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.
First in the Water
I was watching the clock like a hawk. I had been up in the small hours, read and then dozed again with the vague sense that I had to be watchful about sleeping over the moment of the official opening of the pool.
Tapping on the iPad to clear the email queue that accumulated overnight, I decided to open the blinds to the bedroom windows so I could closely monitor any activity on the pool deck. At 0936 I saw a tanned figure in trunks with the vacuum working to sweep the pool.
I briefly panicked, but realized it was not the competition, but the new Lifeguard. I grabbed my stuff and hustled out the door. Briefly puzzled by the new gate, a product of the massive pool remodeling effort, I signed in as the first resident for opening day and was ensconced in one of the blue and white plastic chairs in a trice.
Rodko, or something like that, is our new minder for the season. He is from small village not far from the Polish capital of Warsaw. He said he had been working pools down in South Carolina before, but was excited to visit Washington, where they have many trees like they do back in his homeland.
Marty 2 came down as the clock on the pool wall clicked down to ten o’clock sharp. I kicked off my flip-flops and marched resolutely to the edge of the deep end. I glanced at Rodco and told him I was about to open the season for the 14th consecutive year. He nodded, appearing to not understand the epic significance of the event, and I leapt.
The water was crisp but not painful. It felt delightful to fully extend my arms in great bat-like sweeping motions, and move my legs without the pain of the arthritis. Marty 2 documented the event with a picture.
As it turned out, I was only the first human of the season. The ducks have been using the pool for weeks, and that is why Rodco had to keep sweeping up their leave-behinds.
I suspect they won’t be back once the swimmers are occupying the pool deck. Oh, and for the record, Martin and Jiggs were numbers two and three. There are no medals for fourth place.
Welcome to Summer, 2016. We have been waiting for months! Let the games begin!
Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
The Vic Special
I was avoiding crowds, to the extent that I can, which is pretty easy since I m mostly working from home these days. That means I rarely see any coworkers on the way to the men’s room, which I have dutifully re-labeled as a multi-gender, inclusive facility to confront of the major issues of our times.
In my mind, it is an issue that is right up there with the school millage initiative. No kidding.
With that important decision out of the way, I went back to being determined not to wish anyone a “happy” Memorial Day. There is a holiday to honor Veterans, and to thank them for their service. We call it “veterans Day.” I celebrate it with earnest exuberance. Memorial Day is about something else.
It is about the kids who did not come back, and there are tens of thousands of them who have not (yet) been found from our conflicts overseas. So “happy” isn’t a word I would use, regardless of how pleasant the time off is. Let’s try “respectful,” or “with remembrance of sacrifice.” Thanks. The offending greeting at the top came in the office mail. I have considerately cut their company name off of it to avoid calling them out as insensitive oafs.
Don’t get me wrong- aside from that little quirk, this holiday is one of my major delights. The Big Pink, Old-School pool will open in the morning, and for ninety-odd blissful days there is a little slice of heaven right off my patio. Exercise, audio books on the water-proof head set, life really cannot get any better.
What a way to take a lunch break- get up from the computer, slip into the trunks and flip-flops and be in the water in three minutes flat.
Between that, and drinks with pals later down in the country, with the buzzing of the bees from the new hives the Russians are cultivating, it gives a fullness to life with the arrival of the season of langour.
I need it. With everyone trying to cram as much activity into the front end of the week to avoid doing much of it at the end, it was busy, and culminated in a frantic Thursday. It was a stressful day that turned out fine. I had foolishly agreed to deliver an interactive speech on China and its expansion into the South China Sea to the Georgetown World Affairs Council’s monthly meeting. Putting together the PowerPoint slides gave me some severe flashbacks to my days as a Pentagon PowerPoint Ranger. Adding the overhead images of what the Chinese have constructed on the assorted reefs and shoals that they have boldly claimed (Thanks for the commercial imagery, Kimo!) made me slip into reverie about the years I did this for a living, and how strange the once-familiar waters of the South China Sea have become.
The monthly Council meeting was held at St. Peters Episcopal Church, in posh North Arlington, and featured wine and a pot-luck dinner, which was a treat. My remarks, such as they were, appeared to be well received by the 25-odd people who attended the event. They were engaged, intelligent and nice folks who care about the world around them. Great Americans, in a word, and we had a great time.
One thing I wanted when I got done and trudged back out to the Panzer was the cocktail that had been deferred in the interest of my customary iron professionalism. I got home about the time I am normally going to bed, so I raced through the usual pre-bedtime chores, and turned on flat screen to listen to the latest explosions from the campaign trail. Mr. Trump apparently got a couple loose delegates who had been on the wrong bus in North Dakota and clinched the GOP nomination.
Then, apparently the State Department Inspector General dropped a report on Mrs. Clinton that is a bit of a monkey wrench in the spokes of the juggernaut she has been riding on the way to her party’s nomination. I don’t know if her campaign will be able to weather it, so naturally I got thirsty.
I glanced at the calendar on the computer before heading to the kitchen to mix a cocktail. Nothing there that looks like it is going to hurt- a lunch, a duck into Macy’s to get this year’s swimsuit- the old ones are down at the farm- maybe a haircut. Thoroughly mundane things, no deadlines in any of them, and there is the prospect of summer actually arriving after a cold wet May. The weather predictions, when I clicked over to them, suggested that the temperatures will be warm enough that the first plunge into the pool will be OK, and not a polar expedition requiring a wet suit.
That marks the beginning of the most delightful season here, accompanied by the New Yorker and a cool beverage (in plastic cup!) on the pool deck.
