February 2, 2013

In September 1981 my unit, Comm Co, HQ Bn, 3rd Marine Divison was granted a 96 hour R&R pass to the Philipines from our station in Okinawa as a reward for good performance in a recent field operation. After four days of chaotic, over-the-top fun, my buddies and I were ready to return to Okinawa to catch up on our rest. As luck would have it, a typhoon was passing near Okinawa and we could not return for a few more days. Nearly broke and exhausted, yet not willing to return to the base, a friend and I stumbled upon an American Legion post in Olongapo. Neither of us had any idea what it was or what it stood for. We entered out of curiosity after we read a sign outside that welcomed active duty personnel.
What we found was a quiet refuge from the cacophony and non-stop solicitations of the non-stop solicitations for black market transactions and salacious exchanges from the natives of Olongapo. We had enough money for one beer and nursed it for quite a while so as not to wear out our welcome. Eventually, a retired Marine who apparently lived there stopped over and asked us a few questions. When he learned we were broke and hungry, he ordered the waitress to bring us some food and all the beer we wanted. Not sure if he paid or the post picked up the tab, but it was wonderful. Nobody asked to buy my watch or camera, nobody asked me to buy them a drink, and I felt I did not have to keep one hand on my wallet. For the first time in several days, I actually began to relax. I felt safe and secure and enjoyed the calm as we sat on a balcony overlooking the street and watched people pass by, looking up at us and pointing, seemingly disturbed that they could not get at us to buy from or sell something to us.
I will always cherish the memory of that American Legion Post, the first one I ever visited. It gave me a few hours of peace and friendship in a crazy, unruly environment and it introduced me to what is now a major part of my life.


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