Socotra House Publishing: Purveyor of Glib Words to the World
Socotra House Publishing is a small press dedicated to publishing and distributing the historical works of Vic Socotra, a non-mortal fellow who captures American and military history with aplomb.
Life and Island Times: Florida Backroads (cont)
As they exited the burnt wasteland, they were only minutes from Lake O’s north shore.
At its northernmost tip, they detoured up onto the US Army Corps of Engineers built earthen rim, also known as the Herbert Hoover Dike. They were relieved to see that Lake O’s water level had returned to normal since its indiscriminate 2006 emptying had placed south Floridians on permanent water restrictions.
Lake Okeechobee, the liquid heart of South Florida, is 730 square miles and has an average depth of 2.7 meters (9 feet). It is the second-largest freshwater lake wholly within the continental United States, second only to Lake Michigan. This three way shot shows the lake from right to left: June 2000, January 2003, and June 2007. Its shrinkage is particularly evident on its west and southeast sides. Images courtesy of NASA/METI/AIST/Japan Space Systems, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
They then rode through a place that time forgot. Somehow left helplessly frozen in the mid 1950’s, the town of Pahokee contains two of Marlow’s favorite things to show new visitors: a long, Royal Palm tree lined lane along the lakeshore and the weirdest idea in cross marketing seen to date.
They stopped for the night on the southern shore of Lake O in Clewiston, putting down US 27 to a motel trimmed in purple paint and neon, run by native-dressed Pakistanis and garishly lit at night like a fluorescently cheesy Las Vegas strip club.
Augustus described the room’s interior décor as 1950’s bordello with its over-painted, textured velour wallpaper. The sign out front said these were NEW CLEAN ROOMS. The motel’s operators confirmed upon check-in that they had recently painted everything.
They celebrated the trip’s coming end the next day by supping on local fried chicken and guzzling the remaining Blue Sapphire gin.
Strange technicolor dreams resulted from this admixture of British spirits and Cajun spiced cooking. This excursion into a Zydeco shadow land was suffused with French Canadian accented songs intermixed with images of a Creole-speaking Strother Martin from the movie Cool Hand Luke.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
Life and Island Times: Florida Wasteland
Somewhere south of the abandoned real estate developments and failed dry land shrimp farms in central Florida, floating ash began to hit their windscreens. All around them ash fell, silently, covering the roadside and the fields beyond, transforming them. They were both stunned, unable to comprehend, staring at the transformed world, carpeted by ash. A vast, barren, dead expanse of ash covered earth, lifeless, forlorn and dark grey, lay spread flat before them.
They slowed down. Augustus came alongside Marlow.
“Is the world dying?” Augustus asked.
“No. Not now.” Marlow replied.
“I hope not.”
“Might be a sugar cane field burn that got loose. They call them ‘money burns.’”
“I forgot that you are Irish. Surely, everything is ending; but, as you’re wont to say ‘not yet.’”
The ashen and smoky sky dulled the sun. They heard a piercing scream of a raptor off in the distance. They motored past the ash covered gravel parking lot of a long ago, demolished gas station.
They slowed down further, so much so that their boot heels dragged alongside them, leaving sidewinder snake slithering marks atop the ash powdered pavement.
They spent very quiet moments as they watched this particulate darkness fall.
Suddenly along this desolate road what was once a farm and abandoned silos loomed ominously, still standing. These ruins slid out of view as a gust of ash and smoke obscured them.
They slowed to a stop to examine some animal footprints in the ash. They looked to be those of a four legged mammal, perhaps a Florida panther.
They listened and heard a low thudding of drums in the distance. Still the ash fell.
They noticed tied to a dead sapling a thin green neckerchief. A sign? Perhaps. But nothing else came into view.
Out of the murky sky more gray snow fell. They were almost lifted out of their saddles when a sudden noise, a loud thunder crack and concussion wave – this time very close behind – hit them. They looked around just as out of nowhere it began to rain. The ash snow lessened then stopped as the rain continued. The landscape became a lifeless dark grey black soup.
As the rain slackened and then stopped, the riders coughed reflexively until they could cough no more. Blackish grey colored drool unspooled from their lips onto their black jackets.
They then rolled into a blackened chasm of burnt grasslands and sugarcane fields. The few surviving roadside Melaleuca trees were both emaciated and exhausted, coated in grime and soot from the burned, blackened landscape around them. A sickening sweet smell abounded. The land was a desolation, lifeless, and without movement.
There was a low rumble, the winds freshened and they could smell another rain storm coming. A line of squalls must have put out the recent fires in this remote section of south central Florida’s decade long, drought land.
There was a long shear of bright light, then a series of low concussions. The air temp dropped and the air scent cleared momentarily.
Further on, burned, broken asphalt fissures opened up alongside the road, obviously from major road edge burns during rain showers. Then they crossed a section where fire has crossed the road melting the tarmac. They looked for prints in the tar to study. There were none.
The riders slowly edged past a small pond filled with dead pencil thin trees. They then headed down a long straight road through a dark, forbidding tunnel of dead trees. As soon as they exited this columned hell hole, the everglades engulfed them in a rich lush greenness.
They were now deep within an Indian reservation somewhere near Lake O.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
Life and Island Times: Florida Backroads
Marlow had the lead for the day. They were traveling on roads with which he was very familiar. Oblivious to any residual bad luck, they putted past the scene of Steve’s final breakdown on US 19 before joining US 27. The Florida section of this original northern Indiana-to-Miami road still possesses much of its charm. US 27 has good bones. You must look well beneath all the accreted tacky build up from the 80s and 90s.
It was more than mobile home parks, strip shopping centers, sinkholes, crap real estate developments, Indian names ending in atchee, horse farms and orange groves. It was a trip back to Florida’s prehistoric vegetation and geology of the dinosaurs.
At a late morning fuel stop in Ocala, they spotted a business sign that spoke to them. It noiselessly said that within awaited great, not just good, food. This would be the day’s brunch stop. Once inside, this diner’s neighborly atmosphere gathered them up into its arms and snuggled them.
The waitress was warm and funny, quick and sharp. The food was wholesome and generous, cheap and local. Aunt Fannie’s was an American restaurant where road trippers ate well, paid less, and should tip more than 18%.
They made as quick a crossing of the metro Mouseland area as humanly possible.
The day’s next trip in the way back machine along the shores of Lake O was delayed by what followed next.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
I called Old Jim on the cell this afternoon. I had not talked to him for a week or so, and wanted to check in once I realized that it was his birthday.
Heather and I were talking about it at The Front Page last night. Jon-without-an-H was on her other side, marking the four-month anniversary of his current “between gigs” period. “It is amazing how time flies,” he said.
“No kidding,” I replied. “And it seems to be accelerating.”
I am upbeat about his prospects. Jon-without is too talented, smart and well-dressed to be on the street very long, but it is a crap shoot out there these days. I don’t know if age discrimination is a factor. Goodness knows I would not hire me to do anything involving heavy machinery or prescription drugs. But the one of the topics of conversation was how old Jim really was. We remembered the 70th; Willow has now been closed for more than a year and a half; Jim an Mary had decamped for retirement in Las Vegas at just about the same time. That marked the Willow dispersal Diaspora. John-with-an-H had announced his preference for the Lynon Fall Happy Hour, and then developed a spinal condition that resulted in major surgery. We may or may not see him when he is mobile again. Then there were the girls- Joy and The Lovely Bea and Jamie through marriage and relationship and career changes.
It was tough losing them all at once, but for the predictable reason that The Front Page was not as convenient to visit as Willow, jobs and relationships changed, and life is just…well, you know. Complicated.
The Willow Regulars had suffered gapping holes in the ranks. Mac Showers had passed on. Barrister Jerry was among the missing, as were both versions of the Mikes- Long and Short Hair, and JarHead Ray and White House Ray; The Missile Twins did not come to Front Page, choosing to stay on the safe side of Glebe Road at Ser, the vaguely Mediterranean-themed place near the CACI Building on Glebe. K2 was only an occasional player these days- he works in the National Science Foundation in the offices above the bar, and his position is that he sees enough of the people he works with and doesn’t have to drink with them.
The people we continue to see includes Liz-with-an-S, Heather, JPeter and Jon-without. It always brings me up short to not see irascible Jim’s glower at the corner of whatever bar we were in. During one of his periodic boycotts of Willow, we tried coming to the Front Page, but it just did not click. Not then, anyway. And in the end, the fellowship of the friendly staff and owners always brought him back.
That, and the simple fact that Willow was the closest bar to his place, which minimized the effort to limp down Utah Street to his usual stool.
We finally decided Jim was 73, and left it at that. I was pleased that I remembered to call him this afternoon. The time difference was a problem, since when I first remembered to be thoughtful it was way too early to bother Vegas.
The whole notion of Willow and entropy had been explained well by George, Front Page’s Greek owner. He looked us over and christened us the “South Side,” since we normally congregated on the side of his bar that faced the mall across the street. “I had a bunch like you at my other pace downtown,” he said. “They were a regular group of drunks and always sat in the same place. They came in for years, but you know drunks. They lived hard and it eventually caught up with them.”
I looked at him blankly and realized he was right. We had been going to the same bar and sitting in the same stools for a decade, and eventually entropy was going to get us. It is what it is.
So this afternoon I called Jim’s cell number. It is still a DC area code, so it is a little strange calling it with the intent of talking to someone in the Desert. He picked up after two rings, and we had a great chat. His vision therapist had just departed, raving about the exceptional progress Jim had been making. “You will be back to writing Blank Verse in no time,” he said they told him, and I told him we had decided he was 73.
“Bull.” he said firmly. “It was a February day in 1943, and the fate of the war was very much in doubt until I arrived. I am 74 this year.”
I thanked him for the correction and wished him the very best returns of the day, and asked that he convey my very best wishes to his bride, Chanteuse Mary. He said he would, and reminded me to come out to Sin City soon. I told him I would get right on it, and we ended the call.
If I manage to live as long as Jim has, I am confident of one thing: sitting at the stool next to him at Willow, and hanging out with The Regulars, made that time the best decade of my life. I seriously doubt if I will see the like of it again.
