Category Archives: Navy SEALs

Instructor Blais

Blais

Nearly 200 fresh-faced sailors and junior officers showed up on 28 December 1964 in Little Creek, VA for Class 33E of UDTR. Some seriously scary Instructors greeted us. There was towering Chief John Bakelaar, a regal and imperious Chief Bernie Waddell, and the impressively athletic Instructor Newell. But, the one who became most feared (at least by me) was Chief Tom Blais.

He was a soft-spoken sphinx of a man who meted out punishment like he was doing you a favor and his disappointment with you simply saddened him. Since I was the lowest ranking of the 22 officers that showed up for Class 33E, I had no officer duties and given the ratty greens and surveyed foul weather jackets we wore allowed me to blend in with the troops in the back of the pack for a while.

One day Instructor Blais discovered my existence and expressed some serious doubts about my suitability as an officer in the Teams. He promised, “Mr. Draper, I am going to make you my special project.” And, of course, he did. Then and every time there was a lull he would seek me out for extra attention.

One afternoon after we had completed our “preconditioning run” 50 minutes or so up and down the sand dunes, led by Instructor Fraley (whose running shoes seemed to leave no foot prints on Mount Suribachi) we were waiting on the beach for the trucks to take us back to the training area. The Instructors, hating a dull moment, had us in the leaning rest position in loose formation while we waited. Instructor Blais was wandering through the bodies looking for me and in a sing-song voice saying, “Mr. Draper, where are you?” It just struck me as funny and as I tried to hide my laughter, Chief Bakelaar spotted me and said, “Ah, Mr. Draper, laughing in the face of adversity.” Of course, Chief Blaiscame over and messed with me something serious until the trucks arrived.

Perhaps the most vivid memory my classmates and I have of Chief Blais occurred on the 4th day of Hell Week. The evolution that day was the “Laskin Boat Trip”, an innocuous sounding day of paddling and a welcome respite for our sore legs from the previous night’s 18 mile run. The simple objective: paddle from Laskin Road down Lynnhaven Inlet to the bay and then up the coast to the base. It turned out to be a day of misery. We fought a 35-knot head wind in our aerodynamically challenged IBLs (the L is for Large, ten man boats). At times, unable to make any head way against the wind we had to get out and carry the boats. It was so cold the water in our water bottles froze and our pants and boots were caked with ice. By then enough officers had quit so I had my own boat but it was the smurfs and there were only 7 of us. We trailed far behind the other boats when we finally came into view of the bridge. There, lined up on the beach in front of a small bar called the Duck Inn, were all the other boats. Naturally, we pulled in there too. The bar was crammed with our entire class ordering hamburgers, hot chocolate and coffee. I had just wrapped my frozen fingers around a hot cup of coffee when the door to the bar swung open and there silhouetted in the fading light stood Instructor Blais.

It was like Clint Eastwood in one of his cowboy flicks, standing there before shooting up the place. It went dead quiet. In a soft voice, he ordered everyone outside where he individually chewed out each boat officer before he told us to paddle across the wind-torn waves to the other side of Lynnhaven Inlet. After a suitable number of boat push-ups, he led us without breaking stride while we struggled in the soft sand carrying the boats the four miles down the beach to the base. While he was feared by the trainees he was also highly respected and we mourn his passing. He was a man among men. RIP

This article was published in the fall 2014 issue of “The Blast”, the Journal of Naval Special Warfare.  

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Tale of Two Crimes

Unless you have been in a coma or perhaps hiding out in the Space Station, you have certainly heard about the murder of four police officers in Lakewood, WA. Executed is more like it. They were all sitting in a booth having morning coffee before their shift when a dirt bag by the name of Maurice Clemmons walked in and shot them all. One officer managed to get off a round hitting Clemmons in the gut before he himself was killed.

A massive manhunt began and I told my wife as we watched the TV coverage, “This asshole is never going to see the inside of a courtroom.” Sure enough, 48 hours later a cop recognized Clemmons and gunned him down. The carefully worded statements suggested that, yes Clemmons did have a gun, but that he was nowhere near it when the officer shot his sorry ass. The overwhelming public sentiment was “good riddance”. Debate then shifted to apportioning blame for whether Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas or the judge in Seattle should be held responsible for letting this guy run loose given his repeated convictions and penchant for violence. The question of whether the cop had gunned down an unarmed man never came up and nobody really cared.

About the same time another news story popped up, but on this one you would really need to be alert since none of the major networks except FOX gave it any coverage. The news: three Navy SEALs are going to be court marshaled in January for the crime of “abusing” a terrorist.

Perhaps you remember back in 2004 four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah, Iraq were captured by the Al Queda in Iraq insurgents. They were executed, mutilated, dragged through the streets, burned and hung from a bridge over the Tigris River. After years of searching, the ringleader of the group, Ahmend Hashim Abed, was located and captured by three SEALs: Matt McCabe SO2, Jon Keefe SO1 and Julio Huerta SO1. During the course of the arrest Abed reportedly received a fat lip (some reports say he was punched in the stomach). This incident got reported and the Navy decided to charge the SEALs with prisoner abuse.

The “SEAL Net”, a loose collection of email networks tying together ex-Navy SEALs, suggests that the charges of abuse came from the military police who took charge of Abed when the SEALs turned him over. It is also widely known that the terrorists are well aware of our penchant for political correctness and frequently bash themselves or attempt fruitless escapes so that they can claim abuse. They know how to game the system. And, of course, there is an endless supply of ambulance chasers more than willing to take the cases of these poor abused terrorists.

The three SEALs faced a disciplinary procedure known as Captain’s Mast or what is called Non-Judicial Punishment, a practice that harkens back to the days of sailing ships long away from their homeport. Captain’s Mast in no way resembles a court of law, the captain of a ship at sea being the closest thing to a god. The skipper hears the charges and the explanation from the accused and makes a decision on the spot on guilt and the appropriate punishment. The three SEALs in this situation were assured of receiving a career-ending letter of reprimand in their service files. As is their right, they opted instead for a full-fledged court marshal with the upside of being found innocent of the charges. They gamble, however, that if found guilty they might spend some hard time in the brig and receive a dishonorable discharge.

A serviceman has the option of hiring a civilian defense attorney to represent them in a court marshal and all three SEALs have done so. Obviously, these guys are not rich and defending themselves will not come cheap. The good news: there will be plenty of people, including most of the ex-SEAL community who will be willing to contribute to the fund for the defense.

The cop who emptied his gun into the unarmed murder Clemmons gets a pass from a grateful community. I’m fine with that. I am not fine with prosecuting three guys who capture a dangerous, vicious terrorist. They should be regarded as heroes, not criminals. Something is seriously out of whack here.

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The Doctor Will See You Now….. Finally

My three faithful readers may have been curious why I have not weighed in on the contentious health care reform debate that has been raging in recent weeks. Been traveling folks. In late July we flew to Michigan to visit our friends Pete and Shirley for a few days before riding together to Buffalo where Pete and I attended our 50th high school reunion. Yeah, I know. I find it hard to believe myself.

Loi and I then drove on to Schenectady to visit her brothers and families. The day after we got back I headed back across the border for the weekend gathering of the annual UDT/SEAL (NW Chapter) Assn. Yesterday we finally got back to Whistler…. Just in time for rain and 50 degree temps.

I have been paying attention to the debate and the unfolding drama as Obama and his left wing allies try to ram “health care reform” (later focus group renamed “insurance reform”) down the throats of Americans. Obama proclaimed it had to be passed before Congress went home for the August recess even though the final version of the bill had yet to be completed by either the House or the Senate. What finally emerged was HR 3200, another 1100 page behemoth that the President himself had not read even as he tried to sell it.

