For a host of veterans of the Vietnam era, a touchstone of memory is the naval base at Subic Bay in the Philippines. At the time, its location made the base a natural for support of the U.S. effort in Southeast Asia. It offered a logistics storehouse, ship repair facility, naval air station, and a place for Navy and Marine Corps personnel to relax and live it up. Now, more than 20 years since the base closed down at the behest of the Philippine government, the locale has re-emerged in value as U.S. strategy pivots to the Pacific. On a limited basis, Navy ships are using it as a stopping-off place.
A river bridge linked the old base to the civilian world. The community of Olongapo on the other side of that river was a place that struck some as out of this world. The city provided a cornucopia of entertainment, often of the raunchy variety. Chris Reed, a young officer on board the battleship New Jersey (BB-62) in 1968, summarized its appeal: “It was a young sailor’s dream come true. . . . Terrific music, plus there was booze, and there were girls. . . . It was like a [school] dance, except that you could get drunk, and you could take a girl home.”