Happy birthday, Jim!
Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra
Arrias on Politics: Why Don’t We Win?
Secretary Mattis: everyone seems to hope he’ll bring some sanity to national security. Perhaps he can even win these seemingly interminable wars. Maybe. But consider Hannibal:
He was, perhaps, the greatest tactician in history. For 14 years he ravaged the Italian countryside; despite being outnumbered, he defeated every army put against him (in one 6 hour battle his 50,000 man army destroyed a 120,000 man Roman army, killing perhaps 80,000); in the end Rome only defeated him in battle after his key ally was paid off and switched sides – hours before battle.
There’s much to learn from the Second Punic War, but the most important lesson is at the root of the most dire question:
Why doesn’t the US win wars?
To be clear: the US (like Hannibal) is consistently, decisively successful on the battlefield. Why doesn’t that translate into final victory?
That question is asked again and again by various experts and their answers are legion: but most answers suggest that political machinations – often termed “policy” – have replaced real strategy for most decision-makers.
But there’s another – much more significant – problem.
As noted, we’re superb tactically; we don’t lose in combat. We haven’t lost a battalion sized operation or larger (a battalion is about 500 men), since 1953.
Therein lies the first truth: wars are NOT about technology, or tactics or doctrine; they’re not about organizations or training plans or operational plans or leadership councils. And they certainly aren’t about diversity or inclusiveness. Wars are about will.
Victory means your will prevails; the enemy yields.
If you want victory you must have the will to expend the energy, and commit the assets. But most importantly you must have the will to commit to whatever violence is necessary to impose your will on the enemy. If you don’t, he will impose his will on you. You break his will, or he breaks your will; his will or yours must prevail.
At that point, the war ends. One side decides it’s “spent” enough, one side refuses to yield. Rome understood this – with amazing clarity – for more than 1,000 years.
One way to achieve that clarity is make certain you never go to war unless you absolutely need to. The subsequent point is: but if you do need to, then you fight to win. That was based on a simple concept: belief that preservation of our society was of greater importance than the preservation of any other society.
But, most of the news media, a significant slice of our political leadership, and much of our academic “leadership” believe in “globalism,” in the equal value of all cultures, in the idea that nothing about our nation warrants placing it ahead of any others. If so, there’s no point in sustaining our society over theirs; there’s no reason to fight for victory. If one society, one view of the world, is no better than another, why fight to impose that view on someone else? Philosophical ambivalence cannot produce the will to fight and endure. In practical terms this translates into a requirement that warfare be as antiseptic as possible; we aren’t trying to make the people of country “X” change, we’re only trying to defeat the particular force facing us.
But defeating armies doesn’t win wars; ask Hannibal. We consistently defeat every army we face. But if we haven’t defeated the people, if we haven’t broken their will, or at a minimum the will of their leadership, than all the tactical success in the world will not suffice.
Thus, guidance from policy experts that suggests that we must strive to make war antiseptic may make it impossible to win. The enemy can still win, because they aren’t playing by the same rules we are. But we can’t, the rules won’t let us reach that point where the enemy population and leadership is convinced that continuing the war is worse than surrendering.
Clausewitz, the German field marshal, noted that: “…war is such a dangerous business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst…”
What that means is this: Before going off to war, the nation must be all in or not in at all. So, hold a debate, write and pass a clearly worded declaration of war. Then go and fight for victory – no matter the cost. Or don’t go at all.
Until Congress and the media and academia understand that, it will matter little how hard Secretary Mattis or President Trump work to produce victory. Victory is a product of our national will.
Copyright 2017 Arrias
Life and Island Times: Thoughts on Motorcycle Morality and Aging
Editor’s note: Many years after Steve’s decision to keep his Valkyrie he still has it along with a new Gold Wing. His devotion to this almost twenty year old family member prompted this loopy piece.
Advances in modern motorcycle technology mean that motorbikes are living longer than ever before. This raises important end-of-road-life issues, as it becomes increasingly difficult to provide leaded fuel and shelter for this hydraulically challenged, aging two-wheeler population. Qualified repair garages are full, and off-street parking is beyond the financial scope of most low and middle income biker families. It becomes a case of rust or bust.
Biker society members have long been reluctant to countenance the concept of actively ending the road-life of their beloved motorcycles, preferring to allow Nature to take its course. On the surface it seems simpler to let the natural phenomena of corrosion and obsolescence take their inevitable toll, until a head gasket blows and the piston rods seize up irrevocably.
But can we afford to allow pour elderly scooters to simply clank, wheeze, choke and sputter as American roads become increasingly over populated and earth’s atmosphere ever more polluted? These old bangtail scooters demand attention, as their paint peels and fades, engine crankcases suffer oily discharges, balding tires leave tread chunks at every stop sign, suspensions sag, and chrome corrodes. Is there an alternative for these ailing bikes and their gummed up carburetors?
The principles of vehicular rights dictate that the road should be shared equally among all bikes, regardless of color, cubic capacity or country or origin. All motorcycles have a right to ride on the traffic circles of life, even if this can be a dizzyingly circular argument. But other over-riding principles also warrant consideration. The life of a new motorcycle, fresh from the showroom floor, is one of great expectations, as riders with dreams of backroads spend endless hours buffing the exterior sheen and sniffing the new bike leather saddle smell.
