Operation Fiery Vigil Growing up in the military, I was no stranger to picking up and moving from one place to another. By the age of 6, I had already flown across the Pacific Ocean four times! I was born on Clark Air Base in the Philippines, a large group of tropical islands located in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. After my sister was born, we were relocated to Carousel Air Force Base near Ft. Worth, Texas, which is where I spent the first two years of elementary school. From there, the military moved us back to the Philippines.
Our last move, however, was both unexpected and definitely the most eventful. The year was 1991. School was almost out for the summer and our tightly knit military community was still reeling over the 7. 8 magnitude earthquake that shook our world several months ago. As a third grader at MacArthur Elementary School, I remember having to practice what the school called “earthquake drills” where a loud screeching siren (similar to a tornado siren or other siren indicating a natural disaster) would sound off and our teacher would yell, “Drop! Cover! Hold on! We would all then have to drop and crawl underneath our desks and remain there until told otherwise. This was a normal occurrence; the earthquake drills were Just as request and regular as fire drills. One balmy April day, during the normal morning announcements, our principal revealed something that we had never heard before. We would be learning a new emergency drill: a volcanic eruption drill. Met. Punctuation was a dormant volcano with a 5,700 foot summit located on the Philippine island of Luzon. Clark Air Base was Just 9 miles to the east of the volcano’s summit. The large 7. Magnitude earthquake that happened the year prior was a precursor of what was going to happen next. The next couple of months proved to be very mundane. We went to school, we played outside, and then we went home. We were even provided gas masks to wear because of the sulfur that was deposited in the air by the volcano. I remember walking to school and smelling the distinct odor of the sulfur in the air, like day old boiled eggs. The news of a possible volcanic eruption was like old news. We continued to perform the eruption drills and they became a normal routine, like the Pledge of Allegiance.
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At the beginning of June, 1991, my dad sat my sisters and me down for a talk. He told us that we were going to be going away for a while and to gather three things that we could not live without. The volcano had begun to erupt and we were being evacuated. We were told that we would be returning in a few days, so we would only need to pack enough clothes to last for a few days. The next few days leading to the evacuation were anything but ordinary. School was cancelled. I was not allowed to play outside, because of the amount of the sulfur dioxide in the air.
I struggled with what three things to bring, which of my favorite shirts to pack. And then the day came: evacuation day. Evacuation day was June 10, 1991. It was still dark when my sisters and I were woken up. My mom got us girls dressed and ready while my dad loaded up our old nearly corpora. It was 6 am when our Journey Degas, Ana I remember looking Deck in the direction of the volcano and seeing the giant mushroom cloud in the sky. The first leg of the evacuation was a 55 mile drive to Cubic Bay Naval Station in Along City, where we were initially told that we would only remain for several days.
Then, approximately 48 hours after our evacuation, almost as sudden as the move itself, we encountered the first full eruption of Met. Punctuation. Along with the arrival of Typhoon Yuan and 7 inches of monsoon showers , we faced frequent earth tremors and the effects of total darkness on June 15, 1991. This event was known as “Black Saturday. ” The suspension of the debris in the atmosphere had caused all sunlight to be blocked, turning day into pitch black night. We were confined to our quarters, which was a three bedroom house in military housing that we shared with two other families.
Oh, and there was no furniture. There were frequent power outages and a shortage of drinkable water. The ground was covered in a thick blanket of white, dusty ash. We were finally able to leave Cubic Bay for the second leg of the evacuation, now known as “Operation Fiery Vigil. ” Our dad was among the many servicemen and omen who stayed behind to assist with the cleanup of the base. I remember the tearful goodbyes as we waved to him from the bus that took us to the processing station and the naval base.
Over 3,500 fellow evacuees boarded the largest aircraft carrier in the world, the ever so spacious US Abraham Lincoln. Our 33 hour voyage to another naval base, Zebu, was a long one, but far from tedious. We were provided absolute kindness by the crew and were given full access to the crew’s living quarters. There were so many families with small children, as well as family pets on that carrier. I later learned that the more than 5,000 crew members doubled up on sleeping quarters to allow room for all of us evacuees.
They provided entertainment, as well as delicious food on the main deck. When we arrived at Zebu, we were shuttled by helicopter to McCann Air Base where we boarded massive C-141 Starlets to Andersen Air Force Base at Guam. The flight was deafening and cold. Once we landed we were able to obtain more clothes that were donated from the Red Cross, since we were only allowed to bring a few pairs for each family member. The flight from Guam to Hickman Air Force Base in Hawaii marked the last leg of the evacuation.
From there, some families traveled onward to their next duty station on the mainland USA while others were already at their new homes in a new paradise. When I look back at all that we went through and all that we encountered, being shuffled from processing center to processing center, I can say that I am very proud to have been a part of something so historic and life changing. Needless to say, I am also very relieved to be able to have a hometown. As much as I miss the childhood memories I have of Clark, the long Journey we made to get here makes me appreciate it that much more.