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Response to MelissaB (Reply #4)

Mon Apr 6, 2020, 07:44 PM

13. Actually, I *do* have a partly analogous story, re: the brute force response of some top brass.

Last edited Tue Apr 7, 2020, 01:18 AM - Edit history (7)

Analogous, yes: Because at bottom, the military has a follow-orders, authoritarian, my-way-or-the-highway orientation. Plus a culture of the chain of command lubricated by ass-kissing.

Analogous, perhaps or maybe not: Because this captain appears to be a whistleblower about his brass not protecting the crew, while the fellow in my story has no known motivation and some observable behavior that was inexplicable, while the way he was dealt with was similarly brutal.

So my ship in Vietnam was one in a group of seven, each with its Captain (actually, a Lieutenant for this small ship). Over the group was a "Commodore," a rank revived from the Civil War.

So the junior officer was in the entry level of Navy officers, Ensign. Each officer headed up a Department of his own - Engineering, Deck, Supply, etc. Of course there is a semi-Feudal class system, with the Captain as the king, the officers as nobility, and all us Enlisted as peons. It all can't function if there is no humanity in it, some kind of human kinship crossing the social barriers, camaraderie between the officer and his work force.

Yet as classes, the officers and Enlisted are always aware of the distinction between them. So while almost all of the officers had some degree of friendly relations with their Enlisteds, this junior officer, let's call him "JO" or Ensign JO, was the *ONLY* one who would OCCASIONALLY drop by the living quarters of us Enlisteds after evening chow, where we did our "living" - writing letters home, playing cards, somebody playing a guitar, etc. He would sit on a laundry bag and just talk a bit, mostly listen, find out who we were, etc. This was not some kind of unseemly fraternization, just that he was a nice guy.

So fairly late in my year's tour, we had one of those tizzies where the Word from the top is that something Big is decreed to happen and we are all thrown into doing stuff to Make It Happen. Some arbitrary, whimsical Word or something real, who knows. So this time the thing was that the COMMODORE was going to pay us a royal visit and we all had to drop our routine tasks and make the ship as spic and span as the rust bucket could be made to appear: "Paint this WHITE!1 Polish that brass thing!1" So that happened.

The royal visit happened while we were anchored in the River (in the Mekong Delta) at the Army base (Can Tho) where we were unloading our cargo - bulldozers, gigantic bags of cement, whatever it was that time (pallets of Coca Cola). Before somebody questions a ship being in a river: My ship was an LST (Landing Ship Tank) with a flat bottom for handling SHALLOW water as well as deep deep ocean, like what was used at D-Day; and these rivers in Vietnam were BIG AND WIDE. Still are. And my LST was built in 1945 maybe for D-Day but too late, and we were using it thirty years later, leaking at the rusty seams and all. Talk about putting crew at risk.

So perhaps it was to show off for the Commodore, whom I never saw, by the way, but the Orders for the Enlisteds on that night's Watch were that there was intel that Charlie might be sending Swimmers to outfit the ship with mines under the water line. So with typical military OVER?-compensation ('cause nobody wants to be blamed later for *UNDER* compensating if something goes horribly wrong), the Order was for each Watch to shoot off his (M16?) all night long at anything that moved - leaves floating by, anything - because it might be a "Swimmer in the Water". Or perhaps it was all intended to be a fireworks show for the Commodore. Fine.

But before night, every time we were at our destination of the Army base for the 3 or 4 days there, we were allowed to go to the Enlisted Men's Club ("bar" ), meaning, go get drunk and be back by 7 P.M. Since we were anchored out, we rode a Liberty Boat (Lifeboat repurposed for its current mission) to get there and back. So that would happen and everybody was always back on board as scheduled. We climbed up the Jacob's Ladder, and at the top as we stepped onto the deck, we had to salute towards the back (fantail) where the flag was (out of sight), and then salute the Officer of the Deck and say, "Request permission to come onboard, Sir!" And the OOD would say, "Permission granted," and we would proceed to our quarters, at times like Liberty in whatever stumbling condition we were in.

So the final Run by the Liberty Boat was done and everybody was accounted for - except for one, guess who, Ensign JO. Now to recap, this fellow had an image of being IMPECCABLE in his observable behavior, uniform, everything, with the added little icing of being a good human being. Of course, we Enlisteds knew nothing beyond external appearances, what personal dynamics, if any, went on, being the hidden lives of our overlords. About him, there had never been a whisper of any flaw. Officers go on Liberty, too, AND do things like get drunk or even perhaps visit sex workers - DO they, don't they?!

So the Liberty Boat made another Run or two or three to find him and finally, success. So I was the Messenger assigned to the OOD, standing behind and to the side of the OOD, seeing everybody as they climbed up from the Jacob's Ladder, first the head, then the arms pulling the body up, the salutes, and the stumblings off.

So there had been a tizzy about Ensign JO being missing, and finally here he was. He came up the Ladder (rope, by the way), no Cover (hatless), disheveled, khaki uniform askew. DRUNK or something AS A SKUNK, in that happy kind of drunk mood, where everything is FUN. And he stood himself up at Attention, and did a BIG salute, exaggeratedly so as for a theatrical stage, to his peer Officer (the sun had set so there was no flag to salute), as he said with booming emphasis, "REQUEST PERMISSION TO COME ON BOARD, *SIR*!1" The OOD gave him the most disgusted, infuriated, deadly look and snarled at him, "GET in there!1" So Ensign JO stumbled his way down the deck in the direction of Officers' Quarters.

The people on Watch had already been posted for the night, one each at the Bow (front), Fantail (back), and Starboard (right) and Port (left) sides, and the orders for the night were to "make noise," fire off the pieces sporadically and randomly. But suddenly, running up the deck towards the OOD area, came Ensign JO clad only in his skivvies, running past all, up the deck to the Bow, yelling, "SWIMMER IN THE WATER!1 SWIMMER IN THE WATER!1 DON'T SHOOT, DON'T SHOOT!1" And when he got to the Bow, he *JUMPED* off, making a really big splash, later in more ways than just the literal.

This LST was the length of a football field, a ship on the smaller side of things, with a crew of 250, not like the aircraft carrier in the news that has a crew of five thousand. So then, Sir Ensign JO *swam* from the Bow back to the Jacob's Ladder and made his second boarding of the night, dripping wet, barefoot, and with a couple of our toughest sailors as an honor escort. Somehow there has to be a kind of grudging, astounded admiration, at the minimum for the physical prowess involved - drunk, in the dark, among who knows what live critters or inanimate hazards, perhaps having fought off a Swimmer in the Water or two, if so, probably scaring the bejeezus out of the alleged Swimmers in the Water. Actually, when you think about it, he was the only crew who possibly engaged in hand to hand combat. I mean, our ship was hit by rockets on three separate days during my year, and we crew of course fired our big cannon and smaller 30? 40? caliber type of Gatling Gun things, but it was at a far distance to the treeline at the horizon, where the puffs of smoke from the rocket launchers were. So Ensign JO faced something close up.

So the scuttlebutt the next day was that, whatever happened in Officers' Quarters the night before, the next morning the Commodore had the four Enlisteds who had been on duty hauled up to stand at Attention in a row in front of Him, and after recapping the events of Ensign JO's episode, screamed at them: "You had ORDERS to shoot anything that moved in the water!1 --- YOU. SHOULD. HAVE. *SHOT* THAT MAN!1"

That part I didn't witness. But, the soon to be formerly-Ensign, JO was confined to Officers' Quarters for his last couple of days on board, only allowed to cross the passageway between his tiny 2-Officer stateroom and the Ship's Office located in the officers' area. And I had a proto-Forrest GUMP moment, since at that time my day job was to deliver the mail to different areas and the office was one of them. Normally, the four Enlisteds who worked there were there, but this day when I opened the door, there was only one person there: JO. His back was turned to the door. And there was an Akai reel tape recorder playing some instrumental Blues. Really blue Blues. Wailing, heart breaking Blues. In the hot, steamy air. (Can it be any more Blues here?) And his shoulders were hunched and he didn't turn to see. And I just looked briefly for a fossilized moment and left the mail on the desk and closed the door quietly. A mere Enlisted me could never have been so presumptuous as to address a human word to an officer.

**********So, within a day or two ex-Ensign JO was disappeared off the ship, never to be seen or heard from again. Yes, the career was over. Nobody could say a negative word about him before, and NO word was said about him after. What little I knew of him, he was a good man. Or was he? Did he seek out Enlisteds because he had problems among his peers? Why did he specifically pick the hyper-dramatic scenario of the Commodore's visit for this? Was he just on booze or were there drugs? I don't know.

As for how this relates to the Captain in the news: Things in play are the same. Whoever made the decision had some asskissing to do, also had to put the military retribution where the military MOUTH goes. And often, military judgment is brutally authoritarian and over-reaching. And military cogs all up and down the line are individuals, some willing to have one of their own shot.

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