Wurtsmith Logo
Wagner High Online Alumni

"Anything You Say Sir!"
Colonel William Truesdell
Part 4

Wagner Logo

"Anything You Say Sir!"
Colonel William Truesdell
Chapter XVI


The great cigarette caper of June 1972 was only surpassed by the armed robbery of the Officer's Club in October, although it took a lot more ingenuity to steal 850 cases of cigarettes than to grab $60,000 out of the Officer's Club. The cigarette caper was very well executed between Subic Bay and Clark. All goods destined for use at Clark, except those airlifted, come from Subic and are brought to Clark in vans. A large van will hold about 850 cases of cigarettes. All of these vans are locked and sealed prior to leaving the United States. The seals are broken at Clark in the presence of security people. In June of 1972, a van, with a consignment of cigarettes for this base, was opened -- it was completely empty. We later discovered that a very clever person in Angeles had the capability of disassembling the seals on vans and returning them to their original condition with nothing more than a piece of wire and his bare hands. As a matter of fact, he could do it in about three minutes in the dark.

The 850 cases of cigarettes had a black market value of over 2 million pesos. The Office of Special Investigation on Clark Air Base worried about it as hard as they could. We got marvelous support from the Philippine Constabulary and thousands of words were written in an attempt to explain how this deed was perpetuated. The only significant factor, however, was we never did get the cigarettes back, nor was anyone convicted of the theft.

The robbery of the Officers' Club would challenge the talents of James Bond. At six o'clock in the morning it had been customary practice to deliver all of the money secured in the main vaults to every revenue-producing activity. The weekend receipts, plus the change fund, amounted to $63,000 in cash and checks. The money was returned to the Officers' Club for preparation of deposit slips at six o'clock on a Monday morning. At 6:03 two armed men entered the cashier's cage and made off with the whole boodle. This was another case where intensive investigation revealed that the club was, in fact, robbed. A pile of papers was written by the OSI, Security Police, and the Philippine Constabulary, but we didn't even get the money bags back.

I think the most considerate robbers were the ones who hit the base exchange Toyland in December of 1971. They were so thoughtful they took the time to sort out the cash and leave the checks so that no one would be inconvenienced and their checking accounts would not get screwed up.

The amount of petty theft at Clark Air Base, coupled with the operation of what I always believed was a syndicate, has cost us in the neighborhood of one-half million dollars a year. When the local high school was hit for 42 electric typewriters, the bad guys were so careful they only took the machines which had been cleaned and repaired, giving us the opportunity to clean and repair the ones they didn't want.

I am sure the average reader will assume nothing occurs at Clark Air Base except theft and VD, which really is not true. There are many dedicated, patriotic people in the area surrounding Clark, but they will never get the publicity of the bad guys.

One of the interesting capers at Clark Air Base occurred in August 1972 and was foiled by a tip from one of our employees in the PACAF Liquor Locker, and subsequently handled by the Security Police. Up to that time, we had so many tips that never panned out we thought this would be another exercise in futility. The only fact that made it look right was two security policemen had been approached and were told if they would permit two trucks to leave the base at about 3 o'clock in the morning they would receive a gift of 30,000 pesos. Both young men reported to their supervisors regarding the attempted bribe.

We staked out the area and sure enough, at about 2:30 in the morning, two trucks operated by a local contractor approached the main gate. We had already changed guards and had an adequate number of people on hand to apprehend the two trucks. When the covers were removed from the contents of the trucks, 1000 cases of U. S. tax-free whiskey was revealed. Of course, none of the persons on the truck had any idea what was in the trucks, nor was specific action taken against these people in the Philippine courts.

The liquor had been removed from a van in probably the same manner the cigarettes had been taken some months earlier. These cases are usually nine-day wonders; that is, great interest is taken on the part of local official to apprehend the wrongdoers and to identify the chiefs of the syndicate (for nine days only). What really happened, of course, is that many words are written and the case is left pending for years on end.

Another incident resulting from a tip revealed 600 Sunbeam Mixers had been removed from the main exchange warehouse and hidden behind some building in the contractor area. Recoveries like this are heart-warming to a commander, but you always wonder how much has disappeared that never appeared on the inventory sheets.

We had a pretty consistent loss of communication cable on the north end of the runway. Copper is a very valuable commodity and although this cable didn't have a great scrap value, I think the adventure of stealing it from the Americans has more appeal than the value of the cable taken. The loss of this cable hampered our air-to-ground communication system, and finally, after expending a great effort in guard dogs, roving patrols, and other security measures, I called the head crook of Angeles into my office. I offered to grant him a special businessman's pass for the names of the people who stole the cable with an absolute assurance that no more copper wire would be stolen from the north end of the runway.

