A teenaged sailor named Roy Fitzgerald was in our Navy advanced communications unit during the Philippine Island campaign in early 1945. We went ashore on Samar after Army GIs cleared the way, then moved up to Leyte and finally to Luzon, the main island.
We spent the final months of the war living in tents at the Navy Fleet Landing by the Pasig River in the capital city of Manila. Except for occasional snipers and air raids, it was mostly routine. Nearby the Navy SeaBees built a metal Quonset hut to house a movie supply and repair unit that exchanged 35mm films with crews of Navy ships that docked at the landing.
Every evening movies were projected on a big sheet on the hut’s side. On benches, along with other service guys and local civilians, we watched the shows. Roy often said he’d be a big movie star some day.
We laughed at him, because he was not quite 20, tall, skinny, awkward and very shy. Roy never went into Manila with us to drink the cheap booze and go after pretty young Filipinas. The guys made raucous fun, calling him names that ridiculed his sexuality.
Months earlier, when brutal Japanese troops were losing Manila, they wantonly killed thousands of local men and women. Orphaned, penniless teen girls had no other choice but to become streetwalkers. Many Americans took advantage of the situation, but not Roy.
After we returned home in 1946, I enrolled in college in Philadelphia, and Roy went to Hollywood to pursue acting. After awhile, I learned he had changed his name and was getting small film roles.
By the mid-1950s, ex-sailor Roy Fitzgerald had become movie star Rock Hudson. We met once more when I was an editor on the daily Beverly Hills Citizen newspaper. It was at an event I covered at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
The famous Rock Hudson was surrounded by reporters and fans when I nosed in to ask if he remembered me from Manila. At first he looked puzzled, but then smiled, nodded and turned back to the fans. I wasn’t sure if he actually knew me or didn’t want to be reminded of how we so cruelly ridiculed his sexuality a decade earlier.
Did Roy, the future Rock, and I ever become more than just shipmates way back in WW2? No … but as Jerry Seinfeld would say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.