Thursday, November 12, 2009

Veterans Day wake up

Most of the people who know me , only know me from the martial arts aspect. Few know all the little facets of my life. Here is one I will share, why you ask? Because sometimes there are turning points that make you who you are.

My Mother and my brother and sisters moved to Gaylord from Ypsilanti after the divorce of my parents. My father was an alcoholic and was abusive. Punishments were – locked in the crawl space for leaving my bike on the ground instead of on its kick stand. Bounced off the wall for not coming when called, beat with a belt- when the urge came. So, Gaylord was a welcome retreat. We lived in a 20 foot by 20 foot log cabin built by my great uncle during WWII. No running water and an outdoor john. My chores were to bring a bucket of water up to the kitchen each morning for drinking water and for dish washing.
Our neighbor was an inspiration to me- he was a handyman fixing everything that needed fixing in the neighborhood- Glen Fuller. With him I learned to pound a nail , change a transmission, roof a house and generally figure out how something was broke- and how to fix it. I had bought a Stingray Bicycle and rode it everywhere. That is how I got the nickname Buzz- The TV program ROUTE 66 had a guy named Buzz driving the Stingray car in each episode. There were 3 Brians on our street and I took the nickname Buzz- cause I rode the Stingray. The skinny Brian was called “Bones”. WE had no car so to get to town we either hitched a ride, bummed a ride , or rode the Indian Trails bus that came by 3 times a day. I spent my time making model cars in the loft of the cabin. Of course I never built any of then like the picture on the box, they were always a bit weird- 6 tires, 2 engines, bubble topped, or cut way low to the ground.
To get by , Mom used to teach us how to sew, knit, or draw. We never had much in the way of money so if you wanted something you had to figure out how to buy it. Mom used to say – “you do what you have to, to do what you want to do”. This meant raking leaves, shoveling snow, or helping to carry wood whatever it took to get that 10.00 for a Mattel snap action revolver.
High School was just a blur, I know that I wasn’t a great student, but I didn’t get into trouble. I loved chorus and woodshop, these classes helped me to get out of my shell as I was good at creating things. Instead of building a gun cabinet or an ashtray in woodshop- I built a hydroplane. The teacher was a bit concerned that I would not complete it- so I did. Proved him wrong - even tho I didn’t have a motor for it. Roy Cox had one, so I traded places with him. He got to drive it if I could use his motor. Actually he stole it from his step dad. But hey, he got it back.

Summer 1968- I was a member of a rock band playing throughout Michigan and having a great time meeting some of the greats (The Animals, Bob Seger, Amboy Dukes, Scott Richards Case, Human Beinz, The Frost.). I had just graduated from High School and taking life for what I could steal. A summer spent swimming , sunning, and partying with my friends. I was oblivious to Viet Nam, it was too far away and had no place on the shelf with all that was being exposed to me elsewhere. Deb came into my life this summer and I was enjoying her company. We met outside the TEEN CHALET on one our bands breaks. She was a cutie and I just could not take my eyes off of her. She came up from Lansing each summer to her family’s cottage at Lake Arrowhead. My buds and I ( Randy Peterman, Pete Kline, Don Rance, Roy Cox,, and others)were running the lakes, woods, and parties around Gaylord and at Lake Arrowhead. A good time was had by all. Summer mornings I would be out on the lake with my hydroplane. This is where I started my martial arts training as there was a guy home on leave from Viet Nam on the beach doing Tae Kwon do most mornings. I ended up being his training partner. He versed me on what the war was about contrary to what the media was telling us.

Summer ended and I was working at a factory during the day and playing in the band on the weekends. Not many cares. Spring of 1969 rolls around and Randy gets his draft notice. He is headed to Viet Nam. Shortly thereafter Pete gets his notice. Reality sets in. I am next on the list and I end up going down to Detroit for processing. Reality turns to panic. I do not want to go to a jungle and climb thru muddy swamps in search of people to kill. People who I have no beef with. I have several choices the first would be to get a student deferment- yeah right. Like my family could send me to college. The second join the Air Force or Navy and be a specialist. After all, my dad was a lead Mechanic for American Airlines and I could fix almost anything. Or third run to Canada. So I guess I really only had one choice.

I joined the Navy on a 120 day delay program and decided to enjoy what free time I had. I spent part of the summer with Deb and then took off to Florida with our band manager. We got a little studio apartment just outside Hollywood Beach. Jobs were scarce. I pumped gas at a marina for a few weeks til I met up with a couple of guys from New Jersey. They had a job working for the Seminoles. They made some good money and still had time to enjoy the summer. Weeknights we would go out and catch scorpions at .50 cents each. We would go thru side lots and fields turning over every scrap of card board and placing our catch in a large plastic bucket. The Indians would gas the scorpions and then put them into molds, pour liquid plastic over them to make paper weights or belt buckles. During the day we would drive out to alligator alley and walk the paths. The Seminoles would pay 5.00 each for any snakes we could catch or kill. They would make hat bands or belts from the snake skins while they ate the snake meat. We caught a lot of snakes that summer and had pockets full of cash. It ended when I got bit on the arm by a water moccasin. Thought I was gonna die.

Erik found a good job at the IMAGE in Ft Lauderdale so I went and was hired too. We would operate projectors and gel machines for the stage. After all, I was a Michigan rockstar and had done this stuff before. We lit the stage for Led Zeppelin, Edison Lighthouse, and many of the Florida name bands. Summer was coming to an end and my delayed entry was coming up. So I loaded up my car and headed back north. When I got home, news of Chuck Sewells death in Viet Nam was the talk of the community. I was stunned- I used to ride in his back seat and steal smokes during lunch break at school. What a good guy ( for an upperclassman).