Since we had him under surveillance anyway, I couldn't see where the pass was so expensive. The good thing about the whole effort can be summarized by one sentence; since that time we have lost no communication cable from the north end of the runway.

Chapter XVII


About two and a half to three hours north of Clark Air Base is a place called Camp John Hay. It is located in the mountains and is a beautiful recreational site with a golf course, guest houses, and other facilities. It is in the highest mountain in Luzon, at an elevation of 5,000 feet. It used to be the summer capital of the Philippines, and many wealthy people maintain a separate residence there. It was also the Japanese Army Headquarters during the occupation. When the U. S. Army had it, prior to World War II, it was commanded by a major general. It is a detachment of Clark Air Base now, commanded by an Air Force major.

The excuse for this installation is a communication site, but its real purpose is to provide Americans in the Philippines with a vacation area. For many years it had survived financially on slot machines, most of which were played by Filipinos in the area. In July of 1972, an Air Force regulation directed that all slot machines be destroyed. Since the housekeeping detachment at John Hay is comprised of only 40 Americans, maintenance of the entire facility has to be paid for out of locally generated funds.

From time to time, inspectors arrive at military installations and for lack of anything else to do with their time, write volumes criticizing how someone else is doing his job. At John Hay Air Base, an especially alert inspector observed that there were many Filipino guests at the club, the golf course, the bowling alley, and the tennis court. He opined that they were not Americans--which I thought was brilliant. As a matter of fact, John Hay has been financially sustained for about 25 years with money obtained by permitting Filipinos to use the facility. It had never particularly upset American patrons and certainly was a good deal for the local nationals.

After two investigations, it was determined that we made a profit by permitting these people to use the recreational area. I had been required to sign a statement that I would do my job with the utmost integrity. I knew it didn't mean to reveal the John Hay situation; so I revealed the John Hay situation.

I knew what the Air Force policy concerning clubs was. Essentially, it said no one could be a member unless he was an American citizen. There had never been an objection on the part of the Philippine Government and I can't understand why some zealous staff fungo continuously picks at a program which is to the mutual benefit of the Filipinos and the Americans. One of the beautiful things about military policy is that if you ignore it long enough, it will slip your mind completely. I kept ignoring the inspection reports until I was finally pressed into a corner. I requested permission to let it continue to operate as it has for 25 years. I believe the goodwill it generates is important and the prohibiting of Filipinos would be interpreted as an insult. Besides, who ever heard of a recreational area that was subsidized by other than American participation.

Chapter XVIII


In the summer of 1972 a group of Filipinos came to me, headed by a rather influential citizen in the local area. They had a secret map which alleged to reveal the hiding place of the gold of General Yamashita. Ever since World War II, there have been rumors of buried treasure all over the Philippines. When these people approached me, I told them that I could not approve their digging up Clark AB on a wild goose chase and they needed approval of the Philippine Government and the American Embassy before I would permit them to bring their equipment on base. I also told them they would have to show me where they intended to dig.

I thought this would be the last I would see of them, but just after Christmas of 1972, the same contingent returned with a letter from the Presidential Palace and a letter of no objection from the American Embassy.

Since my Astro Park fund project was running short of funds, and I knew that many people will promise anything in their own interest, I told them in the event they found any goods they would have to give me 500,000 pesos to put into the Astro Park fund. I wasn't surprised when they readily agreed. (How would I know if they found anything?)

I told them they would not be permitted to dig in the airfield area, under any building, or disrupt any area where communications or construction would be involved. That's like hunting for a dime under a streetlight - because you can see better. They took me out to the Furniture Warehouse and pointed out an area which was of no use to anyone. They claimed it had once been a cemetery and that ten Filipinos had buried the gold in that area the night the Japanese had retreated from Clark Air Base. Of course, there is always a survivor of some adventure like this, but no one ever gets to see him. I didn't either.

They began to dig and promised me it would only take a few days to complete the project and we would all become marvelously wealthy. Five months later, they had a hole big enough to accommodate Thirteenth Air Force headquarters and had dug up several pieces of pine, a San Miguel bottle made in 1927, and a ginger beer bottle.

