Barack Obama Sighting Hawaii 1980 Revised
On Nov. 17th I posted a recollection from a friend who was a Marine serving in Hawaii in 1980. It was subjected to considerable ridicule initially, but more folks are now accepting that while not concrete proof, it does leave the door open to questions. My friend recently sent me a revised copy (he is writing it for a literature course) and I will tell you that it is his recollection as closely as he can remember it.
No fiction here folks.
Call me Forrest Gump and I’ll belt ya!
Hawaii is a wonderful place. My father was stationed there in 1945 or so, working at Wahiawa Naval Communications Station on Oahu. When I joined the Marines in 1977, one of my personal goals was to travel as much as he did, at least try to. I went to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina from September 19, 1977 to December 13. That was the furthest I had been from home at the time. My family had gone to Canada to see my grandfather’s birthplace in Nova Scotia in the summer of 1974. While I would love to see it for the family history now, it was boring to me then, mostly because I was stuck in the car with 2 of my older sisters for the trip while I was 14 going on 15; that was just not cool.
For my MOS (military occupational specialty) school, I was stationed in 29 Palms, California, where everyone tells you, “There is a girl behind every tree!” Try finding a tree in the Mohave Desert that wasn’t made to be kept there by great effort. Keeping a woman behind any of those trees would take more effort than keeping the tree there. It gets so hot in 29 Palms in the summer time, that if you try to walk the 8 miles from the main gate to your barracks area, you get arrested for risking your life. I was there from January 3, 1978 to mid February 1978, and found first hand the desert is not hot in the winter, in fact, it was like a New England autumn at Thanksgiving time some nights.
In the service, there are some strange experiences you can go through. I met a few people who I never would have had a chance to meet; some of that good, some of that bad. In boot camp, I was sick due to a practical joke done to me where I drank something that belonged in the trash and was sick to death. I was standing in line at sick bay, having handed the Corpsman a note explaining how I thought I had drunk poison, waiting for him to return since he had never heard of such a thing as what happened to me and needed assistance. While standing there, a Marine walked in who I did not recognize, asked me what I was doing just standing there. I was so embarrassed at what had happened to me that I didn’t speak and handed him the note from the Corpsman’s desk where he had left it. He read the note, looked at me and asked, “Are you the Guide?” The Guide was the senior private, the one in charge that was punished more when the platoon screwed up but also treated with respect by the rest of the platoon. That Marine nodded at my answer and handed me back the note and walked away. I found out that man was a commander of Marines at Hill 861 prior to the battle of Khe Sahn, one of the roughest battles the Marines ever fought in Vietnam. He was one of the senior Marines of the whole training regiment at Parris Island and a known leader of the Marine Corps.
For liberty while at 29 Palms, we used to take a bus to Palm Springs and walk around the rich people’s shops, peering in the windows to look at items we would never be rich enough to purchase without a loan from Fort Knox. I did get a glimpse of someone who we all swore was William Holden, the famous actor. He saw us walking down the street and said something like, “Now, There’s a good change to see men who look like men for once in this town?. We weren’t to sure how to take it, but in early 1978 the rest of the men in Palm Springs my age had hair down to their shoulders and looked like dope smoking surfers. My friends and I had close cropped hair, buffed bodies and wearing the nice clothes we most likely wore to class in High School that survived. But, we assured ourselves he meant it for good. It was JM who recognized him, me and SK didn’t recognize him at first. You can make sure the next time I saw Stalag 17, I paid careful attention.
After 29 Palms, I was lucky enough to get stationed at Marine Air Support Squadron One at Cherry Point, North Carolina, a unit that deployed on ship at least once a year to distant places across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1978, I spent 6 days on board the USS Pensacola for a short operation called Solid Shield and discovered what seasickness was. Also, near the end of summer I traveled to northern Europe on board the USS Lamoure County to Germany, Scotland, Norway and Holland. Now, that made my time in the Marine Corps worth it, getting to see Europe for free and even get paid while doing it. And I didn’t get seasick for longer than the first 3 days that time, too.
In 1979, after being flown back to 29 Palms California for a winter desert exercise that saw three inches of snow, we just stayed locally and did operations in North Carolina where I was stationed and went to Camp Lejuene many times for week long deployments, sometimes for three weeks at a time. While waiting for the next deployment, this time to the Mediterranean Sea and to Turkey, all of a sudden we were told of orders to Okinawa, Japan, another place where my unit had a permanent presence at, Marine Corps Air Station, Futenma. Well, I didn’t want to go to Okinawa; I wanted to go to Turkey! I wanted the Med, I could get orders to Okinawa, or ‘The Rock’ as we called it anytime in my four year tour. So I passed on that deal.
