USS Midway


Magsaysay & Coconuts

By Bruce Lonardo



The very first time I arrived in the P.I. (Philippines Islands) was when I was in transit on my way to the Midway. I was there for about three weeks before reporting aboard the USS Dixie. I remember the first things which appealed to me were all of the palm trees and coconut trees that were everywhere on base and the weather was like permanent summer. The base where I was in transit was Cubi Point, and it was a marvelous place. There was literally everything to do right on the base. The special services division in Cubi provided just about every extra curriculum activity that an adventure seeking person could want to enjoy. Cubi Point had bowling, a golf course, go-carts, archery, skeet shooting, mountain climbing, hiking, boating, sailing, water skiing, parasailing, sky diving, scuba diving, and some really fine beaches with a breathtaking view of Subic Bay.

I was also amazed to see delicious tropical fruit growing wild in a few areas of the base. In fact, just outside the transit barracks where myself and other transit Midway personnel were temporarily berthing during our first arrival in the Philippines, was a coconut tree (among many on base). This tree was only about twelve feet high and it was laden with fresh ripe coconuts. For a few days, I was grappling with an ever increasing temptation to climb that tree and pick one, so one day curiosity got the better of me. Another guy who was also a Midway transit and I went out to this tree and he gave me a boost up. Fortunately, due to some bumps which formed a sort of natural ladder on a coconut tree's trunk, I was able to make it up the tree pretty easy and within minutes, I had one of the coconuts in my grasp and was attempting to pull it off the tree. Unfortunately, coconuts are attached to their tree by a hemp rope-like vine and although I was twisting and pulling, pulling and twisting on the coconut, the vine was not releasing its prize. Then all at once the coconut came loose in my hand from the tree and I had my prize. I felt like Gilligan, but man was that coconut delicious; it was as sweet as honey!

Just outside Subic Base's main gate was the city of Olongapo; a city for sailors! The main strip is called Magsaysay Drive and it extended for a span of about two miles. On both sides of the strip are an endless cavalcade of nightclubs, brothels, massage parlors, small hotels, restaurants, pizza joints, more night clubs and a few movie theaters. My favorite club was The Florida Club. Everywhere on Magsaysay Drive were hundreds of World War II surplus jeepney taxis and side car tricycles which were so colorfully decorated, they literally looked like mobile piņatas. The Philippines was literally the USS Midway's second home port. It was a Midway tradition for our ship to make port there at the opening and at the conclusion of every Indian Ocean cruise the ship deployed on. Aboard the Midway, I myself made so many port calls to the P.I. that I literally lost count of exactly how many times I was there. I think it was somewhere around eight or nine.

The Filipina girlfriend I would see each time the Midway went to P.I. was Baby Manabat and she was a waitress at the Airport Restaurant on Magsaysay Drive (see photo in The Lonardo Collection). She was a really fun person. I remember the first time we went out, we went to Shakey's pizza parlor on Magsaysay Drive and the funny sort of thing about Shakey's was that it was entirely run by Filipino midgets (no offense or disrespect intended to vertically challenged people). The lighting in the place was all green and orange lights, so after a few bottles of San Miguel Beer, all of the employees there started looking like Oompa Loompas. You know, the little people from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Well, wouldn't you know it, as we were leaving Shakey's, Baby accidentally tripped over one of the midgets and the tray of dirty dishes the little guy was carrying went flying everywhere!

Another memory I have is of this banana tree that shot up behind a corrugated tin fence next to the small bungalow where Baby and her sister lived. I used to always hear different guys on the Midway saying to watch out for those banana spiders because they sometimes drop out of banana trees and land on your head. One day, when I was with Baby at her bungalow, her next door neighbor was outside in the small yard just going about some chores. I told Baby about what the guys on my ship were always saying about banana spiders and I asked her what did they mean by that? She pointed at the banana tree and said "they live there!" Baby then spoke in Tagalog to her neighbor and he went over to the banana tree with this piece of long bamboo with a blade fastened to the end of it. He cut down a huge husk of bananas that were hanging there and when he broke the husk of bananas apart into bunches, several small grey and yellow tarantula-like spiders about the size of a child's hand ran like crazy from the huge husk of bananas. I have never eaten another banana since!