At one time I went to the dig to see how things were going and found a Bamboo American, whose name I forgot, with a forked stick divining for gold like water witches I had seen as a kid. I asked him how it worked, and he said first you must purify the stick by rubbing it in the grass. I thought that was interesting because the grass didn't look too pure to me. Then he got out a small piece of metal which he claimed to be gold and rubbed it on the end of the stick. He said this sensitizes the stick to gold only. After a while I asked him if I could try it to see if I had the touch. All you really have to do with a forked stick is to put a little tension on it and squeeze your hands. It will roll over and point at the ground. I walked around the area and found the most unlikely area and squeezed the stick and said: "My God, it works!" They immediately began to dig in the area with a Caterpillar bulldozer. After they had gone down about 30 feet, I think they lost faith in my ability to discover g old.

Since the original dig took place, they have identified other secret areas where even more gold allegedly was hidden. I have been out behind the communications site where what apparently was an old incinerator was excavated. I went to Crow Valley Gunnery Range with a group of gold hunters where they introduced me to an old man who claimed to have helped the Japanese pour a wall of concrete six meters thick. He has been living on the spot for 27 years, but when I asked for pictures, or some evidence of the concrete wall, it was never shown.

I have no idea how much money and time they expended in this effort. There may be gold hidden on the Clark reservation, but I doubt it. If there ever was any here, I suspect it was long ago removed and I am unable to understand the motivation of these people. Maybe it is like the prospectors in Western United States who hope to get rich but never measure the effort against the rewards.

At one time, they had circulated enough rumors to engender the interest of the Philippine Constabulary. So I took a Constabulary major, and two Americans with me to a dusty hole in the ground near a Negrito settlement in the hills. They did show me a hole about eight feet deep -- the purpose of which I could never discover -- and 200-300 Negritos in various states of undress squatted around the hole while I observed this "discovery." It proved to be as fruitless as the other attempt.

One of the agents of the gold diggers is hard to describe. You have to see him. My secretary affectionately called him "Squirrelly." I always had the feeling that he slides in and out of the office. I hope that some future commander at Clark Air Base remembers the 500,000 pesos reward for the base, in the unlikely event we can accumulate enough of the San Miguel and ginger beer bottles to sell them at the Nepa Mart to compensate for the use of our hole in the ground.

Chapter XIX


Stanley Miller is just one of the interesting characters at Clark Air Base. He happened to be a Senior Master Sergeant in the communications service who evidently had spent the bulk of his life rotating between the United States and the Philippines. Stanley is stronger than he knows he is, and at one time happened to be walking in the fair city of Angeles in the evening. A calesa, which is a horse-drawn buggy of sorts, just happened to run into Stanley. Having had a fair quota of San Miguel beer, he gave the calesa pony a left hook, causing it to fall to the pavement. It was reported to me that Stanley sat in the middle of the street with the horse's head in his lap, saying: "Please don't die, horse." But it did.

This little exercise cost Stanley about 600 pesos, which is about six times the amount a calesa horse is worth; but it got him off international hold and back on the Clark golf course, where he probably will spend the rest of his life.

This incident is told for no purpose except that I still can't believe he is real. His enthusiasm for everything makes him beautiful. He is one of the few people I have known who managed to seriously injure himself shadow boxing in front of a mirror -- without breaking the glass.

Chapter XX


Another unique character at Clark Air Base is the Base Mortuary Officer. His name is Oren Brooks, and Oren has been at Clark for about 28 years. I think the reason he has kept the job so long is the fact that he has so few customer complaints.

In addition to his talent as an embalmer--and incidentally I never visited his workshop, nor did any other inspectors that I know of since Oren is so eager to display the bits and pieces of his customers--he also has a talent to assist the Commander in many diverse areas. From time to time, he sent me little letters alluding to his knowledge of music and military apparel. I can't describe Oren because he defies description. His ability to observe the local culture, plus consume great quantities of bourbon and water, have made him a fixture at both the Mortuary Office and the bar at the Officers' Club.

He has been investigated so many times that he probably would be better qualified as an Office of Special Investigations agent than any of the people occupied in that area in the entire Far East.

I have included two letters from Mr. Brooks which will give you a better insight into his attitude than any description I could write. I am sure he has to laugh about something. Dealing with dead people would depress all but the stoutest of hearts.

FROM: 405 Services Sq/SVM/46128 20 March 1973 SUBJECT: Distinctive Uniform Apparel/Attire TO: 405 CSG/CCE

1. Through rumor, it has been brought to my attention that a search is being conducted to find a distancing part of apparel/ attire, to be worn by 405th CSG Officers so that they may be distinguished from 405 FW Officers. It is my privilege to propose the following additions to the dress of our CSG Officers in this program of distinction.