Three days later, Staff Sergeant Day approached our work detail behind S-4 and announced, “Hey, there’s an error, of those eight billets for Okinawa, two of them are for Hawaii!” “I’ll go!” I shouted! Who cared about Turkey when Hawaii was available! Snuffy also spoke up and off we went a few months later, to spend two years of duty at what is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Me and Snuffy got there at the same time, ribbing each other about whether we got to see our old girlfriends while we were home of if we found new ones before we left. I am sure Snuffy lied; yet, it is Snuffy who is the one who ended up married and owning a farm with over 300 head of cattle, not me.
Hawaii sure was beautiful, I’ll say that. When I got there, they had a bus take us from the airport in Honolulu to my new base, Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay. It was on the northeast side of Oahu, it was the “north shore” but no one used that term for that side of the island, it was just called K-bay. To get there, we took the Nuuanu Pali Highway, and experienced one of the most pleasant surprises anyone can get in early November; to drive up the Pali and go through the mountain tunnel to the north side in daylight.
Snuffy and I struck up a conversation with the other Marines once they saw us as new guys: no tans, carrying our seabags, all eyeballs outside the bus. We compared places we had been, the number of countries, if you could rattle them off in one breath without stopping to figure out which ones you went to. At that time, I only had a few to remember: Scotland, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Amsterdam and Rotterdam! Never mind that Amsterdam and Rotterdam are cities, I had to add it, and for some reason, I never started off with the Shetland Islands, I would just say Scotland since our last place we stopped was Rosyth.
We talked how me and Snuffy deployed about 90 or so days in the last year, in the field, and all of a sudden this one Marine looked at us, smiled, and proudly told us he deployed for over 170 days the last year! Well, that was unheard of, but we figured out he meant on board ship for months, not out in the field for the 90 something days when I was deployed. So, we just sat back and enjoyed the bumpy ride in that old, Marine Corps green school bus.
We went up the mountain on the north side of Honolulu, up the Pali Highway. It was so green; the vegetation was plusher than imaginable. I was looking at my first rain forest that was for sure. But I was not prepared for what awaited us as we drove out of the tunnel at the top of the mountain. The view was breathtaking, on my right was a sheer wall of green mountain and grey rock, the road cut into the mountain like in some Swiss Alps scene or some place in the Andes, and to my left was an open expanse and a drop of almost 1000 feet to the basin of a volcanic crater, long ago extinct and filled in with green vegetation, distant homes, telephone lines and all the modern accoutrements of the late 20th century, only you didn’t see any of that. All you saw was the green mountains on our left side towering up, 1800 feet I was told to the tallest summit, jagged but grass covered, almost vertical, sloping sharply down to almost the bottom and then becoming the basin where life began on that side of the island. All of us new guys screamed in delight, literally, excited to the beauty of it all while those who had been stationed there for a while laughed and smiled at our astonishment, knowing that is how they reacted their first time.
That view was what we saw every sunrise, every day there was sun. It is a famous view, one where it is known as some vague Polynesian island in WWII movies like “Mr. Roberts” with a different name than it actually is, just a magnificent view and one that you genuinely miss when you leave Oahu, especially when you go home to winter and snow and the freezing temperatures of New England.
Hawaii was not such a friendly place as it was beautiful. In fact, on the 15th and 30th of every month, it was downright dangerous for servicemen especially if you were not a Marine. We all heard the stories; the Hawaiian locals hated us, the “haoles”, and hated Black Americans, “pupuas”, even more. Marines had a reputation that most likely they had to outnumber you 10 to one before you got attacked. Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen didn’t have it so lucky; they got outnumbered two or three on one right away.
One of my old bosses was a Marine at Kaneohe Bay in the early 1960′s and told me of “Dungaree Liberty”. Dungaree Liberty was not liberty, it was a time when Marines put on their utility uniform, Sateen Dungarees, and went into town to extract some vengeance on the local businesses that thrived on ripping off Marines on liberty. One business in Kaneohe was a coffee shop, and when Marines went there, the owner insisted on calling a taxi to take the Marines back to base. Once inside the taxi, the two Samoan or Hawaiian men in the taxi would display a weapon of some sort and demand money and wallets and watches.
This story became too common, and one day the Colonel had his men pick up axe handles and entrenching tools and marched his men 6 miles out to town and leveled the building; not a piece of wood standing. The Police showed up with all their squad cars and stood back, doing nothing. No one knows for sure if the Marines had loaded weapons, but they did have one thing with them the Police didn’t have: Marines. As the story goes, that coffee shop was never rebuilt.
If you saw a pack of Hawaiian men about age 20 or so, you left the sidewalk in 1980. Back then, Marines were the only service to wear their hair the way men wear their hair commonly today: short, cropped, and high and tight. All the other branches allowed longer hair so Marines stood out. Plus, I was 6’4″ ever since I was 16 and looked like a solid Marine in those days. I broke up the fights between locals and servicemen, not once was I ever attacked, even 10 to one.
One Marine friend I knew, EH, was not so lucky. EH was a medium build guy as I remember, quiet, almost shy then, about 5 foot 10 inches. He was hitchhiking out in town somewhere near Kaneohe or Kailua right outside base. He was chosen for a mugging by some of the locals. He was picked up in a car, his wallet demanded and given over at gunpoint. EH was then shot in the back of his head and left on the side of the road. Stupid crooks, though, you have to shoot a Marine with a caliber larger than .22 if you expect to hurt us. EH walked to a local business and had them call the cops and an ambulance. They never caught the guys who did it, but EH sure has good reason to welcome the old, worn out nickname of Jarhead. Only a Jarhead could take a bullet to the head and walk home with just a flesh wound and no skull fracture and only 5 or 7 stitches.
My squadron in Hawaii was Marine Air Support Squadron 2, Detachment Alpha, and we were assigned to Marine Air Control Squadron 2. Our location could not be beat, we were literally 200 yards from the waterline at Pyramid Rock beach. Many a lunch time I skipped chow and just went swimming. Almost every time at the beach I used to body surf waves as high as the roof of my house I grew up in. Next time you are at your home, if it is a one story Colonial, lay down outside and look at the top of the roof. I body surfed those waves and loved it.
On the stormy days, we literally body surfed waves as high as telephone poles. Well, only twice, but the ride was awesome; learn well, though, a wave that size is just too fast to keep up with for body surfers, even with flippers, and if you went over the falls when the wave broke, that was a 15 to 20 foot fall into water that was one fourth as deep as it was before the wave came in. I went over the falls in that surf once. I hit the ocean floor, falling into less than six feet deep of white foam, from the top of the wave height to that lower water. I had a black and blue grapefruit growing out the side of my head for a week from the ocean floor from that trip.
The guys from MACS-2 were such experts in the water, that sometimes when we were just floating waiting for the next good set of waves, there would be a lifeguard come out to us on his surfboard to see if we were okay. Once they saw who it was, they would wave to us, say hello, and go back in. I rescued about 10 guys from drowning in that surf, without any help from a lifeguard. All of MACS-2 did. All we did was swim with them back to shore, coaching them how to either ride the wave they were stuck in or how to swim under it, all the while holding on to their boogie boards. It was kind of shameful to see it; 19 year old Marines, weeping, scared to death, all because they didn’t know how to swim well. But, hey, that was where our unit was, it was expected of us. Funny, guys from Missouri, New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut became champion body surfers in two years.
We had two favorites out of three or four beaches to go to on base; Pyramid Rock where we bodysurfed and the Hale Koa beach area where we barbecued and just laid around in quiet water right inside the bay. Hale Koa was a great safe place to start out on a snorkeling trip with a short passage to the center of the inlet to Kaneohe Bay, deeper waters, large coral foundations, large and small colorful fish, Moray eels and Portuguese Man-O-Wars.
I once was swimming off the Hale Koa beach area and a WM (Woman Marine) Lieutenant was there with her friends. They were the girls’ tennis team from Okinawa, competing in an All Marine Pacific championship. Their friend, the WM Lieutenant, Ellie something, wanted to see what was on the other side of Turtle Rock. Turtle Rock was a large rock formation near the mouth of Kaneohe Bay, jutting out of the water about 20 feet high, about 100 feet across and looking like a turtle’s shell. It even had a rock formation jutting out from one side that looked like a turtle head. The nickname was easy to choose when you think about it.
So, the Lieutenant grabbed her boogie board and paddled out from Hale Koa Beach to see what was on the other side. She was gone over an hour; her friends were crying on the beach, taking their fancy Japanese cameras and searching for her with the telephoto lenses, and all exclaiming “I can’t see her! Where did she go?” Where is she?”"
What a lot of people do not know, Kaneohe Bay is a Hammerhead shark breeding ground. So, when people go out deep, they could be in trouble. Plus, everyone who goes to the Island needs to be briefed by RECON on the dangerous fish they might encounter. It could be your last visit, not just the best one.
So, I heard this crying about someone being gone, wondered what was up, asked, and then with others organized a search party with my fellow MACS-2 friends who were barbecuing that day on the Hale Koa Beach. They, the woman’s tennis team, had a Staff Sergeant who insisted we stay behind, but we all had our masks, fins, and snorkels, were half drunk, and told him not to worry and took off to swim the half mile to Turtle Rock.
I was the fastest swimmer, and got to her first, and she asked me, “What are you guys doing out here?” I asked her, “Is your name Ellie?” She said yeah, I told her, “Jesus Ellie, everyone thinks you drowned! We came out here to find you! They’re ready to launch a SAR bird to try and find you!” So, we had a good laugh, and me, Doc, Beaner, Chief, Cherry and one or two others escorted her back to the beach, and guess what we saw when we got to shore? Three MP trucks, six MP’s, the Base Officer of the Day, all standing there, with the base OD’s arms at his hips and exclaiming to us with a huge grin on his face, “Good Job Marines!”