As a motorcycle approaches the end of its natural road-life, however, its existence becomes much less pleasurable. Metal fatigue sets in. Every joint and ball bearing complains. The prospect looms of the motorbike spending its twilight years on blocks, its odometer inert, its flat battery becoming ever flatter, its plugs barely able to spark. It is now on a slippery slope towards the scrapheap. Even if it is decided that it is no longer suitable for roadside resuscitation, there is no certainty that the bike will do the right thing and develop terminal engine failure.
The biker virtues of loyalty and compassion do not permit many owners to trade their old rides in for new models. Moreover, these responsible owners cannot bring themselves to abandon their scooter on a secluded road in the dead of night: the moral principles of beneficence and motorcycle maintenance preclude such behavior, let alone the traceable vehicle identification number.
Further, it is not merciful in the least to leave the ancient two wheeled family member to rust in one of those sad roadside nursing homes for aging bikes. The quality of mercy is not strained, nor is their engine oil filtered. What sort of way is this to treat an elderly member of the extended family who provided thrilling road companionship for the biker during all those years? Such behavior contravenes the moral principle of junker justice.
Most riders and their mechanics are loathe to give these ailing creatures a lethal fuel injection, but there are alternatives. A quick and painless crush in the compactor at a modern scrapyard, and at least the old Harley could fulfill a useful function as a piece of yard art sculpture.
Motorcycles do not have an intrinsic right to road-life, yet there comes a time when we riders should cease ordinary and extraordinary means of support and accept that all motorcycles will eventually end up at the Pearly Gates. Premature compaction is ethically acceptable, if it is in the bike’s best interests to end its road-life, and if the bike is fully informed of the implications, and competent to consent to the process. The key moral principle is quality of road-life: the indignity of a noxious backfires, grating six speed tranny noises and a corroding frame, the so-called axle of evil, may outweigh the thrill of an occasional biker spin atop the old girl on local country roads.
In closing, let us assume that our elderly motorcycles wish to end their road-life with dignity. Providing they are fully aware of the significance of this decision, the principles of motorcycle-autonomy dictate that we riders should fulfill these final wishes by putting a timely and compassionate wrench in its works and running it at high speed without any oil in the crankcase, followed by a dignified compaction.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
Carol and Billie
(Tinker Belle and her distinctive ink behind the bar at Willow).
Tinker Belle was serving the drinks behind the Willow’s long bar when I came in off the street. Admiral Mac Showers had already arrived, and I brightened when I saw that he was permitting himself an Anchor Steam beer, which meant that his session with the oncologists had a positive outcome that week. I like Tinker Belle- she is from New Orleans and we laugh about the Cajun antics we have seen down there, and the joy their bring to their culinary art. In fact, Tink might be my favorite Willow bartender except for Liz-with-an-S, whose intelligent banter, chestnut hair and slim elegant neck make her as vital a feature at the bar as the alcohol. Almost.
I was not at all focused on the discussions with Mac. I vaguely wanted to get to the Vietnam Era, since I worked a project about the period that I still cannot fully unravel. But as with all these discussions, I decided to just see where it wandered on its own. I swear sometimes the Willow acts like a time machine, or the spinning circle from the Wheel of Fortune. This languid afternoon we landed in 1962, as Mac talked about some of the people he worked with in the Special Intelligence Branch of the Office of Naval Intelligence.
“My senior civilian in “Y ” Branch at that time was Ed Nielsen. I had known him since the late ’40s, when he came to work in Y-1, and he and I were long-time friends, and I was comfortable having him as a senior civilian assistant in Y-Branch. We both arrived early in the morning around 0700, we compared our notes, and did our things, almost before other people go to work. It was during this tour, and while working with Ed, that the DeSoto Operations began.”
“Yeah. The traffic is so bad here, and the parking, that I would be in the Pentagon by 0600. You explained about how you named it ‘Desoto,’ beginning with the name of the destroyer that did the surveillance operations and to save characters in the message title line. It was from the destroyer’s name, right? ”
“Right. It was the De Haven (DD-727). I won’t go into that again, but I will say that in a subsequent DeSoto·Operation there was an interesting development. I have not talked a lot about my wife billie and the three kids. We certainly dragged them all over the world, and naturally though the hours were long, we lived in some nice place. So it would have been on the second or third of the collection operations that Ed and I got a chance to give something back to the wives. The operating area was off Shanghai, at the mouth of the Yangtze River. As we developed the collection list, one of the requirements was put on by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to try to collect water samples out of the Yangtze River to determine whether there were any nuclear activities being conducted upriver that would be detectable from the effluent coming out of the Yangtze off Shanghai. For this purpose, ONR provided two pieces of equipment that the destroyer was going to have to lower into the water to collect water samples in certain places and at certain times.”
“I like Shanghai. I always was fascinated when we took the train in the New Territories in Hong Kong that we could have just stayed on until we crossed the border and ridden on to the exotic and inscrutable East.”
