Wednesday, September 14, 2011
SUBIC SCHOOL ALUMNI STRIVE TO SAVE "GLOBE" & MEMORIES
It’s been 20 years since the Philippine Senate voted to close down the US Navy base in Subic Bay, marking the end of an era that helped define the intimate and often personal ties between Filipinos and Americans.
Arlington, Virginia resident Cathy Cox was a 16-year-old student at the George Dewey High School in the mid-70s. The school sits in front of where the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority building now stands.
“The school’s there but it’s in very, very bad shape and we’re hearing they’re doing other things with the area,” Cox said.
Thousands of Americans, children of US servicemen posted at Subic, went through that school, she revealed. They have an active alumni association that holds reunions every year, the last one in San Diego, California just last month.
When US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. visited Washington in August, Cox tearfully sought his help to rescue the steel globe at her high school alma mater.
“We’re asking them to preserve the globe because it’s a symbol. We want to see that globe restored and maintained because it has historical significance,” she told this reporter.
The globe, we learned, became a sort of rite of passage for the generations of young Americans who studied at George Dewey High School. They brushed a layer upon layer of peeling paint, and so doing, started a tradition that was passed on from one senior class to another.
“It’s very interesting,” remarked Washington-born Maurice Cayanan who went back to the Philippines to earn a mass communication degree at the University of the Philippines and intern at the old ABS-CBN in 1973 after it was taken over by Martial Law administrators.
“People think Filipinos are very sentimental but this is a reverse, where Americans are deeply sentimental about something of symbolic importance,” he explained.
For Cox and many others, that globe represented an important period in their lives. “I was in George Dewey High School in 75-76,” she revealed, “my father was with the NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigation Service) and we actually lived in Olongapo. We did not move right inside the base.”
“That was one of the most profound, life-changing experiences for me,” Cox enthused.
“This was my first chance to live overseas,” she continued, “and the Philippine people showed such generosity and kindness and hospitality that it was just a great experience living in town where we lost electricity and you had to carry water.”
“I rode jeepneys and tricycles. I got into a Victory Liner and went to Baguio. I did all those things and it was a wonderful experience and I think all my classmates feel that way too,” she declared.
Subic Naval Base used to be a major repair and logistics hub for the US Pacific Fleet, especially during the Vietnam War.
The George Dewey High School even earned a footnote in history when a joint inquiry was held at the school library after an Australian aircraft carrier collided with an American destroyer during war games in the South China Sea in 1969.
In June 1991, Mt. Pinatubo, just 20 miles from Subic Base, erupted and buried the naval installation in one-foot of volcanic ash.
Two girls, a 9-year-old American and a Filipino reportedly died after being trapped under a falling roof at the George Dewey High School. The families of servicemen were evacuated, first to Cebu and then to Guam; but by September, most of them were back on Subic Base.
On Sept. 16, 1991, the Philippine Senate voted to boot out US military bases in the country. In December of that year, then President Corazon Aquino, who had fought to retain the bases, issued the final notice giving the US one year to pack up.
But for Americans like Cox, the memories of their time in the Philippines live on. She continued to visit the Philippines, the last time in 1996. And as she champions the cause of a now-decrepit steel orb, her thoughts obviously still return to her old school across the Pacific.