It was just a good swim for us, the MACS-2 and MASS-2 guys were all expert swimmers because we were next to Pyramid Rock all day and swam for lunch in the wild surf, so, it was a joke. But, they took it seriously. We all got letters signed by our Commanding Officer, the Base Commanding Officer and the Commanding General of the First Marine Brigade. Not one of those citations got my social security number correct, and two of them got my rank wrong. Oh, well. The look of embarrassment on the face of the Lieutenant was priceless, she was not struggling in any way but her friends were in tears at their reunion.
Going to Honolulu was a rarity. When we went to the big city, usually it was payday night because we just didn’t make money like civilians did. In 1980, I was making $679 a month or so as a Corporal my first year in Hawaii and that isn’t a lot in a place that charged $150 a night for a hotel room in the days of Jimmy Carter’s malaise. But, we did go and spend all our money and dated the tourist girls from Canada who seemed to love Marines. I guess our perpetual tans and fit physiques helped a little. Those Cana-jun ladies were so white! We must have looked like bronze gods to them, they all looked like Victorian English paintings, and their skin was so sun starved! My first weekend I was there, I did find one who became a faithful pen pal for the next two years. We exchanged many letters and said many things to each other, so much that I went to visit her in Vancouver twice in the next two years. I still remember her old mailing address today, post code and all. The last time I was there I asked her to marry me. I wonder if she ever did marry or have any kids and all that.
Downtown Waikiki was one exciting place. Filled with servicemen and women, tourists from the US, Canada and mostly Japan, the main drag never lacked for excitement. The pedicab drivers were all hawking you for a ride, and once inside their little basket in the back they would try to sell you Hawaiian grown marijuana. “Hey, Brudda, you want some of the kine bud, mahn?” It seemed that everyone knew their trade was more than exercise and sun tanning, yet no one seemed to stop it. I suppose that’s one job that Americans will do in paradise.
Walking the beach on Waikiki means to walk past the hotels with their floor shows, including back then a comedian named Andy Bumatai and the famous Don Ho. I saw Don Ho from a distance and he was singing something, but it wasn’t his trademark “Tiny Bubbles” like the Kodak Hula Show on the TV would advertise; it was something that just made him sound like he had too many tiny bubbles himself in his lifetime. Sort of like Karaoke, the translation meaning, “Singing very badly while drunk”. And you paid a lot of money to see him, too.
I met a few other people who were in the papers that year. Before we left Hawaii, while our ship was taking on Marines and equipment in Pearl Harbor, the NFL had its first PRO-BOWL game in Hawaii and the players were given a tour of Pearl and I happened to see them getting off a small boat and summoned up my courage to ask for autographs. I got some from Bob Baumhower, Randy Logan, Walter Payton, Bob Smith, Joe Lavender and Matt Blair. That was a thrill; I still have the dollar bill they signed. The ink is bleeding into the cotton like paper that is American money but you can still make out the names.
I got to talk to Bob Baumhower for about 15 minutes; he was gracious to an excited 20 year old kid who was overjoyed to meet a real pro-ball player. I bragged to him how I played defensive end for the Marine Corps teams on our base, but when I explained how it was on an 80 yard field with only 3 downs; he was clearly unimpressed, so I hammed it up some and said it was just “Kill the man with the ball”, 18 to 24 year old men who exercise all day and smack each other on the field with no mercy! He still wasn’t impressed, but I sure was. I am a big guy, but his hand was almost 1 and a half inches wider than mine, like a catcher’s mitt to my dainty glove! And I am 6 foot 4 inches!
Celebrities have to act polite in times like this. If I wasn’t a young Marine in uniform he might have wanted to politely walk away due to my excitement. His girlfriend was all smiles, though, elbowing him and saying, “No, You’re making his day!” Thank you, ladies, that’s one reason God invented you.
While on ship, I met the son of a famous political figure connected to the Watergate scandal on board the USS Okinawa in 1980 when we were heading to Iran. My ship was part of the 31st Marine Amphibious Unit, and deployed in January 1980 from Pearl Harbor to be sent to the Arabian Sea at what we all now call The Hostage Crisis. As I remember it, some group of men were standing near the port side of the hanger deck, just milling around near some open hatchway, and I noticed they were inspecting some military equipment, don’t remember what, but I saw this person’s name written on his trousers, the same name as that political figure.
This political figure was the chief of certain operations in the Nixon White House. During the Watergate scandal, many secrets of the Nixon administration were revealed, most of them known to be performed by both political parties, but, the media wanted to show support for the Democrats and every slight that could be connected to Nixon was done and this figure was questioned before Congress. This person balked and refused to rat out his friends and associates, manned up, admitted his actions, and was found guilty and sent to jail.
