Shore Patrol duty was always something I dreaded when I was serving in the U.S. Navy. Sailors, after weeks at sea, would reach port with extra money in their pockets, and they would go ashore to do all sorts of activities—shopping, eating real food in restaurants instead of eating Navy chow in the ship’s galley, playing sports or watching sports, but most of all, “celebrating.” “Celebrating” in the U.S. Navy would usually involve a lot of drinking and visiting “ladies of the night.”
The Shore Patrol was supposed to keep an eye on these men, and make sure that they did not get into trouble with the local officials. Shore Patrol was always made up of selected individuals from each ship in port, and a few men from the bases we visited, who would go out and keep an eye on the “celebrating” sailors. The Shore Patrol would help sailors if they got lost, and would also serve as guards for the sporting events, grocery stores and shopping malls on military bases, and it also would enforce curfew.
When we were in foreign ports, most of the sailors would “celebrate” and go out drinking and meeting women in bars. I did not partake in those activities, but there were a lot of sailors (probably the majority) who waited during all their time at sea to reach a port so that they could party. This created the necessity for a lot of supervision. Every ship that was in port was required to supply a number of sailors for Shore Patrol duty. These Shore Patrol sailors from the ships would assemble about dusk, and would report to the Shore Patrol headquarters on the base for their assignments. At the Subic Bay Naval Base, most of the sailors volunteered for going out into Olongapo, the Filipino town next to the Naval Base, to check the bars and restaurants to ensure that everything was okay—and sometimes to scope out the best places to “celebrate” when they were not on duty.
Generally, when I was assigned to Shore Patrol duty, I would volunteer to do some totally boring thing like guarding the Post Exchange (PX), the government-subsidized store on the military base. But on one particular night in the Philippines in 1972, no one signed up for patrolling Olongapo. So I was assigned to do that job.
That evening, about a dozen sailors from the U.S.S. Chicago CG-11 had gathered on the pier to take the bus over to the Shore Patrol Headquarters on the Subic Bay U.S. Naval Base. There we were joined by other sailors and marines, from different ships and military organizations, who were also unlucky enough to be assigned Shore Patrol duty on this particular evening.
In that larger group I found a friend whom I knew had similar values to mine, so we agreed to pair up together. We went up to the desk together to get our assignment. We were assigned to patrol West 4th street, a small, narrow road in Olongapo that was less than a mile from the U.S. Naval Base, running perpendicular to the main road leading into the base. This street was about a quarter of a mile long, and ended at the Santa Rita River.
After the assignments were given, the men on Shore Patrol duty left the base as a group. We walked to our assigned streets, where each team would peel off and start the assigned duties. Our duties were to walk along the street watching for problems, such as sailors who looked lost. (This happened a lot, especially with sailors who had too much to drink.) We were also on the lookout for belligerent sailors fighting, or looking for a fight. (In this situation, we were supposed to try to talk them out of fighting, and if that failed, we were supposed to call in reinforcements from the base Shore Patrol.)
On a regular basis we were to go into the bars and check that everything was going ok. The things we were supposed to always check were: 1) the restrooms, to make sure that no one had passed out or was sick, and also to make sure that no one had fallen asleep there, 2) the bar itself, to make sure that no one was causing trouble, and to check that no one sitting at a table had fallen asleep. A lot of wallets were stolen from sailors who fell asleep in Olongapo bars. The Navy considered it a major problem.
As I remember, we would try to go into every bar on our assigned street about once every thirty minutes. Occasionally, as we made our rounds, we would meet the Officer in Charge of the whole Olongapo Shore Patrol that evening. (On the evening I particularly remember, he was an Ensign from another ship, fairly friendly and likeable.) The Officer in Charge had a portable radio and was escorted by two enlisted men. We would salute him, and then we would give him our report.
After several hours, when we met the Officer in Charge for one of our standard reports, he asked if my friend and I would become his new escort. The sailors who had been escorting him were always wanting to stop and talk to their buddies, not patrol with him. I guess he thought that we were acting more responsibly than his assigned escorts. I was not thrilled by the request, nor was my partner. But when an officer asks for something, you cannot say no. So my friend and I started escorting the officer. The good thing about this was that we didn’t have to go into the bars any more. The bad thing was that it had started raining, and the officer was not allowed to go into shelter. We had to walk in the center of the narrow street, so that people could easily find us. We walked in the rain in our U.S. Navy dress whites, soaking wet, for several hours.
Finally, at about 1AM, when we were literally wading ankle-deep in filthy black, muddy, brackish water that carried all the nasty things on the streets, and this putrid water was sloshing in our shoes with every step we took, we received orders that all ships were recalling all hands because of the storm. Everyone was ordered to return to his ship. So we passed the word to the other patrols, and we asked them to spread the word also. We started telling every sailor we saw that all hands were recalled. We stayed in Olongapo until we could see no more sailors and we had dismissed all the other patrols. When we got back on base, my buddy and I were dismissed. I finally headed back to my ship, soaked from top to bottom, and worried that my white uniform would never look the same and that I would have to get a new pair of shoes. (It turned out that I underestimated the power of the ship’s laundry system, and the toughness of military footwear.)
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