I wonder what ever happened to….?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
walked out into the glaring afternoon sun.
It musta been a hundred.
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.
Was I imagining this?
There it goes again.
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
“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.
“Shit, I dunno.
At the 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.
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.)
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?