You might want to get something to drink, 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 part of the Marine Detachment stationed aboard the USS Hancock, the "Hanna." She was really 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, Cambodia, and Saigon, South Vietnam, after they fell to the Communist. And in fact, 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 by pirates.
As I said, I was a Marine with the ship's Marine Detachment. I was a Sea Going Marine and on Liberty, and so I'm sitting in this bar in Olongapo, Philippines. It was the garden spot of the Philippines where every Sailor and Marine in the 7th Fleet enjoyed while overseas. There were even those who re-enlisted just so they could go back there.
There was a reason for that. Olongapo was sort of a Disney Land for young 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 women there.
I started drinking San Miguel beer earlier that day. First at the beach and then in town. And of course, as a matter of safety, like others, I made sure that I held it up to the light first to make sure nothing was swimming around in the bottle before I took a drink. Beers overseas were notorious for having bugs in them, and San Miguel wasn't any different than the others.
Later on that day, 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 double-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 of course, 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 listening to monkeys, remember 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 things for themselves. In this case all of the Mojo! Lastly, always remember that monkeys steal. When you're not looking, they steal your money, your drink, and they'd even try to steal your hooker if they could figure out what to do with her. They deny everything and blame others for the things they do. Bottom line, monkeys can't be trusted.
So, knowing the rules, I sat and we talked. I also watched and listened to his troubles as he got drunk. He was a sloppy drunk. No control on his liquor and less control on his swearing. And talk about meaner as he drank, I figured he must have been a Boatswain's Mate in his last life.
After a while, I knew what was needed to make his life complete. And knowing that first things were first, he had to become an American citizen before anything else would take place. Even back then there were reports of people getting Social Security cards for their dogs and cats and such, so why not a monkey? I saw no reason to deprive him of the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness even if that simply meant more bananas.
He needed papers! So I decided to take him back to the base on to the ship where my commanding officer, who I knew could do anything, could swear him in as a American citizen. Going up the after brow and onto the Hanna, 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 frankly, I figured that they'd do it just to do it!
It is amazing how a lot of booze, in that case Mojo, can make things clear to someone. Knowing that I may find some resistance from the Navy about making that monkey an American citizen, for good measure I stuffed Henry into my jacket as I boarded the gangway. It was also 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. That's when the crusty old Chief Petty Officer on watch heard the monkey chattering under my jacket and demanded, "You get son of King Kong off my boat!"
Before I could say anything, I heard the word "NOW!" And with that, I spun back around and headed 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 base's Enlisted Men's Club to have a beer or two. There we discussed his future if I could get him back to the States somehow.
I had a plan where I figured I'd enroll him in some sort of good school as a Foreign Exchange Student. I could falsify some papers like a Birth Certificate and say that he was born in Hawaii where I was from. I could then send him to a private school that was only interesting in tuition money. I didn't think they'd care if they ever saw him or dealt with his shitty behavior. And as most know, drunk or not, a lot of monkeys have some pretty poor social skills. They chatter a lot. And while they can be very friendly, they have been known to be sort of self-righteous because they're monkeys.
I was worried that he'd get into drugs in College. But I figured that even if he did, most Colleges are only concerned about getting their money and wouldn't care if they saw him or not. Besides, I was willing to bet that no one would care if he didn't show up for classes as long as he met their enrollment goals and had a financial supporter backing him.
Yes, I was betting that no one would find out that he was a monkey. I figured that even if no one ever saw him attend a sing class, no one would care. Yes, especially if he became famous later.
I even thought of making him a Law student with a minor in Political Science. I thought about a major in English Lit, but I figure that the other students would want him to sit around and drink wine and smoke a little too much pot. And knowing how monkeys can spend all of their student loans on wine and pot, I figured that a major in Law would benefit him more.
I named him Henry Olongapo. It seemed a good name for a monkey, especially a monkey who would one day be a pseudo-intellectual. It was a perfect name because it was differently ethnic sounding, and I figured he would be entitled to head of the line privileges for job preferences more than with the name Smith or Jones. Yes, that was the case even in 1975.
If you're thinking that it sounded to crazy? 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 Democrat Party as some sort of 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.
I did wonder how long it would take for them to realize that he was a primate. Tough of color, red and black, actually a dark gray if my memory serves me right. 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 I figured that would help when try to get him College tuition assistance. It would have been a little bit of a problem if I wanted to run him for Congress, but not much. After all, as his manager I can pass him off as a candidate who comes from a very "Environmentally friendly family." And even if no one ever say that he was in reality a monkey, it was a safe bet that I would be able to get big money donors to sponsor him if I ran him as a Democrat.
I did thing it would be bad if I wanted to run him for President. I mean how would I be able to explain that he received College tuition assistance as a Foreign Exchange Student but then said that he's really an America citizen? And how would I explain that he become President without being born in America and lied about that? No, I figured no one would ever believe go for it unless people were really stupid.
As I said before, I knew I could probably dummy up a Birth Certificate. Heck, people fake Drivers License and Social Security card. Some people have even used other people's Social Security numbers and no one fusses about it, so why not a fake 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 of him being a fake. I figured his taking the Oath of Office or not, I had this feeling it would matter and they'd deport him!
But it wasn't a big deal really, after all I could get him aboard the Hancock to get my Captain to swear him in. So basically, all of 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 President off the ship.
And now what do we do? Well while we were discussing this, I got hungry. Yes, boozing will make one 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 which crossed from Subic Bay Naval Base to the town of Olongapo. There were Bar-B-Q stands located at the end of the bridge, and I could grab something to eat there.
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 now, I'm standing there all alone when the owner and my monkey buddy disappear behind a trap that separated the front from the back of the shack. Then I hear this terrible scream coming from Henry in the back of the shack. That's when I scaled the counter and pulled aside the tarp. There I see my monkey Henry being held down on a chopping block while the owner is holding a clever above him about to chop him up to make more meat sticks.
So I shoved the owner aside and grabbed the monkey. We were out of there. We head back across Shit River and the base.
While trying to figure what to do with Henry since I couldn't get him to the States to become President and I didn't want him to become meat sticks, I remembered a friend from Boot Camp who I met earlier at the Enlisted Men's Club.
I had bumped into my old friend earlier and we reminisced about have gone through Boot Camp and Infantry Training School together. He was stationed at the upper MAU Camp there in Subic. I figured that I needed to find him so I went back to the Enlisted Men's Club where I found him about three sheets to the wind.
Once 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 headed off toward the MAU Camp above Subic. 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.
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. All be it not as drunk as our Henry.
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 Olongapo free. When I got back to the ship, I walked up the after brow and again faced aft to salute the colors. And again I requested permission to come aboard. Though sadly, 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 a Senator or even President. But then again, maybe it wasn't that surprising since the guys knew me for telling pretty tall tales back in the day.
Fact is, I enjoyed seeing who was gullible enough to believe them and who was smart enough to know when I was telling the truth. The night that I bought that monkey from a boy in a bar really happened. This story is as true as can be.
As for Henry that drunk monkey, who knows what happened to him? For me, I'm pretty sure that over 40 years later there's some old monkey 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