Crossing the Isthmus of Panama with Howard and Other Stories — Part 3

 

When I first arrived at Howard AFB in September 1976, there were very few airmen below the rank of E-4.

From what I understood, before I arrived most of the airmen stationed at Howard had served in Vietnam—either at bases in Thailand or Vietnam. Whether or not that was true or not, or one of the military/urban legends associated with the base (another one was about whether or not you could swim because if the canal was ever sabotage, the side of the canal that Howard was located on would be under water) there were a lot of E-1’s (Airmen Basic) to E-3’s (Airmen First Class) arriving at Howard in 1976 not long after the Tactical Air Command had taken over the United States Southern Air Command.

As one of those E-1’s arriving I was soon put to good use pulling all kinds of lousy duties/details like cleaning offices (which I thought was absurd later when most duty sections paid Panamanians to do the cleaning—like we did in the barracks) as well as painting the hangar floor (where some of the supplies were located) battleship gray. I got to do that my first weekend at Howard; guess they were waiting for me to arrive. Come to think of it, when I did arrive, I was the lowest ranking airman in the supply squadron. Yes, all that military training was being put to good use—and now I was being put to good use cleaning the Chief Master Sergeant’s office and painting the hangar floor.

At the same time I wasn’t too keen on working in the Base Service Store and maybe my attitude could have been a little better because I started off on the wrong foot rubbing some people there the wrong way (maybe that is why I was having to pull all those lousy details). That probably got people thinking about finding a different job for me as it were because not too long after my friend Howard arrived I was soon transferred out to the Repair Cycle Support Unit on my way to a better position that I would stay in until I left Howard AFB in September 1978.

The Base Service Store carried everything from toilet paper and cleaning supplies to pens and stationary. Most of the time I worked there was spent stocking the shelves in either the store or the hangar where supplies like boxes of government issued toilet paper were stocked (none of this 3-4 ply stuff that you can pamper your butt with these days). My AFSC (Air Force Specialty Code) was 64530 Inventory Management Specialist—a fancy expression for supply.

The one nice thing about the Base Service Store was that you could meet a lot of different people on any given day. Stocking shelves was a little boring (I had done that the previous year when I worked at K-Mart) but it was cool working along the flight line and watching A-7’s, C-130’s and C-141’s landing and taking off.

One thing that I found surprising about being stationed at Howard was that many people worked from 9-5. No wonder so many people wanted to extend their tour of duty there. Many of the people I would get to know in the first few months I was at Howard had been in the Vietnam War like Larry Easterly who had been a gunner on a Huey (he had done two or three tours in Nam) and for them, coming to Howard was like being on R&R I guess. Maybe that was just another one of those military/urban legends or something that I have come to accept as the truth over the years.

When I first arrived at Howard and got a glimpse of the base and later Balboa in the Canal Zone it was like nothing had ever seen before. I regret that I hadn’t been a little more up on my history of Panama. However, when I was in the sixth grade, my classmates and I made a clay model of Central America and if I am not mistaken, I was responsible for making the Panama Canal.

I would soon learn, as I had not when I was making that clay model that the canal did not run East-West, but instead North-South.

There would be a lot of things I would learn in those first few months of being in Panama. I did get to see a little of the Canal Zone a few days after I arrived with my sponsor Airman First Class Gary Grimes. He took me to Balboa and Miraflores Locks and I got to see a ship transiting the canal for the first time. It was also a real treat to cross over the Thatcher Ferry Bridge and see the Pacific Ocean on one side and the canal on the other. No matter how many times I crossed that bridge in the two years that I was stationed in Panama it was always a thrill for me.

Ron Cortez, Cerveza Atlas, Cerveza Panama, Monkey Meat, the Ancon Inn, Ovalo, Paris, the Foxhole, Gran Morrison, Chiva buses….

 UPDATE: August 2015

My novel about Panama, The Panama Affair is now available at Amazon!

Panama. It sounded just as much exotic as it did foreboding for Gary Taylor, Kevin Rooney, and Frank Costello, three airmen assigned to a military base in the Canal Zone during the 1970s, who soon became enraptured with its beauty, danger, and adventure; for Buck Smith, an analyst for the CIA it was a constant source of frustration and anguish as he followed the meteoric and deadly rise of Manuel Noriega.

Things become complicated when the airmen cross paths with one of Smith’s associates in Panama City and the lives of these individuals become intertwined in drugs, deception, and death. The airmen will be forced to face their demons, but doing so only leads to more strife.

Friends will become enemies. Old hurts will resurface. The death toll will rise. No one will emerge unscathed.

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76 Responses to “Crossing the Isthmus of Panama with Howard and Other Stories — Part 3”

  1. John Maher July 25, 2008 at 4:43 pm # Reply

    My Dad, John Maher Sr. was stationed at Howard from 1974-1976. He also was in Vietnam and worked on the flight line. I believe he was an E-8 at the time. He passed in 1992. My sisters went to Balboa High School, and I went to Curundu Jr. High. Do you remember that Chinese Restuarant off base up on a Hill? Very Good Food. I played football for the Howard Eagles. We use to practice on the big field near our base housing. 3 stories high, maids quarters on the bottom with a carport. I thought the sharks net at the beach on base was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I remember we had to take a train down to Colon to play their Football team. What an experience. They never let us play in Panama City though. I dont think they liked Americans much. Wow I was thinking of Howard so I looked it up and saw your message. Thanks for bringing back some good memories. My thoughts are scattered sorry. Thanks again . John

    • Jeffrey April 12, 2012 at 12:39 pm # Reply

      Thanks so much for your comments, John. Sorry for the loss of your father. I knew a lot of guys who had been in Vietnam before they came to Howard.

