Officer in Charge
Navy Transmitting Facility
Capas, Tarlac, Philippines
December 1970 to September 1971
Change of Command Ceremony Slide Show
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How I came to be Officer in Charge of the Navy Radio Transmitting Facility, Capas
My move to the position of Officer in Charge of the Navy Transmitting Facility came about because of a shoot out on the Base at Capas. There was a meeting in the Philippine Civilian club on the base including the Commander of the Philippine Constabulary, the Mayor of Capas, some of the civilian staff from the base and a few of the Navy personnel from the base. At some point three members of the HUC insurgency stormed into the club and sprayed automatic fire all over the club (a Quonset hut) killing the Commander of the PC, the Chief Master at Arms from the base and several others, the Mayor of Capas had a bullet in his head but survived and eventually recovered.
In the Philippines at that time it was standard practice to place a legal hold on any member of the United States Services for any excuse. This prevented that person from being transferred out of the Philippines until the case was disposed of. To reach this point a number of bribes were required and it could become terribly expensive for the Service Member. With this a fact of life in the Philippines it was decided to transfer the Officer in Charge out of the Philippines before a legal hold was lodged against him. I was selected as his replacement.
My first test of Diplomatic skills
This tour of duty was challenging in a number of ways but exciting and enjoyable as well. The base was intruded upon by local farmers several times a week. Each time this occurred the OOD (one of the Chiefs) would call me at my quarters at Clark Air Force Base. There was a radio transceiver in the closet in our bedroom. I would turn the radio on to establish communications with the base and call the XO at the main base at San Miguel then call the duty desk at the American Embassy. I would be making the rounds of the radio and the phone making reports to the Main Base and the Embassy and directing the reactions at the Base until the event was concluded.
The farmers were after the copper wire buried at the base of antennas as ground planes. They would sell the copper to augment the meager income from their crops of rice. I felt sorry for the farmers but my job was to enforce the security of the base. We had a contingent of the PC stationed on the base and providing "Security". My concern was that sooner or later there would be a local farmer shot dead over the theft of copper wire. It was a real problem for us but stealing copper wire isn't a capital crime. Often the PC were drunk when they took to the Antenna field with automatic weapons.
Shortly after I settled into the job I was paid a courtesy visit by Col. Gatan of the PC. We visited for some time and when he was ready to leave he said, "Oh by the way, while I'm here..." followed by a request that I allow him to purchase liquor from the EM Club. I knew I was not supposed to allow him to do that but told him I would call the Main Base and see if they would allow him to do that. He went to the Exchange to await my answer. When I went to the Exchange to give the negative answer he replied, "I understand, orders from the Chain of Command." and left.
That evening there was personnel vehicle from the PC with a young officer sent to collect the PC security contingent and remove them from the base. The young officer left a message from Col. Gatan to me saying he was sorry but he had orders from up the Chain of Command to remove the Security Unit. I was pleased for the PC Security Unit to be gone. We would handle our own security and there would be no farmers killed for a few yards of copper. Later I would get disturbing information about that little incident. But for the time I was very much satisfied with how it had worked out. There will be more to this event later. It was obvious this was going to be a challenging and interesting tour of duty.
My first venture out on People to People duties
The NTF, Capas was the only Navy facility in central Luzon and hours away from any other bases. That meant that a significant part of my duties was People to People work with the local communities. My first experience with this part of the job was as an invitation to attend a local Vocational School Graduation. I accepted the invitation and Helen and I were driven to the event by a Special Services driver in one of the base sedans. When we got there and left the vehicle the driver told me he was going to turn the car around and would be in the same location. I thought nothing of the comment at that time.
As a local dignitary we were seated on the stage along with others including Maj Chub Anderson, of Air Force Special Forces who had been in the Philippines for about a decade or more. He had two jobs at the Voice of America transmitter station in the vicinity. He also was there to provide Intelligence information on the HUC activities and the PC and local governments.
At the intermission I stood up to stretch my legs and talk with the others on the stage. Maj. Chub Anderson came over to me and began telling me, "There are some PC in the Tavern over there and they are getting rowdy, so and so is seated over there.... etc.". I asked why he was telling me all of this stuff. He replied that when the shooting stared I needed to know that information. Shooting? What shooting? Well, I soon learned that such gatherings were often punctuated by shooting or hand grenades directed at the stage. That was the last time I took Helen to any of such events but I was still obligated to go. I attended many a consecration of concrete pad basket ball courts and other such events. Fortunately there was never any shooting or hand grenades at any events I attended. However I have a collection of newspaper photos of stages and vehicles full of holes. Elections seemed to be decided not by the voters but by who survived the election.