So, I find myself standing next to a 6’2″ man about 28 or so with the name on his trousers, and I asked him, “Hey, are you related to that man” His answer surprised me totally, “Uh, Yes, he’s my father”. The likeness was now apparent and unmistakable and since then, I have read how one of his sons was in the military at that time, so, that is who I met. What was embarrassing for me was I was awestruck; he was among the famous persons I met while in the Corps. I commented how his dad never ratted anyone out, and he said, “No, he didn’t”. I was filled with wonder at meeting him and I told him, “Gosh, it’s like standing next to a celebrity”. That didn’t go over too well, his face changed from it’s professional military bearing to one of, “Asshole, you’re annoying me” and a blonde man next to me spoke up, “Uh, You’re talking to my Lieutenant here”
Well, that proved embarrassing, so I quickly apologized and stepped back, I honestly didn’t know he was an officer and wouldn’t have spoken up otherwise, but the blonde guy stood next to me after I stepped back, sort of watching me. I remarked to him, “That must happen a lot”, but the blonde guy looked at me and said, “Uhh, nooo”. I took that as a hint and about faced after another quick apology.
It’s kind of like karma. I turned down a deployment to the island of Okinawa, Japan to go to Hawaii, and the very first ship I deployed on was the USS Okinawa. Sort of like a bad penny, that name returned, Okinawa! And what a bad penny, from what we were told then and from old sailors I reunited with years later that ship was a rust bucket. It wasn’t that old, but it was in rough shape.
Large ships then and now run on steam boilers. The steam would be used to drive large steam piston engines that drove the ship’s screws, making us move in the water. The USS Okinawa left San Diego in early January 1980 and immediately broke down within sight of land. She was towed across the Pacific to Hawaii by the USS Gridley, the same ship that had once been the home of the democrat Presidential candidate of 2004, John Kerry. The Gridley towed her to Oahu where she was handed over to sea going tugs, towed into Pearl Harbor, and repaired to some degree.
We left Pearl Harbor on January 24, 1980 and broke down a boiler within a week. The ship had 5 boilers and that left us 4. Another one died later that float and we were down to three boilers and that meant we didn’t shower with fresh water, we showered in sea water. We were in such rough shape we stopped in the water off Guam to do some repairs. The ship was dead in the water. Nothing was moving except the aircraft from the squadron I was assigned to for the float, HMM-165. At flight quarters one early day of February, 1980, I saw the results of an accident that cost the life of a young Lieutenant, the first one of my time in the military.
Aircraft were being readied and launched from one of the most dangerous platforms in the world; a helicopter carrier. The USS Okinawa had 8 spots where aircraft could be launched from and the accident happened at spot one and spot two. TJ’s aircraft was turning and burning on spot two, the port side bow launching area, waiting for the word to launch while LB’s was tied down and turning on spot one, the starboard bow launching area. LB’s bird had some issues and they were taking on two experienced Marine mechanics to observe something when the Flight Deck officer ordered spot two to launch. And they covered up that little fact and saved a Lieutenant Commander some jail time is what I heard.
LB’s helo was not tied down tightly. The rotor wash doomed LB’s bird, the rush of air from the downdraft of the rotor blades from TJ’s aircraft lifting off on spot 2 caused a cascade of air to shove and shake LB’s bird sideways and start rocking up and down. LB’s bird was chained to the deck still, a precaution in case the ship rolls, yet the deck handlers didn’t tighten down the aircraft as tight as they should have. People saw the wheels lift off the deck several times as the aircraft rocked sideways, teetering on the starboard side as the rotor wash shoved the aircraft sideways and rocked it up and down on its landing gear until the chains on the port side of the aircraft snapped.
In a deliberate death dance, TJ’s aircraft was climbing away as the rotor wash from his aircraft providing the lift that doomed LB’s bird, the chains on the starboard side not breaking, the bird went up in the air slightly, and while still connected on one side for one more split second, came crashing down on it’s side on the edge of the flight deck, the rotor blades crashing and exploding all around, sending fiberglass shards at 700 miles an hour in all directions, thankfully hitting no one. But the fall, the fall down the starboard side of the USS Okinawa was what should have done them in for they fell almost 50 feet into the Pacific Ocean, right alongside of the ship in waters where the men of the USS Indianapolis were eaten by sharks, where the men of the USS Juneau met their fate, where the Marianas Trench was, to fell down into the sea for over 6000 fathoms and never be recovered.
I was in the berthing area in the -5 level, seven decks below the Flight Deck and I heard the frantic “Man overboard! Man overboard! Five souls in the water!” called over the ships 1MC. Several Marines who were in that room with me knew what that meant: it was an entire aircraft, not just one person, but an entire aircrew plus others. I grabbed my camera to capture the day, racing down the starboard side of the ship trying to get up to the catwalk alongside the starboard edge of the flight deck where I heard the crushing sounds, running the entire length of the ship to where I could get to the catwalk. Many others were there ahead of me, all just spectators at that point. We were above the waterline almost 50 feet, waiting for the Navy rescue crews to scramble out to try and get the guys out of the aircraft that we saw only as bubbles and a growing slick on the water.
One by one, men came bobbing up. LB came first. He was dog paddling frantically. I couldn’t hear him but it was obvious that he was in trouble. I saw one more helmet bob up, then another until I saw 5 people, the last one with is face down for a long time. Gunny was the last one to get out of the aircraft and it was almost 3 minutes before I saw him appear after I got to the catwalk.
It seemed like forever to get a rescue boat launched amid the cries of “Don’t Jump in! The Sharks” prevented others of assisting in any small way. When the boat was being retrieved, I counted the people in the water and knew who they were and noticed one missing: one of the pilots. I recognized the two crewmen by their flight suits. I recognized the two senior mechanics that had gotten on because they were wearing normal uniforms with the green flight deck jersey on and brown life jackets all Marine deck crew wore. I recognized the pilot, injured, obviously in pain, holding his leg and cradling his arm. But I knew each aircraft carried a pilot and co-pilot and the co-pilot was missing. Knowing what happened, he most likely had the wind knocked out of him as the ship hit the water on its starboard side and he passed out under the water, to drown still strapped to his seat where he remains to this day, 6000 fathoms deep in the Marianas Trench. And TJ’s aircraft circling over the slick of jet fuel that was forming as it rose to the ocean surface, hoping to at least retrieve his body. No one ever saw any sharks.
That was a beautiful sunny day, hardly any wind, partly cloudy, and I have the pictures to prove it. That’s important because I read something a few years later that disgust me. In a news magazine put out for Navy pilots and aviators, they have a section where they detail previous accidents to explain what happened to all hands, sort of like a warning of things to not do or to explain how some weird aviation incident can happen and here is how someone saved their lives, or lost it. Only that’s not what I read in that article.
I read complete details of how the aircraft was launched, the rotor wash caused the aircraft opposite it on the flight deck to lift, snap it’s tie down chains and go into the Pacific Ocean, taking the co-pilot with it, only, the other details were so wrong, so phony, it was clear a cover up was done. The story I read had all the details correct with added lies, such as there was rain, the winds were about 25 knots and the ship was underway and steaming at about 15 to 20 knots. Bogus Hokem! I was told that there was a cover up, the guys in our S-1 were furious, people wanted the deck handlers charged with negligence and the flight deck officer charged with violating NATOPS rules for launching an aircraft from spot 2 while there was an aircraft in rotation on spot one, but someone decided to save someone’s career. And 3 years later I read the article. I knew the rumors were all true. They did cover it up.
I had met that young Lieutenant only once before that float, at a small exercise our unit had before deploying. He was serving as a FAC or some Air/Ground liaison and I only spoke to him for a few minutes. He was such a young looking man, I remember. Years later one of his classmates wrote me since I had posted pictures of the crash aftermath on the Internet and he wanted to know about what kind of a Marine he was. I told him the truth, of how his death was covered up and put him in contact with TJ who is still one of my best friends after all these years. It is sad, but if I was family I would want to know how someone died.
1980 was such a year for me. With the news of losing that Lieutenant, we went a little more aware of our surroundings into the Philippines. Around the time we left Hawaii, Jimmy Carter announced what is called, “The Carter Doctrine”. Officially, it is this: “Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” We read that a little differently, some news articles or how it was repeated to us added the words “Including the use of nuclear force”. Once we got the Philippines, we received the official word that we were going to be deployed to the Arabian Sea to deter “Soviet Aggression”. I can tell you that didn’t go over well, our hostages had been taken in November, and yes, the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, also, but we didn’t want to fight the Soviet Navy and Army in a country that bordered the Soviet Union with just 1800 Marines! We knew it would be the end of us, just a trip wire to start a war with us being expendable! No one likes being expendable. We all wanted a chance to win, but being outnumbered 10 to one against a nuclear power is not a young Marine’s idea of a fair fight.
We were told the usual way by the Commanding Officer of HMM-165 and that was with him speaking in a normal tone while rotating around to make sure everyone standing around could hear him. You only heard him when he was facing you if you were in back, so the Staff NCO’s all stood in a circle around him to make sure they all heard it completely. I will never forget his words: “Make out your wills, write your last letters home! We are moving out. We can’t tell you where, we can’t tell you why, but you all know the political situation our nation is facing!” The next day it was on the covers of all the overseas editions of Time and Newsweek magazines, “Marines sent to Persian Gulf area to deter Soviet Aggression.” They couldn’t tell us any details but they told the media?
We accepted our challenge as we only could and that involved a lot of alcohol that night. And quite a somber time, no one said a word that night, we were just numb. We pulled out of Subic Bay the next day and did a one night operation in the Zambales and went back into Subic and on loaded our own nuclear weapons and a reinforced surgical battalion from the Navy, along with a REDEYE platoon, something not normal for a MAU sized deployment. After all those guys arrived, we spent one more night in Olongapo and partied like there was no tomorrow, for their might not have been for us.