    • Sheila Wilson-Suleski February 6, 2015 at 9:28 am # Reply

      I was searching for friends that I knew while my father was stationed at Howard AFB in 1974-76ish. Specifically I was searching for a guy named John Maher(among others)….then I ran across this post. I was wondering if you remembered me? Gosh I was only in 3rd through 6th grade there so some memories are sketchy. Just thought I would see if you are the same John Maher…..Sheila

  2. Brent Peyton October 29, 2008 at 9:10 pm # Reply

    Jeff,

    I too was stationed at Howard AFB from 1976 through 1978. I actually worked for Larry Easterly and was just putting a scrap book pile of photos together for my daughter to build a history of my time served.

    Larry was a pleasurable person as were many of the rank and file during those post Viet Nam days. The daily duties were routine, but the days away from work were great. There were island hoping adventures, mountain climbing days, riding the Panamanian Rail across the Isthmus. Days of fishing in Lake Gatun, trips to the Costa Rican frontier, oh the list can go on.

    Most days were hot and sticky, but that was easily cleansed by a brief rain in the afternoon, unless it was the dry season.

    The beaches were plentful and ice was limited, but the local frio leche man would make the best hand scraped snow cones.

    got to go. Brent

  3. Laura January 8, 2009 at 12:48 am # Reply

    I was there with my family from 93-98 and the last of our 4 children was born at Gorgas. My kids now that they are adults still talk about how much fun it was sliding down the drainage ditches during a rain. Sledding down a grassy hill on cardboard in base housing. Going up to “snake hill” and catching snakes and chewing on sugar cane. Racing the “bug truck” to get into the house before the cloud got them. I did not know of some of these activities till years later, and was shocked that they did not kill themselves. My husband and I had the priveledge of participating in the great Ocean to Ocean Cayuco race in 96 and hiked the Devide with the Boy Scouts. My daughter celebrated her 3rd birthday on Isla Tigre in Gatun Lake where Dr. Dennis Rasmussen had a monkey refuge. GOOD TIMES!

  4. Rory Monroe January 8, 2009 at 10:21 pm # Reply

    I was also stationed at Howard from January of 1976 through September of 1978. I was with the 24th SPS as a dog handler. I went from Howard to Charleston. I have many fond memories of Howard and the canal zone. I wish I could go back. I use to spend alot of time at the base pool.

  5. F. Allen Norman Jr January 12, 2009 at 6:07 pm # Reply

    I was stationed at Howard/Albrook, May 1972 to October 1973; 24th Security Police Squadron (B-flight). Chief of Police was LtCol Paul Hebert from Louisiana, Exec Officer Capt. D’Agostino, 1st shirt SMSgt Wagner, (we called Capt. D’agostino “Augie Doggy” and SMSgt Wagner “Doggy Daddy”. Those were the days when almost everyone in the whole Air Force was a buck Sergeant, which in the USAF at the time was E-4. (The rank has since been changed to “Senior Airman” since not everyone can be a non-com).
    The head of the OSI Base Investigative detachment had a daughter who was a bigtime stoner, she and her pals were so out of it on the CZTV kids Christmas Show that they could not get the letters for “Merry XMas” straight and wound up giggling like tickled baboons as the credits rolled.

    PANAMA ROCKED BABY! Remember the Ancon Inn?? The Golden Key with the slot machine parlor on the ground floor? How about the Pizzaria Napoli with genuine wood-fired ovens and pizza as she is made in Italy; and the San Blas busboys dragging cans of garbage through the dining room as folks ate? And let’s not forget Gran Morrison, the funkiest department store on the planet.

    There was a La Guardia that some of us sky cops were freinds with and he had a place out in the country where we would spend a weekend eating his wife’s cooking, drinking tequila and Ron Cortez (remember that rotgut rum??) and firing AK47s and other full-auto weapons. Boy those were the days.

    And Goofy Falls, that natural rock slide carved out by a creek. A creek had eroded an about 2-story tall boulder and carved a water slide into a 10 foot deep pool, and if the water turned muddy it was time to get the hell outta dodge because a flash flood was on the way. A couple of kids I busted for pot carved and painted my name on the rock: “Sgt. Norman is a prick Lifer no bullshit”. Last I heard , which was about 1983, it was still there.

    • James Keller March 5, 2015 at 5:02 am # Reply

      Hello F. Allen Norman Jr, I was a medic at Howard/Albrook. Were you in the dorm that housed the medics and cops? I was there from Oct 1971 to Dec 1972. Looking for any info about agent orange and pesticides – remember the bug truck that filled the cruised the bases spraying clouds of chocking crap?
      Please reply

      • Jeffrey March 17, 2015 at 11:21 am # Reply

        Hi James. No, lived in Barracks 714 (Supply and CAMS). Yes, I also remember the bug truck.

      • Robert Hood April 14, 2016 at 6:34 am # Reply

        James (Jim)?
        On Facebook look up Jon Martin. Or me Robert Hood. Jon has an on going case with VA about Agent Orange. He was there the same time Norman and I. Did you know John Tindall (Tyndall), a medic. Or Doc Buckland. Only names I remember. We shared the barracks with the medics

    • Jeffrey August 16, 2015 at 3:25 pm # Reply

      Hi F. Allen!

      When you get a chance, check out The Panama Affair. I’m sure you’ll love it.

