Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ah, let's find a stranger and reminisce…

posted by Bill Arnett @ 11:09 AM Permalink

…especially since many people confuse the meaning of Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Veterans day is to honor and celebrate all the veterans of the military while Memorial Day is specifically to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and given their very lives in service to this nation.

Maybe that's why on Veterans Day I tend to look back at the fond memories I have, mostly from the time spent in the Philippines at Clark AB.

One of those memories that really sticks out and that I hope to keep forever was the day my friend, Matt Swaney, and I decided to do something incredibly stupid: Ignore the warnings that Super Typhoon Patsy (that's roughly a Category 5 hurricane, wind speeds 150mph or higher) was fast closing in on the P.I., and if you were off-base, stay there, and if you lived on base to report to duty if it was your shift or not.

Matt and I decided to ignore that sage advice and ride our motorcycles to work, a foolish endeavor if I ever heard of one. I was riding a 90cc Honda, Matt was on a much bigger bike, a 150cc Honda.

Actually getting to the front gate of Clark wasn't that bad 'cept for the constant feeling we were drowning and occasionally had to ride through pools of water, the level of which was just barely below our carburetors, but it was kind of spooky to hear your exhaust bubbling from under a foot of water or so.

The guards at the main gate flipped out. They couldn't believe we had made it that far, but coming from downtown there were many buildings to provide some windbreak. The true danger remained ahead: about six miles of MacArthur Highway {added note: this road was Macarthur Hwy off base and Mitchell Hwy on base, but it was the same road] with nothing but open field on both sides of it, but hey, we were cops and having the most fun we'd ever had.

The first thing I noticed was that we were riding at a 45 degree angle while riding in a straight line. Twice we were literally blown slightly airborne but the tires immediately sank into the 12-15 inches of water fast enough to keep us from losing control.

It was a wild and crazy ride as we watched oak trees off the sides of the roads and barracks, some of them 200-300 years old with trunks so thick it would take four or five people holding hands to encircle the bole, actually being blown over, the gigantic roots of the trees tearing up any roads and buildings under which they had grown. It was totally awe-inspiring.

When we got to the armory, finally, to draw our weapons and get vehicles, Colonel Simon, our commander, big stogy hanging out the side of his mouth as usual, was standing there and witnessed us riding in and parking our bikes. The stogy fell from his mouth as he yelled,"I want you two in my office and I mean right now!"

Matt and I suspected we were in trouble, but we reported to the Colonel in his office as directed. I'd never seen the Colonel angry before, but with his face blood red he started shouting at Matt and I, "Goddamn it didn't you hear the warnings on the radio to stay off base if that's were you were and to only report for duty if you lived in the barracks! What kind of idiots are you to ride goddamn motorcycles to work in this weather and why shouldn't I courts-martial both of you?"

Even though Matt was the senior between the two of us and protocol demanded he answer the Colonel, I could see the panic in his eyes so I piped up with, "Sir! We're just trying to be the very best policemen we can be, sir!" Then I had the thought that uh-oh, I've gone too far now!

Colonel Simon froze up completely for a moment, then reached into his humidor for a new cigar, and his eyes piercing through the smoke as he lit it he looked at me and said, "That's your excuse, Airman?"

I replied, "Yes, sir! And I'm stickin' to it, sir!"

To my amazement the Colonel suddenly broke up laughing, told the two of us to get the hell out of his office and go get our weapons and equipment.

It was two days before we got our first break, rescuing people from buildings either blown down or torn up by those gigantic roots I spoke of earlier. I spent a good deal of time distributing dozens of brand new fire axes and organizing crews to clear roadways for emergency crews to get through, so it was a wild and very exhausting time.

And one of the best times I ever had in my life.

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At 1:13 PM, Blogger The Vidiot said...

Excellent story.

Dude, I've ridden a 750cc, fully loaded with bags in a terrible rain storm on a highway with trucks. While not hurricane force, I can't believe i survived that.

YOU were on little more than a scooter. Mad skillz, dude. mad skillz.

At 1:41 PM, Blogger Bill Arnett said...

I'm not sure I'd ever be brave or stupid enough to try it again!

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Bill Arnett said...

And besides, I was 20 years old and still both immortal and indestructible!

At 5:35 PM, Blogger The Sailor said...

Great story Bill! Thanks for sharing!

I had a 750 Kaw 2 stroke that was my only vehicle for 3 summers and 2 winters in the midwest. And that included the 'blizzard of 78.'

Back then I figured that I'd heal but bike parts cost $$ I didn't have.

At 10:20 PM, Blogger Bill Arnett said...

Those old Kawis were great machines-first bike I ever owned was a 71 3-cylinder 500cc rocket sled. Those 750s were sweet!

But I'd rather ride through another super typhoon than have to ride in cold weather again. I LIKE feeling my fingers, toes, and face!


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