I lost my wallet in the Oakland airport

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.