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00YIMUHA4?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

    • Robert Hood April 14, 2016 at 6:43 am # Reply

      Hey (Floyd) Allen Norman,
      Do you have a facebook page?

  6. Kris Lewis March 16, 2009 at 8:06 pm # Reply

    I was Stationed at Howard from May of 1976 to June of 1978 with the 24th Civil Engineering squadron then did a consecutive OST to Korea…literally from paradise to the pits. First thing i remember stepping off the plane was the heat…I think even the lifers mellowed out in Panama..least the ones i knew….the troops busses that brought in girls to the NCO club, finding girls in the showers in the morning, Ancon Inn, Golden Key, Buffalo Bar to name a few were always eager to please. Napoli’s was the best…of course there was always Monkey meat grilled on the corners too. Civilians i worked with were always cool and loved to party..we held poker parties at the wastewater plant, played cards and drank…lots of people used to show up for them including our squadron commander. For a young single man who was stationed in North Dakota for a year and a half…Panama was paradise.

    • Jeffrey April 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm # Reply

      Oh yes, the Buffalo Bar. If I am not mistaken, that bar was off limits. Larry Easterly took a bunch of us new guys there one night. Larry loved to push the envelope when it came to going out in Panama City.

  7. Brian Daniels April 8, 2009 at 10:27 pm # Reply

    I was lucky enough to be stationed at Howard as my first duty station from 79-81. while there i served in the 24th CES along with a group of great guys. Under Mssgt Willie D White. I met alot of younger men and ladies that were there for their first duty and together we formed a bond that has become remembered and unforgotten. If anyone else was there during those years feel free to lok me up.

    • Jeffrey Miller May 3, 2012 at 2:52 pm # Reply

      Hi Brian!
      Thanks for stopping by and your comments. Reading all the comments here, a lot of people enjoyed their tour of duty at Howard a lot.

  8. Steve Burt August 21, 2009 at 6:37 pm # Reply

    Happened across your article & thought I’d respond.

    I came along before most of your previous responders. I was stationed at both Howard & Albrook 1968-1969 as a Combat Engineer NCO assigned to a detachment of the 24th CES directly attached to the 24th Air Commando Wing.We supported missions throughout Central America as needed with both the 605th Air Commando Sq. at Howard, Seal Team 4 at the Rodman Naval Base beside Howard, and “C” Co., 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Army Green Berets at Ft. Gulick & Sherman. My last period there I was transferred to Albrook and we supported the flight line and the USAF Tropic Survival School.
    I don’t recall Panama being much of a paradise when I was there. My 19 yr. old new bride & I (21 at the time) lived in the center of downtown Panama City, in a building with 15 other U.S. servicemen & their wives ( all U.S. Army Security Agency folks). None of us had any children at that time. As a “non lifer”, the US Govt. wouldn’t allow married troops to live on base in the “Zone”, so you were “on your own” if you wanted your Spouse with you. My wife arrived (after a 3 month wait for a visa) on Oct. 11, 1968 on the last plane into Tocumen from the States ( they stopped all other flights for 4 months after hers). Torrijos (Noriega’s Boss) overthrew the elected gov’t. of Panama that day. We’re riding in one of their”wonderful” little cabs ( ball fringe & Mardi Gras beads included) (Cheva buses didn’t go out to the airport) from Tocumen Airport into the city down one of the main drags ( forget the name) with tracer bullets going the other way about 5 feet above the cab. We didn’t know what was going on. Made it safe, but all the U.S. folks living downtown were trapped during the fighting for two weeks with no supplies or transport to base (Armed Forces radio kept telling us all to stay in our quarters (old stupid here didn’t, I was out on the streets seeing what was going on) and they would send Armored Personnel Carriers to get us if necessary. Never heard of anyone the went to get! And most important, no weapons to defend our families if needed. Lived on canned tuna & fresh eggs (bought nearby) for two weeks. Only thing I thought was safe to eat. Wife wouldn’t touch tuna for 20 years after that! Ha! The Panamanians were supposedly fighting each other, but their National Guard troops loved to pass by our buiding (and others I guess) and spray us with a few clips of ammo whenever they were in the neighborhood. Great joke I guess, unless you were on the other end..and unarmed! Luckily no one was ever hurt, but had a lot of windows shot out and pockmarked walls. Made us really love the local populace. Finally quieted down after about a month or so. First time my wife had ever been away from home, except college! Not a good start for her! Ha! Did get some nice sightseeing during the last of my tour though. Loved Taboga island off the coast. Still glad to be home & never really wanted to go back. Hard to believe that was 40 years ago. Joined the Air Commando Association to see if anyone I knew would contact me, but no luck. Most have passed on I guess.

    • Jeffrey August 21, 2009 at 10:07 pm # Reply

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your comments. Thanks for sharing your experience at Howard AFB back in the 1960s.