Of course, none of the esteemed legislators had had a chance to read the Stimulus bill, the spending package or the Cap and Trade bill either. John Conyers (D-MI) laughed when asked if he’d read the bills and opined that no one reads them and if they did, they’d need two lawyers at their side to figure them out. Hilarious. The Obama Team knew that if anyone, especially the citizens, actually had a chance to read what he intended to do to American health care and American freedoms that resistance would grow.

Democrats have enough votes to ram this thing through without a single Republican vote. But, the “Blue Dog Democrats” and those in districts won by McCain could see their political careers flashing before their eyes and refused to vote on it before recess. As they headed home to meet with constituents, people started to read the massive bill, distill it down to bullet points and distribute it on the internet. You can read a synopsis of HR3200 at: http://www.lc.org/. The whole thing is online if you have the time and inclination (and a couple of lawyer friends). As people read the thing with deep misgivings already over the quick accumulation of massive debt (five times larger than Bush’s biggest) and concern over the sagging economy, they started to rebel. Huge numbers of angry voters began turning up at politician’s town hall meetings. The Dem leaders responded and with the assistance of the MSM began calling these citizens “un-American, “Nazis” and a “mob”. Harry Reid called them “astroturfers”. This is a time-honored technique of the Left: accusing your opponents of the dirty tricks you yourself employ. Consider the irony that it was Obama’s campaign manager, David Alexrod who perfected the Astroturf Strategy and coined the term.

The Democrats then immediately called out ACORN and union thugs to disrupt and dominate the protests. George Soros donated $5 million to help the reform effort and the pharmaceutical industry agreed to kick in $150 million in exchange for restraint by the White House in pushing for drug price controls. Someone should remind the CEOs of the pharma industry about the story of the frog making the deal with the scorpion for a ride across the river.

With support for reform slipping badly in the polls and Obama’s popularity with it, BHO decided to go into campaign mode, confident that his charm would turn the tide. Obama sufferers from the ego driven conviction that he can fool most of the people most of the time, especially when protected by the likes of ABC, NBC, Time, etal. Thus, he feels no need for restraint in telling untruths. He’s told some whoppers lately. For example, he stated he was not in favor of a “single payer system”. Unfortunately, he was caught on tape a couple of times during the campaign saying the exact opposite. In the early going he said the purpose of health care reform was to contain costs. The CBO came out with an estimate that the cost of this thing will be about one trillion dollars. He told an audience during his own “town hall” that AARP had endorsed the bill and the next day AARP denied it. He said there would be no rationing, Medicare would not be cut and that there would be no bureaucrats deciding to terminate treatment for seniors. If you check out the link on HR3200 above you will quickly find that all of those statements are ….. Well, lies. Despite a protective press, people are catching on that you cannot trust this guy.

The take over of the health care system in the US has never been about containing cost, covering the uninsured or improving health services. Some 85% of Americans are happy with the health care system. (Ironically, 88% of Canadians, who have a single payer system, say they would prefer to go to the US for their health care than receive it in Canada.)

As pointed out by Mark Steyn in a “National Review” piece entitled “Dependence Day” (July 20, 2009) that 45 million uninsured number is BS. One fifth, he says, are not Americans (illegals would be covered under the proposal), Medicare covers another fifth, two fifths are young and don’t care because they will live forever and the other fifth are wealthy and choose to self-insure.

The take over of the health care system by government is purely about power and control. It will, as Steyn points out, insure that once implemented, left of center governments will prevail forever. The UK and Canada, both with single payer systems provide a perfect example for, however imperfect, it becomes the proverbial third rail of politics. It has the power of life or death over citizens and they are fearful of attempts to cut services further.

Then too, the British National Health Service has 1.4 million employees in a nation 1/3 the size of the US. This massive bureaucracy that has more managers than doctors, wields considerable political clout. If you look at the huge new bureaucracy that HR3200 proposes to administer nearly every aspect of citizens personal and financial lives, you can see where Obama plans to create employment and, Democrat voters.

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this monster is the intrusion into the freedoms of Americans. Steyn states that: “A government-directed medical system can be used to justify almost any restraint on freedom.” He points out that smokers in Manchester, England have been refused treatment for heart disease and obese people in Suffolk told they are ineligible for hip and knee replacement. When you turn over decisions for your health care to a bureaucrat with instructions to cut costs, your individual needs get tossed out the window. A headline in yesterday’s “Vancouver Sun” proclaimed that due to cost issues several thousand surgeries had been cancelled and hundreds of health care workers laid off. Too bad, folks.

I am at a loss to predict where this thing will go. The Democrats might ram it through thinking they will never have another chance like this one. They might calculate that losses in the 2010 election are acceptable and that since the law would not actually kick in until 2013 that people will have forgotten and Obama can get re-elected in 2012 while retaining control of the Senate. On the other hand, they might decide to try to modify the plan to get some Republican support for a compromise. Right now they are losing serious support among seniors and independents and those groups make the difference in elections… especially if they turn out in large numbers. Obama, Pelosi and Reid have tremendous egos and are drunk with power. They might well decide to say the Hell with the public and cram it through.

If the idea of turning over your life to the government does not appeal to you it might be time to get off your ass and do something. Contact your representative, email everyone you know, attend a town hall meeting or write a letter to the editor. If you’re happy with the idea of a government bureaucrat coming into your home and telling you how to raise your kids or what to eat, or that “Sorry Mrs. Jones, that surgery you need is not available at this time because of budget cuts”, do nothing. Your choice. Good luck.

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Filed under ACORN, Health Care, Navy SEALs, Obama, Politics

Pay Jump

I could never figure out why the Navy refused to pay us for the three hazard duties for which we qualified. It was also never clear why they excluded diving, the most dangerous of the lot, especially when swimming pure oxygen re-breathers in the middle of the night in the open ocean. Apparently the bean counters had never heard of the crappy Emerson re-breather rigs we often swam that frequently leaked and caused guys to pass out. (The German made Draegers were far superior but we couldn’t buy new ones and had to cannibalize parts to keep them running.)

They paid us for working with explosives (they didn’t call it underwater demolition for grins) and for parachuting. The former pay started right after Hell Week when we began playing with these fun toys on the beach at Little Creek. Hazard pay for parachuting came after we got back from Army jump school. They paid us $110 per month hazard pay for each and that came within $2.88 of doubling my meager Ensign base pay. The enlisted guys only got $55/mo. for each. Never understood that either. The only stipulation was that we had to work with explosives and make one parachute jump each month. We could always find a way to get the explosive business taken care of, but when we were deployed at sea getting an aircraft to make the parachute jump presented problems. These usually hastily arranged and down to the wire parachute drops we called “pay jumps”.

When we pulled into Toulon, France in the summer of 1966 aboard the USS Casa Grande our platoon was in serious need of a pay jump. Our Platoon CO, Pablo Zimmerman, one of the finest finaglers I have ever known, somehow convinced a Navy CH-46 supply helicopter to devote a morning to a parachute drop. Some sketchy arrangements were negotiated for us to jump into a grass strip auxiliary airfield near Toulon. We all grabbed our parachutes and gear and crammed into the chopper for the short hop to the field where some confused discussion took place between Pierre Ponson, the only guy in the platoon who spoke fluent French, and some French military guys. Nobody knew what was discussed but the winds were light and the time tight so we cut that confab short and boarded the chopper.

