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"Strap Hanger"




[This section covers Language Training in Monterey, CA, duty with the 500th Military Intelligence Group in Japan  and Retirement Dec 1973-Feb 1976]

Defense Language Institute

Before Fran and I left for California, we visited the Crescent City, Florida area and while we were there we bought a lot just north of Pomona Park in an area called "Poppa Joe’s Oak Haven." This place was in the woods about a mile off US Highway 17 and was actually about halfway between Pomona Park and Satsuma.

Our lot included a huge live oak tree that was absolutely beautiful and it adjoined Poppa Joe Miller and his wife Roberta Ruth Miller’s lot. As soon as we closed on the lot, we headed west on I-10.

This was in very early 1974 when the oil embargo was going strong and the US was allegedly running short of gas. Gas prices shot up from thirty five cents a gallon to seventy five and eighty cents a gallon almost overnight. Sometimes there was no gas to be had and if there was gas, in order to get it, you had to wait in a line that might be a mile long.

When we first started out on that trip, I would not stop at stations that were charging eighty cents a gallon for gas, but by the time I reached California, I was just happy to find gas and didn’t gripe a bit when I had to pay a dollar a gallon. At no time during that trip did I let my gas tank get under half full.

[Later, after the uproar had died down somewhat, some gas station attendants and operators reported that their tanks had been full of gas all along, but the oil company came around and padlocked them. They said that the oil company wouldn’t let them sell any gas until the price rose to where they wanted it. "Oil shortage" my ass, "oil rip-off" was more like it.]

We spent the first night about fifty miles or so west of New Orleans. We intended to spend the night in New Orleans and maybe the next day and night there, but I missed it. I missed the entire city of New Orleans! Now wait a second, let me explain how I missed it. When we entered New Orleans we came across what must be the world’s longest bridge. It’s the one across Lake Ponchatrain and I decided to go to the edge of town on I-10 West a ways to find a motel, which was the way we wanted to go. Unfortunately, we found ourselves trapped on a long stretch of interstate that was elevated above the swamp and it stayed that way for about twenty or twenty five miles. By the time we arrived at the first exit ramp, it was late and I was too  tired and ticked off to turn around and drive back to New Orleans to get a motel. The next morning I was still too ticked off to go back. That’s the only time in my life that ever missed a entire city.

We spent a day and two nights in the Houston area and visited the space center. Gas was only fifty five cents a gallon in Houston. Our next stop was in San Antonio where we saw the Alamo and the river through downtown San Antonio. Our next stop was on Edwards Air Force Base in California. Enroute, we visited Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. On the map, Edwards Air Force Base looked like it would maybe be a mile or so off the interstate.

The border of the base was only a short distance off the interstate, but we drove several miles across that desert after we left the interstate before we finally found the main post and guest house. So much for saving money on a cross-country trip.  We stopped overnight just short of Monterey and I reported for duty early the next morning.

We lucked out and got quarters on the Presidio and moved right in. We were housed in an old frame house that had been used as officer’s quarters in the late 1800s. It had originally been a four room, frame, one story house. Sometime in the early 1900s they had added on a section to the back of the house that included a bath, a kitchen, and a very small screened porch. The original house we used as a living room, dining room, study room, and bedroom. Post Headquarters had issued me a desk and chair. During the next 47 weeks I would spend an enormous amount of time sitting at that desk and locked in my study room. Every wall in the original part of the old house either had a door, a door and one window or two windows in it. It was impossible for a modern woman to set up house there without blocking off at least one door or window.  As I recall, the street we lived on went straight down the hill into town.  We did not have to go through the main gate on post.  The best Chinese Restaurant in the US of A was located on Cannery Row where an old cannery had once been.  I think its name was 'China Row,' but I won't swear to it.  I doubt if it is still there.

Every morning we would awaken to the barking of the sea lions down on the rocks in the bay. They reminded me of a pack of hounds hunting fox or opossum except louder, much louder. It took a while to get used to them. It also took a while to become accustomed to the weather on the Monterey Peninsula. The weather on the peninsula was chilly, windy, and misty. You never saw anyone in short sleeves or short pants. We were in California, but beach clothes and backyard barbecues were non-existent. We were really looking forward to summer. Summer came and went almost unnoticed. It only lasted about a week and then it was back to the same old chilly, damp, windy weather again. The temperature was almost a constant sixty degrees. It was like living in a very large cave with recessed lighting.

From January until late August or early September my weekly routine was the same. From Monday through Friday, I would get up at 0530 hours, shave, dress, make coffee, and then study for one hour before I woke Fran. Then I would study some more until breakfast. After breakfast, I would brush my teeth throw on my coat and hat, grab my briefcase full of books and papers and head for class. Class was from 0800 hours to 1200 hours and from 1300 hours to 1500 hours Monday through Friday. The first thing that we did in class was take turns standing up in front of the rest of the class and carry on a "canned" dialogue with another student. The dialogue would use all of the grammar and many of the words that you had previously learned plus all of the new grammar and new words that you were given as homework during the previous class day. If I hadn’t already overcome my stage fright, I sure would have before that year was over. After every student had finished the dialogue, we would begin the days assignment. During class hours, we could only speak Japanese unless we got special permission from the teacher. The teacher was supposed to speak only in Japanese to us. Our books had explanations, definitions, and instructions in English. That was the only thing that saved me from taking a nose dive off the roof. We would practice using the new grammar in different ways, we would practice pronouncing the new words and we would practice writing the new letters or new words.

