I wonder what ever happened to….?

by Joe Holt

Every once in a while I remember stuff.  Old stuff.  Stuff that I thought I’d forgotten.  Some of my little memories have to do with events, but of course this leads to  remembering the people involved in the events.  Not necessarily important events.  Sometimes just moments in time that for some reason my little brain has decided to keep catalogued back there somewhere.  I normally come up with these gems while I’m daydreaming, which isn’t all that rare for me.  Whenever I’m bored I daydream.  I do a lot of my daydreaming when I’m driving.

            Anyway the point is…I was driving along a few months ago and my mind came up with the name “Spurgeon”.  What triggered this little morsel I have no idea, but I immediately became curious.  I do indeed remember a fella named Spurgeon from way back when I was in the Marine Corps, a thousand years ago.  I wonder what he’s doin’ today?  Where exactly did I know Spurgeon from? 

A few years after I got out of the Corps I got a phone call from an old girlfriend.  She mentioned that she still had an old seabag of mine.  What?!  I don’t remember an extra seabag, much less leaving it with her, but when I went by her house there it was, a half full standard issue seabag.  When I opened it up I felt like I’d discovered treasure.  There was a new field jacket (with Velcro tabs instead of buttons!), a few sets of my old utilities, a great pair of combat boots, and last but not least, a pair of Basic Training white tennis shoes.  The odd thing was the name stenciled on the side of the shoes wasn’t mine, it was Spurgeon’s!  Now how in the hell did I’d come up with Spurgeon’s tenny runners is a mystery, but the moment I read the name another little memory popped out of my head.

            The Philippines, 1966.  I was with Third Battalion, Fifth Marines on my way to Vietnam.  Our troop ship, the USS Pickaway, had stopped in Subic Bay, and we all got a few days of monster liberty in the local town of Olongapo.  I’d had absolutely no experience in drinkin’ and partyin’, but from what I was told, Olongapo was the perfect place to become an expert in no time at all.  Sure enough, it was everything I was told and then some.

            Before we’d gotten to Subic we’d been given a lecture on how we were to act while we were there.  More to the point, we were told how the locals would act and how affected we might become.  They gave us the usual speeches about the various venereal diseases, bar girls, and benny boys, but the one thing that impressed me was when they told us not to drink in air-conditioned bars.  We were told that the brain does goofy things with alcohol when it’s hot outside, and it was hotter than hell in Olongapo.  The problem arose, we were told, when a fella got slightly toasted in bar that was 70 degrees, and when he went outside into the hundred-degree sun he might end up unconscious.  The alcohol would have a magnified effect.  Hmmm, Private Holt thought.  Good thing to remember.

            Even before I crossed the bridge to Olongapo I’d come to the conclusion that I was gonna learn something about drinkin’ while I was there.  I went from bar to bar trying out the various concoctions other guys would order.  I found that I didn’t like the taste of beer (I got over that eventually) so I concentrated my drinking on mixed drinks.  Rum and Coke, Seven and Seven, Singapore Slings were all magical elixirs to Private Holt, but eventually I ended up preferring Bourbon and Water.  Simple and quick.  That’s me all over.  The first few days of liberty were devoted to determining my tolerance for such activity.  I got semi drunk on each occasion, but one day I went into town with the mission of seeing exactly how much I could really drink without losing control.  Quite a mission, huh?  At eleven in the morning the bridge opened and off I went.

            I went into the American Legion bar right on the main drag.  I sat at the bar and ordered a bourbon and water.  Then another, then another.  With each drink I evaluated my condition.  Never once did it occur to me that the bar itself was air-conditioned.  Not more than seventy.  Almost chilly.  Not that I felt it after five or six drinks.  Over a period of a couple of hours I got righteously messed up.  I knew when to quit.  The tile floor seemed to be movin’ whenever I glanced at it so I knew I’d reached my limit.

            I walked out into the glaring afternoon sun.  It musta been a hundred.

 “Uh oh”, I thought.  “What did they tell me about this?  Somethin’ bad, but what?.  I’d better get back to the ship.”

I remember walking towards the bridge, but that’s about it.  The next thing I remember was somebody calling my name.

“Holt!  Was I imagining this?

“Holt!”  There it goes again.

“Holt, Goddammit!”  I looked up. 

Or should I say I became conscious for a moment.  Directly in front of me, not two feet away, was a Navy shuttle bus.  I was standing on a curb inside the main gate.  How I got there I don’t know, but here I was and there was some fella yellin’ my name.  My head swiveled looking for who was doin’ the yellin’.  I saw through the haze some Marine half hanging out a window of the bus yelling my name.  I focused some, then realized it was Spurgeon, a guy I’d known from training days.  He ducked back in the bus.  A few seconds later he was standing next to me.

“Hey Holt, where ya goin’?”

“Shit, I dunno.  Where am I?”

Then a thought,  “ I need to get back to my ship.”

At that point I reckon he could see what condition I was in so he guided me on the bus.  We had to stand up because the bus was packed with guys.

“Where’s your ship?”

“Shit, I dunno.  At the pier.”

“Which pier?”

“Shit, I dunno.”  That seemed to be the extent of my vocabulary not to mention my thinkin’ ability.  He was with two or three of his buddies.  He explained to them who I was, and as he was talking I knew he was wondering what he was gonna do with me.  He couldn’t just let me sit on the bus all afternoon.  The Shore Patrol would pick me up for sure.   I didn’t feel helpless at this point, but I didn’t feel much of anything at all.  The bus ride, his conversation with his pals, the whole deal, was like I was watching a movie.  I was on the outside lookin’ in.

Long story short, we went to the PX.  He bought me a hot dog.  I guess he thought a hot dog would help sober me up.  He sat with me for an hour at least.  I drank a few cokes.  At some point he thought I was presentable enough to go back to my ship so he and I got into a cab, he asked the driver where the Pickaway was, then off we went to the ship.  He dropped me off on the pier just a few feet from the after brow.  We said goodbye, and that’s the last I saw of him.  Ever.

No wonder I remember him.  Whatta guy!  It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see that he saved my ass that day.  I could have been arrested or mugged or both.  When I came across the tennis shoes in my seabag the whole thing came back to me.  “I wonder what ever happened to Spurgeon?”

Well that was thirty years ago at least.  Then, like I said, his name popped into my head a few weeks ago.  I started wonderin’.  These days we’ve got computers. Not only that, but the whole battalion has a web site now so I promptly got on the message board and asked, “Where’s Spurgeon.”  I had no replies.  I didn’t know his first name.  I couldn’t even remember exactly where I knew him from ITR, BIT, or 3/5.  I did know he wasn’t in Basic with me, but that only confused me as to how I got his tennis shoes.  I also knew he wasn’t in India Company. 

I’ve gotten pretty good and locating the guys from India Company for our reunions.  There are two or three data bases that can really help in finding guys, but in Spurgeon’s case I didn’t even know his first name much less his middle initial.  I don’t even know what part of the country he’s from.  I’m not about to phone every Spurgeon in the country just because his name got stuck in my noggin.  I decided to forget about the whole thing.

A week ago Hans Haupt wrote and told me about another database I might use to find the guys.  It was a Vietnam Veteran’s site that listed all the guys who served in Vietnam.  It didn’t have much information other than the complete name, rank, and MOS.  It didn’t list years of service or anything else of value, but it could be a real help if there was some question as to how a guy’s name was spelled.  I immediately got on the site and fiddled with it for a bit, but I decided it wasn’t gonna be of much use to me.  I already knew the full names of all the guys from India Company.  I’d gotten the Monthly Personnel Rosters from the CMC a few years ago.

Yesterday morning I woke up too early.  Sometimes I just can’t sleep.  I decided to get on the computer and check my E-mail.  Nothin’ there but junk mail.  (I beg your pardon!  I do not need my penis enlarged!)  Out of the blue Spurgeon’s name glanced across my brain.  Hmmm.  I wonder?  I got on that new Vet site that Hans told me about.  I entered the name “Spurgeon”.  There were a potful of Spurgeons who’d served in Vietnam, but only a handful of Marines.  I started eliminating most of’em in my head.  He had to be listed as more than a PFC and he’d have to be a 0311 or perhaps even a 0331.  I ignored any of the other MOS’s.  I may remember him because he and I went to ITR or Gun School together.  That made sense.

Lo and behold there was one 0331, a Roger L. Spurgeon, an E-4.  There were four other possibles, all 0311’s, but I really began to think the Gun School thing might be the key so I got on another phone book web page, then another web page that had ages of the people listed, and I came up with one possible.  I was so proud of myself.  As I wrote down the number I began to wonder what on earth would I say to him if it was him?  How stupid would I sound?  (That’s never slowed me down before.)

I called.  A fella picked up.  I introduced myself saying I was trying to locate former Marines from a particular battalion for a possible reunion.  I asked if this was the  Spurgeon I was looking for.  This guy gave me the run-around for a minute or two because he thought I was sellin’ something, but eventually he blurted, “It’s me you’re lookin’ for.”

I started slow.  When did he go to Gun School?  Did he remember which ITR Company he was in?  Like most guys he didn’t remember all that much, but he certainly remembered how miserable he was in ITR.  The rain.  He had gone home for Christmas after ITR.  He had also gone to Gun School in January of ’66.  This was the guy all right. 

Where did he go from Gun School?  I was certain he’d say 3/5.  Wrong.  As it turns out he was a sole surviving son so he was sent to Marine Barracks, San Miguel, the Philippines.   So that’s how he and I happened to meet again on the curbside in Subic Bay!  He laughed when I told him about the tennis shoes.  We still don’t know how I ever managed to get’em amongst my gear.

Did he remember me?  Nope.  Did he remember the curbside meeting?  Nope.  That doesn’t bother me one little bit.  What astonishes me is my being able to find him after all these years.  He eventually spent only a few months in Vietnam towards the end of his four-year enlistment.  That’s how he got on the Vietnam Veteran’s database.

He has had a pretty good life from what I could gather from our conversation.  He’s retired from one job and now he’s enthusiastic about his new career.  So now when I ever ask myself “What ever happened to Spurgeon”…I’ll know.  Pretty cool, huh?