"The Monkeys Have No Tails in Zamboango"

MN3 Don Jones


While stringing a phone line between NAVMAG, Subic's Admin area & the Ammo Piers, Bebop, myself, & a fat Torpedoman with thick glasses called "Gropo," were supervised by an Electricians Mate second class. Bebop's gripe with Gropo may not have started this way, but this is what I saw; the 10 commodes in the old Navy barracks at the Subic Bay Naval base were mounted on a raised platform with no dividers between the commodes. One day, Bebop & me walked into the head & saw "Gropo" sitting butt-naked on a commode, while munching on a big red apple. We both laughed out loud at the funny sight, but Gropo just grinned & kept munching away on that dang apple. From that point on Gropo was the butt of Bebop's sarcasm & mean jokes. Out in the jungle cutting 3 to 4 inch in diameter bamboo with sharp machetes was no place for goofing around & I was starting to feel sorry for Gropo. TM2 Gropo, was obviously smart, but too mild-mannered & wasn't about to pull rank on Bebop, but the tension between them grew & was coming to a head. I knew something bad was going to happen, but what?

One mid-morning while taking a smoke break Bebop did one of the craziest, most outlandish, & dangerous things I had ever seen him do. Gropo, a non-smoker was relaxing on a bench half-asleep under a small wooden shelter next to the ammo pier road. A long, horizontal piece of 2 X 4 ran across the front of the shelter right above Gropo's head. Bebop whispered to me, "Watch this."

Suddenly, Bebop jumped in front of Gropo yelled "BANZAI" to get his attention and swung the sharp machete downward toward the top of his head. As he had planned Bebop's machete slammed harmlessly into the 2 X 4 instead of splitting Gropo's head wide-open. A startled & wild-eyed Gropo came up off that bench mad as hell & started chasing Bebop around the wooden shelter. Finally, the EM2 stepped between them & ordered them to knock it off. Gropo got his revenge by making Bebop put on and use a pair of tree climbers attached to his lower legs. Climbing a tree with tree climbers is no easy job. First off, your shins are a real sensitive area & they hurt like the devil especially when you thrust the sharp spikes at the bottom of the climbers into the side of a tree. After a few hours of hanging phone line to trees in the hot tropical sun Bebop was pooped by lunch time as we left for the Seabee's messhall. A sort of truce was obvious when Bebop didn't complain when Gropo jumped into the seat of the Willys bomb truck, grinned that big lopsided grin of his & yelled, "All aboard!"

It seemed all was forgotten & forgiven. And that was the way it was so many years ago, we worked hard, we played hard, & sometimes we argued or even fought as we transitioned from boys to men in the tropical heat of the Phillipine Islands. Where the misguided older sailors sang often & loudly, "Oh, the monkeys have no tails in Zamboango."


(Background: The Subic Bay Naval Base was the only U. S. naval base that had an entire city inside its fences. Olongapo had a population of about 60,000. Every week or two the Filipina bar girls were tested for STD's. If they were found to have an STD they were kicked off the base until they were cured. Some of the outcast girls cooled their heels in Mabayo, Cavite City, or Manila. If you wanted to make a local damsel happy all you had to do was take them to play Bingo at the EM Club & buy them a 50 cent box of Hi-Ho crackers. The main prize at Bingo was a Lambretta motor scooter worth $300.)

Quite often at NAVMAG, we were restricted to the base for varying periods of time when a typhoon was near the island of Luzon. There was a long list of tasks at NAVMAG that needed to be done in preparation for a typhoon. Some tasks made sense and in my opinion some made no sense at all. I remember being told to take Box & Artelejo with me out to the magazine areas to empty and turn upside down every 55-gallon oil drum located at each of our magazines. The barrels were filled with about 400 pounds of fresh water for firefighting purposes. It seemed to me that it would have been smarter to leave the water just where it was, because without it those barrels could get airborne in high winds and do some severe damage.

Not being able to go on liberty in Olongapo where the girls were caused some sailors to do outlandish things. For example, they caught a young officer swimming butt-naked across S- - - River in order to get to town. They said he was holding a bundle of dry clothes wrapped around his shoes on top of his head with one hand, and swimming with the other. The poor guy probably got into a heap of trouble for sneaking off-base.

One Saturday night after having a few beers on-base, a red-headed TM1 from Texas, nicknamed “Hocky John,” decided to take a bomb truck off-base & go to the small fishing village of Mabayo, West of NAVMAG. Since Mabayo was strictly off-limits and we were restricted to the base, several of us tried to talk the guy out of it. However, it seemed he had a clever plan, and the adventure of the trip sounded appealing to a bunch of 19 & 20-year-olds. In order to make our story more believable to the Marines on the gate, everyone shifted into dungarees. We were supposedly a work-detail going to Mabayo to retrieve some Navy item that a fisherman had found floating in the ocean. Our leader, Hocky-John, said he would do all the talking to the Marine guards.

Now, a bomb truck doesn't have a covered cab and has limited safe seating & with all that cool wind whipping by, I got sober & had cold feet at the same time. I could see my 3rd class crow going bye-bye, but how could I bow out gracefully, I wondered. Getting by the Marine guards was easier than I thought it would be. Mabayo didn't have electricity, but we knew warm San Miguel beer, hot gin, & Filipina women would put a self-satisfying fire in our belly. The key thing was we were probably the only sailors off-base at that time and that made all the difference. There weren’t many lanterns or fires burning that dark moonless night in Mabayo, but as soon as we arrived the bomb-truck was quickly surrounded by men, women of all ages, curious children, & barking dogs. Some of the younger men were armed with machetes & they weren't very friendly as they eyed the bomb truck closely.

I stayed with the vehicle first and soon struck up a lively conversation with a bright 10-year-old boy who asked if I knew all the months of the year that had 31 days. I admitted that I didn't and he proceeded to show me an easy way by using four knuckles on my hand. He said each knuckle stood for months with 31 days & the valleys between knuckles stood for months that had less than 31. It was so easy & foolproof, I wondered why I hadn't thought of it myself.

Hocky John was the first sailor to return. He looked beat, & sore about something. He made a half-hearted offer to stay with the bomb truck while I went for a warm beer, but I had had enough of odorous Mabayo for the night. Tame carabao, pigs, chickens, & dogs were lounging under & around the nipa huts & they smelled really bad. And I was antsy about going back through the security gates without something to show the Marines. But the Marine on the outermost gate simply waved us through like it was nothing to see vehicles coming back late at night from Mabayo. I promised myself that one day before I left the P.I. I would return to Mabayo in broad daylight with my movie camera & I did. But that time we walked through the jungle & the 8-mm movie footage shot was a hit with my folks back in Alabama.

Don Jones, MNCM, USN (Retired)




Derick S. Hartshorn - 2009-present
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