Generations

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OK- so it is a holiday week and I am not traveling. I still feel a little woozy, and after a half-century on the road, I just don’t have the fire in my belly to saddle up the Panzer and spend a few nights in a series of Holiday Inn Express cookie cutter motels.

So it is likely to be a quiet and tranquil Thanksgiving, one in which a buffet at a local watering hole might feature prominently. Too bad- it has been a while since I celebrated with the full repertoire of holiday feasting, embarrassing relatives and shrieking children, but it is what it is.

It is the clash of the generations that is most enlightening. My Navy time was mostly spent with younger sailors. Even the alleged grown-ups now look embarrassingly youthful these days. It was interesting to see how the kids- and I am not patronizing- got along in highly structured situations.

When I came in the service, we still had old-timers with more in common with the Greatest Generation than us Baby Boomers who constituted the bulk of the population. As I reached the end of my time in uniform, I was intrigued by the constantly changing demographics of the military and the larger society from which we came.

The Traditionalists- the Old Schoolers- and the Boomers certainly had their differences and approaches to life (Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll!) but they were relatively homogenous in the way we understood our culture and work ethic. That did not mean we necessarily liked it- but we shared a lot. We were educated in actual classrooms, were expected to stay awake, do our homework and participate in discussion.

After being in the business world after turning in my bridge coat, I found myself in the annoying position of drafting and submitting proposals to provide staff augmentation to some of the three-letter Agencies scattered around town. In the course of so doing, I became increasingly aware of even more diversity in the field of potential employees. I reviewed the resumes of hundreds of Boomers, most retired from the military, Generation X’ers, and Millennials.

To simplify, social scientists have sliced and diced us as:

Traditionals (pre-1946 birthdays)
Boomers (1946-1964)
GenX (born 1965 to 1976)
Millennials, sometimes GenY(1977-1995)
iGen sometimes GenZ, but we are running out of alphabet (1996-?)

It was a challenge to deal with the Millennials. The youngest of them were in their early twenties, just starting out, and with less than 1% of the population having served in the military, little exposure to the kinds of jobs I in which I was trying to place them.

Beyond the Millennials was the ‘iGen,’ born after 1996, and just graduating from high school and college.

It brought something home to me in interacting with the generations. Prior to Gen X, there was no internet and mobile phones were a novelty. After them, there was no separating the individuals from the smart phone, laptop or tablet. These prospective workers had never known an unwired world, or one in which any question could be answered via the network, and were in constant communication with the wider world.

The question is not that the later generations are different- a better question is “Why are they like they are?”

There were distinctive changes in the way these people learn. Older generations were taught in brick-and-mortar schools and often instructed by rote learning. The Millennials did not learn that way, gulping knowledge in a blur, skimming and texting. Is that an efficient and effective strategy?

I don’t know. It certainly is a different one than the Boomers had- though each generation adds to the legacy of those passing and past.

There is more than just communicating and learning, to all this generational change, as though the devices themselves were altering our relationship with the natural world, and Millennials have a distinctly different attitude about it. reflects a distinctly different view of the world- and how we operate in society.

With the notable security breaches caused by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden as backdrop, it appears that there will be deeper challenges in our brick-and-mortar based institutions. I marveled at the determination of Reality Winner to expose classified information that she felt had to be leaked to the press. Did she now what she did was wrong? That there are digital logs that reflected what machine had sent the message to the printer?

Better training might be an answer, of course, but like I say, this generation perceives things differently, and acts accordingly.

We are in the process of figuring all this out, and some of the characteristics of the Millennials will be more robustly displayed in the coming flood of iGens.

I am naturally interested in how this will affect all of our institutions and how they intersect in a global wired world. I would explore that concept more deeply but I need to go out on my porch and yell at the next generation to get off my yard.

Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: Zimbabwe: Not in the National Interest

I had some correspondence with some friends over the past week wondering – particularly in light of apparent Chinese involvement – whether the US should do anything about the situation in Zimbabwe.

You can probably be excused for not following the activity in Zimbabwe last week. The short version is that the Zimbabwean army forced one candidate for the Presidency out of the race. The other leading candidate was already out of the country. And it appears that the current president is under some sort of house arrest.

The president of Zimbabwe is Robert Mugabe. 93 years old, he has been president for 37 years. He firmly believes in socialism for the people, and a de facto monarchy for himself. He has managed to bankrupt a country that arguably could be one of the wealthiest on the continent of Africa. But, he’s growing old. And so, he’s been grooming his wife, Grace, to take his place. She is running for president against his vice president. Last week he fired vice president Mnangagwa, who fled to South Africa, signaling that he wanted his wife to follow him in the presidency.

The Zimbabwean army then acted and Grace Mugabe fled, later to turn up in the presidential palace with her husband. Both are now under “protection” of the army, a sort of “soft” coup, and many are calling for him to step down.

It’s been noted that China is, at least marginally, involved. Is the US involved? As it turns out, the US is not, not in the least. But, as I’ve sat and listened to various folks talk about what the US might or might not do, I keep coming back to one question, the question of core interests.

I recently had a chance to work with some Navy SEALs and who were conducting their final training prior to deploying overseas. Besides the obvious – they are an amazing collection of professionals, there is the fascinating problem of needing to be prepared to, well, cover the world. Despite what it may seem in the movies, deploying to one country (in Asia, Africa, Latin America, etc.,) is not the same as deploying to any other. There are a host of variables, not simply who you might be pursuing but also who you will be working with, related rules and regulations on what you can and can’t do and how you might be able to do those things, etc. Suffice it to say, they go through a great deal of training to get a very complicated set of problems into a manageable package and still be able to do what they need to do, wherever they need to do it.

In the course of this training and rehearsals, etc., there is a good deal of discussion about where the SEALs, and other US special operations personnel, are operating. Long and short, they are spread around the globe. According to a statement released by US Special Operations Command last June, US special operations personnel had been active in 137 countries around the world in the previous year.

But they’re not in Zimbabwe. In fact, there’s no US military presence in Zimbabwe to speak of. Our embassy is small, and our overall state of relations is limited. And the reasons are fairly simply: the government is totalitarian and destructive to its people. And while it’s true that we have, and do, deal with totalitarian governments when it’s in our interest, the simple truth is that dealing with President Mugabe has not been and is not now in our interest.

On July 4, 1821, President’s Monroe’s Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, in a speech delivered Congress, noted that “America… goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

Robert Mugabe is a monster. His wife would be as much of one. But they are not monsters that concern us.

