May 25, 1975
During the last days of Saigon, things seemed to be normal in the city. There did seem to be more people and more Hondas to be sure, but the mood of the people going about their daily business appeared to belie the danger that had progressed to just a few miles from the city.
Only after I reached Manila, a week after leaving Saigon, did it occur to me that there had been underlying tension in Saigon during those last days. The people were not as carefree and there were not nearly as many children in the streets as before. It struck me when I encountered the carefree attitude of the Filipinos in Manila.
At first I thought how fortunate these people are compared to the Vietnamese. The South Vietnamese who remained face such uncertainties, families have been separated, thousands of additional people are jobless, all facing survival as a first priority. And there is a complete stream of South Vietnamese refugees extending across the Pacific Ocean into the United States. How much unhappiness these once happy people must be experiencing. And here in Manila is an altogether different world.
While I was thinking about how fortunate these people are, it dawned on me what trying times they themselves had faced thirty some add years ago. During the early 1940’s they had been occupied by the Japanese armed forces. But those years are beyond the memory of so many of the Filipinos you encounter in Manila today.
A tourist first encounters the hustlers at the airport. For instance a taxi fare is “$15 only.” Beware of that word “only.” The regular taxi fare is less than $3. I quickly learned to shy away from anyone using the word “only.” It always indicates price-hiking.
Around the tourist hotels on Roxas Boulevard are droves of hustlers. They hit you the minute you emerge from the hotel with old coins, pearls, taxis, newspapers, shoeshines, jewelry, and offers of pretty girls for the night. The taxi drivers are all pushing girls. It’s almost impossible to get a conversation-free taxi ride. But the taxis are dirt-cheap.
I took a short walk through the open park along Roxas Boulevard. Here were a lot of children, some with their families, some without, but playing together with other children. Here I heard a greeting I remember from another era: “Hello, Joe.” Apparently they recognized me as an American but obviously Japanese and other tourists outnumber Americans in Manila today. Had they learned this greeting from their parents or has the oldtime call to American GI’s lingered on? While I was reveling in the joys of this remembrance of previous pleasant greetings and the present apparent happiness and smiles of these children I was brought down to earth by their next greeting: “You give me money?” Was this the same old Filipino hustler? But after further meditation, I recall that that was also the second part of the old greeting to the GI’s, worldwide. That just goes to show how we tend to remember the pleasant and forget the unpleasant aspects of the “good old days.”
May 24, 1975
Well, I tried my first night Club in Manila. I’ve seen them advertised and I guess I thought they were all expensive, so I hadn’t ventured out before.
I don’t even remember the name of the one I tried. There are a large number of them on Roxas Boulevard. There were at least two others within 100 yards of the one I tried. First I ate a bite in a restaurant near the night club. But on the way there from my hotel the taxi driver really did a job of hustling. A single male getting into a taxicab in Manila, and especially on a Saturday night, must expect to be hustled. This taxi driver kept telling me that girls in the night clubs would cost $50 a night but the place he was promoting was cheaper (I never even checked to see how much cheaper).
Well, I entered the club at about 9:00 P.M.–no cover charge, no minimum. It was dark but I was ushered to a table near the dance floor, by flashlight. I soon got used to the flashlights as that was about all the light there was. It was quite a large place. I would guess it would seat 2-300, aside from the dance floor and the stage.
When I got to the table the waiter told me I could view girls through a one-way mirror near the men’s room. He said they cost 50 pesos an hour (about $7). I said I’d have a beer first–a little over $1. Since seeing female flesh exhibited in a like manner in Bangkok I was curious about this. So halfway through my first beer I went to the men’s room. Sure enough, there was a one-way mirror. And there must have been about 30 beauties in all sorts of dress and undress. But what surprised me was that so many were playing cards–using the real large cards. I saw right away that they weren’t playing bridge–I think they were playing some variation of rummy. While I was there another fellow or two were also looking. But there was a woman there too. I don’t know whether she was looking for a daughter, a girl friend or what.
After I went back to my table, I noticed there was a lot of action in that corner. There were two doors, one to the men’s room and one-way mirror, and the other to the room where the girls were. Attendants went into the girls’ room and brought some out. I saw that they took them to men at various tables. I asked a waiter about that and discovered that the 50 pesos an hour was for companionship at a table. What a comedown! So maybe the taxi driver’s admonition about $50 a night was right.
There was a very good band playing for dancing–with two very pretty girl singers. They put on a good show, including dancing, themselves. At 10:00 P.M. the floor show started. Lo, and behold, it was put on by the girls from “The Room.” All the girls poured out, some were in the show, and others on the sidelines heckling. Needless to say, the card games broke up. I don’t know how they got the actresses back who had been selected for companionship. The costumes were becoming, a few strips of cloth on some pretty nice bodies. The first act was comical–about six lovelies rolling and wrestling on the floor while the other card sharps on the sidelines cheered. The other acts were various dances but not stripping. Occasionally dancers would go through the audience and the lights would come on. Then there was a boogie-woogie contest, won by an American dancing with one of the girls from “the room.”
I had three or four beers. It must have been three, as I was only charged 25 pesos, 65 centavos (a little over $3). The floor show was quite enjoyable–not overly artistic. But, hell, what can you expect for three bucks.
Saturday, May 3, 1975
I had 8 good hours of sleep and sweated out the fever. This morning my sheet was wet (from sweat). I found out today that I’m to go to Manila for 60 days TDY as Acting Controller until the new Controller, Charlie Christian, comes out. Maybe, I can still avoid Washington. Now we can probably look forward to another RIFF. Meanwhile, I can’t keep my mind off Mr. Ba and Mr. Minh, who are probably still in Saigon while their families are waiting for them in Guam.
Friday, May 2, 1975
Yeah, we got on the copters at 8:00 a.m. We took off at 10:20 though. I had a bit of diarrhea and made a couple of trips to the latr—, John, no–the head (Navy). We landed at U Tapoa (how do you spell it?) at 10:50 a.m., or 9:50 Bangkok time. We took a while to get transferred to a C-130 to go to Bangkok, getting there around noon, Bangkok time. Then to USOM around 3:00 P.M. and good care from Jim McMahon, Clark Gregory, Rick Albores and company.
After finally checking into a hotel I had a fever and thought I had caught a bug. Paul Kostamo and Clarence Combs saved my life with a martini (actually a glass of gin). Clarence was getting around pretty well on his two broken feet, after a bit of Tanqueray (my allegiance is no longer strictly to Beefeater). I felt well enough to go to Albores’ house where, after another glass of gin, Ella Albores whipped up a wonderful cheese omelet, steak and hash browns (or was it fried rice).
After visiting with the Albores and John Klein, I returned to the hotel. I felt much better and I think I was just exhausted, and hungrier than I realized. I probably ate twice as much as I usually do at one sitting. That Ella is some cook.
Thursday, May 1, 1975
Nothing much during the morning. I heard that Ron Pollock left last night, with some of the Vietnamese girls who were assisting in registering the Vietnamese passengers, to take one of the Pioneer vessels to Guam. It will probably take a week. I can get there before that by air.
Four of us took a trip with a Lt. Plask to the hangar deck, where he gave a very technical briefing on the ship’s fighters and bombers. Then to an observation deck above the flight deck and to the pilot’s ready room. The flight deck is full of helicopters but this carrier ordinarily launches fighters and bombers. Rumor is that we may leave for Thailand about 4:00 p.m. today, a 1 1/2 hour helicopter flight.
Well, we boarded the helicopters at 4:00 p.m. and stayed on board a little over an hour. Then it was called off and we returned to our same quarters. The sailors had just cleaned them out and were ready to move back in. Word is that there was difficulty with the Thai Government on our coming in. Maybe they thought we were Vietnamese. Now we are sailing all the way into Thailand and expect to get off about 8:00 a.m.
Wednesday, April 30, 1975
After a pretty good night’s sleep, I was up at 7:00 A.M. Men have the head for the first 30 minutes of every hour (7:00-7:30) and women and children the second 30 minutes. We heard that all Vietnamese would eat breakfast first because they would be flown by helicopter to other ships, possibly even landing craft that would go directly to Guam or Wake Island. It was about 9:00 A.M. before we could go to eat. Everywhere we go, we have to be escorted. For breakfast , I had scrambled eggs, shrimp, sweet roll, plums, with Sprite and coffee to drink.
The Captain came by before we ate. He said some Marines from the Embassy compound had been withdrawn. Ambassador Martin had been evacuated and the evacuation was about over in Saigon. During the morning, we heard that the Embassy had been hit pretty hard after everyone left and was on fire. It seems that about 20 minutes after we were lifted off last night, there was a riot in front of the Embassy and resulted in Marines fighting ARVN soldiers. We heard that 5 marines had been killed but don’t know where or how. Of course, it could only be a rumor (Apparently, it was a rumor).
This morning, several S. Vietnamese helicopters landed bringing the families of crew members. We probably evacuated a lot of Generals’ families, so I guess its every man for himself. After landing, some of the helicopters were pushed over the side for lack of room. I heard of only one who went back to Saigon to evacuate more.
Since 1:30 p.m., we have been having some excitement. A Cessna with a Vietnamese major, his wife and 4 or 5 children on board, wants to land on this carrier. The ship is speeding up to give him more landing room. As many as can crowd into a small room in our quarters area are watching deck action on a closed circuit TV.
Now he has made it O.K. The ship sped up so he was going only about 15 knots over the deck. Late today several South Vietnamese helicopters, including Chinooks, have landed. We have now received some news and know that South Vietnam has surrendered. Where we earlier thought the helicopter pilots had deserted, we now know they got away from the North Vietnamese with their copters
All kinds of rumors of where we are going–one rumor says we will stay on this ship and go to Subic Bay, Philippines, about 3 days away. Another says we will be transferred by helicopter to another ship, probably a cruiser, that will get to Subic faster.
Wednesday night and all the Vietnamese have been transferred to other ships, supposedly to go directly to Guam or Wake Island. And now we have been told to go up for boarding helicopters to go somewhere. Everyone lined up once and then, in about 5 minutes were told to fall out. We were told to report ot the foksel (that seems to be how the sailors pronounce it; as an ex-air force pilot I don’t know what it is. But I vaguely remember reading in various books of a word, something like Fo’c’sle, which I took to mean forecastle). At about 11:00 p.m. everyone lined up again. Bill Rice and I have been after the medics to get a stretcher for Clarence Combs, because of his bad feet, and we said we would wait for him. It was just as well because most of the line moved out toward the flight deck, and then everyone was sent back in again. And flight operations have shut down for the night. Apparently something was “Fokked up” on the “FOKSEL”. We thought the weather (rain) might be the reason but found later that it apparently was not. We have now been told that we will get off tomorrow, Thursday, and should indicate our choice of (1) helicopter to a commercial ship for passage to Guam or Wake Island; (2) Stay on the ship as it goes south, past Vietnam, and then go with the Air Force helicopters to their base in Thailand, or (3) Stay on board the ship until it reaches Subic Bay. We decided that all AID people should go to Bangkok. Incidentally, all five of our ADFM people are on this ship. In Bangkok, we can get travel orders and take a week’s TDY somewhere to buy clothes and rest. If Jennie* left Bangkok, as scheduled, on Wednesday, I may go by way of Guam on my way home. Anyway, another late meal, about 12:30 a.m.