The next few months were a haze. I was working where I could and dreading the coming of my demise. Papers arrived and notified me to go to Detroit for active duty. I said my good byes and left. Nobody told me that bootcamp in Chicago would be so nasty. - 20 degrees and marching on the grinder. All the yelling and belittling. I signed up with the promise from my recruiter that I would be in Aviation structural, mechanical, or electrical rates. They sent me to engineering school- main engines for the navy ships.

I survived boot camp finding my niche- I was the star athlete on the athletic competition team. We won the athletic flag for our boot camp company. My papers said I was going to San Diego Ca to meet a ship bound for Viet Nam. My job- Machinist's Mate, I was a repairman. Upon arrival to San Diego I found out that the ship I was assigned to was still being built- BONUS!!!! That meant we would have to go thru shakedown before ever thinking of going to Viet Nam. While the ship was being built I applied for several trade schools and was assigned to a few as well. Fork truck maintenance, fresh water handling, firefighting/damage control school, I even got to participate in some of the Coronado Island schools- scuba diving, and arms school. My free time was spent on base learning Judo and taking Tae Kwon do classes at the rec center.

I didn't realize that the shipyards didn't just turn over completed ships to the Navy. Turns out they were semi finished and the crew had to test retest and finish all the little details. We worked our butts off. The shakedown cruise- Acapulco. On our way down we came upon a shrimp boat that was over turned- sharks were everywhere. My job was to operate the winch that would haul the boat back upright. Here in the water were big sharks (blues) no way was anybody getting me into the ocean. We waited for the Mexican authorities to take possession of the shrimp boat and we were on our way.

I must have walked every street of downtown Acapulco, watched the cliff divers, bartered with the street vendors and been scared shitless by the taxi drivers. The second day, Duty called. I was the engineer for the Captain's Gig. I got to ride with the Captain, a lot of big wig officers, and the XO to some fancy homes and sites. I learned a lot about what the officers were like and how to play them by the Boatswain's Mate. He was pretty smart. He got us fed while on those runs and even got us pool time while we waited for the officers.

Reality sets in we pass the shakedown cruise and end up enroute to Viet Nam via Olongapo Philippines. Olongapo was a little shit hole with rip off artists smelly streets and greasey looking vendors. The purpose of this place was to service our ship and provide us with a port to load materials, vegetables, and personel to take to Viet Nam. Our ship was like a floating Meijers- we provided people, fuel,food, and repairs to the 7th fleet. We were also open 24 hours. Many days were spent from 4 am to 9 pm fueling ships, transferring fuel, or being helo’d over to a destroyer to fix their A/C systems. I kept my quarterly marks up and worked my way into several more military schools AC&R and MDCS school. How? By doing my job well while others just existed and put their time in.

I was kind of a Schnieder/ Macgyver I fixed a lot of stuff and was rewarded in many ways. Especially by the Filipino stewards. I would fix their equipment and get a steak for payment or lobster tails to take down into engineering. (ask me how I cooked them) I learned to horse trade with many of the different rates aboard ship, like Clinger on MASH. Mail was spotty and I got caught up in all that had to be done aboard ship to keep from getting gigged or hurt. This is where I lost Deb. I fell behind in writing. Had way too many things happening, my free time was spend catching up on sleep.

This was my out from being a ground pounder. I would rather have a nice warm bed than fight the Bot flies. This is what I did- fixed things and I did my job well. I left the ship with several commendations by the ship’s Captain for my work and my work ethics. In just 3 1/2 years I went from an apprentice rate to that of being in charge of the A/CR gang a second class petty officer. Also in this time I had gone from a yellow belt in Tae Kwon Do to Black Belt in Kuntaw. I had seen Singapore, Kiaowshiung Taiwan, Yokuska Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Austrailia, Hawaii, Viet Nam and had seen many things I had never thought possible while sitting in the loft of the cabin. I was sent to many other vessels to repair their equipment. Was it all just fixing things? No.
Our ship was fired upon , we ended up sweeping mines in Haiphong Harbor, we survived 2 typhoons where our ship became a submarine, we went thru hellish days where you were tossed out of your bed by the ocean waves. We helped with the evacuation of Viet Nam.

So, no, I did not fire a gun at the Viet Cong. I did what I did best, I kept the 7th fleet able to do their job by fixing what needed to be fixed. I can sleep well knowing that I did my job and I did it well. And that I never had to hurt another human being in the process. Upon returning to the US I had to take a flight from San Diego to San Francisco. In order to fly at military rate you had to be in uniform. Imagine my disgust that when I boarded the bus to the airport I was spit upon by some long hairs. Luckily the bus driver slammed the guy up against the bus and stood up for me. I ran into this several times being called a baby killer and a war criminal…… for fixing machinery??????
When I came home there was no fan fare, just distrust.

40 years have passed, I have gone thru 2 marriages that were not pretty, I have re found my cutie and I am still guilty of trying to fix things- even when they are not broken. This last summer I bought a Viet Nam veterans hat. One day I wore it on an outing to lake Michigan. 3 times that day people came up to me and thanked me for my service one man came up and shook my hand and said “GOD BLESS YOU” . I finally cried and still cry when I think about it. I only did what I thought I should do and I did it the best I could.

Since the service I have done my job well
I have set goals and reached them. And I have found Deb and hold her dear to my heart.

I thank God that I was able to find a path thru the Viet Nam war and came out a survivor and not a drain on society.