It’s on our own interests that we must remain focused. We’re already – as the Commander of US Special Operations Command has noted in testimony before Congress – spread thin. The effort to rein in our activities and focus on core US interests is consistent with our founding principles; it’s also a practical and fiscal necessity.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Dumb Luck

Editor’s Note: Here at Socotra House, we passed a significant milestone on Friday of last week. I had grown weary of toggling through a 600-odd page manuscript. It was time to whack it into more manageable chunks. I broke it chronologically into the Pacific War years of RADM Donald “Mac” Showers, then his time in the age of Hot & Cold Running Wars, and finally his time at Langley and retirement to become a mentor and care-giver. He was superb at them all. Now it is time to print a hard-copy of the thing and do a close edit and see where we go from here. This chapter from the book is from one of the earlier interviews we did, and provides a sort of road-map to the astonishing careers he had. I will keep you posted on the continuing journey about a good friend who saw some extraordinary things.

– Vic

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This was at the beginning of my decade-long friendship with Mac, and just at the time we started to take on the project of looking at his amazing life with an eye to telling the story.

It had been a strange day in Arlington, though things are strange enough in Washington that only the addition of nuclear weapons could really give it some pizzazz. The Nuclear Conference wrapped up downtown at the convention center. First Lady Michele Obama made a dramatic appearance in devastated Port au Prince. The talking heads are speculating on the impact of the retirement of Associate Justice John Paul Stevens from the high court.

Mac and I got seats half-way down the Willow’s bar, being just a bit ahead of the rush. The place is quite fashionable these days, and maybe it is a sign the Recession is fading. It was mild in impact around here, though it is hard to say if the people drinking exotic vintages ever noticed it much.

I asked him about Justice Stevens, and remarkably, it turned out he was a wartime colleague in Hawaii. I asked about his involvement in the shoot-down of Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, which featured prominently in the published biography.

“OPERATION VENGEANCE,” Mac said, nodding, “and it was a long-range intercept of the Admiral’s personal aircraft. The mission was based on intelligence derived from decrypted Japanese communications that outlined the itinerary for the Admiral’s inspection trip to several bases in the Solomon Islands on April 18, 1943. Army Air Corps P-38s operating from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal successfully shot him down.”

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(Associate Justice John Paul Stevens. Mac used to dine with him at lunch the O Club near the Pacific Fleet Headquarters in Makalapa Crater).

“It was a terrible blow to the morale of the Japanese Fleet,” said the Admiral, “once they had to admit it happened. They kept it secret for a while.”

Justice Steven’s bio notes his contributions to the effort, though Mac doesn’t remember it quite that way, and he is almost the last one in a position to know. He was a Lieutenant with Stevens, who he remembers as a polished lawyer and gentleman from Chicago. They were in the same unit at Pearl during the war, and often had lunch at the bar at the club attached to the Bachelor Officer’s Quarters.

Admiral Mac is approaching his 91st summer in this world, and is still chugging merrily along. He broke his elbow in a fall a month or so ago, which resulted in surgery and a marked diminution of his communications, since he was reduced to one-handed typing.

He does not drink any more, on orders from his oncologist, though he doesn’t mind watching. He enjoys a Virgin Mary with olives and lime and horseradish, or just a ginger ale. We had begun to meet to talk about the events of his distinguished and highly secret career, since most of the great events may still remain classified but are hardly a threat to anyone left alive.

I picked him up in the covered circle at the front door to The Madison high-rise assisted living facility where he lives, and we drove across the street to the Willow.

“Stevens was a good man,” said Mac. “Though I have to say the modern story of his involvement in the Intelligence Community is a little overblown. I know something about that, since I helped establish the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts later in the 1970s.”

Mac went to say that Stevens might have been recruited to be an Air Intelligence Officer rather than a cloak-and-dagger Spook like the published biography implies.

Mac looked thoughtful as he recalled and I dodged pedestrians to try to get parking at the curb directly in front of the door to the bar.

“Admiral Forrest Sherman created the whole air intelligence program,” he said. “Sherman believed that the perfect AI was a lawyer by training, and he was right. They know how to listen, take depositions, and speak succinctly in a briefing. Admiral Forrest Sherman wanted orderly legal minds to take care of his cadre wearing the Wings of Gold. That is probably why they approached John Paul. I don’t recall him being around in early 1943, but it is possible.”

“It is probably why they all got out at the end of the war to go back to lawyering,” I said with a laugh.

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(Fleet Admiral Yamamoto)

“You might be right. LT Stevens was a new guy when I was there, and I had literally months of experience. I had reported to the code-breaking unit at Pearl (Station HYPO) in February of 1942 when the ships were still on the bottom of the harbor. That unit’s unclassified name was the Fleet Radio Unit Pacific (FRUPAC) and was already humming when Mac arrived in February 1942.

Mac hadn’t mentioned the dumb luck of it all. I started jotting notes on bar napkins, which surround me now. Long story short, he had never been ‘destined’ for anything like the illustrious career he had. It was completely by chance that he was selected to go to the six-week Investigations Course at Seattle after commissioning on 12 September of 1941.

The 90-wonder course in Chicago was intended to produce Deck Officers for the growing Fleet, and it was complete chance he did not get orders to a ship, as most did. Some of them had enough time after commissioning to arrive at their first duty stations in Hawaii to die under the Japanese bombs.

The December 7th attack happened just after he completed the investigations course; he served briefly in the Public Affairs office in Seattle. His duties included resettling Alaskan families in the Pacific Northwest, due to the threat of war. And then it began in earnest.

All the Ensigns immediately were given orders west, toward the crisis. Half were assigned to the 16th Naval District in Manila, the other half to the 14th ND in Honolulu. Dumb luck, or it could have been the alphabetic order in which they were issued.

“Showers” fell in the second tranche of orders, and he was headed for Honolulu.

The 16th Naval District was in Manila. The kids who got those orders took the train down the coast to the Sea Port of Embarkation (SPOE) at San Francisco to the Philippines, and arrived just in time to proceed directly from the docks at Manila into Japanese prison camps- the hellholes of the South China Sea.

Some of them lived. Just Dumb Luck that Mac did not have to endure the horrors.

Mac instead got orders to the 14th Naval district in Honolulu. There was no Waikiki in those days; that was just a swamp west of Downtown and the Aloha Tower and the Matson passenger terminal. He was billeted in the YMCA near Hotel Street and the Aloha Tower where the Matson Liners landed.

The day after arrival, he walked in the soft breeze amid the scent of flowers from the ‘Y’ to report to the District Intelligence Officer as ordered.

The District Intelligence Office was in a hotel the Navy had requisitioned to accommodate wartime needs, and Mac was startled to note that the Assistant DIO who received him wore two pearl-handled pistols on his belt due to his perceived threat of domestic Japanese terrorists.

“The guy was a regular Cowboy,” said Mac. “He got right to the point, too. He asked me how much field investigation experience I had. I told him I had successfully completed the six-week course in Seattle, but otherwise had none. The Cowboy positively fumed.” Mac chuckled, remembering the interview. “It was a guy named CDR Pease, and he was the Deputy in charge of counterintelligence, among other things.

“So, the Cowboy kind of sneered at me, saying “I need men with experience, and you are worthless to me.” Mac said he rocked back in his chair and the pearl handles of the pistol poked out. “He said he had a billet out at the Shipyard he had not been able to fill since he needed all the experienced help downtown. Then he said he had just found someone he didn’t need.”

Next morning, Mac had orders to the Shipyard, and found Station Hypo in the basement of the Administration Building, near the bustle of the recovery efforts to salvage the stricken ships that leaned crazily at the piers or had capsized at their berths in the harbor.

By noon, Mac found himself reporting to a Navy Commander named Joe Rochefort, one of the small handful of men who understood radio, codes and the Japanese language and culture. His little unit made critical breakthroughs on the Japanese JN- 25 code system, but it came at a cost.

Mac was put to work immediately, experience or no. There was a war on, after all. As mid-1942 approached, FRUPAC was literally under the gun. There were periods of round- the-clock work on intercepted messages.

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(Charleton Heston (l) and Hal Holbrook as Joe Rochefort (r) in the 1976 film “Midway”).

“Did Commander Rochefort work in his bathrobe, showing up for briefings at the CINCPACFLT HQ up at Makalapa Crater late and disheveled, like actor Hal Holbrook played him in the movie “Midway?””

“We did what we had to do in The Dungeon,” replied Mac. “But do not make the mistake of thinking that Joe Rochefort was anything like the crypto-mystic Holbrook made him out to be. Joe was a pro.”

I kept writing on the growing pile of napkins in front of me. Mac sipped ginger ale and told me he had been working there about three months when the frantic effort climaxed with the decryption of just enough JN-25 traffic to understand the objective of the Japanese attack.

Washington thought the Japanese were headed for Alaska, having detected the movement of a diversionary force intended attack American interest away from the actual objective. Washington had it wrong, and that was going to be the basis of animosity and jealously that would last decades.

If you had not heard, Washington hates to be wrong.

The main body of the Japanese Navy was going to strike and seize Midway Island, and establish a bastion from which they could threaten the Hawaiian Islands.

Rochefort, with Fleet Intelligence Officer Edwin Layton, convinced Admiral Nimitz that Midway Island was the real objective. In an act of serene confidence, the Admiral gambled on the ambush that resulted in the Battle of Midway, 4-7 June, 1942. In the fight, the Japanese lost four carriers and most of their skilled naval aviators.

It was the turning point of the Pacific War.

Mac eventually transferred from FRUPAC to be Eddie Layton’s assistant, and to deploy forward to Admiral Nimitz’ forward HQ at Guam. He worked as chief of the forward Estimates Section on what would happen with the land invasion of the Home Islands, that helped make the decision to debut the use of the (atomic) Gadgets against Japan.

Five days after the surrender, with the help of his Boss CAPT Layton, Mac made a visit to Yokosuka Naval Base, from which the Imperial Navy ships had departed to strike Pearl four years before.
He was awarded the Bronze Star for his work with the code breakers. It was all just dumb luck that he was not in the half of his class that reported direct to be prisoners of the Japanese.

LT John Paul Stevens, USNR, finished up his time at FRUPAC, which had moved from the basement at the shipyard to the temporary building in back of the PACFLT Headquarters. He demobilized and got on with his life as a lawyer. As it turns out, he did pretty well.

Mac stayed in the Navy, of course, and joined the people at Langley after he retired, and then retired again, and is busier in the third part of his life’s work than he ever was.

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(Justice John Paul Stevens on the High Court).

He is still occasionally in touch with his old wartime buddy, and told me when I dropped him off at The Madison that he would ask him how he was planning on enjoying his retirement.

I smiled and was already compiling another list of questions. This had been a stratosphere-level. Now, we could come back and get into the weeds. I said: “We need to get together again soon, if you would be willing.”

“I would be happy to,” said Mac.

“I have some follow-on questions, Sir, and I want to ask them one at a time, rather than a whole war in just a few drinks. Or ginger ales, as the case might be. The one I will leave you with is this: was it all just dumb luck?”
“You don’t know the half of it, Vic,” said Mac. “I would be happy to continue to get together. There are a couple things I would like to get straight, while there is still time.”

Then he turned and walked briskly into the lobby of the Madison, his posture perfect, except for the slight list from the weight of the cast on his arm.

Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocora.com

Why Cats Rule the Universe as We Know It

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I haven’t written a Socotra piece for a long time. My usual excuse is time, actually a lack of it like all of the rest of us who labor in what Vic terms the Imperial City. The money is why we are here and a necessary blessing; the traffic, assholes and bureaucracy are the curse. I have several pieces in work that I’ve been sitting on, one for well over a year, but I felt compelled to capture the last couple of interesting days in writing. I’m no Hemingway but ole Ernie and I share the same passions – a love for beautiful women, booze, good literature, and cats. I could also throw in exotic locations, but where the genesis of this story started; it would be hard to it put on your hit list for places to have fun – Dayton, Ohio. This is a love story.

Dayton is the birthplace of aviation – you people in North Carolina sit down. Ohio is where the dream of flight of Wilbur and Orville Wright originated; Kitty Hawk was the testing range. All of the intellectual and ground-breaking engineering thought to get humans into the air happened in Dayton. I had driven through Dayton several times and aside from stopping to take a piss or get a burger on I-70 while driving across the country, I never gave it a second thought. So, on this trip with some time to kill, we carved a couple of hours out of our meeting schedule to visit the National Museum of the USAF. I highly recommend it – time well spent. The other thing that I discovered was that the people of the mid-West, Ohio being a Red State, are not all that vain or pretentious, but rather are decent and possess gentle souls – unlike the assholes we contend with every fucking day in DC, or what they like to increasingly call “the DMV.”

My traveling companion and I arrived via air about the same time at Dayton International, and completed a fam trip to Wright-Pat AFB before checking into our basic business hotel in the outskirts of Dayton. I had researched good restaurants in the area and we found a gem – an old-world style Eastern European eatery which featured a smorgasbord of sausage, potato, and schnitzel treats – Elinor’s Amber Rose.

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The Amber Rose was built in 1910 and features a bar with what at the time was luxurious Turkish marble. Their menu included turtle soup – where can you find that? It was definitely a neighborhood place and while we were there, about a dozen blue-collar guys rolled in to take a big table next to us.

After returning to our hotel, my travel partner retired to his room, and I decided to walk off dinner. After strolling around the hotel grounds, I encountered a white black-spotted cat who was trolling for someone to pet him, and then take him in. we overseas people have seen it before – a family adopts a pet, gets orders, and decides to dump it because they don’t want to pay the freight, medical, and other expenses. Heart-breaking.

It was pretty obvious that this feline character was from the same ilk, and he was looking for shelter, food, and love since he was obviously not feral, and unskilled in living off the land. He came right up to me, rubbed my legs – marking me as his territory, and then rolled around on the ground looking for reciprocation – which I obliged, being a cat person. After a few minutes of that, I went inside, with him trying to follow, and went upstairs for the night – troubled.

The next day, we completed our meetings, and I drove my traveling companion back to the airport for his return flight to DC, as I had some unscheduled business meetings the next day. After dinner at a great Colombian restaurant, I returned to the hotel and retired to the back patio for an after dinner drink. Who shows up but my new best friend, who camped out on my feet and stuck his claws into my pants as if to say “I’m not going to let you go.” I needed more information so I went back into the lobby, leaving my feline friend sitting at the door watching me, and asked the front desk guy what was the story with this cat. He told me that it had been hanging around the hotel for about three weeks, and a lot of the guests had expressed concern about him. It was forecasted to freeze that night and the desk guy said that the owner of the hotel was calling Animal Control to pick him up the next day, tomorrow. At that point, action was called for, and I was the right person at the right time. I asked the desk guy what the hotel policy was for pets. He said that they were not pet friendly, but added he had to leave the desk to inspect the grounds and corridors. It was time to make my move. I told him that I would shut the cat into the head, and clean up any mess.

I had previously told my wife about this cat, sent her a picture, and that I was thinking about bringing him home. She is also a cat person, and agreed to me taking the chance. I went back out back, tucked the cat into my jacket, and took him up to the room. Then I went out to a 24-hour store and bought a cat carrier, portable litter box, dried cat food, and bowls for food and water. I should have bought a poop scoop – more on that later.

The next morning, I called and cancelled my informal appointments, cancelled my return flight and extended my rental car to drop it in DC. I snuck the cat out of the hotel, checked out, and departed for what turned into a 12-hour journey back home.
I put the cat into the back of my rental car, and he didn’t like it one bit. Just outside of Columbus, he started to go ballistic, bucking up in his cage in an effort to get free, so I had to stop and get him out of there. I held him for a bit, his heart going 200 mph, and calmed him down. Then, I put him back into his carrier in the back seat so he could see me, and I could reach back and put the fingers of my right hand through the cage bars so he could nuzzle them. It worked.

About an hour later, he started to meow real loud. I found a truck stop off I-70. By this time, he had pooped all of the food he had been scarfing down from the night before. I called my wife with the opening line “I just scooped cat shit out of a litter box with my bare hands.” Yuck. However, my new friend slept pretty much the rest of trip, trusting to fate.

A couple of hours later and still in Ohio, I needed a pee break and something for lunch. I stopped in Morristown and spotted Schlepp’s Family Restaurant. It was the quintessential diner and by happenstance, the owner was sitting at the bar. I asked him what they were known for and what they offered off the menu that was good. It became a choice between a deep-friend cheese burger or a fried bologna sandwich on home-made bread. Since I haven’t had a bologna sandwich since I was pre-teen and never seen it on a menu, I chose that – awesome with their hand-cut fries. Great place to stop on your next trip out west. And the bonus is that it hasn’t been ruined by Guy Fieiri or any of the other clones on the Food Network.

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The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful. The fall colors had mostly gone from the mountains of West Virginia and Maryland by then, but still beautiful. I made my way through Morgantown, Cumberland, Hagerstown, Frederick, and to BWI without issue; dropped the rental car and loaded up the Tacoma for the short drive home. I called my wife and told her to lock our other cat into the basement since I was concerned that the new one might have feline leukemia – a deal breaker if there ever is one.

We got home, everyone got familiarized, the other cat very unhappy, and I slept on the couch with my new best friend curled up next to me.

The next day, my wife took the new cat to his vet appointment, women being the stronger sex. There are some things that I don’t like and make me afraid and this was one of those things – I had too much emotion invested in this little character and I feared the worst. I invented an excuse to be elsewhere; someplace I could have a couple of drinks, and then waited for the news. The first text from my wife was that he weighed 7 pounds, 7 pounds of pure love. The second brought me to tears– he had tested negative for feline leukemia. I got down on my knees and cried, and thanked God for that gift. I’ve got tears in my eyes as I type this now. Every once in a while, you roll the dice, and this time my number came up. So, we have a new family member, and he is a little heartbreaker. If you are a cat owner or lover, you will understand why I say that cat’s rule the universe. Have you ever gotten a cat to do anything? Well, I had a cat get me to move a little bit of heaven and earth to save his life, and get him a new loving home. I’m still awed by how he did it.

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So, we don’t know what we are going to call him. According to Old Possum’s book, all cats have three names, including a secret one. There are some obvious choices – Dayton being one. We are taking a family vote later today. One of the exhibits I saw at the Air Force Museum featured their two greatest aces from WWII, Thomas Maguire, who has an AFB named after him, and Richard “Dickie” Bong – their greatest ace – but the only thing named after him is the access road to the Air Force Museum. He had 40 confirmed kills flying the P-38 Lightning in the SW Pacific Operating Area – more than any USAF fighter pilot ever, and won the Congressional Medal of Honor for those feats. However and despite his aerial achievements and being named as one of our first test pilots, he committed the cardinal sin of crashing an F-80 Shooting Star on an acceptance flight on the same day that Birdy Tibbetts dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima. Like all of the services then and today, the Air Force didn’t brook failure. That’s why there is no Bong AF, unlike his ace counterpart Maguire who had 38 kills in Europe.

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There are several other name candidates – I like Dickie but my wife prefers Lucky, since he is lucky to have survived once he was abandoned. We still need to finish the work to de-flea and de-tick him since he picked both up while he was homeless. Either way, he is one happy camper given his circumstances 48 hours ago, and now where he is today. He is sleeping at my feet as I write this. The vets say he is between 7 and 8 months old so still a kitten. He will sleep in the crook of my arm for the rest of my life. I grieve for what I feel was a little girl who used to own and love him, but I am pissed off at her parents who hard-heartedly decided to dump his ass, for whatever reason. I truly believe that God has a purpose and a plan for everything and everybody. Everyone wants to win the lottery, sometimes you do, but maybe in ways that you never expected.

Epilogue: I wrote this last Saturday and it has been waiting in the Socotra line for posting. Lucky gets his little nuts cut tomorrow so now the little fucker has cost me around $500 – all worth it.

Copyright 2017 Point Loma
www.vicsocotra.com

Life & Island Times: Drinking with a Duval Street Satan

Author’s note: This year’s edition of Key West’s infamous Fantasy Fest, a 10 day long party, passed while W and I were on the left coast. These are the sole coherent phrases that recall a distant foggy memory of one such Fantasy Fest night.

https://gyazo.com/d2f2752cf4318daf932b2565b4216b79

I was at the Green Parrot late one October Saturday night, you’ll never guess who walked in
A tourist, perhaps, dressed in red satin like the Devil, acting like the master of sin
He blared at me, “I’ll drink you off your stool”
I said, “Thinking about out-drinking a local will make you the fool”

Thus I became drunker than a Duval Street Satan in satin
He was much worse off, despite all his braggin’
Later I found this prince of darkness prone on the sidewalk
Puking in the gutter and unable to talk
And he wasn’t even through shot 13
Cause on his fourth glass of house tequilla
He started spewing and evacuating condemned souls
And that was before the bartender opened up the Jim Beam

Maybe this satin Satan thought he’d get my soul, if he were to win
So a bit after midnight I asked, “What do I get, when you’re forced to give in?”
He weakly said to me, “If you out-drink me, I’ll be surprised,
but if you do, you can name your own prize.”

It wasn’t quite one, when I again found this ersatz prince of doom
Passed out on the floor of the Parrot’s mens room
I told him, “It might be hard to get me my prize with your head so unclear,
The night is young, I know what I want — GET ME SOME DRAFT BEER!”

Good times were rolling, outdrinking a red satin Satan
At the Parrot’s back bar singing the blues with the band again
The whiskey kept flowing, the smiles did too
I felt pretty good, until I drank them last few

Oh, Lord, God in Heaven, I felt rather tipsy
I shouldn’t have drunk so damn much whiskey
Nor chugged so much beer, nor slammed so much gin
Is this what the priest meant by the “wages of sin”

Oh, Lord, God in Heaven, I felt rather tipsy
I shouldn’t have drunk so damn much whiskey
Nor chugged so much beer, nor slammed so much gin
Is this what the priest meant by the “wages of sin”

Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat/H. Jenkins
www.vicsocotra.com

Postcard from the Swamp #23

A Slight Break

Our seventy-year-old president completed his 12-day tour of Asia as we slept, Mr. Trump hurtling east on Air Force One from the Philippine Islands, as they were quaintly called back in the day.

I am not sure I could do it, and he has a couple years on me, but Joe Biden is talking about running for President in a couple years, and Hillary seems kinda, well ominous.

Is there anyone not under Social Security Eligibility that might like to take a chance?

And what is up with men? Jeeze. You would think we had been misbehaving for forty years. Or longer.

So, with the President airborne and hopefully tweet-free for a minute, here is a relatively quiet Swamp Postcard. I could go on about the Big Pink hot water outage yesterday, the removal of the old refrigerator and the delivery of the new one, the simultaneous arrival of the maids and the subsequent dental appointment that hung in the balance (I lied about letting them take X-rays for the tenth time) but you have your own issues.

We can deal with it, I am confident. But it was quite a day.

Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here!

Vic

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Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: A Coming Collision?

Saudi Arabia’s heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), sent an interesting signal last week: in a startling – but not unprecedented – action, MBS arrested 18 rich, powerful Saudis. Of course, this kind of activity isn’t unprecedented, kings and other absolute or near absolute rulers have been purging their courts for thousands of year.

While many analysts have read it as MBS consolidating his position and eliminating would-be opposition to the throne, it’s perhaps more accurate to say that MBS (and the King, this didn’t happen without the King’s approval) is engaged in a much more important effort, one we need watch with interest. Let me explain.

Saudi Arabia faces a host of problems: an unemployment rate of nearly 13% (for those under 25, perhaps as high as 30%); lower oil revenues (prices have stabilized below $60/bbl, yet government spending – have been based on oil prices of $70 or more); an economy overwhelmingly based on oil – plans to diversify require hundreds of billions in capital investment, money to be underwritten by oil revenue; and Saudi public welfare programs and government subsidies that were all estimated based on higher oil prices.

And then there’s Iran. Consider:

The Saudi war in Yemen is now in its third year, with no end in sight. Iran supports the Houthi rebels; last week a long-range rocket – provided by Iran – was launched from Yemen towards the Saudi capital of Riyadh. A Saudi Patriot missile intercepted the rocket and there were no casualties. But the fact remains that an Iranian proxy fired an Iranian missile at the Saudi capital.

Iran has a very close relationship with Qatar – based on oil interests. Qatar has used its oil money to support a number of radical Islamic groups that the Saudis (and others – Egypt, for example) see as destabilizing the entire region.

In Iraq, Iran has used the fighting with ISIS to expand its influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Recently it has become clear that Iran has reinforced and re-supplied Hezballah with weapons.

This isn’t simply the “normal” interweaving of overlapping issues: a power struggle, economics, demographics, geo-politics. Rather, at its root is the Iranian effort to take advantage of the religious rift at the center of Islam, the Sunni – Shia schism.

While about 13% of the world’s Muslims are Shia, the bulk live in or near Iran. The collective populations of Iran, Iraq, Jordan, and the nations of the Arabian Peninsula total roughly 215 million people; 125 million of them are Shia. Iran – 98% Shia, is extending its influence into Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, already has influence in Yemen (it’s underwriting that war, after all), has substantial political and economic presence in Oman, and is economically and politically closely aligned with Qatar. As ISIS has been pushed back in Iraq and Syria, Iran has expanded its presence, working closely with the Iraq government. Iranian influence continues to grow in Qatar as well, the real reason the Saudis are sanctioning Qatar.

With its own large Shia minority (at least several million Shia, mainly in the oil-rich eastern province) MBS recognizes that Saudi Arabia has little room for more trouble.

From Riyadh’s perspective Saudi Arabia is being “surrounded” by Iran. The growing Iranian influence in Lebanon, the Iranian backed Iraq actions in Kirkuk, and finally the firing of an Iranian built rocket at Riyadh paint the problem in stark relief: Saudi Arabia, and the Sunni Arab world, are under assault by Iran and it’s proxies. MBS recognizes the time to act is now.

Years after the fact, Winston Churchill wrote of the start of the First World War that: “The measured, silent drawing together of gigantic forces, the uncertainty of their movements and positions, the number of unknown and unknowable facts made the first collision a drama never surpassed.”

That North Korea continues its nuclear weapons development, a program a cynic might suggest was funded at least in part by Iran, and as China and Russia continue to expand their presence in the Middle East, East Africa, Central Asia, and South East Asia, it’s easy to believe that forces are now in motion that are both massive and ones we don’t fully understand.

Indeed, it would seem that silent, gigantic forces are once again moving, in the Mid East, and across Asia and Africa. Preparedness, and support of our allies may prevent another collision. Perhaps if we act now we might avoid our own cataclysmic drama.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Growing Like Topsy

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(On the rim of Makalapa Crater at Pearl Harbor, this semi-permanent wooden structure was built in 1943 to house the Joint Intelligence Center Pacific Ocean Areas (JICPOA), where intelligence was collected, evaluated, and disseminated throughout World War II.)

“The joint intelligence center is responsible for providing and producing the intelligence required to support the joint force commander and staff, components, task forces and elements, and the national intelligence community.
– Joint Publication 2-01

I confess Mac’s account of the removal of Joe Rochefort from command of station HYPO got me riled up, and it took a while to settle down again.

Reading the account of the DC perfidy that occurred in the last few weeks in September and October of 1942 was profoundly depressing, since it was exactly the story of how things work in a bloated and bureaucratic system that exists, over time, mostly to feed itself.

Before he was ordered back to Washington for his Star Chamber, Joe was the interim Office in Charge of the new Intelligence Center-Pacific Ocean Area (IC-POA). According to Elliott Carlson, Joe hated the additional duty, and viewed it ass a distraction from the critical work being done by Station HYPO’s cryptanalysts and linguists. I think Joe had a point, at that point in the conflict, but things were going to grow like Topsy, and that is just the nature of things.

I base that on analogous experience. I reported to the Pentagon in the early stages of DESERT Shield, in the Fall of 1990. I had accepted ores to the Joint Staff JS organization before deploying to the Med the year before, in USS Forrestal (CV-59). I think I was supposed to be assistant chief, Middle East, North Africa Branch, working for the legendary Andrea Arnstett, but I had a scheme, as every good careerist must, that I would synchronize with the likely assignment of whoever the new intelligence flag officer was going to be.

In those days, it was usually a show-down for selection to Flag rank between the Fleet Intelligence Officers (N-2s) of the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets. I had worked for the PacFlt N2 before, and made a mental wager that he would be the community pick, and further, the most likely assignment would be as the Flag officer assigned to support the Joint Staff.

Ask anyone- the concept of the “Flag Chase” never works out. If you wait to negotiate for orders to work for someone you know, once you know where they are going, by the time you can extricate yourself from the assignment you are on, and actually get there, the person you wanted to work for is probably packing bags to move on.

In this case, my scheming actually worked out, though it could have been a disaster that would have buried me in the bowels of DIA.

Here is how it worked out. The new JS was indeed the PacFlt N2, and I got to the Pentagon just a month after he reported for duty to General Colin Powell. It is a good thing to be able to skip all that relationship-building nonsense, and being at war- or preparing to go to war- provides a marvelous focus on real things.

In this case, it was clear that a central clearing-house for collections and analysis was going to be needed, and a dank space on the Pentagon Mezzanine level was identified to house the National Military Joint Intelligence Center (NMJIC). It had a variety of growing pains. Privately, some called it the “Teenage Mutant NMJIIC” after the popular cartoon of the day, but grow it did. Groups of Army, Navy and Air Force people began to appear with alarming regularity, equipped with computers and telephones.

The mission was constantly changing- defense of Saudi Arabia was the beginning, and sanctions enforcement against Saddam’s government was a big deal, since that is what we were doing at the time.

That rapidly changed. Sanctions, first, then mine warfare, and Air Order of Battle, and SCUD-hunting and ground combat all followed with dazzling speed. Once the fight was on, and STORM followed SHIELD, we concentrated on Bomb Damage Assessment and mobility studies, and target nominations. The crisis de jour depended on what the forces in the field required, and of course feeding the decision-making beast in the Building.

It was the same deal it was when Joe Rochefort was sent packing in the Pacific in late 1942. Jasper Holmes reported that changing from defense to offense required new kinds of intelligence support to the operating forces.

IC-POA was cursed to attempt to meet the burgeoning requirements of the amphibious forces who were tasked to storm the beaches. That meant that the vital code-breaking had to be supplemented by skilled imagery analysts, area studies experts, map-makers, and craftsmen who could turn the maps into physical models of the objective atolls.

The only constant in the changing mission swirl was the constant change.

The initial request by the Marines was to create the IC-POA with more than 200 personnel. Only about 40 were actually available when the organization stood-up, which was a blessing, since Jasper Holmes and Mac commented that The Dungeon rhythm was upset with the arrival of all the new faces, and the sensitivity of the code-breaking made security a real concern.

The solution was to move all the IC-POA desks to the far end of The Dungeon, creating an artificial separation between HYPO and IC. With the concentration on tracking IJN naval units through the beginning of 1943, many of the original cadre of intel center officers had moved on to other priorities of the moment. By February 1943, the pipeline for linguists had begin to produce graduate. Twenty of them arrived in February, and CAPT Goggins was put in charge of both.

The organization had shops for an Objective Data Section; a Language Section; and the Combat Intelligence Unit, which was nominally a part of ICPOA but functioned as a part of HYPO. The Photographic Reconnaissance and Interpretation Section (PRISIC) was over on Ford Island, but moved to the second deck of the Kodak Hawaii Building downtown for the obvious reason- access to film.

The organizational contortions continued to lurch forward as Joe’s relief, a CAPT Bill Goggins settled into Joe’s desk. Mac recalled that the transition was aided by Joe Rochefort’s let to Jasper, urging the team to support the new guy.

HYPO itself was having growing pains. Its ranks began to swell after the Battle of Midway. The machine room was “bursting at the seams” according to Jasper, and since it required air-conditioning to make the machines happy, a new facility outside the dank Dungeon was needed.

Jasper described how the seams in The Dungeon were being stretched: “Our plotting facilities, with their expanded collections of charts and maps, required more space. The manifold file of hectographed Japanese messages, a basic source of information for the Japanese naval order of battle, grew to occupy more space than had originally been allotted to the entire unit. Even the card file of place-names had grown to more than twenty thousand cards.”

Accordingly, a building designed specially to handle the IBM machines was constructed on the rim of Makalapa Crater, immediately adjacent to the CINCPAC HQ. HYPO and IC-POA moved out of the bustling Ship Yard their new digs in April of 1943. Mac once told me at Willow the requirements for IBM punch cards were so large that the warehouse next to the new building was filled with nothing but card stock.

The building is still there, something I find remarkable. The new facility was- and is, when I stood there a couple weeks ago- isolated on a dead-end road. Then, it was surrounded by a high chain-link fence and equipped with armed Marines at the gate.

On 7 September, 1943, the tempo of offensive operations jumped into high gear. To serve the planning staffs that rotated through O’ahu, the intelligence section of Admiral Nimitz’s staff was reorganized to cope with the accelerating OPTEMPO. HYPO was administratively separated from IC-POA and transferred to the Pacific Fleet as the Fleet Radio Unit, Pacific (FRUPac).

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(Captain William Goggins, the non-cryptologist selected by Washington to lead HYPO. Mac said he was a pretty good guy and didn’t have anything to do with the coup d’etat. His style was more old-school Navy than Joe Rochefort’s was. Photo USN).

Captain Goggins remained with the unit as officer-in-charge of FRUPac. IC-POA was placed directly under the assistant chief of staff for intelligence (ACOS/J-2), Joint Staff, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, and Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Area (CinCPac-CinCPOA). To accommodate the new Joint nature of the reporting chain, it was rechristened as the Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean Area (JIC-POA).

Brigadier General Joseph J. Twitty, was appointed J-2 and officer-in-charge of JICPOA. Captain Eddie Layton remained as Fleet Intelligence Officer. The Combat Intelligence Unit of ICPOA became the Estimate Section of JICPOA, which Jasper led, supported by Mac Showers.

The war in the Pacific was hurtling forward, and the institutions had to change and grow, just like Topsy.

It is the way it works.

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(The former JIC-POA Building was sinking into Makalapa Crater in the early 2000s when the Navy actually did something to preserve its history. JIC-POA and Station HYPO were here longer than they were in the famed dungeon. The blue shells on either side of the door are from the super-battleship IJN Yamato. At 18.1 inches, they were the largest ship-borne artillery ever forged).

Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

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We were at Willow, like duh, and the folks up and down the bar from the Amen Corner were a shifting lot, but the core group was mostly there. Left Coast Guy was talking to Old Jim. The Lovely Bea was snapping pictures, and Jon-no-H was standing in fashionable dishabille, his bow tie elegant but his jacket draped informally across a chair.

There was a new face behind the bar, that of an athletic Hispanic guy with dark good looks and an efficient manner. He joined Liz-with-an-S and Jasper in trying to meet the needs of the thirsty happy hour crowd. I was having a hell of a time with his name. I finally asked him to write it down, and he carefully wrote “Gerber,” like the baby-food, but pronounced, as best I could tell, Gaaar-Bear. I fingered I could work with it, if he could.

Patrick and Tina blew through the crowd. They were in from Annapolis, Socotra tourists in a way. They are leaving The Swamp for life in the Rockies, and wanted to catch up with the Admiral while they could. Jon-no-H was surprised when they called him that, but we all seem to be getting used to being characters in an on-going mini-series.

P&T were in from Annapolis, part of Admiral Mac’s growing fan club.

Mac himself was seated next to me, enormously satisfied with the consistency of his second Sierra Nevada lager, which Liz-S had thoughtfully stocked just for him.

The manila envelope on the bar in front of me, next to the tulip glass half-full of a modest but tasty Pinot Grigio, that held the obituaries and the copy of Arlington Magazine with the article about executive chef Tracy O’Grady was nearly covered with random notes and quotes.

“So, the most famous picture of world War II went through you for release,” I said in wonder.

“Yes,” said Mac briskly. “Certainly did in my capacity as security review for PubInfo. Nothing classified in the picture, and so it went on the wire and was in hundreds of newspapers the next day.”

“As the most famous picture of the biggest conflict in Human History, arguably, it might be the most significant picture ever taken.”

“Until the next one,” said Mac with a smile.

“It is incredible,” I said. “I just wanted to track down the story of the two Japanese super battleships. The other night you said Station HYPO had a role in sinking them both.”

“That is not exactly what I said. I said we got two of them. There were three.”

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“I looked it up, Admiral. There were only two ships of the Yamato-class super dreadnaught- her and the Musashi.”

“That is right, as far as it goes, but therein lies the story. There was a third hull of the class, but they altered the design to make it an aircraft carrier after the loss at Midway. It was to be a huge ship, capable of ferrying aircraft, parts and pilots to other fast carrier operating forward. She was the Shinano.” Which he then spelled for me, a great aid when I look at the scrambled notes over a cup of steaming hot Dazbog-brand Russian roast coffee the next morning.

“These ships were post-Treaty of Washington ships, right?” I asked.

“Yes. They were enormous- and we knew nothing about them.”

“Even with American officers like Joe Rochefort and Eddie Layton studying the Japanese language there?”

“They were very clever about hanging bamboo curtains around the building ways at Nagasaki and Yokosuka when they abandoned the restrictions of the Washington Naval Treaty. They built them under great secrecy.”
“I remember the ratio from a college course I took,” I said. “5:5:3 for the Brits, us and the Japanese.”
“And 2 and 2 for the French and Italians,” said Mac with a smile. “Not that it had anything to do with the Pacific War, except that most of the ships in the early days were still the ones limited to 35,000 tons and equipped with main batteries that could not exceed 16-inches.”

“How big were the Yamato hulls?” I asked.

Mac wrinkled his brow in concentration. “Massive. They were at least 850 feet, length overall, and more than 70,000 tons. That is longer than our Essex-class fleet carriers were, and twice the displacement.”

“Jesus. That is huge.”

“Oh, yes. We discovered later that the launch of Musashi was such a massive effort that when the hull slid into the water it created a small Tsunami. They covered the whole thing by staging a city-wide air raid drill in Nagasaki to keep everyone in their homes.”

“So when did HYPO identify them?” I asked, putting down my pen and taking a sip of wine.

“Some time late in 1942, I think. Mushasi was handed over to the Navy for commissioning in June or something. We started to identify the call-signs in the JN-25 radio traffic and finally correlated them to the super battleships. We were not spoiled like you guys were by having satellite imagery of the ports and building halls.”

“That did make a lot of things easier,” I said, picking up the pen. “But the Russians were pretty cagey about building their submarines in covered building halls.”

“They have to come out sooner or later. And that was the issue with the Yamato-class ships. They spent most of their operational lives in port at Brunei, Truk Atoll and Kure.”

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(IJN Musashi and Yamato in port Brunei 1944.)

“The Germans had the same problem with the pocket battleship Tirpitz. She got bottled up in Norway and they never accomplished anything with her.”

“No, not quite true. The very existence of those ships made us consider them a threat at any time.”

“But they were dinosaurs, right? Even if the main guns could shoot for 35 miles, that is nothing compared to the range of carrier aviation.”

Mac nodded. “And after Midway and then the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, the IJN was essentially out of the carrier business. They threw Musashi into the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and Naval air sank her when she was in the San Bernadino Strait as part of Admiral Kurita’s Center Force.”

“Did HYPO provide locating data on her?”

Mac shook his head. “I am sure we helped with Kurita’s general intent, but the Airdales got her dead to rights. They sank her on 24 October.”
“So that is one that HYPO can’t take credit for.”

“Yes, but we had the new carrier nailed. She was built in Yokosuka, and we decrypted the OpOrder directing her to proceed to the Inland Sea for fitting out. We managed to get her navigation plan to Archerfish, a fleet boat that was providing SAR services for the bomber crews that had to ditch. There were no raids scheduled that day, and Joe Enright managed to get six torpedoes into Shinano. It was the largest aircraft carrier ever sunk, and only ten days after her commissioning. Joe got the Navy Cross for that one.”

(IJN Shinano on sea trials.)
“Ok,” I said. “So HYPO was one for two. Did you identify the plans for Yamato?”

“Yep.” Mac took a sip of Sierra Nevada. “We invaded Okinawa on April Fool’s Day 1945. The Japanese response was to organize Operation Ten-Go, a suicide mission for Yamato. We had her voyage instructions, which were for a one-way mission. She only had enough fuel to get down to the island from Kure. Then she was supposed to expend all her ammunition and run herself aground as an unsinkable gun emplacement and fight to the end.”

“Didn’t work out that way,” I said and drained my glass of Pino Grigio.

“No, it didn’t. HYPO was able to provide the course and timing of her transit and two subs picked her up near the Bungo Strait. They reported contact to the carrier strike force, since they could not keep up with Yamato and her escorts. They were zig-zagging at twenty-two knots. Admiral Marc Mitscher’s group launched nearly three hundred aircraft and caught her about mid-day on the 7th of April.”

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(The 72,000-ton Japanese battleship Yamato, pride of the Imperial Fleet, maneuvers evasively at a brisk 15 to 20 knots prior to attack. One fire can be observed amidships from previous attacks, but at this point no list has developed. Photographed from a USS Yorktown (CV-10) plane. Collection of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN.)

“Three hundred aircraft?” I whistled. “Our whole airwing on Forrestal only had around seventy planes. That is impressive.”

“It was. And that was the end of the Yamato, the first and last of her sisters.”

“She is still a popular cultural icon in Japan,” I said. “A symbol of advanced technical capabilities.”

“The word ‘Yamato’ is sometimes used as a poetic name for Japan. So, in a way, the end of the super-battleship Yamato is a metaphor for the end of the Empire of Japan.”
“It is sort of like that Meatloaf song,” I said, waving to get GaaarBears attention and maybe just a finger or two of wine to finish out the session.

Mac looked puzzled. “Meatloaf?”

“Sorry, Admiral. I forget sometimes we are from different eras. Meatloaf was a huge rock star- literally- back in the late seventies when I came into the Navy. His biggest song was “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

Mac contemplated that for a moment and then nodded in agreement. “No, I suppose it’s not, is it?”

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Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com

Life & Island Times: Red Poppy Day

Editor’s Note: It is almost the 99th anniversary of the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month , when the guns fell silent. For a while, anyway. We no longer celebrate Armistice Day, but instead, recognize those who have served as Veterans. But Marlow is right. Time to go by the American Legion and get a poppy.

– Vic

Twenty eight years ago when I had occasion to do US Navy business in London England, I was reminded of the losses humanity endured in the War to End All Wars. This reminder came under the guise of the red poppy with most people in the streets, hotels, restaurants and government buildings wearing these little flowers

Fifteen years later this photo arrived in my email inbox:

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2014 Tower of London poppy display during WW I centennial. Each ceramic poppy set into the moat represents one of the British or colonial soldiers killed in WW I.

These pretty red flowers are poignant, silent clock peals in memory of the unimaginable horror that young Allied boys and men faced in those cold sloppy trenches of Western Europe. Unrelenting artillery shelling. Poisonous gas attacks. Slippery trench walls, barbed wire and withering machine gun fire.

Several years later a former neighbor’s grandchild learned of this war’s toll. This fourth grader sat through a classmate’s presentation on WW1 where the devastatingly high casualty rates for some elite British public school classes were driven home. The presenter passed out a wad of American Legion poppies to the students. There were not enough, so naturally some grumbling ensued from the few who didn’t get a poppy. Silence reigned when the flowerless ones were told that they represented the only ones in certain high school classes of 1914 who survived the Great War.

Go to an American Legion post today. Get and wear a poppy. Make a contribution. Proceeds go toward the assistance of disabled and hospitalized veterans in our communities.

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Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
www.vicsocotra.com