Tuesday, May 14, 2019

I Thought I Was a Freedom Fighter Then Learned I Was a Storm Trooper: The Collision at Sea



Me on the port bridge wing of USS MARS passing under Golden Gate Bridge, enroute to San Diego just before the collision.

The Collision
It was a beautiful, crisp, spring day in San Diego. USS MARS gently nudged away from the pier and began a transit to Mazatlan, Mexico. The Secretary of the Navy was on board and he laughed and chatted up with the Captain on the starboard side of the bridge as we joined the Monday morning sortie as 3rd Fleet ships lined up to depart San Diego harbor in a column formation.
The beige hills of San Diego were dotted with desert vegetation, and palms. Freeways wound their way through this scene like pieces of white and black ribbon. Well-tended homes made of stucco with Spanish style tile roofs dotted the hills above the glistening high-rise buildings constructed with mirrored and green stained glass. They stood majestically over the harbor dotted with grey Navy ships. The tuna fleet owned by Star Kist, Bumble Bee and other companies were coming back in after early morning fishing operations.

The blue green water of San Diego harbor hissed with the wake of fast-moving police boats, luxury yachts of the rich and famous and graceful sail boats that strained to remain upright in the brisk spring wind.

My shoes were shined like glass, as was my trademark. I began to walk aft of the bridge and the Combat Information Center to my office. I was about to get out of the Navy and begin training at the Maritime Academy. For this reason, I was not in my normal position as a piloting officer, navigating out of the harbor. I only had three months left in the Navy. I had trained my replacement and now, I went about tasks of correcting navigation charts in my office.
Whistles blew and salutes were exchanged as the ships passed each other. The shrill sound of the bos’n pipe sounded as command were issued over the ship’s intercom “Now Man the Special Sea and Anchor Detail!”. “Underway, shift colors!”, “Sweepers, sweepers man your brooms! Give the ship a clean sweep down fore and aft! Hold all trash on station!”.
As I entered my office, my signalman friend motioned to me to come up to the signal bridge (where they have the flashing light signals and signal flags). He was on the upper level talking to a helicopter pilot.
I dropped off my charts and grabbed a cup of coffee.
I scurried up the ladder to the signal bridge. It was a beautiful sunny day. I could see the clouds looming off in the distance outside of the entrance of San Diego harbor. We steamed past the harbor entrance and Point Loma. The water turned a deep green color and the temperature changed as we approached the open sea. It was cool and the lingering fog off the coast enveloped us very quickly. It was cold all of a sudden and visibility went to zero as the fog swiftly came in. Our small talk turned to the weather and that is when I heard it, the fog horn on the starboard side.
Our eyes went starboard and our conversation stopped. The fog horn was close. Helicopters were headed out to land on us from the air station on Coronado. We began to turn to starboard to recover them. I heard the fog horn again…this time closer.
My friend, the pilot and me had our eyes glued to starboard.
First, I saw the very distinctive mast of a frigate come out of the fog. It was round and looked like a rook chess piece. I stated “I sure hope she is on the same course as we are.” The pilot and my friend nodded their heads in agreement….then..it happened…
The hull numbers of the frigate came out of the fog moving at a brisk 15 knots. We were also doing 15 knots. The bow of the frigate plowed into our starboard bow, on the M frame just aft of the forward gun turrets and the ammunition locker and just forward of the highly flammable JP-5 aviation fuel tanks.
The explosion singed my eye brows and I was knocked from my feet.  A towering flame loomed above us with yellow-red fire. I was airborne with the other two and we were able to grab the life lines as the frigate continued to have way on and push us to port. Funny, as I flew through the air, I looked down at my shoes. I thought as I looked down at them and sea below, “Man, this is really gonna fuck up my shine!” It is ridiculous now, as I think about it.
The ship listed severely to port, for seconds that seemed like minutes. For a moment, I thought, maybe I should let go and drop into the sea. I thought we were going to explode and be vaporized.
Somehow, we all held on. When the ship righted itself, we were flung like rag dolls to the other side. I could see the flames in my peripheral vision as landed on my face, stomach and chest on the nonskid deck that shredded my jacket, shirt and T-shirt. 
The ship began to list to starboard as we popped up on our feet. The deck began to shudder as the commands from the officer of the deck came out frantically “Hard left rudder!” he commanded too late. USS COOK broke away and began to spin wildly like a spinning top away from us and she disappeared back into the fog as I saw men tumbling over the side into the sea from her decks.

Then, came the order from the bridge, “Brace for collision!” also too late. “General Quarters, General Quarters, All Hands Man Your Battle Stations!” Came across the speaker followed by the steady bell of the battle stations signal.
I ran forward as did the signal man to his station. I shot down the ladder barely touching a step as I held on to the railing and used my boots to control my assent. Crump, crump,  crump, crump, our heavy sea boots hit the decks in seeming unison.  I was running in step with other frightened sailors and I headed to the Combat Information Center, my battle station.
Smoke began to fill the ship from the fire. The damage control team was shouting as hoses and pumps were being broken out to put out the fire and pump out the water.
I jumped on the radio telephone and contacted San Diego Harbor Control. I made the dreaded report that no sailor wants to hear, “May Day, May Day, USS MARS involved in collision at sea with USS COOK, we are on fire and listing to starboard!” I quickly obtained a position from the Dead Reckoning Tracer in this pre-satellite navigation era. I relayed our position to San Diego Harbor Control as casualty reports poured in.
Cooks had been burned when vats of hot food turned over on them in the galley. People had been injured when the bow of USS COOK penetrated our bulkheads and crushed their desks.
The deck continued to tremble beneath my feet as explosions continued to rack the ship. Paint chips fell down on the navigation table from the overhead. I began to take fixes to determine our position more accurately as I continued to report to Harbor Control. As a navigator, I had to complete spherical trigonometrical calculations while people shot at me. I had to remain calm as people screamed, fires and explosions rocked the ship. No matter what is happening, I have to remain calm and make my reports and calculations.
I was mildly aware of my chest and eyebrows burning from the flames that had singed me. As I was logging in information in a logbook, a table broke away from the bulkhead and slid across the deck from the ship listing. It pinned me against the bulkhead. Scissors and navigation instruments slid across the table and stuck into my chest and thighs. Other sailors pulled them out and helped me regain my footing lifting the heavy table off of my thighs. My flesh was stinging, my clothes stained with soot and blood.
For three hours, we remained on fire and gradually the damage control team go control of the flooding and began to pump water out. The bow of USS COOK had left a gapping hole in the starboard side of USS MARS. The hole was five feet below the water line and measured 45 by 35 feet. USS COOK had her bow pushed back to the hull numbers. The damage control team did an extraordinary job putting out the fire and pumping out the water.
We limped back into port listing to starboard. At one point I could walk on the wall as our list was so severe. 
News helicopters and looky-loos were staring at the heavily damaged vessels and some made fun of us. There as still t-shirts around that say “USS COOK, the First Ship to Land on Mars.”
We were all confined to the ship up to 10 P.M. that night of 14 May 1979. Investigators came in and taped up then confiscated our logbooks and records.  I learned the value of keeping good records. It would be the savior of my naval career as a navigator. The radar was not operating properly and I had been measuring its efficiency for years, logging and reporting it. I had been asking for repairs that did not come. It was impossible to see anything that came within five miles of the ship. Ironically, my middle daughter was born on this day in 1984.
Both captains were relieved of command.
We remained in San Diego for repairs for several months for repairs. I learned to love the city and hate the testimony necessary for the Admiralty Court Trial. I was so young and nervous that I stuttered and stammered when asked questions by the admirals during the trial. I missed my home city of San Francisco and lost a new love I had just started with a lovely Latina, my first Latina love.
I decided to fly up to San Francisco and drive my car back down since we were going to be in San Diego for a while. One of my ship mates overheard me talking and asked me to pick him up in Fresno. This was fateful.
As I drove back south from San Francisco, I stopped in Fresno to pick up this shipmate. I was too immature to hold him accountable when he was not ready. His mom begged me to wait for him. The entire day slipped away and I got tired driving back.
I let him drive my Manta Luxus and he wrecked it on the Grapevine near Los Angeles. Some drunk guys were driving a Volkswagen that broke down going uphill. They came to a stop in the fast lane. My ship mate, unaccustomed to driving in Los Angeles traffic, came to a stop behind them. Several cars ran into us from behind, the first being a station wagon. I was thrown through the sunroof and onto the pavement. He was pinned between the seat and the steering wheel.
He was paralyzed from the waist down.
Beer cans and bottles of liquor were flying out of the Volkswagen just before we hit them and they went flying down an embankment to the other side of the freeway.
Now, both my car and ship were heavily damaged. It was a troubling part of my life. My diving gear and a chess board I bought in Indonesia were destroyed in the crash.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Murder of My Father

The Murder of My Father

Me at Age 11 at the time of my father's death

Today is the 50th anniversary of my father’s murder. I had been in a Boy Scout Parade celebrating Halloween and Veterans. The Parade ended near his home in downtown Birmingham.

It was 1 November 1968. I had contemplated visiting my father since I was so close to his home on that Friday. I wanted my father to see me in my uniform but, I was not sure how he would respond. I had just testified in court that I wanted my visitations to end on the weekends since he had been so abusive to me and my mother and siblings.

Instead, I made a life saving decision to go home. Had I made the visit, surely, I would have died in the hail of gunfire that claimed his life.

On Saturday evening, 2 November 1968, my mother came into my room and leaned against the door way. She stated calmly, “Walter, last night, someone shot and killed your daddy.”

My mind raced with pain and questions. Who shot him? What happened? Could this be real? I quickly went through the grief phases; shock, denial, sadness, anger, acceptance. This would be a pattern that I would practice all too well and many times in my life. I had already had an enormous amount of grief from my church bombing and witnessing many friends killed by white supremacists. Tears began to flow. My grandmother who hated my father asked me why I was crying. I stated, “He was not the best, but he was the only father I had.”

I was dazed, I continued watching the cowboy program that I loved to watch on Saturday evenings; Wagon Train, “Brought to you by 20 Mule Team Borax.” I can still hear the music and know the slogans by heart.

The men being shot during the show kept bringing up images of my father being shot. Although I had not seen him or been to the murder scene, my view of people being shot on TV was forever changed.

The yellow and gray television in front of me loomed in my peripheral vision as I faded between the program, my shock, my grief and my internal thoughts. My tears were hot and my head began to hurt. I was scared. Did the person who killed my father want to kill me too? 

My father’s business partner had been murdered the week before, now, him. I had been Casper the Friendly Ghost on Halloween; now, my father was a real ghost. I heard noises in the night. I was scared. I never went trick or treating again.

My mother took me to the murder scene. 

My father had been gunned down in one of the bedrooms down the hall from his master bedroom in an enormous house. My father’s huge white house with green trimming loomed ahead of us. It was three stories high. Gravel rocks popped under the tires of my mother’s car as we drove up the driveway. We parked near the garage near my father’s red Chevrolet work truck and his green Ford Galaxy. His pride and joy remained in the garage, a pristine Pontiac Bonneville. It was always clean. The sleek cream color blended well with the maroon top and trimming. 

I looked at his ladder and equipment on the truck. It was hard to believe that he would never use it again. I processed death in my mind, as an eleven-year-old could. What was death? Why did we have to die? Would I die too?

The green screen door creaked as we entered the house. It was silent apart from police who were at the scene and talking to my mother. I overheard one saying, “It is no problem, it is just a nigger who got shot.” Recently, during a conversation with a California Highway Patrolman, he told me "Your perception of corruption and bad police are just part of a media hype." He had no idea to whom he was speaking to.

We went down the long hall way to the front of the home. I could see bullet holes in the door knob and frame surrounding the door opening to my father’s bedroom. The gold colored door knob was shot to bits and the frame had bullet hole in it too. The detective explained the scene.

Entering the bedroom, the color TV that we used to watch his favorite western Bonanza on every Sunday, was shot to bits, the cherry colored wood splintered.  The glass screen on the TV was shattered and the brown antenna cracked by a bullet, the silver arms dangled on the side of the wooden TV cabinet.

The blue-green sofa remained intact along with the coffee table. I had laid on this sofa sucking my bottle as a baby while my mother cleaned beer stains and cigarette ashes off of the glass coffee table with a bottle of water and newspaper on countless occasions after my father’s drinking and smoking episodes.