Confident that there was nothing lurking to bushwhack me in the morning, I strolled back out to the kitchen to concoct a drink I call the “Vic Special.” I have been thinking about cocktails lately. I pre-ordered a copy of the new Waldorf Astoria Bar Book by Frank Caiafa, the manager of the legendary Peacock Alley bar in the Waldorf. I am a foodie anyway, and I was intrigued by the ide of perfecting a few specialty cocktails for use while lying about in the residence. It has not been released yet, or Amazon lost mine, and in the meantime I got a copy of the original, published in facsimile of the original, published shortly after Prohibition mercifully ended.
The prose is antique and quite delightful, and the recent unfortunate exposure to the horrific effects on society by the grand experiment. I made a Roosevelt the other day- a concoction of the juice of a half lemon, a half spoonful cane sugar, a jigger of Apple Whiskey strained over fruit in a short glass.
They told me it had nothing to do with The New Deal, and was named to complement the author of something called “the Square Ditto,” whatever that might have been. Even Google claims the writer is lost to history.
I reserve these drink experiments for home use, since ordering them out can result in some surprises when it comes time to call for the check, and also try to keep their distance from motor vehicles in case of enhanced reaction. At the Front Page, for example, we normally drink a short vodka the way Brian likes to make them: a splash of diet tonic on top, with a garnish of a slice of lime and lemon.
But with a successful public speaking event behind me, the hour growing late and the adrenaline still coursing in my veins, I thought a Vic Special might just be exactly what would get me ready for bed. Like a mallet to the forehead.
The Vic Special:
Vodka. If you are going to pour a bunch of other stuff in it, it doesn’t really matter the brand. I drink Popov and refill the fancy bottles I keep with it, and no one has complained yet.
Lime. You can use the real stuff, or just buy a jug of Nellie & Joes real Key West Concentrate
Peychaud’s New Orleans aromatic bitters.
If you are fortunate to have a crushed ice dispenser in the door to the freezer, stuck your 16 OZ stadium cup from the hated Cowboys under it and fill to the brim. If you are like my cheap landlord and only sprung for an ancient refrigerator, look and see if you were smart enough to grind some ice in the stand-alone Waring Pro ice crusher the night before, and curse when you saw you did not. Then uank four trays of ice-cubes out of the freezer, slamming the door for emphasis, and pop the cubes out and feed then through the grinder, filling the trays back up with tap water while wondering whether you should just bite the bullet and get a modern refrigerator and hire someone to install a water line so there is always crushed ice at your fingertips. Goddamn it.
Then fill up the stupid stadium cup with the logo of those losers on it.
Pour three fingers of vodka on crushed ice in a stadium cup- maybe four, the ice takes up a lot of room.
Add a finger or two of Schweppes diet tonic
Splash a generous amount of cranberry juice to add color and tartness
Squeeze a quarter fresh lime juice in, or OK, squeeze it out of that yellow plastic bottle
Four drops of Peychaud’s bitters.
Sip to completion on the patio in the growing darkness. Ah. Let the hazy days of summer roll in.
Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
(Ground Zero monument at Nagasaki).
I got lost this morning, looking at papers generated on another carrier in another ocean far away from the Wine Dark Sea.
I was looking to see if I had written an account of the Fighter Squadron One-Five-One visit to Nagasaki when our ship was in Sasebo, on the island of Kure. We had a chance to get away for the day and see the site of the place they dropped the second Atom Bomb.
You know why I was thinking about it, of course: The President is going to stop by Hiroshima, for reasons I am not sure I completely understand. His people say it is not an “apology” for using The Bomb, but it sure seems that way to me. Of course, I went to visit just to see it, so maybe he is just being a really first class tourist.
Anyway, I recall our visit to Ground Zero to have been a pleasant one, if a little sobering. We were not nearly as boisterous on the trip back.
The city around it was fully restored and vibrant, and I eventually decided that I agreed with our pal Mac Showers, who was Chief of the Estimates Section at the Forward HQ on Guam, that the invasion of the Home Islands would have killed or wounded a million American kids, and probably done the same thing to millions of Japanese civilians.
So, on a pure cost benefit analysis, I still think using The Bomb saved face all around, and was the right thing to do. And I agree with my late pal Jinny Martin, who visited Hiroshima a decade after the attack and sniffed that she thought that maybe it might have been better all around “if the Japanese had not started it in the first place.”
Blunt assessment, but true.
Anyway, I could not find the account of the visit in the mass of- no kidding- actual carbon copies of the stories I was doing in those days. We called them “letters,” and they went by a distribution system called the “U.S. Postal System.”
Anyway, I appreciate you bearing with me and reading this ancient material on a long-ago cruise in the fabulous Med. I think there may be another couple stories there in that mass of paper and magnetic media in antique formats.
I forget if I have bored you with the stop in the marvelous city of Barcelona, and the very strange ending of the last big night in that techno club where no one was dancing with anyone in particular- we were just jerking about with ourselves to the insistent throbbing beat of the music in the dark. It was a good time.
And the tapas? And that amazing garlic mayonnaise on the side? Fabulous.
It has been a fun romp through the months in which the Cold War ended, riding on one of the weapons that would have fought it, had the balloon gone up.
I had written the cinema verite account of the 1989-90 deployment under the working title of “Cruisebook,” as a tribute to the high-school year-books many ships put together to serve as an aide memoir of the Good Old Days for sailors with dimming memories. The bits about adventures ashore are as fresh today as they were then, but I worked as hard to try to capture the excruciating, numbing effort it takes for thousands of people to operate a mobile jet-port on the high seas.