The next lesson was always our homework for that night and the subject of our next day’s entire class. The typical homework consisted of twenty five new words including, pronunciation, definition, and being able to read and write it. You noticed that I did not say, "spell it," I said "write it" — big difference. We had to learn two different alphabets. The Japanese have one alphabet that they use when spelling out Japanese words and another alphabet that they use to spell out foreign words. Once we had learned both alphabets we began to learn the kanjis. These are the hieroglyphics or pictographs that the Japanese borrowed from the Chinese and then modified so they would better fit the Japanese language. We had to learn to read and write a total of about 1,500 kanjis. The Japanese language includes about 40,000 different kanji.

Some days we would listen to training tapes and repeat after the instructor on the tape and some days we would watch Japanese movies. One of those movies was extremely long and very boring, but our instructor dearly loved it. Apparently, the Japanese considered this particular movie to be a classic — at least our dear instructor did. We watched that movie for an hour or two each day for several days. That  thing was ten times longer than Gone With The Wind and we students could only understand about one word out of every twenty, if that many. It seems to me that if they translated some American movies, especially cartoons or maybe the old B Westerns, into Japanese and used them they would have been much more effective.  The simpler the movie dialogue was, the better the chance that we would understand it. And the more familiar we were with the movie, the better chance that we could relate to it and the foreign language. At least we might have stayed awake. After all, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara carrying on a conversation in Japanese should be good for a few laughs anyway and at least we would be able to connect the conversations to the situations. As far as I was concerned, watching those movies took up valuable time that I could have used to study my homework so I could do something that night instead of studying.

Since class let out at 1500 hours, I would study from 1500 to supper time. I would stop to eat and watch the news and then study again until it was time to shower before going to bed. The same process took place every day. Trying to learn Japanese was very frustrating. On Saturdays and Sundays I set aside six hours each day to study. On Saturday and on Sunday afternoon, I would study every thing that we had covered during the previous week and then Sunday night, I would began working on the Monday’s lesson.

Each day was the same — until we got Punkin. Punkin was a little black and white Border Collie that we picked up at the local pound. She was beautiful and intelligent, but also very timid. I think she had been either verbally or physically abused. Punkin was Fran’s idea. Fran was getting fed up with playing second fiddle to my studies.  The only problem with Punkin was she was so hyper.  We knew nothing about Border Collies and weren't prepared for such a hyper puppy.

Getting a pet was a bad idea so far as I was concerned because we were going to leave there and fly across the Pacific Ocean, but I finally relented. After we got Punkin, I bought a book that was written by Lassie’s trainer and I worked with Punkin for about thirty minutes each day right after I got out of class. She was a fast learner. I trained her to obey verbal commands and hand and arm signals. We became very attached to that little dog over the next few years. [Punkin was the best dog that I have every owned.]

All of our instructors were Japanese-Americans. Our instructor seemed to have unlimited patience. Most of the students in my class did not study outside the class room. No one had to tell me they weren’t studying, it was obvious from their performance during class, especially during the dialogues. The instructor would have to feed their lines to them word-by-word. I’m not kidding — word-by-word. This happened the first thing each morning, every day, day after day, month after month.

They didn’t flunk the goof offs. Neither did they reorganize our class into two groups based on performance. They didn’t do one thing about it. This caused us to waste a lot of time, time that the instructor could have used working with the students that were working their ass off and that frustrated me to no end.  It also frustrated me because even with all of the hard work, we still couldn’t carry on a conversation in Japanese. The students in most of the other language courses were able to carry on a conversation by the time they were halfway through the course. Not the Japanese students — we couldn’t say one sentence in Japanese and we understood even less. This frustration and the stress from the class work, home work and married life began to build up inside me and it grew a little more every day.

The dam finally burst in late August or early September. On that day, when it was my time to do the dialogue, I couldn’t remember a single word....mental block.  Even when I was studying at home, I was having a difficult time memorizing the dialogue. The instructor tried to feed me my lines, but nothing came to me. So I sat down and they went on to the next student.  I had hit a mental block, but at the time I didn't realize it and really didn't care.

Afterwards, the instructor gave me a second chance. By that time, I was so angry at myself I was about to blow a fuse. All I did was shake my head and refuse to speak for the rest of the class. I just set there puffed up like a big damn toad. The previous day, I had received a message that I was supposed to get my immunizations updated after class that day. At the first break, I left class and stamped down the street straight to the clinic where they gave me about a half a dozen shots, then I stamped over to my house and dropped off my books. After that I stamped to the enlisted club where I proceeded to get knee-walking, commode-hugging drunk.

Hell it had worked when I had hit a mental block in radio school. When Fran came home and when I wasn’t there and didn’t show up by dark, she called Tim and Mary McFerrin. Tim was an air force officer that was also a student in my class. His wife, Mary, was also a student in my class. Dependent spouses could also attend class, if there were empty seats, but Fran had not wanted to attend class. Tim told her that I had experienced a problem and had left class during the noon hour and never returned. He went out looking for me. He found me in the club. We ended up in some tavern in downtown Monterey. He drove, I couldn’t even see the steering wheel. He finally got me home about 2300 hours.

Needless to say, I didn’t study any that night, nor the next morning. Which also means that I didn’t know the previous dialogue much less the dialogue that was due that morning.  My anger had subsided and I wasn’t as frustrated because I was no longer worried about mastering that damn language.  I didn’t care if I ever heard or spoke another word of Japanese. No sir, right then I was only concerned with my unbelievable hangover. My head felt like it was going to crack wide open right down to my neck any minute. My stomach acted like it just couldn’t quite decide exactly how it was going to repay me for what I had poured into it the previous afternoon and evening. Whatever it finally decided to do, I knew I wasn’t going to like it. By the end of that day, my instructor informed me that come the next morning, I owed him three dialogues.

