There was a rubber plantation on the island, and the couple running it were Swiss. They would frequently invite the officers to come up to their big house for a party. The houses were all open with porches all the way around them. The floors were Philippine mahogany, and the lady of the house would direct young Philippine servant girls to tie open half coconuts to their feet and spend hours sliding their feet back and forth oiling the floors. When the liquor ran low, the owner would tell us go out to the third row of trees from the gate, then down to the sixth tree and dig. A couple of us would follow instructions, and sure enough, there we would hit something buried. It would be a case of whiskey, or Scotch, or whatever. He had buried a four years’ supply of liquor before the Japanese took the island.
The living conditions on the island were challenging. Many of us developed what we called “Jungle Rot” from the humid, wet conditions we lived in. It rained every afternoon about three and was real damp at night. When I turned up with it, the Doc had to cover both of my hands in a salve and then wrap my hand in a mummified fashion. Not much pain but both of my hands were constantly draining. It was pretty bad stuff. I still see signs of it if my hands are wet for too long a time.
For some, the stress could be overwhelming. One hot afternoon I was approaching my tent that I shared with three other officers and heard a great commotion coming from the inside. As I entered I found two of my tent mates restraining the third, a dentist. He was a Jewish fellow that had gone berserk and was out to kill somebody for hating the Jews. We took him over to sickbay and the Doctor gave him a shot to put him out. He was shipped out a few days later.
After a few months, our job was finished at Isabella, and we were sent to Samar. Most of the enlisted men were sent back to the States. They had been through the Solomon Island campaign and also the invasion of the Philippines when MacArthur returned.
I was transferred to the 34th Naval Construction Regiment. My duties were about the same, except we had a lot more civilians to pay, and it had to be in pesos. The exchange rate was about 8 to 1, so I had a problem finding a place for all the cash I had on hand, which was at one time about 800,000.00 pesos. All I had was a little safe, so I had them take a pontoon, cut a door in the side and build shelves in it to store the money. I was real nervous about it, because all I had in the door of the thing was the biggest padlock I could find. I talked it over with the Skipper, and he had a 24-hour guard with an automatic weapon put on duty at my office.
Photo of Philippine jungle found here.