The Navy Transmitting Facility was located on the site of the old Philippine Army Base named Camp O'Donnell which was the terminus of the Bataan Death March in the Spring of 1942. There was a monument in the north antenna field marking the location of the mass graves of American POW's. The Philippine prisoners were housed on the south side of the base and their monument was located just off the base to the south.
When I took command of the base both monuments were in sad shape. I had Bob Giesler, manager of Public Works on the base, clean up the monument on the base and make it presentable. He did a fine job of it and soon visitors started stopping by to have their pictures taken at the monument.
When all the bases were turned over to the Philippines, Col Olson (who was a POW in the Death Camp) engineered the removal of the cross and it now resides at the Andersonville POW Museum in Andersonville, GA. It has a room of it's own with artifacts from the Death Camp.
The Monument Slide
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The Boy Scout Troop at Clark Air Force Base made a 50 mile hike re-enacting the Death March each Spring. Since the base was so much a part of the Death March I took leave to be able to go on the march and take photos (about 90 rolls of 35 mm film) and a week later there was a march from the Capas Train Station to the base and a ceremony at the Monument followed by a lunch in the EM Club on base.
This 50 mile hike re-enacting of the Death March was on the 29th anniversary of the Death March. There were nine adults and fourty one Scouts... some of them very young. Several of the young ones developed blisters and could not wear their boots or shoes so they walked in their socks and refused to ride even a short distance. They wanted to hike every step of the 50 miles! Who believes our young are soft and not up to the standards of those who marched the first Death March?
There are fourteen Slide Shows covering these events. The Monument Slide Show and thirteen of the Death March Slide Shows. Please be patient while the Death March Slide Shows loads up. There are a lot of photos.
The 50 mile march began at (A) going into
Bagac (B) where we camped on the beach for the night. The next day we reversed
and hiked back to the starting point (A). This was necessary to have a total
of 50 miles in the hike.
The next day we were joined by the Senior Patrol Leader of a Philippine Boy Scout Troop. His uncle owned land at the bottom of three falls on a river and he got his uncle to let us camp on his land. That is where we camped for the rest of the week, being trucked back out to the end point of the previous day's hike each morning.
The next three days march took us to the zero km monument at Mariveles (C) where the Death March began in 1942. Another starting point had been at Bagac.
Boy Scout Re-enactment of the Death March Slide Shows
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Wood Map of Philippines
Shortly after assuming command of the base I made a wood map of the Philippines and mounted it on the bulkhead behind my desk in my office. I purchased an American flag and a Philippine flag and mounted them crossed under the map. Later, when taking part in the Death March re-enactment by the Boy Scout Troop from Clark AFB I provided the flags from my office to be used on the march.
At the end of the 50 mile march in Bataan we concluded the march a week later from the Capas Train Station to the base, had a ceremony at the monument for the mass graves of American POW's in the Death Camp. In that ceremony the flags were presented by the Boy Scouts to one of the Philippine Guards, Mr Lapada, at the base who had been a POW in the Death Camp. He, in turn, presented them me and they were returned to the bulkhead in my office.
We then assembled in the Enlisted Mens Club for a lunch and several weeks later there was a Court of Honor on Clark AFB to bring the activities to a conclusion. It was an experience for which I would not take millions of dollars! It was an experience of a life time!
Viewer warning: Some of the pictures are graphic and may be difficult to view by some. However, they are what they are and the Death March and Death Camp were not pleasant experiences.
Included is a slide show of Fr. Penada who was a Chaplain in the Philippine Army and was not interred in the Death Camp. He was allowed to go into and leave the Death Camp and was able to take messages to and from the prisoners and some medications. In order to have these privileges he played ping pong with the Japanese Base Commander... and allowed him to win. He stood with me in the antenna field and pointed out the locations of the various parts of the Death Camp.
The BBB Poem
"We're the battling bastards of Bataan;
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam.
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces.
And nobody gives a damn.
Nobody gives a damn.
by Frank Hewlett 1942
my next posting was to...
I was contacted by Jim Harbeck CYN3 who arrived at Capas at the same time I did. He was able to correct the dates I had on this page and has been able to put names with the photos of people from the station during the time we both served there. Thanks, Jim, for all your help.
To see photos with names click on this link Photos of those serving at Capas
Morris Hervey RM2, who served at Capas, has a website with additional photos.
To access his website click on this link
Map of NRTF, Capas, Tarlac, Philippines (2,000 acres)