R & R - WestPac '63 and "Grande Island"

by Ken "Jake" Jaccard, YN3, USNR-R

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Many of you remember your R & R ports. Your Yeoman has some recollections of one of the "Better" R&R Ports of Call...

During WestPac '63, the Fighting Hannah visited Hong Kong three times; the last time, we were called off R & R to meet other important players in the Gulf of Tonkin during the unrest there, and the eventual assassination of President Diem. This was in November of 1963, the same time that our own President Kennedy, was assassinated. These were very dark times for our Ship and our Country!

But not all of WestPac'63 was dark and purposeful. We of the Mighty Hannah did find some R&R time also.

When we came into port at Cubi Point, P.I., we often found ourselves either in "PO" city as it was known lovingly by many old Salt, or Olongapo, sin city of the East. Or if you wanted to remain more "Pure" you could find yourself "soused" on Grande Island, drinking gallons of "San Magoo", awaiting the following days of the "Trots."

Grande Island sits in a very prominent place in the mouth of Subic Bay, once the home of a large Garrison, complete with bunkers, to guard the Bay, during the Spanish-American War of the past Century. But in more recent times (1960's through about 1980's) she was host to many sailors who wished a day away from the more strenuous times aboard their various commands. In other words, she was a KEY R&R venue where many a sailor found themselves drunk on their ass, swapping sea stories while enjoying many bottles of good old "San Magoo" (San Miguel Beer) as it was known by old Salts, who also made that passage.

Shipmate Tony Rucker and Buddies in the P.I.

Tony Rucker S-6 Division and Shipmates in the P.I.

I was no less among my shipmates. I did stay sober a bit longer however, since I was green to drinking, being only nineteen, and not sure if I wanted to find myself out of control. Yet, in time, I became like the rest, totally wasted on good old San Magoo, thereby living up to the good old Sailor's reputation.

Jake with X-Division Shipmates at Sky Club - Cubi Pt., P.I.
Jake - third from right - with X-Division Shipmates at Sky Club - Cubi Pt., P.I.
Shipmates (sorry girls) L to R, Ron Cless, Henry Weinberger, myself and Gary Hartsell

I did get in a round of 9-Hole Golf (imagine that!) and then wondered across the island to the far side, looking out to sea while sitting on the sand of the white pristine beaches found there, in the shade of a coconut palm, shielded from the hot, tropical sun.

On the way, however, I did find myself, as many of us did, at the top of the hill, looking over the abandoned gun of the Bunker, where the gun still was pointed sea-ward as if waiting for another enemy ship to come into range. That old Gun, a "Sixteen Incher", more than likely still is pointed in the same ghostly search sea-ward and may until the winds of time, moisture and blowing sands dissolve it away into history.

Jake and the 16
Jake and the Big Gun - Grande Island, P.I., 1963
yet another view

The Bunkers were fun to explore, and I did my share of that, while still sober, though ever-more becoming less so.

Looking up to the old watch tower, that in a more dangerous time, stood sentinel over the Bay, I saw an inebriated sailor singing crazily, and hanging over the side like some fool, expecting anytime to see him fall to the jungle below. I hope he didn't, as all of us were in no shape to be climbing anything, least of all, a 50 or 60 foot tower.

Yes those were the days, when one could "cut loose" and enjoy themselves away from the more "strenuous" duties of shipboard life.

Whenever I find myself drifting off to the past, amid many memories, somehow, those old views of Grande Island, and my Navy Days, come brilliantly back to me, as if no time has passed at all.

The dream of finding myself living on some uncharted island has often been emphasized from those old memories and visions, for the far side of Grande Island, looking out to sea had all the feelings of the same "deserted island" - and has been the fuel of many-a-fantasy since those days. In my heart, I can imagine what life might have been, had I been "marooned" on a deserted island in the South Pacific. Those fantasies find their source from those few hours on the beach spent on Grande Island, Subic Bay, Philippines, back in 1963.

I wonder today, had I found myself truly marooned on such a pristine island, if I would have the panache and ability to survive, to continue the fantasy. Every man probably has thought of going to some uncharted island, to escape the crazy world we live in today, in the 21st Century, but only a few of us have had the true-life adventure of being there in the flesh. I am glad I can say without any hesitation, that I lived the "adventure" - and it's true, the Navy does give us these little cameos to keep with us a life-time. Thank You, Uncle Sam, for the Memories!

Soon, the sun would begin it's setting, and the "Liberty Launch" would pull up to the dock, to haul the drunken, and often passed-out sailors back to their various ships. We all had to leave the fun behind, but knew in our minds and hearts, that we'd be back again, perhaps on the same Cruise; or perhaps another. Some would return; others never did, but for an old Salt like myself, I can go there any time I want, for Grande Island still is good R & R in my memories.

Those were the days... seems strange today, that I find myself still wishing the Launch would pull up and take me back to good old "Grande Island" and R&R...

Today, Grande Island has been developed into a Tourist Trap, but the old "Haunts" still exist there; many of us still 'haunt' the place. You don't put to bed such a Strong Memory, or so many "Strong" emotions on such a Place as Grande Island shared in common by so many Sailors living or dead - One of the Best R&R Liberties a Sailor could find, during the days before Vietnam or even during those days. She continued to be a good R&R venue up to when the Navy finally handed Subic Bay back to the Philippine people. It would be a great vacation venue, if the Yeoman could scrounge up enough MPCs to get over there

Ken "Jake" Jaccard,
Web Yeoman, USS Hancock CV/CVA-19 Memorial
22 September 2003
40 years later
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