Each dialogue required at least two participants. The student never knew which character he would have to play so he had to memorize all of the lines of all of the characters involved. Usually there were four characters involved in a lesson’s dialogue — two males and two females. I would have to give all of the dialogues of all the characters for the two lessons that I had missed. I barely heard his instructions through the thumping and banging that was going on inside my skull.

That evening and the next morning before class, I studied the exact same number of hours that I had done before I blew a gasket. The only difference being, this time I studied three different lessons in the same amount of time. The next morning during the first hour of class, I gave my dialogue that was due for that days class. During the break period, I presented the other two dialogues, for all of the characters in the skit, to my instructor while everyone else was out in the hall scratching their ass and picking their nose.

That ordeal taught me a valuable lesson: If I could learn three lessons in one night studying the same number of hours that I had normally studied, I didn’t have to spend nearly as long studying one lesson as I had been doing. Right then, I decided that I was limiting my studying to two hours each morning before class and that was it. Regardless of how difficult the lesson was, that was all I was going to study and that’s exactly what I did. From that point on, I never had a problem with any lesson. They were all a piece of cake.

Later, the instructor told me that the ones that were really studying hard, really pushing themselves, were the ones that hit that mental block. In my class, I was the only one that hit a mental block and our class was so large we occupied two classrooms and required two instructors. To say that I "hit" a mental block is putting it mildly.

From then on, Fran, Punkin and I went sight-seeing every weekend. We visited Los Angeles, the Capistrano Mission, African Safari, Universal Studios, Bel Aire, Hollywood, Hearst Castle, the forest of the giant trees, Pebble Beach, Crater Lake in Oregon, Lake Tahoe, the set of the Bonanza TV Series, Reno, the Winchester House in San Jose, California, Eureka, California, and San Francisco. We really got around during the last three or four months.

Shortly after we arrived there Fran got a job with the Army on Fort Ord as a secretary/stenographer, GS-5. She came home every day griping about the black civil servants. "They either don’t know anything or they pretend that they don’t know anything. They don’t do a thing except take up space. The army has to hire a certain number of blacks and then they have to rewrite job descriptions and add positions so they can hire someone else to do the jobs that they hired the blacks to do. It’s just plain stupid!" So much for Affirmative Action for DA Civil Servants.

Fran had some severe female problems and after being examined, the doctors said that she had a large tumor in her womb and recommended a complete hysterectomy. She decided to do it and they made an appointment with a local hospital. She was worried that they might screw up and send her in for open heart surgery, a transplant or an amputation. Prior to her operation and until she was awake and in full control of herself again, I stayed with her in the hospital so she wouldn’t worry herself sick.

Fran's mom came to visit with us about a week after Fran left the hospital. She intended to fly back home, but I convinced her to stay and ride home with us and see the country.  It was less than a week before we graduated anyway.  We took her to see the Hearst Castle and then drove across the mountains to his old ranch house and bunkhouse  [now Hunter-Ligget Army Airfield Hq building and guest house].  We stopped in the mountains and spent the night in the back of the truck inside the camper shell.  We nearly froze to death, everyone wanted Punkin next to them.  We spent the next night in the guest house which used to be the bunkhouse.  Then we drove up to the big trees and saw General Grant and General Sherman.  At least I think that's what those big boogers were named.  Fran's mom sat on a bench for about an hour and just looked at the largest one.  She just couldn't believe it.

Our final exam consisted of a written test with the questions in Japanese, right then I knew a lot of my class were in trouble. We also had to take a multiple-choice type of listening comprehension test where we listened to questions on a tape and then selected the correct English translation from a choice of four. The third and final part was a verbal speech that we had to present to our instructor. The speech had to last at least five minutes for us to get any credit at all for it. By the time that final exam rolled around, I had been thinking what I wanted to say for about forty weeks so very little preparation was necessary. In my speech, I told my instructor what I thought of the way they conducted that course. My recommendations included: Getting rid of the goof offs or bunching them together; Dividing the course into two parts, basic and advanced with the six month basic course only covering speaking and listening comprehension; and The twelve month advanced course should increase upon the vocabulary taught in the basic course, but concentrate on reading and writing.

Or at least, that’s what I tried to tell him. For all I know, I could have told him that his mouse loved a bear, the moon fell on my garage, the dog got my cat pregnant, his mother wore combat boots, and his daddy was a pimp. He just sat there as always, and grinned and nodded as if he understood every single word that I said.  I seriously doubted that he understood one sentence of what I said.

Much to everyone’s surprise, especially mine, I graduated Number One in my class. I couldn’t believe it. My score on the writing test and the exam where we listened to a statement or question in Japanese over the headset and then selected the correct English translation for it were the highest in the class. I had the highest overall score for the three parts combined. But I still strongly suspected that he did not understood one complete sentence of the speech I gave.

When we finished that course, none of the Japanese students could order a decent meal in a Japanese restaurant or find out which train to catch in a Japanese railroad station or ask for directions and understand the answer. While packing to leave Monterey, the first thing that I did was shit-can all of my text books. About six months later, I wished I had kept them and I also wished that I had bought a good Japanese/English Dictionary before I left there because DLI had a great book store.

Japanese is a very difficult language for the typical American to master. Northwestern University did a study on the difficulty of Americans learning foreign languages. It probably cost the taxpayers a bundle.  By "learning," I mean becoming fluent in reading, writing, speaking, and comprehension. Northwestern University professors discovered that for the typical American, learning Russian is six times more difficult than learning French. They also learned that learning Japanese was twice as difficult as learning Russian. Now that’s one thing that didn’t surprise me.

