Margaux Salcedo | INQUIRER.net | September 15, 2016

I could not help but smile from ear to ear as I browsed through the internet and read recollections of Baguio and Camp John Hay in posts of former US military men based in the Philippines in the 1960s and '70s, golfers who grew up in Baguio, and even the Star Cafe generation.

It's interesting because you rarely see this kind of affection for any other city in the Philippines. Reading through comments, I felt that the memories went beyond nostalgia; there was a deep sense of home.

I thought my father, Ephraim Salcedo, a graduate of the Baguio Military Institute, was overacting when he so exuberantly conversed with the aged waiters of Star Cafe when we ate there in 2012 before it closed.

He so excitedly told us, looking at the waiter for emphasis, about the days of his youth when they would go to Star Cafe for their cinnamon rolls and Chinese food.

Burgers
"This is the best," he said.

I politely nodded while thinking, "OK, Dad, but this is no Summer Palace."

He raved just as much about the burgers at Camp John Hay. "It was the best!"

Again, emphatically.

I remember believing him without really believing him, more amused than convinced.

But now, as I read through comments, I see where he is coming from.

I hear the chorus of the Sinatra and Beatles generations expressing such profound love for Baguio and Camp John Hay.

In PinoyGolfer.com, pcapiz wrote, "The best (burger) that I have ever tasted within my 32 years of life is on the 19th hole of the old Camp John Hay. This was way back when the Americans ran the place. It's not a big burger—a bit smaller than your regular quarter pounder—but the beef!! The beef!! Was so juicy. And the flavor was unlike anything I've tasted before. I have compared this to great burger joints in the states—In N Out, Hardee's, Carl's, Jack in the Box, the local stars and stripes in MOA, but nothing has compared to it since that fateful day in Baguio City."

Steaks
A certain "Pirty" added, "Living in Baguio for 28 years … syempre nothing beats the burger at 19th Tee at Camp John Hay … on weekends, their turkey sandwich too…"

Others loved the steaks. Commenting on a photo of the Officers Mess hall posted on the Old Baguio Historical Club page, a Joe Butler recalled, "Main Club. Great steaks – USDA prime…"

John Silva, added, "I had my first steak there, too."

As did their entire generation, it seems.

Butler even remembered the prices.

Commenting on a photo of John Hay Air Base (renamed in 1955) posted on Facebook by Mark Walther, an American writer who studied at Brent, Butler wrote: "If I remember right, the hamburgers were about 35 cents. A Porterhouse steak at the club was $5…"

John Hay
In GoBaguio.com, Lisa Araneta remembers: "No Filipino used to be allowed inside the base except as a guest of a US citizen, until Camp John Hay opened its doors to the public in the early 1980s. This was so because the US subsidized the goods and services inside with taxpayers' money. Bowling was at a dime a game, candy bars cost a quarter. Food, liquor and cigarettes, imported from America, were cheap and tax free."

She also pinpoints why John Hay was such a hit.

"Camp John Hay was, for a brief moment, a taste of clean American living," Araneta observed, "In fact, Camp John Hay and the rest of Baguio City for that matter so looked like America that it was the Honeymoon Capital of the Philippines for Filipino couples who chose not to (or could not afford to) go abroad after their wedding."

Best hangouts
GoBaguio.com also notes "the best hangouts before the turnover."

John Hay was turned over to the Philippines in 1991 upon the expiration of the RP-US Bases Agreement.

These were:

Mile Hi, where teenagers would go for bowling and billiards, as well as cheap burgers and pizza 19th Tee, where golfers would eat fast food.

Tee Bar for drinks

Halfway House, which was open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails, also showcased live bands.

The Main Club was where formal dinners and conferences were held.

Lone Star was popular for Sunday family lunch after Catholic mass at the CJH Chapel in Scout Hill.

The Base Theater, aside from the American movies shown, was popular for the popcorn in buckets (as opposed to the rest of the Philippines where popcorn was just served in small paper bags) and the vending machines where you could use your nickels and dimes to buy chocolate bars.

On the Nostalgia Manila Facebook page, many continue to share their memories.

Joan Muller posted, "I remember the old Main Club and always had ship to shore. Then we'd move to the other side for margaritas and Tim Tesoro on the keyboards."

Others recalled Thanksgiving at the Main Club.

But the greatest treasure I found online was the photo of the 1947 Officers Mess Breakfast Menu posted by Mark Walther.

After a good laugh over how the Philippines was referred to as P.I. (Philippine Islands)—because PI today stands for something more colorful, that the President likes to utter—I went through the menu … and suddenly had a craving for American food.

The breakfast menu included bacon and eggs with hash browns and scrapple cake; scrapple cakes and egg with baked apples; or hot cakes with baked apples.

How I wish I could try this menu.

Fortunately, the executives over at Camp John Hay starting with chair Robert John Sobrepeña, director Peng Perez de Tagle, executive vice president Alfredo Yñiguez, leisure head Tito Avanceña, and general manager Ramon Cabrera, are among those who have fond memories of Baguio's yesteryears, too.

Turnover
So in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Camp John Hay since the turnover, they challenged Le Chef extraordinaire Billy King with the giant task of resurrecting all the favorite John Hay food items.

Special guests will get to taste once again the $5 Porterhouse steak and the 35 cent burger at the Camp John Hay Anniversary Dinner with Ambassador Philip Goldberg on Sept. 10 to kick off the festivities.

Then from Sept. 10 to Oct. 2, there will be a Saturday Night Live Buffet and Sunday Brunch Buffet that will carry signature John Hay dishes like the King Burgers, Super Pizzas and Creamed Beef.

In a very star spangled spirit, you can also cook your own Steak Surf and Turf, Beef and Burgundy, the famous Hickory flavored Roast Beef, Texas Barbecue Back Ribs, Chili con Carne-Cheese Dogs, as well as added specialties like baked oysters, Rockefeller Hawaiian Poke, Tiger Prawns Etouffee New Orleans and Corned Beef Brisket.

I can't wait to go back in time. I think it will be worth the drive up to Camp John Hay. Let's pray for good weather.