Once Around Clark

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014


LIKE most Pampangos who had a taste a slice of life at Clark Air Base, I have fond memories of the place especially its facilities. These included the Airmen’s Club, the Non-Officers Open Mess (NCO Club), and the Officer’s Open Mess.

Local nationals who frequented the three dining facilities would admit that the “stateside” ambience in these places makes the difference. Regular Clark habitués of a time long gone still remember the genuine US steak and hamburgers, roast turkey, apple or pecan pie and multi-flavored ice cream that were served ala mode on Thanksgiving Day.

Male visitors who dreamt of life in America would hang around the three Clubs with their card bearing sponsors. They drank themselves to near stupor. Some enchanted evenings the Pinoys savored their drinks gingerly as if to memorize the taste of US bourbon against the years.

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I have some recollections of how life was for Filipinos at Clark, having official access to the Air base on account of my job at the Regional Office of the Department of Tourism, and later as Angeles City liaison officer to the 3rd Security Police Group. My favorite place was the Kelly’s cafeteria where one can loiter around and banter with the pretty girl attendants without being mistaken for a dissident.

My job at the DOT included escorting Manila VIPs to Clark where the visitors immensely relished T-bone and Sirloin steaks after many rounds of bourbon or scotch. My boss director was a woman who could not spend many evening hours with wine-loving visitors.

As liaison man to the Security Police Group I interceded for local nationals involved in minor crimes, or suspects in some shenanigans, mostly theft and pilferage of US air force properties. The characters, after being cleared, repaid me with a steak dinner. For a successful work the city mayor gave me a high five but the large steaks gave me a high uric acid count.

Doing splendid community-Base relations work at that time were Ener “General” Lumanlan as the pointman for the 13th USAF while former city cop Ruben Melchor was the city gofer at the 3rd Combat Support Group otherwise known as the office of the Base Commander. The two could invite air force generals in Angeles socials during the time of Huk chieftain Sumulong.

An all around factotum at the Airmen’s club, the biggest of the dining and entertainment facilities, was Ed Quiambao of Angeles. The bartender cum waiter cherishes nostalgic remembrance of his life at Clark. Until now he can recall the mouth-watering scent of meat broiling at the Club’s huge kitchen, as well as the odor of bourbon which the airmen dunked till closing time every pay day.

Now at 76, Ed Quiambao who had incurred a colon disorder (presumably from too much steak and drinking after work hours) relives his happy days at the ‘Airmen’s’ by buying rib-eye steak at Johnny’s supermart and enjoys a hefty dinner sans the drink. He has collector’s items of various drinks in miniature bottles but his wife, the former Nita Bognot, keeps watch lest Ed will gulp the Jack Daniel or the Jim Beam which would send him to the ICU.

Ed remembers the Airmen’s Club high spenders among local nationals including Amado “Noning” de Leon of the LTO and C ity Councilor Aster Angeles and his cousin Tony Y. Angeles of the AUF.
The three cabalen who had enjoyed a brief life span can outdrink the top air force drunkard this side of the Pacific.

Ed was also acting stockman at the Club. While inspecting a
huge pile of SMC beer, he would discover a bottle or two missing from each case. He could not trace the culprit in the systematic pilferage. He remembers the Pinoy workers would take out filched items only when the USAF sentries wore a layer of stripes on their sleeves. “These airmen have reached their maximum rank, while those with a stripe or two were the most vigilant and rigidly strict in their work, hoping for gradual promotions due to good performance,” he recalled.

A “good time” was never lacking each night at Clark. Contract performers from Manila would entertain the USAF community in the three clubs. Marquee stars from the Manila night life would amuse and delight the GIs at the Airmen’s, NCO, and O’Club.

Locally grown bands and orchestras regularly performed at regular intervals. Most popular of these music groups were Abe Panlaqui’s and the PY Night Band of Pacifico Young.

PY band’s pretty chanteuse, Lucy Abao was the hottest object of contention between Filipino playboys. The rivalry of dashing popular lawyer Boy Sagmit and San Fernando mayor Mando Biliwang for the young singer’s heart became a concern of the air base security police. Biliwang used to bring a squad of bodyguards when he entered the Base.

The Thursday Mongolian B-Cue at the O’Club where Lucy was the diners’ spectacle was a weekly event. During the day a sandwich bar was opened ll:00 am to 2:00 pm. A single sandwich portion can feed three undernourished Filipinos, so that some local playboy-businessmen would eat only a third portion, and ask the waiter after a big tip to foil- wrap the remainder of the unfinished ham, turkey, salami cum bologna for a later postprandial event.

The former waiters and bartenders at Clark, now grey haired and aging, most of them ailing, would sometimes meet in downtown Angeles to reminisce about the golden era at Clark. Almost nightly, Ed Quiambao recalled, he would join the boys’ night out, until he met Nita, his lovely wife now, who was working at her sister’s “Esting Cafe,“ then the city’s top night spot.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on August 13, 2014.

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