Well, we headed for Florida on I-40 and stopped over at the Grand Canyon. Long before we arrived in Florida, I wished that I had never asked Fran's mom to ride home with us. From the time that we left the Grand Canyon, those two women were at each other like two alley cats. Several times, I came close to stopping and dumping both of them off on the side of the road and leaving them there. They alternated from one being too warm and the other being too cold. For some strange reason, women never seem to learn how to suffer in silence.  Must be the lack of military training.  Before that trip was over, I was all for women being drafted just like the men. Punkin was as happy as a lark. She had the entire bed of the truck, which was covered by a camper shell, to herself.  We barely got out of the Grand Canyon park without getting snowed in.

We had originally planned on stopping in Fayetteville enroute and picking up our mobile home, but I decided against that and drove straight to Florida just as fast as I could where we left mom. Then we made arrangements to have the mobile home towed down to Florida and set up on our lot. We had already sent Poppa Joe money to have a septic system, electrical post, and well installed on the lot so it would be ready by the time we arrived. We also erected a garage with the help of our neighbor, Ed Caldwell. Ed and his wife, Edna, were really great people.

They had moved there when Ed had retired as a millwright from a Chrysler plant somewhere in Indiana. Our neighbors on the opposite side of us from Poppa Joe was an old retired sailor, Tucker and his wife Edye. They were nice also. Tuck had a big tom cat that followed him everywhere he went, just like a dog, if he wasn’t too busy chasing squirrels. All in all, it was a nice neighborhood.

We bought a carrier for poor little Punkin so we could ship her to Japan. The airlines lose baggage quite often and I had heard that they also lose animals that are shipped as cargo and the unfortunate pets usually starved to death before they were located. This was what I had tried to explain to Fran when she had insisted on getting a pet in the first place, but she wouldn’t listen. Now she listened and she was a nervous Nelly. She nearly drove me crazy worrying about Punkin. We left Punkin with Ed and Edna and waited until we were in quarters in Japan before we asked them to ship her to us. I was nervous about that and could barely restrain myself from driving down to the Tokyo Airport and waiting for every plane from the US to land. The trip took about 36 hours. She made it okay, but I could tell that she had not been out of the cage since Ed and Edna had put her in it and that she had not been fed or watered either.




500th Military Intelligence Group

As soon as I reported in, I found out that First Sergeant Sterling Smith and the personnel in the pentagon had lied to me. The 500th MI Group did not have a slot open for me. Not only was I excess again but I was the eighth master sergeant with a 97B or 97C MOS that had been assigned to the exact same slot which was First Sergeant Smith's slot. Well, I nearly went ballistic. There I had relocated my household, well almost, poor Punkin was still somewhere in between at the time, and I had gone through that 47 week language course just to be told they didn’t have a job for me. Old Val, with a little help from some other jerks, had screwed up again and I was very ticked off.

First Sergeant Smith had encouraged me to come over there because he knew me from SF and he wanted some support in trying to shape the outfit up and in getting enlisted men from the CI Section for details now and then. Needless to say, he got zip for cooperation from me on that.  He had seven other master sergeants he surely could have gotten the commander to put one of them at his beck and call.

Fran and I lived in the guest house for about a month before we were offered quarters. We were offered nice quarters, a one bedroom house in fact, but there was a Catch-22 — naturally. Did you think there wouldn’t be a Catch-22? The house was about ten miles away from Camp Zama.  It was on Sagamihara Depot. It was only 17 miles to downtown Tokyo/Yokohama, but it took about 4 hours to drive it because of the traffic.  The other Catch-22 was, if we didn’t take these quarters and opted to wait for quarters on Zama, we would go back to the bottom of the waiting list. We took them and that’s when we had called the Caldwells and asked them to ship Punkin to us.

There wasn’t much on Sagamihara Depot except for some very old pre-World War II factory buildings that were used by maintenance people, a very Spartan enlisted club, a small commissary, and the small dependent housing area. That was about it.

Sagamihara Depot had been a big Japanese ordinance depot during World War II. In fact, that is where the Japanese manufactured the balloons that carried fire bombs that they launched from Tokyo Bay and which floated all the way across the ocean to our Northwest Coast. The balloons were supposed to start forest fires and destroy our valuable timber resources. Their plan didn’t work. Oh, the balloons mostly made it to our coastline alright, but they just didn’t burn down our forests when they got here.

Traffic, trash, smog, and prices are hell in modern-day Japan. The traffic between Atsugi and Tokyo and between Camp Zama and Tokyo was always bumper-to-bumper and stalled. The smog was so bad, I never saw the sun the entire time we were there. The smog kept me groggy for that entire tour of duty. The smog was so bad traffic police in Tokyo kept oxygen tanks nearby so they could get a whiff every now and then before they passed out.

The Japanese keep the interior of their homes as neat as pins but they treat the outdoors as one big trash dump. Mount Fuji looks beautiful — but only from a distance. The trail to the top is lined on both sides by hip-deep trash. In 1975, prices downtown were so high, we could not afford to buy anything. Beef steak was $22 per pound, watermelons and cantaloupes were $11 each, and an average sized single family American-style home in the Tokyo area [not downtown Tokyo] cost $1,000,000. Yes, that price is correct. No, I did not make a typo all of those zeros belong there.

Somehow, I managed to create for myself a part-time job helping to open vaults, filing cabinets, and safes that people, for one reason or another, could not get open. This is called a "lock-out" and it is usually due to a "jammed" lock. The lock usually jams when someone crams too much paper into the drawer of a high-security filing cabinet or because the lock is worn out. Sometimes people just forget the combination, but that is very rare. Sfc Bill Hopkins and I worked together on this job several times.  But I guess that we did too good a job at it because we worked ourselves out of a job by educating the screw ups when we solved their lock-out problem and by replacing several old, worn-out locks.