Peacetime operations are hard enough- just imagine the level of effort that goes into actually making the ship do what it is designed to do: wreak violent kinetic havoc on the shore.
Looking over the graphic sampling of that sort of life made me appreciate the effort that went into it, and also realize how unapproachable the experience is for anyone who has not been there. The best way I can explain it all is to compare it to a project the actor Steve McQueen did in the later stage of his career, when his box office bankability let him do pretty much what he wanted, though his artistic soul was tortured by the Glitter Factory nature of the film industry.
You know from the car chase sequence in the movie “Bullitt” that Steve was a pretty good amateur driver. He liked to race in some of the SCCA events, having the money to burn on the hot wheels of the day. He got a chance to actually go for the Big Time, and raced at the 12-hours of Sebring. He wanted more, though. He decided to part ways with the usual Hollywood system of the day and produce his own “ultimate racing movie,” a feature-length film encompassing the reality of the legendary 24-hour endurance race in Le Mans, France.
Steve was coming off some magnificent films, but this one was going to be done his way. For the 1970 Le Mans race, his film crew covered the race in documentary-style, with camera cars actually on the track with real competitors, playing themselves and not acting at all. The film became a legend and there are supposed to be millions of feet of film accumulated over six months of shooting.
(Steve as he appeared in “Le Mans” (1971). Cinema Center Films).
Problem was there wasn’t a script, nor character development, nor sex, and only the incidental violence that can occur in racing machines at speed. That is equally true of “Cruisebook.” I mean, what kind of development could you expect from Lutt-Man or myself?
For all the problems, the film that was eventually released as “Les Mans,” and it is not a bad film, if you like cars and authenticity. It did lack a plot, and only resonated with the aficionados of endurance motor sports. The movie has become a cult favorite, enshrined in the pantheon of cinematic realism and blunt refusal to toe the line on the conventional Hollywood narrative, like having an actual plot.
Same deal with my account. In the effort to be in the moment, it is all about just that: a moment, the blink of an eye. Anyway, I am going to wrap up the odds and ends of that cruise in something more approachable, and leave the mass of “Cruisebook” as what it is: a quirky narrative of nautical realism with a blunt refusal to have a plot.
Instead, I think we are going to have a compilation of port visit stories. The only part I am going to have to try to explain intelligently is why we acted the way we did when we got ashore, which is going to be a trick. Otherwise people might get the impression that the carrier Navy is an institution devoted to delivering its officers to the most curious bars, bistros and houses of ill-fame with no apparent guiding principal.
I think you will like the Fly In chapter when we eventually return to Naval Air Station Cecil Field, a Master Jet Base north of Jacksonville, FL, and the families are re-united and everyone gets closure, of a sort. It is kind of a funny story, and we didn’t all die the way we probably should have. That would have been a cool ending to the story- but naturally there would have been no one to write it, so I am glad it worked out the way it did.
Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
Life and Island Times – 23 May 2016
All state and local public buildings, schools and courthouses on these coral islands are all named after locals. There is no Roosevelt High or Washington Elementary. US Presidents might get a street (or several blocks if he was a Republican) named after them, but that is it.
This memorialization of islanders extends from the most obscure gravestone to local events.
One such occasion was a mid-May parade down Duval Street. It was named after a long ago deceased junkman who lived in Key Largo.
Folk artist Stanley Papio saw beauty in junk. He was a colorful character who welded various car parts and discarded metal into “art.” With no formal training, Papio transformed car roofs into turtles and fenders into alligators. A water heater, pipes and wire became a sculpture of George Washington. A gas tank, oil pump, two rusty drive shafts and a set of crusty valve covers transformed into the jovial W.C. Fields. Some of his best works were rich in social commentary.
Papio was born in Canada, but spent most of his early life in Illinois. He was a welder in the U.S. Army during World War II, and then worked odd jobs across the United States before he settled in Key Largo in 1949. Although he came to Florida as a horse groom, his favorite job was welding, so he purchased a tiny lot on U.S. Route 1 at Mile Marker 101 on US 1 and went into business as a welder. Papio encouraged people to leave old cars, washing machines and dishwashers in his yard. In those early years, no one cared that he filled his front yard with junk.
The Upper Keys had not yet been discovered by tourists, and Papio’s nearest neighbor lived 15 miles away. Soon, however, encroaching developers, condominiums, neighbors and local zoning laws opposed his collection of junk. Neighbors complained about the eyesore, claiming his yard display was against the law. No one cared that Papio had been there first.
The town hounded him to remove the junk and bring his property up to code. He refused to comply, instead he created sculptures welded together from his treasured junk and displayed them in his front yard. The mess of keeping these large pieces in his yard infuriated his neighbors – they often had him arrested for zoning violations. Papio fought back. His world became one of satire and junk sculpture, some comical and many of pure venom aimed at his neighbors and local government bodies.
He gave his sculptures caustic names such as The Two-Faced Woman and Greedy Grit the Contractor. He also renamed his welding shop Stanley’s Art Museum, and charged 25¢ admission. By the time of his death 1982, private collectors, museum experts and art critics were flooding his yard. Three of his creations, W.C. Fields, The Monk and The Alligator toured Europe in 1981 as part of the U.S. State Department’s travelling America Now exhibition.
So in a fit of whimsy, islanders named and held a Kinetic Art Sculpture Parade in Stanley’s honor.
Unless Stanley created Calder-esque stationary works, these sculptures were human-powered art. Most were usually made junk or recycled materials.
Barefoot Stanley Papio
So in memory of Stanley here is a selection of photos from the First Annual Papio Kinetic Sculpture Parade.
PS: Parade organizers expected about a dozen participating entries. They were shocked by the three dozen entrants.
Copyright © 2016 From My Isle Seat
I had a Milestone yesterday, a minor but important one, amid the landmines in the battlefield of about to turn 65 summers old. It wasn’t about the pool, though that is the milestone of Memorial Day, and I can’t wait for it to open.
I won’t go into the first one- the dreaded Medicare, Parts “A” and “B.” It happens- and forgive me for sputtering when I discovered that this entitlement actually costs no-shit real money for something I haven’t even used yet.
I am not going to go into that particular outrage. Only the Vets would consider that healthcare is supposed to be kind of free- you know, annoying and hard to get at, sometimes, but always there when you need it. I know that is not the case with many of us, and hence the somewhat dispassionate view of the Affordable Care Act, or at least until I realized that it was a whole different side of the government I was going to have to deal with.
Not that the VA is a walk in the park- or a wait in the line at Disneyland, in the view of some of our senior leadership. Anyway, most of the readership is dealing with that symbolic 65th birthday with it either bearing down with horrifying speed, or receding rapidly in the rear view.
I was doing some other things under the first clear skies we have seen in the coolest and rainiest May since 1882, and my spirits were predictably upbeat. I have had a task on my little pad of action items for a few weeks, and it was going to mean dealing with the Green Machine over at Fort Myer.
Normally it is kind of fun to go over there and visit the Gas Station and the Class Six Store, and once a month or so stock up on necessaries at the Commissary, which is not quite as enjoyable since they decided to remodel the place with the low-bid contractor.
This task was not routine, or grocery-or-alcohol related. This was official business. Last year someone decided that the ID cards should not display our Social Security Numbers. Moreover, some rocket scientist had decided they could save on the budget for gate cards by using the bar code on the back of ID to control access to the base, yielding huge savings or something, though making the cards a sort of key to the kingdom, regardless of who was using it. Thankfully, the system didn’t work and they gave up.
Anyway, I got with the program and visited the Pass and ID Office with a hoard of other cranky old retirees, pregnant spouses and kids and close-cropped active members of the Old Guard, the 3rd Infantry Division to which the post is home.
It was a Zoo at the Pass office, with everyone having to get their IDs re-issued.
The system worked like the one at the DMV. You enter, punch your status into a keypad on a kiosk, and are issued a ticket with a number and an alphabetical code: “A” for active duty priority, “D” for dependents, and the dreaded “C” for the retired inconvenient.
It took two visits to get it done, and I was so relieved that I did not look at the new card until after I had returned to my palatial one-bedroom apartment at Big Pink. I cursed when I saw it. My damned Retired ID card had been issued with an expiration date! It was only good to the last day of May, 2016, the month before my birthday.
I summered in outrage. I have always had the expiration box on my ID marked “INDEF,” which is to say I only had to visit the Pass Office once in a blue moon. I figured it was because they are forcing me onto Medicare- which costs $136 a month! Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!
This meant the agony was already bearing down, and it took a while to figure out that it was because something was about to happen to me that had nothing to do with groceries, gas or cocktails.
So, with the weather so pleasant and the end of the month bearing down, I decided to take the afternoon and claw my way onto Ft. Myer and get the job done. The Pass Office is located on the back-side of the hill in a historic old brick building, appropriately below the stables and the Officer’s Club, both exactly the same in appearance as they were in the 1880s when the identical designs were used for Army bases all around the new American Empire.
I parked the Panzer down-slope and trudged up to the building in my colorful aloha shirt- hell, if I had to have my official picture taken, I wanted something festive.
I walked into the office and saw that it was not particularly crowded, though oddly composed. There were a couple officers in those comic-opera uniforms preferred by our neighbors to the South- could have been Colonels or Generals, though I did not recognize the insignia of rank. They also had their families with them, perhaps a dozen in all, very nicely dressed and all looking a little apprehensive about the system that would be credentialing them.
I had a chance to check them out, as I walked up and down the corridor looking for the ticket machine. It was not where it used to be, and felt more than a little stupid for my ignorance and bright shirt.
The Retired Captain in me stirred, and finally I stuck my head in an office and asked the nice young man who was helping someone dozens of numbers ahead of me where the machine was located.
“You don’t have an appointment?” he asked, looking up.
“You need an appointment to get an ID card?” I asked cleverly, as my stomach lurched and my plans for the day collapsed.
“The Colonel says so.”
Ah, of course. There is an “appointment” system, no “take a number” machine in the Spartan office.
“Why no numbers?”
“Colonel said so.”
“Well, how do you get an appointment?” My ID card is expiring and they are throwing me off military medical coverage!”
“Don’t you know someone?”
I looked at him, dumbfounded. This was exactly like how the old Soviet State worked. There were too few resources to go around, so the way the system operated was to allocate them behind the scenes, by people who you knew personally.
You had to know someone on the inside, or it was out to the long lines, where people queued up not knowing what might be available- toilet paper, shoes, whatever- at the head of the line, just in case it was something useful.
That is how “single payer” health care works in advanced countries like the UK- or the VA here.
Anyway, the young man took pity on me, and produced a ticket from someplace mysterious that he passed to me surreptitiously as I sat surrounded by the Latin American families. I had a book on my smart phone, and knew I was going to wait anyway, so I was hoping something might happen at some point.
I got three chapters into the book before a number changed on the screen at the front of the room, next to the flat-screen TV that was showing something inane on CNN- protestors in front of a Trump rally throwing rocks, or something. I was startled when a chime rang and I was summoned to Workstation 3, where a vibrant young African American lady took care of me, assuring me that everything was going to be fine.
“You are Green on everything,” she said. “CHAMPUS transitions to Tri-Care For Life, you got Medicare A and B. You are going to be fine.”
I was still suspicious as she took my picture- “You going on vacation from here?” she asked, but I didn’t mind, and was relieved that I had actually accomplished something necessary on the list of things to do.
She handed my new card over to me, and sure enough, the expiration block was filled with something that made me smile. I was “INDEF” again, and all was right with the world. As I slid the card into my wallet, I realized I now have credentials that will likely outlast me.
I think I was whistling as I walked back down the hill toward the car. The fife and drum corps of the Army Ceremonial Band struck up a tune as I walked, putting a bounce into my arthritic step.
I smiled. I would never have to go back to the Pass Office again!
At least, not this one.
When I got home I saw that they had strung the lane-buoys on the glittering blue water of the pool, which is going to open in three days. I put out the chairs around the patio table and yanked the cover off the umbrella I bought at the sad auction of the Willow Restaurant furnishings.
Life is good, considering the alternatives.
Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
Farewell to Paris
24 May 2016
Editor’s Note: Yeah, you can’t tell where the Daily is going to wind up on any particular morning. Yesterday we completed the agenda of events that will happen in Oahu to commemorate the Battle of Midway in 1942. I am proud to have been a 7th Fleet sailor in my time, and a resident of Hawaii for nearly six glorious years thereafter. It is a special place, and the observance of the pivotal battle that preserved it is important to me. But I was working on compiling an account of another pivotal cruise- the one that bridged the last months of the Cold War, and provides a perch somewhere between the whiskey-and-tobacco fueled Armada that won World War II, and the strange experiment in social justice that our armed forces have become. I have always been bi-coastal (not that there is anything wrong with it) and so we will veer back to the Wine Dark Sea. I will be looking through my notes to see if there are any of the ports I missed in this chaotic account, which will be consolidated into something much more linear and approachable shortly.
I got an invation in the mail this morning from a colleague at NAVAIR, inviting me to a celebration of LGBT diversity, with the most senior transgender officer in the Service to speak in a keynote address. So, think of this as a post card from another time.
4 January 1990
Farewell to Paris
My last priority mission for the City of Light comes today. We visit Jim Morrison’s grave. Great day. Weird scenes in the goldmine, for sure.
I have to work on my feelings about this…It is a lovely day, and we take the subway around some of Paree’s less famous districts. I tried in my broken French to ask where Jim was taking a short break.
“Ou est la Tombe de le Jim Morrison?” I ask, to which the old lady responded by holding out her hand and asking for “dix francs, pour le plan du cimitere Père Lachaise.”
Actually, it was much easier. We could have found the grave just by following the day-glo spray-paint on the side of the headstones of famous non-rockers. It was an interesting scene at the grave, with a small crowd of young people hanging out. They were not saying much. There was one hippy; or at least whatever it is that long haired kids are these days.
The tomb was a simple granite block with the name “JIM MORRISON” carved on the front. Not his full name and no quote. That was quite nicely taken care of by the graffiti artists on every available piece of sanctified rock in the immediate line of sight.
My wife isn’t that interested and I am torn by my feelings about our strange times in that decade and the symbol of this man lying beneath us. At length it appears that no stunning revelation will come; it was just a time of Strange Days.
“So long, Lizard King,” I say as we walk away. The sun shines bright on the acres of intricately cut grey stone and the neatly-aligned streets of the city of the dead. We get back on the Metro and head to the old city, where we get off at Les Halles for a stop at a little cafe and enjoy wonderful au gratin onion soup near the Pompideau Ediface.
Then across the Seine once more and into the Palace of Justice to view Le Chappelle (some minor difficulty with security, first the wrong line and then the press and all those shouting people…)
The Royal Chapel exudes the dust of an age so long gone that all the buildings of its time have gone. The ancient glass transforms the exterior light to soft rose and the stone masquerades as lace. We sit on benches at the very back of the King’s private chapel and marvel at the sheer age of this place, and how out of time it is.
We wander south past the Sorbonne and the House of Deputies in the Palace Luxemburg. Eventually, we take the train back to Montemarte and have cocktails looking out over the city. Later, a super romantic last dinner highlighted by the news from the next table that they bagged pizza-face bantam General Manuel Noriega in Panama City.
The restaurant has a strolling violinist, and I ask for a tune suitable for the arrest of a dictator. It could not be a better or
sweeter ending to the trip.
Later, we discover black lingerie can be fun. Wow.
We breakfast in Montemarte across from artist’s square, where we watch the painters assault the Japanese tourists whom we have seen everywhere.
Delicious Jambon avec frommage omelets with chunks of fresh bread. Fabulous cafe au lait. It can’t get any better than this, can it? Though a pall cast by the coming parting hangs silently. There is a flawless but long trip back out to Orly International. Standing on the platform at Carly de Roi, we wonder if we are ever going to get anywhere. The right train finally comes along and we triumphantly have completed nearly ten days without a wrong turn.
At the airport, we decrypt the system and make the line for the flight in order to be informed by an officious lady that The Airplane has been Threatened.
I evaluate the threat as low, based on my standing as a professional intelligence officer and leave the wife’s side only for a moment to visit the Mutual Of Omaha insurance machine. Joking aside, the threat adds an additional layer of tension to an already melancholy atmosphere.
“Should I go? Suppose they try to blow up the airplane?”
I feel helpless as the emotions begin to overflow- not just parting, but maybe the parting into eternity. What are the alternatives? Could we just sty, run away from the present and the Navy? Stay in the South or France and leave the kids to the Grandparents?
