Shore Patrol

 

Shore Patrol 

     When we just went to Subic Bay for a few days between periods on the firing line, it wasn’t much of a treat for many of the crew but some guys never got further than Rizal Boulevard in Olongapo Town, right outside the gate of the Navy Base.  Rizal ran about a mile to Rizal Park, where the respectable part of town began.  It was lined with mostly bars, houses of ill repute, tatoo parlors and some tailor shops that specialized in silk jackets with embroidered tigers, dragons or air squadron emblems on the back.  These jackets were popular gifts for girl friends, little brothers and buddies back home. 

     Twice I had to pull shore patrol duty in Olongapo and I hated it. Playing amateur policeman was no fun anytime or anywhere but was especially unpleasant in Olongapo.  We patrolled in pairs, a pair about every 100 yards on both sides of the street, all the way to Rizal Park and back.  We were to enter every third or fourth bar we passed to check whether the sailors or Marines inside were behaving.  But it wasn’t really spelled out what behaving themselves meant, other than not fighting.  I saw a little activity in dark corners of some dimly lit bars that wasn’t exactly suitable for family telling, but I didn’t get involved in “cleaning up Dodge.”  I felt it was most unfortunate this “Tijuana East” developed along a street named for a great man from Philippines history, a patriot and martyr. 

     I also pulled shore patrol duty in Hong Kong.  The shore patrol in Hong Kong was conducted primarily within an area of several blocks around the Fleet Landing, where liberty boats unloaded sailors from ships anchored out in the harbor.  Since Hong Kong was still a British colony at the time, and a major Royal Navy port, there was a mix of British and American shore patrol, in pairs, about 100 feet down every sidewalk. 

     The “action” in Hong Kong was not as down and dirty as in Olongapo but things could get exciting at times.  At one bar (most of the bars in Hong Kong were well-lighted, unlike those in Olongapo) my patrol partner and I were standing in the back looking around and watching some couples dance.  An American shore patrol officer and an enlisted patrolman came in and stood near us.  It was not usual to see an officer on street duty but I saw a few others in Hong Kong.  A very inebriated British sailor took offense to the presence of the officer.  He came close and told him in very salty language what he thought of officers and inviting the officer to get the hell out. 

     I was hoping the Brit wouldn’t lay hands on the officer.  If he did, my partner and I would be obliged to come to his defense and there were several other British sailors in the bar.  And we couldn’t be sure some of the Americans wouldn’t join with their British allies if they saw a chance to get in a few licks against the hated shore patrol, and an officer to boot. 

     The officer played it cool.  He never turned to look at the Brit or showed that he had heard him.  He walked a little further into the bar, looked around, then turned and walked unhurriedly to the door and exited.  My partner and I followed him out.  I silently gave the officer credit for handling the situation well.  If he had tried to deal with the sailor’s disrespect it could have precipitated a diplomatic incident. At the same time he didn’t beat a hasty retreat or show himself to be intimidated.  Best of all, he didn’t cause me to get beat up. 

     The incident reminded me of one in Kiel, Germany, when the destroyer USS BARRY made a goodwill visit in 1960.  I was in a bar listening to the band when a British sailor appeared in the doorway and stood there listening to the music.  A burly German man, either the owner, or bouncer, or both, saw the sailor blocking the door and motioned for him to either come in or go out.  The sailor ignored him. The German went over to him, said something loudly in German and waved his hands in a shooing motion. The sailor pushed him backward.  The German, now red-faced, came toward the sailor in a menacing posture.  The sailor’s foot shot up and caught the German in the abdomen.  The German staggered back, doubled over in pain. The sailor calmly turned and strolled down the street. 

     I had seen other displays since then that told me British sailors were usually ready to fight at the slightest provocation.  Talking to a couple of British shore patrolmen in Hong Kong, I learned they prepared for street duty accordingly.  They wore hobnail boots and sharpened the edges of the buckles on their web belts.  If things got hot, they would wrap the belts around their hands, leaving about 18 inches hanging loose, and use it like a whip with sharp teeth. 

     For my second stint as a shore patrolman in Hong Kong, I was assigned to one of the rented ferries that carried our men back and forth between the ship and Fleet Landing.  It was about two miles out to where ORISKANY  was anchored in the outer roadstead.  The ferries ran constantly until midnight or 1:00 a.m. (senior petty officers got an extra hour), when everyone had to be back aboard. This was referred to by sailors as “Cinderella Liberty.” 

  After about 10:00 p.m., each ferry trip out to the ship became more and more crowded and the sailors more likely to be drunk or, at least, feeling no pain.  The last couple of trips sometimes featured vomiting, passing out and/or fisticuffs.  They only put two shore patrolmen on each ferry to keep order among as many as 200 sailors. We had heard that a few weeks before, when a different carrier was in Hong Kong, a shore patrolman on a ferry had tried to break up a fight and got thrown overboard for his trouble.  He was never found. It was rare that anyone who went into Hong Kong harbor, with its cross-currents, tidal rips and undertows, was ever seen again.  

     About 10:30 p.m. I took the shore patrol brassard off my arm, put my web belt and night stick inside my peacoat, and sat in a far corner of the upper deck.  As it happened, there was no breakdown in good order and discipline on my ferry that night.  But if there had been, I sure as hell didn’t intend to be sacrificed to someone’s bad planning.

      When I didn’t have shore patrol duty, I loved Hong Kong.  At that time I thought it had to be the most beautiful city in the world, claims for Naples, Italy, notwithstanding.  But, unhappily, it has become so grossly overbuilt since then that it no longer has charm or beauty. (A return visit as a tourist in 1993 was a big disappointment.) 

     I rode the double-decker buses on several routes, from one end to the other and then back to city center (of Victoria, the main city). I and some shipmates went out to Aberdeen and had supper on one of the wonderful floating restaurants, a delightful experience.  A friend and I had supper in the restaurant atop the best hotel of the time.  Great food and an amazing view.  I took the cable car up to Victoria Peak, where the view across the city and the harbor was so stunning it was hard to believe it was real.  I took a tour to Kowloon and the mainland, what were called  the “New Territories,” to visit quaint Chinese villages where every villager demanded payment to have his or her picture taken.  Even toddlers waddled up with a hand out if they saw a camera.  I loved it all.

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 Posted by at 7:23 pm