To help fight boredom, I also, taught English at nights just off post in Sagamihara to adult Japanese students at night. The school was upstairs just outside the depot gate and near the train station. For 1975, they paid very good wages actually, about $10 an hour.

I was still bored so I started back to exercising.  When I turn to exercise because I am bored, you can rest assured that I am bored to the point of tears — trust me on that. Every morning before work on Mondays through Fridays, I ran five miles. On the weekends though, I would just run once, but usually it was a longer run. My attitude always set the distance and the pace on that run. If I felt great, I might run twenty miles, but if I felt like a blivet, I might only run five miles or none at all. I had found a long time ago, that was the only way I could stick to any exercise program.

Also on Mondays through Fridays, instead of eating lunch, I caught the post bus to the indoor swimming pool and swam laps for a solid thirty minutes. After a year of this, I was in better health and physical condition than I was when I first joined the Army, but I was thirty nine years old instead of seventeen.

The entire time that I was there I was only assigned three jobs: Inspecting the classified documents and accountability system of our detachment in Taipei; Conducting a physical security survey of a small post next door to Zama; and Conducting one minor special investigation. For a grand total of three weeks of counter-intelligence work in thirteen months.  Unless you want to consider my self-created lock-popping job as 'counter-intelligence' work.

About four months after I arrived, a report was "kicked back" to our CI Section from the Puzzle Palace in Arlington; it had to be re-done. It was a damn "man-hour" table that showed the hours that the CI members had spent on various parts of their jobs during the past year. It included four or five columns and four or five lines. The figures in each column were sub-totaled at the bottom and the figures in each line were sub-totaled at the end of each line. A figure that was supposed to be the total man-hours was located at the bottom right hand side. None of the math in that form was correct, not a one of the sub-totals was correct. It was obvious that whoever had filled out that form had just put a figure that was selected at random in each square and the CI Commander, Ltc Marsden Harmon, had signed it and forwarded it to DA without first checking the math. The culprit was a Specialist Fourth Class that was on his first hitch. He was an eight ball that would have been in the stockade a long time ago had he been assigned to an airborne infantry unit. The CI Section Commander didn’t do a thing to that eight ball. That was my mistake, I should have taken it straight to the First Sergeant who would have taken it straight to the Group Commander, Colonel Richard Brown. Colonel Brown was a soldier and he would have busted that little eight ball back to a private and shipped him out.

The only people I saw in the 500th Headquarters at Camp Zama that had an honest to God job were the men in the special operations section who worked under CWO Steve Wilkins.   A CWO, an enlisted man named Knowles and an SFC, Bill Hopkins, were assigned to the Tech/Support Section.  But Bill and I had the same problem, we were both bored.  Knowles was an electronics whiz.  I suspect he was a DASE [Defense Against Sound Equipment] graduate.  He also tinkered with locks so he probably was a DAME graduate also.  He could build just about anything.  As I recall he made re-dialers from scratch.  He also was good at surveillance.   A handy man to have around.

We seldom drove anywhere except to work on Camp Zama. Fran eventually got a job as a secretary on Zama. Once we drove out to a small lake that was in the mountains not far from Sagamihara where we saw a Japanese man with a little boy fishing on the shoreline and I tried out some of my pitiful Japanese. What I said, I have no idea, but what I tried to ask him was "What kind of fish are in the lake." He finally spoke to me in perfect English and I don’t think that he ever understood what I had tried to say in Japanese. So much for all of the misery that I had endured in DLI. Actually, I was much better at reading and writing Japanese than I was at speaking and comprehending it. But it did do me some good, we became one of the rare American families to be invited to a typical Japanese home. Normally, they will not take you home — instead, they will take you out to a restaurant, night club or theater. He had a wife and daughter also and they lived in a very small three room apartment that they had just purchased for $150,000. She went to the market and bought some fresh food to prepare for our supper. They seemed to be absolutely amazed that I could read and write their language fairly well. For that matter, so was I. Later, we also had them to our home for supper and I barbecued a large turkey for the meal. They could not believe that we served that much meat at one meal.

The attractive little girl was very nice and smart also. She played the piano very well, but her father did not like us bragging on her or applauding when she played. He believed that sort of thing was for the little boy only. He was a real ass about that. We continued to correspond after we returned to the states, but they divorced and he went to work in Thailand and that’s when I lost track of them.

The only other trip that we made while we were there, other than on the train to Tokyo-Yokohoma shopping district, was to Kyoto. Kyoto is the old religious capitol of Japan and they have many beautiful temples and shrines there. It was a long drive there, but we just stayed overnight.

One day, I discovered that I could retire after I completed thirteen months of my tour. Well, I mulled that data around in my skull for all of two seconds and decided to apply for retirement.  My request was approved and they scheduled me to retire the last day of February in 1996. Technically, I would not be a civilian until the following day, 1 March. Why they do it that way, I still didn’t understand, but I really didn’t care and I still don’t. That’s something else that I left for someone else to figure out.

[Hell, I’m still trying to figure out why the army named their very first Special Forces Group the "10th" and why they named the very next Special Forces Group the "77th."  Where were the other 75 groups?]

Before we left, Steve Wilkins told me that he had a good friend who had retired not long before and worked for the Drug Enforcement Agency [DEA] and if I wanted him to, he would fix me up with a job there.  As I recall, his friend was pretty high up in DEA.  I didn't even have to think for two seconds to turn down that offer.  I had heard nothing good about that agency.  Besides, I did not want to work for the government ever again nor a large corporation for that matter.  I had experienced enough politics, bureaucracy and micro-management to last me a life time.

