OK, though I've been sick with a cold for the last two or three days, my email says that you want to know about my getting drunk with a monkey in the Philippines. So here it goes!
You might want to get something to drink, and sit back, and get ready to hear a tale that is as true as I can tell it.
It was back in 1975, a time that's forever ago yet sometimes feels like yesterday. I was stationed aboard the USS Hancock, the "Hanna." She was a grand old lady of a ship, and we just pulled back into port at Subic Bay after leaving the South China Sea.
This was right after the evacuations of the Phnom Penh and Saigon, after they fell to the Communist. And it was after we were called out to support the recovery mission of the SS Mayaguez, and its 39 Merchant Marine Seamen who were taken captive.
I was a Marine with the ship's Marine Detachment. I was Sea Going and on Liberty, and so I'm sitting in this bar in Olongapo. It was the garden spot of the Philippines where every Sailor and Marine in the 7th Fleet came to play while overseas.
Olongapo was sort of a Disney Land for Servicemen. It was wall to wall bars, with every sort of music you wanted to hear. The music was great, and the drinks were as cheap as the girls there.
I started drinking San Miguel beer earlier first at the beach and then in town. And yes, I made sure that I held it up to the light first to make sure nothing was swimming in it before I took a drink. Later I moved to drinking what the locals called Mojo.
Mojo was really an interesting drink. The bars served it in a plastic quart pitcher. It contained about 4 to 5 shots of rum, vodka, bourbon, gin, and I think they threw in a beer before they added pineapple and orange juices, or whatever else they had on hand. It was green.
They charged 3 pesos for the pitcher and the going exchange rate back then was about 15 pesos to a dollar on the Black Market. The regular exchange was about 9 to 1. So either way, it was a deal!
Like I said before, they served it in a plastic pitcher along with as many plastic cups as you wanted. Most of the time three cups was all we needed. Of course the problem with Mojo was its effect on a person. It was sort of like Torpedo Juice in that it hit you slow.
First you think everything is fine until you stand up and find that you've lost the use of your legs. Then for some reason your tongue stops working and you lose the ability to speak coherently. Before you know it you're saying things to the local women that you'd never imagine saying back in the States.
Things like, "Sure I'll take you State-side. Come with me and I'll buy you an air conditioned helicopter with a side-car." And since most of the gals only speak very little English and mostly their native Tagalog, God only knows how that translates.
Please understand that when you're a teenager and in the Service, this is as close to Heaven as you can get in those days. Besides, for less than 25 cents a pitcher, it was a cheap way of having a great time while getting pretty plastered.
Then in comes this young boy with an arm full of "puka shells" and a monkey on his shoulder. Now over the years I've wondered what kind of monkey he was, and I would guess a friendly one thank God.
I had just poured my second or third cup of Mojo when the boy asked me if I wanted to buy some puka shells? I didn't want any puka shells but the monkey looked like it was looking for a new home, so I asked the boy to sell me the monkey.
He said he wanted 2 pesos per puka shell necklace, and I said that I'd give him 3 pesos for the monkey. And this went back and forth a few times until I upped it to 6 pesos for the monkey. Then the monkey was mine.
For what seems the longest time that night, me and the monkey sat there talking about his future when we'd get back to the states. And yes, we drank Mojo.
As the night went on, the monkey and I drank a lot of Mojo together. Personally it was my first time drinking with a monkey and I was real impressed by how well he handled his booze.
There are certain rules when dealing with monkeys:
First, remember that no matter how mature and trustworthy a monkey looks, never ever give him a loaded gun. This is sure to result in a bad situation, bank robberies, the whole nine yards. Second, remember when listen to monkeys that they all lie. Yes, besides cheating at cards and telling you how they have the answers to everything, the little suckers lie like there's no tomorrow. Third, monkeys tend to be power hungry and will throw a fit if they don't get their way. This is usually demonstrated when they have been drinking and want to hog all of the liquor.
So, knowing the rules, I sat and listened to his troubles.
After a while, I knew what was needed and knowing that first things were first, he had to become a citizen before anything else would take place. Even back then we heard about people getting Social Security cards for their dogs and such, so why not a monkey? I saw no reason to deprive him of the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
He needed papers!
So I decided to take him up the after brow and onto the Hanna where I was sure that my Captain, or my X.O., would make him raise a hand and swear to be a good citizen. I had great Officers who I respected like no one ever knew, and yes I figured that they'd do it - just to do it!
It is amazing how Mojo can make things clear to someone.
For good measure I stuffed Henry into my field jacket as I boarded the gangway. It was just in case I ran into someone that didn't like monkeys and wanted to pick a fight with him. There are all sorts of people in the world and yes some are Sailors who don't cotton to monkeys. Take it from this former Marine, I know these things.
When I reached the quarter deck, I turned to salute the colors and then turned to salute and request permission to come aboard. And that's when an old Chief Petty Officer heard the monkey chattering under my field jacket and demanded, "You get son of King Kong off my boat!"
Then before I could say anything, I heard the word "Now!" And with that I walked back down the after brow with son of King Kong still chattering away.
In those days the Philippines was under a Martial Law and there was a midnight curfew outside of the base. I knew it was too close to curfew to go back into town and try to find a home for the monkey there, so instead the monkey and I went to the Enlisted Men's Club to have a beer or two.
We discussed his future if I could get him back to the States somehow. I figured I'd enroll him in some sort of good school as a Foreign Exchange Student and knowing that some Colleges are only concerned about getting their money, I was willing to bet that no one would care if he didn't show up for classes.
Subsequently I was betting that no one would find out that he was a monkey until after he got his degree. Then what can they say?
I thought maybe a major in Political Science with a minor in English Lit would be perfect for Henry. Henry seemed a good name for a monkey, especially a monkey who would one day be a pseudo-intellectual.
And no it wasn't all that crazy! I figured that maybe after he gets his degree I'd be able to find him a job with the Democratic National Committee as an Intern.
I figured he'd fit in perfect with them and could be used to fill one of the spots on their hiring quota. He was a primate of color, black, actually a dark gray really. And of course he was Asian, he spoke a foreign language, and he needed assistance. So I figured, he'd be perfect!
Yes there is that thing about him being foreign born, but it does help when you try to get College tuition assistance. It is a little bit of a problem if I wanted to run him for Congress, but not much after all I can say that he comes from a very environmentally friendly family.
It would be bad if I wanted to run him for President, I mean how can I explain him getting tuition as a Foreign Exchange Student and then turn around and say he's really a citizen?
I knew I could probably dummy up a birth certificate, heck they do Drivers License and such so why not a birth certificate?
Back in 1975, I would have bet just about anything that trying to produce a birth certificate when there isn't one just so he can be President would be hard to get by the most tireless Newspaper people. I knew that there would be no way of doing it.
I figured they'd hound him, and sooner or later my monkey Henry would be shipped back to the Philippines once they found out the truth. Oath of Office or not, I had this feeling it would matter!
But it was no big deal really. My dreams of him going on to bigger and better things were just shot in the butt by a Chief Petty Officer who didn't know that he just ordered a future Senator off the ship. And now what do we do?
Well while we were discussing this, I got hungry. So thinking that the curfew hadn't started yet I figured I'd take a chance and try to get across the Shit River bridge and over to the Bar-B-Q stands for something to eat.
While standing there ordering some meat sticks, the owner asked me to trade meat sticks for my monkey. At first I thought no, but then the owner raised the ante to five sticks so I gave him up. Goodbye Henry!
So I'm standing there now all alone when the owner and the monkey disappear in the back of the shack, then I hear this terrible scream. That's when I scaled the counter and see my monkey Henry being held down on a chopping block while the owner holding a clever is about to chop him up for more meat sticks.
So I shoved the owner aside and took the monkey, and we were out of there.
Earlier at the Enlisted Men's Club, I had bumped into an old friend. We had gone through Boot Camp and Infantry Training School together, and he was stationed at the upper MAU Camp there in Subic. I figured that I needed to find him.
And once I did, I told him that there was no way of me getting that monkey back to the States to run for Congress or for President, I figured we had to set him free.
Henry needed to be AWOL from anyone's shoulder. He needed to be free from a leash. After all, there was always the chance that his owner might get hungry and Henry would become Bar-B-Q.
My old friend was more than willing to help out, and after brain-storming for a few minutes on our options, we took Henry and jumped in his jeep. Off we went heading toward the MAU Camp.
As we went along we talked about messing with the Navy and giving Henry to the Admiral in charge of the Subic Bay base as a gift. We thought about maybe slipping him into the Admiral's bedroom. And of course, we laughed at the thought of the Admiral's wife meeting Henry in the middle of the night.
But no, maybe it was because the booze was wearing off or simply a case of good judgment, but instead we decided to go up into the hills near the jungle and turn him loose. My friend knew where there were a lot of other monkeys. Albeit not as drunk as our monkey.
So there on that night, with me by then fairly sober, up pass the upper MAU Camp in an isolated area that my old friend knew well, without ceremony or fanfare, we set Henry free.
When I got back to the ship, I walked up the gangway and again faced aft to salute the colors and again requested permission to come aboard, but this time without "Son of King Kong" with me.
It's strange that no one believed me when I told them that I was drinking with someone that night who just could have been President.
But that's OK, because almost 40 years later I'm almost sure that some old monkey is telling his grandkid the story about the time he got drunk with a young U.S. Marine who set him free!
Story by Tom Correa