There was no Construction Battalion on Zamboanga, but I did find a Marine Air Group. I reported to the commanding officer. He advised me that my outfit was on Basilan Island, down towards Borneo. Now get this-he said he went over there a lot because they had the best Officers club and Officer’s head (bathroom) in the whole Pacific. That engaged my curiosity!
He had the 118th notified by radio, and within the hour, here comes this PT boat about 50 miles an hour. Before it was tied up, a lieutenant jumps on the dock and practically hugs me. “Where the H—have you been? I got orders to go home two months ago and I have been waiting for you to relieve me ever since.” I replied, “If I told you wouldn’t believe me.”
In short order, we were back across the straights to Isabella on the Island of Basilan. Our base camp was at Isabella, and we were building a PT boat dock where they would overhaul the boats. The Island was about fifteen miles wide, and rose 3186’ to the top of some mountains at the center, where we had a sawmill. I was told that we occupied the west side of the island, but the Japanese occupied the east side of the same island. Our patrols and those of the enemy occasionally met and there would be a firefight. Later, I participated in a Purple Heart presentation to a number of our men who had been wounded on these patrols.
Our patrols were led by an Army Ranger captain and he was strange. He would not go into the Officers Club at night because of the lights. I liked him and would occasionally see him standing by a tree in the shadows at night listening to the music and chatter coming out of the club. I would take him a drink and he always appreciated it. Every once in a while when I was going back to my tent in the dark he would step out from behind a tree to walk with me and scare me half to death. Our base camp was at Isabella, and we were building a PT boat base and dock where they would overhaul the boats.
The first evening when I arrived, after I had moved into my assigned quarters, I got to check out not only the famous Officers Club but also the more famous “head.” First, I have to tell you that many military camps had open ditch latrines and only a tent for the officers club and enlisted men’s club. The 118th carpenters, welders and metal smiths had done an incredible job. The clubs were in Quonset huts that looked something like a greenhouse except with a galvanized metal top. They had Philippine mahogany bars and and they were nice, but the “head” was something else.
Now picture this: the building was rectangular with a thatched roof, which was typical of the area. As you step inside the “head” you see a row of seats. This would be what you would call a ten “holer.” The seats were of polished mahogany, and the bowls were made of hammered brass. Above each was a 55 gal drum of water with a rope hanging down that you could pull to flush. This was an area without running water. You can understand why our visitors’ first question was frequently, “I want to see the head.” I guess it is better to be known by something than nothing.
Photo of Moret Field found here.
(Lots of information and) photo of PT Boat found here.
Photo of Isabella, Basilan, Philippines found here.
Photo of thatched hut found here.