The normal procedure for these jumps is to pop some colored smoke on the ground to show the wind direction. The smoke showed light winds blowing from east to west at maybe 6 knots. Pas de problem. The next step would be to drop a streamer, a long ribbon with a light weight to see where that went so that adjustments could be made for the exit point. They lost sight of the streamer and decided to go directly to the next step since time, as I said, was tight. The next step involved jumping one guy out of the aircraft to see where he lands so that further adjustments can be made for the rest of the jumpers. This guy, for obvious reasons, is called the “wind dummy” and by custom falls to the lowest ranking or most expendable member of the Team…. in this case, me. Since I was the APO (Assistant Platoon Officer) I was not the lowest ranking. However, I rang the bell as the most expendable. (It must also be said that this was something of a tradition in Third Platoon.)

Pierre held the position of jumpmaster for our platoon and had little experience. The joke around the Teams was that if Pierre had the job of JM for the day that you should make sure you had some change in your pocket. The theory being: you would likely land so far from the drop zone you would need to call someone to give you a ride back. Pierre went on to spend 30 years in the Teams and become the head of the parachute program. Great guy.

The CH-46 had a gate that dropped down from the upward sloping tail creating a nice flat platform like a wide diving board. Standing on the edge of the thing with my hand braced against the overhead, I had a 270-degree view of the forest and airfield 3000 feet below. Kind of a weird feeling. Pierre slapped me on the ass and I launched myself into space.

When you jump out of an airplane, especially a military aircraft, you generally have over 100 knots of forward speed to assist in opening the parachute. Not so when you jump out the back door of a chopper. You plummet like a dropped rock off a tall building and you get a few extra seconds of that stomach clenching feeling of acceleration before the chute finally opens. My parachute popped open with a gratifying jolt to my harness and I swung gently beneath that beautiful green canopy as I looked around to orient myself.

We had recently been outfitted with the new T-10M (M for maneuverable) parachutes. They had an oval cut out of the back of the canopy through which air spilled, giving you about 5 knots of forward speed. Pulling down on one set of risers distorted the opening and turned the canopy in that direction. Thus, you could steer the thing and when landing, head into the wind and reduce the backward speed by the 5 knots. Of course, if you landed downwind you added 5 knots to the wind speed and could create some bone crunching collisions with Mother Earth.

I quickly discovered that the winds aloft were running at 90 degrees different from the smoke on the ground. It was also quite clear that they were blowing some 45 knots faster. Even facing the wind my measly 5 knots now had me drifting backwards at 40. Looking down between my feet I could see that I had already left the airfield far behind and now raced over dense forest with very large trees. I looked down to see if I still had my survival knife strapped to my leg. Yep, still there. Then I thought that cutting yourself loose while hanging in a 100 ft tree may not be the wisest solution to what looked like an inevitable “tree jump”, and one a couple of miles from the drop zone at that.

When I got down to about 750 feet the wind suddenly abated and I had control of the parachute again. I started looking around for a small tree to land in and spotted a clearing with scattered small trees. Great! I turned and headed for the clearing. I then spotted two soldiers in full combat gear with automatic weapons running toward my clearing. “Hmmm?” I wondered if these guys, who were clearly not US troops, had gotten the word that we were making a friendly little pay jump here. Then I thought maybe I’d drifted far enough to be in some secret installation. No time to think that through, I was landing regardless.

I turned the parachute into the wind for the landing at about 100 feet and the two troopers stopped, raised their automatic weapons and opened fire on full auto. My first thought was “Shit, I’m dead.” My second thought just before I piled into the ground was, “How did they miss me?” As my chute collapsed over a tree about 12 feet tall the two soldiers approached with their weapons aimed at me menacingly. Since I was a bit alarmed (just a bit) I had forgotten the few French phrases I knew. Asking for a beer or a cup of coffee probably would not have been appropriate. Come to think of it, asking where the toilet was would have fit the picture perfectly. (Let the record show I did NOT piss my pants.) I had my hands up. No Hollywood Steven Segal shit of going for my 4” survival knife with two heavily armed dudes standing 10 feet away. I pointed to my US Navy insignia and said, “US Navy. Friends. NATO. And, irrationally, “pay jump”.

They started laughing and jabbering in French. One of the guys walked over, opened the breech of his rifle showing me he had been firing blanks. Well, that explained how they missed me. They helped me pull my chute down from the tree and as I stuffed it into my parachute bag I heard more auto weapons fire. Three more of our guys landed near me with the same reception. Obviously, Pierre did not learn anything from his wind dummy’s trip into the enchanted forest. As I imagined various forms of torture for Pierre and considered the long walk thru the woods to the drop zone, one of the soldiers decided to help out by handing me my reserve chute. Regrettably, he picked it up by the rip cord handle instead of the carry handle and the spring loaded reserve exploded all over the grass. He stood there staring at the ripcord and said, “Voila!” Indeed.

I managed to stuff the deployed reserve in the bag with my main chute and started the long walk back to the drop zone. The teammates that had joined me on the march and I had plenty of time to plan some diabolical payback for Pierre.

Note: We later discovered when we did a joint exercise with the French Commandos Marine that we had stumbled into a war game between the French army and the Commandos Marine with our little “pay jump”.

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Jumping

“Stand up!” shouted Chief Boatswain’s Mate Everett Owl. The ten heavily laden young SEALs struggled to their feet. We were all burdened with bulging rucksacks and rifles in addition to our main parachutes and reserves and there was little space inside the cramped C1-A twin engine Navy prop plane. The seats had been removed so we had hunched on the floor during the half hour flight to the Suffolk, VA airfield. For most of us this would be our first jump with the Team after just graduating from the US Army’s Airborne school at Ft. Benning, GA. The five jumps down there had been mass affairs out of C-130s with long sticks of jumpers hustling to get out the door. No time to think about much of anything. This was different.

“Hook up!” Owl screamed above the roar of the engines. We dutifully snapped our static lines to the cable stretched down the length of the overhead. It was pitch black outside and the only light inside the aircraft came from the red lights mounted on the forward bulkhead. “Check equipment!” Each man turned to the man next to him and checked the belts, straps and buckles to insure everyone was properly harnessed and secured. Despite the air rushing in the black hole of the open door, the air carried the distinctive redolence of “fear farts”. Of course, none of the jumpers would ever admit to letting any of this nervous gas loose, but one would have to conclude it wasn’t the pilots who were visible through the open door to the front of the plane.

Chief Owl served as jump master on this flight and had the responsibility of deciding when to exit the aircraft. The pilots would turn the red lights to green when, in their estimation, we were over the airfield. Owl crouched in the open door looking out while the rest of us stood tightly bunched ready to rush to the door and jump.

The green lights came on and I tensed waiting for the order to go. Owl leaned back inside the plane and pushed the first man back. “Don’t move.” He then leaned forward and shouted at the pilots, “There’s no f***ing air field down there!” A heated debate between Owl and the pilots ensued, although I could hear none of it. Owl ordered us to unhook and sit down as the plane banked into a circle. After several minutes Owl had us on our feet again ready to jump. On came the green lights and again Owl had us sit down as he got into a rather spirited conversation with the pilots. Around we went again. As you might expect, this had some deleterious effect on my confidence level. I did not know Chief Owl, however, I was inclined to trust him more than two pilots I had never met. A pilot once told me that ‘only a fool jumps out of a perfectly good airplane’ so I have never been convinced that they have my best interests at heart.

I looked up and saw Owl, now crouched between the pilot’s seats, pointed off in the distance and the pilots were nodding in agreement. Owl returned to his charges and got us on our feet again. After several long minutes Owl urged us out the door and we launched ourselves into the night.

(Note: The pilots had mistaken a highway construction project for the airfield. In those days they used kerosene smudge pots to mark a highway site, in this case miles from the airport. The line of burning pots had confused the pilots. I often wondered how that jump would have turned out if Owl had not been on the ball. Since Suffolk is surrounded by pine forest, it would have been interesting.)

My chute opened with a sharp and gratifying tug on my harness. I let out a huge sign of relief for: 1. My parachute was open and, 2. I did not relish the prospect of riding a reserve chute down with all this equipment strapped to my body. Floating down in the faint moon and starlight seemed tranquil and refreshingly quiet after the deafening noise of the aircraft. I relaxed.

At the time we used the flat T-10 parachutes i.e. they had no steering capabilities. The only way to steer the thing was to haul in the risers on one side, essentially tilting the canopy and spilling air out of one side. This gave you some sideward movement but also increased your rate of descent considerably.

When I got about halfway down I could see that the slight breeze would carry me into the middle of a concrete runway. You often hit pretty hard in those old parachutes, especially overloaded with equipment and I did not relish the prospect of hitting solid concrete. I preferred the grass on either side so I took up a slip to try to get over the runway. As I neared the ground the breeze vanished and I could see that a concrete landing was inevitable. I let out the slip to slow me down and reviewed the requirements for a perfect “parachute landing fall” as the Army called it. Feet together, knees bent, arms overhead grabbing the risers, eyes front. Check. I waited. Nothing happened so I looked down. Mistake. Crash! Looking down caused me collapse forward instead of backwards or to the side, meaning that my head and elbows took the brunt of the landing. Fortunately, I am Irish and have a hard head. The elbows are not so genetically protected and the resulting chips in them have been a constant reminder ever since.

I will offer some other parachuting stories in future posts.

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Gypo Pirates

The term “gypo logger” originated in the Pacific Northwest and described any guy with a pick up truck and a chain saw that set himself up as an Independent Logging Contractor. It seems appropriate to now call any Somali fisherman with a boat and an AK-47 a “gypo pirate”. In the last year, piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden has grown dramatically with some 92 ships being attacked. A handful of these yahoos in a high-speed outboard, armed with automatic weapons and RPGs can easily overpower the unarmed and thinly-manned freighters. The game: move the ships into a nearby harbor on the Somalia coast and hold the ship and crew hostage for ransom.

It’s a growth industry. Estimates vary, but it appears the pirates made at least $40 million last year. The pirates, who likely could not effectively run a hot dog cart, live like Columbian drug czars. Ports like Eyl are booming with ransom money being spent by the pirate princes to purchase mansions and expensive cars.

This week the pirates captured the Sirius Star, an oil tanker about the size of a Nimitz Class aircraft carrier carrying $100 million dollars of oil. This ship joined some 14 others with 300 crewmen as hostages awaiting ransom payments. Insurance companies and ship owners are trying to figure out what to do. The UN and the International Maritime Organization dither while shippers consider the option of going around the South African cape to avoid the area altogether, adding 12 days to their voyage. Shipping costs are going up 25 to 30%.

Somalia, of course, has no real government and has been run by warlords and Islamic terrorists for years. They can’t or won’t do diddily about it. Compounding the problem is the political correctness about “human rights”. I read a lengthy piece the other day written by two lawyers who agonized over where and how to try these international criminals. Last year the Danish Navy captured six Somali pirates and being unable to figure out where to prosecute, simply turned them loose. This sort of thing cannot be regarded as a helpful. To me, the whole jurisdictional issue is irrelevant. I say the few that survive capture (and I would hope not many do) should be tried in International Waters by the Captain of the largest ship in the area.
In the good old days, punishment for piracy was keel hauling or swinging from the yardarm. Maybe sailing into these pirate havens with a few of these guys hanging aloft might send a signal to other gypo pirates?

These pirates operate well out to sea with small boats supported by “mother ships” (usually captured trawlers). Last week one of these ships made the mistake of firing on an Indian Navy vessel, the INS Tabar. The Tabar shot back and sunk the mother ship. Good start.
“So Dick”, you ask. “What do you suggest?” Glad you asked. For openers, as soon as a freighter sends an SOS that they are being attacked I would dispatch jets or helicopters and sink the mother ships and any small boats around it. That might give them something to think about.
As to the ships now being held hostage… I’d give the pirates 48 hours to release the ships and crew. If they don’t, I’d send in Special Ops teams to take back the ships. The US has the SEALs, the Brits the SBS and all other countries the equivalent. The boarding parties would be supported by snipers in helicopters and small boats who would take out any pirate who stuck up his pointy-head. If resistance comes from the bridge or other protected cover, let the helos blast those locations with rockets and missiles. Yeah, you’d damage the ships but the repairs would be cheaper than the ransom.

But, you say, “What about the crews being held hostage?” Most, I understand, have been taken off the ships and are held ashore in Somali ports. President Jefferson sent the newly minted Marines to take care of the pirates off the “shores of Tripoli” over 200 years ago. I’m sure the Marines would welcome a reprise. I’m also sure the British SAS and the French Commandos would be happy to join in the fun. Fast roping into each of the places where the hostages are held (I’m confident our intelligence boys know exactly where they are) they would make short work of the ragtag criminals. The pirates could be advised that if a single hostage is killed that we will take no prisoners. When all the crews have been rescued, I would send in the jets and wipe out every port where the pirates have operated along the Somali coast. Simply sink every boat, blast every pier and destroy every warehouse.

Naturally, none of this will be done. The international community can’t even bring itself to deal with Iran and their nuclear weapons program even though everyone knows they will start a nuclear war one of these days.

I do know that if I owned one of the freighters plying these dangerous waters, I would be talking to Eric Prince, the CEO of Blackwater. I’d hire some of his heavily armed dudes to ride shotgun on my ship and instruct them to blast out of the water any small boat that got in range.
Good reading: this WSJ article on modern pirates.

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Racism

Prejudice is a pretty universal human trait. Stuff like the Yankees are better than the Red Sox, Ford builds better cars than GM, Coke tastes better than Pepsi and the like are pretty harmless. As a friend of mine, a professor at the University of Miami, once said, “We have to be constantly aware of our prejudices, for once we are rid of one, we generally adopt another.”

Racism represents the malignant and far more dangerous form of prejudice. Unfortunately, it’s pretty common and often quite inexplicable. In their book, The Japan We Never Knew, Mr. Suzuki and Mr. Oiwa assert that the Japanese are the most racist people on the planet. (Hey, I didn’t say it. They did). The Japanese certainly showed they regarded the Chinese as less than human by killing (by some estimates) 30 million or so Chinese men, women and children during World War II. If you have a strong stomach you can read Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking and that will clear it up for you.

Of course, the Japanese didn’t exactly corner the market on racism and turning it into mass murder, which we more politely now call “ethnic cleansing”. We should not forget the Serbs in Bosnia, the Hutus in Rwanda or, more recently, the goings on in the Darfur region of Sudan. Perhaps because of their typical efficiency, the German Nazis occupy the most prominent place in our memory for their slaughter of six million Jews and maybe twice that number of other “undesirables” such as: Poles, gypsies, homosexuals, cripples and various enemies of socialism.

My ancestors suffered under racism in Ireland and when they arrived in the US in the middle of the 19th century. After a generation or two the Irish blended in and the racial prejudice faded away. The Blacks, with their history of slavery, the bitterness of the Civil War and the inescapable color of their skin were not so fortunate.

I never met a black person until I joined the Navy. There simply weren’t any in my small town outside of Buffalo or in our high school. The only black with whom I had any familiarity with what so ever was Booker T. Washington. I had read his biography (along with that of nearly every other famous American) from the long shelf of them at my local library.

I got to know my first blacks personally from my BUDs Training Class (33) in 1964-65 and I didn’t really know any of them until Hell Week. By then there were only two left who had survived the abuse and extraordinary harassment they received. I absolutely could not believe the crap they endured and the stuff said to them…. Racist stuff. Funny thing though, it did not come from the white instructors. We had a black instructor by the name of Waddell who was one of the most imposing men I’ve ever met. Waddell, a big man with a huge head, carried himself like a Nubian prince and displayed a fearful scowl most of the time. No one dared crossing him or falling asleep in his classes. His booming voice struck fear in the hearts of all the Trainees but he reserved his worst abuse for the blacks in our class. He and a couple of other black SEALs who served part time with our training exercises, picked on the black trainees without mercy. Any white man, even a racist, would not dare to say the things to a black man that these instructors said to these young men. I guess they figured that if they couldn’t stand the shit, they did not deserve to become black SEALs.

I got to know one of the guys quite well when we deployed to the Med for eight months with 3rd Platoon. He was one tough SOB during training. He was not a great swimmer in those early days. Heavily muscled with zero body fat, he floated like a tombstone. Everyone had to swim two lengths of the pool (50M) under water. No exceptions. Very few people can hold their breath until they pass out. Doing it a second time is even more extraordinary. I saw Ed do it twice. On that day he passed out as he neared the end of the pool and, unconscious, glided to the wall and bonked his head. No matter… he’d qualified. (For the record, he also shit in the pool.)

On So Solly Day, the last day of Hell Week, the Instructors bombarded us with explosives while we belly flopped in ice -covered swamp. It was a couple of hours before someone discovered that Ed had been slogging around in the freezing water with only one boot. The other had been blown off by one of the half-pound blocks of TNT they were setting off around us every 10 minutes. He’d never complained. The only way to get him to quit would have been to shoot him.

Ed went on to a long and successful career in Special Warfare, making Master Chief and, at one point, was in charge of all submersible operations for the Teams. Good man.

After a couple of years in the Teams I got my dream job as Platoon Officer of one of the operating platoons. My Platoon Chief Petty Officer (also named Ed) happened to be a black man. At that time there were fewer than 20 operational platoons in the whole damn Navy. The Chiefs were tasked with keeping everything together and preventing young junior officers like me from screwing up. They didn’t give these CPO jobs to just anyone.

My Chief and I got along great and the fact that he was black had pretty much slipped from my consciousness. One day we were on a recruiting trip to a Navy base in a southern port. As we strolled down the hot street in our uniforms, I noticed an air conditioned bar.

I said, “Chief, let’s grab a beer. They’ve got A/C.”

“I can’t go in there,” he replied.

Thinking he had forgotten his wallet, I said, “No sweat. I’ve got some money.” We stood there on the hot sidewalk: me, confused, and him with a sad look on his face.

“I can’t go in there,” he repeated. Finally, it dawned on me. We walked on. I was seriously pissed off and not because I could not get a beer. I couldn’t believe that one of the US Navy’s finest was excluded from a public place because of the color of his skin.

There is another story, oft repeated, in the lore of the SEALs. A platoon, headed out for a training exercise at a base in the South, set off early in the morning. They stopped for breakfast at a café on the outskirts of a small southern town. The group of 15 or so SEALs had one black Teammate. Everyone had been served and was tucking into their bacon and eggs– except the black SEAL. The guy sitting next to him noticed and grabbed the passing waitress.

“Where’s his food?” he asked, pointing at his Teammate.

“I can’t serve him in here,” she replied sheepishly. He immediately rose to his feet.

“They won’t serve our Teammate in here fellas,” he announced in a loud voice. They all looked up, figured it out and stood as one. No one took a final bite of toast or sip of coffee. They just silently walked out, got in their vehicles and drove off. No one ran out with the bill.

All this happened in the middle 60s when racism still persisted in many places and, of course, still does in the hearts of a few. However, no reasonable person can assert that there has not been remarkable improvement in the last 40+ years. No sane person should suggest that the government foisted the AIDs disease on the black population or that crack cocaine became a problem in the black community through a CIA plot. No black leader should rationally suggest that the social ills that plague urban blacks could be solved by racial separatism. Dr. King preached the exact opposite!

It’s because these ideas are so kooky and wrong headed that his voluble pastor, Jeremiah Wright, has caused Presidential hopeful, Barack Obama so much trouble. His twenty-year relationship with this pompous fool and reluctance to distance himself has tarnished his rock star image and raised questions about his judgment. Racial prejudice will always be a problem with human beings, but it’s not THE problem in America. How about Islamo-facism? Or the economy? Voters are going to take a harder look at Obama now, and that’s a good thing.

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Filed under Navy SEALs, Obama, Racism

Gemini XI Recovery

Recovery of the Gemini XI, 1966

These days the space shuttle’s return from a mission gets about 30 seconds on the evening news. Astronauts spend months in the Space Station ignored by the media unless there is a technical problem. Forty years ago it was very different. The space program had captured the imagination of the World and the media covered every aspect of launch and recovery with nearly everyone glued to their TV sets. I got to participate in this circus when I was selected to be part of the recovery team for Gemini XI in 1966.

The Russians always landed their spacecraft on land, but the US opted for bringing them down in the ocean. Not sure of the reason for this… softer landing maybe or perhaps a bigger target. In one of the early Mercury launches this decision did not look too smart as the spacecraft got swamped and sank. NASA figured it might be a good idea to put a floatation collar around the spacecraft to prevent losing the thing and all the important data carried on board. They determined that the job of entering the water after splash down and applying the collar would fall to the Navy’s “frogmen” (now known by everyone as the Navy SEALs).

The second job of these swimmers entailed inflating and tying a raft along side and getting the astronauts out of the spacecraft. After spending time weightless in space, the Gemini capsule became a claustrophobic seasick machine once it started wallowing in the waves. The astronauts couldn’t wait to get out of the thing. After a week or two in that cramped tin can it also stunk like a port-a-potty on a hot August afternoon.

The procedure called for us to get the collar installed, inflate the raft and then using a special wrench open the hatch to let them out. We had a telephone we’d plug into the spacecraft so we could talk to the astronauts and let them know how we were doing. On one of the early Gemini flights the boys wanted out so badly that they activated the explosive charge that blew the hatch from the inside. Unfortunately, one of our guys was in the process of peeking in the window and undoing the hatch at the time and the blown hatch caught him square in the forehead knocking him ass over tea kettle into the raft. This little embarrassment never made the news, but did lead to some changes by NASA instructing the astronauts not to blow the hatch except as a last resort.

In the early days the assignments to recovery teams got passed around to various Teams, alternating between East and West coast Teams. Eventually, because the launches and recoveries all occurred on the East coast and because of the retraining issues, all the recoveries became the job of Lt. Denny Bowman. Denny’s three-man team always had the primary recovery job and the three man backup team was assigned on a rotating basis to other frogs from UDT-21 and UDT-22.

A third team got sent down to wait off the coast of Florida in case the astronauts decided to abort and fire the space craft off the top of the rocket and into the sea. This never happened and seemed an unlikely option. The crash test dummies had never “survived” a test of this procedure.

After an eight month Med cruise with Third Platoon I got assigned the plum job of backing up Denny on Gemini XI. The two enlisted men assigned to my team were Paul Deaton and Sam Siaea. Both Paul and Denny were fellow classmates from Class 33 so I knew them like brothers and Paul had been with me on the Med cruise. Denny, unfortunately, passed away a couple of years ago from cancer. After Paul got out of the Navy he returned to college and then med school and has been a family practitioner ever since. Smart guy.

After some practice around Little Creek the six of us headed off to join the USS Guam, an LPH (helicopter carrier) designed to carry Marines and their equipment for airborne assaults during amphibious landings. Upon arriving we were surprised to see a huge disc mounted on the aft end of the flight deck. Although it may have had something to do with communi-cation with the spacecraft, the ostensible purpose was to transmit the TV signals back to the mainland. Our second surprise was the enormous number of civilians on board. CBS had the job of providing the pictures for all the other networks and had their own on camera people on board. Terry Drinkwater had drawn the long straw and would be the CBS personality on camera. Of course, NASA had a big contingent as did ITT who provided the communication. It must have been nearly 150 civilians along with the Navy personnel assigned for the recovery that crowded into the massive wardroom for the Captain’s welcoming speech.

After some general remarks and outlining the game plan for the launch, the wait while the astronauts circled the Earth for two weeks and the recovery, the Captain reminded the civilians on board that this was a US Navy ship. “This is not a cruise ship”, the Skipper pointed out. And, while they were aboard he expected them to observe the rules of a Navy ship. In particular no alcohol was allowed. Yeah right, I thought. The Captain really had no authority over the civilians and, of course, they ignored him. The civilians had nothing to do while the Guam circled Bermuda waiting for the astronauts to come down, so every afternoon a party started. The smell of whiskey and cigars filled the passageways where they were housed. Non-stop poker games became the norm and the search for ice the biggest challenge.

While the civilians partied we practiced. We had a dummy Gemini capsule that a helicopter would haul off some 10 or 20 miles from the ship and dump in the ocean. Following the beacon we’d locate the capsule, jump from the Navy Sea King choppers and do our thing, including hoisting guys up to the chopper. None of it was particularly difficult, but it gave us a chance to get off the ship and go for a swim.

We even practiced night recoveries. On one black night they dropped the capsule far out of sight of the ship. As we neared the site the helicopter pilot got a bit lax and he started bouncing the flat-bottomed Sea King off the tops of the 10’ waves. He hit two with resounding thumps nearly knocking me off my feet. I figured that with both doors wide open that heli-copter would sink like a stone and I got ready to bail out if he hit another one. The pilot managed to get the craft aloft again and then in that “no sweat” pilot twang calmly spoke into my headphones, “Sorry about that fellas. Spacecraft’s just ahead.” After we’d installed the collar and inflated the raft, the helicopter left. Following the roar of the chopper and the brightness of the landing lights, the sudden silence and total darkness came as a bit of a shock. We scanned the horizon and not a single ship was in sight. The three of us sat there riding the large swells in silence for a while until Paul muttered what we all thinking. “I hope they don’t forget we’re out here,” he said.

After what seemed like my longest two weeks at sea, the boys (Conrad and Gordon) were finally headed back to Mother Earth. It was a perfect day for a splashdown with calm seas and bright sun. We loaded into the waiting helicopters in full wet suits and tanks. The tanks were required because of the toxic fuel the spacecraft spilled into the ocean when they first splashed down. It quickly dissipated and by the time we hooked up the collar and inflated the raft we could dump the tanks.

My team’s job was primarily to back up Denny’s team in case their helo malfunctioned. However, on this mission our secondary mission was to try and recover the Rendezvous and Recovery Module, a piece of the spacecraft that breaks away when their chute opens. It had the floatation characteristics of an anvil and had always gone directly to the bottom. We were going to try to get on it quickly and attach an inflatable raft. NASA had a strong desire to retrieve it if we could.

Since I owned a Calypso underwater camera just like the ones NASA used and had been taking pictures during the training exercises for the NASA boys, they outfitted me with two underwater cameras and wanted me to take photos of the splashdown and shots of the astronauts being hoisted into the helicopters. My tasks were to drop Paul and Sam with a raft on the R & R Module and then photograph the recovery from the air and then from the water.

Our two helos launched without incident when the Gemini XI spacecraft reentered the atmosphere and were on station about 2 miles off the bow of the Guam when their parachute opened. I wore headphones and could listen to the astronauts talking to the ship and the communication between the ship and the pilot. I could only talk to the pilot.

By the time the space program got to Gemini XI the NASA boys had that reentry calculation down pat and Conrad and Gordon were going to splash down right off the bow of the ship.
We spotted the bright red and white parachute at about 5000 feet and circled around as it slowly descended. Denny and his guys were on it as it hit the water. Our pilot had us over the R & R module at about the same time and Paul and Sam jumped out. I pushed the raft out right after them and we headed back to the spacecraft where I started snapping pictures of the recovery.

The astronauts have the option of riding the raft and spacecraft back to the ship or being hoisted in the helicopter and flying back to the ship. It seems kind of silly to go through getting hoisted into the helicopter for a ride of less than half a mile. But, the short ride gave them a chance to get out of their space suits and make an entrance on the flight deck in front of the TV cameras and the formal reception committee while being welcomed by a Navy band. Conrad and Gordon opted for the helo ride.

When the astronauts were gone I jumped into the sea and swam up to join Denny and his crew at the spacecraft. It was still warm when I arrived. We rode it until the ship maneuvered along side and got it hoisted aboard. Our job was finished.

Sam and Paul were not successful in saving the R & R Module. It sank like the stone it was before they could hook on to it, although they hung on until they were below 100 feet down before giving up.

I’ve always regretted that I took the Gemini recovery so casually. We considered ourselves serious special warfare operators and this was a simple job. We aimed to stay aloof of all the hoopla. At the time I was so casual about it that I neglected to mention to my Mom that I would be on the recovery. She first heard about my involvement when the TV guys mentioned my name on national television. She was watching…. like just about everyone else in America I guess. I never heard the end of that one.

When we got back to Little Creek we were interviewed by the local TV people and various newspapers and for months afterward received requests for autographs that arrived in the mail. I began to realize that I had missed the boat. I could have taken a ton of action photos that might be of some interest to my children and grandchildren. I wound up with copies of about a dozen 8 x 10s that I had taken for NASA.

At the time the World was fascinated with every aspect of the space program. The astronauts represented the best and the bravest of America and what they were doing unimaginable.
Today everyone wants to know what’s happening with Brittany and OJ. Different time. And, I gotta tell you, for all my blasé attitude, I was pretty excited when I saw that spacecraft dangling below the big parachute right in front of me. We were a tiny piece of the event, but I now consider myself lucky to have been there.

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Filed under Dick, Navy SEALs

Real Frogmen Eat Beaver

**Due to technical difficulties, Dick is unable to post…here is something he sent to me recently**
K
==================The first time I ate beaver was in late February of 1965 at Camp Pickett, VA. I have to confess it was the foulest thing I have ever tasted. I had expected something sweet for although I was a brand spanking new Ensign direct out of NROTC at Cornell, I had done some reading on the subject. I was sorely disappointed, as were my fellow classmates who had stayed up to enjoy the feast.

To explain: I was at Camp Pickett with Class 33 of UDTR, now known as BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) Training that began on 28 December 1964 at Little Creek, VA. We were down to 44 men by that time, having started with 157 that stayed around long enough to get name tags sewed on the ragged fatigues we wore. I know that’s not the official number, but there was a lot of pressure at that time to reduce the number of dropouts, and I guess the Instructors figured it was better to fudge the numbers than make training easier. Anyway, we were the survivors of Hell Week and sent off to Pickett for two weeks of weapons, patrolling and survival training.

We did a crawl course to teach us the basics of avoiding booby traps. The Instructors set off a 20# shaped charge, turned skyward, before we started, just to give us the idea that tripping the booby traps might be unwise. The object of the exercise was to follow a manila line threaded through the woods, across a creek and under a bridge, avoiding the many booby traps along the way. They were rigged with flares, M-80s, and rockets just to let you know you were “killed”. No 20# shaped charges. I went though with Lt. Rik Trani, my swim buddy at the time. We were “killed” five times and thought it was pretty funny. A few years later, Rik was killed by a booby trap in Vietnam. The memory of our lightheartedness haunts me still.

We did a lot of weapons training with M-60s, grease guns, sawed off Ithacas and handguns at pop up silhouettes and we were all packing M-1s for the patrolling exercises that we seemed to do day and night. Setting up an ambush on one of the other patrols was a daily favorite, although we did a night assault on a radio tower, including loading it with dummy demolitions. The final problem was the assault and demo of Kennedy Bridge located about 18 miles cross country from our camp. The route was defended by the Instructors at road crossings and they were protecting the bridge with machine gun nests. It was an overnight hump through the bush packing the explosives and weapons, and when we had successfully completed our mission (“The firing assemblies better pop, Gentlemen…”) we had to E and E our way, in pairs, back to camp. We left before dark and straggled in the following afternoon.

I kept waiting for the survival component of the camp-out to materialize. Mostly it seemed like an exercise in starvation. We were eating WWII C Rations and they were not giving us nearly enough of that. There was little time to do the hunting and gathering shit I had expected. You see, I figured that as a former farm boy who had once had a trap line, and was schooled in hunting and fishing, that this would be a snap. I had once actually caught a rabbit in a snare, so I envisioned myself living fat on rabbit. I’d brought along wire for snares only to discover that there were no rabbits. Never saw a track. I’d also brought along a trotline, a series of hooks on a base line that could be left out for long periods. I imagined pulling in strings of fish that I could share with my grateful classmates. If there was a fish in the lake, I never saw him. Some of my classmates had resorted to rummaging in the local dump site for discarded C rations.

We were living in pup tents set up around a communal fire pit while the Instructors were ensconced in a snug cabin nearby. They were not enjoying the bracing weather of early spring in the mountains of Virginia…. rain, snow and freezing nights. We quickly learned that leaving your sodden boondockers out during the night required thawing them out over the fire before you could get them on in the morning.

One night, after a hard day of patrolling and a meager dinner of C rations, I headed down to the lake to check my trotline. One of the things I had failed to anticipate was the dearth of bait in the frozen ground. But I had improvised with scraps from our rations. The trotline was bare, as usual, and as I was resetting the line, a pick up truck pulled up beside me. Instructors Clements and Hammond climbed out of the truck and shined a flashlight in my face. “Uh oh,” I thought.
“What are you doing down here Mr. Draper?” One asked.
“Just checking my trotline,” I responded, wondering if they were going to fuck with me.
“Any luck?”
“No Instructor.”  I noticed that there was a distinct smell of whiskey in the air and that they both seemed a more than a little drunk. ‘Must be Hell fighting off the cold inside that cabin,’ I thought.
“Check this out!” Hammond said, lighting a cigarette and waving his flashlight toward the bed of the pickup. We walked to the side of the pickup and Hammond shined the light into the bed. There lay the shining corpse of a skinned beaver. It was huge, maybe 50 pounds, and clearly male, for he had balls on him the size of Florida grapefruits. I figured the impressive gonads were the manifestation of this critter being in the beaver equivalent of the rut.
“Where’d you get him?” I asked, completely forgetting Trainee/Instructor protocol.
“The Turk shot him,” explained Clements. “Saw him swimming in the lake and shot him in the head.” I looked at the head. The military round had not done much damage. The Turk was an observer at our training class… an exchange deal with their special forces and a really scary dude. I think even the Instructors were wary of him. One look at him and you immediately thought, ‘Stone-cold killer.’
“You want it?” asked Hammond. I could not have been more surprised if he had invited me into the cabin for a cocktail and a chat by the nice, warm fireplace. Instructors do not do nice things to Trainees. Ever. And to me, this was FOOD! I had read stories of trappers living on beaver and didn’t recall any complaints.
I looked back and forth at Hammond and Clements not believing they were serious and wondering if it was some kind of trap.
“Go ahead, take it,” said Clements. I didn’t wait for them to change their minds. I struggled to get the carcass out of the pickup and hanging on to the broad, flat tail slung it over my back. Calling out my thanks, I started trudging up the hill to the camp. Fresh meat!

Nearly everyone was asleep when I arrived at our camp, including my tent-mate, Henry Light. Hank was a fellow officer, one of the eight remaining from the original 22 that started Class 33. That’s not the official number, either, but I know because I was #22, the lowest ranking Ensign in our class. I woke Hank up to hold a flashlight while I gutted out the beaver and our activity roused a few others who were curious about what was going on. Hank asked, “Where did you get this thing?”
“I caught him on my trotline,” I responded, thinking no one would believe that. “I couldn’t get him in so I jumped in and stabbed him with my K-bar,” I added, thinking I might as well make it ridiculous. He looked doubtful but…. there was the beaver. Where could it have come from? No one would have believed that the Instructors would give it to me. They would never give us fresh meat while they were attempting to starve us to death. No way. No one ever questioned the hole in the beaver’s head or the fact that I brought him to the camp already skinned.

By the time I finished gutting the beaver and washing it out, we had a small group of hungry Trainees anxious to roast up some fresh meat. Someone built up the communal fire and one of the guys broke out a bottle of bourbon. The Instructors had carefully searched our gear for food when we arrived at Camp Pickett, but had overlooked bottles of whiskey. I guess they figured we needed it for medicinal purposes. I sliced off chunks of beaver meat and a half dozen of us sat around the fire roasting meat on sticks like at a summer camp weenie roast. While waiting we were all sipping bourbon out of C rats cans and feeling all right with the World. It quickly became obvious that beaver meat laced with spring time hormones was inedible. It was the foulest thing I have ever tasted–before or since. It made the black snake we’d caught and boiled a delicacy by comparison. No one went for seconds and we all drifted off to our sleeping bags.

The next morning we went off on patrol and left Mr. Beaver hanging in a tree. When we returned we found that a dog or coyote had visited and chewed off a front leg and part of the shoulder. That pretty much discouraged anyone else from sampling beaver meat. I trimmed up the chewed on parts, hoping I’d figure out how to get some nourishment out of the damn thing. Eventually I tried boiling the meat, dumping off the nasty water and re-boiling with a few wild onions we found down by the creek bank. It was edible. Barely. I figured I could have eaten one of my boots given the same treatment.

Later, we actually did some survival training. The Instructors gave each pair of guys a domestic rabbit…. cute little unsuspecting critters. The object of the exercise was to kill, dress and eat the bunnies. A lot of guys having grown up in the city had never dealt with the more gruesome aspects of how meat actually gets into those cellophane packages. It was a learning experience. We also smoked some meat. The only “game” we could find were some robins that were dispatched with a 22 pistol and, of course, we had the beaver. Actually, the resulting beaver jerky wasn’t that bad. Maybe the drying process got rid of the hormones. Quite a few of us munched on beaver jerky on the long trek to Kennedy Bridge and back.

I never told anyone that the Instructors had given me the beaver. I doggedly stuck to my story of catching it on my trotline. If anyone doubted my story they never mentioned it. Maybe they just wanted to forget eating that particular beaver.

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Funny SEALs

I know that sounds like a strange title since there is nothing funny about what the SEALs do and especially what they are doing now in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, back in the middle sixties when I served and before the SEALs got involved in Vietnam, things were a little looser. Then too, it takes a special breed of cat to survive BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training). No one makes it through Hell Week or the long ordeal it takes to become a SEAL without a thick skin and a healthy sense of humor (and, as you might expect, a few other qualities as well). Of course, SEALs are particularly ruthless with each other. A few examples:

C.B. Thomas, Gunner’s Mate First Class was the oldest guy on our Team. He’d served as a WWII frogman and was still jumping out of airplanes and swimming on underwater night operations in his late forties. Despite being married to a school teacher CB could not read or write. You might well ask how CB managed to pass the written tests to make it to 1st Class PO? Simple. Someone else took the tests for him. Nobody found this to be a problem since CB knew every weapon we had as intimately as his own testicles, was a demon with explosives and a diabolical booby trap expert. However, CB became the butt of many pranks.

It was a tradition in the Teams that if you got promoted or had a birthday, you got thrown in the drink. We had a pond behind our Team compound and a dunk tank for our re-breathers that sufficed. If frozen, we thoughtfully broke the ice first. CB enjoyed several birthdays each year. Even the Skipper participated in this fraud. One morning while we were all standing at morning “quarters” the Captain called CB “front and center”. CB marched to the head of the formation and saluted. The Skipper said, “Happy birthday on behalf of the Team.” CB’s birthday is in July and this was in January. Someone arrived with a cake complete with candles, CB thanked the Captain and as soon as we were dismissed he was carried bodily to the pond.

Because he couldn’t read, CB could not get a driver’s license, so he rode a bicycle to work. He usually leaned it against a shipping container in our compound. One day he came out to hop on his bike and pedal home only to find it welded to the side of the container. Another time it was hanging at the top of the flagpole. When I took over as Platoon Commander of 1st Platoon I inherited CB as my Leading Petty Officer. No one ever had a finer LPO and, in 1st Platoon we did not play many pranks on CB.

I had my own experience with this tradition. The SEALs are unique in the military in that officers and enlisted go through exactly the same training at the same time. It is usually a little rougher on the officers since nearly all the Instructors are enlisted and they can be a bit fussy about who they want to lead them later on in the Teams. As a result and because of the nature of the job, the distinction between officers and enlisted in the SEALs is, well, a little blurred. Anyway, we were on an eight-month Med cruise and I was the APO with 3rd Platoon.

Our ship was tied up in Naples, then one of the filthiest harbors on the planet. We set off one morning on a training run dressed in shorts, tee shirts, boots and soft caps. As we ran down the quay I had forgotten that I had recently been promoted to Ltjg. I recalled this fact when I found myself airborne and heading for the water some 20’ below. As I swam back to the pier through a raft of turds and garbage my Teammates were having a good laugh. After hearty congratulations we continued our run with me a little squishy.

On that same cruise I got a call one day to report to the XO of the ship. This is never a good sign. The XO is second in command on the ship and basically runs everything, including the SEALs that are riding along. When I got to his stateroom he said, “I just got a call from the Commodore. He told me that he observed a group of men lowering a man over the side with a rope tied around his ankles. They were repeatedly dunking the man in the harbor. They were wearing greens.” Now we both knew there were several groups aboard that wore the green fatigue uniforms…. The Marines, CBs and Beach Masters and, of course us. We each knew that none of these other groups would be likely to pull a stunt like that. “You know anything about this?” he asked. I answered honestly that I did not. He said, “OK, dismissed.” And as I turned to go, he added, “And, Mr. D***, tell your men that if they have a mind to do this again to at least have the sense to do it on the side of the ship AWAY from the Flag Ship.” Good guy, the XO.

One other tradition which I happily missed involved the removal of all the pubic hair of a Teammate one week or so prior to his upcoming wedding. The idea here is that after a week it would be nice and prickly. Needless to say, no one submitted to this indignity willingly. You might imagine the difficulty of getting a young, tough SEAL’s pants down and holding him long enough to get started. Once the razor got applied in the vicinity of his most cherished equipment, they always stopped struggling. Of course, underwear was never a problem because Real Frogmen don’t wear underwear. This exercise always required consumption of large quantities of beer and rum before getting underway. I recall one particularly raucous party that occurred about a week before Jack Lynch got married. Jack, now the President of the UDT/SEAL Association, was a solid and very muscular young man. The battle to get Jack’s pants down and get started was a memorable affair, nearly destroying the Virginia Beach bachelor pad. There were about a dozen guys walking around the Team for a week with various injuries and bruises. No word on what the bride thought.

We played one of the more memorable pranks on a young officer named Tom Hummer (yeah, really). Tom was a West Coast guy and just your basic hunk…. Tall, blond, well built and very good looking. He was also a very nice guy. Loi and I had the single officers over to the house for a home cooked meal from time to time and Tom was no exception. He knew Loi from that and other social occasions.

Every winter those platoons not deployed somewhere went down to Roosevelt Roads, PR for six weeks of “winter training”. We did a lot of underwater recon and worked with one of the subs fitted out for our operations. On weekends we were free and the bachelor guys used to take the water barge over to St. Thomas to chase the female tourists. Tom had hooked up with a secretary from New York. When we got back to Little Creek and were sitting around the officer’s hut one day he complained he had gotten a letter from his lady friend but that she had written it in shorthand. No problem, says I. Loi knows shorthand and can translate it for you. Agreed. She did and the result did not live up to expectations. It said bland stuff like “glad we met and had such a nice time together, blah, blah”. Several of us decided we could write a much more interesting letter. Oh, was it ever! It started out with “All I can think about is having my legs wrapped around your neck again.” It became more graphic and lurid from there. I typed it and at the bottom added, “Mr. Hummer, if this is your idea of a practical joke, I think it in very poor taste. Lois.”

The next day I gave Tom the sealed envelope and told him Loi seemed upset and would not let me see the letter. We spied on him as he went to his desk and opened the letter. His mouth dropped open and he turned white behind that nice tan. He grabbed his hat and was headed to the parking lot when I stopped him. He said he was headed out to our house to apologize to Loi. Thinking quickly, I told him Loi was sleeping in and he should call later. I then called Loi and told her that when Tom called she should say “Oh, no.” and hang up. Later, when he got set to call we were once again peeking. You could see that he had been planning his apology and was prepared to lay on the charm. When Loi hung up on him he just looked at the phone in disbelief. He then grabbed his hat and headed for the door. I knew it was time to bring this to a close. Tom’s a pretty tough guy and I figured he’d be pissed. Sure enough. When I stopped him and explained the joke the only thing that prevented him from killing me were the twenty witnesses standing around laughing. He vowed to get me back and he sure did.

Tom waited a couple of weeks until I let my guard down. I was driving the first car I’d ever owned, a ’66 Plymouth Barracuda (V-8, four on the floor). My baby. We parked head in toward a chain link fence and one afternoon I jumped in the ‘cuda and backed out smartly. I heard several loud “sprongs”, the unforgettable sound a hand grenade makes when the shoe flies off. I turned around and saw half a dozen white parachute rip cord strings running from the fence to the underside of my car. My initial concern of being blown up was quickly dispelled when colored smoke started billowing out from under my car. Now one smoke grenade puts out an incredible amount of thick brightly colored smoke. Tom had taped six of them to the frame and engine of my car. I foolishly thought for a moment that I could out run the smoke but within moments I was completely engulfed. I bailed out of the car and watched the multi-colored plume rise into the sky. What they thought over at the Base is anybodies guess. Natch, Tom and about two dozen guys emerged laughing their asses off. Tom vowed that we were still not even but, we each got sent in different directions and he never got another chance.

We were young, fit and full of piss and vinegar, doing dangerous things. I guess being a bit boisterous can be expected. One of the great joys of going to the reunions is to get together with these guys I came to know so well and listen to the stories. We laugh and rib each other and the forty years that have passed seem nothing. We forget for a while that we’re old, grey and beat up. The young, hard guys have got the ball now and they are doing a Hell of a job. I’ll bet they’re giving each other shit all the time too.

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