Feb 19th, 2018

Tanker Trip to Guam XI | What Happened to Clark Air Base

What happened to Clark Air Base?  I plan to answer that question, but first a few tales.  One of the funniest stories to occur in the PI was potentially not so funny.  A copilot from Fairchild AFB (who shall remain un-named) had made a purchase from a merchant in Angeles City.  The merchant was a woman who was of some prominence in the city and the shop was much larger than most.  She told the copilot to return in a couple of days to pick up the furniture he had ordered.

Two evenings later the copilot left Clark Air Base, went by himself (bad idea) and grabbed a jeepney.  As the jeepney pulled up to the furniture shop, the driver asked for payment.  The copilot reached into his pocket and realized that he did not have peso for payment.  He told the driver that he did not have a peso.  The driver understandably wanted his payment.  The copilot said, “I don’t’ have an peso, but I do have this” and he pulled out a wad of dollar bills (another bad idea).

The driver immediately hit the accelerator and headed out of town where he and some buddies “rolled” the copilot.  The half mugged copilot dusted himself off and walked back to town.  He entered the shop and explained to the lady that he had been “rolled”.  She asked for a description of the drier.  The copilot gave it to him.  She disappeared into the back for a while.  After about half an hour she re-appeared with his money.  He paid her for the furniture and left.  Taking a different jeepney back to the base.

My personal shopping story consists of my quest for model airplanes.  A good model aircraft can run between $150 and $400 (http://www.ebay.com/bhp/wood-model-plane) I had heard that they had excellent model airplanes for sale in the Philippines made from wood.  Another rumor was that they would paint your aircraft tail number on the aircraft.

So I made my way to a shop.  They had several US military aircraft on display.  I was impressed by their quality.  I began to chat with the man behind the counter.  We agreed upon a price.  The sum of $30 for two airplanes comes back to my memory; it was something close to that total.  I left him with a picture of my KC-135 Fairchild tanker.  In instructed them they had I wanted our mascot and colors on the aircraft.

Our mascot was the strike hawk.  Our Wing Commander, Col Myers, had called the NFL Seahawks and asked if we could use their mascot.  They readily agreed in support of the military.  So I wanted the tail number of my jet and the strike hawk.  I also had a picture of me in front of a T-38 while at pilot training.  I ordered a T-38 to be painted with those markings from Reese AFB.  The order was doubled so that my parents would get a Christmas present.

I returned a few days later for the pickup.  I was greeted by a very beautiful young woman wearing a white sun dress, I would guess that she was about 23 years old (I was 25 at the time).  She waited on me and went back to get my order. A man returned a few minutes later with four model airplanes in hand.  He encouraged me to look over the models to make sure that I was satisfied.  While I inspected he asked me about the girl who had waited on me.  I said, “Yes, she was nice and helpful.”

“She is my sister”, I was told.

“That’s nice”, I replied

“Do you like her?”

“I guess so, yes she is nice”

“Do you want to go out with her?”

I suddenly realized where this conversation was going.  This guy was looking for a serviceman to marry his sister so that his ticket could be punched for the US.

“No, thank you”

“Are you sure, don’t you think she is pretty”

“Oh yes, she is pretty”

“Do you want to go out with her?”

“No thank you.”  As I attempted to shut down that conversation.

He tried to persist, but I resisted.  The models were beautiful, just like the girl, but I just left with the models and a sigh of relief.

My one other shopping adventure was for a piece of bamboo furniture.  In the 1980s, home entertainment centers were all the rage.  They were part book shelf, part electronics center.  One could place a TV, VCR, turntable, cassette player and other “top of the line” electronics as well as books and plants all in a large piece of furniture nestled against the wall of a house.

I wanted to get a bamboo entertainment center.

During the week, I shopped the markets all throughout Angeles City.  Finally, I spotted the prize.  It was beautiful.  I went out to pick it up one hot afternoon.  The piece came back to the base on a jeepney.  I can’t remember how I got it to the flight line, but I got it there somehow. Now I needed to get it onto the airplane.

I want and found Mac, our boom operator, in his VOQ room. I knocked on the door and awoke him from a nap.  “Mac, I need your help” I got some furniture and need your help to get it on the airplane.

“When,” he asked.

“Right now,” I replied.  I could tell he wasn’t real excited but he went with me.  On the way, he kind of woke up and began to ask me about what we were doing.  He wanted to know what the furniture was. “You’ll see”.

When we got to the airplane, there it was sitting on the ramp next to the big bird.  Mac’s eyes bugged out.  “You got that ting”.   He about fell over.  I told him it was “The Big Kahuna”

We tried to figure out how to get the thing onto the airplane and where to put it.  There was no way it was going up the crew chute.  The cargo door was the only answer, but how to get it up to the door.  Passenger crew stairs were one option.  However, we didn’t see any stairs handy and it would be difficult to get it up the stairs with just the two of us.  We eventually Gerry rigged a makeshift pulley system and mounted it over the cargo door.  Up went the Big Kahuna.

Once we got it on board, the next question was where to put it.  We had passengers and cargo to haul.  Mac found the perfect answer.  At the far rear of the Mighty KC-135 cargo bay against the aft wall, just aft of the entrance to the boom pod was the perfect spot.  We maneuvered the Big Kahuna down the cargo bay.  The toughest part was getting it over the side by side holes in the floor which led to the boom compartment.

Once we had it against the aft wall Mac strapped it securely in place.  That baby isn’t going anywhere until we return to Fairchild.”  Mac had spoken.  And it didn’t go anywhere for the next few weeks.

So what became of Clark AB in the Philippines?  This base which first entered my radar screen as an 11 year old boy watching the Vietnam POWs return to Travis AFB in California from Clark AB.  Clark had been their first stop after being flown out of Vietnam.

As mentioned earlier, (https://www.doctoraviation.com/tanker-trip-to-guam-x-clark-air-base/) the United States and the Philippines were involved in negotiations to renew the US lease for the base.  The Filipino government was being difficult to negotiate with.  Whether it was to drive up the lease price or the fact that the populace was divided on the issue, it was probably a combination of reasons.  The United States began to quietly identify others spots in the Pacific to house US forces in case the PI did not renew the lease.

Finally it 1991 it looked like not deal would be struck.  The United States began to pull out.  The Philippines had an 11th hour change of heart and began to negotiate in earnest.  Then it happened.  Mount Pinatubo.  The volcanic mountain near the base came to life.  There was a huge eruption on June 15, 1991.  Clark was the most beautiful base I had ever seen with it tall tree bearing magnificent canopies.  The parade field was like something out of movie.  But in June 1991 it was all covered with inches of ash (along with nearby Subic Bay Naval Station).

That was the last straw.  The United States said good bye and left.  The Filipino’s begged the US to come back.  It was too late, years of wrangling and a gigantic and costly cleanup now required.  It was time to go.

In a future blog, the flying that occurred in the Philippines.