“I don’t think you commanding officer would have approved before the Brits gave Hong Kong back,” said Mac. “But now it is no big deal. Just don’t take your personal computer with you. But for the Yangtze collection mission, there were some
rather complicated instructions from ONR on how to properly operate the complicated pieces of equipment. I remember it because we needed separate but non-descriptive code names for these two pieces of gear so that we again didn’t have a long phrase to describe what we were trying to do.”
“Just like the DeSoto name,” I responded. “Brevity is the soul of elegance. So what did you call them?”
(Mrs. Donald “Mac” Showers, aka “Billie).
“It was simple. We named one piece of equipment “Carol,” after Ed Nielsen’s wife. The other piece was code-named “Billie” for my wife. This DeSoto patrol off Shanghai carried Billie and Carol equipment”.
“And the crews kept lowering them into the water trying to detect atomic effluent corning out of the Yangtze. I don’t think they ever detected any. Later in that tour — it was only a year — Ed Nielsen was replaced by George Kidd. This was Admiral “Rufe” Taylor’s doing. He felt that George Kidd, who was the senior civilian in ONI and had had well-rounded experience in ONI, ought to have experience in OPINTEL, which he had not had. So, Admiral Taylor replaced Ed Nielsen with George Kidd. And as good a friend of mine as George Kidd was, and continued to be, he never really understood and appreciated OPINTEL. And to lose Ed Nielsen and to have to teach George Kidd about OPINTEL, and expect him to function effectively as a senior civilian in the “Y” Branch, was a difficult undertaking.”
“Did Ed stay in “Y” Branch?
“No. I can’t remember where he moved to, but I think he moved up toward the front office because he later became the senior civilian and Technical Assistant to the DNI after I had left.”
“Wait- I actually know the name now. Didn’t they name the annual ONI award for analytic excellence the Nielsen Award?”
“They certainly did. Ed was a smart guy who put in tremendously long hours. A real analytic workhorse, and a unqiue individual. I knew him from the day we hired him until the day he died. He worked hard and always was full of ideas and enthusiasm. He was a delight to have around and be able to depend on. Which rimnds me: During my tour at Y1 we had a remarkable look into how the Soviets really were organized. We got copies of what were called The Penkovsky Papers.”
(GRU Colonel Oleg Penkovsky).
“That was a major intelligence coup,” I said, dropping my pen and taking a sip of wine. “Maybe the biggest of the era. Wasn’t Oleg Penkovsky a colonel in Soviet military intelligence- the GRU- and the highest-level Soviet officer to spy for the United States or Great Britain up to that time?”
“Absolutely. It was a trove of material. During his time in uniform, he grew disillusioned with the Soviet regime and wanted to help prevent a nuclear war between the superpowers, so he volunteered to spy for the United States and the United Kingdom.”
“Was he real? There is so much fakery in the HUMINT Business.”
“We thought so. And thus the problem on how to exploit it. Navy got the material from Langley, of course, but they came with the explicit understanding that we could read them but make no attribution to Penkovsky as the source. We could be influenced by them, but we could not compormise sources and methods. That made our problem very difficulrt because of the wealth of information the papers contained. One of the most import things in the papers were the Soviet “Military Thought” articles, which was a classified publication similar to our US Naval institute Proceedings, but more authoritative because it was officially blessed by the Kremlin, and classified in their channels. The articles contained information about Soviet naval tactics and stragey, which represented new trhinking and new things that should hae been made available more widely to our Navy that might have to confront Admiral Gorshkov’s expanding fleet.”
“In World War II didn’t you conceal the information gleaned from Japanese Codes in a low-level classified weekly Fleet Intelligence Bulletin and attribute the information to press reporting or Coast Watchers?”
“Yes, and it worked to protect the source of the information. Ed and I put our heads together and decided to write a “Think Piece” that was not attributed to the Papers. It was written as a speculation that the Soviets would be able to launch a ballistic missile that wouldd impact over a task force with a nuclear warhead. A blassitic missile that could be launched either from shore or from antohr ship or from submarines that would attack a task force at sea.”
“This was 1962 and the Missile Crisis was still on the horizon?”
“Yes. The paper we wrote was classified TOP SECRET and was given to a very limited distribution within the OPNAV Staff. It did go to the OP-03 and 05 crowd, to key offices we felt needed to know about this tactical development. From the source materials, we knew this was not speculation, and it really was something the Soviets planned on adding to their strategy. Of course, we could not say that. All we could do was speculate that this was something the Soviets might do.”
“Oh Lord. Protect the hapless intelligence wienie who tells the senior ship-driver in Acquisition that his ships are all going to get melted by the Godless Commies.”
“Precisely. The E-ring in the Pentagon and the Surface Warfare Community got so upset over our paper that DNI Frost was directed to recall and destroy all copies of the paper and not to pursue the subject further.”
“That wasn’t the end of the matter, though, was it?”
“No. It is still being written about in the open-source literature. As we destroyed our paper, Ed and I regretfully concluded that we were ordered to shred the paper because of the “not invented here” syndrome. And we had to do it, had to comply with the order and destroy all that wonderful analysis.”