When the time comes we accept our fates, and it is a sad, emotional farewell through the customs gate. She is brave as she walks to her threatened flight and I am depressed and apprehensive about what might be to come.
The separation begins, again.
Lost in thought, I reverse course to the Gare de Lyon to find a train south and go back to the ship. I swill several beers at the station, killing time waiting for the train. I am filled with dread and growing anger at the Terrorists. When I board the TGV, I discover that I am seated in the midst of a bunch of Iranians in traditional garb. They have a profound aroma.
Several acolytes surround an ancient Imam. They have bathed, perhaps within the last week, using some foul-smelling substance that brings the bile up in my throat. I think they had to disinfect the Imam before he got on the train.
It is a really eerie thing, confronting these people. I was on Midway when we responded to the taking of the Embassy in Tehran after the French had provided asylum to Khomeini all those years, and I spent the next six months planning how to shove ordnance up their asses.
It is no wonder that I feel so strongly about their presence and I worry about my wife on her aircraft. I spend most of the trip back leaning against the wall of the swaying bar car to stay away from the Persians.
Finally arriving at the Marseille station, I walk back to the bus stop with a couple bubbas from the helicopter squadron- HS-15. We share stories of Paris and I think I unquestionably had the best time. The atmosphere on the Euro-bus back to the port and the pier where FID is berthed is boisterous and conflicts totally with my dark mood.
On the pier, sailors have built fires in old oil drums, and established a drum circle composed of empty paint cans, which they beat with a energetic primal rhythm, the red glow cast by the fire reflected on the steep gray hull casting shadows of dancing sailors. It is tribal. Our tribe.
Entering the security perimeter around the carrier, I decide to stop at the food tent and have a couple beers in the crisp air before re-embarking in the vast grey machine that looms above on the pier.
Josh and Lutt-man are waiting and they warn me of a frantic planning session aboard in progress even as we speak. Part of me wants to rush back in and take action but cooler heads prevail. There is a box with ten beers at Josh’s feet. Many, many beers come and go as I try to explain how wonderful the liberty had been, but the conversation always shifts immediately to the new targets we must plan and the preparations we must make to get underway again.
The FID looms above us in vast blank grayness. I guess I am back. While taking a leak near the dumpsters I discover a Turkish sailor going through the trash for intelligence and have the Shore Patrol detain him.
We walk up the ramp to the quarterdeck sometime after the beer sales are secured and all hostile intelligence collectors have been rounded up. Safe in my stateroom, I watch CNN news until I am sure that no Delta Airline Flight has been blown up.
With that, I can go to sleep in peace.
06 January 1990.
Work sucks. I am having a hard time getting back with the Program. I miss my family so much.
My, my. Here we go again. There is a Staff meeting, early, to plan for the staff meeting later, which is to get ready for the Ops meeting after the staff meeting.
In the afternoon I jog out to a franc payphone and call home. The checkbook was overdrawn, but the wife is home and safe and sound. The younger son wants a new Mutant Ninja Turtle toy. I promise I will take him to Toys R Us when I get home. Then I jog back to ship. Jesus. Liberty secures 1800. There isn’t anything left to do but detox.
Underway at 0800. The orange tugs usher us insistently away from the pier, coaxing the mighty FID to turn and head toward the breakwater and the open gray sea beyond.
Hail and farewell, Belle Français. We men of the Sixth Fleet thank you for your hospitality and for your wonderful food and for the most memorable of Holiday. Now it is back to work. I am hoping I can remember exactly what that is.
Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
Battle of Midway 07 JUN Formal Ceremony
Battle of Midway 07 JUN Formal Ceremony at PACFLT HQ
When: 07 June 2016,1000-1100
Where: Pacific Fleet Headquarters, Building 250 Flagpole, Makalapa Crater
Dress: Military- Summer Whites (Navy) Other: Duty uniform. Civilian: Aloha smart casual
Questions to LTJG Manpreet Hotelling 474-4442 email@example.com
They say that time heals all wounds. Ancient enemies can become friends, as is true about the nations of Japan and the United States. Other Asian nations become insistent and assertive in their perceived national needs, driving old foes closer together. But there are other old animosities from the Battle of Midway that still simmer.
This is not the time to revisit the bitter feelings that went along with the greatest feat of code-breaking and all-source analysis in the Pacific War. Most of the truth has come out about all that, and it is appropriate to concentrate on both the contributions of Naval Intelligence to the victory, but also to celebrate the sacrifice of those who fought the battle, and those who did not survive to see the triumph of arms to which they contributed everything.
I had an opportunity to meet ENS (actually LCDR) George Gay many years ago at the EAA Fly-In at Oshkosk, Wisconsin. He was an older gentleman then, still alert, and selling copies of the book he wrote about the epic battle from a ringside seat. Gay was the first of his squadron- Torpedo 8- to take off from Hornet on June 4, 1942. Gay’s unit found the Japanese carrier strike force and launched an immediate attack without fighter or dive-bomber support.
Although wounded from intense anti-aircraft fire, and with his radioman dying in the rear cockpit, George completed his torpedo run on the aircraft carrier IJN Kaga. The Japanese flat-top conducted an evasive maneuver and dodged the problematic MK-13 torpedo George had delivered.
Rather than banking away from the ship and presenting a larger target to its anti-aircraft gunners, Gay continued in toward the carrier at low altitude. He then brought his Devastator into a tight turn as he approached the carrier’s island, and flew aft along the flight deck’s length, thus evading defensive AAA.
