This was a long time ago – in 1981. I was on my way to Lebanon, amongst other places. On that cruise I was in Korea, Japan, Okinawa, Guam, Hawaii, Hong Kong, China, The Philippines, and two other places I am not supposed to mention.
But I arrived at Clark AFB, in The Philippines, with no wallet. No ID card. No Passport. No orders.
I had no idea I was missing these rather important documents until I got off the Air Force plane and went to cross over the line between a US Air Base and foreign soil. Documents are important.
I was young – just 20. And I was in California, on my way to an unknown journey. I still have a copy of my (since replaced) orders that list my destination as UNKNOWN and my "Duration of deployment" as UNKNOWN. I had no clue where I was headed, and I was old enough to drink. And I had a 6 hour layover. Somehow my wallet ended up in the cushions of the Airport Tower Lounge (or whatever they called it). It probably had nothing to do with the fact I was drinking.
So there I was, in the P.I., with nothing at all to prove who I was.
I ended up standing in a two foot square of tiles, marked off by electric tape on the floor. I had a Philippine guard with a machine gun watching me. I stood there for three hours while someone went on base, got the ID Card equipment, came back and made me a set of orders and an ID card on the spot. I could get into the country with an ID card and orders.
Weeks later I am on a ship (USS New Orleans, LPH-11) in the middle of the ocean and I get a letter. It was from a man in Oakland, CA. Weeks earlier he had found my torn and tattered wallet in that airport bar. In it he found about $60 and my parents address. He wrote them, found out where I was, and sent me a letter.
The letter he sent me was an amazing display of kindness from someone I had never met. He had put my money and paperwork in a safety deposit box – he didn’t want to send it to me until he knew it would reach me. He mentioned that he did not tell my parents that he found my wallet in a bar because he "didn’t know how they might take that". I responded with my thanks and he forwarded me $200, a brand new wallet with "California" labeled on it, and he invited me to dinner with him and his wife whenever I returned. I wish I could remember his name.
But I did eat dinner at their home some four months later – he met my plane in the airport in Oakland, drove me the 30 miles to his house, fed me, gave me a room for the night, and took me back to the airport the next day. His wife and family were amazingly nice, and decent. And yes, he was ex-Military. He knew what it was like to be far from a family meal. I learned a lot about giving without expecting anything in return from them.
And amazingly, in just my short time in the Military, I had stories to tell him as he shared his with me. He had never, in 25 years of service, invaded China. I did. But that’s another story.