Sunday, November 15, 2009

Memoirs of a Grandfather, Part III

The following is my grandfather Herman Strong's description of his life in the army, his decision to stay in the Philippines, and his meeting with my grandmother, Magdalena Vidal Crosby.
Up to this time I had not been subjected to any strict military training, however, after being fitted out with proper clothes it was ‘Hup 2-3-4’ from Reveille until Recall. Regardless of how hard it was to cope with the strict disciplinary action in this lonely forlorn place, I now feel that the basic training I underwent has served me well in meeting the adversities I confronted through the years.

For some the Army is a good place to ‘goof off’, while on the other hand the Armed Services offer many opportunities to improve one’s capabilities. When it dawned on me that I was stuck with it for the next 3 years I decided to take part in those activities that would relieve me of the boring routine of drills and guard duty. As for guard duty, I learned early that if your rifle was clean and your uniform was ‘spic and span’, you had a good chance of being selected as Orderly. I was often accused of ‘bucking’ for Orderly, and in most cases when I was assigned to guard duty I was selected for the coveted honor which automatically excused one from all duty for 24 hours. As a result I usually spent this time in Manila.

I took the prescribed course in Heavy Artillery not only learning the mechanical operation of the 12 inch disappearing guns, but also how to plot the course of a moving target. At our first actual practice with the big guns I was plotting the course of a target towed by the “M.P. Harrison” at a distance of about 6 miles. The result of the first shot was a direct hit. I think that this, along with my winning first place in a ‘semi four’ contest was the basis for Captain Blair promoting me to Private First Class. My years of hunting as a country boy had paid off.

Being a good basketball player provided an excellent excuse for special priviledges which I exploited fully. There was a course offered in typing of which I also took advantage, learning the keyboard in one day. After a week of diligent practice I could type 120 words per minute which came at a most crucial time as a vacancy for the clerk’s position on the “M.P.Harrison” was coming up. With Captain Blair’s recommendation I had no trouble getting the job and was immediately promoted to Corporal.

The Commanding Officer of the Mine Planter Harrison was First Lt. Ruben, a mathematical genius who could add a column of figures such as Army serial numbers quicker than the average person could add figures on an adding machine. An example of an Army serial number would be 6349247. I was quite impressed with him as well as with the ships other officers; the Captain, the Deck Officer and the Engineer. They were three of the nicest men I have ever worked with.

I think it was Thanksgiving Day 1925 when we had a Turkey dinner with all the trimmings including Shrimp salad, after which I went to the parade grounds to watch a post baseball game. About an hour later I began feeling sharp pains in my stomach so I dashed to the infirmary where the doctor diagnosed my pain as ptomaine poisoning. A stomach pump was immediately applied, however the pain was so great that I became unconscious. When I regained consciousness I heard many mournful sounds coming from the emergency room where many of my comrades from Battery C were waiting for treatment that never came because there were not enough stomach pumps to save them. Of the Thirty-Three people who partook of the Shrimp salad only 5 survived. An investigation of this tragedy revealed that the shrimp was prepared in a tin pan and remained there for several hours before it was served. A recent X-ray of my stomach revealed a scar which remained as a result of that poisoning experience.

The “Harrison” was a versatile ship that was not only used to plant mines and tow targets, but was often called upon to serve as a passenger ship between Corregidor and Manila. It also conveyed high military officials to many of the 7000 islands that make up the Philippine Archipelago. Some of the more interesting ports of call were the islands of Mindanau, Leyte, Panay, Cebu, Samar, Iloilo, and the Leper Colony in the Sulu Arghipelago. My fondest memory was the trip we made in 1926 to the Indonesian Islands of Borneo, Sumatra, and Java. I believe that the most beautiful women on earth can be found on the island of Java. Much more could be said about these islands as well as many of the other exotic places in the region, but that is not the point of these notes.

The next most important turning point in my life occurred one day near the end of my enlistment when an excursion boat full of young women from a Normal School in Manila docked at Bottom Side Pier near the location where the ‘Harrison” was docked. Although I was not one of the welcoming tour guides, I did make my presence known, especially to one young woman named Magdalena Crosby, whose outstanding beauty and personality surpassed all other girls I had ever met in the Philippines. A few letters back and forth led to a meeting in Manila where we got better acquainted, and in no time this young woman had me tied around her little finger so tightly I didn’t know whether I was coming or going.

In the normal course of events I would have requested a return to the U.S. for discharge since I had no intention of reinlisting. However, meeting “Madge” changed everything and multiple decisions had to be made in a hurry. Advance notice was required as well as request for approval before one could be discharged in the Philippines. This accomplished, then the biggest decision of all now confronted me; whether or not I should get married. I think the adventurous spirit that had so often preceeded my actions prompted the decision to marry and take my chances on a new life in this strange land. So on April 9, 1927, six weeks before discharge, (at the age of 23), we were married in the home of a Protestant minister in Manila with my good friend Marcellus Ratliff as Best Man.

Shortly after our marriage, Madge took a position as a high school teacher in Baguio, a resort town some 150 miles north of Manila. Also situated in this area was Camp John Hay, a military resort which was to Manila the same as Camp David is to Washington, D.C. I was fortunate enough to get a pass to complete my last weeks of service in this beautiful resort spending most of my time with Madge as well as looking for employment.

After discharge I returned to Baguio where I had some favorable contacts with people at Benquet Consolidated Mining Co., who were planning to build a hydro-electric plant on the Agno River in order to furnish additional power to their mining operations. My experience as company clerk while in the Army qualified me for the position as office clerk on this new project.

The project was located about 4 hours from Baguio by horseback over steep mountainous terrain, and the camp site consisted of an office, store, and sleeping quarters all constructed with Cogon grass and Pine slab flooring. Here I joined the surveyor, Mr. Lilly, an Englishman, and about 200 Igorote laborers who cleared trails and road sites into the camp. Later an electrical engineer named George Ritter and his wife Blanche came, and a mining engineer, named Dugan, was employed to do the tunnel work.

When Madge became pregnant with our first child, and since living conditions in our camp site were not suitable for pregnant women, she remained in Baguio. On August 10, 1928, our first child, Floy, was born in Baguio, and Madge joined me as soon as she was able since one had to travel by horseback. I carried little Floy on my horse under a raincoat during one of those tropical rains the area is known for. Travel along the narrow rocky mountainous paths was treacherous for both animals and humans, and the rain increased the danger, but we finally arrived safely at the camp. (To be continued....)

1 comment:

Julygirl said...

Hup 2-3, I love it. Beautiful couple. Thanks for sharing!