We left Camp Zama in early February so I could retire at Fort Bragg. We stopped off in Hawaii for two weeks enroute home. That would be the only opportunity that we would probably ever have — so why not? We spent most of the time at an army R&R Center, Kilauea Military Center, on the edge of a live volcano crater, Kilauea, on the big island of Hawaii. The camp was nothing fancy, it consisted mostly of quonset huts, but the chow was really great.

The first night we were there we saw a movie that was taken of an eruption of that very same volcano not long before we arrived.  After that movie, Fran kept saying how beautiful that eruption was and that she would like to see the volcano erupt and I kept saying, "No, you don’t. You just think you do."  While we were there, I jogged around the crater on the paved road.  I forget how far it was around that crater by road, but it was several miles.

Fran almost got her wish because one day without warning that volcano burped! Just one loud "C-r-a-c-k!" and the whole world jerked! Just that one "jerk" threw everything off the fireplace, shelves, tables, and counters and nearly caused Fran to have a stroke. I thought Fran was going to mess her pants she was that scared. Fran immediately decided that we would spend the rest of our vacation on the island of Oahu sunning ourselves on Waikiki Beach. I could not keep from laughing at that.  I still laugh when I think about it.  Like I said, she just thought she wanted that thing to really erupt while we were there.

We left the big island the very next day and checked into the Army’s Hale Koa Hotel in Honolulu. At that time, the room rate for a master sergeant ran from a low of $20 to a high of $60 a day, depending on the room, and the hotel fronted right on Waikiki Beach. The Hale Koa is a self-supporting hotel that doesn’t cost us taxpayers a dime to operate. The Hale Koa was one of the rare truly good deals in the army. Its a good deal for the GIs and the taxpayers. As of 1996, the Hale Koa Hotel is still there, but of course the rates have changed since 1976. Poor little Punkin had to endure another ride home all alone in the cargo hold, but she made it okay.




Repple Depple sent me to pick up my retirement papers at Post Headquarters at Fort Bragg. The first desk that I approached was occupied by a lady who wanted to know how to fill out the "Certificate of Achievement" for my wife. I said, "A what for who?" She repeated her statement and I laughed and laughed and laughed. I was almost hysterical, but I managed to get control of my senses and asked, "What achievement?" She said, "For helping you all these years." Again I broke out in a hysterical laughter. Finally after I had regained control of my emotions, I said, "Lady, I didn’t make it to retirement because of my wife’s efforts, I made it in spite of her efforts." With that, I left them and continued looking for the clerk that had my discharge papers.

When I finally found the clerk that had my papers, there stood Doc Wellington [my Laos buddy]: he was collecting his retirement papers also. Doc and I hadn’t seen each other since we were together on Okinawa, way back in 1962. We hugged each other, said our goodbyes and then we both left the army and I haven’t seen him since. That’s too bad because Doc’s a great guy and a lot of fun. As far as I was concerned, seeing Doc Wellington that one last time was better than enduring a formal retirement ceremony. Hell, I hate formalities anyway.

[According to the rumor-mongers, Doc Wellington now works at a VA Hospital near Fayetteville, North Carolina. Doc won't have anything to do with any of his former SF buddies, even me. That hurts.]

To this day, I still miss a lot of the guys that I served with in SF and a few of the guys that I served with in the rifle companies, but I sure don’t miss the chicken s--t and stupidity of the Army one little bit. I miss the field trips with SF teams; I miss lying in a nice warm sleeping bag under a poncho shelter and watching it snow outside, I miss listening to the sound of the rain while you’re snug and dry under your poncho shelter; I miss smelling the jungle after a fresh rain; I miss the simple, informal, easy-going life in Southeast Asia where the only rule you have to remember is survival; I miss firing different kinds of weapons; I miss experimenting with explosives; I miss parachuting; I miss cracking safes and vaults; I miss playing liar’s dice and cards with the guys; and I also miss teaching, but I do not miss the army one bit.

Rest assured that I don’t miss that stupid war in Southeast Asia, but when President Bush recently committed troops to free Kuwait, I tried my level best to get the Army to re-call me to active duty.  I must be certifiable.  I telephoned and wrote every office that I thought had anything to do with re-calling retirees. I must have been temporarily insane.  I was 53 years old then.

Why I did that, I’m not sure, maybe I just wanted to see what it would be like to win a war for once or maybe I did it for the same reason that I had turned down that job in Saigon so long ago.  I didn’t even believe we should be sending troops to Kuwait to protect the property of a bunch of millionaire and billionaire Arabs.

Instead of spending hundreds of millions of the taxpayer’s dollars, maybe billions, on that war, I thought they should have used the opportunity to get public support for spending the same amount of money on converting our engines from burning "gasoline produced from refined oil bought from foreigners"—to burning America’s "natural gas" or "propane gas" and also to converting America’s service stations to support our use of natural or propane gas. To me, it seemed to be the perfect time for us to wean ourselves from the Arab’s oil nipple and clean up our environment at the same time.

My actions during the Gulf War reminds me of the old horse that the fire department retired because they figured he was just too old to pull the fire wagon and he would enjoy spending his last days grazing in an emerald green pasture, dozing under a shade tree, and occasionally snacking on a bait of corn. However, until the day that old horse died, every time they rang the fire bell, he would beat the other horses to the fire wagon, back up to it, and wait to be hitched up. Each time the fire bell rang, the firemen were forced to shove the old horse out of the way so they could hitch up the younger horses and of course the army reacted the same way to this old war horse: they shoved me aside.  Actually they just ignored me.

A buddy of mine with the same exact qualifications and who was the same age as me found a telephone number to call to volunteer to be reactivated and called them.  He said the man that answered took all of his information and then told him he would be classified 4L.  He said he told the man that he knew what 4F meant, but he had no idea what 4L meant.  The man told him that 4L means when the enemy gets to 4th and Lincoln, we'll call you.  I decided there was no need for me to call that number.

When the Gulf War ended, I was glad they had ignored me. The way they treated the Gulf War veterans when many of them suffered symptoms of a very serious and mysterious nature didn’t just disappoint me, it sickened me. The Department of Defense and Veteran’s Administration dismissed those veteran’s health problems without giving them the benefit of doubt. The DOD apparently went even farther because it appears that they resorted to the CYA [cover your ass] principle.

It didn’t surprise me: after all they had done the same thing with Agent Orange and Delayed Traumatic Stress victims from the Vietnam Fiasco also. Instead of making an honest effort to discover the true source of the veteran’s problem, the VA and the government denied that they were even sick and if they were sick, they said that it had nothing to do with the Gulf War. shades of Agent Orange, the people may have been replaced, but the system is still the same.

My Army experience still affects me in many ways and it probably will until the day that I die. Like someone said, "You can take the sergeant out of the army, but you can’t take the army out of the sergeant."

I always travel light, very light. For some strange reason, this seems to irritate my wife, Doris, to no end. It took Dorey and Mama Ponder ten years to get me back into underwear and then only on special occasions. Don’t laugh, they are very proud of that accomplishment.

It absolutely enrages me every time I hear a speaker at some memorial service say, "We are here today to honor our soldiers who gave their life for their country." In all my years of service, I didn’t personally know anyone that gave their life for their country, but I knew a lot of them that risked their life and lost. If I caught one of my troops or one of my buddies even considering giving his life for his country or for any other reason, I would have been on him like a duck on a June bug.

When driving through these beautiful Smoky Mountains, I am always evaluating the terrain for good ambush sites. Who is going to ambush me, I don’t know, but like the old fire horse, old habits die hard.

Any time I hear a CIA man, a lawyer, or any politician say anything, I figure the exact opposite is probably true and I don’t believe anything that a general, admiral or reporter says either.

When it comes to women — I still can not read their sign. The only difference being, now I don’t even try. During my life time, I have learned a smidgen about women, but I really don’t understand all that I know about them. I just know that’s how they tend to be.

At one time, I thought women were "scatter-brained" because I had seen women, who had supper cooking on the stove while they were also ironing, watching TV, talking on the telephone, and supervising a houseful of children. My original analysis was, "That woman is going to screw up supper; she’s going to burn holes in all of the clothes that she’s ironing; she doesn’t have the foggiest idea what’s happening on TV; she won’t remember one word that was said over the telephone; and her kids are either going to kill each other or burn the house down around her." I thought that because I’m a man and I knew that if I or any other male were in that situation, that’s probably what would happen. But it slowly dawned on me over the years that supper always seemed to get on the table okay; the clothes got washed, ironed, folded, and put away; she knew who was screwing who on her favorite pornographic TV Soap Opera; the kids survived just fine; and she didn’t have to understand every single word that her girlfriend said to her over the telephone because they were usually not communicating "concepts" — they were communicating "feelings."

The only men that I have ever known who could even come close to successfully doing all of those things simultaneously were all as queer as a three dollar bill. The rest of us males seem to have a one tract mind. By "one tract mind," I simply mean that we must concentrate on one thing at a time and automatically tune everything else out.

Many people are trying to push the idea that because we are all human beings, men and women are not different, but in my humble opinion, men and women are definitely different — physically, emotionally, and mentally. For example:

We men are the "basic" model. Men are built very simple, but sturdy.

Men are the Model "Ts" of human beings.

Women on the other hand are very complex: they are the "advanced" [perhaps "modified" would be more accurate] human model.  Women are the Lincoln Town Car of human beings.

Neither model is better than the other — just different. Each model has its strengths and its weaknesses. For example:

The Model T gets great gas mileage; it’s cheap to operate and maintain; it seldom breaks down; it’s very easy to repair — all you need is a pair of pliers, a screwdriver, and some bailing wire; and it can go just about anywhere, but it’s a rough ride and requires strong arms to crank and steer.  It is difficult to get killed driving a Model T, it just will not go that fast.

The Town Car on the other hand has soft "marshmallow" seats that hug you when you sit down, power door locks, power windows, AM/FM/Cassette/CD Push-Button Radio, Air Conditioning, Heater, defroster, power seats, power steering, power brakes, automatic transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, power antenna and power outside mirrors. The ride is much more comfortable than the Model "T" and the Town Car is definitely more beautiful.  It is much more dangerous than a Model T because it can move very fast.  But, at least one of its hundreds of thousands of parts almost always needs your undivided attention. A two year vocational course is required just to find out where all the major parts of the car are located and nobody takes the course.  Everyone just wings it. You can forget about ever making minor repairs yourself. When repairs are required, you either pay a specialist an enormous fee to fix it, you trade it in on a newer model or you just learn to live with it as is.

In order to be truly happy in this life, I firmly believe that you must have a good partner. When choosing that partner, there are many illusions that can lead us astray and most of them are physical in nature, for example: physical appearance, possessions, physical abilities, etc. Also, I am firmly convinced that there are only three characteristics that you and your partner absolutely must share to enjoy a long happy life together. These three very important characteristics are mutual trust, mutual acceptance and mutual respect. If you share those three things, you can overcome all other problems that you encounter and both of you can enjoy sharing life together.

Jealousy is a sign of a weakness. It is not a sign of love. Usually, an extremely jealous person is also ignorant, abusive, possessive, and violent. Most insanely jealous people that I have known are insanely jealous because they think you are the same kind of person that they are—untrustworthy. If you can not trust someone or they do not trust you, it doesn’t make any sense for you to want to share your life with that person. Think about it!