In his book (which he graciously signed for me) he mentioned that he briefly considered crashing his airplane into the pack of Japanese aircraft being serviced and re-armed on Kaga’s flight deck, presaging a tactic later adopted by an increasingly desperate Japan late in the war.
He didn’t do it, and did not know how badly his radioman was wounded. He decided to make for Hornet after clearing the Japanese carrier. In the event, though, the slow-moving Devastator was bagged by a gaggle of five A6M Zero fighters, who peppered the aircraft with a hail of machine gun and cannon fire.
George pancaked his aircraft into the water, and exited the cockpit after seeing that his crewman was dead. Swimming away from the sinking wreckage, he hid under a seat cushion to avoid strafing attack by the Japanese.
Three other aviators were plucked from the water by the Japanese. They were interrogated and then executed.
George witnessed the subsequent devastating attacks by Yorktown and Enterprise SBD Dauntless dive-bombers that sealed the fate of three Japanese carriers.
It is those gallant men from Torpedo 8 and their comrades who carried out the desperate attack that this ceremony honors- and the pilots of the F4F Wildcats who tried to protect them, and the courage of the Dauntless crews who popped their speed-breaks and pointed their noses straight down to deliver their bombs with such decisive effect.
And to all the sailors who served in the gray hulls, and the Marines and SeaBees in defensive positions on the coral atolls of Midway who awaited the landing parties of Japan. American losses at Midway included 147 aircraft and more than three hundred sailors.
It was an honor to have met ENS Gay, who passed from this life in 1994. He was a genuine American hero.
Oh, I should mention that there is a Naval Intelligence postscript to George’s story. The official version is that when darkness came, he felt invisible enough to inflate his life raft. After thirty hours in the water, he was rescued by a USN PBY Catalina, the only surviving member of the thirty aircrew from Torpedo 8 who went flying that day.
Later, they took George to visit Admiral Nimitz to confirm the destruction of Kaga, Akagi and Soryu. He was featured in the August 31, 1942 issue of Life Magazine.
I mentioned my brief encounter with George Gay to our pal RADM Mac Showers at the Amen Corner of the Willow Bar a few years ago when we were discussing what it was like to be at Station HYPO during the battle, 70-odd years before. Mac gave me that tight grin of his, and his eyes crinkled in merriment.
“That bit about George seeing the three carriers go down? That was us, not him. George couldn’t see anything from where he was in the water. Kaga, maybe, but not the others. We wanted to get the good news out to the American public about what had happened, and we needed a cover. We obviously couldn’t say it was from penetrating the JN-25 Naval Codes. We used George, and we gave him the ring-side seat.”
“I’ll be darned. I wish I had been able to ask George about the real story.” Then I took a sip of the Willow’s Happy Hour white, and smiled along with Mac. Great Americans, they were, all of them.
Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
Fireflies of the Night
Life and Island Times – 22 May 2016
Fireflies of the Night
Most appropriately after yesterday’s relationship advice piece, Marlow and W encountered fireflies under the light of the full moon. It occurred after they had finished a wonderful meal at a friend’s house and decided to take a dip in his backyard pool.
As they sipped cidre doux, fireflies appeared over their heads as they lounged in the pool. All four diners were instantly thrust back five decades or more into their youths. They were captivated by the sweet memories of walking through twinkly green flashing backyards, capturing these critters in clear glass jars, poking holes in the jar lids for air, and placing grass for these magic flashers to eat.
Some of these intrepid glowing aviators swooped too low and landed in the water. With the diners gently lifting them, they were placed in the adjacent grass where the females possibly awaited.
These beetles were different – they had twin tail lamps like a Chevy Nova. None of them had ever seen this species, commonly called click-beetles. That wasn’t surprising given that there are over 2000 species of lightning bugs worldwide.
The Big Dipper firefly is the most common species of firefly in North America and was the one they had seen and played with as children. Marlow recalled being told as a 12-year-old that the male Big Dippers are prey for the females of a different firefly genus. These predator females mimic the effects of the Big Dipper females. What these femmes fatales want is the chemical they need to defend themselves from jumping spiders.
Humans use similar deceptive language of light and color to attract partners, lovers and sometimes meals. Marlow’s thoughts drifted to the multiple island species that prowl Duval St like 801 Bourbon Street pub and it’s cross dressers. It was then that he penned this:
Full moon on the horizon
Seen though green colored glasses
‘Twas time for them to hunt
Earthbound stars by their flashes
Constellations like Big Dipper
Simple yet complex
Shining toward earth
These lil green stars were searching for sex
Cryptic signals sent
From the ground to heaven and back
Timing is everything
For the codes their mates must crack
He flashes for answers to
Who, what, where
Some give patterns of deceit
To twinkle his eye
Closer (flash), closer still
Street lamps beckon him
Against his will
Throwing caution to the night wind
He approaches too fast
The conflict is over
He’s now her repast
So, dear readers, beware of deceptive flashing.
Copyright © 2016 From My Isle Seat
06 June 2016 NIP Battle of Midway Week Social at Historic Hickam Officer’s Club
Our newest NIP chapter extends the warm spirit aloha to former JICPAC Commander and PACOM J2 RADM Paul Becker as he returns to the lovely islands!
Following the opportunity to tour the site of Station HYPO at Building 1 at the Pearl Harbor Navy Shipyard, a social event will be held at what must be the loveliest remaining examples of an officer’s club in existence, and in one of the prettiest places.
Where: Hickam Officer’s Club Garden
2000 Signer BLVD, Bldg 900/90 (near Worthington Ave)
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, HI 96860
What: NIP Social, meet and greet with RADM Paul Becker
Price: $10 at the “door,” and includes light pupus and a selection of non-alcoholic drinks. A cash bar will be available for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. Spouse attendance is welcomed and encouraged.
During the confusion and chaos of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on that once-tranquil Sunday morning long ago, one of the vignettes that will always stay with me is a story that unfolded in the parking lot adjacent to the stately art-deco styled Officer’s Club.
An Air Corps pilot was avoiding the Mitsubishi A6M Zeros strafing the flight line, desperately thinking how he could get to an aircraft and get in the fight. He had parts of his flight kit with him, including his sidearm, and was startled to see that one of the marauding A6Ms was doing a pylon turn over the channel to the harbor where the Club guards the entrance. The turning Zero dived towards him, alone there in the parking lot. The sensible thing to do would have been to run. Instead, the story goes, the pilot yanked his M1911 Colt from his shoulder holster, stood his ground and engaged the enemy.
That is the sort of heritage that goes with the venue for the NIP Social on 06 June. It is the perfect follow-on to the open house at The Dungeon location of Station HYPO, where the analysts of Joe Rochefort’s team cracked the intentions of the Japanese Fleet, and enabled the warriors of Raymond Spruance’s TF-16 to decisively check the advance of the enemy, and enable the march to eventual victory.
The wall and Air Police checkpoint separating the two sides of Joint Base Hickam-Pearl Harbor are long gone, but no one who served under the palm trees dancing in the makai breeze will forget what it was like to enjoy a marvelous brunch on the patio at the Hickam Club- or the sudden silence that came over the diners as a sleek black SSBN slipped down the channel, bound on deterrent patrol in the vast Pacific.
This is a great opportunity to talk to Admiral Becker, whose entire career embodies the timeless core values of “Teamwork, Tone and Tenacity.” Join him and enjoy the company of shipmates and spouses on the historic waters, and tell stories of the visible and relevant contributions of Naval Intelligence to the Navy and the Nation.
See you there! Aloha!
(RADM Becker and the legendary RADM “Mac” Showers
Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
06 JUN Station HYPO Tour!
Battle of Midway Week, Pearl Harbor:
06 JUN Station HYPO Tour!
(Steps down to the Dungeon at Building 1, Pearl Harbor Navy Shipyard. Photo Socotra).
Rarely opened to the public, on the sixth of June (D-Day’s 72nd anniversary elsewhere) Station HYPOs hallowed spaces will be open for viewing!
Seventy-four years ago, the last air attacks of the battle of Midway took place on 06 June, 1942, when dive bombers from USS Enterprise (CV-6) and Hornet (CV-8) bombed and sank heavy cruiser IJN Mikuma. Also damaged were the IJN destroyers Asashio and Arashio, as well as the cruiser Mogami. Due to the horrifying loss of nearly three complete torpedo squadrons on 4 June, Admiral Raymond Spruance insisted that the “Devastators” from VT-6 accompanying the strike package not engage due to the threat from the deadly accurate Japanese antiaircraft fire. After recovering these planes, Task Force 16 turned eastward and broke off contact with the enemy.
Also on the 6th, Japanese submarine I-168 interrupted salvage operations and torpedoed USS Yorktown (CV-5) and sank destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412). Screening destroyers depth-charged I-168 but the Japanese submarine escaped destruction. Yorktown, suffering from numerous torpedo hits, finally rolled over and sank at dawn on 7 June.
COMINT intercepts decrypted in the Dungeon in the basement of the Naval District 14 Headquarters at Pearl over the following two days documented the withdrawal of Japanese forces toward Saipan and the Home Islands. ENS Mac Showers later recounted his duties during the battle, sitting in a chair underneath the pneumatic “bunny tube” message delivery system to race accounts of the fight to CDR Joe Rochefort and LCDR Eddie Layton. He was disappointed that there was not more reporting from the Fleet, and the news of what intelligence had done to prepare Admiral Spruance to fight the decisive sea battle of World War Two.
The Dungeon is still there, and will be opened to the public for a rare occasion on 06 June to commemorate the contribution of intelligence to the great victory. Most of the time, the staircase leading down to the basement where Station HYPO was located is closed, and the door at the bottom is firmly locked, and festooned with signage forbidding the presence of electronic devices. This is a rare and historic occasion, akin to the opening of Winston Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms in London’s Whitehall.
(The door to The Dungeon, 2015. Photo Socotra).
Since the end of the War, The Dungeon has been converted to training and storage uses and has not been restored to its wartime appearance. Extensive remodeling has occurred, but there are reports that some archeologically significant features remain. To aid the celebration of what incredible work was done in these spaces, Mac Showers sketched out the floor plan of the working HYPO in 1942:
(The fate of the Pacific War may have been determined in the middle of The Dungeon. The scheme to identify “AF,” the target of the Japanese Attack was devised by Jasper Holmes in the center, next to the desk of Mac Showers. Joe Rochefort presided from his desk at left center, next to Marine Red Lasswell, who supervised his team of linguists. At the right is the cluster of desks manned by Ham Wright, Jack Holtwick, Tommy Dyer and J.M. Steele.)
Support efforts to restore this historic place, and place appropriate signage at Building 1!
Time/Place: 1430-1600, Bldg 1 PACFLT Naval Shipyard, Pearl Harbor
Dress: Navy: Tropical White Long. Other Service: Duty uniform. Civilian: Aloha casual.
*Questions to PACFLT LTJG Manpreet Hotelling 474-4442 firstname.lastname@example.org
PACFLT/Hypo- LT Rich Hathaway 474-4442 email@example.com
Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra