The lighter side of a military education.
In 1961, a West Virginia high school graduate had four choices: go to college, work for Daddy, get a minimum wage job for life or join the military. College required either a high family income or a combined GPA and IQ slightly less than a genius. Working for Daddy required a family business. Anyone could get a minimum wage job, but advancing required fulfilling what was known as the “military obligation.” ROTC in university could cover it after graduating and spending four years as an officer in whatever service chosen. Volunteering for the draft would cover it as a dog-face with a three-year stint in the infantry. But a four-year enlistment in any branch of the service would include education in a trade that could morph into a useful civilian job. Because I’d had a desire to see every corner of the planet since I nine years old, a program to become a U. S. Navy aviation electronics technician was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Boot camp offered excellent training that would come in handy if I wanted to be a stunt man. I learned to jump into oil fires blazing on a sea littered with debris from 90 feet above. I learned to enter and extinguish infernos in claustrophobic, steel-walled ship’s compartments. I learned to shrug off a tear gas attack by simply not panicking. And I also learned to march, do calisthenics and obey stupid commands like pretending green concrete was grass, all of which could be useful in corporate life. After finishing basic training and going home on leave for a month, I reported to the Naval Air Technical Training Command in Millington, Tennessee. I was proud and elated.
Aviation fundamentals taught me basic safety routines to keep me from losing my head by a spinning propeller, or setting myself on fire with jet fuel. But I also learned to start and taxi an A-1 “Spad,” the workhorse of the Navy’s fighter-bomber arsenal. That was cool! Electronics fundamentals taught me the basics of everything we plug in, and I went on to study all sorts of advanced, high-end military doo dads. Then after two years of experience in a closely knit squadron of 160 shipmates, 20 pilots and 20 planes, I moved up to shop foreman to repair the radar and
armament control systems of our F-8 “Crusader” jet fighters. Again… cool. By age 21, I’d seen half the world and limitless explosions, only two of which were fatal. I was a peace time sailor who traveled from air base to aircraft carrier, knowing the armed services would soon disband because our brilliant and lovable United States of America would soon prove to the rest of the world that war was obsolete.
After crossing the equator on April 8, 1964, I saw even more of the world via the Indian Ocean. The three-acre aircraft carrier USS Bonne Homme Richard sailed through the Straits of Malacca and on to exotic ports of call Diego Suarez, Madagascar and Mombasa, Kenya. Even the Shah of Iran flew on board to strut through the ranks of his allies. But on the way back to the good ol’ USA, a mean ol’ fella named Charlie raised his horrid Communist head out of the jungles of Vietnam. So the cruise was extended and diverted to the Gulf of Tonkin to help push him back down. Groan. Going home late was always a bummer. Who was this Charlie prick? What the fuck was a Communist anyway? We wouldn’t see land for several weeks. Bigger bummer – no booze and no dancing on starry nights with petite, adorable night club hostesses who promised, “I love you Joe, no shit. You buy me chicken, I give you everything.”
Our first few days in the Gulf were uneventful. But one night just after dinner, the squawk box brought us all to the ready because an unidentified floating object had dared approach the armada. It had passed the submarine protection ring at 150 miles from the flat-top and was approaching the destroyers at 50 miles out. We launched a jet fighter by catapult to investigate, and the admiral ordered the nearest destroyer to fire a warning shot across the bow. But apparently the sailors who’d never seen real war before got confused. With the ability to put out a smoke flare a mile away with a blank shell, they blew the fishing boat completely out of the water with an explosive one, killing everyone in the families on board. Shit happens. We’d try not to do that again. Somewhere in the mishmash of scuttlebutt, we’d also heard that another destroyer had sunk a PT boat, but with limited and questionable details.
All of our planes were modified to carry napalm. That wasn’t very scientific. Pour gelatin powder into a 100-gallon bomb-shaped tank attached to an arms rack and fill it up with gasoline. The explosive experts told us the fuse screwed into the nose wasn’t really necessary, they usually ignited on impact at high-speed. But just in case. Weapons guidance systems weren’t necessary and manpower was strained. So all shop foremen and their crews became bomb loaders and all aircraft maintenance chiefs became bomb loading supervisors. We worked sunup to sundown six days a week packing napalm onto anything that could fly. Sunday was the holy day of rest, with church services for the scant few who believed. I didn’t know any.