2. Proposal No. 1. The wearing of a bright yellow neckerchief or scarf. This would be an extremely distinctive accouterment. If worn properly the wearer would obtain one week's wear, without laundry, for each shirt. If worn high enough, he could go for at least one month with one haircut.

3. Proposal No. 2. Wearing of white-rimmed sunglasses. These glasses could be worn by all 405th CSG Officers while sitting on the patio of the CABOOM. The glasses would conceal the ogling look engaged by the usual officers, and would not make uncomfortable, the presence of the women being ogled in the swimming pool.

4. Proposal No. 3. The use of a swagger stick. The swagger stick has recently been declared excess by the Marine Corps and is available at no cost to all officers. This handy little item can be used for pointing, popping the trouser legs or goosing unsuspecting persons.

5. Proposal No. 4. Each officer will wear a foulard that encases a catheter. This will be worn around his hat that has been soaked in SEA 50 to denote a 20 mission hat. The catheterized foulard could also be employed to cadge a drink from the table next to your own when you do not have sufficient pecuniary aid to surpass the financial barrier.

Respectfully submitted, OREN A. BROOKS Mortuary Officer

Dear Col. Truesdell: 10 April 1973

As you are no doubt aware, I am a noted song writer and composer. Knowing your keen eye for a bargain I am letting you in on the advance sale of some of my most popular compositions. In this bargain package you get all of the recordings of my song hits listed below for one clean girl and two picture show tickets.

These songs are original compositions and the vocal arrangements, with the guitar accompaniment, are provided by the author, Oren Brooks.

HIT NO. 1.: "FROM HERE TO MATERNITY." Unfortunately, this number was overheard by an MGM agent while I was picking my nose and humming in the men's room of the Los Angeles Bus Terminal. A movie was written around my composition and I received nothing for my efforts. I play the last four bars of this rendition on my pocket comb encased in Scot Tissue, it is completely enthralling, don't miss it.

HIT NO. 2.: "I'M IN THE NUDE FOR LOVE." This number was stolen from me in the Christian Science Reading Room of the railroad station in St. Louis. While I was preoccupied with making my Soldiers Deposit in the early morning hours, my old habit of picking and humming overcame me. Little did I know that the fellow with his head under the door was an agent for Johnny Mercer, I thought that he was just someone looking for a vacant seat. He later published my song and "I'm in the Mood for Love". A law suit for plagiarism earned me but 2 sacks of hominy grits which I donated to a civic organization known as the General Grants Fan Club.

HIT NO. 3.: "LOVE IS A SPLENY MENDOARED THING." Having constructed a soundproof bathroom, I thought this composition would be safe but it recently appeared in a movie under a slightly different title.

These recordings come in 33, 45, or 78 RPM. For those who do not appreciate good music, I have one record that is completely soundless.

Yours in the spirit of better music, Oren Brooks

P. S. My pocket comb and I are available, after hours, for weddings, funerals, Political rallies (either party), musical recitals and employees' benefits or any other cause that will pay me 3 pesos an hour.

Chapter XXI


Every morning at 8 o'clock my deputy or I must attend the Wing Stand-Up Briefing at which no one stands up. It is particularly interesting for the Base Commander to attend these meetings since nothing on the agenda pertains to his activity. On a great screen in the conference room is displayed the status of every aircraft on the station.

Whether or not every widget or gidget functioned or didn't function is discussed in the most detailed terms. I coined a phrase with my deputy, since the Stand-Up Briefing lasts for about an hour a day, that in order to perform at Clark Air Base you must have very small fingers, because we continuously "milk a mouse."

I didn't realize how desperate we were for things to talk about at the Stand-Up individual gunnery scores became a matter of great concern. The number of manhours we spent looking at charts wouldn't upset me, except I have to look at the same damned charts every day. Once in a while a clever or humorous remark is made, but the time lapses between such occasions is so long that when I attended six in a row, my deputy wanted to put me in for a medal. I have always been delighted that the Stand-Up was a sit-down affair because standing up for an hour would have been difficult indeed, since the Safety Officer, the Logistics Officer, and the Supply Officer discussed things that, at best, mildly interested me. I always thought it was an interesting commentary on Air Force procedure when a wingtip on an F-4 could be replaced with parts from the factory in St. Louis in 40 hours while a four-hour job in my Civil Engineering office took about six days to program. We finally did the four-hour job, but that was only after cutting about two weeks of administrative work by not asking permission to do it.