The operation went smoothly. We drove our MRC-87 jeeps to the flight deck elevator and brought to the flight deck. We backed up on board a CH-53 and were chained down inside the aircraft and brought in to an LZ somewhere in the Zambales, a dry and mostly grassy area with some trees and dried out river beds. We flew in fast and popped up quick and then rotated down in a circle and offloaded by driving straight out of the aircraft, making sure you turned left quickly so you didn’t hit the tail rotor blade.
We drove to our spot and got one jeep stuck in a small creek. The driver, JD, was not too enthused to be on float, heck, he was no longer enthused to be a Marine. With a bad attitude, he just stood there and didn’t even try to get his jeep unstuck. So, that didn’t go over well, as you can imagine. SSgt SH had a few choice words for JD. “Get your fucking ass in gear and dig that sludge away from your tires and get out of that creek!”
JD just didn’t have the heart to get any part of his body in gear, so I ran over to an Amtrac and asked, “Hey, You guys got a rope or a chain? Can you give us a tow?” My SSgt spoke up, “Hey, Big boy, that’s a Lieutenant!” You can be assured that Lieutenant spoke up, too. “You Guys? What unit are you from?” “We’re air wingers, sir, HMM-165, sorry, this is my first time even standing next to an Amtrac, I thought it was Staff NCO’s that led them! Can you help us?” The Lieutenant just grumbled some but he drove over to help.
JD was still out of heart when the Amtrac came over. He was handed a rope and told to tie it to his front end so his jeep could be towed out, only JD balked! He didn’t want to get wet and even complained about it. I tried to jump in and do it for him so we could get moving but SSgt SH just got angrier. “No, JD, YOU do it!” Somehow, JD found heart, dove under the water and tied the rope to his front end and we were soon on our way. I kind of liked JD. I just wish he was with a different unit. Like the Air Force or something.
As they say, all good things must come to an end and the next day we had to head back to the LZ to get picked up. The squadron guys were all psyched up, apparently they had an inside bet on who could lift the most ground support equipment that day and I almost drove my jeep into the helicopter following their hand signals! I was being directed to come up the ramp and saw I wasn’t centered so I stopped and started to back up and wanted to try again. The crew chief was just screaming at me, “NO, Just come on up! You’re fine!” I didn’t think so, but they did this all the time, so I dropped it back into first gear and gunned it up the ramp.
I had my canopy down and had the radio exposed on the back of my jeep. The supports for the canopy were erect and exposed, and when I gunned it the supports on the right side of my jeep hit a fiberglass sponson and ripped out an 18 inch long section! The crew chiefs just started laughing as I tried to stop and readjust my jeep, but they insisted I keep driving up! Good grief, I was ripping pieces of the aircraft apart and the crewmen were laughing at me for it! It must have been real funny to them; they gave me the piece of fiberglass I ripped off as a souvenir.
When I got back on the ship I was showing off my new remembrance that came off YW-22 in that LZ and one of the Staff NCO’s overheard me, shook his head and commandeered my new souvenir. I saw it bonded back on that aircraft within a day. I used to like pointing it out to people.
The only good news for us that time was when our Olympic Hockey Team had beaten the Russians in the finals leading up to the Gold Medal. What a day that was, knowing some of the team was from Massachusetts caused the New England boys to be all psyched up and one of our guys said he knew one of the players. It was a hoot. It was also the only good news we got for 6 months.
While I was a part of history that float, one event of 1980 is the most important of all. And I want to express here, what I am about to tell you, I believe with all sincerity and truthfulness. I am making nothing up here, except maybe a few words to keep a written dialog in readable form, but I believe I met Barak Obama in Hawaii in 1980 in Honolulu.
It was after we had come home from that float off Iran on the Okinawa. The rescue attempt had happened in Iran April 24-25. My squadron was flying search and rescue the day the aircraft left the USS Nimitz on the afternoon of April 24, 1980 in the Arabian Sea. After the mission was aborted and the crash happened, our ship had set sail to Mombassa for liberty.
The ship spent 4 days in Mombassa, but due to some Marines stealing a radio, I was a brig guard for the month and only had 2 days ashore. I made time to go on a short safari in the Tsavo East National park, seeing elephants and hippos in the wild, some gazelles, water buffalo, some large birds and one particular lizard the size of a German Shepard that I held up for everyone to take pictures of, disturbing it while it lazed about in the daytime sun. Why it didn’t bite me, I can only thank God.
While back in Hawaii by late June of 1980, we went back to Honolulu for liberty. I don’t remember the exact address, or the exact business, but one August night, early August 1980, I stopped at a small shop that was either on Kalakaua Blvd, now called Ala Moana, or the street just north of it, one block north. I struck up a conversation with a young man, Mulatto, about 18, all teeth, smiling, skinny, short hair that I remember, at least short for the year we lived in.
We struck up a conversation simply because he was at the same place as I was. He appeared to be either an employee there on his off day or was visiting the other older Black American man working there. “Hey, are you a military dependant or do you live here?” I asked. He told me he lived in Hawaii. Not too many black Americans lived in Hawaii at all then, so his being there was an oddity in itself. Heck, my hometown of 16,000 in Connecticut had only three or four Black families until 20 years ago. I asked if he was in the service and he said no. I told him that I was a Marine and had recently gotten back from float. We spoke of world travel at this time and I told him the places we went to.
What strikes me most is what he said as to where he grew up: Indonesia. Having stopped in the Philippines and Thailand that previous deployment made me curious and I asked him if Indonesia was as poor as the Philippines, but he hadn’t been to the Philippines so he didn’t know. We had spoken of how both our travels abroad had given us great perspectives in how we viewed the world.
For myself, I admit that things I had heard of how superior the United States was were proven accurate and also proven false. Our nation was surely the greatest in economic power, with technical jobs for those who searched it out, with higher pay for our labors. Many other places I had been to in the western Pacific had complete poverty; mothers who take their daughters into the field where Marines are deployed and try to prostitute them for money so they have food to eat, women who believe there is no better way to advance their own lot in life than to become a prostitute themselves and try to marry an American who is lonelier than another and would take her home as a bride. But the people, I expected something different, I can’t put a word to the emotion or expectation, but because of my travels, I learned that the heart of man is identical across the world.
People want something better for themselves and they want something better for their children and many are willing to go to great lengths to find it, using methods that we would find repulsive, but be sympathetic to because of their poverty. I used to think of Americans as “better people”, that our nation was superior, but I learned that we are different because we were blessed, not because of whom we are but despite whom we all are inside. The persons I met were no different than anyone I met here at home in their basic character, they were just living in a culture that either allowed them to naturally succeed or one that forced them, or appeared to force them, to do things to survive that our American culture has long forgotten about.
I asked this Indonesian immigrant of these things but he told me those things were not common where he grew up. Our conversation drifted to our dreams of what we are going to do once we are “all grown up”. I replied that I was not sure and most likely would either re-enlist in the Marines or go home to attend college on the GI Bill.
He told me he wanted to be President of the US someday. I remember lightly smiling and commenting that maybe by the time he gets to be 40 or so, America will be ready for a Black man to be President and I wished him luck. We spoke of the racial tensions I saw at home while growing up, of the outright hostility of Hawaiians toward white Americans and black Americans and I asked him if he ever saw that overseas or since he returned back to Hawaii. I don’t remember his answer, but we spoke more of his time overseas and his thoughts on life and philosophy of government.
He made some strange comments to me; it was obvious he never set foot for any time on continental United States and I told him he better realize that he is making judgments about the United States when he himself never actually lived there. I told him, “Hawaii aint the United States!”
He also told me something that I never forgot, for it caused me to do some other things later in an effort to be nice to him. Since we spoke of where I had been and the world as I saw it, I told him I had been to Africa, Mombassa specifically, and he said to me abruptly, “I was born there.”
I told him he is not eligible to be president if that was true, but I remembered he said his mom was an American, so, maybe it was okay. But it was what I did after that makes this a true memory: I went back to the barracks and told others of this guy and suggested we all grab our photo albums and visit him again and show him pictures of Mombassa so he could see where he was from.
No one wanted to go, and before that time, my camera had failed the weeks before we hit Mombassa. It was late August or early September until I had borrowed someone else’s pictures to develop myself so I had copies of pictures of where I was. But I never forgot meeting that man for those reasons. I was going to do him a favor and show him his home country of birth. And I never went back for some reason, most likely I forgot to or just felt that a one time chance encounter would be meaningless to both of us and didn’t mean we were friends.
In the light of what is called the ‘Birther’ movement these memories are foremost in my mind. While I cannot swear it was Barak Obama, nor can I prove it beyond doubt, all the details I do remember of that chance encounter fit the profile of the man who some people claim was born in Kenya and others claim he was born in Hawaii.
The man I met was about 18, thin, Mulatto, told me he was born in Mombassa, raised in Indonesia, was living in Hawaii and hadn’t yet been to many places in the world outside of those places, mostly, hadn’t been to the mainland of America for any long time period if at all. And he openly told me he wanted to be President.
And I remember that face, the face of a young man who sat on a table or countertop to my right front, his hands resting on the edge, him leaning forward, his grin; all teeth. It was Barak Obama. I don’t know if I’d bet my life on it, but I am willing to tell people openly at the risk of my ridicule. I was there, and saw him, spoke to him, and he openly told me he was born in Mombassa, Kenya, not Hawaii.
Does it matter? Of course it does. It should not have to be explained why it matters.
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