“There was no way to get the CIA to reconsider their restriction on the information so you could prove what you had written about?”
“Not then. CIA was unyielding in their security control with the Penkovsky Papers.”
“And the Navy was left vulnerable and exposed to tactics we could not mention, even though we knew.”
I sighed. Plus ca change and all that.
Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra
Life and Island Times: Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind
Is there anything a man don’t stand to lose
When the devil wants to take it all away
Cherish well your thoughts, keep a tight grip on your booze
‘Cause thinking and drinking are all I have today
– chorus from the Grateful Dead’s Mexicali Blues
The road had thought differently about the bikers’ plans in the past. From time to time the byways had become a bitchy cognitive dissident. Several times it had snuck up on them and filched their status quo mojo. It nearly killed
them when hail pounded their backs like shotgun blasts. It didn’t give a shit about what lay behind them and what the riders hoped might lie ahead. It forced them again and again to confront what lies within.
They had had a full measure of motorcycle troubles during this voyage. Unlike anytime during the past ten years of riding, mechanical troubles seemed attracted to their bikes like vultures are to a zebra’s carcass. Yes, they had had
trouble so thick that you could add bell peppers and jalapenos and bottle it as salsa.
Steve, Augustus and Marlow should have known something was up when they saw large numbers of turkey vultures riding the thermal air currents as they exited the back gate of NAS Pensacola the previous afternoon. The vultures
had returned in droves to launch an all-out struggle with their road trip goals. Whose undistressed motorcycle was the target?
Soon after departing Tallahassee on I10 the following morning, they turned onto the blue highway also known as US 19 and got an immediate answer to the foregoing question. Steve’s snake-bitten scooter ground to metal-clunking,
complete full stop halt. It would go forward no more, answering hopeful clutch and shifts with fugly screeches and scrapes. It appeared to be the big one all bikers fear for their beloved.
They pushed his bike 30 yards into the divine providence-provided parking lot of a Wendy’s burger joint. After some general harrumphing and “aw shitting,” they repaired to Wendy’s air-conditioned comfort. They sampled the red-
haired burger purveyor’s breakfast offerings while Steve made cell phone calls to towing companies and a Honda dealership that would likely be of assistance.
Three hours and many cups of coffee later, the tow truck operator arrived and loaded the balky Valkyrie onto his truck’s flat bed. He and Steve took off at warp speed back to the dealership at which Steve’s bike had received an oil
and filter change earlier in the morning. Augustus and Marlow, not wanting to spend three days in the pokey for travelling 90+ MPH in chase, proceeded at a statelier and legally defensible pace.
At the dealership, they spent many hours in deep discussion. The favored topic was whether Steve should repair his 12 year old Valk or trade it in for a new or used Honda Gold Wing out of this dealer’s inventory. They used
Steve’s iPhone to search the web for Valkyrie trade-in values and recent comparable sales prices for new and used Gold Wings. Steve’s wife gave him permission over the phone to buy a replacement bike on the spot. Like nervous
next of kin, they paced the showroom floor to kill time while awaiting the bike doctor’s diagnosis of Steve’s bike.
After spending two plus hours at $130 per hour at the operating table with the Valk, the chief scooter surgeon and his greasy finger nailed interns appeared somber-faced with several parts of their patient’s internal organs in hand.
The drive shaft and final drive assembly teeth were completely stripped. Total bill with overnight parts shipping would be under $700. Given his near 9 year long, 80,000+ mile relationship with this machine, his wife’s offer
notwithstanding, Steve authorized the work.
Steve had a nonnegotiable September 2nd arrival date back home in the DC area. Since he was looking at having his bike back in operating status no earlier than August 29th, he was forced to abandon the remainder of the four
corners trek. Time had finally run out for Steve’s plucking the silver apples of the moon and the golden apples of the sun.
Since this was their last night together on the road, they did some drinking and thinking. It was all they had. As a small “we’re sorry for you, bro” gesture, they sprang for a 2002 bottle of estate-bottled Napa Cabernet for Steve’s
personal cocktail hour lubricant that night.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
(Panoramic View of the Naval War College campus at Newport, Rhode Island).
Willow was quiet that afternoon. It was a bit early for Old Jim to limp down the block for happy hour, and Mac Showers and I had were the only customers inside. A couple tables were full out on the patio, but the sultry August weather had everyone at a low ebb. If there were ceiling fans inside, the dust motes would have danced in the breeze. it would have been a setting out of any classic film noir movie. Mac was in an aloha shirt, no jacket, and I was still in my work clothes. We ere talking about the early 1960s, times that we overlapped in this world and which, on a good day, I vaguely recall. Behind the bar was Tex, the former Marine who stands about six two and has put on a little weight since he got out, but is always jovial and usually seems happy to see us. Tex was an interesting guy. He has some sort of a sinus problem that causes him to snort once in a while, and a cheerful indifference to the niceties of some social conventions. Which led to an unusual transaction at the bar one afternoon that will have to remain between the two of us.
But I was not there for commercial activity, regardless of how gratifying. I wanted to get through Mac’s time in the Y1 organization and get back to the Pacific, where I had some major questions to ask. So, without much ado, I launched right into it with my trusty pen in one hand and a glass of almost-Happy Hour white wine in the other. “So, with part of your organization colocated with NSA, you must have had a lot of interaction with The Fort.”
Mac nodded in agreement. “There were many interesting liaison activities that I conducted as Yl with NSA, some on very friendly and beneficial terms, not always at loggerheads with them, like the submarine program seemed to be. One at which I am not prepared to go into detail was the attempt between the Navy Research Laboratory and ONI on the one hand and NSA on the other to try to understand and capture the Soviet short-signal a burst transmission — which was just coming into use in the late ’50s, and surprising to say, we did succeed with great satisfaction in doing that. That was when I first met Dr. Gene Fubini, who NSA called in by NSA as a consultant to try to understand the electronic mechanics of the signal. I appreciated from the outset that Gene was a genius in these matters, and he and I subsequently became very close friends in many endeavors that the Navy had underway. He, of course, took up positions in the Pentagon — DDR&E, etc. — and I might comment that he was also is my neighbor, just around the corner when I was still in the house in North Arlington.”
(Dr. Eugene Fubini, the legendary Navy electronic wizard).
“I remember the di-graph for the classification, Admiral. So, you were still doing SIGINT in Y1?”
“We did in the organization, yes, absolutely. You could not get away from it.”
“That makes sense, since Naval intelligence has always been focused to a large degree on being able to locate shipborne radars and communications. It was our bread and butter and still is.””Okay, let’s move on to my detachment from Yl in the summer of 1960, relieved by Captain John Q. Edwards, who has subsequently written in the Quarterly about some of his experiences in Yl. I was selected to attend the senior course at the Naval War College in Newport, which I did.
“I love military higher education,” I said with a laugh. “Were you a Commander or Captain?”
“I had been deep-selected for Captain, but I only made my number days before being detached from the Pentagon. I was happy to arrive at the War College in Newport as Captain rather than as a Commander, which was useful from the standpoint of getting better quarters and accommodations. I looked on my year at Newport as a sabbatical after all hard work and long Pentagon hours. It turned out not to be so relaxed, because I became so enamored with the academic community, and I got reintroduced to a delightful library where I could go and contemplate the things I had seen. The library at the War College is open 24 hours a day. You can go there any time to read or research, or whatever. Each student, of course, was assigned the writing of a term paper. My term paper was on the general subject of “Soviet Submarine-Launched Cruise Missiles,” which were just coming into the inventory and in testing testing stages at that time. So I did a research paper on those for which I fortunately got an outstanding grade. I had some help from my old shipmate Art Newell, who was the intelligence specialist assigned to the War College faculty at the time, and coincidently was also my faculty· advisor. But the War College turned out to be truly a delightful experience.”
“I never had to worry about earaly selection. But I agree. I felt the same way about the Industrial College when I finally got a chance to go to school. Who would have imagined getting full pay and allowances while getting your masters degree?”
“The War College was not a degree-granting institution then. They worked out something with the Salve Regina College across the road to accept the War College curriculum as meeting their standards for a degree later, but it didn’t exist then. Higher military education was certainly a change of pace for me and the family. We were at Newport when the Bay of Pigs raid occurred.”
“1961, right? That That would have been the Cuban Crisis period,” trying to get my recent history straight. “The Cuban Missile Crisis was in 1962. The Bay of Pigs was right after JFK came into office, which would have been January of that year.”
“Yes. I was at the War College at the time of the Bay of Pigs. John Edwards was in Yl, because he mentions some of this incident in his account. I also was at the War College when the two Brits defected.
“Burgess and McLean, right?”
Mac gave me a thin smile. “At the time, I was absolutely astounded to read The New York Times about the Soviet accounts of the debriefings in Moscow after they arrived in Moscow. That was really the first time that U.S. and U.S./British SIGINT activities were openly made known to the Soviets, as far as we knew.”
“We seem only to keep secrets from the people who pay for them. The Soviets had moles everywhere, and there was not much they did not have. Down through the years, we have certainly had a lot of people willing to give things up to them, either out of ideology or for cash.” Mac nodded gravely.
“Yes, it was all printed for the general public. They were absolutely astounding accounts. I was sitting up in Newport reading about all this, knowing I was going back to the Pentagon to head “Y” Branch and deal with what had been exposed to the Soviets. Anyway, the year at Newport was interesting. That was the year that John Kennedy was elected. One of our speakers at the War College was Paul Nitze, who at that time was campaigning for John Kennedy. I remember his talk about naval activities and naval operations. During the question and answer period, there had just been an incident where a Soviet SIGINT trawler had attempted to recover a missile being tested off Cape Canaveral. And the question was asked of Paul Nitze, who was preaching the more aggressive nature of military operations that would come into being during a Kennedy Administration. One of the questions was, “If you were Secretary of the Navy, what would you have done about that SIGINT trawler that attempted to recover the missile?” And he shot back, “I would have sunk the son-of-a-bitch!” And he got a standing ovation. Two or three hundred students in the auditorium, very impressive then, and of course, Paul Nitze later did become Secretary of the Navy. I don’t recall him sinking any trawlers, though.”
(The Honorable Paul Nitze as SECNAV).
“The OpNav Staff must have told him there was a State Department?.”
“”Right. Among other things. Anyway, on completion of my War College work, I was ordered back to the Pentagon to relieve Captain Fred Welden as head of 1Y Branch. I reported in August 1961 and was delighted to be there. I felt that I had finally arrived at the epitome of OPINTEL in the Navy and was in the billet I had long admired and sought after.
“This was in the D-ring on the fifth floor of the Pentagon?
Mac nodded. “The D-ring on the fifth floor. The area was blocked off at both the 7th and 8th corridors, I believe. We had an enclosed hallway in which we had the parts of “Y” Branch that were not at The Fort: Y-2, Y-3, and Y-4 .
“What did each of the groups do?” I asked, taking a sip of wine and letting the pen rest on the bar where it was safe.
“Well. Y-1, or the Naval Field Operational Intelligence organization was still at Fort Meade, under John Edwards. Y-2 was responsible for briefings to the Chief of Naval Operations….”
“What we knew as CNO Intelligence Plot. Jake tried to detail me there one time.”
Mac nodded, “We called it that, too. I’m trying to distinguish between Y-3 and Y-4.” His face was screwed up in thought. “Y-4 was ELINT and was responsible for the peripheral collection activities, mainly of the VQ squadrons- the electronic collection P-3 Orion aircraft. This was really the Washington contact point over the activities of the VQ squadrons, and Y-4 was mainly manned by aviators that had been in the VQ squadrons and understood the avionics of flying those airplanes. Y-3 then, I can’t recall. It might have been collection management.” \
“You had this whole empire?”
“Yes I did. The whole shooting match, and I should be able to recall. It seems to me that Y-3 had something to do with collection activities involving the U-2 because, on this tour of duty for the first time, I was briefed among other things on the U-2 operation and also, before the tour was over, on the advent of satellite operations. They were collecting photography of military installations in denied areas.”
“Which would have been useful before Gary Francis Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union. That is about as denied as you can get.”
Mac smiled. “That was why we moved things onto low earth orbit. Not that many Russians there in those days.”
“And now we get our rocket engines from them.”
“It is a strange world, isn’t it?” asked Mac as he contemplated his Virgin Mary.
Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra
Life and Island Times: Eff-Ell-A
Their bikes had been grooving and gliding the past two days. They had made good time and covered beaucoup miles across the southwest desert emptiness. If the bikes had been their dancing partners, they would have said that they were cutting a rug like they used to say back in the 1920s. None of them were partial to the modern dance slang compliments like busting a move. It is big-time bad luck to associate the word bust with one’s motorcycle when you’re thousands of miles from home.
With their scooters two-step boogying to the road’s improvisational Cajun music, all the bikers had to do was point the way and keep themselves and the bikes and themselves fed and rested. They kept on smoking and spoking the roads.
They were sure that they had left their troubles firmly behind. Their 100 horse powered V-twin divas were lean and mean. All they needed were three more days to make it to the fourth and final corner. Just three more steps and they’d have gone door to door.
From New Mexico into Texas and Louisiana they’d been riding the rim of a great vacant southern highway. Howling on Texas crude high test, the motorbikes’ fire chased away each dawn’s chill air and fading half-moon. Their three bike formation was so knife-edge tight and imposing that big diesel trucks stayed away from rolling down their backs. Two consecutive days averaging over 620 miles each was their down payment on exiting this desert Big Empty. They couldn’t wait to hit that Florida border.
This day would take them from Baton Rouge to Pensacola Florida where the US Navy had located its aviation museum. Augustus and Marlow had a need to visit the old aluminum airframes that had occupied a significant portion of their military careers. After an afternoon visit, they highballed it to Tallahassee before the final two day push to Key West via Lake O and the Everglades.
This was the last day of significant slab time. They quickly finished off Louisiana, then Mississippi and Alabama. At a Florida rest stop, they were ambushed by the aromas of freshly mowed, sweet-smelling Bermuda grass and the Gulf’s warm salt waters. Marlow was back in his Eff-Ell-A!
After five hours and 300 miles, they entered the cool confines of the museum. As they wandered around the exhibits, they spent hours telling tales and swapping lies about young men and their flying machines. If their bespectacled eyes didn’t trick them, they spotted more than a few battle damage patches on the venerable birds’ fuselages from long ago wars in East Asia.
They spent an hour in the museum’s recreated Cubi Bar Café. The cafe was reconstructed using memorabilia from the Officers’ Club at Cubi Point Naval Air Station. For 40 years of deployments, squadrons and other units customarily presented a plaque or emblem to the Officers’ Club as gestures of thanks and remembrance. The Club closed in 1992 when the US Navy finally left the Subic Bay base complex in the aftermath of the Mount Pinatubo devastation. The recreation was chockfull of the best of the best. Before they ended this side trip down a nearly forgotten memory lane, they toasted the skills of those who caught the wire on the Cubi Point catapult in the “Red Horse Cat-House.”
After exiting the museum into the humid Florida panhandle air, they pressed on another 200 miles to an overnight stay in the Sunshine State’s capitol city.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat