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.
Single Action On Gonzo Station
(Eager tourists gather around the US-3 Viking utility aircraft, the only airplane with the legs to fly to Diego Garcia, and hence, the only way off Gozo Station in 1979080. Needless to say, she was a very popular airplane. Photo USN).
Gentle Readers, this is a day to cut the lawn at Refuge Farm and then head north rejoin the madness inside the Beltway. I was rooting around in the garage yesterday, something long overdue, and came across a camera-ready copy of the original manuscript to Nick Danger. I may inflict the whole thing on you one of these mornings.
Meanwhile, the Iran thing continues to occupy my thoughts. Supporters of the nuclear deal suggest there is only a binary way to look at what has been done. It was a choice between a less than perfect peace and a declaration of war. I have been in that position before, and it did not work out that way, though if you had told me this is where we would be 36 years ago I would never have believed you.
I am still concerned about how the Israelis will react, and what the Iranians will do with the hundred billion dollars that will start flowing their way now that the sanctions have been lifted by the UN, regardless of what the toothless Congress does. I guess we will see, won’t we?
But off in the parallel universe, the merry band of OFRP pirates continues to orbit endlessly in the Northern Arabian Sea. It is approaching Christmas of 1979.
22 December 1979
In point of fact, it is tougher than human endurance sometimes. I overstate the matter by a bit, but bear with me.
On the 22nd of December we got confirmation that a weird proposal from Lantfleet had been approved, and that the brand-spanking new USS Nimitz- “Numbnuts,” we call her- would be directed to pull the rods out of her Westinghouse reactors and steam like hell around Africa to relieve Kitty Hawk on Station at the Gonzo-rama,
With her she would bring two nuclear escorts, and she would be authorized a whopping 20 knots Speed of Advance (SOA). We knew it the day before, but Vinnie the Maximum Spook swore us to silence on the matter.
The implications from this tended to be fairly parochial. Naturally, Midway is like a union hire- first on and last off. The plan is to get Kitty Hawk back to cover the Korean Contingency, and let the Coral Sea pop out and relieve us. Fine and dandy.
The only sobering note is that Numbnuts can’t be here before about the 23rd of January, and after cross-decking the staff and some airplanes, that wouldn’t let the Hawk get anywhere out of the Indian Ocean for at least ten days. Then, allowing for poor old Coral Maru to get here would tack on another couple weeks, and there we are with the same amount of blue water to cover just to get to Subic Bay.
We all could do the math. That translates to something very much resembling the month of March before we see land again.
Oh, no big deal. At that rate, we would equal the post World War II record for at-sea days on the 28th of Jan, and forge on ahead to smash the record decisively by nearly 30 days. When you consider that 30 slow days in the slammer is about what you get for an encore drunk driving rap back home it makes you wonder.
The record, incidentally, (at least by one reckoning, and we concede there are several dubious claims to it) is 78 days, set by the Enterprise way back in ’64. Our attempt, should things go by the tentative program, would be something on the lines of 108 days. Just another attempt to demonstrate the combat readiness of the Navy’s finest airwing and ship.
God help us.
Which they are in the process of destroying. The Engineers are tearing their hair out now. The whole concept of the Midway deployment points out the glaring flaws in the ship construction policy that has dogged the Navy since the days of Whiz Kid McNamara, We were supposed to get an “incremental” maintenance program, which would be done by the industrious Japs in 20 day shots throughout the course of a busy year of Pacific deployments. The shortage of assets has thrown that Into a cocked hat.
Our contingency deployment earlier this year (24 hrs. notice for 18,000 miles of steaming) was of necessity unscheduled, and this one is about going to finish off some of the plant equipment. Two 10,000-gallon fresh water tanks currently stand unusable due to seepage of bilge water. Basic processes of corrosion are taking their toll in a thousand little spots; the flight deck is bare brown steel, and slipperier than a greaser’s hair. And all this only l/3rd of the way through the length of the deployment this promises to be.
I haven’t mentioned the fact that as crew dissatisfaction (read boredom, crankiness, and fatigue) some idiot will start chucking quarters down the intakes of the J-79 engines of our Phantom jets, and we will start finding ourselves out of the airplane business. It happened last time, and in even the best crews there are fuck-ups and dirtbags whoe grasp of the big picture ends at the end of their crank.
All that sort of thing would end at the slightest hint of combat action, but even steel must rest sometimes. And the flesh is weak, God knows.
The other implications are subtle, and have ripples that spread far beyond our parochial little spot in the pond. Pulling Nimitz out of the Med would leave only one carrier there, and the very fundamentals of NATO quake at the thought. Our Sixth Fleet presence is the main opponent to the Soviets; that is a given in all strategic planning in that Theater.
The abrupt removal of the foremost of our assets there can only point up how spread out we are. Our NATO buddies (the self-same ones who are still going at the arms sales opportunities in Iran: to wit, the U.K., Italy, and our erstwhile comrade France) are going to have to consider this very carefully.
It Is already on the planning table in the Kremlin, I have no doubt. There are so many areas to test now. The Vietnamese are about to begin the great offensive in Kampuchea, which will include some scrimmaging in Thailand without a doubt. How are we to react to that one, with only one carrier in the South China Sea? The Soviets could out-gun us in our own home turf. Even five years ago the South China Sea was an American Lake.
Also in the news today was our Soviet Natya tattle-tale escort. She signaled our bridge, passed the message that she would exercise her ADMGs off to the southwest, away from Midway. Bridge takes that message and passes to CIC.
Does anyone think to tell us in Mission Planning? Do the aircrews get it? Not a chance. An A-6 on the third event launch reports tracer fire from the Soviets. Jesus!
Also, an early morning thrill as we go to Flight Quarters early for the recovery of a Kitty Hawk F-14 Tomcat. It would be the first Tomcat trap for Midway. LSOs to the platform! Kitty has a main engineering casualty and can’t get the knots up to take the Tomcat aboard; some kind of inflight hydraulic problem prevents the jet from getting flaps down and is going to come over the ramp fast.
The CAG comes up on the box and says there will be NO, repeat, NO painting of the Tomcat in CVW-5 colors. Stickers, OK, but no paint guys…. At length, perhaps out of consideration for such shenanigans, Kitty pours the coals to it for one last try and successfully traps the tomcat.
There was mild disappointment that we didn’t get to pull one out of the fire for them. Something different.
A rumor going around that the Hawk got the body of the missing Marine, presumed to have snuffed himself the other day. No positive news, I would have presumed him shark meat long ago, on his lonely swim towards Israel.
Biff McCole suggested that it might just have been one of the bags of trash that we have been depositing off the starboard sponson aft for the last month. An interesting thought. Reports have literally thousands of the things bobbing about in the oil-slicked waters. The bags are supposed to perforated so as to sink within a few hours, but I suspect that they will be drifting for months. Perhaps providing the Somalis with a new industry…..
The North Arabian Sea does not get the Jacques Cousteau award for environmental excellence. This has got to be one of the most fucked up neighborhoods of the World Ocean; the supertankers apparently purge their tanks on the way in to on-load more crude. Looking off the sponson at the horizon, the water has an evil oily tinge.
It does not boil along the hull like it does in the cleaner water down south. It just has an iridescent hue as it slides astern.
I received letters from Dad and Uncle Jim which both included words to the effect that this would be one of the most memorable times in my life. I wonder if it is always like that; that the participants are too close to the action to discern anything more than fatigue and dull longing to be elsewhere, and the legend actually lies elsewhere.
I was perusing the Navy Exchange catalog (one of the few things to do in a situation like this is to plan where the pay checks which lie un-cashed in drawer and desk will be spent. Cameras, watches, guns) and Ed Markham strolled by my stool in Mission Planning. A Marlboro smoldered in the aluminum butt kit next to me, and the double paper cup on the planning table had been filled so many times that morning that it was starting to leak vile dark fluid out of the bottom.
We discussed the relative merits of double action handguns, Ed casually mentioned that a single action had very nearly got his head blown off one time. His war story was a classic.
“Well, I got shot down one time south of An Loc, see, and the Major who was in the right seat had his ankle trapped under the two armor seats that got unglued in the wreck. So, I moseyed down a ways to check things out. He got stuck for about 28hrs up there, but what I meant to say about single-action pistols was this. I came on back up to the fuselage where the Major and this Second Lieutenant was. The Looie was naturally dead, and he didn’t care, but I came around the wreckage and there was this Gook. I could tell he was a communist because I didn’t know him, and also by the AK-47 slung barrel-down over his shoulder, and so I pulled out my single-action Ruger Blackhawk.”
I asked Ed why he was carrying a big hog-leg like that, when the standard survival weapon was a double-action .38 Smith and Wesson.
He rolled his eyes toward the overhead. “They didn’t let us carry them issue, see, and I wanted to up-gun my survival gear. Of course, pilots are the worst people In the world when it comes to cleaning weapons, and I figured a single-action revolver don’t have as many moving parts as the .38s or those fancy semi-autos some of the guys carried. The Blackhawk was real Wild West style. Well, I’ll tell you, I was startled when I pulled the trigger and nothing happened. I was putting my arm back down and I remembered you had to cock them things. Nearly got myself plumb wasted, I did.” He yawned and stretched in his wrinkled zoom-bag.”Gotta go man the Alert. See ya.”
“Wait,” I said. “Did you shoot him?”
“Yeah. He got tangled up in the strap of his rifle. Thank goodness. Remember to cock the pistol, that is my motto.” He wandered off holding the Card of the Day, and I went back to doing whatever it was I was doing, making a mental note about revolvers.
Just for the record.
Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
Sunrise at Sea
I am not going to inflict the next episode of Nick on you this morning. In the process of getting from one thing to another, I ran across this ghostly note from a previous self. I scarcely recognize the young man. He was pretty full of himself. Well, that is what I think. I will leave it up to you to judge:
I stood on the flight deck this morning to watch the sunrise. It was a sky like a watercolor painting by John Singleton Copley, and the wind was brisk. The pastel colors were perfect. The Marines were doing Jody Calls as they ran around the quarter-mile circuit on the flight deck. It was enough to call back the strange days under the Florida Sun with our beloved Drill Instructor, Staff Sergeant Ronald Mace, USMC, and the misery of marching on the Pensacola grinder in the Gulf Coast August humidity by the seaplane ramps.
The representative of the Soviet Red Banner Indian Ocean Eskadra was about three miles in trail, the odd little bow-heavy silhouette of the Soviet Natya-class MSF- Fleet Minesweeper- grey on the grey oily water. He was around to provide target information in case someone wanted to whack us, which meant, of course, that the minesweeper would be the first to go if things got tense.
Plastic bags of trash floated off the starboard sponson aft.
Joggers and aircraft mechanics. The ship’s nav lights were still on. I was cool and collected in my flight-deck jersey. I wondered why my body had decided that 0130 in the morning was a splendid time to be awake. I walked around the deck after the sun had risen far enough that there was no possible doubt as to the fact that it was once again a fly day, The non-skid is totally gone from the landing area, worn away by hundreds of landings. The bare steel is oily and brown and very slippery.
I gave a portion of my numbed brain to an idle, dull hatred of the Iranians.
The situation today is as bad as the day before, and as bad as tomorrow. A ray of hope is the statement by Goat-ze-deh (the opportunistic Foreign Secretary who followed the erratic but easy to pronounce Bani Sadr) that he will release some of the hostages by Christmas. This is news to the Students, who claim that they are going to go ahead and try everyone for espionage.
Iran appears near to being on the brink of war with Iraq; heavy artillery has flown across the boarder already. The Soviets are conducting a massive buildup on the Afghani boarder, and in fact already have two airborne brigades deployed in country, I hold a dull hatred for them, too. Negotiations continue with the rebels in the province of Azerbaijan, who have rallied behind a more rational Ayatollah named Shariat Madari. Khomeini remains as crazy as a bedbug, I hate him with more than dull feeling, On him I would pull the trigger, and delight to see his ancient features writhe in agony,
And so a crisis goes on. No hope in sight, no way to pull the carriers off the line, because the situation is as bad as ever. Can’t be taken for a sign of weakness. And cannot act militarily for the same reasons we have not for the last month. Frustrating. Jesus.
The beat goes on out here. Larry Jensen, the Air Wing Intelligence Officer ,flew away on the US-3 yesterday. They bonged him away and minutes later the cat stroke put him light-years away from this steel island of repressed sexual longing. The latest Penthouse came aboard on one of the recent UNREPS and the pictorials had us squirming.
Are there such things as women, still? Or mail? Is anyone still out there, beyond the grey oval disk of the horizon?
Ah, I suppose we are spoiled here in the modern age of the 1970s: TV on the ship, the AP press-wire over satellite downlink; decent food (for institutional crap) and even the perpetual Space Invaders machine down in the wardroom lounge. Did you know that after ten racks of the little electronic critters it all goes back to zero again, and the score continues to mount?
That the elusive 500,000-point game has already been achieved, and that the tantalizing million-point record can only be weeks away?
That there are dope dealers on the ship was a known fact. The MAA in a routine search turned up over fifteen of the little dope pipes made from Lighthouse For The Blind Government-issue ball-point pens in our squadron’s Day Check Berthing?
Here is how they do it: the clicker end is unscrewed and a piece of foil twisted on to make a bowl.) I have heard rumors from those in a position to know that an ounce of dope is going for one hundred dollars. That there will be big money made by a few individuals is a known fact. I mean big bucks: the real stuff. Dealers who supply entire areas of Japan live right here with us on the ship. It is sort of interesting. If you get knocked over the head in Japan, it is probably another Yank that did it.
From noting sections of the ship’s Plan of the Day (POD), it would seem like the incidence of marijuana use on board the ship is ever increasing, c’est la Vie.
Numb. That is the only word for it. Sleep schedule all fucked up. I am getting fat. Can’t get the energy to work out. The Shah Is in Panama now, in a plush resort. A Senator in Minnesota has called for the return of the noted International criminal to the impartial hands of his former subjects for trial and eventual disposition.
I feel a dull hatred for him, too. I can only hope that The Senator’s constituents will have him shot, or not reelected, or whatever the worst thing is you can do to a political hack.
We had a flight deck cookout the other day. An Iranian P-3 came by to say hello, with a Kitty Hawk F-14 in trail. We munched burgers and got sunburns. My once vaunted Indian Ocean tan is peeling and fading. I can no longer dredge up the energy to do anything about it.
Maybe something will change tomorrow. It won’t rain or anything. Just give us something different.
Like today. First suicide of the deployment. It’s hard to evaluate. It was a Marine Sergeant, so you have to take into account the fact that his death wish probably goes back beyond the day he put up his right hand and vowed to do it all for Uncle Sugar and the Corps. He vanished from the flight deck clad in blue running shorts and white running shoes. They say he was up in Flight Deck control at one point and had described his desire to go to visit his brother in Israel, couched in mumblings and religious terms.
The Ship’s XO came up on the one-MC this morning and was inquiring for the whereabouts of the guy. Later, the Chaplain got on the horn (so odd to hear him before the ritual performance of the evening blessing that echoes through the spaces on the ship at 2155 each evening.)
This we took to be confirmation of the extraordinary nature of the search, the fact that the chaplain was calling from the navigational bridge. The helo searched for him in vain. There are bodacious sharks in these waters, and I expect that that is the last of that, save for the CACO call in some dusty town back in the World.
When you think about-it, this still is one of the healthiest populations around, Five thousand good Americans, all of an age where the bloom of youth is still on the downy cheek. And with all the heavy and dangerous machinery going bang and thump all the time, the JP-5 jet fuel in the water, and the murderous microwaves pumping through us all the time, it is remarkable that more are not squashed.
We have lost one or two in job related accidents (fewer, I would suspect, than what a comparable community loses in traffic accidents) and three or four in liberty-related mishaps.
Beer bottle upside the head for one guy, a good man, who stepped between two P.I. hookers. Felt fine till he got back to the ship and his bruised brain swole up and quit..
Another two in Pattaya Beach, Thailand, drugs and booze overdose. It is tough to go on Liberty out here; maybe tougher than just working. But there still was an eerie Veteran’s Day, or some such thing, when they commenced to firing off the saluting rifle up on the 0-8 level, and reading the List of the Midway Dead, their years and their names.
Down from the early war cruises off Vietnam, through the heat of the last great offensive, to our guys who died choking on vomitus ejectus in the small hours of the most beautiful nation of SE Asia late last year. We have more names, now.
And the Current Crisis. The conundrum. We are back to a training evolution. We are practicing the delivery tactics of the La Combatante class missile boats, which the Iranians have gone ahead and fitted out with the handful of Harpoons we were foolish enough to provide.
It is a ticklish problem.. What does one do when they make a head-in run towards engagement range? Do they become hostile by virtue of their course and heading? At what point can we end the charade and kill them?
It seems not to be my decision, and for that I am glad.
Don’t want any mach-plus speed missiles coming through the bulkhead: not in world famous Bunkroom Two. No goddam place to swim to.
We are thrilling the fans with our presence. We have reliable reports (the source of which is neither here nor there) that the commercial pilots are beginning to call our portion of the Gulf of Oman the “Fighter Playground,” After getting snuck up on (due to our grave
mistake in trusting the Kitty Hawk’s judgment in what exactly constitutes the threat axis.
What was that line from Animal House? “You fucked up. You trusted us” by an Iranian P-3, we have put a PIRAZ ship up due north and have been intercepting the shit out of everything that flies down the airways, military or commercial.
With good reason, too.
Although unsporting, certain unscrupulous people have been known to simulate all the identification, friend or foe (IFF) of the airliners, then suddenly plunged off the scopes and secured all modes n’ codes for an inbound run on us. We had not been overflown without an escort in five years, and in our neck of the woods, that is no mean feat. We went perhaps a little overboard in our prosecution of the civilians, (“I just wanted to see what the co-pilot was wearing. Honest. I wasn’t really that close.”)
They reported such diverting and endearing tactics as high-speed over and under fly-bys.
Certainly enough to give a sane man with plenty on his mind, like what hotel he was going to stay in that night, and what his chances of scoring with the new little number serving the fish back in second class the shakes. Seeing cold-blooded reality with two AIM-9s and a couple Aim-7s missiles strapped on suddenly flash by at Mach plus would certainly call for a stiff drink.
That is life in the Fighter Playground. Up there is threat and thunder. The surface of the sea around us is now covered with the plastic bags that contain our trash.
You can see the sharks hit them in the wake astern.
Copyright 2012 Vic Socotra
What Goes Around
So, this has all been a hysterical week. There is so much going on in the circus that passes for our public life that it is quite enough to give one the vapors. Major topics among my little circle of associates included matters foreign and domestic. For record, I feel bad about the lion, but I am curious at the amount of ink on that, compared with the other huge issue no one wants to talk about.
One was local: what is going to happen in the Charm City when the charges against the six cops indicted in the Freddie Gray matter fall apart. The general consensus was “stay out of Baltimore.”
Then there is the hundreds- if not thousands- of classified emails that a prominent politician had on her private server. Dave Petreaus got his wrist slapped pretty hard for something much smaller in scale- no jail time, but two years probation and a hundred grand fine- but that was still censure for such a lofty public figure. I only know if I had pulled a stunt like that on active duty, I would be asking for the guard to light my Luckies at Leavenworth Barracks.
Seems like the higher you go the less the rules apply to you. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, won’t it?
Then there is the usual noise about the economy and the climate, and something that really concerned all of us. That is the question of what Israel is going to do about the Iranians. The “how” and the “when” were the issues, since the consensus was that something would happen sooner, rather than later, and likely before all those billions land in Tehran’s coffers now that the UN has lifted the sanctions.
Which of course brings me right back around to those Iranians. They have been screwing with us for a long time- and before you go on about the Shah and the coup we engineered, I will be the last person to claim that this story only has one side. But the rise of militant Shia Islam is something I am opposed to, and they would cheerfully kill me and everyone I know. I like the Persian people, their culture, art and cuisine. The Islam part not so much, amd I won’t pussyfoot around on that.
I think we are a long way past where we should have thought about our immigration policies. I don’t think much of The Donald, but it shows you he has put a sausage-like thumb on an issue that bugs a lot of people.
Anyway, thirty-six years ago I was worried about the rise of a virulent theocracy and here this morning I am concerned about exactly the same thing. The lines haven’t even changed. “Death to America!”
What goes around and all that. Along time ago, I tried to keep everyone’s mind off of that on Ma Midway, and this is what happened in episode 8 of the stupid detective story that changed my life:
“THE ADVENTURES OF NICK DANGER, PRIVATE DICK”
TODAY: “OUT TO LAUNCH”
I HAD BEEN KNOCKED OUT MORE TIMES THAN A FAT PITCH TO THE BAMBINO, It was getting old in a hurry. This time I came around and discovered I could not move. I raised my arms and found they were shackled behind me with chains. I was gagged with some kind of cotton wadding. My feet were tied together with thick manila cordage. A heavy link collar ran from my neck over to the wall.
I had a feeling the situation was starting to get serious.
I was in another one of a series of small grey rooms. I never did like gray. I liked it even less now. I desperately wanted a smoke, but the chains kept me from getting to my lighter. I would have had to smoke it through my nose, anyway. I was pondering the ramifications of that when the door began to swing open.
I was out to lunch and I hadn’t even had breakfast.
The Quack came in first. He was still wearing that crazy white robe with the hood. His dark eyes seemed to twinkle behind his spectacles. “I hope the accommodations have not been too discomforting, Socotra,” he wheezed. “I assure you any inconvenience will be fleeting.” He giggled after the last part, as though he had said something exceedingly witty.
“Mmmmnghgh,” I replied cleverly.
“Ah, I’m so glad you still have that famous indomitable spirit. The Fat Man will be most pleased. In fact, he told me he might be stopping by to see you personally.”
I struggled at my bonds. If I could only free my hands from the shackles, I could tear the gag out of my mouth, untie my feet, and rip the chain out of the wall and rearrange the little doctor’s grillwork.
I was still working on the first part when the door opened and a huge hand reached in and turned off the light. I had only a fleeting impression of a paw as big as a grizzly bear and an arm that resembled an obscene kielbasa. The fingers were like little knockwursts. God, I was hungry!
I had a sinking feeling in my gut, and it wasn’t all because I could have used a rasher of bacon, a five-egg combination omelet, some hashed browns, a side of sautéed mushrooms, a steaming pot of coffee, and a stiff bloody Mary. Not all of it.
In the light from the passageway, I just got a glimpse of a huge form. The door swung shut, and I was covered by complete darkness, black as ink and impenetrable as anthracite coal. But I could feel the presence. And a soft muffled breathing like a steam leak.
The giant loudspeaker I had been hearing for days sputtered to life: “The starboard sponson aft is now open for the dumping of ‘trash and garbage,” said the booming metallic voice.
An oddly-pitched squeaky voice spoke from the blackest part of the room. “That sounds like an exit line, Danger.”
TOMORROW: “THE FAT MAN SPEAKS
Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
I tell you, the Hostage Crisis is a gift that keeps on giving. At the time the Embassy in Tehran was over-run, the last to be captured Americans on that awful 4th of November were a team of CIA officers who locked themselves in a vault in order to burn and shred sensitive documents, knowing that their actions might have provoked serious retaliation by the “Students.” When they finally gave up and unlocked the vault, they were confident that they had done their duty and protected the most sensitive secrets.
What actually happened next was an elaborate operation by the Iranians that went on for years. The thin strands of paper were laid out on the floor of the embassy and a laborious process began to number, index and reassemble them into the original documents.
They were releasing them as fast as they could, to buttress their claims
that prior to the take-over “the Great Satan” was trying to destabilize the new regime, and that certain Iranian moderates were in league with the Americans. The information was used to destroy groups like the Iranian Freedom Movement and the National Front. Individuals were targeted for destruction as well, including the Grand Ayatollah Shari’atmadari, and later President Abolhassan Bani Sadr and Premier Mehdi Bazargan. Their elimination from government solidified the position of Ayatollah Khomeini and his radicals.
I was keeping files on all of them, to try to keep track of what might happen next, and if a diplomatic solution short of war was going to do the trick. And of course, I had to keep Nick Danger bumbling along. In so doing, I was also tweaking the noses of some of the Navy’s social engineering programs. With the number of sailors needed in the post-Vietnam era, the Service was looking for ways to force the troops out of uniform and bring down the end-strength of the Fleet.
Just when another, much longer (if unacknowledged) one was just beginning. In fact, one side seemed to know it, even if we couldn’t admit it. For years the reconstructed documents continued to trickle out of Iran. I was working at the Fleet Ocean Surveillance Intelligence Center (FOSIC) in Hawaii in 1982 when we realized our secret-level products were on display in Tehran, all the little strips put back together and the locations of Soviet and PRC ships carefully highlighted, just as I had seen them at the time on USS Midway (CV-41).
The ‘Muslim Students Following the Line of the Imam’ published the documents in an astonishing series of seventy-seven volumes called Documents from the U.S. Espionage Den (Asnad-i lanih-‘i Jasusi). If you want to see some deathless prose from the Secret World, a sample is at this link:
I am not going to bother to look. I already had to read them. Plus, I had to get on with my detective story. The ship was starting to pay attention. Not that there was anything else to do except work, eat and sleep.
This was that day’s installment, completely unshredded:
“THE ADVENTURES OF VIC SOCOTRA, PRIVATE DICK”
TODAY’S EPISODE: “MEETING WITH THE FAT MAN”
I DON’T KNOW HOW LONG I LAY UNCONSCIOUS IN THAT LITTLE CUBICLE. It was dark all the time. When I came to, my head throbbed like the thumb you just hit with a hammer. It took two Luckies to get my thoughts back together.
The front of my cranium was starting to feel like Ted Williams worked it over with a Louisville slugger. It was starting to get me mad – mad»at the Fat Man and determined to foil his foul plot to hi-jack the L.A. International Airport. He wasn’t trifling with just anyone, y’know. He was trifling with Nick Danger, Private Dick.
I made up my mind to locate the Fat Man, pronto.
This was going to take some ace sleuthing. I put my Luckies back in my shirt and worked up my Number Two grim expression – the one I save for special occasions.
I undid the dogs on the hatch and stepped out into the corridor. It seemed like it might be night. I didn’t see any scrubwomen around. They must have finished up this part of the large gray building early and knocked off for coffee.
I followed the corridor for a while, and it started to jink around. All the jinks had steel doors, hiding secrets.
The Fat Man was leaving nothing to chance. He could shut this building up like Fort Knox if he wanted. I came past some sort of a cafeteria entrance where a lot of denim-clad Joes were having food thrown onto steel plates.
I sleuthed on by, taking note of everything.
Later there was a long room with a low ceiling and dozens of guys, sitting around eating. I strolled through casually. Next to the wall was a steel door in the floor with a red cross painted on it.
I sauntered on by and looked down the narrow metal stairs.
“‘X” marks the spot,” I thought.
And I hit the jackpot. There was a crowd of guys down at the bottom, lined up at the heavy-duty scale. Most of them had their shirts off. I gave a low whistle. I had hit Big Casino. There wasn’t a single one of them under 2l0 pounds.
Bingo! Now all I had to do was put the pinch on my man and I was home free. I stepped down the ladder and realized how tough it was going to be. I was surrounded by fat men.
I pinched the first one I bumped into. He squealed.
“All right, Bub, what’s the scam?” I growled.
“What on earth are you talking about?” he said.
“Oh, a wisecracker, eh?” I punched him in the kidney. “Now, out with it. What’s the bird’s-eye lowdown on this caper?”
“Weight control,” he moaned – and slid to the floor.
NEXT: “THE QUACK IN THE BACK”
Copyright 1980 and 2015 Vic Socotra
SAY THAT AGAIN, SAM
I am on my way to other things, this morning, and am going to leave you with the sixth installment of the Nick Danger saga from the Indian Ocean. Of note, the thing that got me sidetracked was an earnest discussion of the nature of the imperative driving Israel’s options in dealing with the rising threat from Iran, the one that our leaders tell us has been forestalled for years and years.
I reflect back to the “chickenshit” days and remember thinking the Israelis were going to go for it that year. Maybe they should have- but resupply of weapons from a peeved Washington is clearly a major factor in the IDF military planning cycle. The vision of the Administration was about an entirely new paradigm with the Iranians, not that this approach is anything new. Even Mr. Reagan tried it, in the form of a cake shaped like a key. That attempt was widely ridiculed (if memory serves) by the same media outlets who are waxing so optimistic about this “breakthrough” with an implacable regime. Which they keep reminding us is committed to the return of the 12th Imam and willing to do anything to destroy infidel and apostate Sunni alike.
But never mind, always worth a try, and history begins anew. As part of something else, I checked the ages of some of the key players. Susan Rice is 50, so she was fourteen when the hostages were taken in Tehran. Samantha powers is 44, and so was eight when this episode was penned off the coast of the Iranian Islamic State:
“THE ADVENTURES OF NICK DANGER, PRIVATE DICK”
TODAY’S EPISODE: “SAY THAT AGAIN, SAM”
I HAD SEEN SOME TOUGH COOKIES IN MY YEARS ON THE MEAN STREETS OF L.A. but that fella with the round silver doo-dads just about turned me inside out. Apparently this guy was higher up in the Organization than ENS Dracman. A pall as thick as death fell over the dining room at his words.
I suddenly remembered urgent business elsewhere and grabbed a pork chop and bolted for the door. I had to get somewhere quiet to think this thing out.
I raced down the long, narrow hallway and smashed my knee on a piece of steel somebody had cunningly welded to the floor. As I was getting up, I noticed a little steel tag on the wall that said “Fan Room.” I undid the clips and slipped inside.
It was as dark as the bottom of Big Tujunga Canyon at midnight. I closed the hatch behind me and collapsed on the floor. I lit up a Lucky Strike from one of the eight packs in my pockets and gnawed on my pork chop. Somewhere in this mess had to be the clue that would take me to the Fat Man.
I knotted up my brain muscles and got down to some serious pondering.
Point one: This thing was a whole lot bigger than I had thought. I had seen hundreds and hundreds of men walking around with tools and driving those little yellow taxicabs. Either they were planning a convention or something bigger was afoot.
Point two: It seemed like there was an underlying method in all the confusion.
Once, while I was watching some fellows working on one of the dozens of airplanes, a guy walked up and told me to put out my smoke.
A hard case.
Point three: This pork chop was greasy. Wait a minute, I thought…big organization…giant steel boat…plenty of airplanes…
Suddenly it came to me like the wet kiss at the end of a hot fist.
The Fat Man was going to hi-jack the L.A. International Airport! It had to be!!
All the pieces fit!!!
Just as I was lighting up another Lucky and congratulating myself on another stroke of detecting genius, I heard something move over in the comer. I was not alone.
A low voice said, “Hi there, big fella. Want to play?”
I went for the door, and in my rush I hit my head on the steel portal. I was down for the count.
TOMORROW: “MEETING WITH THE FAT MAN”
COPYRIGHT 1980 AND 2015, VIC SOCOTRA
Terror in the Officer Corps
We didn’t know then what we know now, thank goodness, else we might not have kept bumbling forward.
There was a distinct wave of energy and purpose about what we were doing, at least in the beginning, when it appeared we might actually do something rash, Carter Administration or no. By now in the parallel timestream of 1979, the Midway was nearing the Modified Location (MODLOC), a designated point on the chart around which we would orbit for the next few months. We had seen the exotic minarets of the Sultanate of Oman slip down below the horizon, the last land we would see for more than ninety-odd days.
In the process we would set a modern record for staying at sea, not that that it would stand for long, and other ships shattered our record. We had the honor of being the First Responder to the crisis, but were shortly joined by USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), and we settled into a steady routine of joint air operations and provided a significant carrier presence in the vicinity of one another off the southern coast of Iran.
Later, USS Constellation (CV-64) exceeded our record of continuous at-sea days in August 1980 with a total of 110 days. Later deployments were mind boggling as America (CV-66) and Shitty Kitty rang in with six-month at-sea periods.
Virtually the whole carrier inventory cycled through time on what my pal Dean and I began calling GONZO Station: Ranger (finally), Midway (again), Big E, Indy, Connie, Coral Maru, Nimitz and Ike all made appearances. I should not fail to mention the beans-and-bullets brigade, since their constant replenishment operations made it all possible. USS Roanoke (AOR-7) and Shasta (AE-33) both chalked up 180 days in the formation, keeping the big ships and Small Boys topped up. Taken as a whole, it was the largest American armada in the Indian Ocean since World War II.
Nimitz and her all-nuclear battle group made the most dramatic appearance, traveling at hull-speed all the way from the Med around the coast of Africa. They said that when they rounded the Cape of Good Hope the carrier was throwing a rooster tale from her stern. We read the progress reports of her advance with interest.
But it was boring. Aside from flying for proficiency, there really wasn’t much to do. I wangled a Temporary Alternative Duty assignment to visit one of the guided missile destroyers in the group, and marveled at how the surface warriors operated in shorts and deck shoes. Once I hitched a ride on the COD to visit Nimitz and shop at the ship’s store.
The Russians came out to visit, in the form of IL-38 May aircraft, and made an entertaining close-aboard pass. But that was about the scale of things.
The Comms guys did their best to keep us engaged, and once piped the short-wave transmissions of All-India radio on one of the channels on the ship’s television/Platform Monitor (PLAT) system. It was very strange listening to their version of the news: perfect diction but every matter of fact was curiously inverted, like we were the bad guys or something. Sort of like listening to MSNBC today. But mostly things were boring.
We spent an hour each day around lunchtime in the blazing tropical up on the 07-level of the island, competing to gain the best tans in the history of the universe, and succeeded. I think my skin is still damaged from the effects of the contest.
Meanwhile, in Tehran, the original number of 66 hostages, mostly diplomats and embassy employees, changed over time. A baker’s Dozen of thirteen women, African-Americans and non-U.S. citizens were released. The Ayatollah Khomeini argued that the latter were already subject to “the oppression of American society,” which we thought was a comical notion. A fourteenth hostage developed health problems and was also released. The stable number of captives in the Embassy compound was 52.
The Flag Staff turned on distribution of all sorts of messages to which we did not normally have access or a need to know, including Department of State cables and unevaluated Human Intelligence traffic. We learned all sorts of interesting things, including the name Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of he firebrand leaders of the ‘students.’
(Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 1980 at the US Embassy compound. He was later President of Iran and I didn’t like him any better that time, either).
Clearly we did have a need to know all sorts of things now, and low-level planning began with the Attack Squadron intelligence guys that they were prohibited from discussing with the unwashed in the Fighter squadrons. Diplomatic maneuvers had no discernible effect on the situation, nor did economic sanctions and the seizure of Iranian assets in the States.
The hostages were subjected to a rich variety of demeaning and terrifying treatment. They were blindfolded and paraded in front of TV cameras and jeering crowds. They were not allowed to speak or read, and they were rarely permitted to change clothes. Throughout the crisis there was a frightening uncertainty about their fate: they never knew whether they were going to be tortured, murdered or set free.
With all this going on, a diversion was necessary. I wasn’t involved in the planning for what became Operation EAGLE CLAW, so I did what I could to keep things interesting. Here is the fifth installment of Nick Danger:
“THE ADVENTURES OF NICK DANGER, PRIVATE DICK”
TODAY’S EPISODE: “TERROR IN THE OFFICER CORPS”
RECAPPING OUR ADVENTURES SO FAR: NICK IS ONBOARD THE BIG GRAY BOAT in search of the mysterious and enigmatic Fat Man, the Octopus of Crime in Far East L.A. After drawing long time in the brig, he escapes and assumes the identity of ENS Frank Dracman …
I felt secure in my new disguise. I wasn’t sure who this Dracman character was, but he was obviously a key man in the Organization. It was great. There was quite a line out in front of the newsstand where I bought a carton of Lucky Strikes.
The khaki costume got me head-of-the-line privileges. Just cut right in. There was a little grumbling, but I turned around and told them I was an undercover county dick, and that seemed to shut them up. It was also a secret message to the Fat Man to let him know I was on the prowl.
I didn’t have any place to put all those Luckies, so I put as many packs as I could in my pockets and dumped the rest in the shit-can. I was a little lumpy, but at least I had smokes again.
I made a strange discovery while I was sleuthing down in the big steel cave. I looked out one of the big picture windows on the right-hand side of the ship – and there was nothing but water out there! I raced across to the other side, and – sure enough – there was water out there, too!
I was surrounded by H2O. The Fat Man had taken the whole kit’n’kaboodle to sea!
Later that day, I noticed my stomach was growling like a Rams line-man. I had to get some grub, and pronto.
I followed my nose to where the food smells got thickest. I went down a steep set of stairs and saw a line of khaki costumes just like the one I had appropriated. It wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did, but then I voted for Hoover, too. My gut was doing my thinking for me. All I could do was be as inconspicuous as possible.
I walked up to the front of the line and cut in front of some guy with silver round doo-dads on his collar. ” ‘Scuse me, buddy,” I said, and reached for a plate.
TOMORROW: “SAY THAT AGAIN, SAM.”
COPYRIGHT 1980 AND 2015 VIC SOCOTRA
(Blindfolded US captives at the Embassy in Tehran, Iran, 1979.
You would think if there was a time to go to General Quarters, this would be it. Instead we seem to be sleepwalking through all sorts of stuff that is really important. I am not going to go off on the Iran Nuclear Talks, the side deals, the sanctions, the UN General Assembly ratifying the terms before the Senate get to provide the “Advise and Consent” stuff that I read back in civics.
Everything seems a little strange these days. Maybe it is just me. I have been at odds with the Islamic State for a long time, almost 36 years. So forgive me if I am a little peeved by all this.
Back in the parallel universe, Ma Midway is trucking on north at best speed, and the Iranian “Students” are parading their captives around, daring the Great Stan to do something rash. It was with that in mind that I took IBM Selectric typewriter in hand to pound out something. There was an alias in the Air Wing FIVE roster, a fake officer who could be blamed for just about anything- “Frank Dracman” was his mane, and he was a known liberty risk in every port in WestPac, and should have been in permanent HACC- House Arrest, Confined to Quarters. The only mail he should have been getting were non-punitive Letters of Caution, which is to say, in the Indian Ocean any mail is better than none at all.
Here is Number Four from the Tattered Casebook:
“THE ADVENTURES OF NICK DANGER, PRIVATE DICK”
TODAY’S EPISODE: “ESCAPE AT GQ”
THEY WERE MARCHING US THROUGH THE BIG STEEL ROOM FILLED WITH AIRPLANES. The guy at the front of the line kept yelling, “Gangway! Gangwayl” at the top of his lungs. He said it with a rising inflection that made it like a chant.
The only thing I knew for sure in this strange place was that I didn’t like it.
I was wearing some baggy shorts, a white T-shirt, and a vacant look. I heard through the prison grapevine that they were going to P.T. the dog-squeeze out of us.
Whatever THAT meant. We were marching past a low-slung jet airplane – one of those modern supersonic jobs. Suddenly the loudspeakers overhead started to blare: “General Quarters! General Quarters! All hands man your battle stations!”
The line started to move faster. I wasn’t a contender in the light-middleweight L.A. Golden Gloves of 1944 for nothing. I stepped quickly out of line and hid behind the landing gear of the jet. The line marched away without me, still chanting.
I was free! Now all I had to do was get uptown and find the Fat Man. I stepped out and tried to flag down one of the funny little square yellow taxis that were driving around. No one stopped for me. It looked like I was going to have to walk. I needed some new clothes, too.
I saw a guy in khaki pants and shirt strolling by. I walked up to him. “Say, Bub, you got a light?”
The guy looked at me blankly. “In the hangar bay?” he asked.
I clipped him on the jaw and he went down like a felled ox.
I stripped him of his khakis and put them on. I put him in my prison shorts. As I walked away, I looked down at my name tag. I was now “ENS Frank Dracman, VF-161.”
Whoever the hell that was.
I walked casually away. I passed a guy in denim dungarees and a badge.
“You might want to check out that guy in the shorts over there,” I mentioned calmly.
“Thanks, Mr. Dracman.”
I liked the sound of it. Things were starting to look up.
TOMORROW: “TERROR IN THE OFFICER CORPS”.
DON’T MISS IT!
(Iranian militants storm the US Embassy in Tehran, Nov. 4th, 1979. In years previous, the Marine Guard in Santo Domingo stood off violent protesters and were awarded medals. In Tehran, they were directed to stand down. Image courtesy Getty Images. Right reserved).
In the parallel universe of CV-41, steaming post haste for the North Arabian Sea, there is rising tension and excitement that we might be directed to conduct operations against the Islamic state. I have my briefing notes from the period- the big folder is entitled “Notes on that Iran Shit.” It is located at the farm, though, and I can’t get at it until I am there again. If it survived the last twenty-odd military and post-marital moves. I will hope for the best and expect the mice will have done the right thing and eaten it.
Anyway, it has been a little more than a week since the ‘students’ overran the embassy and seized more than sixty Americans on November 4. It was not at all clear who they represented, nor what they hoped to achieve. In fact, a similar mob had briefly done the same thing nine months earlier, holding the American ambassador hostage for a few hours before members of Khomeini’s retinue ordered him released. But this time, Khomeini saw a chance to consolidate his power around a potent symbol, and issued a statement in support of the action against the American “den of spies.”
The students vowed not to release the Americans until the U.S. returned the Shah for trial, along with billions of dollars they claimed he had stolen from the Iranian people. President Carter had toasted the Shah in Tehran in 1977, and then waffled about admitting the deposed former holder of the Peacock Throne to the U.S. for treatment of his throat cancer. The admission on humanitarian grounds may have sparked all this, but we were still figuring out how to say the word “Shia,” and no one on the boat had ever heard of the Holy City of Qoms, much less the whereabouts of the Twelfth Imam, and what was likely to happen when he showed up.
We needed something else to talk about. And in view of the fact that a bunch of American were suddenly locked up, I decided to send Nick Danger to the Brig.
“THE ADVENTURES OF NICK DANGER, PRIVATE DICK”
TODAYS EPISODE: “NICK DANGER, BRIG RAT”
WHEN I CAME TO, THE GREY STEEL WALLS WERE REELING AROUND LIKE A merry-go-round. I reached for my pocket flask, but it wasn’t there.
That wasn’t all. My clothes were gone, and all I had was a denim shirt and dungaree pants. I reached up to touch my forehead, and my fingers felt a soft mass just slightly smaller than a volleyball. Somebody had K.O.’d me, but good. As I ran my hand back further, I encountered only stiff bristles. Someone had shaved my head!
Was there no outrage the Fat Man would not perpetrate on his enemies?
Apparently not. I looked around and the little cubicle spun. My head still felt like a big pre-war Duisenberg had rammed it at full throttle. I grabbed the bottom of the narrow rack and steadied myself. At the front of the room was a wire mesh screen.
I was in the slammer. My hands went to my pockets for a smoke. They had even taken my Lucky Strikes!
I knew I was in for the treatment now. I saw a figure go by in the passageway, clad in some sort of camouflage outfit. The Fat Man’s operation was even bigger than I thought. This was going to take some dramatic action. I crawled over to the wire mesh and pulled myself upright. I heard footsteps coming back. “Got a smoke, buddy?” I asked nonchalantly.
The figure halted and turned my way. I heard a shouted command and feet pounded towards my cell. I clenched my fists. All I had going for me was knuckles and know-how against my captors. I didn’t think it was going to be enough, not this time . . . but I had one thing that they didn’t – an Expense Account …
DON’T MISS TOMORROW’S ACTION-PACKED CHAPTER
OF NICK DANGER: “ESCAPE AT GENERAL QUARTERS”
Copyright 1980 and 2015 Vic Socotra
Twitter: @jayare303 #nickdanger
Saps At Sea
(FITRON ONE FIVE ONEF-4 Phantom 2 goes aviating off the pointy end of Midway-Maru (CV-41) Photo USN).
So, I readily acknowledge that this is going to be a little schitzo, but if you have been around The Daily for a while you are probably used to it.
This is a bit like a novel I am listening to on my waterproof iPod as I try to swim for an hour each day. It is the only way I can survive the stultifying boredom of treading water with great bat-like strokes and full-extension leg kicks.
In the case of this particular week, the book is called “Into the Darkest Corner,” by Elizabeth Haynes. I am actually not completely sure how it came to be in the Audible Books folder of the device, but I am gratified that it did. It is a page-turning thriller, if one can say that digital pages in audio format can be turned, but the literary mechanism to carry the horrifying story forward is to pair the narrative in two alternating sections, one moving forward from 2003 into something really appalling, and the other moving forward from 2007 as the protagonist attempts to come to grips with the event (and the man) who nearly succeeded in savagely subjugating her and nearly taking her life in the process.
It also helps that Karen Cass, the lady who read the unabridged text, has what I presume is a Lancashire accent, which is North England, almost all the way to the Lowland Scot dialect. When she is talking about the hero having intimacy it comes out as “fook.” There is a lot of sex, too. A story well told.
Anyway, that is sort of what this format is going to be for this adventure in kludging together the story of how Nick Danger came to be, how my life was changed forever, blah blah blah. Part of it is going to march resolutely forward in the here and now of 2015 and part of it is going to be the frozen-in-time story of an aircraft carrier headed in harm’s way at the dawn of the struggle against militant Islam.
So, in 1979, I wandered down to the PAO shop on Ma Midway and handed my copy of the first episode to over to a bored Petty Officer and told him I had a submission for the Multiplex the next morning. He glanced at it without much interest and said he could probably use it, stories being a bit hard to come from where we were steaming off the coast of Africa, and thanked me for my interest in National defense.
Which is exactly the casual process by which life’s paths are determined. I had always been a teller of stories about some of the weird crap I ran into- but in those days, I called them “letters,” not “blog posts.”
I wandered back up to Mission Planning, where there was a curious change to the regular day’s affairs. Normally, we tried to fly eight-cycle days to keep up the Air Wing proficiency; I forget how many sorties that amounted to, but since we were heading toward a Major International Crisis we were concentrating on maintaining our Speed of Advance (SOA) and get to the Northern Arabian Sea.
I was having the eighth or ninth cup of the 200-cup percolator coffee on which we depended for survival and I realized that if I was actually going to do a daily episode of the private detective story, I needed to get cracking and generate something. I walked back to where the Intelligence Specialists had the big clunky IBM Selectric Typewriter with the cool font-balls and ran a piece of paper into the roller and looked at the blank page. The florescent lights illuminated the gray paint on everything, and the dully green linoleum of the fold-down planning tables.
I began to type, and let my fingers determine where we were going to go….clack, clack, the silver type ball pecked at the paper, changing its aspect with each new character like a raven pecking at a lump of suet…..
“THE ADVENTURES OF NICK DANGER, PRIVATE DICK”
TODAY’S EPISODE: “SAPS AT SEA”
WHEN I AWOKE ON THE PIER, THE SUN WAS DOWN AND A BIG BLACK CROW was looking me in the eye.
My head felt like a Russian division had just marched over it and not taken off their boots. There was a lump on the back, just slightly smaller than a billiard ball.
I rolled over and lit up a Lucky Strike. It made my head feel worse. I reached for the long flat flask I carry in the deep pockets of my coat. I took a deep swig. It didn’t make me feel any better, but the fourth or fifth pull made me just not care. After a while I managed to get to my feet. I looked back to where I had parked the Packard.
I was just in time to see it vanishing around the corner hooked to a towtruck.
The situation was starting to smell. It had to be the Fat Man. He was behind every shady deal in Far East L.A. I looked at the long gray boat that towered over me. He had to be in there somewhere. I would just have to get on the ship and track him down.
The crow pecked me on the hand. I drew my Luger, but the bird took off. I pumped off a few rounds but couldn’t connect. Finally, it perched up on top of a huge silver tank. A clear shot. I was just drawing a bead on him when a gray van pulled around the comer with lights flashing. The coppers!
The only way out was up a long double gangway that pointed upward toward the gray side of the ship. I took off.
I hit the top with a full head of steam. Some guy in black pants and a white shirt was standing at the top. All I saw was his mouth open in a little “o” of surprise. Then I was past him and in through a big steel door.
I broke left and something hit me hard on the head. It was like a big black wing settled down on me. I was out like a spark up the chimney.
“Idiot ran right into the F-4,” said the First Class. “Wonder what the eff he thought he was doing?”
“Don’t know,” said the Chief, “but maybe the Master at Arms can figure it out.”
DON’T MISS TOMORROW’S THRILL-PACKED EPISODE:
“NICK DANGER, BRIG RAT”
Copyright 1980 and 2015 Vic Socotra
Nick Danger, Master Re-Arranger
(USS Ranger (CV-61) bow the morning after the collision in the Straits of Malacca. US Navy image).
OK- so out of left field comes this request to talk about the whole Nick Danger thing. It was the first book I ever inadvertently wrote, and it was a long time ago, more than 35 years as the crow flies. The original publication was in the stapled pages of the influential Midway Multiplex, which arguably was the best newsletter ever published in the general vicinity of 20° N latitude and 65° E longitude, a location better known as GONZO Station.
You can look that up on Wiki if you want. They claim the acronym stands for “Gulf of Oman Naval Zone of Operations.” That is complete horseshit. I was there and I know. It stood for high octane cocktails and freedom we didn’t have and Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s school of journalism. Dean and I thought it up. There is another citation, this one from the prestigious Proceedings of the Naval Institute in the 1980s: “The term GONZO station was thought up by a bored LTJG who didn’t want to be there.”
Here is the general situation report, and how it came to become the first cinema noir detective novel created on a moving warship, and some other interesting and dubious ‘firsts’ of Naval Aviation:
“USS Midway (CV-41) relieved USS Constellation, CV-64 as the Indian Ocean contingency carrier on April 16, 1979. Midway and her escort ships continued a significant American naval presence in the oil-producing region of the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. She conducted naval exercises with the RAN off Perth, and made a port visit there and later in Mombasa, Kenya. On November 18, she arrived in the northern part of the Arabian Sea in connection with the continuing hostage crisis in Iran. Militant followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had come to power following the overthrow of the Shah, seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4 and held 63 U.S. citizens hostage.”
Here is how it all came to happen. On 21 February 1979, USS Ranger (CV-61) deployed for her 14th WestPac cruise, tentatively scheduled to cross the Indian Ocean to present a show of force during the pissing contest between North and South Yemen, which also was associated with the heebie-jeebies being felt in Riyhad, Saudi Arabia, over the unsettling matter of the Fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty in Iran, and the rise of the Shia theocracy. Ma Midway had just returned from that ambiguous mission, and we were still working on our third or fourth hangover back in our Overseas Family Residence Program (OFRP) home-port of Yokosuka, Japan.
Ranger never made it to the I.O. On 5 April 1979, she collided with the Liberian-flagged tanker MV Fortune just southeast of Singapore while entering the Straits of Malacca. While the large oil tanker was severely damaged, Ranger endured a significant gash in her bow, rendering two fuel tanks unusable. For safety of navigation issues, she turned back to Subic Bay, for temporary repairs and then to Yokosuka, for full repair.
Midway was the only spare carrier laying around the western Pacific, and despite our recent return from the Indian Ocean, the National Command Authority ordered us back to sea to meet the naval presence mission.
You can imagine the general state of moral. It was a mixture of profound depression for the married folks, and exasperation among the bachelor sailors. But we considered ourselves to be the U.S. Navy’s Foreign Legion, and inconvenience comes with the territory. We got underway, and proceeded south along the coast of the PC and turned west for the long turquois swells of the Indian Ocean. We were in a hurry, since we were late.
I went up to the signal bridge when we went abeam Singapore and tried to see the Raffles Hotel’s Long Bar, but no dice. We kept moving.
Now, the thing to remember about ships at sea in the old days is that you are completely out of touch except for the rare mail call provided by the Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) airplanes. No TV, no radio, no nothing. The Midway Multiplex was a couple pages of AP news articles copied down in Main Communications and assembled by one of the Journalism Mates (JOs) in the Public Affairs shop. Kind of thin gruel, but that is why I digested a paperback book a day as brain candy.
We had a marvelous port visit in Perth, West Australia, the consequences of which were probably as destructive to many relationships as having the Ranger crew and Air Wing making an extended port visit with the OFRP families back in Yoko. We departed to transit north and west toward Mombasa, Kenya, a port we had visited just a few months before. That would have been the second or third of November. On the 4th the world changed and it has not worked its way through the full consequences of that event yet.
We altered course and made flank speed toward the Northern Arabian sea on the Admiral’s initiative. CINCPAC conferred with the Joint Staff back in Washington, and we were directed to return to a bearing that would take us to Africa while the grown ups figured out what we were going to do. This was the Carter Administration, after all.
So after a very bizarre port call- very subdued, for a change- we got underway to do just what we had been planning on doing. Going to north to get close and personal with the hostage takers.
I would characterize the mood as being one of apprehension, braggadocio, resentment and excitement. I knew that the Multiplex was not going to get us very far in answering questions or providing diversion on what was likely to be either a war cruise, or more likely, a very long and very boring exercise in drilling holes in the North Arabian Sea.
There was only one thing to do, and I decided I was just the boy to do it. I would right a daily story tinged with irony, sort of in the tone pioneered by the comedy group The Firesign Theater, whose surreal humor had fueled many nights running amok in college. They had created a character named “Nick Danger,” a lummox version of a noir private eye. I decided to appropriate him for the protagonist of the daily episode. I was going to regret that, once I realized what I had gotten myself into, but you don’t know what you don’t know, right?
This is the very first one, as I took IBM Selectric typewriter in hand, headed northwest across the swell toward the North Arabian Sea:
“THE ADVENTURES OF NICK DANGER, PRIVATE DICK”
I PARKED THE PACKARD ON THE PIER, CLOSE TO THE BIG GREY BOAT. The hand brake clicked into place.
I lit up a Lucky Strike and looked over the situation. My sources had told me the Fat Man was aboard this ship. I had to find him if I was to unravel the mystery of the Great Rat of Sumatra. Lives hung in the balance. So did my expense account money. I pitched the cigarette butt out the window and got out of the car.
The wind was blowing in off the steel grey waters of the little harbor. A giant white mountain loomed up the south. Looked like an inverted ice cream cone. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I had the uneasy feeling I wasn’t in LA any more.
I snapped the brim of my hat down low over my baby blues. I checked the Luger in the worn leather holster under my baggy, blue suit coat. I was ready for action … or danger … or whatever. I was Vic Socotra, Private Dick.
I ambled down the pier and looked at the little workers busy loading boxes onto pallets. Lot of Japanese in this part of West California. I sidled up to one of them and lit up a smoke.
“I’m looking for the Fat Man,” I said, and produced the worn picture from my wallet. “You seen him around here lately?” I gave him my very best leer.
He looked up at me. “Nani?” he said.
“Listen, Bub, don’t give me the runaround. I’m a tough fella and I get results.”
The little guy didn’t seem to see where I was coming from. I pitched my cigarette butt away and got ready to rough him up a little. He seemed to look up over my shoulder, at something looming.
I should have known better. Something that felt as big as a crane hit me in the back of the head. I went out like a light.
The Japanese worker looked down at the prone Yankee. Crazy gaijiin.
“Gomen asai, bakka gaijiin.” Sorry, Crazy Westerner. He waved to the crane operator. Even the Yankees ought to know better than to stand under the crane arm …
TOMORROW: THE EXCITING ADVENTURES OF NICK DANGER
CONTINUE WITH “SAPS AT SEA . ” STAY TUNED.
COPYRIGHT 1980 AND 2015 VIC SOCOTRA