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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.

Update: Special Agents and the VA


In early October, I wrote you about the desperate situation regarding Douglass Hubbard, former NIS Special Agent- Saigon. Doug had contracted a progressive and likely fatal lung failure due to exposure to the defoliant Agent

Orange while in Vietnam. Without a transplant, Doug was certain to die.

Compounding the tragedy was that our Special Agents, despite wearing the uniforms of combatants and being exposed to the same threats, have been denied access to the VA and VA benefits due to their “civilian” status. Doug’s

family was facing ruinous medical bills, and still is. But there is an update to the situation, and I wanted you to know about it.

Doug was fortunate. A compatible donor was found about four weeks ago. The transplant was performed and Doug was hospitalized for about a week. Admiral Tom Brooks marveled that Doug told him he was walking from his nearby apartment to the hospital. Before the operation, he was not able even to climb a flight of stairs and was on constant oxygen. Medical science surely is wonderful, but the good news on one front brings another challenge: keeping his body from rejecting the healthy lungs.

This is where the expensive part of the fight really begins.

Doug reports “the medications are horrendous, in particular the massive steroid dosages designed to prevent rejection. Co-pay for my first pharmaceuticals was more than $900. We are in a new phase….”

This is the beginning of a long-term cash outflow for medication and where the need for funding becomes acute.

You can find out more at the Hubbard website:


But as Admiral Brooks noted a few weeks ago, Doug contracted this disease on the orders of the United States Government, and this injustice must be addressed on all the levels of command from the NCIS to the Department of the

Navy to Congress and the Executive Branch.

Consider contacting your Congressman, and Senators who represent you to remind them after the election. We must take care of those who gave so much for their Country. It is a matter of honor.

– Vic

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra


30 November 2016

Editor’s Note: We are back to Mac today. What strikes me as being amazing about the historic times that Mac talked about- all of them down the decades- is the speed with which things changed in his war. From the devastating attack at Pearl to the “turning point” at the battle of Midway was about seven months. I get the strangest feeling that we are living through one of those similar temporal fugue-states right now. I will be interested to talk to you about all this seven months from now.

– Vic


(Willow Bartender Jasper Malig, of Guam, with a fellow, though temporary Guamanian (1945), Mac Showers).

Mac was intent about the ‘Winds’ messages. I had not meant to get into it, since it was an intellectual fight of long standing for a lot of people who are no longer alive. It was always in the background during the war, part of the long battle between the Navy and the Army code-breakers, and it burst out again, when the battle for reputation and honor was re-fought in Washington before the Joint Committee of Congress when the actual fighting was finally over.

I pushed the empty plate aside that had held the spring rolls and dipping sauce. Willow has its clock-work internal mechanisms tied to the lives of the people in the towers around it, and this afternoon was no exception. Old Jim the resident curmudgeon and my best pal at the bar came in and planted himself at the corner stool. He drinks Bud, in long necks, even though Tracy’s vision for her place is that of an upscale wine bar.

He is more than a bit like Norm on the epic bar-fly classic television show Cheers. I sometimes wonder what character I resemble, and hope it is not Cliff.

He waved, and distracted, I waved back. The line-up along the bar was decidedly more diverse than I remember the one being on television, what with the business guys and elegant ladies talking earnestly to one another, but I like it. I have been in a lot of bars in a lot of places in my life, but I have never enjoyed a place as much as I enjoy Tracy O’Grady’s Willow. I feel like it is my living room. It is that comfortable.

I slid onto a stool next to Mac, who was nattily attired in aloha shirt and sport jacket. He began today’s interview in mid-stream, based on an email exchange earlier in the day. “Captain Safford testified that he got the famous “East Wind, Rain” message, and that it was intercepted at the Security Group Station at Bainbridge Island. That was the message that was supposed to direct the Japanese diplomatic stations to burn their codes, and the die was cast. It was war.”

He crinkled his brow. “There is a whole body of literature about it now. The phrase ‘West Wind Cloudy’ was supposed to mean ‘war with Great Britain.’ ‘North’ was the Soviet Union, I think. Doesn’t matter. The message was never sent, or if it was, we didn’t get it in time to do anything with it. Historians have been chasing their tails over that since the war ended. There was a chief petty officer who was going to testify to Congress that he got the message and got it to Safford, but he was never called. The historical record is not what you think it is.”

“I know that from personal experience,” I said. I took a sip of Pinot Grigio as Willow continued its deliberate rhythm and ritual. The lights went down precisely at 5:15, even if there was plenty of daylight outside. The sudden dimness caused us to move closer, which I suppose is the point.

“See, the Combat Intelligence Unit, working from cramped spaces in the basement of the Naval District Headquarters at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard was on the defensive from the day of the attack until they started to ramp up. This might be the most significant development of the war that no one talks about. What Joe Rochefort and Eddie Layton and Jasper Holmes did was create OPINTEL.”

I nodded in agreement. I am an acolyte of the craft pf operational intelligence, indoctrinated into the cult by the legendary Mike McConnell, the best analyst of his generation. He taught our cohort the craft that had been perfected there in Pearl in the months that Allis reeled backwards from the inexorable onslaught of the Japanese war machine.

In our era, to do OPINTEL properly, an analyst had to combine overhead imagery, acoustic data, sensitive and not-so-sensitive SIGINT and blend it with highly classified HUMINT to get a clue as to where the Soviets were sending their Boomers. We were pretty good at the craft, and directing our maritime patrol aircraft to count coup on them by dropping sonobuoys and buzzing around to let them know they had been had, and the gig would have been up, had we so desired.

But cool as we thought it was, the basic methodology was nothing new, and came from the basement of the Admin Building at Pearl.

The quick success of that effort enabled Admiral Nimitz to allocate all of his forces to meet and decisively defeat the Japanese Navy at Midway in June 1942, just six months after the crushing defeat. It was pretty remarkable, and I have never had a good explanation of how it worked.

“So what did you do? What was your job? What were your hours?” I asked. I get all the big stuff, but I wanted the texture of what it was like to live it. I have stood watch when bad shit went down. Korean Airlines 007 is one of them, and that Iranian airliner that Will Rogers and his Robocruiser smoked. I remember senior people breathing down my back demanding answers when there were only questions.

Mac was a bit disconcerted. He lectures groups about Admiral Nimitz all the time, and the big strategic issues of the war to which he was a junior but direct participant. Those secrets are old enough to not still be sensitive, though I have a researcher pal who is still running into the gate-guards for the reputations of men long dead. Mac is self-effacing, and sometimes reluctant to take credit for what he did so long ago as a supporting cast player with giants. Then he smiled.

“It is like the cars in Hawaii. You have to remember that everything was going to the war effort. Tires were precious. So were engines. Nothing new was being made for the duration. Sometimes an automobile was worth only how much tread there was on the tires.”

“That is the way it was in Japan,” I said, remembering the 1969 Toyota Publica I painted up in squadron colors in Yokohama. “I had a little station wagon a departing shipmate sold it to me for exactly the value of the months remaining on the Japan Compulsory Insurance policy on the car. The vehicle itself had no worth at all, since under the Status of Forces Agreement we had an exception to the Beautification Law that forced the locals to purchase new cars every three years or pay an increasingly steep tax.”

“It wasn’t taxes in the war, Vic. It was just that there wasn’t anything available to buy. So there was a place that made Frankensteins. I got an old Ford that had decent tires but no engine. One of the mechanics spliced in an old Chevy engine, and re-worked the mounts and I was rolling. It was not much different from OPINTEL, Everything went together to make a rolling package.”

Mac fished one of the two colossal olives out of the bottom of his Virgin Mary.

“So what exactly did you do?” I was determined to get to the texture of what it was like in the Dungeon as the Pacific war lurched to the tipping point.

“I did files. Files and the overlay. We came in at all hours. There were a few officers that had families on Oahu, mostly legacy types that had been assigned there before the war. They had something like normal hours. Most of us had no families and nothing to do except work. Some of the linguists came in early and stayed late, sometimes around the clock.” He chewed the olive and contemplated the last one remaining of the three, still on the toothpick.

“The watch worked on big onion-skin paper overlay that was placed over a map of the Pacific. They annotated everything that happened over the course of the day in pencil. When the attack happened, the map only went to the edge of the Hawaiian Sea Frontier, but after the war started it was the whole Pacific. We had one in the basement that was the same as the one over at the Sub Base, where Admiral Nimitz had his HQ before they moved up to Makalapa Crater.”

Mac was looking in the direction of Jim, who was talking to Ray, the former Marine as Jim’s long-suffering and much younger wife Chanteuse Mary looked on. He wasn’t looking at them, though. He was looking past them into a morning long ago.

“I only went with the overlay a couple times. Jasper Holmes took it away for the 0800 briefing every morning. The HQ was on the second floor of the building, and you got up to the second floor by an exterior staircase.”

“I remember the building. Didn’t it become SUBPAC?”

“That is the one. It is Lockwood Hall now. Eddie Layton’s assistant was a linguist named Bob Hudson. He was a Lieutenant and I was an Ensign. I was in the intelligence office, waiting for Jasper to get done with posting the overlay and Dunbar looked at me and said I didn’t have a reason to be there and I should go out in the passageway to wait. We became pals later, but I thought he was a first-class asshole then. Probably not a very good linguist, either, since he wasn’t doing anything to contribute to the code-breaking. The guys that had been trained in Japanese thought they were the kings, whether they were any good or not.”

“So you were on watch in 1942, producing the overlay? The Battle of the Coral Sea and Midway?”

“Well, yes, the overlay was the big product. I understand they may actually have all of them down at the Cryptologic Museum at Corey Station down in Pensacola. They disappeared for many years, if that is where they were. They were all ULTRA classified, the best OPINTEL compendium we had, day by day.” He frowned, wistfully. “I don’t imagine I will ever see them again, if they really are down in Florida.”

“So aside from the daily overlay, what were people doing in the basement?”

“We were doing files. We had boxes and boxes of hem. Jasper had two yeomen working for him. A First Class named Bill Dunbar, and a Second Class named Irving-something, a nice Jewish kid. That made up the Information Section of the CIU.”

Jim was waving for reinforcement Budweiser. Ray was looking at his watch. Jon with no “h” was tugging at his bow tie. I wear them, too, though mine are all clip-ons, an affectation I use as a political statement. Jon ties his own, of course. A couple of attractive women walked by our table, looking like they were together and happy about it.

Mac warmed to the memory. “The linguists would get the raw traffic from the cryptanalysts, and they would translate as much of it as they could, leaving blanks where they couldn’t fill in the meaning. Then they brought it to us. I would then take the message and underline words of significance. I looked for the address, who it was from, who it was sent to, ship names, dates, place names, every base and every command. Then I counted up the number of underlines and wrote it on the top of the message. Bill and Irving would then make that number of ditto copies and we would put a copy into each file that matched the category. Our fingers were purple from the ditto fluid at the end of the day, and we had to scrub with some kind of gunk to get it off. Over those months we built an enormous cross-reference system. When the linguists couldn’t make something out, we could go to the date or the place or the unit and figure things out in context.”

I chewed on the end of my pen, looking at the bedraggled napkin in front of me. “I understand the Japanese had a high level of confidence in the security of the JN-25 system. Aside from daily key changes, they never altered the code groups in the internal system, right?”

The Admiral smiled. “Yep. Our system was much better, and actually an improvement over the German Enigma machine encryption that the Brits cracked at Bletchley Park. The confidence level over time increased with the volume of Japanese messages we cross-indexed, since they used a manual methodology. We rated our analysis of the identification as “D” at first guess, and as we became more certain, that would increase to “A” when it was a dead-lock analytic certainty. We would then annotate the overlay and compile estimates for transmission on the Fleet Broadcast to the operating forces.”

I finished my glass of wine and nodded when Sara-with-no-“h” came by and arced one of her fabulous eyebrows. “That is not much different from the way I learned the business.”

“It was just OPINTEL. Brute force analysis supported by cross-indexing and a massive filing system. No one told us how to do it. We did it as a matter of vital necessity to try to win a war. Joe Rochefort had the concept, Eddie Layton masterminded the execution, and Jasper Holmes was the genial genius who made it all work.”

“So, did you feel the tide beginning to turn? Jimmy Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo happened in April, and the OPINTEL picture gave you a draw in the battle at Coral Sea.”

“And then Jasper Holmes came up with the idea that let us figure out the target of the last big Japanese offensive at Midway. After than, we went on the attack, and we never looked back. Oklahoma and Arizona were still on the bottom of the harbor.”

Arizona still is, I thought. “When I lived there, I never begrudged going to work on Sunday at Ford Island, since the ferry from Mainside took us right past her memorial.”

“Her rusting hulk is still bleeding drops of fuel into Pearl’s placid waters,” said Mac. “She was topped up and ready to go. She is still bleeding, just like she did when we worked in the basement of the Admin Building.”

“She was still bleeding the last time I saw her,” I said, taking a sip of the Happy Hour White. “But let me get this straight: Rochefort and his merry band came up with the analytic methodology that permitted the victory in the five months after the surprise attack?”

Mac nodded and looked at the remains of his drink. “Yes. We did.”

(Turret mount of the USS Arizona with oil sheen, 2010)

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra

The Red Dog

Editor’s Note: We are taking a brief break from putting together the book on the life and times of Admiral Mac Showers. I don’t think he will mind, since another old shipmate from the pacific Ocean Area has arrived at the Big Fleet Landing on his side of the Styx. I got the word last night from my sons, who informed me that my ex-father-in-law had passed. The Taps announcement goes like this:


“Vincent W. Rohe, 95, of Medina went to his eternal rest on Saturday, November 26, 2016 at Medina Hospital surrounded by family. Vince was born September 28, 1921 to Vincent and Elizabeth (Lindhorst) Rohe in Cincinnati, attended Western Hills High School and the University of Cincinnati. He married Mary Geraldine (Connie) O’Connell, also of Cincinnati, in 1943 and was a decorated Navy combat pilot in the South Pacific during WWII. His squadron, VPB-116 flew patrol bombers (PB4Y/B-24) on anti-shipping and bombing missions. After the war, Vince went to work as an accountant. He and his wife raised six children in the Dayton area, and then later moved to Brecksville. A few years following his Connie’s death in 1991, Vince would later marry Viola Gearhart where they spent their retired life in Whispering Pines, NC. She survives.”

We worked on this story together fifteen years ago when I expressed an interest in his wartime experiences. The hook to the story is that his red Cocker Spaniel got 36 combat missions before returning to Ohio with his Skipper as the most decorated dog in the Sw Pacific. Rest in Peace, Vince. And for all the heroes who did so much so long ago.

– Vic

The Red Dog

(This is Crew Nine, my family in the Pacific. The picture inset with the leather flying helmet and goggles is Skipper Vince of “Red Dog’s Playmate,” VPB-116. that is me down front when I was a very young pup.)

Truk dreams, where the Imperial fleet sleeps in the lagoon, now home only to fishes.

Keep cool, fool, it’s Rabaul…


I am not going to be modest about it. What is the point in that? I one of the most decorated dogs in the Pacific Theater. My name is Red Dog, and I came about it through luck, mostly, and by having a good crew. I took pretty good care of my boys, if I do say so myself.

Skipper Vince is a kind hearted guy from back east in Ohio, round the Cincinnati area. Kind hearted, for sure, but tough as nails if you were not performing to his standard. He was a little older than most of the guys. He had a wife and they lived on Coronado Island while they were in training.

I am a $50 dollar dog. That is what Skipper Vince paid for me. A lot of people told him that was an outlandish price to pay for a little puppy, but I like to remind folks that I have a pedigree, and am one of the finest Cocker’s to serve in the U.S. Navy. Skipper Vince has excellent taste. I was the pick of the litter. I was picked on the basis of my superb color and my excellent voice. That’s what Vince says, anyway. And I am a San Diego Dog, with all of those extraordinary qualities. We tend to be pretty relaxed dogs, quality barkers, of course, but the superb climate has given us a certain mellow quality. One of the first memories I have is of looking up at the big bulk of Point Loma, where they had turned off the big lantern on the lighthouse in case the Japanese attacked.

I suppose I should start at the beginning. By breed, I am a Cocker Spaniel, and darn proud of it. Like many dogs of my generation, I was called to serve in the great conflict that swept over the entire globe. You have no idea today just how big this thing was. All of Europe was either conquered by the Germans, or fighting with them. Our pals, the Russians, had their backs up against the wall and it looked pretty grim. The Brits were holding on by a thread, London burning from the bomber raids that Adolf Hitler ordered. The kids in San Diego had a little rhyme they used to sing that went along to the Walt Disney ditty from Snow White:

“Whistle while you work,
Hitler is a jerk,
Bit his weinie,
Now it doesn’t work.”

I have a keen interest in tennis balls and geopolitics. It pays off in wartime to know what is gong on around you, and trust me, my floppy ears perked up about things that could get Crew 9 in trouble. Mussolini was a dictator in Italy, I understood, a sort of junior partner in evil to Hitler, I was told. He had thought up a lot of what Hitler put into practice, but Hitler applied German thoroughness to it all. America wasn’t in the war yet, not until December of 1941, but we all knew it was coming. Something was in the air.

Our problem of the moment was in supplying our friends the Brits and the Russians with trucks and ships so they could keep on fighting the Germans. So even though we weren’t fighting, we had plenty of good American kids and their mascots serving on ships that went to sea and got torpedoed by the German submarines. By the time I was born, in 1941, the war against the Nazis had spilled over into North Africa and was headed for the Middle East. All that remained was for something to happen in the Pacific and it would be truly global, the biggest thing that ever happened. So I’m proud to say I’m a veteran, but everyone did something. This was the first time they let women work in the factories, and it was what eventually caused a lot of very good things to happen to a very good country. But we had a saying for it then, human and dog. We were in it “for the duration.” Until it was over.

Skipper Vince had signed up for the Navy in 1941, before the war broke out. He wanted to be ready to go. He had done all his pre-flight training and before Red Dog’s Playmate was assigned to be our airplane. It was a big hulking monster of a bomber. This one had a boring Navy name- they called it ‘Bureau Number 38777,’ which meant it was a J-model PB4-Y1 “Liberator.” I have been very lucky to be one of the foremost canine authorities on aviation matters.

The Navy has bought the four engine monster after our cousins the Brits had success with it against the Nazi U-Boats. I don’t know what sort of dogs flew in those. I suppose it was probably bulldogs, since that is what I always pictured Mr. Churchill to look like. The war had been going on for nearly a year when the Navy made the decision. Skipper Vince was doing training at Coronado and up in the hills at Camp Kearny. It was the fourth series of airplanes to be bought by the Navy,

The airplane was massive on the outside, but oddly tiny on the inside- more my sized. The guys would always be bumping their heads on the sharp metal angles. The liberator was not designed for comfort. It was designed to haul people and bombs a long way and drop them on something. Not the people, anyway, and when the bomb-bays were open I had to be careful it wasn’t me!

The plane was powered by four giant Pratt & Whitney R-1830-43 engines, each with a four-bladed propeller. The Liberator could fly nearly two thousand miles on one load of fuel and with a full load of bombs. That is a long way. And the Liberator’s would bring you home, as my crew used to say, and I appreciated that since I really had to take a walk- if you know what I mean- when we got back. It had some firepower, and when the crew was testing the weapons I had to burrow under a pile of parachutes to protect my sensitive hearing. There were twelve .50 caliber machine guns, two up front with the nose-gunner, two in the tail, two on each side in blisters on the side of the airplane, and four along the spine, two just in back of Skipper Vince and another two just above the waist-gunners. We carried nearly 7,000 rounds of ammunition for the guns, and it was all linked together and run through little conveyer belts.

Along the way, I learned we could carry up to four 2,000 pound bombs, or twelve 500 pounders or mines of depth charges, depending on what the mission was.

PB4-Y2’s were coming out of the plant at the Consolidated Vultee plant next to Lindberg Field in San Diego.

The Official Name of BuNo 38777 was “Liberator,” which is what it was intended to do. It carried a crew of eleven young men and one small red dog. Red Dog’s Playmate, which featured a painting of a cute cocker spaniel on the nose. I thought it was very tasteful. And painted under the picture was the name of the airplane: Red Dog’s Playmate. You could tell the guys kinda idolized me.

By the time I was nearly three, this is what the crew looked like. The kids in the crew averaged 19 years of age. Skipper Vince was the old man at 21. Back home, their folks would think twice about giving the crewmen the keys to the family car. And now the Navy was handing them a four-engine bomber and telling them to go off and fly thousands of miles and fight in a war. These were great kids. The Skipper and my special pal was Lieutenant Vince “Pappy” Rohe (76 in green ink). Our mechanics were Eddie “Hammer” Hammister- First Mechanic, and Bill “Chew” Beechnau- Second Mechanic. He got that nickname from the Beechnut chewing gum he used to chew. And he would always park his gum under his machine gun.

Eddie “Birdman” Thrush was the First Radio, and “Mac” McKeon was second. Norman “Ball” Hoops was our tail-gunner, and Bob “Chiclets” Hansen was our nose gunner. He had almost the best view in the airplane out of his armored turret. Skipper Vince had a pretty good one, but the windscreen he looked out of didn’t let you see much except out and forward over the nose. Sometimes it was better that way, the Skipper used to say. Larry “Action” Jackson was our maintenance man and lead armorer, the guy who would arm the bombs once we got airborne, and make sure the fuse wires were rigged and ready to be pulled out. The wires kept the little propellers on the tips of the bombs from turning around until the bomb actually left the airplane.

The turns of the propellers are what cause the bombs to arm. You don’t want that to happen inside the airplane. Archibald “Skinny” MacLean was Action’s helper and second maintenance. Al Shafer and Don Kircherg were the other officers. Shafer was the navigator and Kircherg was the other aircraft commander that flew with us sometimes. But it was Skipper Vince’s show, just like it was his call to being me along as the Crew Nine Official Mascot.

Crew 10 was lead by LT Chuck Scranton, and another LT named Tubbs and some other fellows. They were not my Crew, but I did not mind playing with them if they were awake and wanted to throw a ball.

San Diego

Skipper Vince was introduced to a strange beverage called a “Stinger.” I guess that called it that because after a while it seemed to make him feel like he had been bitten by a bee or something. The guys were playing a card game called bridge, and they played in a very animated way, yelling things like “No Trump!” and somebody was called the Dummy but no one seemed to mind. After a while Skipper Vince went off to the Head, which is what they called the bathroom. In the old Navy the crew had to climb way up forward to use the facilities, and they called that part of the sailing ship the “Head.” So that is Navy guys call the bathroom even today. Army guys call it a latrine, but I am not an Army dog and I can’t tell you why. Vince was leaning on the sink and he looked sort of green, I don’t know why about that either but it might have had something to do with the Stingers. He looked so ill that it got me going, too. I might have had too much steak for dinner, because the crew used to pass down scraps off their plates. I accidentally threw up on Vince’s show.

When we go on a Mission, I always like to find a spot on a parachute bag under Thrush’s feet in the radio compartment. He is the radar and radio operator on Crew Nine. He gets scared sometimes and it is my job to keep him calm so he can do his job. There is a heat vent there, and the warm air and the vibration from the four big prop engines make it a cozy place to rest. It is a long time on a Mission. Sometimes we are gone for ten or twelve hours. I can’t tell exactly, because I can’t wear a watch. I listen when Lieutenant Vince- the Skipper- calls down for a time check just before the takeoff roll.

Skipper Vince clears his throat and then keys the microphone to talk to the Tower. “Red Dog’s Playmate at threshold. Ready to roll.”

“Roger Red Dog. Cleared for takeoff” comes crackles the radio. Then the Skipper and Lieutenant Kirchberg reach down between them and push the throttles forward. The skipper releases the brake pedal, and the big airplane starts to move, first slowly and then faster and faster until the heavy tropical air begins to lift the nose wheel off the ground.

The plane picks up speed. “OK” calls the Skipper, “I think we’re going flying.” He begins to pull back on the yolk gently and the nose begins to come up. We roll for a while longer, since the airplane is heavy with fuel and bombs. Then the wings tip slightly from side to side and the main mount tires begin to hop along the runway.

I am confident that we are going to get airborne. My combat station is in a box on top of a flight jacket between the Chiclet and Chew, the gunners in the waist of the airplane.

Chew also is the ball-turret gunner, He will not crawl down into the turret on this long flight because we do not think there are any Japanese between us and Hawaii. The briefing officer had seemed pretty confident on that score, and he crawls down into the belly turret. It was a power turret with a little door in the back. He operated it with little pedals and would turn every which way. It was kind of scary, though, and I didn’t like to see him go down there because if the Japanese shot at us and we lost power, he was going to be stuck in there. And if the landing gear didn’t come down, then he was going to get scraped off the bottom of the airplane. So I was always relieved when the turret door came open and he got out of it. I would snuggle up to him and let him scratch my head behind the ears. It seemed to make him relax.

Vince flew west with Crew Nine from Camp Kearny to NAS Kaneohe on the North Shore of Oahu. It is the prettiest base in the world. The mountains nestle it. The bay is azure. The palms hang languid or dance in the sea breeze in the afternoon. A little atoll like a Chinaman’s hat sticks out at the end of the peninsula. Everything moves slowly here, cut off from the hustle of Honolulu. Tranquil, it’s peace was only marred once by the Japanese, who visited here twice on the morning of December seventh, 1941. They left K-Bay in smoking wreckage.


Skipper Vince trained first on what they called P-boats, the PBY-5 flying boats. Full stall landings, dig in the after part of the hull and then let the boat flop down. It was tough on the engineer, who sat up high.

They flew from Camp Kearny, to K-bay, flying on a beacon from a Navy Destroyer Escort, station in the vastness to broadcast a signal to keep them on track on the fourteen hour flight, lumbering on the four Pratt and Whitney engines.

One of the other crews lost an engine on take-off, the mighty prop seizing, then feathered. The airplane was heavy with fuel for the long flight, and the skipper tried to bring it back too soon. Crew eight didn’t wait long enough, and they crashed and all of them died. K-Bay thought that it was the Red Dog’s crew that had crashed, because they took off right after them. So maybe after that, having died once, Crew nine got a free pass.

Then the Skipper took training on radar flying. Another crew was lost at low altitude in the channel between Ohau and Molokai, where the current runs swiftly. They all lived, the patrol plane breaking apart at the nose and the waist, deposited the surprised crew into the chilly water exactly like it was planned that way.

There had been a meeting back in Washington. I heard Skipper Vince talk about it. All the Navy guys were interested. They had all the scuttlebutt. That’s an old Navy term, and all of us in the Navy are proud of our special language. It makes us special. A scuttlebutt is a drinking fountain now, but in the olden days it was a barrel with drinking water where shipmates could gather and gossip. The President was there, of course, and Prime Minister Churchill came across the Atlantic to talk about what they were going to do about this global war. There was fighting everywhere, and the Japanese looked like they were going to overrun the entire Pacific, maybe invade Hawaii or even land in California. That got my dander up as a San Diego dog. We couldn’t stand the idea of that.


Then, following Operation GALVANIC, we landed in the Marshall Islands at Eniwetok for combat sorties to a variety of places, to include Wake Island, where the sailors and civilians had held on against the invaders and been humiliated in captivity.

Eniwetok is what the old Micronesian navigators called the ‘Land Between the East and the West.’ They would stop in their long canoes to rest on the dozens of little islets that make up the Atoll. As a good San Diego canine, I prefer tofly in things with four engines.

Engebi is the northernmost point on the atoll- that is where the Marines first landed. I have a special fondness for the Leathernecks, which are proud of their nickname “The Devil Dogs.” We have to stick together. Captured documents indicated a large force of Japanese were dug in on the southernmost island in the chain there, and on Parry island, the next biggest to the North. The marines stormed ashore on 17 February, 1944.

They didn’t always fly missions, and sometimes the waiting around was enough to drive us crazy under the tropical sun. Sometimes I just had to find the shade under a cot and loll there, tongue out, waiting for someone to give me a decent rub on the head, or my belly if I had enough energy to roll over for it.

Vince and Crew Nine decided to form a yacht club. There were a couple belly tanks from an F6F Hellcat down by the landing strip. The Hellcat was a carrier-based airplane, and someone had to dump them here before going back to the mighty Enterprise, the Big E. Thy called the aircraft carriers bird-farms, or flat tops. There was always a good-natured rivalry between the carrier pilots and the land-based patrol crews. Vince and Al thought about the tanks for a while and came up with a plan. They horsed the things down to the beach and found some scrap wood planks that had come from packing crates for replacement engines. They connected the tanks and conned a SeaBee into rigging a heavy metal rudder.

SeaBees were the most useful fellows imaginable. They seemed to have all the food and those little round cans the Crew was so found of. Their SeeBees name came from the initials “CB,” which stood for Construction Battalion. They landed just in back of the Marines, and when the leathernecks were done shooting, and sometimes before, they were getting things ready for airplanes to land. Setting up the camps and the fuel dumps and all the other things that made these little islands lost in the vast Pacific so vital to the war.


Vince found a long piece of aluminum tube that worked pretty well for a mast, and a discarded parachute made a perfectly serviceable sail. They found a fifteen pound chunk of coral for an anchor, and started the Eniwetok Yacht Club. One afternoon the fleet was in, doing voyage repairs and getting ready to go out and engage the Imperial Fleet. The great hulls of the battleships were painted in strange zig-zag patterns to confuse the Japanese submarine captains. The mighty USS North Carolina was nestled in with heavy cruisers and escort destroyers in the lagoon. She was one heck of an imposing ship, I will tell you! I yipped in surprise when I first saw it from the beach.

Vince and Crew Nine scooted away from the beach at Eniwetok in their improvised sailboats, and began darting in and out of the big warships. Sailors raced to the railing to get a look at something they hadn’t seen in a long time- a dog with his nose in the air, and his people relaxing and having fun.

Yachting was a splendid was to pass the time, and it was great for a couple weeks amusement. But then one night a big storm blew up, one of those oceanic happenings that makes the low little sand-and-coral islets nearly submerge. One of the other crews that was on patrol duty that morning saw the sailboat broken up and washed ashore on Parry Island, the next big island in the chain to the northeast. And that was the end of the yacht club.

On Eniwetok, they got two beers each, and would bury them in the sand near the surf’s edge in 20mm ammunition canisters on ice. Then they would go to the theater, a big open-air thing with benches and some big bed-sheets stitched together for a projection screen. When the movie was done, they came out and dug them up, icy cold, or at least colder than the humid tropical air.

The Skipper always made us laugh when he wasn’t telling us what to do for our own good. He had a sign that hung in front of his tent all over the Pacific that read: ‘The Honeymoon Lodge.’ It always startled the new men reporting to the Squadron, and they laughed at the idea of seeing all the way in the Southwest Pacific!

Crumbs and Ants- Christmas.

Skipper Vince got lucky at one mail-call. He got a package that had a can containing a fruitcake. They rigged it to the roof so the voracious insects on the island couldn’t get at it, and they fortified the cake with what booze they could get, hoping to make it very merry come that Christmas day. But the ants were having none of that. They marched up the side of the tent, and along the ridge-line to the peak, and then through a small hole, and then down the rope and into an equally tiny hole in the can. And crumb by crumb, the ants staggered back up the string and out through the hole and down the side of the tent and when Christmas came, the can was empty.

Somewhere Skipper Vince broke his nose, and we flew out of a place called Marcus Island, which I did not care for since there were too many rats for my taste and you can only chase so many, you know?


Tinian is a little tear-drop-shaped island south of the Saipan Channel from the larger island of Saipan. It is part of what Crew Nine taught me was an ‘archipelago.’ I am probably the best qualified expert canine in the whole Pacific Ocean Area, which is what they called the combat theater, and I will be so bold as to say am a gifted canine geographer now. The southern and largest island in the chain is called Guam. On the eighth day after the invasion, they landed on the Japanese fighter strip on the north side of Tinian Island. There were still snipers in the trees and real combat troops still mopping up the stragglers. They flew from Tinian against Palau, and the Philippines. Then up the slot to bomb Iwo Jima. They even made a mission against the Gibraltar of the Pacific, Rabaul, where the artillery bristled and the flack blossomed in orange and black. They were with another crew commanded by Leif Erickson, who as a strikingly handsome man who told Skipper Vince he had aspirations to be a movie star if he lived through the war.

Keep cool fool, its Rabaul.

One day the Skipper told us we had a mission to the big Japanese naval base at Rabaul. They thought it was an impregnable target, and the Navy made Red Dog’s Playmate available to take an Army photographer along, who later became famous. They flew at 4,500 ft. The photographer, wanted to know how long he would have to film, and how many passes he could count on. Skipper Vince told him “One. And fast.”

Later the Sea Bees were working around the clock to finish the strip at West Field.

On Tinian, the shower was made from an eight-man raft, leaned up against the tent. Four man tent, same of the officers and the enlisted, on flat coral. The Seabees did it. The rainwater would pour from the roof of the tent through a sluice formed by the raft. I would walk over there to watch the horseplay that would develop.

The humans really liked to get a nice shower periodically, though myself I can take or leave them. The thing that made the men cranky was that they could only shower when it rained.

I slept with the officers in The Honeymoon Lodge, since they had more room, better covers and such.

The North Field was 5200 feet in length, plenty big for the Japanese Zekes, but way short for the big patrol bombers. It was tight getting in and out of there. The Sea Bees

It would have been like going to camp, the crew said, if it were not so deadly serious. The crew was quite creative about making our little square of sand and coral into a home.
There were helmets mounted on a wagon wheel mounted horizontally on a post for shaving. The contraction made the wheel into a big Lazy Susan at the Honeymoon lodge so the boys could turn it around to rinse their razors and wash their faces. That is where the Honeymoon Lodge gang Crew Nine watered and shaved.

I would help by trotting along with the armed guards to get water. They had to have an escort because the Japanese snipers would go after the crew when they went to the well to get drinking water. The Japanese would fly in and sprinkle twenty-pound bomblettes, nasty little things if they got close, with streamers attached gaily to the fins.

Skipper Vince said it was just harassment, but deadly sometimes. Vince had the duty one night and I went along to keep him company. They had detected Japanese planes on the radar. It came from Saipan to ruin their sleep. One was famous on Guadalcanal. It was a two-engine plane and the engines were horribly mis-tuned. It sounded like an overloaded washing machine. The pilots called it Washing Machine Charlie. Skipper Vince called the Commanding Officer. “What do you want me to do?” as the bombs came down.


Vince wound up in the ditch, in the mud and the slime in his uniform.

Chuck Scranton was leading a thirsty party to the well one day. They came upon a water buffalo, placidly gazing at them. His world had been overcome by thunder from the naval artillery and the storming of the beaches by the Marines, the shouting and explosions. And now he was taken prisoner by Crew Nine and me, the Red Dog. They loaded their water jugs onto the cart and lead the buffalo back to the north field and the tents.

The Commanding Officer about blew a gasket. “No One is entitled to a personal water buffalo for transportation!” I was OK with that, since in my experience water buffalo are not very bright and can step on vertically-challenged cocker spaniels.

The existing field was in adequate, so the Sea Bees expanded the strip to nearly 10,00 feet. That was the strip that the Enola Gay used later to end the war. I was very happy about that. I like the tropics and everything, but the war was not that much fun for a dog, and I am pretty sure Crew Nine felt the same way.

On Tinian, the latrines were as inadequate as the runway. There was a powerful smell that bothered the crew, but you can imagine the impact on a dog’s sensitive nose for me. To keep the smell down they would pour lye and ignite the waste. Some guys who were using the facility would run out of there with big back circles on their butts. I offered to sniff them for them but they were pretty cranky.

Then the Philippine Islands: Skipper Vince read the names at the big crew brief before we took off. “Tacloban,” he said. “ Samar, Leyte Gulf.”

The days blurred together and the final campaign to the north began.

Flying to Okinawa, with Kamikazis.


I am not very good at reading calenders, but the Skipper said the 3rd of April, 1945 was a red letter day. We had done the number of combat missions to qualify for rotation, since the Navy knew that if they made the crews keep flying for the duration of the war, eventually they would be killed. It was just the averages. The replacement crew shows up at Iwo, the CBs scrambling to lengthen the runway for emergency landings for airplanes shot up over the home islands. I would wait by the tower to watch them stram back in, shooting flares if they had wounded aboard to ensure the doctors and the brand-new Navy Nurses would greet them as soon as they were on the ground.

Lieutenant Fitzell is the new Skipper’s name. Vince is pretty pleased to see him so he can go home. Skipper Vince is going to take me back home to Cleveland. I don’t know if I will like it. After all, I have been a California and tropical dog my whole life. But I would do anything to stay with Skipper Vince. He is the greatest.

We flew the bomber named for me back east across the Pacific. Half way to the West Coast was John Rogers Field, later Honolulu International. We were carrying a cargo of white mice for the Research Hospital. The weather was terrible, and the Skipper took us up to 15,000 feet to avoid the turbulence. That is where the crew would have to put on their oxygen masks, and Al the gunner would periodically lean down and let me breath from his.

We got on the ground in Honolulu and the Loadmaster came out to inventory the cargo.

“Where are the mice?” he asked. “I don’t see any mice?”

“Oh,” said Vince, realizing what had happened. “I guess they didn’t have those tiny-mouse sized ones to send with us back on Iwo Jima.”


Skipper Vince found a Navy officer to take receipt for the bomber, and we were just passengers again. We flew with Navy Air Transport squadron VR-11 for the trip to San Francisco, and then an assortment of airplanes back to Cleveland.

As it turns out, Cleveland was just fine, and I highly recommend the quality of their squirrels. I have seen no snipers whatsoever, and all my walks with Skipper Vince have been peaceful except for the squirrels.

I never saw most of Crew Nine again, but I wanted to try extra hard to remember their names:

Crew members:

Lt Vince Rohe (76 missions in green ink- that means combat.)
Hammister- First Mechanic
Beechnau- Second Mechanic
Thrush- First Radio
McKeon- Second Radio
Norman Hoops- Tail Gunner
Hansen- Nose Gunner
Jackson- Maintenance
McLean- Maintenance (Armorers)
Al Schafer
Don Kircherg, Patrol Plane Commander
And of course there was me, the Red Dog, the thirty-six green ink combat mission canine.

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra


28 November 2016

Editor’s Note: Just when you think you have seen it all and had enough, there is the reminder that times past have been at least as wild and wooly as they are now. I was going through some old notes and newly-declassified cables to give a sense of the late 1970s and the Carter revolution in Washington. I hate to say it, but compared to launching P-38 Lightning fighters to ambush and kill Admiral of the Imperial Japanese Fleet talk about Budget, Plans and Programming in a post war draw-down seems kind of tame. Trust me, for the participants it is not, even if the general public will never know the joys of attending a meeting of the Deputy’s Committee in an airless secure conference room just off the E-Ring in the Pentagon. And things were pretty tense then. Let’s take a quick review of some of the players, famous and infamous, with whom Mac interacted while at the CIA.

– Vic


(Admiral Showers in the 1970s).

Talking with Mac was a way to time-travel to the years of great danger to the Republic, both in economic terms and in armed conflict.

We could transcend the dark coolness of the Willow bar and travel down the years of the Great Depression in his native Iowa was a novel experience, at least until we entered into our own version of economic bust in 2008, and he used it as a useful means to put our current pain in context. Then, the stories of going to war, and being present right through the course of the whole dramatic narrative of the savage war in the Pacific, are riveting.

At least they are in the hearing of them with a nice glass of Willow’s Happy Hour White. If I don’t get across how astonishing it was to have Mac as a pal, the fault is entirely mine.

Mac’s post-war career, and his rise to flag rank in the Cold War came against the backdrop of the war in Indochina, and neatly spans all the decades and phases of the long chilly struggle. Mac had been retired only a few years and still in The Business in 1976 when I wandered into an Armed Forces Recruiting office in a strip mall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and inquired about jobs as a fighter pilot. I was sick of the Carter Malaise and had decided I wanted to go to the show and see what the elephant looked like.

Between our two careers, we encompassed the entire Cold War, the rising of The Wall and its ultimate collapse. If you think the idea of people sitting in missile silos or cruising silently below the waves in ballistic missile submarines- both sides- awaiting the command to launch was surreal, you ought to take a stab at the process that went into funding all of it. Before leaving DIA, Mac had been chief of plans and policy in addition to being the Chief of Staff to an organization of thousands of analysts and intelligence specialists.

In late 1976, Saigon was just a memory, and money had to be found for other vital Government activities besides intelligence. Legendary lawmaker Eddie Boland was sizing up the job of bringing the Intelligence Community to heel with his Select Committee on Intelligence that he stood up in 1977. The return of the Democrats to power in 1977 had big time implications for the intelligence community. After eight years in the political wilderness, Democratic politicians were eager to get into the White House and fix the “Watergate mess.”

This would naturally include a thorough housecleaning of the Augean intelligence stables, tarnished by the public revelation of the Crown Jewels of the CIA covert operations program to Congress. One of the areas most subject to abuse was Human Intelligence (HUMINT). The Directorate for Operations at Langley was the first to be thrown under the bus in a long and bitter struggle between two admirals: CIA Director Stansfield Turner and NSA Director Bobby Ray Inman. Turner, the Twelfth Director of CIA, was the man dispatched to clean up Langley once and for all.

(Admiral Stansfield Turner)

He earned the distinction of being perhaps the most hated man who ever served there. I was sitting in the rotunda of the National War College a few years ago when I realized who was sitting in front of me. It was the Admiral, all right, the guy who single-handedly purged the Directorate for Operations of over 800 veteran Spooks. My pal Charlie from the Senate Committee was there for that, a naval officer seconded to the Agency as a guy Turner could trust, since there wasn’t anyone else he could.

(Admiral Bobby Ray Inman)

Turner was a tough old Annapolis ship-driver with an aloof personality and a distrust for non-Academy intelligence people like Inman. Bobby Ray is a legend in the business, a career intelligence officer who would also get his fourth star, the first intelligence specialist to do so (until Bill Studeman, Mike Hayden, Keith Alexander and Mike Rogers).

Talking to Mac not only personalized history, but I realized we were getting to my time in the secret world. I sat behind Admiral Turner at a lecture one time in the soaring atrium of the War College at Fort McNair ten or fifteen years ago, and Admiral Inman has always been courteous, the last time being the gathering of former Naval Intelligence Flag Officers for dinner at Willow. I attended with Mac in my role as the community’s Cub Reporter Jimmy Olson.

The battles between Inman and Turner were legendary, and about mission- but that involved Washington’s most important commodities here: money and power. One thing all the figures in the Carter Administration seemed to agree on was that HUMINT was messy and had great potential to spin out of control. Accordingly, all priority went to the development and fielding of sensors that provided objective intelligence in denied areas- what we call with the antiseptic euphemism “National Technical Means.”

Mac was helping to implement the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts- the secret chambers where classified matters could be adjudicated without public disclosure of “sources and methods.”

It would transform the whole oversight process and ensure the public’s right to privacy was respected. It didn’t work out that way, certainly not the way President Carter planned, but as usual, Mac did an efficient job. Meanwhile, the anonymous people that tweaked numbers and drafted the components of the (classified) Intelligence Budget were scurrying to apply the Carter policy decisions to the budget.

(Legendary Massachusetts Congressman Edward “Eddie” Bolan)

I know, I know, the quickest-acting and most effective anesthetic in the world is a good long PowerPoint “rack and stack” budget briefing. But in case you need a quick nap, here is it. My Left Coast Attorney called me up to comment on Congressman Eddie Boland.

I mentioned that retired Air Corps Colonel Jim Bush (and budgeter-for-life) used to regale us with stories of the colorful legislator. Eddie was a piece of work. He went to Washington with the man who would become speaker of the House, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, in 1952. Eddie was a bachelor for the twenty years they roomed together in what they called a real-life “Odd Couple,” with Boland being the Jack Lemmon to Tip’s Walter Matthau.

Scratching backs is how things work here, and Tip appointed his room-mate to be the Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence. That was the post that made Eddie a household name. He took over the committee months after disclosures that the Central Intelligence Agency had spied on American citizens and tried to assassinate foreign leaders.

Congress, both chambers being controlled by the Democrats, was determined to reign in the Executive Branch, and Eddie was directed to take his new oversight role seriously as he sought a bipartisan consensus on intelligence matters. That is what led directly to the legislation that bears his name: The Boland Amendment.

It is still around, though we do not seem to hear much about it since the Global War on Whatever started. The Reagan administration was determined to put vigor back into American policy in Central America and to unseat the Marxist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

They funded the Contra rebels, as Eddie offered successive amendments to restrict military and humanitarian assistance and then end it altogether. Insisting he was in ”complete sympathy” with the effort to curb communism, he believed the Reagan Administration’s approach was “duplicitous and counterproductive.” I had to find that quote to get Mac’s reaction, since the reason he was brought into the IC leadership was to handle the new and intrusive role of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees.

Anyway, the Attorney called me up on the cell from California the other day. “Funny you should mention Eddie Boland,” he said. “You refreshed my memory of working on the Hill back then, The Congressman was the fourth guy who rode in my old Rambler when I took Tip O’Neill, Jim Delaney, and Eddie to Mass in Washington in 1966 on the Feast of the Assumption.”

“Interesting ” I said. “Mac’s story blends right into yours.” The thought stayed with me after the Attorney clicked off to go to court in sun-kissed San Diego.

Besides Mac and Jim Bush, there were all sorts of old pals who had ring-side seats to what was going on in Washington in those tumultuous days of violence abroad and in the streets of America.

Then the Watergate revelations and the downfall of the South Vietnamese ushered in the age of the Congressional hearings. The Nixon pardon may have undone Gerald Ford’s chances of re-election. The arrival of Jimmy Carter placed the intelligence issues on the front burner, and since the only real power in Washington is the ability to grant or take away money, that was the arena in which Mac attempted to act as a sort of traffic cop between the DCI and the Director of NSA.

President Carter’s views on the arms race and human rights led to a bold policy declaration in which he would include deep budget cuts in strategic forces and intelligence. He vowed to scrap Nixon and Ford-era accords with the Soviets and go for deep cuts in overall force levels.

Carter’s negotiators fashioned a proposal to bring launcher levels in the superpower inventories down from 2,400 apiece to between 1,800 and 2,100, and equivalent cuts to the number of Multiple Independently Targeted Launch Vehicles (MIRVs).

The original Carter proposals were aimed at the entire strategic Triad- bombers, boomers and ICBMs. Medium-range missiles and the troubling new technology of road-mobile launch systems were on the table as well.

Mac was trying to implement the directives contained in the Schlesinger Report about the out-of-control intelligence community. Jim Bush was still on active duty as a blue-suit Colonel then. He used to come and see me when I was a budget staff director in the Pentagon; he was old then, in his late seventies, but he had stories like Mac’s, about things like building the new wing on CIA Headquarters and bombing Japan in his B-29. He was an interesting man.

At the tail-end of his active career he was snagged by the green eyeshade crowd as I was. That is a mixed blessing. Jim developed a specialty in the intelligence budget, which then was swimming in bucks to run things like the U-2 reconnaissance program. He was a vigorous participant in the desperate skirmishing against the dramatic cuts in budget authority that came with the end of the Vietnam War. Mac used to see him at many of the meetings at the Pentagon to fight over resources.

Jim was working for a budgetary legend named Jim Vance, who Mac recalled one afternoon at Willow as being the “the biggest budget magician of all time. Vance knew where the skeletons were buried and who had buried them.”

They eventually got rid of Vance, though he went out of government with his life intact, something that was not universal in those tumultuous times. Things had become much more gracious in Washington after the chaos of the ‘60s.

Vance unfortunately got a little big for his britches and made the mistake of taking on Fort Meade. NSA was in the middle of a desperate downsizing effort when, in 1973, it was hit with a round of-budget cuts which became known as the “Clements Cuts,” intended to harvest the savings from the American draw-down in SE Asia and channel the savings into social programs. The real author of the directive was Vance, who worked for Dr. Albert Hall in the budget shop of what we know now as the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense- Intelligence (USD-I).

Through his Boss, Vance contended that cryptology was overfed and underworked, and he embarked on a detailed study of the cryptologic system. The upshot was a recommendation that NSA absorb an additional three percent salami-slice in resources.

Clements imposed a total Consolidated Cryptologic Program (CCP) billet reduction of 12,999 government employees to be completed by fiscal year 1978. (Since the cryptologic budget already showed a large reduction during that period, the real additional manpower cut was “only” around five thousand jobs.

Vance specifically called out the problem with NSA- he said it was “a bloated management system with overlapping authorities” and the potential of new technology to increase efficiencies.

Stop me if any of this seems familiar. It is always a long sine-wave of resources in the business, and as predicable as the waves on the beach behind the schoolhouse at Dam Neck, Virginia.

Funny how it is that the budget people wind up making policy by the simple means of programming. Watch what is happening on the Hill right now with the dramatic change in priorities between the in coming and outgoing crowds. It is amazing.

But of course, Mac was struggling to set up the framework of preserving American liberty while maintaining an intelligence capability compatible with the Constitution and the wild-eyed idealism of that Georgia peanut farmer.

It may be one of the larger tributes to Mac and the Community Management Staff’s vigilance that Admiral Turner lived through it.

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra

Arrian: The Electoral College, Jenga and Tyranny of the Majority

091316-1Jenga should be a required discipline of political scientists; the game teaches, among other things, the consequences of haste. A game of wooden blocks and balance, it teaches the “simple” reality of balance and center of gravity; it also teaches the danger of haste; if a player acts too quickly, either in removing a block or in placing it on top of the stack, the whole mess comes down.

So? Let’s begin with recent statements by certain mayors that they will oppose federal enforcement of immigration law, pronouncing their cities to be ‘sanctuary cities.’

There’s a “minor” problem: cities aren’t sovereign entities. Cities are constructs (physical and otherwise) that exist purely within the definition of respective state laws. If the state legislature changes the relevant laws, the city will change accordingly. For example, the city of South Norfolk and Norfolk County were merged into the city of Chesapeake by the Virginia Assembly in 1963; South Norfolk ceased to exist by an act of the state.

Thus, the idea of sanctuary cities is, from a legal perspective, specious. One might argue for sanctuary states, forcing a discussion on state versus federal sovereignty, but the idea of city sovereignty simply doesn’t exist in any meaningful context.

At the same time, we’re seeing an interesting argument – by those sympathetic to sanctuary cities – for the abolishment of the Electoral College. (We’ll skip the point that one political party has for years reveled in the fact that the electoral college gives them a leg up on any Presidential election).

If you argue for “sanctuary” (sanctuary states to protect various cities) and resisting the federal government, then you’re really arguing for states’ rights. And if you argue for states’ rights, and sanctuary states (and cities), you need to support the Electoral College. The “Why” is the reason the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College in the first place.

The Electoral College, (described in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, and as amended in the 12th, 20th and 23rd Amendments) provides for an electoral count that is equal to the number of Congressmen and Senators from each state (plus three for Washington DC).

The Constitution’s “user’s manual,” the Federalist Papers, discusses why selection of the President must reflect the states’ presence; in a nutshell, the answer is this: the electoral college was designed to reflect (and guarantee) state sovereignty: the Constitution (and all amendments) – the document that forms the nation and our national government – was not and is not something approved or changed by popular vote, it was approved by consensus of the majority of the states. Stated otherwise, the states have sovereignty and the states created this nation.

Why this particular construct? The answer is simple: fear of centralization of power and tyranny of the majority. Under the Constitution power is decentralized and, as importantly, difficult to utilize. This is to prevent anyone – a president, a specific Congress, or a court – from gathering too much power, or from acting precipitously. If you bemoan the election of Mr. Trump, you should take heart in this. But, eliminating the Electoral College would eliminate the state’s role in the selection process of the president and more importantly, represent the effective first (and major) step in eliminating states as sovereign entities.

And here’s the so what. Eliminate the Electoral College and presidential elections would focus on 6 or 7 states – those states with the largest populations. The rest of the states? No one would care. Think we have a problem right now between the coasts and the rest of the country? Imagine that magnified by 2 or 3 times.

Eliminate the Electoral College and you end the current process amending the Constitution. You effectively substitute simple majority rule for what we now have. Do that and you seriously undermine the Bill of Rights – which protects minority – not majority – rights.

Eliminate the electoral college, and undermine state sovereignty, and you effectively end the current allocation process for Congress. People in Wyoming? Why do they need a Congressman and two Senators?

And that’s the start: State Sovereignty, Congressional representation, Minority Rights. Is that what we really want?

Haste: in Jenga, the consequence of acting too quickly is that everything comes tumbling down. Our Founding Fathers understood that risk. We should remember that. Go ahead, pull that block out of the stack…

Copyright 2016 Arrias

Dinner With Family

Editor’s Note: This piece fits in the back of the book; not the end, though the dinner it describes certainly was a real ending. It is sort of in keeping with my mood this morning. The dinner was an affirmation of a grand life lived in perilous times, and with honor and courage. I have had a bit of a rocky week, health-wise, and have spent most of it in bed, thankful that there were no plaintive emergency calls from the office to interfere with being flat on my back, looking up. It did make me consider how the world can diminish in scope from its global sprawl to the bedside-light of a single room.

There is much else to discuss, but having been in confinement, it is entirely possible that it is all fiction and fake news, though whether from the right or the left scarcely seems to matter. The traditional media have always manufactured the news, after all, fitting things into an agreed framework of what is Correct and Important to provide it to their faithful listeners and readers. Heck, I supported NPR for years and still do. But only the Classical radio station these days, since the societies and politics that generated that grand soaring music are safely a couple centuries away and can’t hurt us.

Social Media is becoming an issue to those in favor and against the results of the recent election. After the gut-wrenching disappointment of the Michigan loss to the Buckeyes in Double Overtime yesterday afternoon, I needed to rest my eyes. Walking back to get prone, I had one of those equilibrium events. Nothing catastrophic, thankfully, but back in bed seemed to be the wisest course of action, regardless if the sun still hung in the sky. There wasn’t anything else to do, so I picked up the iPad and did what many of us do when bored, frightened or apprehensive: I went to Facebook. There were a couple “notifications” in red, and being a good Pavlovian consumer of Mr. Zuckerburg’s technology, I clicked on them. In the course of this appalling campaign, I have taken a policy of not responding to the political rants of either side. I don’t think kicking people in the shins is grand fun. But combined with how bad I was feeling, the frustration of the Michigan loss, and my long-held contempt for the former dictator of Cuba, I actually responded to a rant about an alleged Trump tweet on Fidel’s long overdue passing.

According to the writer, apparently a ‘friend,’ (for no discernible reason that I can recall), the tweet represented a sickening message from the president-elect validated the writer’s opinion of his appalling foreign policy, and his jackbooted, homophobic, Islamophobic and racist nature.

Like I said, I mostly ignore this stuff, and have quit Twitter altogether. But I had to respond to that one, based on it’s intrinsic idiocy. The offending message, quoted in full in the post above the rant?

“Fidel Castro is Dead!”

I knew it was stupid, but I couldn’t resist. I commented on this post:


I typed: “It was four words, and all of them are verifiably true.”

I thought it was succinct, on point and accurate. The author of the post was not deterred, and responded that it was the exclamation point that revealed the secret agenda.

I made one more comment, politely, citing the unspeakable horror of aggression by punctuation, clearly a manifestation of Patriarchal Privilege, or whatever, and asked to be ‘unfriended.’

So that is where we have come since I was lucky enough to meet Mac Showers almost twenty years ago, and to feebly attempt to collect the stories of his remarkable life. At the time of this vignette, he was no longer with us. The dinner to mark his passing was filled with love. I think I like that approach a lot better than anyone’s tweet, or their Facebook status.

– Vic

Dinner With Family


Mac was with family last night, a late October night in 2012. I was still a bit foggy, and honored to be there. I had traveled from Colorado, via Fort Worth, deep in the heart of Texas, where I had been visiting when Mac was hospitalized. I was watching some cool equestrian things when my cell phone went off at the barn and I got the news about his departure: cool, deliberate and intentional with family all around. The quacks told him he was too old to have much success with surgery on his ticker. He considered his options, and having already decided on a sort of gentle Hospice care, made his decision to go. He was lucid and with the clan all the way.

He left in exactly the way he wanted, and if not at the time of his choosing, he got a vote.

I kicked myself for not having been able to say and managed to dump my bags and slide into Mac’s usual stool at Willow with minutes to spare.

The clan had gathered from all the points of the compass: His three children: Donna Lynn (Tom) of Kalamazoo, MI; Donald M., Jr ., “Mike” (Valerie) of Ashburn, VA; David V. (Suzanne) of Arlington, VA, and six grandchildren: Ashleigh Webb, Courtney Showers of Arlington,

His family was going to get together at Willow that night, and kindly extended an invitation to share stories and reminisce. I have never seen a commercial establishment display an outpouring of affection for a patron. Jasper was behind the bar with Liz-S, and she came around the bar to give me a hug. Liz was a special lady in Mac’s life- by turns bubbly and solicitous, and the woman who penned the chit granting Mac “free beer” for as long as he cared to have one.

(Liz-with-an-S and Brett my web designer and bartender at Willow).

Jasper shares the name of Jasper Holmes, the great submariner and code-breaker who saved Mac’s life by preventing him from boarding the fleet submarine USS Wahoo for Mush Morton’s last combat patrol. Jasper is from Guam, too, and there was a special kinship with Mac, since he had served on Nimitz Hill at the forward Headquarters, and Jasper is proud of his heritage, which included the merry man on the civilian side of the bar.

Mac’s family gathered at the very spot at the bar where Mac used to hold court. He always dressed up to go to Willow- the Admiral had his standards, and they were high ones.


Owner and executive chef Tracy O’Grady sent out a couple orders of the delicious Gruyere gluten-free cheese puffs, and Bell’s lager, with Anchor Steam one of the Admiral’s favorites, flowed right up until the party ambled back to the private room in the back of the dining area.


Mac’s portrait went along, of course. It had occupied the place in front of the empty chair at the private table at the Peking Gourmet the night before, the evening of the last day of his remarkable life.

That is the same excellent restaurant the Iranians wanted to blow up- and a hangout for Mac’s clan all their lives in Washington.


Willow permitted a corkage for a special vintage of red wine: remember an America that as not nearly as sophisticated as it is now? This bottle would not make the exotic wine list of today’s fine dining establishment. The stories flowed with the Gallo jug-wine that Mac and his beloved Billie use to have on the family table- and those dinners would last until the last of the guests were ready to wobble off.

It was a remarkable evening. Sorrow could not penetrate for long. There was too much love in the place. It was just the Mac would have liked it.

Rest in Peace, Admiral. See you for Liberty Call at the big Fleet Landing on the other shore.

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra

Running AMOC

Editor’s Note: I stirred around 0200 and saw an alert on the tablet computer. I fumbled for my glasses and turned on the bedside light. The New York Times informed me that Uncle Fidel was gone at the age of ninety. I read the obit in the NY Times, which was extensive and ad obviously been in the can for a while. By turns fawning and mildly critical, the words said the classic Caribbean caudilla was no doctrinaire Marxist-Leninist. A hybrid, they said. Apparently like Mr. Trump. I wonder who will b dispatched to represent us all at the state funeral?

Fidel and Mac Showers overlapped much of their long lives, but I don’t find much about him or the Missile Crisis in my notes. He may have missed much of the excitement, as he did the Korean War, being in Europe at the time, and then the Naval Intelligence schoolhouse tour through the mid-1950s. Then he went to Arlington Hall, and helped move the Navy element to The Fort (Y1/NFOIO). He might have been in Coronado for the showdown over the Russian missiles. I wish I had asked specifically.


– Vic

Running AMOC

(Mac and Ed D. Photo Socotra).

I pushed it. Fridays are like that, I have come to find. I try to take care of myself during the week, wear the brace, so my exercises to loosen the knot above the left knee. I feel better. I wear the stupid brace on the leg to the office, and to those excursions outside, and have devised a means of mounting and dismounting the driver’s seat of the Bluesmobile without stressing out the aching sciatic nerve down deep in my back.

But I seem to push it on Fridays. I have no idea how Mac keeps doing it at the age of 92.

The Advanced Maritime OPINTEL Course (AMOC) was coming to town. They wanted to sit down with Mac and pick his brain on the events of a long-ago war, one that created the discipline of radio intelligence.

Mac has to budget his trips these days, and has good and better days, as we all do. It was easier for the AMOC folks to come here than for him to go there- a mountain and Muhammed thing- and I volunteered to coordinate a private room at Willow as a place to chat.

It meant leaving the office a little early, damn the bad luck, and I slid the police cruiser into a better parking place than I usually get and wriggled my way out of the driver’s seat.

I was hobbling my way up the block to the uni-meter to purchase my time at the curb and saw Old Jim headed down the block. When I had secured my receipt for time at the curb, we made a peg-leg parade back down to Willow’s bar entrance.

“How is your day going,” I asked.

“Better than being a North Korean rocket scientist,” he said with a grimace.

“Or a Secret Service agent with the President,” I said. “Did you hear about the detail getting sent home from Colombia?”

“Interesting that things have changed so much since JFK’s time,” he growled. “But of course public morals are just for show.”

We set up camp at the Amen Corner to wait for the AMOC delegation to show up, and I removed the straps from the leg brace and hung it from one of the hooks under the bar. We placed our canes on opposite sides of the corner. I sighed.

“Just a couple gimps,” I said. “Pathetic.”

“Speak for yourself,” said Jim. “At least I came by mine honorably.”

“No misconduct on mine,” I said. “I have been damaging that knee for years.”

Jasper produced a fine crisp glass of Hay-Burner white and I carried it over to the long table in the nook by the front window as Ed D and three gentlemen appeared from the back door. We got arranged in our seats around the dazzling white tablecloth and neatly-folded napkins as Mac himself arrived via the main entrance to the bar.

“I drove,” he said. “I wondered about walking, since it is a nice day, but decided to take the Jaguar over.”

(The Dean and two Chiefs. Photo Socotra).

Ed introduced the AMOC students, two Chiefs and a retired Dean of the Old Dominion University. They were loaded for bear- they copies of the book we did to commemorate all the sessions at Willow, the unofficial history of the Pacific War, and then some serious works of history. The Dean had an ominously thick tome called “Shattered Sword,” which is one of those revisionist histories, I gathered.

“Many consider the Battle of Midway to have turned the tide of the Pacific War,” said the Dean gesturing at the thick volume with the famous picture of the SBD Dauntless dive-bomber wheeling majestically over the sharply turning wakes of the IJN carriers far below. “Parshall and Tulley have uncovered some original source documents in Japan that turn the narrative around. It is the first time since Gordon W. Prange’s Miracle at Midway that there has been a critical look at the battle.”


“Well,” said Mac, “I was there and don’t need any critical new interpretations.” Since he is about the last one alive who remembers exactly what happened, and who did it, we launched into an animated and detailed discussion of the decoded operations order that FRUMEL (Fleet Radio Unit- Melbourne) and Station HYPO in Pearl put together to reveal the details of Admiral Yamamoto’s great scheme. That line of inquiry lead, in no particular order, to why no copy of that message survived the war, and Joe Rochefort’s calm reaction to the news of the battle’s outcome, and whether Fleet Admiral Nimitz had worked in his parent’s bar at the hotel they owned in Fredericksburg, Texas, and then the complex prickly relationship between Douglas MacArthur and the Nimitz Staff.

“Don’t say anything negative about MacArthur,” I said. “That is how Mac and I met. I was writing something about Doug-out Doug years ago and he said we were not supposed to do that.”

Mac nodded. “Never respond to anything vitriolic that came out of the South West Pacific Theateer,” he said. “The Admiral was very firm about that.”

“So,” I said, taking a sip of wine “I started out in trouble and stayed there.” Then I told them about visiting MacArthur’s office in the Dai Ichi Insurance Company Building that the General had appropriated as the General Headquarters Building of the Occupation. “The little Japanese guide who showed it to me said they only use it once a year,” I said. “I have no idea what for.”

We agreed that was a curiosity, and I had another glass of wine, possibly two, as a couple of Kate Janen’s signature flatbread pizzas arrived. I pointed out that Jasper was a native of Guam, which made him and Mac the representatives of the territory where America’s Day begins, and we talked about the assassination of Admiral Yamamoto.

“What was the response of Chester Nimitz when his intelligence officer Eddie Layton told him they had decrypted the itinerary of the inspection visit to the South Pacific and might be able to intercept the Japanese aircraft” asked the Dean.

Mac pursed his lips. “Nimitz asked what it would mean, and Eddie said it would be the same as the Japs killing him. Nimtiz replied: “Kill the son of a bitch.””

The AMOC was interested in the what-ifs of fate. The Dean said, “Like imagine if George H.W. Bush had not been rescued by the submarine after he was shot down, and had been executed by the Japanese on Chichi Jima. Eight of the aircrew shot down there were captured by Japanese troops and executed. That would have taken out two future Presidents of the United States- Bush and his son.”

Mac snorted. “I don’t do what ifs. History is what it is, and we need to remember what happened, not what might have happened.”

My phone went off, and it was Ensign Socotra. He wondered if I might be at Willow, and I said I was there with the AMOC and Mac, and that there was a cold beer in it for him if he cared to come by. “I am in khakis,” he said. “Is that OK?”

“Best thing the Navy did was make it a liberty uniform,” I said. “See you when you get here.”

The Chiefs were continuing to ask questions- Vice Admiral Rufus Taylor was the subject of one line of questions, and Mac explained how his good friend had transitioned from Crytpology to Intelligence as a way to make flag rank, and was the first Restricted Line officer to make three stars. They were on top of their game, and had read everything in preparation for the session.

“It is a different Navy than the one I knew,” I commented. Both Chiefs had college degrees, and were better prepared than most of the junior officers of my day, when the Goat Locker was populated by colorful rogues and liberty risks. I said as much, and they nodded. We talked about the fact that the modern service was becoming a bit of a hot-house, with those who serve often having connections with fathers and grandfathers.

When Ensign Socotra arrived the talk had turned to how far it was back to Norfolk, and that the AMOC was going to throw in the towel. Mac thanked them for their interest, and they thanked him for being a National Treasure.


Mac and the Ensign huddled over at the bar after the AMOC departed. I was very glad I was not driving to Virginia Beach, and settled in at the Amen Corner. I looked down the bar, one generation earnestly talking to another. I decided I could not have been prouder, and said so to Old Jim and Jon-no-H and the lovely Mary.

“You lucked out, you son of a bitch,” growled Jim. “Now all you have to do is not fall down on the way home.”

I nodded, and defensively reached for the leg brace where it hung under the bar. “I can always fall down when I get there,” I said.

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra

Written Approval

29 July 2010

Editor’s Note: Turkey Day passed without untoward incident. Jon-without and I camped out at the bar of The Front Page, waiting for the precise moment to swoop down on the lavish buffet that featured all the classic holiday meals. Neither one of us was in a particularly festive mood for a variety of perfectly good reasons, but the moving images of the Lions playing on short rest against the Vikings brought the mood back, and the food was good. The traffic in the bar picked up as the game went on and the drinks were poured by Jesse the utility barman with alacrity. The Lions edged the Vikings by a field goal, all was right with the world, and soon enough I was sleeping off the turkey in a most excellent nap. Refreshed, I was able to sit up and take totally extraneous nourishment again, and marvel at the bounty of the season, the weirdness of public life, and the uncertainties to come in the New Year. And then the carols started, just like clockwork. I suppose they are sort of incorrect these days, and I am sure someone is bound to take offense, but I like the sound of them. And it is only for a month, you know?

– Vic


The wine was chill in the dimness of the Willow Bar. They turn the lights down at 5:15 each afternoon to encourage the enthusiasm of the regulars. The pork spring rolls from the neighborhood restaurant menu were hot.
Humidity was down on the sun-drenched streets outside. Jake was doing some business at the bar, and Mac and I were at one of the little tall cocktail tables that line the deep brown wooden divider that separates fine dining from the usual suspects in the lounge.

I was scribbling like mad, since I have everything out of order. Mac brought some documents and books to review. He had the CIA monograph on the end of the Pacific War, and the new book on the Berlin Airlift. Just what I needed, more books, but the craving to understand is an ongoing imperative, as insistent as thirst at the end of a summer business day.


“Charles Nathan” were the Christian names of Mac’s father, but he was on travel someplace. His Mom, Hedwig (“Hattie”) Showers came to the door, and Captain of Police Laurence N. Ham told her why he had driven her son over from the field house at the University of Iowa.

The Draft Act had not been passed yet, and there were some legal niceties that had to be accommodated, even though they would soon be swept away on the road to global war.

Lieutenant Ham cleared his throat. “Your son is just ten days away from his 21st birthday, Ma’am. I need to get your written authorization for him to join the Navy.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Hattie asked with a Mother’s concern. The world, or at least the rolling low hills of Iowa, was at peace. The trouble in Europe was someone else’s problem for the moment. A mother’s concern. Mac nodded to her, and she went ahead and signed her name.

With that, Lieutenant Ham was one body closer to meeting his prodigious quota list for August, and Mac smeared his thumbprint on the faded document that Mac produced from an envelope and placed on the table in front of me.
I was careful not to drip the savory dipping sauce from the spring rolls on it, or on his draft registration that he produced as a companion piece a moment later.

“My Dad was president of the Johnson County Draft Board, and when the Draft Act was passed the next month, he insisted that I sign up, even though I was already in the Navy,” he said, taking a sip of his savory red beverage. “He said: ‘no son of mine is going to be accused of not doing his duty.’ ” He shook his head at the ancient remark. “I was long gone before anyone could utter a word.”


It was the 15th of August, 1940. By acting as he did, Mac missed the lottery choice that everyone a month younger faced. Mac instantly became a Seaman Apprentice in the United States Navy. Had he waited, his lottery number (like mine, a generation later) would have given him a few more months of liberty, but perhaps delivered him a second lieutenant of Infantry in some dog-face outfit assaulting a beach somewhere.

He wrote down the number on his Draft Card, just in case. 6618-238-2523.

With the passage of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, also known as the Burk-Wadsworth Act, millions of American men a month younger than Mac were subject to the whims of the Selective Service.

I was writing like crazy anyway, anxious to get to past the tumult of the great naval battles of 1942 and get to the move of the Joint Intelligence Center- Pacific Ocean Area (JIC-POA) to the new digs in Makalapa Crater, and the events of 1943. We may actually get there one of these days.

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra

Helsinki Calling

23 November 2016

Editor’s Note: 2011 was a good year to hang with Mac. Willow was at the zenith of its culinary achievement about to win back-to-back Washington-area Burger cook-offs, and it did not seem that there was a thing wrong with the world. I was still employed, Mac was active and engaged, and the Willow Bar Flies were going strong with all relationships pretty much intact. Of course, my folks were in steep decline, Dad in particular, and that kept me on my toes. It was a magical year, and the stories from Mac’s long and fascinating life were a joy to transcribe. It is hard to convey how central Tracy’s restaurant was to our social circle- it was a magnet, and a great one. I stopped by the other day to peer in the glass windows. It has been vacant for more than a year after the crisis that brought the institution to an end, which was the decision by the government to move agencies like Fish & Wildlife out of the building next door, and the building management’s decision to double the rent.

I don’t know how their team could consider 0% of the rent was a better deal than some negotiated settlement for half of it, and the preservation of thirty or forty jobs in Arlington, but that is the way the cookie crumbles, I suppose. And a lot of things were gong to crumble after that wonderful year of 2011. But we will get to that presently.

– Vic

Helsinki Calling

John-with-an-H strolled into the Willow and took Old Jim’s stool at the Amen Corner. The bar area was ding a brisk business as I organized my notes on several cocktail napkins, and Mac was happily picking at his pomme frites and sipping his happy Hour red.

John-with took the iPod buds out of his ears. “I was hoping to save Jim’s place,” he said.

I turned to face him. “Not going to happen. He is in bumfuck West Virginia this week,” I said, and heard the muffled ring-tones of my Droid phone in my pocket. I fished it out and saw on the screen that it was a private number, so I apologized to Mac and stepped out through the vestibule to take the call.

“Hello?” I said, walking out onto the patio in the darkness.

“This place is awful,” said the muffled voice of my Swedish financial advisor.

“What do you mean? I thought you were in Rotterdam this week.” That had been the place of origin of the last communication I got- the near melt-down of the EuroZone has caused a lot of travel in the business, trying to put together gigantic deals between leviathan banking houses.

“No, Helsinki. This hotel has shag carpets and brown curtains. It is sooo 1970s. Appalling. I have one of the big Italian firms coming in, and we are supposed to take a helicopter to look at a hole in the ground in the Finnish Arctic.”

“What is at the bottom of the hole?” I asked. “Are commodities the way out of this mess?”

“Copper. The site is at Kauhajoki, up by the Artic Circle. The formation is a geologic layered intrusion ten kilometers long and two clicks wide. This could be the future of a key commodity.”

“I heard that copper is having a renaissance,” I said.

“Absolutely. That is why I am bringing the Italians up here. The hybrid powertrains in the smart cars require a lot more copper content. Plugin hybrids are going to increase the demand for electric power from the grid.

“I imagine the demand for renewable energy like solar panels is going to increase demand for copper in the building sector, too.”

“Damn straight. We don’t know what else to hedge on. Things are so crazy here. Anyway, we are taking a helicopter to the mine tomorrow. The only other way is an old access road the Nazis cut back during the war.”

“Be careful,” I said. “Those reindeer can be vicious. And should I be moving to a position strong on commodities?”

“It is the only thing I can think of at the moment. You could go short or long on just about anything these days, since nothing makes sense. But I don’t know what the Italians will think of the shag carpeting and brown curtains.”

“I understand their fashion sense,” I said, wondering if there was a way to leverage the information. “Berlusconi is toast.” I held my wrist up to the light that flooded out of the bar so I could see my watch. Trading would start in Berne on the Swiss exchange in eight hours.

“Thanks for the update,” I said, and the call from Helsinki dropped.

I walked back into the bar where Jon-with-no-H was getting a vodka iced tea from Liz-with-an-S.

“The lovely Bea will be along presently,” he said.

“Cool.” I signaled Elisabeth for more wine and turned to the Admiral. “Sorry about the call, but it was from Helsinki. We were talking about why you retired from the Intelligence Community Staff.”

Mac looked thoughtful. “Yes. It was right when Billie was diagnosed with early onset dementia. It was Alzheimer’s, though we did not call it that when things started.”

“I am curious about how it progressed, Sir. We noticed a couple years ago that my Dad was struggling to hear things. He was 84 or so.”

“I don’t think hearing is what it is,” said Mac. “More likely it was the manifestation of growing cognitive impairment.”

“I believe that. He had about six sets of hearing aids and couldn’t keep them straight. So when did you know that things were starting to go wrong? I am trying to figure out how long this could go on.”

“All cases are different,” he said. “Billie was struck when she was only 59, and her decline lasted 20 years.”

“Yike,” I said. “I got the first bill for Dad in the mail on Monday, and it was $7,200 for the first full month in The Bluffs. That isn’t going to go far on twenty years.”

“Billie went to the nursing home at the ten year point. It was subtle at first. She had been a Registered Nurse when she was younger, but turned to real estate. She was a listing agent and then a broker for 17 years. She was out previewing homes in McLain, an area she knew fairly well and got lost. She drove in circles for a quite a while before she saw something she recognized. It scared her.”

“I imagine. My Mom was still driving last year, and one time she made the trip from suburban Detroit to the Village by the Bay in like eight hours. That is enough time for a full round trip, so God only knows where she had been. Dad was no help, of course.”

“Then the real estate firm installed a new switchboard at the office, and the brokers had a regular Navy-style watch-bill to take phone calls on the weekends. I would go with her to manage the equipment and the calls, since she could not figure it out. That was not like her at all.”

“Yeah, the computer and the internet went away for Mom last year, just around the time my sister moved them out of their house and over to the assisted living facily at Potemkin Village.”

“It was only a couple months more she could work. Then she had to quit. She had been really good at what she did, but couldn’t do it anymore.”

“Mom is in and out of it,” I said. “She seems to be having a better time the last few days with Dad is not sitting on top of her.”

“They have their good days and their worse ones,” said Mac, taking a sip of wine. “My daughter and son-in-law were transferred to Ford Headquarters outside of London and we decided to go visit. Billie was adventurous, and she said that she was not going to go unless we could stay for a while. I said I couldn’t take more than two weeks, and she said that wasn’t enough. So, I decided to retire.”

“Boy, I would like to do that. I would have to hit it big in commodities to afford it, though.”

“As it turned out, we spent six weeks. That would have been 1982. We took the train all over and saw shows and had a chance to catch up with friends we met in the early ‘50s when I was assigned to CINCNELM headquarters on North Audley Street in London. It was a nice visit.”

“I have heard that the Navy walked away from the Headquarters. The dollar-a-year lease that Dwight Eisenhower signed in 1943 became too expensive for today’s force.”

“Pity. It was a great place to be posted. Anyway, the kids wound up being there for nearly four years. They had a nice little place in Warley, outside the Greenbelt. Two years after that first visit- that would have been the fall of 1984- they wanted to take a safari in Kenya, and we offered to come over and babysit the grandkids. We intended to stay on when they got back, right through Christmas.”

“How did that go?”

“Not so well. Billie would ask me every day if it was time to go home yet. That was the only thing that interested her. I changed the tickets to go back the day after the kids got back. They were a little surprised by the development, and they picked up and went back to Tulsa for the holidays. They actually left before we did.”

“That sounds like one of those sudden changes, like when Dad forgot how to shave, and Mom decided she did not want to take showers anymore.”

“Exactly,” said Mac, carefully drawing a French fry out of the basket in front of him. “After that, anyplace we went I would get two questions: ‘Why are we here?’ and ‘can we go home.’ I drove her down to one of her favorite places in the world, the big mall at Potomac Mills. She loved that place. We got there, walked around for a minute and went straight home.”

“I guess the home thing is big. Mom seems to have lost that.”

“When I put Billie in the Home, the nurses were great. I told them that she had been an RN, and they asked her if she wanted to go on rounds with them. She thought she was helping, and I moved some of her things in and my son and I left before she got back to her room.”

“That was at the ten year point?”

“Yes, it is an insidious thing. But I never heard about home from her again.”

“I was wondering if I should take Mom to visit Dad. Is that helpful or does it just get everyone agitated?” I asked.

“Two schools of thought on that,” said Mac firmly. “Some families took their people home. Billie never expressed an interest, and it seemed smarter to just keep her where she was comfortable.”

“She was there ten years?” I asked, crunching the numbers.

“Yep. There comes a point when they forget how to walk.”

“I guess that is what is next for Dad,” I said. “He might as well be in Helsinki.”

“It is a cruel thing,” he said, and finished his glass of wine. “But it is part of the life we live. At least while we do.”

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra

Frozen in Amber

Editors Note: This was the beginning of the great decline. It is still amazing to me that Mac was still so vital and engaged even as the end was beginning. It is particularly poignant as the holidays come crashing down around us. Gobble gobble!

– Vic

Frozen in Amber

It was the beginning of fall- early October. I was over at Mac’s place at The Madison to have a chat and catch up for the week.

After I signed in, Paris the attractive young woman at the desk, permitted me access to the elevator and the ride up to the fifteenth floor. Mac had the door propped open to his unit, though I knocked on the frame to announce my presence.

“Come in, come in!” he shouted. I strode into his main room and fished my notebook out of my backpack and sat on the couch next to him, wincing as my left leg twitched and lower back flashed with pain. By comparison, Mac was in good shape. He had his oxygen tube strong under his nose, but a sharp sport jacket.

“Were you out today?” I asked. “You look great.”

“Yep. I was at the hospital to see my oncologist for a follow up on the radiation treatments. I got a clean bill of health, since it worked. The pain is gone.”

“That is fabulous news, Admiral,” I said. “I think that calls for a glass o wine, if you have some.” As it turns out, there was a charming bottle of ’06 Chardonnay on the counter with the appropriate tools out to open it. Mac used his walker to accompany me to the kitchen, the hose to his oxygen snaking ominously close to his feet as he traveled.

“Well, it is sort of a clean bill of health,” he said. “The Doc said I was essentially on hospice care.”

“That is absurd,” I said. “You have more energy than I have seen in weeks.”

“Depends on which Doc. I have an oncologist, a pulmonary physician and cardiologist.”

“Wow,” I said. “I had a drive by with orthopedics this year, but you have the Royal Flush.”

Mac gave a merry laugh, and it is good to see his eyes sparkling in amusement. He kicked the jam from beneath the front door to allow it to swing closed as we returned to the living room.

We eventually wound up seated again on the couch, and we talked about drugs, the history of the Naval Intelligence Designator, and the role of Fleet Admiral Nimitz had in institutionalizing a career path for the intelligence folks who made him a believer in the value of OPINTEL

I marveled at the direct impact of Admiral Nimitz in what became my life’s work- and of course, Mac, who was the 21st of the New Class of intelligence officers selected in the very first Board to be held after the conclusion of World War Two.

I am not going to burden you with it. The details are of interest to a fairly narrow bunch of people, and many of the more interesting ones are long gone. I have my notes, and they will go in the book when I get around to it. Mac was sitting alert and listening for Doug-the-Building-Manager to appear.

“I need to collect my wine glasses, since I am entertaining more these days at home. They are across the hall, and Doug said he would get me in to look for them.”

“Is the owner away?” I asked.

“Well, yes, you could say so. She died.”

“Oh,” I said. We had been talking about Wyman Packard, a departed colleague, who erroneously claimed to have been the first Naval Intelligence Officer selected, when Mac could prove he had made his designator transfer the year before he did. I was writing when an assertive knock hit the door.

“Must be Doug,” said Mac, and shouted for whoever it was to come in.

I put down my notebook and took a sip of Chardonnay. A very tall man with a shaved head and a broad grin entered the apartment and hook hands all around. “This is Doug, the Mayor of the Madison,” said Mac. “The Grand Poobah.”

I told him I was pleased to meet him, and he in turn told Mac he was ready to go across the hall if that was convenient. Mac said it was, and almost bounded out of the room, if that is something you can do with a walker. “You can come, if you want,” he said, and I followed dutifully out into the hall.

The unit just kitty-corner from Mac’s was the same anonymous beige in color, and Doug opened it up. There were no lights on. An envelope was on the floor. The last Steig Larsen murder mystery was on the counter. Pictures of a couple grand-daughters were on a nice oriental cabinet by the wall. The light was dim, the blinds drawn.

Doug and Mac went into the kitchen and began opening cabinets. I watched in interest, since they looked exactly like Big Mama’s did at Potemkin Village when my brother and I arrived to clean them out. The difference was that there were no wedding rings on the bureau near where she had collapsed, the EMT tech thoughtfully removing them from her lifeless finger when they took her away. His disposable gloves were in the trash.

I resisted the temptation to look in the wastebasket here.

The apartment was as if frozen in amber, the last moment a still life life.

Rooting around, Doug found approximately twenty-five coffee cups from the dining room in the cupboard above the sink, and a dozen or two of the industrial grade stemmed glasses for wine or water. He said he would collect them later, and I saw one mug that had actually belonged to the previous owner. It was emblazoned with the words “Sexy Senior Citizen.”

Eventually, the real wine glasses with the elegant stems were found in precisely the last place they looked. There were four. I took three carefully, and we left the strange time capsule across the hall from Mac’s place. I put them next to the sink to be washed by hand, a quality that Mac values since they do not fit in his little dishwasher.

“When did she die?” I asked. “This week?”

“No,” said Doug, preparing to go get a cart to collect the Madison’s assorted crockery. “She has been gone about a year. There is a son someplace, but he has never even come to look at the place. I need to go down to the courthouse to file some papers and get rid of it all if he doesn’t do something pretty soon.”

Frozen in amber, I thought. Very strange.

I finished up my glass of wine as we talked about the coming sale at the PX and the various aspects of crock-pot cooking. Mac had become quite the chef when his wife Billie was ill, and he intended to keep his hand in now that the chill winds of Fall have arrived.

“I will see you next week, “ I said, collecting notebook and pen and throwing them into the backpack. “Be safe in the meantime, and if you need anything, just call.”

Mac looked for the remote to go back to election coverage, and I got up to shake his hand before I got any of that campaign nonsense lodged in my ears.

The elevator was slow in coming, and when the doors slid open, there were six elderly women with a variety of canes, walkers and support devices heading down from above to the dining room. Their men are apparently all gone, but they seemed to be persevering pretty well.

This life thing I definitely not for sissies. When I was back on the street, I pondered if I should go home and cook something sensible for dinner, or walk across Fairfax Drive to Willow for another glass of wine.

I think you know what I did. Did I mention that Old Jim has got another haircut? He is looking like a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant these days.

Life is good, I thought, considering the alternative.

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra