FS 362 — Working For The Army

By Jerome Friedman

 

The Japanese had occupied the Philippine Islands for three years and thought they were there to stay. During their occupation they printed tons of pesos stamped, "The Japanese Government".

After the long struggle in the southwest Pacific, the U.S. had pushed the Japanese back to their last stronghold, the island of Luzon where the capital, Manila, is located. The Army slogged about 150 miles north on the island until they reached the Tulihan River. The assault on Manila can be dated from the afternoon of 5 February 1945 when the Army crossed the river. By that evening, U.S. troops entered the suburbs of Manila.

The Coast Guard-manned Army FS 362 (Freight Supply) followed the Army on its 150 mile hike northward by delivering supplies to various ports, like those at Lingayen Gulf and Subic Bay. On 1 March, while the Army was still fighting some 25,000 Japanese holed up in the Old City (Intramuros), FS 362 dropped anchor in Manila Harbor. A newspaper headline the next morning alerted our crew to the fact that our ship was the first cargo ship to anchor in the harbor since the Japanese had occupied the islands and while there was still ongoing fighting in Intramuros. The harbor bottom was full of Japanese hulks.

For the first two days we had orders not to go ashore. When the order was lifted, our skipper granted liberty to half the crew. I went ashore and walked up Ascarraga Street to the center of the city. There I found to my surprise that the stamp dealers of Manila had set up shop in the ruined buildings to sell their wares to their new customer base. Having been a stamp collector from my early days, I managed to acquire a nice collection of stamps issued by the Japanese for use in the Philippines. There were two rare items I could not afford because of my thin wallet.

I left the stamp dealers and wandered north up Ascarraga to find myself confronted by the infamous Bilibid Prison. Here the Japanese had incarcerated some 1200 military prisoners and civilian men, women, and children. Before I came upon the scene, the prisoners had been liberated by the Army and trucked away to a safe place. When the area was deemed secure, they were returned to await transport to the States. There were still several hundred left when I arrived, and I had trouble explaining to them why a Coast Guardsman was there. Wasn't I supposed to be guarding the U.S. coastline? Always that misconception as to what the Coast Guard does.

From there, I walked toward the Pasig River, which bisects the city. The Jones Bridge had been destroyed, but I could see Intramuros still burning. About 50 yards from the Pasig (the safe side), a nightclub had opened. Entering, I immediately saw that this was really a "house of ill-repute," no place for a married man with a child.

Wandering further, I was accosted by a street urchin who informed me that if I gave him a carton of cigarettes he would give me a bottle of "tuba" (local so-called “Scotch”). He said that I could get $15 for the bottle at some lonely Army outpost. Not a bad deal since the cigarettes cost me nothing.

Sometime earlier, the FS 362 delivered a load of cases of cigarettes to an Army base. The Army sent its own crew to do the unloading with a 2nd Looie in charge. Since I was the OOD, I told him it was my responsibility; but he insisted, saying that his superior wanted the Army to unload. I didn't feel like a lengthy argument with him or his superior, so I told him to go ahead with the job as long as my men handled the winches. He agreed. After the first two nets had been unloaded successfully, the third net split wide-open while in mid-air and some 25 cases fell into the river and started to float downstream.

I asked the Lieutenant what he was going to do about it. He shrugged and told me that if I wanted them I could go get them. So I sent a couple of the crew with our launch to retrieve the floating cigarettes. It took a while but we collected all the cases, which were later divided amongst the crew and officers, coming to about 50 cartons each. More than enough for trading.

Back to the trade for the "tuba": I turned the urchin down. What he suggested was unseemly for an officer of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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