His very large bed loomed to the right with woven blankets and his safes nearby in which always had money in them. The large dark cherry wood bedposts stood there as sentinel witnesses of many violent acts. His dark green filing cabinets, undisturbed in the violent incident.

The barber chair he maintained near mirrored dressers reminded me of his other profession. 

My father was a contractor and a barber. The long leather razor sharpener or “strap”, as he called it hung at the side of the chair. He had used this strap to beat me and my mother viciously on numerous occasions. The black barber chair sat on a pedestal made of white marble surrounded by a chrome ring. His razors, Old Spice after shave and cologne were there with the straight razors. I sniffed them and the smell, of the Old Spice, I shall never forget.

A large brown clock with a cowboy roping at a rodeo loomed on the mantle near the heater. I remember staring at the gas flames for long periods wondering, “What is fire?” Why is it blue and orange?

Fear, sadness, uncertainty and anger rolled around inside of me in a vortex of emotions.

A policeman described how gun men fought their way into my father’s bedroom. He fought back with his considerable gun collection in a fierce gun fight. The gun men ran down the hall with my father pursuing them to the next bedroom next to a staircase. Upon entering the bedroom, my father, over confident was stabbed in the chest with a hook on the arm of a one-armed man. He dropped his gun and one of the gun men retrieved it and shot my father through the head, three times.

My father was knocked out of his shoes. His socks, I could see in the coagulated blood, all over the floor that stretched from the far-left corner of the room back to the door.

Gunshots to the head do not just appear with a little red dot on the head as we see in the movies. The real ones are very bloody and there was blood splatter on the ceiling with a puddle of blood on the floor covering the large room by 75% of the surface area.

I was shaken. During the drive to the funeral home, I felt numb and scared.

The sickening smell of all the flowers hit me along with the smell of embalming chemicals. I will never forget that smell. My father lay in a golden casket. He had on a grey suit. He was always a sharp dresser. He had on glasses. On his forehead, there was a large square patch made of his own flesh, cut from his back side. This patch covered up the gun shot wound to the head. I touched his head and he felt so cold. I quickly withdrew my hands. Could I get dead people germs or chemicals on me? His big hands were purple and hideously, his fingers were frozen in a claw like configuration. His lips were glued together and did not look the way they used to. His dark skin had a strange grey hue.

At the funeral, I remember the smell of the flowers. People commented at how strong I was in helping to carry my father’s casket. He was laid to rest near three of the girls killed when my church, 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed in September 1963 by Ku Klux Klan.

We returned to my father’s home. My mother had food for a lot of relatives that looked like him that I had never seen before and have not seen since.

I thought to myself, now, all of his guns and possessions would be mine. At some signal given by my mom, the strange relatives began to loot the house, taking out pillow cases of my father’s possessions. I was furious. I asked my mom to stop them. She did not. They left with the bags and memories of my father that I would never be able to get back. My attitude about funerals forever stained by this experience. I could never pick over the belongings of the dead and never have.

I went to the front porch through the very large and heavy door. The floor of the porch was cement and painted grey. The porch was surrounded by a screen connected by wooden columns painted green. A sofa swing was suspended from the ceiling that was constructed with dark lacquered wood. 

I climbed into the sofa swing and began to swing while looking out at the busy street that 8th Avenue was; just beyond the front yard. The swing groaned and creaked as I kicked my legs to make it go back and forth. The front yard was ringed by a black wrought iron fence with a gate and green hedges. A grimy Sinclair gas station was across the street with a green dinosaur on the sign. I had seen my father beat up white men that had the temerity to come to his home to rip him off with the fake insurance policies that the peddled in the black areas. He would look at me and say, “Dats whut yew dew ta dem”, in his deep lower Alabama accent. Visions of their papers flying all over the yard danced in my head with all the other images as cars swooshed by on the busy avenue.

I realized that my father had been one of my heroes as well as one of the most feared people in my life.  He had defended us and the entire neighborhood by equipping the men with weapons to defend us from KKK attacks at night. The fire department was blowing our homes up and the police were shooting us. Police Chief Bull Connor had an office only four blocks away from us.

I am certain that my father’s activism is a part of why he was killed. He was a gangster at night and a business man by day. He carried Thompson machine guns in a violin case. He wore highly shined Florsheim shoes, fedoras and long coats with immaculate suits. He had class. He was violent. He was my father. Later I would realize that I had much more in common with him than I was conscious of.

In 1968 I lost my heroes: Bobby Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King and, my father. 

©Copyright by Walter Davis 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Early Years: Grandma's House

The Early Years: Grandma’s House

The heat waves were visible to me as I ran in the garden of my grandmother’s home. The large field behind her home contained corn, beans, cherry trees, peach trees, tomatoes, okra, peas, squash, lettuce, cabbage, collards, and wonderful lush, green grass. The clean sheets popped in the wind on the clothes lines as I ran between the clean clothes smelling their clean scent. With my pitch fork, I planted and dug up plants and developed a love for vegetables that sticks with me to this day.

My grandmother with her white skin and long gray hair that went down below her waist, stood there hanging up clothes as I played and worked in the garden in my tender preschool years.
My grandmother’s home was magnificent. It towered above that back yard in white majesty. A long driveway came back to the multiple car garages.

Smokey, our dog frolicked along with me in that garden of my grandmother. His shiny black coat glistening in the sun. The crickets and grass hoppers buzzed in the hot Alabama sun as they issued their mating calls. During the evening, wonderful fire flies came out glowing in their yellow, blue, red and green hues.

The afternoon rains would come and leave a clean scent and rainbows. I put my face close to the leaves and licked the moisture from them. The rich red clay soil nurtured our large garden and yielded a bounty of large healthy crops. My love affair with tomatoes began here.
I learned that if I grabbed the white butterflies, a white powder would cover my hands, bees would sting and I better stay away from the wasps.

Beautiful blue jays and red cardinal birds would land among the green plants and spread their wings in magnificence. How I miss seeing them since I have lived in southern California.

The tall buildings of Birmingham rose above the field in the back yard in stark contrast to the farm like setting I enjoyed in the midst of this modern city. Beyond the tall buildings, Red Mountain loomed with its lush greenness and a statue of the mythical Greek god Vulcan. Vulcan was given to Birmingham by France for steel production contributions during World War II. Vulcan held a light in his hand. When that light was red, there had been a traffic fatality in the city that day. When the light was green, there had been no traffic deaths.

A white sign with WBRC would flash at night on top of the mountain that was adorned with antenna used by television stations. I was aware that the Bozo the Clown show, Popeye the Sailor and Captain Kangaroo shows came from these stations. I imaged that they lived their and wanted to visit them. The stations sponsored birthday parties for kids where we were televised. I got a chance to have my party there and it was terrifying.

A blue haze often hovered over the city many days. People were allowed to burn their trash in the backyard inside of large barrels or metal trash cans.
My sisters with their shiny black shoes and flowing dresses, made earthen pies with their kitchen toys and cute little tea sets. They had a play house and wore cat glasses with pointy tips as was fashionable in the 1960’s.

They would say “Make the monkey face” and I would happily oblige as they erupted in laughter. I was embarrassed recently as I tried to make the monkey face as a 60 year-old and a friend told me it looked like I was having an orgasm.

A long stair case led up to the back of the house. The entry revealed a large screened in porch that housed a large sewing area. The women in my home produced beautiful clothing including dresses and magnificent costumes that I wore for Halloween and other events. I spent many hours in this room playing with my favorite toys, army soldiers, while they were sewing.

I loved the days when it rained and a cool, clean breeze would come into this room.

Adjoined to this room was a large kitchen. Wonderful smells came out of this area. My mother grandmother and sisters prepared magnificent meals.

Food was plentiful and good. I watched my mother prepare meals in a focused way. I loved liking the icing and cookie dough from the spoons. She told me that she was going to teach me to cook and take care of myself. How thankful I am that she did this. The skills I acquired served me well throughout my adult life and my travels. I would later share her recipes with friends I met in Europe, Asia and other parts of the world and they were delighted. 

A table was in the large kitchen overlooking the greenery of the backyard and the skyline of Birmingham. There were always oranges and bananas, grape cool aide and gingerbread. The fried chicken and collard greens were frequent staples along with fresh tomatoes from the garden that I picked with my little hands.

The delightful corn bread with golden buttery softness melted in my mouth.
A large breakfast nook was in the next room. There I enjoyed large breakfasts with my sisters including Canadian bacon, oatmeal swimming in butter, sugar and evaporated milk with soft, fluffy eggs and orange juice.

My uncle’s room was near and he often got drunk and stumbled in. He was my mother’s brother. They looked so much alike. Later, I would learn that I was very much like him. He was the uncle that showed up with a dog, a swing set a bike, just for me.

On the other side of the breakfast nook was a full bath and an entrance to my grandmother’s bedroom. There my grandfather whom we called Pop lay on his back in the bed. He was bedridden. He called me Water Boy and when he called me, I would run happily with glasses of water.

Often, I would examine his medals and decorations from World War II. He had been an artillery commander in the war in Europe. He was injured when the black troops were put into action in Italy against Monte Cassino. His unit was left without replacements or ammunition for a long period. Left in the open elements, he suffered a back injury due to being in a fox hole with water up to his chest for long periods. Now, he was a disabled vet. I wiped his forehead with cold towels and helped him drink water. Holding his decorations and medals were always special moments for me. I ran my fingers along his buttons on his uniform and head gear. They were tarnished with age.

The other side of my grandmother’s bedroom led to a large family room. There, I spent many hours learning to read and count at a very early age. There were tables and sofas along with a TV set.  A large chandelier hung down from the ceiling very high up, several flights of steps. It was magnificent. I spent many hours staring at it, dreaming. There were four flights of steps and large landings with chairs and tables in this regal southern home leading to the upstairs area where three more bed rooms and a bath were. This included my mother’s room, my brothers’ room and my sisters room. I slept with my mother in a crib until my oldest brother left for college. A red patterned carpet adorned the steps and the landings.

There was a closet underneath the large steps going upstairs. I was often locked into this closet by my grandmother who often told me that I was never going to be anything but a black nigger just like my dad. Often, I would cry myself to sleep in the darkness of this closet. My sisters would come and get me and argue with her when she protested my release. I was placed in the closet for punishment and, just because I was me.

Later, I would tell her “You wait and see. I will be something.” I nearly destroyed myself trying to prove her wrong. I became an overachiever. It was not until I was 38 that I learned to stop living to prove her wrong. I learned to see the situation through her lenses and to forgive her. My relationship with my grandmother was complicated. She did love me. She made sure I had silk socks and nice blazer tops, ties and nice shoes. I was very young wearing Florsheim shoes.

My grandmother had a large porch that wrapped around the front of the house. It had gray paint and splinters that would stick into my foot if I dragged them along the surface in rough areas. The porch was adorned by tables chairs and swinging sofas.

Tall hedges separated her property from the neighbors and the street. Adirondack chair and table sets adorned the large front yard near beautiful rose bushes. My sister and I would lay on our backs and look up at the star filled sky and dream. I dreamed of being a sailor. Popeye was my favorite cartoon and I ate my spinach enthusiastically. On one of our rare trips, my father took me to Mobile, Alabama where I saw USS ALABAMA, a battleship. I saw the guns, the sailors, heard the whistles and I decided that I wanted to be in the United States Navy when I grew up.

We had to take chicken wrapped in aluminum foil on these trips to Mobile. My mother had to squat down next to the car to pee along the side of the road as we traveled. We could be killed if we went into the wrong places that did not allow black people. I was sheltered from this for a time until I became aware. By a very young age, I knew that we were negros and people wanted to kill us because of it. My sisters and I watched cartoons in the afternoons that gave way to the news that depicted negros being beaten and arrested by police in large numbers. The people being beaten and killed looked like me and my family.  I remember asking “Mommy, are we negros?” Her answer shattered my innocence and I began a lifelong struggle to survive this hypocritical dilemma. I had to look at myself as a negro, not just a person if I wanted to avoid trouble. This became a lifelong necessity if I was to survive. It was not until James Brown came out with the song “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m proud” that I began to call others black and not negros. We could not call people black before then. That was an insult.

Once, a lady who had a very dark complexion asked me “What color am I?”, my mother chuckled as she recounted the story. I had been told NEVER to call people black. My mother, a nurse, had told me that babies would eventually turn the same color as their ears. Many babies would have light complexions and dark ears. I was afraid to tell the woman that she was black so I told her that she was “Just like her ears”. My mother would laugh so hard when she told this story. How I wish I could hear her tell it again. I lost her in 2010.

©Copyright by Walter Davis 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

I thought I Was a Freedom Fighter and Learned That I Was a Storm Trooper: The Bombardment

The Bombardment
            I kissed my new bride and headed down the hallway to the elevator. Little did I know that I would be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people later in my shift at the command center in Naples. It would also be one of many times that I would make plans to travel with my family and not come home for days or months.
The eleven-story ride ended in the modern lobby of our seaside apartment building. The ocean hissed nearby as I exited the lobby and hopped into my convertible BMW on a brisk winter day. My Navy dress blues neat and pressed; bell bottoms popping in the wind. I was proud to be in the Navy and especially proud to be on an admiral’s staff.
I negotiated the large heavy gate at the entrance to the Military housing complex and descended the narrow road near the sandy beaches that gave way to white washed shops and pine trees in Pinetamare, Italy. The beach side resort was a great place for a new couple to start out. A broad, curving road winded past luxury condos and stores. It gave way to the Tangentiale, the freeway. There was no speed limit enforced. It was fun being able to drive at high speed on the freeway. My thoughts drifted to how wonderful it was to live in Italy and how lucky I was to get an assignment that allowed me to work four days and get four days off.
The pungent smell of the ancient volcano Solfatara greeted me as I exited the freeway after the 17-mile drive. Humpty Dumpty, a well-known prostitute sat on the wall she was so famous for.She offered her services near the freeway exit and the military bases. She was not attractive at all as her name fit her well. I approached the gate at the Navy Annex and saw many Marines with scared faces walking the parking lot going to and from the hospital and the headquarters buildings. They had been injured during an explosion at the Marine Barracks in Beirut. Little did I know but I was to become an integral part of this battle and I would not be going home or sleeping for many days.
I clipped on my security badge and saluted as I passed the quarterdeck and entered the elevator at headquarters. The long white hallway lead to the control center. I entered the code on the push button security lock and it buzzed open the door.  The ultra-modern computers (for that time) whirred and the control room was frigid. A large wall was covered with charts of the Mediterranean and it was adorned by magnets with ships names attached displaying the locations of NATO and Soviet vessels all over the area. Multi colored tape revealed the locations of surveillance operations being conducted by elements of Commander Fleet Air Mediterranean.
I began gathering my information necessary for my daily reports following my turnover briefing. The relieving watch was elated to get off and enjoy four days off in southern Italy. I loved gathering information on the system that later became The Internet. Emails were called Swixes and I had a whole stack of them coming in from units all over the world.
We had great camaraderie in terms of display of humor during briefings. A Russian ship called KRUZNETSOV was called “The Cut Your Nuts Off” during briefings. There was the “Scratch and Itch 3” rocket. Twenty years later I would be using this technology to shop, do business, seek romance, everything.
I was not expecting the Vice Admiral to come in. Suddenly he was there. His broad gold rings around his sleeves and chess full of ribbons put my three to shame. I began to stand up at attention, he motioned for us all to be at ease. This was the commander of the Sixth Fleet standing there, now directing me to type messages for him to be emailed out to the fleet. I was so happy that I had taken typing in high school and I could type at 76 words per minute. I typed his messages flawlessly. I knew lives were at stake and a typo could end up costing the lives of innocent people.
He asked me to establish secure communications with USS NEW JERSEY surface action group. I went to the red phone and it buzzed as I established the connection with the task force commander. I handed the phone to the Vice Admiral and he began to issue orders after a brief conversation. “Fifteen rounds, target A, 16 rounds target B” and so on. “Commence firing” he barked calmly. My computer terminal began to light up with reports including the phrase “U.S. ships have opened fire on Beirut”.
The battle went on for days. I did not go home. In 1980’s Italy, it cost $6000.00 to get a phone and the waiting list was longer than my tour in the country. It did not make sense to try to get a phone. Cell phones, texting and personal emails were not accessible then, so, my wife did not know why I did not come home.
The admiral loosened his tie and began to lounge in the control center as we followed the progress of the battle. He would disappear into the back room with the “Spooks” or Intelligence Specialists. There were times when he directed me to order the ships to “Commence firing”. My hand trembled as I issued the orders. I knew hundreds of people were dying as a result of my voice.
I gathered information and developed summary reports to be sent out to U.S. and NATO forces. I was tired but the Adrenalin flowing kept me up for the days that followed the initial attacks and follow on battles. A black fighter pilot was shot down and I coordinated his rescue by directing naval air forces to his location.  
I developed summary reports for intelligence briefings. We did not have flat screens at the time for graphic displays. We did have plastic overlays and charts. I was proud of myself as I placed overlays on the charts and briefed figures such as estimated civilian casualty rate, estimated foliage destruction. In subsequent years I would learn more about the people I had killed and the people I had killed for. I woke up from the fog of American International policy propaganda and realized that I was not a freedom fighter, I was a storm trooper. The story of the Syrian infants made this very clear. Little babies, arching their backs in agony after being chlorine gas bombed. I had been a part of a team that had killed hundreds with hundreds of high caliber explosive shells. Shells that traveled 26 miles and weighed as much as a Volkswagen.

©Copyright by Walter Davis 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Friday, July 13, 2018

I Thought I was a Freedom Fighter

I thought I was a freedom fighter and learned that I was a storm trooper.
Walter in Naples, Italy 1985

I took a hiatus from writing this book as a painful truth became clear to me.

While watching a news program recently, small infants were shown arching their backs in agony in the aftermath of being chlorine gassed. I thought to myself, "What kind of monster could do that to infants, then, I remembered, I was one of those monsters. I had coordinated air strikes, missile strikes and shore bombardment operations against Hezbollah in the mid 1980's.

I realized that I did not know how many people I had killed in my 25 year military career. How many grand moms, babies, dads, children, women, girls?

I thought I was a freedom fighter and learned that I was a storm trooper.

The realization was so painful that I remained in a fetal ball in my bed for days in shame and depression.

I have shed tears at least once daily since this happened over this issue.

Many people who do not know about nonviolent communication or mindfulness ...or the need to validate people when they are in pain ...say things like...."You were doing what you were told"...instead of..."I have been ashamed of myself before, tell me more".

The concept of latent memory needs to be discussed. Latent memory is known as the subconsciousness or UNKNOWN AREA in the Johari Window.

I was well aware that writing this book was going to result in me discovering things in the UNKNOWN and BLIND areas of my life and that it would take courage to put them in the PUBLIC or OPEN area.

You see, in order to have functional relationships, the OPEN or PUBLIC area about us must be larger than the other three boxes.

In the Public or Open area, there are things that we know about ourselves and things that others can see. The Blind area has things that we cannot see about ourselves that others can see. The Unknown area has things that we do not know about ourselves and that others do not know either...like...the first time we fell and hurt ourselves as a baby...that memory is in our minds clear as a bell even though we may not be able to retrieve it.

The HIDDEN or SECRET Area is an area that contains our secrets......we know things that others do not know. A counselor's or psychologist's job is to make it a safe place to explore and express feelings.

I was leading a group where two men had been raped. I kept encouraging them to talk about their rapes in the groups. Finally one told his story in the morning group and the other in the afternoon group.

A man next to me was rubbing his hands on his pants, sweating. I asked him, if he was ok and he said he was "Fine". Finally, he broke down and began crying. He told us of how his uncle had raped him between the ages of 4 and 7. He did not remember that until the other men told their stories.

You see, the mind protects us by not letting us remember things.

It is sometimes important to  bring these things to the focal point as they may cause us to react in negative ways to similar situations as we go through life. This is how treatment works.

We become aware of things in our Unknown Area, hold on to the info in our Secret or Hidden Area. We have the courage to bring it out in Public or Open Area and people give us feedback and we discover more in the Blind Area and then Unknown Area.

The tenants of nonviolent communication guide us to speak in terms of emotions and to avoid rationalization, justification and minimization in this process.

(I was not THAT drunk, I was not THAT mad, I was not THAT LATE..or....Everybody does it...or...If you had a wife like mine you would drink too.)

It is important to speak on how we feel as opposed to what we think.

Emotional words are intrinsic to this process.

It is important to state what happened and how we felt about it.

I have learned to go through feelings, not around them.

©Copyright by Walter Davis 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED