In late February 1991, I was at my desk at Camp Foster, Okinawa reading the daily copy of the Pacific Stars and Stripes newspaper. An article about seismic tremors coming from an obscure mountain in the Philippines drew my interest, as I had just received orders to report to Cubi Point, Republic of the Philippines on 13 March.
Nuns running a school near Mount Pinatubo had reported feeling earthquakes and they were, along with their students, directly evacuated to a safer location. Monitoring devices were soon installed to record and analyze the seismic activity. Pinatubo had lain dormant for so long, the last eruption was over six hundred years ago, that many people thought it was not a volcano at all.
The word pinatubo itself means, "to grow" in Tagalog, the primary dialect spoken in the Philippines. The growing part refers to the fertile farmlands surrounding the mountain, a byproduct from previous eruptions. I finished reading the article and stored the information in the back of my head. At the time I didn't know how soon and personally involved I would become with this developing story.
A few weeks later, I reported to my new assignment in the Philippines. Several days after my arrival, I felt one of my first tremors there. I had experienced earthquakes while at Camp Fuji and during my tour on Okinawa, but the movement in the Philippines seemed to be more intense and generated a greater degree of interest among the Marines I worked with. Message traffic my unit was receiving indicated that Mt. Pinatubo was showing signs of a certain, impending eruption, but when it would happen was unknown. The monitoring devices were picking up an ever-increasing amount of seismic activity and plans began to be made to handle the impending crisis.
The week of 3 June saw an increase in activity, both in the frequent rumblings of the mountain and the continuous contingency planning. It had been predetermined that in the event of a volcanic eruption, Clark Air Force Base personnel would be evacuated to the Subic Bay Naval Base. The population of the Subic base would double within a few days time if this were to come about.
On Saturday, 8 June, my wife and I went to spend my birthday weekend at the White Rock Resort in Subic City, about ten miles from the base. After some swimming, we went back to the room to get ready for dinner. The news broke with live video coverage of an erupting volcano; a steam and ash cloud had plumed over Mt. Pinatubo and would soon be visible from our hotel. We weren't too worried at the time, but we knew that could change.