  9. Ron Green September 23, 2009 at 7:40 pm # Reply

    Panama, eh? I served at Ft. Clayton in ’71-’72 and worked at Corozal. At first I lived near the main PX, then moved down by the AFRTS radio station. Eventually, after finding an actual girlfriend, I moved to her place in Curundu. Boy, talk about great memories (what I actually remember), Mardi Gras, The Gold Key, payday activities at Napoli, dollar cuts, hookers that were actually great company even though you weren’t doing business with them, dodging Brahman bulls and picking mushrooms, riots, parties at Contractor’s Lookout, Goofy Falls, the French Cut (the fake one, actually the Third Locks Excavation), the day my back wheel came off on the Thatcher Ferry Bridge and fell a couple hundred feet into the canal, constantly being told to get a haircut by some loser with a sixth grade education that couldn’t cut it anywhere else, the day General Westmoreland visited, the day John Wayne visited, the day Mohammed Ali visited, LAND CRABS!!!!, East Of Midnight on AFRTS, and, of course the daughters of the lifers need to be mentioned–cruising the teen club looking for a familiar face on a Friday night… “hey Bev, wanna go get weird?”, Jarman Field, mooning the train as it passed the barracks,
    mildew, skin diving at Portobello and road trips to Santa Clara. Whew. Oh, and the liquor store underneath the NCO Club.

  10. Jeffrey September 24, 2009 at 11:31 pm # Reply

    Hey Ron,

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comments about your tour of duty in the Canal Zone back in the early 70s. It’s nice to hear from so many different people who were stationed in Panama at one time or another.

    Thanks again for stopping by.

    Jeffrey

  11. Bob Mengel November 15, 2009 at 5:19 am # Reply

    Hey Folks,
    I was in the zone in 71 thru 73. First at Fort Kobbe 518 Engineers then I was off to Fort Sherman JOTC.
    It was heaven…..reading Ron’s posting brought back tons of memories……funny how when you get older you wonder why you ever left..

    • Jeffrey November 15, 2009 at 10:24 am # Reply

      Hi Bob!

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. It is always nice to hear from another Panama vet. It was definitely a great tour of duty.

  12. David Featherstun January 12, 2010 at 1:18 am # Reply

    I’m a young pup of 32 years, but I had the fortune of being one of the last 300 troops to leave Howard when we closed it down in 99. I was an EOD guy, we had to conduct a subsurface clearance of all the jungle bombing ranges..empire and balboa. It was sad to be closing things up and seeing the already abandoned buildings being taken over by the wildlife. I’m just grateful I had the opportunity to serve in on of the last great overseas locations out there. I still dream of going to the beach and eating fresh fish and plantains. Maybe I’ll return someday………but I’m sure my wife won’t let me go alone 😉

  13. Jeffrey February 3, 2010 at 9:13 pm # Reply

    David,

    Thanks so much for stopping by and your comments on Howard AFB. I would love to go back there again one day, too.

  14. Hayden Mitchell March 28, 2010 at 7:56 am # Reply

    I visited “paradise” as well on TDY from a snowy Forbes AFB in Topeka. I was a 22 yr old mapping camera repairman with a RC-130A on a mission over Columbia. We were based at Howard a month in Jan 1971. I remember that shark fence swimming on off days. One day drove an AF truck to Balboa for parts and missed my turn to stay in the CZ, saw my first “Torrijos si, Yanqui no!” sign that day.

    I remember riding the old Isthmus train to Colon, the jungle seemed to grab at the railcars. Almost drove into that deep drainage ditch running thru the base, looking at the beautiful ladies. The perfumed nights. WOW! Seems like a dream.

    Enjoyed reading your comments. I need to visit again.

    • Jeffrey March 30, 2010 at 7:50 am # Reply

      Hayden,

      Wow, you were at Howard in the early 70s, huh? That must have been something to be there back then. Thanks so much for your comments and memories of Howard!

  15. Tyrone April 13, 2010 at 7:18 am # Reply

    I was a waiter and DJ at the Golden Key. Remmber Cecilio and Panflon the fat guy? Panflon was killed in the Panama Invasion. Now I am in Miami Florida. I remember Napoli and Gran Morrison was gone in the invasion of Panama

  16. Harold Zayas May 17, 2010 at 9:27 pm # Reply

    I was stationed at Howard AFB from 1977 to 1979. I worked at the Clinic at Howard AFB. I was looking for info on the Air Craft carrier that went from the Atlantic side to the Pacific in 1978. it was just a tour but I wanted more information.

    • Jeffrey May 17, 2010 at 11:58 pm # Reply

      Harold, could that have been the Kitty Hawk?

      Thanks so much for stopping by and your comments.

  17. Gary Miller June 13, 2010 at 9:09 am # Reply

    To Harold Zayas,
    I to was station at Howard at that time, worked Transit Alert. The aircraft carrier you mention is in fact a LHA, USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3). Some of guys and myself were
    given the opportunity to ride in the Helo that flew cover while she transited the Big Ditch. She had just been commissioned and going to her Home Port in California.

  18. Jeffrey June 13, 2010 at 7:28 pm # Reply

    Gary,

    Thanks so much for your comments. When exactly were you stationed at Howard? You said mentioned that you worked in Transient Alert. Do you remember Bill Davis who also worked in transient alert around the same time?

    I remember having to deliver some oil to transient alert for an aircraft from Chile when I was working in the After Hours Support Unit.

  19. Gene Roberts August 17, 2010 at 3:45 pm # Reply

    I spent two tours in Panama. From 1980-1982 I was at Fort Davis with Crazyhorse/ 4th Bn 10th Inf and I was (and still am) a Moatengator at Fort Kobbe from 1986 – 1989. I have to say in six years total time I’m sure I’ve done it all. From Taboga to the Interior to Colon and Portabello. The loudly-painted Chiva Chiva bus with the even louder music. I’ve taken both the train and the bus from the Atlantic side to the Pacific side and vise versa. San Lorenzo, Devil’s Beach, Black Tank Road, Pi~a Beach and Empire Range…these were my domain. God I miss it.

