The SYM And The Night Of The Short Knives!


It was a crime that occurred infrequently, but it did occur.

Most Airmen stationed at Clark A.B., near Angeles City, PI, knew that the potential for this crime always existed, but ever so often a new arrival to the island of Luzon hadn’t heard about it or an Airman who wasn’t paying attention, either due to alcohol or complacency, would put themselves in the path of this crime and come straggling into our office at Town Patrol slightly injured to make a report.

What was the crime and how was it perpetrated? It was an armed robbery, committed on the least expensive of the local public transport system, like this jeepney. As you can see in the image, there is room for three on each side in the back facing each other, four if the demand was there, and the occupants weren’t large G.I.’s, while three or four could sit in the front seat, including the driver. The vehicles never stop they slow enough for the passengers to grab the hand rails on the back and step up into the compartment.

When these robberies took place, it was a consistent pattern. There would be two men on each side in the back seated next to the entrance, and one seated next to the back of the driver, forcing any new occupants to sit on the side facing the lone passenger behind the driver. There would be two passengers in the front seat and with the exit closed off by the other two rear passengers the new passenger was now in the center of the ambush.

When the driver gave the signal to the man next to him that it was safe to proceed, the two front seat passengers would turn back on the victim, one would have a balisong or as they are best known, a “butterfly knife.” The man directly behind the victim, would grab him from behind, while the man next to the driver would put the blade to the victims throat. As they did, the other three men pounced to restrain the victi and invariably the victim realized how futile resisting was, and out of self-preservation would offer no resistance….usually. The men in the back would then proceed to extract anything and everything of any value from the victim, while the driver drove to a predetermined spot to expel the victim and then they would be gone into the night with countless other jeepneys and no adequate description was obtained by the victim.

With this knowledge, but never having actually witnessed the crime, the SYM came stumbling out of his favorite club slightly inebriated and in a very good mood, as he looked for the next jeepney to come along so he could get home. As the faded and raggedy jeepney slowly pulled off onto the sandy shoulder and slowed for him to get in, the SYM employed his well practiced jeepney maneuver, by firmly grasping the handrail with his right hand, while putting one foot on the step as he flung his weight forward, landing firmly on the step with both feet and grasping the other rail with his left hand. As he did, he noticed something that he didn’t like; two men near the entrance, one farther up in the back, with three occupants in the front. As the jeepney slowly pulled back onto the highway, the SYM stayed on the step while looking at the men and they wouldn’t make eye contact with him or each other and the two passengers in the front kept glancing back to see where he was. The SYM motioned for one of the men next to the entrance to move forward, which was ignored. The SYM then said to move back,while gesturing, and neither of the men responded or made eye contact. The SYM leaned forward a little, as though he was going to fall for their trap, which caused them to look at him and as they did the SYM smiled broadly then leaned back and let go of the handrails as he stepped off of the jeepney, which was barely moving, and he laughed loudly and waved bye to them as they drove away, looking at each other in disbelief. The SYM was still chuckling as he got home, after hailing the very next jeepney to come along. He was pleased with himself, that his ambush detection was still strong, even with a San Miguel soaked system.

Time went by, weeks and months, and not one incident of this type of robbery was reported and once again complacency was a concern, as Airmen and other service members came and went on a daily basis. Then one night, the SYM witnessed the worst case scenario of this type of robbery.

Once again, the SYM came stumbling out of his favorite club, the Madison, which was dimly lit with a large and loud house band, and with the amount of beer in him it always took a moment to adjust his senses to the outside environment. As he was standing there looking around, trying to decide what to do next, he noticed a slight uproar in traffic and people began to scatter. At that time, the SYM noticed an Angeles Police motorcycle patrolman attempting to pull a jeepney over, which he thought odd, as they could never be caught speeding. As the jeepney pulled over, five or six men quickly exited the jeepney and dispersed in the large crowd of people in the area and the policeman didn’t even attempt to try and chase any of them, instead he went straight to the driver. As the SYM walked across the street, he was standing directly in front of his office, but being a civilian matter he knew he couldn’t get involved.

At that moment a Filipino man in the back of the jeepney tried to step down and his white shirt was literally red with blood. As he exited he stumbled, falling several feet away from where he had stepped and the SYM could tell that the man was in deep trouble. The man was trying to get up, but he couldn’t and remained on his hands and knees, so the SYM walked over and offered his hand and tried to help the man stand. As the man looked at the SYM, the SYM could recognize the early stage of shock setting in, as the man was barely conscious and his eyes looked glassy, with a very distant look in them. As the man slowly reached up to take the SYM’s hand, the man’s wound became visible and the SYM recoiled in shock and disgust, he had never seen such a wound on a living being. The victim had obviously resisted and the man with the balisong had cut him from under his left ear all the way across to the top of the man’s right shoulder, a gaping and hideous slice. As the man reached up for the SYM’s hand, the SYM had looked down and actually saw the man’s collarbone exposed. As the SYM withdrew his hand, all the SYM could say, with a horrified tone, was…”Man…you are hurt!” The man went back to his hands and knees, and was bleeding profusely and all the SYM could do was kneel down to the man, encourage him to lay down, try and relax, as help would arrive soon.

At this time, the SYM was also screaming for the Angeles patrolman to call for an ambulance. The patrolman came over to see what the SYM was screaming about and leaped backward when he saw the wound and got on his radio to call for assistance.
A crowd had quickly formed and encircled the scene, and most people would look, then walk away in disgust at the sight. The man was barely alive, as the SYM kept checking his pulse and trying to reassure him, though he was clearly in shock and his body was struggling to cope with the blood loss and pain.

The man was finally taken away and the SYM never knew who the man was, or what had become of him, though he was almost certain he had bled out before he got the medical attention he needed.

The SYM would recount many times, how he could have reached in and grabbed the man by his collarbone and related that story to many young Airmen he saw that were on the verge of becoming stumbling drunk, realizing that as he informed each new Airman that the risk of a local national falling victim to this crime only increased.

4 Responses

  1. I remember that one no2. You did a great job! You didn’t mention whether or not you were leaving the club alone that night. If you were, it had to be a first. I wish you would have been with me that day I got robbed on a jeepney going into downtown Angeles. Luckily they didn’t use a knife on me. You bring up some fond memories of the Madison and all that cold, cold San Miguel………and of course the “candy.”

  2. Wait a minute…..?!?!
    You got nailed by those punks, too?
    Either I never knew or forgot.
    Yeah, I was walking out alone, I think I was trying to decide if I wanted the barbeque pork or chicken from the sidewalk vendors, of course with a handful of that wonderful “hot bread.”
    Did they use the same tried and true method on you, only without a butterfly?

  3. It was kind’a a cross between strong arm robbery and picpocket. The Angeles cop I found immediately caught the two guys. I went to the downtown jail with them and they let me “visit” with each of them for a few minutes. The the cops who knew me took over and softened them up way over the line. When I saw them a couple of weeks later in court they looked 20 yrs older, begging me to drop the charges. Please. Each were repeat offenders and the judge gave them 2 yrs apiece in prison south of Angeles. All for two $10 dollar bills. I think I had only been in-country for a couple of months. I don’t think that was pork or chicken we were eat’in no2…….but whatever it was the San McGoo washed it down real good.

  4. It was pork and chicken, that’s my story, and damnit, I’m sticking to it.
    I don’t remember any of that, and you were in country a few months ahead of me, though.
    All of those late night talks we had after work, sitting under the covered seating of the Del Rosario compound swimming pool after work, pulling on those San Magoos, while the rain poured, and speaking deeply of all things, I still don’t recall the robbery story coming up.

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