Two favorite subjects after the Stand-Up are those of the Security Police not catching the bad guys, and the Civil Engineers not having done their job. Since both functions fall under the supervision of the Base Commander, I became an expert at offering excuses. The salary of a colonel is good in some peoples eyes, but sometimes I felt I got paid about a dollar an insult.

Chapter XXII


When it became evident that the North Vietnamese were going to release American prisoners of war in 1973, a project called "Egress Recap" was initiated at 13th Air Force Headquarters. The title of the operation was later changed to "Operation Homecoming" and Clark was chosen as the place where the returnees would be processed before being transported to the United States. The whole world knows what took place so it isn't necessary to discuss the effort as far as the base was concerned. There were some incidents that may add to the human aspects of the drama, however.

I was appointed commander of the "Joint Support Processing Center," a grand title to say the least. This was another case where credit for the efforts of others comes to the man who happens to be in charge. My instructions to the people who had to do the work were simple and direct. I just said, "If this exercise goes off without a hitch, some senior officer at high headquarters will be decorated. If it doesn't and anything falls through the crack, your ass is grass and I'll be the lawn mower."

Our people behaved magnificently. Junior officers, NCO's, and airmen worked night and day in preparation for the returning men. Their sense of mission and sincerity was superb. The base clothing sales store provided full uniforms, including decorations and insignia, to each returnee with unbelievable speed. By the time the last group arrived, they were able to measure, fit, and issue complete outfits in 12 hours from the time the men stepped out of the aircraft at Clark.

We opened the base exchange at night especially for the returnees and paid them in the store so they could buy whatever they wanted. Escort officers were with each man to take care of whatever his requirements were. It was probably the most effective and rewarding activity that occurred during my tour in the Philippines.

A couple of incidents during "Operation Homecoming" are worth mentioning. One night at the base exchange, a crowd had gathered on each side of the entrance to applaud the returnees as they entered the facility. One of the escort officers was a skinny, bald-headed colonel, who was escorting a returnee of equal grade. When he stepped out of the car, the people gave him a fine round of sympathetic applause. (He looked worse than the returnee).

The senior returnee was an old friend of mine, Colonel John P. Flynn. (Now a Brigadier General). I went to the hospital to see him as soon as he arrived. When I entered his room he was standing in his underwear being measured for uniforms. The only thing I could think of to say to him was, "My God John, you look terrible, where have you been?" His response was "Willy, you have aged disgracefully."

The effect John Flynn, and the other returnees had on the morale and discipline of Clark Air Base was better than all the training programs, regulations, and lectures any commander could put together. Their military bearing, dedication, and patriotism caused people all over the base to take pride in their service. The saluting, improved professional demeanor, and courtesy vastly improved because of the example of these brave men.

The people at Clark again came through with their hearts and hands. It would be impossible to identify every person who contributed extra effort toward the success of "Operation Homecoming." Each one knows the contribution that was made, from the clerk who checked each record, to the girl who helped them pick out clothes and gifts and really was helpful until even late at night.

Chapter XXIII


The incidents and opinions I have expressed in the foregoing chapters were intended to give the reader some idea of views of one military officer who held a command position. There have been many books written about command to give the reader some idea of the views of one military officer who held a command position. There have been many books written about the military from the standpoint of a civilian who happened to wear a uniform for a short time. After more than 30 years of continuous active duty, I sincerely hope that I am typical of the so-called military manager.

There are a great many command traits between people who either achieve positions of authority and responsibility or have these positions thrust upon them. Professional soldiers, sailors, and airmen, for the most part, are more aware of the public trust than they are generally given credit for. Although preparation for combat is a primary mission, the vast majority of every officer's time is spent providing support and service in rather ordinary areas of endeavor.

Any large organization develops systems and language, most of which is designed to perpetuate itself. It is not my intention to comment on or criticize any of these organizations. I have only attempted to provide my view of the Filipinos I met; some good, some bad, some smart, and some stupid. This makes them no different than you and I.

Base Commanders make many acquaintances, a few enemies, and probably some friends, depending on how you interpret the word. Some say command is a lonely position. This simply is not true, at least at Clark Air Base. The steady stream of people through my office invited and otherwise convinced me of that.

I cannot list the names of those who helped or hurt the accomplishment of my job. All of the people with whom I associated, contributed to the viewpoint I hope has been stated.

To say that the assignment was a rewarding experience would be inaccurate; it was stimulating, depressing, intriguing, a frustrating, but never dull.

Last Section