  20. Daniel Nielsen September 16, 2010 at 9:46 am # Reply

    I was only there at Ft. Kobbe for brief period of time in 88-89 with the 1/508th. Seem to remember another kid from Nebraska (Roberts was his last name) was there in my artillery unit. Anyway, did a ton of fun things and left behind two awesome ladies I would have loved to have kept in touch with. Rio Mar, the Ancon Inn, My Place and so many other places and people. I wonder everyday why the hell I left…and I’ve spent the last twenty years planning my retirement and my return there…

  21. Franklin Blunt December 7, 2010 at 1:07 am # Reply

    My family was stationed at Howard AFB from 69-74 and of course, loved it. To this day, we still say Howard was the best place we we’re ever stationed.
    My brother was stationed at Howard from 77-81 and worked in CE.(Exterior Electric (Lineman)
    I was stationed there from 78-late 83 and worked Transient Alert. Talk about a great job! Did ton’s of volunteer work with Surfside Theater on the causway.
    Panama will always have a big place in our family’s heart’s.

    • Jeffrey December 7, 2010 at 2:09 am # Reply

      Hi Franklin!

      Thanks for stopping by and for your comments.

      When did you get there in 78? I left in September. Do you remember Bill Davis who worked in Transient Alert?

  22. Dave Burger January 6, 2011 at 10:06 am # Reply

    I was stationed at Howard from 75 – 79, 81-94 when I retired, went back to work there in Agu 94 till Sep 99. Drive by the entrance to Howard almost everyday.

  23. Dan Gallagher January 12, 2011 at 9:39 pm # Reply

    I was actually looking for a couple of recipes when I stumbled upon this site. Thanks for bringing back some memories. I was stationed at Howard from 77-79 and worked in the 24th Security Police Squadron. I spent a year on the flightline and a year in the back office. I was fortunate to live in Pan Canal housing over in Diablo Heights right around the corner from the yacht club and would walk the dog down every chance I got to see what fisherman were catching. This was the time when Jimmy Carter came down to sign the treaty. BTW I was looking for recipes for two things. The first was for the chile they served at the NCO club downstairs at lunch time. The second was for the meat on a stick (Monkey Meat) that street vendors would cook on hibachis outside the Ancon Inn and sell for 25 cents. Both were the best I ever had. Other memories of my time there included the metal shark net (with holes big enough for sharks) at the beach, riding thru downtown Panama City on the back of a dune buggy at 2:00 in the morning, snorkeling aroung the islands offshore, ceviche, choir practice, and lots of great friends

  24. Jeffrey January 12, 2011 at 11:00 pm # Reply

    Hi Dan!

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Monkey meat outside the Ancon; I remember getting it from some vendor outside the Ovalo Inn.

    I knew I guy who had a gold dune buggy back then; his name was John Hill. I remember a bunch of us going over the Thatcher Ferry Bridge on Christmas Eve/New Year’s Eve 1976 in it, singing Jingle Bells at the top of our lungs.

  25. Jesse Shannon February 21, 2011 at 10:47 am # Reply

    I enjoyed reading the comments on Howard AFB. I was there as an 18 year old Army Private E-1. I worked in hangar 1 with the T.C. Aircraft Field Maintenance Detachment. We recovered the 937th Eng. IAGS aircraft when they went down in Central and South America. Memories for me are the Thatcher Ferry, the swing bridge at Miraflores Locks, the Brass Key Club, when the Howard control tower was on top of hangar No. 2. Putting out smudge pot lights for our night flying. The Panamanians had rijpped up all of the copper wire for the runway lights. Goofy Lake. Casa De Amor, The Blue Goose, the Boom Boom Room. The two beer gardens just outside of the Limits area. Three day passes. The shoe shine boys in Panama City. 25 cent bus rides from Howard to town. 25 cent rum and cokes. Juke boxes in the J and K street bars. 25 cents would get you 6 songs. When was all of this? 1954 to 1958. I was there when President Ramon got shot. The streets were full of the Panamanian National Guard on horseback. My trip to Panama in those days was on a troop ship sailing from the Camp Kilmer New Jersey area. About 6 days or so as I recall. I had a great time working and playing in Panama during those years.

  26. Spud May 12, 2011 at 3:33 am # Reply

    Hey Sparks!
    I’ve been doing a little reminiscing of my own. I put a couple of slide shows on youtube. This one is from the day we climbed Cerro Cabra, that large hill across the runway at Howard:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRA9OtSnSZE

    And here is one about camping on Piña Beach:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJvtZ4Wo0k4&feature=related

    I was stationed at Howard 77-79.

    • Jeffrey May 12, 2011 at 9:28 pm # Reply

      Great stuff there, Spud. Seeing those pics of Howard makes me feel homesick.

  27. cherry May 22, 2011 at 9:25 am # Reply

    does anybody know a person by the name of antonio speevy. he was in the air force stationed in panama around 1978 or 1979.

  28. Ed Parrett June 24, 2011 at 11:22 am # Reply

    Unbelievable site! I was stationed at Howard from May 68 to May 71. I remember all this stuff from the previous responders. I worked at the 24th Special Operations Wing. I was the aid for the Wing Commander Colonel Joseph Stuart. Easy job and got a lot of benefits. I was also a projectionist at the Howard Theatre for a couple of years and that curtailed my downtown visits on weekends. I made enough money at that job to buy a house in Rochester, Michigan in 1972 for $47,500. (Sold it in 1992 for $195,000). Back to the Howard days. Oh, don’t worry, I still made it downtown, mostly on Thursday nights (Ancon Inn, Red Coat Inn, Pan Canal, Blue Goose (off limits most of the time) and other places I can’t remember the names too. Remember I had to be careful because who I worked for. Also, played a lot of tennis next to the NCO club. Softball in January (dry season). First pair of contact lenses from Gorgas (Air Force wouldn’t supply them at the time.). Midnight breakfasts, stereo equipment, camera’s, San Blas patterns and many other things I remember. I remember the chiva bus race over the Bridge of the America’s (Thatcher) in the spring of 1971 and the loser breaking through the barrier and going some 100 feet and hitting the ground (it was low tide) and killing everybody on board. If you remember, the bridge had only three lanes. I’m trying remember, if you going towards Panama City, lanes started with two but narrowed down to one at some point near the top and that’s what the buses was going for. That’s just some of the things I remember. Great to add my comments.

    • Jeffrey June 25, 2011 at 6:43 am # Reply

      Hi Ed!

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for commenting! It’s always great to hear from folks who were stationed at Howard at different times. Did you know that there’s a Facebook page for Howard?

      It is a real thrill to read all those stories and comments. Thanks again for sharing.

  29. francis x aiello jr. July 22, 2011 at 7:17 am # Reply

    i fell in love with panama in 91 and left in 93 i worked canal zone with andy mackay freelancing from miami and tuning the biggest sport fishing boats while keeping them the fastest in the world just ask SR.MONCHE or MR. MIKE NAMHAD did i get that rt. TOWER BANK i often wonder what became of kuikiss or the el’nopo ‘ ‘moya ,moya ,nopo cambio’,, or the great CAPT. BARTON or JUNIOR . Iwas locked up on my birthday by mp;s on HOWARD AFB for having a tail light out on our jeep/willy’s me and capt SHELTON had been on JIM’S BUDDY DAVIS all day and were headed to the NCO I was enroute to see my girlfriend MS.VANESSA VILLAMONTE whom worked as a translator at HOWARD and was meeting us there. Iwas later released and driven with our jeep back to our pad in the canal zone and released ,by signing a paper saying that i would not drive on any USmilitary base in the world for the next year.WHEW time 4 me 2 go I miss and LOVE you all,, FX AIELLO JR.

  30. francis x aiello jr. July 22, 2011 at 7:27 am # Reply

    THEdays of breakfasts at Amador and nights at Balboa DRINKING, CUBA LIBRE GRACIAS PANAMA ROP FXA

  31. Doug Long October 21, 2011 at 3:05 am # Reply

    Holy Cow, you guys bring back a lot of memories. I was stationed at Howard from July of 76 to July of 78, I was an instrument tech with the 24th CAMS. Spent most of my time holed up downtown with a stewardess from Air Panama. Brent Peyton, if I recall you were actually JB Peyton, crew chief on the Huey’s, dude would love to catch up with you, would you know the where abouts of Oho Roho by any chance. Sorry to hear that Easterly passed. John Hill lived in the room next to me and use to haul butt in that golf dune buggy. Panama was truely one of the greatest periods in my life, I have been back numerous times, still love it and the people. My email is douglong123@gmail.com would love to hear from anybody in the 24th CAMS squadron from that time period.
    Cheers.

    • Jeffrey October 21, 2011 at 6:45 am # Reply

      Hi Doug,

      Thanks for stopping by and saying hello here. Sorry to hear about the passing of Larry. He was a great guy and you were lucky back then to have him take you under his wing. I lived on the third floor but had a lot of friends in CAMS and I was one of those guys hanging on for dear life in the back of John’s dune buggy. That time was truly a wonderful time to be in Panama and at Howard.

      • Doug Long October 21, 2011 at 7:35 am # Reply

        can you put me in contact with Brent Peyton?

  32. Jeffrey October 21, 2011 at 8:16 am # Reply

    Doug,

    Will do. Just sent him an email.

  33. Ronald (Dave) Davidson January 7, 2012 at 7:24 am # Reply

    I was the 937th Eng (ave)(IAGS) company clerk from Sept 1960 thru Feb 1963. The First Sargent then was Willam H Harlow. Reading the other post brought back lots of good memories. I had such a good time all leave and 3 day passes were taken in Panama. Would have re-enlisted if I could have stayed with the 937th. Would like to know when the unit was disbanded and would like write to any other people that was stationed there at that time. As with most guys in our outfit I was renamed Dave

  34. Ron Carn February 14, 2012 at 6:33 am # Reply

    I was stationed at Fort Clayton from June 72 to Dec 73. 31st HHC Company. I was a supply clerk but drove the truck making deliveries and pickups around the Canal. Had an explosive license and would go to Cero Tigre to pick up ammo once a week. That was my day job. At night I would head to Panama City with my two drinking buddies (Leg & Nelson) for a little fun. We would take the 6:30 bus and not get back until 3 am or 4 am. Somehow I survived on 2 or 3 hours sleep a night. I had a great time. I had a chance to stay for another 9 months but I elected to go back to the states because I was curious as to where they would send me. Wish I had stayed those extra 9 months.

    Some of the bars I remember: Tropicana (San Blas Indian Bar) , Golden Key, Panamamerican, Panama Canal, The Foxhole, The 4 Aces, King George, Charlies Bar (an open air bar, right out of the 20s or 30s). Nickel a pin ball game (5 balls) win a game and get a free rum and coke or a free gin and tonic. We used to win a lot. I had a budget of $12.50 cents a week and I had more fun on that money.

    Once met a man my dad’s age in one of the bars… he looked like he didn’t fit. Turns out he was stationed there in WW2 and he and his wife were cruising through the canal and had shore leave. He wife was on a tour and he headed down to his old stomping grounds.

    Hikes in the jungle behind the barrack up the hill to the MARS station. All the jungle wildlife you’d run across. I miss it a lot.

    • Jeffrey April 11, 2012 at 11:58 pm # Reply

      Hey Ron,

      I always liked the Foxhole. It was off the beaten path, but I did like the ambiance. Thanks for sharing your memories here.

  35. Ron Carn February 14, 2012 at 10:38 am # Reply

    SCN (Southern Command Network) 1972-1973. Two shows I used to catch on the TV in the break room… Que Pasa and who can forget Bambi the weather girl.

  36. Gene February 15, 2012 at 11:16 am # Reply

    I was station at Ft Clayton 1971 to march of 72 was in a Signal company . The signal company moved three times,1st we were next to the Mech Inf then we moved across the field and finally into the barracks next to the PX snack bar.I was a 36h20 (dial central office repairman) and our barracks were for telephone related mos’s cable slicers,telephone repair and installation as well as pbx operators. I was married shortly before going to Panama therefore I missed out (by choice) on most of the things most guys remembered about Panama. It was still a great place to be stationed and looking back I would have liked to stay longer — But I was offered an early out to go into the Reserves . It seems most folks have great memories of the Canal Zone regardless of which service or base they may have served on,and I am one.

    • Jeffrey February 15, 2012 at 4:04 pm # Reply

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your memories, Gene. You are so right, it doesn’t make any difference which branch of the service you were in–if you were stationed in Panama, you most likely had a great time.

  37. Greg Meyer October 30, 2014 at 10:44 am # Reply

    Finely I have found a web site that is associated with the 24th CES. I was stationed at Howard form 1984 to 1990. I was assigned to the 24th CES as a heavy equipment operator and were called “dirt Boys”. I worked all over Panama on joint humanitarian operations with all branches of the military including Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF). We did some astonishing things out in the jungles each year as we deployed as a squadron out to what we knew as Balboa West bombing range located near empire range out past Mira Flores locks.

    I arrived at Howard as an E-1 and left as a E-5 select. I was there during the DEC-1989 invasion OJC and did a lot of interesting things. I married my Panamanian girlfriend and 30 years later we are still together just as happy as one can be. I have since retired from the AF after 23 years and now live in Northern Panama near David Chiriqui.

    It’s hard to describe how much Panama has evolved, I often go back to Howard and Albrook to see how much has changed and to see what little remains of the original base. Being stationed in Panama as a young new Airmen was the best experience I have ever had. Thank you for this opportunity to remember all the good times all of us had in Panama.

    Greg Meyer –Panama Expat
    USAF Retired

    • Jeffrey October 30, 2014 at 11:55 am # Reply

      Thanks Greg for your comments!

      Look for my new book, The Panama Affair, which is about Howard AFB and Operation Just Cause. It will be out soon.

    • Tom Scott January 14, 2016 at 6:40 am # Reply

      Greg – I was stationed at Howard from 1983-1986 and was also in the 24th CES. Did you deploy to Honduras when we setup the base camp near the Nicaragua and El Salvador border? I know we had some dirt boys with us.

      • Greg March 23, 2016 at 9:33 am # Reply

        Tom your name seems familiar. Yes I went on a mission to Honduras in November 1985 (I still have a copy of the orders) to a location way up in the mountains and helped construct a concrete base for a radar system. I was traveling with Mat Bazani, and a few other NCOs, Tsgt Preston Bass, Tsgt David Ross, Tsgt Michael Watts. We traveled in an Armored Pick up and stayed in hotel in Tegucigalpa.

        All Civilian clothing as it was a rough time.

        I know that there were several deployments to that location so perhaps you were on one of the other trips if we are taking about the same project. What shop were you in and did you ever deploy with us to Balboa West range for clearing operations?

  38. Bob Hynson August 17, 2015 at 12:52 am # Reply

    Loved reading your stuff about Howard AFB. I was there Aug 76 to Aug 79 and it was my best assignment in the Air Force. I worked in one of the hangers and I do remember those painted floors. I was a SSgt Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) member in the 24th Comp. Sq. Do you remember watching AFRTS TV? Bob Foster and Misty Walker were army news casters. I look on Google Earth and can still see my old house on Howard, I remember checking the mail every day at that post office, eating with the family at the NCO Club, the pool and theater. Used to go to the jungle on exercises with the Army all the time. I love it in the Jungle. All the best to you.

    • Jeffrey August 17, 2015 at 6:12 am # Reply

      Hi Bob! Thanks for stopping by. I might have met you or at least seen you at Howard because when I worked in the repair cycle support unit, I often had to pick up radios to send back to the depot for repair. Yes, I sure do remember AFRTS and the NCO club.

      You might have noticed that I wrote a book about Panama and Howard; the story takes place the time we were stationed there.

      Thanks again for stopping by and stay in touch.

  39. Tracy McKay September 12, 2015 at 11:57 am # Reply

    Great to see comments about Howard AFB from the late 70’s. I arrived fresh out of tech school in Sep of 76 for a 2 yr tour as a Power Pro troop with the 24th CES.I thought it was paradise. Sunsets on the canal drinking Atlas cervesa, Ancon Inn, working the flt line hooking F4 phantoms and A7 Corsairs as a barrier maint tech, serving alongside with some of the best enlisted techs from the firehouse and power shop of my career. Parking the barrier maint. truck on the beach at the south end of the runway checking out the scenery, parties at Ft Kobbe beach with the steel shark net exposed at low tide. Ft. Amador causeway and beach.Operating a prime power plant during a thunder storm and taking a direct hit by lightning on our main transformer.So many great memories. Would love to go back and visit. Thanks for the site to post on -take care.

  40. Chuck Vincent September 16, 2015 at 9:22 am # Reply

    I was stationed on Howard AFB June 69- June 72 as security Police, the reason I’m writing is because my brother in law was a Eagle. I went to the big games down in Balboa. I think Blair Bailey was the #1 tackler. I enjoyed the games I was able to get down there and see. He asked me about a picture of the Eagles and I thought I’d ask you. I have a lot of slides of this time period. My wife graduated from Balboa High in 1970. I was a 19 year old airman. Blair has one sport picture, not sure which one. I have a lot of slides of this time period on Howard. They lived in what was new housing then down toward the gate. Just last week he was telling me how there favorite hide out was a old bunker near that area. I can give you a bit of video too.
    All the things shared was very interesting. I remember mot of it. I’ll need your book. Thank you for memories.

    • Bob Dadey September 16, 2015 at 11:09 am # Reply

      I was at Howard from 1963-1965. Worked in MATS Terminal and had a great time there during that period. Jungle Survival School beefing up for VietNam,Astronauts showing up for Survival School,many coups all over CEntral and SOuth AMerica. Lots of good sports to keep you busy,great food,good people, but I only have contact with one guy who was there with me at HOward. I did a lot of research and many have passed on. Great duty and will always have the memories.

      • mitsubishi klima March 1, 2016 at 11:29 pm # Reply

        Totally agree with that. If the musicianship and musicality is maintained, it’s all good.

  41. Constance Fechenda September 21, 2015 at 2:09 pm # Reply

    Hi, I lived in Fort Kobbe in 1978 with my family Robert and Rebecca Hollash. I was the little girl bitten by the dog with rabies. Thank you to all on the base at that time that looked for, found and destroyed the dog that bit me. I received 24 shots in my stomach but would have died if it wasn’t found that the dog was rabid. I was 6yrs old. Thank you

  42. Tom Scott January 14, 2016 at 7:30 am # Reply

    I was stationed at Howard from 1983 to 1986 with the 24th CES as an Engineering Technician (surveyor, draftsman, construction inspector). I’ve lived all over the world and still consider that one of my favorite places to live. It was a great time to be in Panama and reading all the comments above just makes me relive all the great times. Howard was my first assignment after tech school and I brought my wife and daughter to live there with me after spending the first six months or so in the barracks. The CE barracks were above the class 6 store and across the street from the NCO Club – how could you get in trouble there??
    When my wife and daughter arrived, we lived downtown on Via Espana for a while and then moved into a house we rented from one of the engineers I worked with that was about 20 minutes on the other side of Albrook for about a year. My wife got robbed at gunpoint in our house in Villa Caceres so the AF moved us into one of those great 3-story houses on Howard within a couple of weeks after that! I remember running from the bug trucks, the beach on Kobbe, the base pool, and the long hike up the hill to the clinic. We also had a great rugby program in Panama. I played all three years that I lived there and after 17 years of playing I still think it was some of the best rugby I’d ever played. We would get a select side from all the teams – the Zonies, Fort Clayton, Fort Sherman and Howard – and play the teams from ships that came through the canal. We only lost one game to a French helicopter ship. We beat the Brits, New Zealanders, a team from the embassies in Costa Rica, The rugby team liked to party and Skip, the captain of the Zonies team and the head of one of the MWR programs, had a cabin on the mainland side of Isla Grande. We would spend wild weekends out there drinking rum and eating fresh oysters and clams that you could buy by the potato sack full from the locals. We also liked going up the coast and staying the weekend at Tits Beach (Playa Teta) near Coronado.
    My wife still thinks monkey meat from in front of the Ancon Inn was one of her favorite late-night snacks ever! And we all loved Napoli’s. I think someone said it got destroyed during the invasion – that’s really too bad. We also spent many weekends hanging out on the causeway with music blaring, lots of drinking and dancing and general fun. I remember getting kicked out of the Balboa Yacht Club when we took one of the British Navy rugby teams there and things got a bit carried away. Wow, what a great time!
    I went back in the 90’s when they were shutting down the bases and went on one of the inspections of Fort Clayton. It was sad to see everything shutdown. However, I was really surprised to see how they’d converted the houses into beautiful homes on Albrook! Hopefully I’ll get back one day soon! Thanks for putting up this page Jeffrey!

  43. Calvin Shoemaker February 24, 2016 at 11:18 am # Reply

    I arrived in Panama in August of 1976. Wow. I was a Pvt. In the Marine Corps. Reporting for 18 months Barracks Duty. I will write more later.

    • Michael February 25, 2016 at 4:42 pm # Reply

      Do any of you know Barrington scott

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    Good article – I am thankful for the specifics , Does anyone know where my business would be able to grab a blank Indiana Out of Hospital – Do not Resuscitate Declaration – DNR – Statutory Form form to fill in ?

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  47. Altos Del Maria April 6, 2017 at 4:57 pm # Reply

    I really enjoyed reading about your two years stationed at Howard Air Force Base in Panama. Wow, over 40 years ago. Where does the time go to.

    I must look out your book on Amazon.

    Best wishes.

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