You Can’t Go Back

You Can’t Go Back

By Garland Davis

Some things you can’t go back to

Some things need left alone

Don’t mess with the memories

Of a life passed on

All the time I made reservations

At the heart of my mistakes

Oh, some things you can’t go back to

‘Cause you left them slip away

Or can you?

Joe’s journey began in Denver. The first destination was Honolulu where he would spend a pair of days to relive a stop there in 1965. The next part of his journey would take him to Manila and a special taxi or jeepney to the old U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay where he had arranged for a room at a hotel that had once been the base BOQ. Robert Frost had said one cannot go back but Joe thought that maybe he could.

Joe had thought of making this trip for years. The biggest regret of a regret-filled life was leaving the Navy in 1967. He had planned to re-enlist but decided to get out for a couple of months for a vacation and then go to the recruiter. That way he would get a break and still keep his Second Class crow when he went back. The poet said, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Fifty-three years later, three wives and three children, one who was brainwashed by his first wife to hate him, and twin girls who were clothes horses and as vacuous as his second wife. His third wife had passed on ten years earlier.

Looking back on seventy-four years, four years in the Navy, almost forty-two years as an over the road trucker, Joe thought that the only time he was really happy was during the brief period he spent as a sailor. He regretted more than ever not shipping over.

Joe left the BOQ, walking slowly, using a cane to help maintain his equilibrium, he started for the gate area and the famed Shit River Bridge. As he walked slowly, he watched the Filipinos moving along walks and streets that had once teemed with white uniforms.

Joe reached the bridge. There were no guards or Marines. There was no wooden box to throw your extra cigarettes into. Joe was pretty sure that an extra pack of cigarettes wouldn’t wreck the Philippine economy, but the Marines didn’t take any chances.

He moved onto the bridge. It was all strange. The water in Shit River was clean and there was a floating fountain shooting a cascade of water into the air. But, the most noticeable thing was the lack of the famous Shit River odor.

Joe looked out over the bridge to town. What had once been seedy bars and hotels now presented itself as modern stores and businesses. Most remarkable, the street that had once been either a dry dusty thoroughfare or a stream of mud was paved and clean. He began to move across to see how much of the old Olongapo still existed.

As Joe reached the mid-point of the bridge, he felt a momentary dizziness. There he seemed to be facing a shimmering mirror. He was looking at a white image that seemed to be waving him forward. Joe took a step and encountered the shimmer.

Suddenly Joe was overwhelmed by the stench of the putrid stream and the clamor of the boys in the water yelling, “Hey Joe, throw me Peso.” He looked down at himself, he was dressed in whites with a GM2 crow on his left arm. Bewildered, thinking this is right, Joe moved on.

Joe walked off the bridge onto the dirt of a street that would later be pretentiously named Gordon Avenue. There was the Hole in the Wall and the Chop House. He stopped into the Hole and drank a beer. He couldn’t remember a beer as cold or as good.

He wandered down Magsaysay, stopping into a Shitkicking bar for a beer. The girls were prettier than he remembered. He hit a couple of Rock and Roll joints. The bands were of a quality that rivaled any on the Billboard charts. He stopped at Pauline’s and bought a duck for a Peso for the crocodile who just lay there, probably already sated or no longer cared for duck. As he walked away, he saw the boy rescue the duck. He would probably sell it a dozen more times. He stopped around the corner at Mama’s and had a couple of Tacos with the special hot sauce and San Miguel, of course. They were as good as he remembered.

After eating, joe walked into the club next door. Gloria was there. She smiled and said, “Hello Joe, I have been waiting for you.” She took him by the hand and said, “Come, I have a new house,” and led him out the door and down the alley. Joe walked along beside the beautiful girl, smiling.


The two policemen were directing foot traffic around the covered body that lay in the middle of the bridge. Finally, the ambulance with the doctor came and pronounced him dead. Tha ambulance attendants loaded the body into the ambulance. As they drove into traffic, one attendant said, “I believe he is in paradise.”

“Why would you say that?” asked the driver.

“Did you see the smile on his face?”


12 thoughts on “You Can’t Go Back

  1. Richard Honaker BTC says:

    Remember all this to well. Was there in Vietnam and remember so well. I believe this was the best liberty port. Maybe it was the girls, bars and booze. Loved it. Would like to visit one more time but I know I want be able to. Makes me wonder sometimes if I may have a kid there. I believe there are other Navy Sailors who think the same thing. Thanks for sharing this story.


  2. Mike Babcock says:

    That’ll be me standing top fwd fRoom mid watch thinking about the next trip across the shit river hitting the Cherry Club and the Cave.


  3. Ken Ritter says:

    To paraphrase an old Tanya Tucker song…

    “ When I die, I may not go to heaven
    ‘Cause I don’t know if they let Sailors in
    If they don’t, just let me go to Subic
    Subic is as close as I’ve been“


  4. Bill says:

    I remember every word of your description…just call me Joe. But it was Pals Inn and her name was different. Thanks for remembering!!


  5. Mike Jacobs says:

    I was so lucky to see Olongapo in it’s hey day. I was a 7th fleet sailor from 88-91 out of Yoko, went to PI 20 times. I didn’t know it at the time, but my shipmates and I were the at the tail end of an era. One of the most awesome ports in the US Navy, haven’t had that much fun since!!


  6. Mike Gardiner says:

    My 1st time there 1/61 hotter than 9,000 kinds of hell. Wound up on Gordon ave at The Sharon Cove. Veronica (Vennie) my LBRPFM and I shared lots of good times. I came back in 64 she was gone (ran into her at NEX SDIEGO) married with 3 linoleum lizards. Some e-6. Next time there after VN was 69 hooked up with the Abestado family from east Bahuk bahuk. Whole new experiences in Barrio Baretto. Baby Abistado was gone stateside. Dad (Philip) still worked at SRF in base. So many good times. 75-77 2 times back onboard DDG12 – still magical. Last time there was 9/81. Things were changing. No more CPO Mess ship to ship “beer ball games” in that hot sun with ice cold San magoo’s. Hahaha
    Yeah, best liberty in west pax back in the day. You young Ins have the watch. I’ve got that 40klick stare in my wet eyes.
    I was a steaming sailor then!


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