, told me to square my white hat and asked how many packs of smokes was I carrying?  After he was satisfied that I was squared away and wasn’t going to wreck the Philippine economy with black market cigarettes, he motioned for me to pass.  I walked to the edge of the bridge to wait for my shipmates.

Suddenly I  was hit with a god awful smell.  Something like the combination of a leather tannery, a paper  mill, a landfill, and an overflowing shitter.  It was all I could do to keep from gagging.  I surmised that it was the odor of the much talked about Shit River.  They had damned sure named the son of a bitch correctly.  After a few moments, my friends satisfied the Marine Corps and joined me.  As we walked across, we looked at the boys in the water begging for sailors to throw coins, wondering why they still lived after swimming in that black viscous liquid.

The tales about the delights of Olongapo proved true.  It became a looked forward to port of call on many WestPac cruises.  Of course, there were other ports, the aforementioned Sasebo and Yokosuka in Japan and later Hong Kong, Kaohsiung, and Keelung.  They were all sailor towns and catered to the American sailor.

As the Viet Nam War dragged on, the economy of Japan and Hong Kong improved and they became less enjoyable and more  expensive than in the past.  New liberty ports were discovered in Singapore and a small fishing village in Thailand known as Pattaya.  All these ports were welcome interludes in the endless hours of flight operations, plane guard, gunfire support, constant rearming and refueling.  The cold drinks and the warm willing women healed us and maintained our sanity.

Viet Nam ended only to be replaced with Indian Ocean cruises.  A stop at Subic on the way into the IO,  if lucky,  a stop in Freemantle/Perth on the way out and, of course, Subic.

The one port, the one city that became the Asia Sailor’s Mecca was just across that bridge.  Olongapo and onward to the much more debauched, if that is possible, Barrio  and Subic City became the one liberty port that I looked forward to over all others.  I guess one of the best descriptions I have ever heard is, “Big Boy’s Disneyland.” I could do and did shit in Subic that they would put my ass in jail for in Oklahoma City.  Am I proud of all that I did there?  No.  Am I ashamed of some things that I did there?  Probably should be, but cannot find it.

Twenty-five years, eight Seventh Fleet ships and numerous trips across that bridge passed until I made the last trip across.  It was 1987. That time it was in a Special Service’s van to Clark AFB to catch a flight to Japan and on to Hawaii for my twilight tour before  retiring.

Sometimes when I am walking my dog in the mornings, I will see one of my young Filipina neighbors walking to the bus stop and catch the odor of a Filipino mother cooking their breakfast and I flash back to  the past and wish I could go back, Just One More Fucking Time!

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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.


23 thoughts on “The Bridge

  1. Bob says:

    Thanks for the memories shipmate. There was no other Liberty that came close to PI in particular and WESPAC in general. Subic city was the best, still crack a “smile” just thinking about it.


  2. Rick Simms says:

    Remember it well. Always had a silver half dollar in pocket to flip to a boat diver. Most times the kid caught it in the boat.
    Remember a lot of the ports of call in this post.
    Sometimes I think I made a mistake of getting out when I did but it is what is.
    Hind sight is always 20/21.


  3. Bruce Gabbard says:

    I carried large coins, 50 cent pieces,for standing
    on their edge at our table the Exotic Dancer,
    With Out their hands any where near the table..could make the coin disappear
    Har Dee Har Har


  4. Ken Doskocz says:

    I remember that place very well, spent almost 2 yrs working the ammunition depot at Subic, the best place was the Paramont Club just across the bridge on the right side of the street, Great times cheap beer, and loose women. I was station with a couple guys, Ben Horton, and Jerry Smith, and as I said, we had a great time


  5. Ke Jones says:

    Remember the times in PI, stationed there, had a barracks room, lived in town off of Jones Street. Picked that street to live off of figured that way always made it back. Had a Hot/Cold running maid, never washed myself, fringe benefits to not Butterflying!


  6. Yes the playground of west pack. I was on the beach det. Off of Coral Sea. I was an AME 3class from VF-151. The time frame 1969-1970. I had a Apt. in town and a house mouse. The rate of exchange at the down town market was 10 to1 never got roped off. I to this day would go back just to see how much it has changed.


  7. Lamar Southerland says:

    I was there in 86 – 88, miss those days, jeepnee rides to paradise, red,yellow,blue and white, subic city was the playground of the Darter. SS-576


  8. Many, many memories 😳. Best of times. Teen High Club was the bomb. Off Magssay Drive and Third Street behind the Fire Station. Owned by a Retired MS1. Three Story Home with bar on roof, with small single bed room huts around back. Florie and Lorie I still love you both.
    USS Coral Sea CVA-43 75 to 78. Smiles everyone, Smiles😁


  9. Dennis says:

    Good God Almighty. I miss being 7th Fleet. I dearly miss Olongapo, even Bagiuo and the jungle between the two, but most of all the USN. Best fucking branch of the US military, PERIOD!


  10. Don Ince says:

    Great memories, first trip in 66 last one in 74. So many in between can’t remember. Home port in Yokosuka 68 to 70. Like I said, great memories thanks a bunch


  11. Bill Laney MM2 says:

    Your story brings back lots memories from many years ago. 61-64 USS Hancock
    In and out many times.
    One of best liberty ports


  12. Bob Lane says:

    Very accurate account of what I remember in 71/72. I had the unfortunate learning experience of losing my watch as my arm hang out the window of a Jeepy! Fortunately it was a clean grab and no damage to my wrist or hand – those guys were very accomplished thieves. 😕


  13. Bill H. IC2 says:

    I was there in 76-USS Edson DD946. Don’t know how many times I wished I could go back. My buddy’s took me to the Jolo club. Met Mynra there. Stayed with her the whole time. I always wondered what happened to her. Great Memories. Wished I stayed in the Navy.


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