If you absolutely detest some habits of your partner, don’t expect them to change just because they become your spouse or business partner. If you do not respect each other, do not become partners. If you do, you will usually be very disappointed. If they do not respect animals, do not become partners. If they abuse animals, they will also abuse people.

Everything else, including sex — or anything of a physical nature — is immaterial. Trust, acceptance and respect are the only things that every long-term, successful partnership must share. The term partnership, as I intend it to be understood, refers to any type of partnership whether a marriage or a business.

On the other hand, the most common characteristic of a short-term, unsuccessful partnership seems to be sexual involvement between the partners. However, if a person’s hormones still outnumber their brain cells, they will not believe anything that I have said about trust, acceptance, and respect anyway and you can bet your sweet bippy on that.

If you are considering joining the military, I definitely have some suggestions for you. Don't!  At least not while the Whitehouse Weasel [Bill 'Bubba' Clinton] and co-president Chill Hill are still busy doing their level best to destroy our military and constitution. Their feminization and homosexual programs combined with their efforts to convert our military mission from waging war in defense of our country to that of an international police force supporting moral issues near and dear to their socialistic hearts along with every facet being micromanaged from the oval office  has completely destroyed our war-making ability and the morale of our troops. That is why all of the military services are losing personnel in droves and so very few are re-enlisting. Even during the Vietnam War, special forces averaged a 95% reenlistment rate, now they are always short of men because so many do not make it a career. One hitch and they're gone. That is a sure sign that "something" is very very wrong.  Wait until the republicans gain control of the White House again and have been in control of the administration for at least eight years and have had ample opportunity to refurbish our military before you join. During the meantime, should we be so foolish as to violate our constitution and put our country and our military permanently under the command of the United Nations, forget about joining the military at all - period!

If you feel that you absolutely must join the military, join the Air Force or, if your stomach can handle sea duty, the Coast Guard. You can learn a marketable civilian trade in both the Air Force and the Coast Guard.

Compared to duty with the US Army, US Marine Corps or US Navy, the Air Force is like a civilian airline company that requires all employees to wear a common uniform. Its as close to being a civilian as you can be and still be full-time military.

The Coast Guard always has an honest-to-God "job" waiting for each trainee they accept. The Coast Guard will put you to work in your MOS as soon as you finish training. Also, the duty and the living accommodations in the Coast Guard are much better than in the Navy.

If you’re in a combat arms unit in one of the other branches of the armed services, you will drill and train until you are blue-in-the-face and bored-to-tears and then you will drill and train in the same subjects some more. If you’re lucky, training is all that you will ever do because the only time that you will actually do the job that you are training to do is when you are in a man-made hell-on-earth called "combat." In the Coast Guard, 'fighting' is a secondary duty, saving lives and protecting our waterways are their primary concerns.

If you don’t know whether you are going to make the military a career, either become an officer or sign up for training that you can use in civilian life such as heavy equipment operator, supply specialist or cook for example. Not to worry, there will always be plenty of gung ho young men like I was or those who wait to be drafted for our politicians to use as "cannon fodder" should the need arise.  And as screwed up as our foreign policy always is, the need arises fairly often.

If you decide to make the military a career, become an officer! Officer’s pay is a hell of a lot better than an enlisted man’s and money will be especially important to you and your loved ones when it’s pension time. In today’s military, if you can be a good sergeant, you probably can also be a good officer. If you keep your mouth shut and you can stay out of trouble [that may be redundant], you will probably be promoted to at least a lieutenant colonel before you retire.  But you must make this decision early in your military career....very early.  Before where you are and what you are doing gets into your blood and if you remain there very long, it will get into your blood!

While you are in the military, whether you are enlisted or officer, learn as much about your job and the jobs of your superior and his or her superior as you can. Learn as many different jobs within your unit as you can. Don’t learn just the simple tasks that anyone can do, learn the tasks that make the unit "tick" — such as one of the administrative jobs, like supply maybe. In other words, make yourself as valuable to your unit as you possibly can. Valuable people, or in the case of high-ranking officers who think they are valuable, are almost never fed to the cannons, but if you are, at least you would have a much better chance of dodging the cannonballs. Make friends with, or gain the respect of, the people that make the unit 'tick', such as the mess sergeant, administration specialist/NCO, supply sergeant and motor pool sergeant.  These are the people that keep the unit 'ticking.' And familiarize yourself with their jobs. This relationship, if properly developed, will do more for you and your unit than spit-shining boots, and 'Yes Sirs" will ever accomplish.

Oh yes, just in case you are wondering about it, I did make an extra effort and developed my ability to do pull ups so that I would meet the minimum required standards, which as I said before my recruiter had apparently been unaware of or forgot to mention to me. An overly active conscience is definitely a pain in the butt! However, I didn't and couldn't do anything about my nearsightedness. There is a new surgical or laser corrective treatment, but I think I will pass on that and my conscience hasn't bothered me a bit about it either. So sue me.  I understand that the army pays for eye surgery to correct vision for special forces troops now.  It is much cheaper and quicker than losing the soldier and retraining a replacement.  Sure wish they did that when I was in SF.

In all honesty, if God appeared before me right now and said: "Val old buddy, I have a good deal for you. Now, it’s strictly voluntary so you don’t have to take it, but there’s some people coming along that will really need a good man like you during their life time on earth so here’s the deal, ‘You can be born again and start life all over again as a baby, if you want to.’ How about it Val?" My first question would be, "God, will I be allowed to retain what little knowledge I have acquired during this life?" If God’s answer to that question is "No," then, without hesitation, I would say, "God, no offense intended, but if you don’t mind, I think I’ll pass that original good deal on to someone else. I just can’t stand the thought of being that dumb again."

Have a good life kids.


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