Our mission was defined as “carpet bombing.” Strategists selected large areas on maps and gave them to the pilots, who incinerated everything and everyone within them: Charlie (if he happened to be there), men, women, children, infants, old folks, the bed-sick, dogs, cats, chickens, cows, goats… even the canary in the bamboo cage had to go. One day while unscrewing the race-car type gas cap to fill a bomb, I asked the supervisor about the morality of it all. Surely it wasn’t something John Wayne, Roy Rogers or Lassie would approve of; the America I was trained to believe in would never do something like this. But the answer was immediate and precise, “What the fuck do you care, they’re Gooks.”
That didn’t settle well. I’d met several “no shit” Gookettes who loved their adorable little bi-racial, fatherless babies as would any mother. Although I’d never contemplated marriage, burning them to an agonizing crisp seemed a bit extreme. Wasn’t God the only One allowed to do that? I felt an internal slow burn, like salt water running through my veins. But I’d been very well programmed. Going against the military flow could be quite disastrous to my career and to my life. And at the time, no one had yet burned their draft card, escaped to Canada or held massive demonstrations. So I held back any further complaints and joined the crowd. But if it happened today, I’d simply tell them to go fuck themselves and perhaps end up spending the rest of my life with Private Chelsea Manning. Not so bad, I do love her.
After I finished my enlistment with an honorable discharge in 1965, I easily morphed my avionics technology expertise into telecommunications. Radar became microwave radio and everything else compared equally to systems already in use. So I continued traveling the world as a civilian without the need to participate in pre-mortem cremations. In 1971 when the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, it revealed that the Vietnam War had absolutely nothing at all to do with Communism and that Victor Charlie, the phonetic alphabet for V. C. or Viet Cong, was only defending his back yard from drooling, wild-eyed corporate greed. When the government tried to silence the Times, the Supreme Court severely admonished Congress with the following:
“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.” —Supreme Court Decision, New York Times Co. v. United States (403 U.S. 713), Justice Black, June 30, 1971
In my continuing career, I discovered that “drooling, wild-eyed corporate greed” took no heed to the Supreme Court but instead took control of the New York Times. I traveled throughout Europe and then landed a 13-month contract in Iran as a telecom engineer, where I again witnessed more subtle American arrogance. I moved on to Australia where I was often advised of the shenanigans that “the fucking Yanks” were up to. Each time I returned to the United States, I was fed different forms of reality by a now totally inept, corporate-owned press. Tired of all the bullshit, I earned a BA in broadcast journalism at the Walter Cronkite School at Arizona State University and moved on to a Master’s Degree at the City University of New York, naïve enough to think I could make a difference. Instead, I witnessed first-hand the massive heap of garbage shoveled into the feeding trough to rationalize yet another unjust and unnecessary Gulf War. Nauseated by big media, I morphed my MFA back to telecom and founded a small consulting firm.
By 2001, I’d earned a contract as director of engineering at a small telecom construction company in Kansas City, and on September 11, stood in the break room watching a moronic talking head babbling about an aircraft that had just hit one of the twin towers. He didn’t yet know if it was a private plane or a commercial jetliner. Instantly, my experience in mass media and work with the FAA and DOD kicked in and my response was immediate and precise, “It has to be a private plane. If it were a jetliner, you’d already know. If a jetliner’s off course more than six minutes, FAA calls NORAD. Duh-uh.” Everyone turned and looked at me in astonishment. They had no clue. I explained the established procedures and regulations to deaf ears.
Also in my adventures, I’d learned to fly a Cessna at a flight school owned by a retired military pilot near Holloman Air Force Base while I was doing a telecom project on White Sands Missile Range, home of the first atomic bomb blast. When I moved on to another project in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, I’d taken and passed a check ride at the local flight school to prove my ability to continue training. So when I heard that Arab delinquents who couldn’t pass check rides had managed to fly jetliners in precision maneuvers, some outside the limits of their design specifications, I balked loudly and clearly, “This is absolute horse-radish!”
But no one wanted to listen. I was only asked, “Why do you hate America?” I became more evil than politicians and predatory bankers. “Love it or leave it,” they scorned.
“Ok, why not? It’s a big, beautiful world. Bye.” Now I’m 73, retired and living happily in Peru. And I feel very well connected to Pachamama, our loving Mother Earth: treat her well and she’ll treat us well. But my past analyses leave me with a very pressing question that I think every person who has a genuine concern for the well-being of our planet should be asking: Could a self-worshipping greed ethic so vile that it would fabricate an intricate network of lies that left 3 million people burned to death, be capable of creating even more lies to create a new and better “Charlie” labeled “Hadji,” “T-Man” or “ISIS;” all at the price of God knows how many innocent lives?