A UNITED STATES ARMY MILITARY POLICEMAN IN THE PANAMA CANAL ZONE, 1968—1970; Keeping the Insurgent Natives Down—Blessed Assurance; May God Forgive Me!
Dedicated to the Memory of Harry A. Franck, Author of Canal Zone Policeman 88, first published in 1912; second edition by DUNGAN BOOKS, October 19, 2008
PURCHASE ADDITIONAL COPIES
OTHER BOOKS BY FRED DUNGAN:
The Gospel According to Condo Don
Chasing Loose Nukes, as told to Fred Dungan by Colonel Derek Duke
Prequel—The War Knocks on My Door
In 1964 I was a wet-behind-the-ears Sophomore attending Santiago High School in sunny, suburban Garden Grove, California. On Friday nights, Norm Cado, Joe Kingston, and myself gathered together in Joe Kingston's kitchen for several hours of nickel limit, penny-ante poker. Dueces and one-eyed jacks being wild, it was possible to lose a pot even though you were dealt a five-of-a-kind hand. Since my emotions often gave away my cards, I almost always came away from the table with three or four dollars less in my wallet. However, I was the only one with a part-time job; it was only fair for me to fund the game. Besides, Kingston's mother furnished the refreshments and I more than ate my share. When Norm did not show up one night, we phoned his home. His father told us he had been inducted into the Army after having received a draft notice from the Orange County Selective Service Board. He had known about it for more than two months, but had not told us anything. Nobody knew why. Maybe he figured he would not pass the physical. In any event, we would not hear from him for two years. In the interim, our two person poker parties weren't much fun. Sue Bower offered to play during Norm's absence, but neither of us could bear losing to a girl. I was sweet on Sue and we most likely would have eventually married if Sue had not gone on a binge and committed suicide (but that is another story for some other time).
Just like clockwork, Norm showed up at Kingston's front door two years later. Norm could talk your ear off. He said he had been a thirty caliber machine-gunner in Vietnam, with occasional incursions into Laos and Cambodia. I knew our leaders had sworn we had no troops on the Plain of Jars. Surely, they would not lie to us. But Norm never lied. Joe and I looked up to Norm as a role model. Anyway, if Norm had encouraged us to enlist, we would have done so. But Norm said this was one war we would be better off skipping. He told us about some women at the airport who had spit on his uniform and called him a "baby killer." No bands—no parades—not even a "thank you for your service to our country." It seems that Norm had risked his life for a bunch of rotten ingrates.
Norm's homecoming gave us cause for celebration. We decided to visit a few of the night clubs and coffee houses that had recently opened along Sunset Boulevard (aka "Sunset Strip") which featured live rock bands such as The Doors. But we needed new outfits in order to fit in. We went to the Saturday morning swap meet at a local drive-in, buying gold corduroy Nehru jackets with paisley lining, hip-hugging bell-bottom jeans, black knit turtleneck sweaters, four inch wide leather belts, gold-plated chain necklaces, and pointed-toe high-heeled Italian ankle-biter boots with shiny brass buckles. We looked like newly minted Beau Brummels (or fags) from Il Mundo Italiane . . . Go, Go, Go!
The following evening, we drove 35 miles to where Sunset began and parked the car with the intention of walking the entire length of the Strip in order to see all the acts it had to offer. But we had not gone three blocks when a car pulled to the curb and motioned us over. After the driver asked for directions, Norm admitted to not being familiar with Hollywood and suggested the driver should question the man pumping gas at the service station on the corner. As we were walking away, a passenger in the back seat leaned out the rear window and sprayed us with ketchup from two red rubber ketchup dispensers which he had most likely stolen from a local restaurant. That ended any fun we were having. No Doors, no drinks, nothing but rude, destructive punks. For Norm it was a repeat of the unpleasant incident he had experienced at the airport. For Joe and I, it was an omen; only we were too young and inexperienced to discern its meaning.
I never intended for this to be a book. The thought of exposing my innermost secrets – issues and incidents that had been buried deep within my subconscious for more than four decades – did not appeal to me. I did it because I had no other choice. I have heard it said that the best, the most effective, and the least traumatic psychological disinfectant is sunlight. Dredging up half-baked rationalizations of actions in my distant past was not a pleasant project. I was having a hard time living with myself. My dreams were filled with dead uniformed men without eyes who stood in formation pointing their bony fingers towards me and accusing me of crimes, some of which I had and some of which I had not committed. I woke up screaming, frequently falling off the bed onto the hardwood floor. Occasionally, I had involuntary erections (one occurred this morning) which lasted several hours despite my efforts to become flaccid. I rarely slept for more than an hour or two at a time. Even Uno, my trusty beagle, was upset by my strange unexplained behavior. Nor was I capable of having a relationship with a respectable, caring woman. Two marriages had ended in divorce. I could no longer plausibly deny that I was at fault.
Today, it is four decades later. When I was nineteen years old, I did not expect I would live long enough to see my twenty-first birthday. My platoon sergeant said there were two types of Military Policemen—the "quick and the dead ones, like Dungan." Then he turned away in disgust. Two years later, I heard he got shot in the butt in Vietnam while attempting to flee during a firefight. It served him right. When we low-crawled through live fire, he always yelled at me to "get your ass down on the ground." Evidently, he forgot to follow his own advice.
Six thousand years of civilization and we have not made much progress towards repealing the Law of the Jungle. Yes, it is still all about Kill or Be Killed—nowhere is it more evident than war. Take a naive pacifist nineteen year old university student, toss him into the midst of an ongoing war of liberation, stress him far beyond the breaking point, and feign surprise that Sigmund Freud himself could not have helped to crack this nut case, much less a wet behind the ears Veterans Administration psychological technician who hardly earns enough money to pay the rent for his one bedroom studio apartment. Excuse me, but isn't it Uncle Sam's responsibility to restore me to good health considering he illegally drafted me out of college because my social science major was not considered to be essential to the war effort. Four decades later and I still hurt like hell—both physically and mentally—I do not have a right knee. Consequently, I cannot stand or walk and I'm confined to a fall-apart, rickety manual wheelchair. Sometimes I wake-up howling with my five year old male beagle dog. It would be hilarious, were it not pathetic. I rarely sleep more than an hour at a time; never more than five or six hours per night. I look and feel like shit.
I could care less if nobody reads this book. Since I could not afford a real psychiatrist, I began writing about the things which bothered me in an attempt to effect a cure. The more I wrote about what I had actually experienced as a young Military Policeman serving in the Panama Canal Zone in 1968 through 1970, the better I felt (and the better I functioned). If you do not like it, toss it in the trash can and I will give you a full refund.
Who told me a beginner like myself had the ability to analyze himself? While browsing through the index at Gutenberg.org I came upon a digitalized version of Dream Psychology, Psychoanalysis for Beginners by Doctor Sigmund Freud who was convinced that the average man could better his life by means of self-analysis. I was so taken by his intellect that I uploaded Dream Psychology: Psychoanalysis for Beginners to my website at fdungan.com where you are welcome to read it for free. An added bonus is a tape recording in which Doctor Freud explains the methodology behind psychoanalysis. It is like having the master of modern mental well-being conducting a step-by-step tutorial without charges. It just might change your life.
After spending two years in a VA nursing home, during which I underwent several unsuccessful operations on my right knee and leg, I became a gimp in a wheelchair—unable to stand or walk. An automated machine was squirting a shot of morphine every ten minutes upon request into my IV drip bag to keep me from screaming with pain. It was not supposed to give me more morphine than that, but it malfunctioned and it was more than a year before a nurse noticed it. I eventually went cold turkey. For three days I was projectile vomiting yellow bile. I resembled Linda Blair in The Exorcist. There is no permanent cure for morphine addiction. I like morphine—in fact, I crave it. Fortunately, only the military has pure liquid injectionable morphine. It was not easy, but with the help of God, I eventually learned to live without it.
Yes, somewhere along the line I acquired religion. I would have died before now, but God watches out for inept, naïve fools. My faith is complete and unshakable because it stems from hands-on personal experience rather than from dogmatic text. Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. My filthy soul has been cleansed in his blood.
My fondest hope is that this book will assist you in accepting your true self as it has for me. Even in the worst case scenario, it can do no harm. That is why I wrote and published it, every word of which I believe to be true. The word gospel means truth, and I have striven to meet that worthy standard.
I alone am responsible for the material in this book.
Now I am an old man, an ancient grumpy disabled veteran and senior citizen. Since I have nothing better to do, please permit me to "buzz and buzz as I tell you how it used to was." Long before you were born, I thought I was pretty hot stuff as I rumbled through the jungle, keeping the insurgent Central American natives at bay.
Piedras Negras, Mexico
“Fuckee, fuckee; Suckee, suckee. Love you long time; make you feel real good! Two dollars, G.I.”
The source of this spontaneous solicitation was a toothless, disheveled hag sitting on a curb, her legs spread apart brazenly displaying her swollen, runny vagina near the walled red light district's entrance. Evidently, this was her regular place of business, since she had not even bothered to stand up.
Taking inventory of the change in my pockets, I managed to come up with $1.65. Maybe we could strike a deal. I asked her if she gave mid-week discounts to American tourists. She promptly drew her knees together and extended her middle finger towards me in a wanton fashion that clearly indicated that her prices were not negotiable.
I was a 19 year old virgin. Six months before, the Selective Service System had declared my Social Science major at UCI to be nonessential to the war effort, changing my draft status from II-S (educational deferment) to I-A (fodder for the war machine).
Because my father was a retired United States Navy chief, fleeing to Canada was not an option. My parents had adopted me, saving me from the abuses of foster care, and I was extremely grateful. Besides which, my joints ache when it is cold outside. When I get wet in the snow, I suffer.
Rather than wait to be drafted, I decided to enlist. Enlistment had the advantage of allowing me to pick my MOS (method of service). I chose Weatherman Observer as a means of avoiding combat and Vietnam. Better to be a rear echelon support troop than to be a front line infantryman. But at the end of eight weeks of Basic Training at Fort Ord, California, I was posted to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for 12 weeks of training at their Military Police school. It seems that Weatherman Observer School was chock-full. During the Tet Offensive of January 1968, the MP's had suffered numerous casualties defending Saigon. Evidently, an anonymous low level staff officer at the Pentagon thought my 5 foot 11 inch, 136 pound body would help to fill the gap. When I protested to my Drill Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Teague, he burst out laughing and informed me that my enlistment contract wasn't worth diddly shit. The needs of the nation took precedence over my personal needs. I was a green weenie [Author's Note: Green Weenie is a derogatory reference to United States Army olive drab green fatigue uniforms] in more ways than I could imagine.
Being in the United States Army, meant drastic changes to my lifestyle. Because service in Vietnam seemed inevitable, in all likelihood I would not survive to see my twenty-firstst birthday. I quit living conservatively and started partying like there was no tomorrow. When my best friend, Specialist4 Beal, suggested that we take a road trip from Fort Hood, Texas, to Piedras Negras, Mexico, I saw it as an opportunity to shed my accursed virginity and become a real Military Policeman. I was sick of being the brunt of barracks humor. Also, the girl I had been dating since seventh grade had found my love letters “depressing” and asked me to never write her again (ironically, three years later, she became my wife). Having suffered repeatedly on the domestic front, Mexico began to look more and more like a safe haven where I could recover my mangled masculinity.
Mexico, a land a tad older and perhaps somewhat wiser in the nuances of male culture. Mexico, home to Emilio Zapata, Diego Rivera, and Wolfman Jack! “Ain't this XERB, baby?” Over 100,000 watts of raw power assaulting the border nightly. Mexico, it definitely has huevos.
Fort Hood was little more than a collection of World War II era white clapboard buildings set amidst countless acres of windblown sand where U.S. armored maneuvers took place. It seemed like such a Godforsaken place; more suited to snakes, lizards, and scorpions than people. Once a month, on payday, pickup campers full of aged prostitutes set up shop near the PX and did their best to separate the soldiers from their meager paychecks. Being the only show on post, they got plenty of takers and were vastly overpriced. Worse than that, both the county (Bell) and the city (Killeen) were dry. The locals could drink at private clubs from which soldiers were effectively banned. As a Military Policeman, it was my duty to play along with this charade and enforce the law. Did I mention that the sidewalks were made of wood? It gave late 1960's Killeen the aura of a spaghetti Western. Not all of its residents operated rundown used car lots or sleazy pawn shops, but enough did to make it seem that way. All in all, Killeen was a typical military garrison post town—dusty, dirty, corrupt, and about as boring as a convention of teetotalling embalmers. Enlisted men either drank lukewarm 3.2 percent beer at the PX or went without. Pyramids of empty beer cans on top of redwood PX picnic tables attested to the fact that it was nearly impossible to get a good buzz off of 3.2 beer. Nonetheless, we kept trying.
In my former life, as a university student, I had been a moderate drinker, downing ten or so beers a week. However, I blossomed after being drafted, turning into a two-fisted bacchant—remarkable in that I never developed a taste for anything stronger than 40 proof rum. Still, I managed to maintain a 24 hour/7day a week buzz for the entire 2 years, 1 month, and 19 days of my short-lived overseas colonial Army career. Despite the fact that it grated against my ethics, I served as a bastion of Yanqui imperialism, fracturing bones, and doing whatever it took to maintain the status quo while keeping the natives down. Alcohol helped to suppress my guilty conscience. And the best part is that I managed to stay blisfully impaired on a private's salary of less than $100 per month without resorting to mouthwash or Sterno in the lean days at the end of the month. If you have never poured a warm beer over your favorite breakfast cereal, you have not fully lived your life.
I feel I deserve recognition for my efforts. Of course, without proper documentation, it is impossible to achieve worldwide glory by being inducted into the Guinness Book of Records. What a pity! Please write Guinness World Records to protest against this glaring injustice.
It took us an entire sun-baked day to drive from Fort Hood to Del Rio in Beal's aging cream colored Volkswagen beetle with a broken radio and no air-conditioning along a two lane paved asphalt road which struggled up a series of hills that finally came to an abrupt end at the border. Often, we encountered cattle lounging in the shade at the bottom of a hill. They paid no attention to the Volkswagen's feeble 6 volt horn and wouldn't get up until the chrome front bumper pushed them gently aside. Texas isn't so tough, if we had been in California those heifers would have been road kill.
The United States Congress made a big mistake in 1836, when it decided to support rebellious Texas in its fight to become independent from Mexico. Had the United States Army jointly assaulted the Alamo in an alliance with General Santa Ana, Texas would still be Mexico's problem, instead of ours. After all, there is nothing in Texas worth fighting for; with the possible exceptions of chili con carne and salsa. It is nothing but an endless empty expanse of burning sand that is better left alone; unless, of course, one happens to be partial to droughts, armadillos, and natural disasters.
In summer, the hill country of south central Texas is plagued with enormous blue bottle flies. Growing languid as the day grew hotter, the flies were easy to swat. By the time we reached the border, the clear vinyl floor mats were covered in them. Unlike houseflies, these insects bite. The more I scratched the welts, the more they bled. Lotion would have helped, but lotion was for girls. Being full of machismo (and stupidity), we naturally did without. Real men suffer in silence.
Darkness was upon us long before we reached the border town of Del Rio, Texas. Halfway across a bridge, we entered Mexico. As if to verify that fact, the unmistakable odor of raw sewage and offal nearly caused me to retch. Thank God, it was already too dark to identify the pollutants floating in the Rio Grande. Nevertheless, images flashed across my mind of rotting feral cat carcasses and bloated, headless victims of Mexican drug cartels; shot while walking in broad daylight on public sidewalks, their bodies beheaded and thrown into the river.
A short way past the bridge is a high-walled compound on the outskirts of Piedras Negras called Boys' Town (no reflection on Nebraska or Father Flannigan). The wall was built by an order of the Alcalde (Mayor) to quarantine the fleshpots that had sprung up to cater to gringos.
Colorful neon lights flashed on and off. Both the cantinas and the brothels were gayly painted, as if cosmetics were all that mattered. This was a Disneyland of carnal desire, packed tightly with more than 25 pleasure outlets to choose from. For enough money, anything could be bought. Rumor was that a promoter staged a donkey show on Saturday night starring a female porno celebrity. Boys' Town, Piedras Negras is all about satisfaction. By comparison, Las Vegas, Nevada, is little more than a flashy adult playground. Boys' Town is the real deal. We could hardly wait to go inside.
No age limits and no ID required. Never a cover fee. The flashing lime neon sign in the window promises topless/bottomless hostesses. We sat at a small brushed aluminum circular table and less than five minutes later a raven haired beauty was massaging my lap and offering to take me upstairs to her room for six dollars. I'm not certain what I expected, but it certainly was not what I got. No fireworks, no knowing giggles, no moans, no faked orgasms; it amounted to little more than an everyday business service cash transaction. All that was missing was an itemized cash register receipt and a 90-day satisfaction guaranteed limited warranty (void when tampered with in any way). No brass band and no 21-gun salute.
We went upstairs. Her room had no lock. The furnishings were modest; a nightstand, a full-size wrought iron bed, a galvanized bucket, a filthy washcloth, and a broken pink plastic clock radio. Squatting over the bucket, she cleaned her pussy before scrubbing my penis. She slid beneath the sheets and I soon joined her.
I had never done anything like this before. Snippets of high school locker room advice came to mind, but did not help much. Of all the foul luck, I inadvertently prematurely ejaculated as I was attempting to penetrate her. How embarrassing! Surely, it had never happened before among the men of my family. REAL men do not prematurely ejaculate.
My penis had gone limp. How could I stuff it into a woman? Sex is about penetration. Look at President Bill Clinton. He learned the hard way that PENETRATION is all that matters. Use a cigar; use your penis. The law does not discriminate. Venture into her interior and the court deems it sex.
I paid for sex numerous times that night and never could get it up. What a dud! I need to spend the rest of my life as a Franciscan monk, tucked away in a dank unlit cell where nobody will ever learn of my anger and my shame. I feel as if I dishonored the United States Army and the American people. Can you possibly find it in your heart to forgive me?
My expectations had plummeted from Mount Olympus to the depths of California's Death Valley. Those immortals who reside on the mountain among the clouds can well afford to indulge in such lofty thoughts while the all-too-mortal masses struggling to survive their journey down Death Valley, Furnace Creek's bone dry bed must accept reality at face value. Sex is nothing more than a vastly overrated physical release, which is seldom worth the time and energy that starry-eyed novices devote to it. We know it to be a scam and a cheat. It is used by Madison Avenue to promote everything from motor vehicles to ocean cruises. War is sexy, cigarettes are sexy. The physical act of sex being repulsive, its script is constantly being rewritten. Glitz and glamor enhance the image. As P.T. Barnum said, “There's a sucker born every minute” and it seems that the suckers cannot get enough of it.
As dawn breaks, we get back on the road to Fort Hood. Beal bubbles over while I remain silent. However, I doubt that he suspects anything out of the ordinary happened and he talks enough for both of us. My disfunction remains a secret and I intend for it to stay that way. In fact, I managed to bury the entire incident so deep in my subconscious that it took me almost four decades to recover it. Who would have thought at the time that it would eventually prove to be of major importance.
According to Beal, he had the best time of his adult life in Piedras Negras. He had opted for carnal smorgasbord. Over the next few hours, he detailed every aspect of his escapades to me. I dutifully responded with “oohs,” grunts of pleasure, and knowing laughter in all the right places. I played the part of “road trip buddy” to the hilt and acted as if I had enjoyed it, when in fact, I felt cheated.
* * *
After graduating from twelve weeks of Military Police School at Fort Gordon, Georgia, Beal and I had been assigned to Third Army, Headquarters Company, 518th Military Police Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas. There, we were glorified clerk/typists, doing office work that could not be entrusted to personnel who were not familiar with the workings of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Unlike those Army typists who had to “hunt and peck,” I had taken a typing class in eighth grade and could type 60 words per minute. The battalion's Command Sergeant Major wanted me to become his Personnel Service Non-commissioned Officer (PSNCO), which could save him a lot of paperwork and make me advance to Staff Sergeant in two years. It was the best deal anyone ever offered me in the Army. E-6 paygrade with no combat experience. I should have jumped at it. But no, not me. I still had romantic notions of becoming a REAL Military Policeman with a blazing .45 Colt Automatic, six round pump action riot shotgun, red light and siren attrating everyone's attention while I sped to the rescue through stop signs and red lights.
I recalled having once asked my uncle what he did during World War II. Like my father, he had been in the United States Navy. However, he had a safe behind-the-lines job at a stateside drydock, while my father had been at the helm of a LST (Landing Ship, Tank) during all of the landings in North Africa, Sicily, and Europe. I saw my father as an honest to goodness war hero, whereas in my young mind, my uncle came across as a lackluster dweeb. Since I admired my father, I was determined to take an active front line role in America's ongoing war against godless Communism. If that meant risking my life in combat, then so be it. My parents had adopted me and had given me a good upbringing. They would be proud of me. God willing, it would not be posthumously.
I was debating whether to be forthcoming and tell the Command Sergeant Major of my desire to get out of this pussy stateside outfit and get into some real action, only he never seemed to care about what anyone under him thought about anything. In fact, he spent a substantial part of every day kicking back in an armchair with his immaculately shined boots crossed on his desk with his fingers interlaced to support his head. Then, the moment that the Colonel came out of his office, the boots fell to the floor and the fingers returned to being busy with paperwork. It was a memorable stellar performance requiring perfect timing, massive hutzpah, and huevos grande. Obviously, he had a lot of practice at deception and it fell in naturally with his sneaky, devious nature. It doesn't get any better than earning E-9 pay while whiling away easy, lazy days and watching life pass you by.. Had the Colonel caught his Command Sergeant Major sleeping on duty, it could result in a genral court-martial. A risky cat-and-mouse game, perhaps, but by no means did it constitute a test of valor. I did not like the man nor his tactics. Being up front was definitely not a viable option.
Every working day, at approximately 1100 hours, the Command Sergeant Major brought the Colonel a tall stack of orders, requisitions, forms, and documents for his signature. By 1200 hours they were all signed and ready to go. I was familiar with speed reading and knew the Colonel could not have possibly read the whole stack (at times it amounted to several reams of paper) in such a short time. Obviously, it was the Sergeant Major's job to prepare, screen, and cull the stack of papers before submitting them to the Colonel.
Signing anything of importance without reading it is asking for trouble. Was the Colonel really that trusting of his subordinates? I seriously doubt it. Most likely he viewed paperwork as mundane and got it off his desk as quickly as possible in order to devote more time to his primary duties—leadership and command.
At that time the Pentagon was skeletonizing stateside garrison units to replace combat losses in Vietnam. Entire divisions ceased to exist except on paper. The Communists accused us of being paper tigers. Blank levies were issued by the Chiefs of Staff in Washington in which a certain number of troops with specified ranks and skills were uprooted from stateside units and sent to replacement centers in Southeast Asia. I was fairly certain that if I wrote my name on one of the blank levies and inserted it in the middle of the daily stack of papers awaiting signature, it would be signed without anyone getting wise to my admittedly devious scheme.
In order to succeed, I would require some help. I let Specialist 4 Cowpers at Battalion Headquarters in on the plan. He, too, longed to exchange the “spit and polish” of stateside garrison duty for some real Military Police work. Of course, in retrospect such behavior might seem foolhardy, fraught with danger, and/or likely to produce unforeseen negative consequences. At nineteen, we thought ourselves a cut above such mundane concerns—given authority by the Provost Marshal and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), along with firearms for enforcement—we thought we were invincible. Thank goodness, God looks after impulsive, inexperienced soldiers or assuredly we would have perished. Swaggering braggarts, no doubt we deserved to be humiliated. It is only by the grace of God that I survived.
Battalion Headquarters was one step above Headquarters Company in the chain of command. Being the superior authority, it customarily received Pentagon dispatches before they arrived at Headquarters Company. A bit redundant, perhaps, until you consider that the US Army is a ponderous bureaucracy—composed of more than a million men and women—which maintains triplicate files of everything it considers important together with a pile of crap it doesn't. The best way to draw unwarranted attention to a report is to encrypt it and label it Top Secret.
The plan was for Cowpers to intercept a blank levy slated for Headquarters Company and fill in our names, ranks, and serial numbers. I would then insert the levy into the pile of daily dispatches for the Colonel's signature. If everything went well, the Colonel wouldn't pay attention to what he was signing and Cowpers and I would be reporting for overseas duty long before the Sergeant Major and the Colonel became aware that they had been bamboozled by a devious pair of conscripts.
Serves them right. No doubt their comeuppance was a long time coming. I felt no remorse. Although I may have been the instrument of their undoing, the Colonel and his Sergeant Major richly deserved it. They had sent hundreds of young men to premature deaths in faraway jungles. For such insensitive martinets, the fires of hell are not hot enough.
I most likely got away with it because I was a lowly Private First Class. That is the way the Army worked back then. When a PFC vanished, nobody cared. At $98 per month, privates like me were literally a dime a dozen. The solution was simple. Lose one and draft two more. We were cannon fodder for a seemingly endless string of unjustified American Empire far-flung wars.
Fort Clayton, Canal Zone
Once the orders were cut, there was no turning back. Cowpers and I flew from Dallas/Fort Worth to Tocumen International Airport, Panama, aboard a Flying Tigers cargo jet in a matter of hours. No in-flight movie, but a good flight nonetheless. Although the plane was packed with soldiers and equipment, there was plenty of legroom.
I figured we were slated for Jungle Survival School at Fort Gulick, Canal Zone, and then onto Vietnam. What I did not know was that strongman General Omar Torijos had ousted the elected presidente, Arnulfo Arias, for the third time and was sponsoring Yanqui Go Home demonstrations that threatened an early end to our ninety-nine year lease of the Panama Canal along with a five mile wide strip of jungle along both banks of the canal. For two weeks troubles in Panama gained priority over the Vietnam War. It was the duty of the Military Police to quell the unrest and restore civilian democratic government to the Republic of Panama.
The Boeing 707 taxied to a stop on the Tocumen tarmac. When the door opened, I was instantly hit by the hot, humid tropical air. Before I got to the bottom of the ramp, my starched khakis were soaked in sweat. But there was something else bothering me. Besides being suffocating, the air smelled bad, as if it was stale and rotten. It greeted me in the morning with stifling heat and in the warm wispy breeze at night. I could not escape it; it seemed to be all around me. Later, I learned that it was the sickeningly sweet rotten smell of death. In the equatorial tropics, men and beasts lived fast and died even faster. It had been that way since time immemorial. Although Walter Reed had conquered yellow fever, the debilitating disease was replaced by a dozen other equally obnoxious diseases. The odor of death permeated all. Creatures sprang from the jungle slime and returned their nutrients to the slime upon death. It was a closed cycle that nobody could alter.
I had a pervasive feeling that death would claim me. Convinced that I would die before my 21st birthday, I was determined to live for the here and now. Either God had forsaken me or I had forsaken myself by surreptitiously adding my name to the blank levy. Not that it made much difference, either way I was doomed to die.
I was assigned to the 534th Military Police Company, Fort Clayton, on the Pacific (western) side of the canal. Because of mass political unrest in the Republic of Panama, troops were restricted to barracks. Passes to go downtown were summarily canceled. I had intended to go to Gruta Azul, the largest brothel in Central America, where high volume kept the price of pussy low, but it was not to be. Instead I stayed on post with everyone else. Horny, horny, horny, dive between the sheets with a Hustler magazine. Not satisfying, but it's better than nothing! And subsequently at 5AM . . . Drop your cocks; grab your socks. Get up. Too slow? . . . both your mattress and you are liable to get pulled onto the floor by a sergeant. [editor's note: this occasionally results in injury for soldiers occupying the second and third tier bunks]
We were on constant alert. Criminal Investigation Division warrant officers (CID) in civilian clothes occupied key locations on Fourth of July Avenue, the boundary between Panama and the Canal Zone, from which they monitored protest demonstrations. When the protests became violent and began to spillover into Balboa, the Provost Marshal, Colonel Gereke, ordered the 534th Military Police Company to restore order.
Our platoon leader was a newly minted ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) Second Lieutenant who had not bothered to draw a gas mask from the Armorer. Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, his olive drab fatigues were crisply starched and elegantly tailored. In fact, he appeared to have come straight from Central Casting at Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios in Hollywood. No riot shotgun and no baton. Clearly, he was either fearless or a fool.
I came to Panama craving action. Little did I know that I was about to experience more action than I could stomach. The mob had progressed to breaking windows and setting fires. We lined up along Fourth of July Avenue and began to push the crowd back. Soon, an order was given to don our gas masks and we began to toss CS teargas grenades into their midst. But five minutes later, the breeze changed and began to blow in the opposite direction toward us. The rubber gas masks were not properly adjusted and leaked badly. I pulled mine off and instantly began to gag and cough. Worse yet, the Panamanians retrieved the spewing grenades that rolled into the gutters and threw the grenades back at us. Panic ensued.
At the first whiff of tear gas, our platoon leader promptly crossed over to the Canal Zone side of the street. Naturally, the vast majority of us followed his lead. However, a few of the more experienced non-commissioned officers held firm. They managed to maintain a small presence on the Panamanian side of the highway until darkness fell, at which time they slowly slipped away.
The weekly news magazines, Newsweek and Time, later referred to the incident as an American loss. Crowd control was not properly performed. The main blame was assigned to the fact that we were vastly understrength and had no access to CN (a stronger form of tear gas). Over the next few weeks, we absorbed a number of newly graduated troops from the Military Police school at Fort Gordon in addition to receiving much needed equipment. They took away our white hats and issued us spiffy khaki pith helmets. Even though I was new to the unit, the replacements were greener. Being an old hand, I was promoted to Specialist 4 and was assigned to supervise the West Bank.
The motorpool received dozens of new patrol cars, trucks, and jeeps, plus a staff car for the Provost Marshal. It looked like Christmas had come early for the 534th. The folks back home were calling us cowardly and inept. Was this some type of reverse psychology reward for having beat a hasty retreat? We had been defeated by an unarmed handful of Marxist influenced university students. I had expected to be court-martialed. Instead, we pathetic losers were being treated as if we had won. A song from my youth kept playing in my head:
Yankee Doodle went to town,
Riding on a pony.
He stuck a feather in his cap,
And called it macaroni.
Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy.
Mind the music and the step;
And with the girls be handy.
Being a green weenie did not seem so bad after all. I lived in a barracks and paid no rent. Uncle Sam clothed me in a spiffy uniform for free. Mess halls and C-rations provided me meals at no charge. I was only being paid three grand a year, but three grand buys a lot of beer. My future looked so bright that I began to wear Ray-Ban shades (extremely dark mirrored glasses like the guards wore in the movie Cool Hand Luke).
And it kept on getting better. Being West Bank Supervisor, I was constantly on the move and could eat many of my meals in messhalls far superior to those at Fort Clayton. Because the Air Force hired civilian cooks, their chow tended to taste better. They even had salad bars. No wonder their rate of reenlistment was skyhigh. For the most part, flyboys have it made. To begin with the Air Force has rooms, not barracks. Their rooms are furnished with real furniture, while Army barracks consist of bunks (sometimes three tiers high), wall lockers, and foot lockers. In fact our metal tubular bunks were manufactured by inmates of federal prisons. Unlike the Army, flyboys don't blouse their pants in their boots because they wear scuffed up low quarters (leather shoes) that almost always look like they were last shined six months ago with a Hershey bar. Zoomies seldom salute. The Air Force is the branch of the military which most closely resembles civilian life. It must be nice to do a job without having to choke on parades, inspections, details, and similar military bullshit.
Of course, Panama is no tropical paradise. Unlike the highlands of Costa Rica, rare strange fungi and diseases thrive in the hot and humid environment of the Canal Zone. One of our clerks sneaked downtown one night and came back with a severe case of bullhead clap. The head of the clerk's penis swelled to twice its normal size and exuded pus. Not only was it immune to antibiotics, it was extremely painful. Every other day the urinal passage was reamed out and coated with ointment. It hurt so bad, he broke down and screamed in tongues like a Holy Roller on an evangelical binge. Two weeks went by without it getting better. Someone started a rumor that he would never be allowed to return to the mainland. I remember reading The Man Without a Country in freshman English class. This clerk's plight was ten times worse. God help that poor man. How could he explain his condition to his family? Galloping gonhorrea is not fun.
The demonstrations had spread to Balboa. Windows were broken and buses set afire. A small number of Marxist university students gained the support of the Panamanian people who were organized into Dignity Battalions (dingbats) and were armed mostly with machetes. But their numbers gradually dwindled and the workers went back to work. General Omar Torijos (the current strongman dictator who ruled Panama) forcibly closed the University of Panama. Two weeks later, the alert was lifted.
For a nickel fare, I rode the Canal Zone bus from Fort Clayton to Fourth of July Avenue. Walking across the busy border highway, I passed the spot where I first whiffed CS gas (an acronym which stands for 0-chlorobenzalmalononitrile) and saw that the gas had discolored the asphalt. If it did that to the asphalt, what had it done to my lungs? Yes, our Chemical Warfare instructor had told us, prolonged exposure to CS had no long term side effects, but he also said that we could ingest Dow Chemical's Agent Orange defoliant without being harmed. Old black and white film clips of World War I doughboys being gassed in the trenches by Kaiser Wilhelm's troops flickered on my mind's silver screen, and I wondered if I, too, would someday be confined to a wheelchair. [Author's Comment: Four decades passed before it happened. I have connected the dots, and don't like what I have discovered. Monsanto must have raped Dow and I am their bastard child. May they immerse themselves in napalm and cleanse themselves in eternal hellfire. Fuck Dow, fuck Monsanto, because they certainly did not hesitate to fuck me up. May they choke on their ill-gotten profits.]
Near Fourth of July Avenue in a slum neighborhood called Chorillo packed tightly with aging multi-storied rickety wooden buildings with spacious overhanging balconies, J and K streets were Panama City's infamous red light district where several generations of American soldiers had cavorted with South American puntas. I ducked into the darkness of La Cantina PanAmericana where a mere $2 (dos balboas in the local coinage) bought a liter bottle of hastily distilled Ron Cortez 40 proof rum, four 10 ounce bottles of Canada Dry cola, two glass tumblers, a plastic bowl of ice, and a woman to share it with. Drop a quarter in the jukebox and out flowed the original strains of Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells. Kuchta, Mahieu, Foster, and I left the Panamericana around 2 AM, having drunk a few too many cervezas during a four hour shift changeover. We were walking up "J" Street towards the Canal Zone when I intermittently got shocked into sobriety by the sound of breaking glass. At first I thought someone was busting empty beer bottles on the sidewalk. But then I noticed Kuchta was bleeding profusely from his right palm. He had been breaking passenger's side wing windows with his fist of every car we encountered parked at the curb. What a bloody mess! I knew better than to ask him why. A dozen beers drank in rapid succession can produce strange behavior in an otherwise normal individual. Thank God, we did not get caught. An hour later, a medic wrapped Kuchta's right arm in an Ace bandage and he was good to go.
Occassionally, I went on town patrol at night accompanied by an illiterate Guardia Nacional, armed with a rusting .38 caliber revolver of unknown origin loaded with damp bullets that frequently misfired. If a bar was unsanitary, unruly, or seemingly unsavory, I would post it "off limits" to American military personnel. Anyone too drunk to walk would be given a ride back to base with little or no consequences if they did not resist or puke in the back of my brand new patrol car. Once a month a medical officer tested the girls and certified them as "disease free." Women who failed the test had to ply their trade on the street.
Although prostitution was legal in the Republic of Panama, female Panamanians were prohibited from engaging in it. Whores were recruited from other countries, primarily from unwed, uneducated and unemployed teenage mothers in other Latin countries who could not find any other way to support their children. Although I initially despised them, I gradually began to respect them for their sacrifice. Very few of the girls enjoyed what they did—to them it was just a job. Too often they were roughed up by johns and pimps. Perhaps I tended to give them the benefit of the doubt because the circumstances surrounding my birth were rather murky. "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone." [John 8:7] Most Military Policemen did not share my opinion. The Provost Marshal, the Pentagon, and the American public were against prostitution. It was my job to keep the local sex trade from getting out of hand. Homosexuals were routinely harassed,jailed, and abused. I, too, gave them short shrift. At that time, I did not know any better. My regrets will never excuse what I have done. May God have mercy upon my soul.
A few of the girls were only twelve years old. At that age most little girls are playing with their Barbies, but these girls were already experienced professional whores. The worst part was that many American soldiers preferred preteen girls. That is sick. And I cannot help but think—Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker. Sex sells—the younger, the better. In my way of thinking, pedophiles deserve chemical castration.
The Panamericana was a small bar that catered to Military Policemen. Judging from the sepia photos pinned to the wall behind the bartender, it dated from the 1940's, back when Military Policemen wore brown boots and leggings. I was the sole soldier in the bar at that early hour, which meant I had the undivided attention of the bartender, who said her name was Eulalia. She asked me why I had not gone to the Gruta Azul in Rio Abajo with the other off duty people as soon as the alert was lifted. I described the plight of the clerk with bullhead clap and she was not shocked at hearing it. For the next hour, I poured my heart out to this diminutive (4 feet, 11 inches, 85 pounds) Indian woman, whose mini-dress and sparing use of cosmetics made her appear younger than her 39 years. She was more than twice my age, but that didn't stop me from asking her to shack up with me for the rest of my tour. Nineteen year old Military Policemen think of themseves as dashing and daring swashbucklers. She was in no way fooled and today, four decades later, I am surprised she did not laugh in my face. Instead, she acted as if she knew I was coming and as if we were both actors in some preordained play. We were to meet the following week on the steps of the downtown cathedral and there she would give me her answer.
If this sounds to you like a scene from a 1940's black and white B movie, keep in mind that neither of us liked movies much and that Hollywood is the name of the poorest slum in Rio Abajo where landless campesinos squat on government land, building casas de carton with stilt foundations and flattened tin can roofs along the banks of the Curundu River near the Canal Zone. This was a business arrangement, not a romantic interlude. Eulalia could not support her six sons on her 60 cents an hour bartending job and I desperately desired not to fall prey to a sexually transmitted disease. Pragmatism won. This GI no fuckee slovenly sluts. Besides, I always wanted a big family. Here was one ready-made.
Nor was it practical to hang around the barracks when I was off duty. Other than the bunks, the wall lockers and the foot lockers, there was no furniture—no chairs and no tables. The only space devoted to personal items was a section of the footlocker barely big enough for a Bible and some writing paper. There was a Day Room downstairs next to the offices of the First Sergeant and the Company Commander. In over two years in the 534th, I cannot remember anyone watching television or playing pool. The recreational equipment was there for show purposes. Nobody had any desire to disturb the First Seargent or the Company Commander. Those who did not know better soon learned. Hang around the barracks when off duty and you are liable to be grabbed for a detail such as scrubbing toilets, painting walls, or mopping floors. Renting a place downtown would markedly reduce the level of military bullshit.
Before the week was out, I ran into Eulalia on a Bella Vista sidewalk. She told me about a new cinder block apartment house in Parque Lefevre on the outskirts of Panama City. There was one big drawback—we would have to share a bathroom with the apartment next door. Also, it would take a half hour to go from Chorillo to Parque Lefevre on a local chiva bus where the rear of the bus is reserved for produce and chickens. The religious folk art on both the inside and the outside, however, made it well worth the 5 cent fare.
I gave Eulalia $25 to pay the first and the last month's rent on our new apartment. It would be a week before the apartment would be ready. Meanwhile, we could bunk with two of her sisters in a walkup clapboard flat in Chorillo. We slept rolled up in a blanket on the wooden floor, doing our best to avoid the cockroaches, centipedes, and rats that infested the place. At the time, Chorillo was a hotbed for dingbat recruitment. Nobody knew me, but nearly everybody hated me. They took out their aggression on Eulalia's youngest sister, Myra, who had, like many university students, joined the Communist Party and was subject to their discipline. One of the commissars came to the door and accused her of harboring an American soldier. I point blank asked him if he wanted a piece of me. He abruptly left and, as far as I know, he did not come back. I do not like Communist Party hacks, who, from my experience, are all blow and no go. No leader should ask others to do something he would not do himself.
The dictator's, General Omar Torrijos', flirtation with radical students was brief. When the United States Congress threatened to cut off Panama's foreign aid, he had the Guardia Nacional close the University of Panama, which was Panama's sole public institution of higher learning. The Soviet Union awarded Myra and some of the other activists all-expenses-paid four year scholarships to Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow. Later, we received a letter from her asking us to send her several boxes of Kotex (babushkas evidently don't use them). I pilfered a large carton of Kotex from the loading dock at the commissary the next time I pulled guard duty there. There was no way to buy it because single men were not issued commissary cards. Although it was theft, I rationalized it as being justified for having to guard a store they would not let me patronize. Senior Guardia Nacional officers could buy at the commissary, while I had to purchase food in the republic at inflated prices. Screw that. I made a deal with a sailor on a Russian ship going through the canal to take the carton of Kotex to Myra. Did she get it? Drunk Russian sailors don't give receipts. Besides, I never heard from her again. I suspect she disappeared, like thousands of other foreigners who either seemingly, willingly, or inadvertently offended the Soviets during this era.
The pendulum of Panama's Banana Republic politics swung erratically left to right, making no sense whatsoever. This was hardly suprising, since the real power behind el presidente had always been alliances among various oligarchs, many of whom regard their clandestine foreign bank accounts as being more important than the welfare of their nation.
At the apogee of one wild swing to the left, Panama decided to nationalize the Panama City Hilton Hotel without monetary compensation to its American owners, renaming it El Panama. Needless to say, this did not bode well with the American government.
Since the Panama Hilton primarily catered to officers and wealthy people, the change didn't affect most people. I once ate a big plate of boiled mussels in tomato sauce at an outdoor restaurant nearby. I remember wondering why anyone would want to build a luxury hotel with a view of Panama City's ugly, putrid mud flats. No beach, no sand—other than being tropical, it in no way resembled a tropical paradise. I have heard it said that occasionally big name stars such as Elvis and Lilly Tomlin do a one night stand at the Hilton as a stop on the way to tour South America. I seriously doubt it. No performer of consequence could be that desperate for a gig. Since very few enlisted personnel could afford to see a floor show, our cultural activities were largely restricted to letting off steam in the neon-lit dingy bars and brothels along J and K streets in downtown Panama City and nearby Rio Abajo. I wanted to experience Tobago, Darien, Colon, and the San Blas Islands, but $98 a month did not stretch that far. I did, however, visit the Golden Altar located in the Cathedral of Old Panama, seven miles south of present day Panama City. When Henry Morgan raided Old Panama, church officials painted the altar black. Fortunately, the ruse worked. In my opinion, the Golden Altar beats anything else (with the exception of the canal) that Panama has to offer.
West Bank, Canal Zone
The Military Police station at Fort Clayton was located above a medical clinic on the second floor of a typical tile roofed whitewashed building (most of these buildings, including our barracks dated from the beginning of the Twentieth Century and were built to withstand naval bombardment by foreign forces—in some places the hand-poured concrete walls were a foot thick). An E-6 Desk Sergeant sat behind an enormous oak counter. On the wall behind him were several pegboards with hundreds of brass cup hooks on which were numerically arranged front door keys for all of the quarters on base. Whenever a military dependent got locked out, they called the station and a patrol was dispatched to pick up the key and let them in. Ninety percent of the time, it was a routine service performed by the Military Police. However, the large number of officers' wives that stayed behind in base housing while their husbands ticket-punched their careers in Vietnam, led to a change in that equation. Some of the officers wives became lonely and called the station, looking to satisfy their carnal desires. I guess we looked rather good in our tailored uniforms, patent leather gear, and pith helmets. When one of us showed up with a key to open the front door, he found a scantily clad officer's wife who claimed the door had blown shut when she stepped onto the porch without her keys. Quite often she expressed her appreciation in a way that you can well imagine. These women collectively became known as Barbies. No doubt, many of the tales concerning Barbies were fabricated. Knowing how soldiers embellish their tales of fantasized conquests, I didn't believe a word of it.
Eventually, I found out different. The first time it happened to me, I arrived at an apartment and nobody was waiting on the porch. I rung the doorbell. A rather homely looking fully clothed lady said her bedroom was locked and she had lost the key. Locks on interior doors were prohibited and I told her about the regulation. She began crying and, thinking her legitimate, I used a wire to pick the lock. When I turned around, there she stood in a negligee holding two enormous crystal goblets. She handed me one and I gulped it down. When I handed her the empty glass, she looked puzzled and passed me her glass. I have no idea why, but I immediately drained it, turned around, and headed out the front door. Maybe it was an obsession with karma. It did not seem right to have sex with a woman whose husband was fighting in Vietnam. Or maybe I simply wasn't that horny. Having been adopted, I had no clue what race I was. All women have the same equipment. Classifying people by race made no sense to me.
Enlisted men also left their wives in military housing projects while they served a tour in Vietnam. The main difference was that enlisted men served full thirteen month tours while officers sometimes ticket punched, i.e. they only served in Vietnam long enough to advance their careers. Although the number of enlisted mens' wives left behind in military housing on Army bases in the Canal Zone were far greater than the number of officers' wives, fewer of them became Barbies. A contributing factor may have been the sharp dividing line that then existed between officers and enlisted men, reinforced by the fact that fraternization between officers and enlisted men (or their families) was strongly discouraged. The two groups had seperate but equal housing and on the rare occassions when they chose to get together, the interaction on the part of the officers' wives tended to be condescending and formal. Also, I suspect that the larger the group (numerically speaking) the greater the risk of being caught.
Barbies were a sign of the times. The alternative culture upheaval of the late 1960s together with a vastly increased interest in experimentation with drugs probably fostered the Barbie phenomenon. Never before nor since the Vietnam era have conditions fostered such in-your-face behavior by military dependents. Black armbands and mutinies led by disgruntled non-commissioned officers (such as happened at Fort Hood in 1968) are things of the past. Fragging of officers by enlisted men has largely been forgotten—recently written history books take great pains to avoid mentioning it. Nevertheless, I saw all of it first hand. Denial is no longer an option. In order to improve my mental health, I must come clean. Whether or not you choose to believe it is up to you.
The chief duty of the Military Police was to enforce the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). We derived our authority from the Provost Marshal, Colonel Gereke, whom I met only one time when he recommended my patrol partner, PFC Allison, and me for the Lifesaving Medal after we rescued two boys who were far out on the rocky breakwater at the end of the Fort Amador causeway and did not notice the tide coming in until it was too late to escape. The citation which the Colonel read said the waters were shark infested, but I never heard of anyone being attacked by a shark. We stood at rigid attention in the Provost Marshal's office as he rehashed the Army's version of what happened. He made us sound like heroes and we knew better than to contradict him. In fact, we never said one word. However, we smartly saluted after he dismissed us. We then about faced and walked out the door. Evidently, it was the right thing to do because the First Sergeant stood beside us and smiled. It must have hurt him to smile because I never saw him do it again. No doubt for all he cared we could have cheered while the (imaginary?) sharks ate the boys, if it were not for the fact that they were the sons of a high-ranking officer who had demanded that Colonel Gereke award us a medal. I never received it. For all I know the paperwork was thrown in the trash can as soon as I left the office. The lifesaving medal is awarded under the auspices of the Coast Guard who had earlier refused to rescue the boys because they claimed the Coast Guard's small aluminum boats were not meant to withstand rocks. Pussy Coast Guard—it seems they smoke too much dope and make excuses instead of doing their job. I say screw the sharks; the fact is Allison and I kept two children from drowning. The Coast Guard can put that in their pipe and smoke it.
Forty years have passed and I still have not been awarded the Lifesaving Medal. It either was denied, pidgeonholed, lost in the mail, or thrown in the trash. I had my Congressman, Representative Ken Calvert (Republican–California), investigate the matter, but he could not locate any records about it. Oh well, what the hell. I am no hero and I do not need a medal to be pinned on my chest. I was awarded the National Defense Ribbon and an Honorable Discharge. That is good enough for me. Yet it irks me that I did not do better. Both my father, Russel A. Dungan, and my son, Che P. Dungan, are career military men—decorated heroes of multiple wars. Because of them, America is free. Thank God for men like them.
Three steps above the Provost Marshal at the top of the chain of command for the Canal Zone was the Governor, a civilian appointed by the President to administer the Canal Zone. Since the Panama Canal Zone was essentially a United States colony (it was leased for 99 years at the turn of the Twentieth Century via gunboat diplomacy in which Panama gained its independence from Colombia and the United States took over an earlier French venture to construct a lock canal across the isthmus at its narrowest point), the Governor had complete authority without any checks or balances to mitigate his decisions.
When Sergeant Watson's dependent wife flew from the United States to join her husband in the Canal Zone, the Governor saw that she was dressed in embroidered bellbottoms with flowers in her hair and bare feet. He immediately declared her persona non grata and ordered her to reboard the plane and fly back to the United States. Of course, when he learned about it, Sergeant Watson was devastated. He spent the remainder of his tour on perimeter patrol, firing birdshot with a pump action 12 gauge shotgun into starving children with distended bellies and orange colored hair (symptom of malnutrition) as they climbed the chain link fence which seperated Panama City's biggest slum, ironically named Hollywood, Rio Abajo, from the upscale housing of Curundu, Fort Clayton, in an attempt to garner fruit which fell from the mango trees and rotted on the ground. Most of us avoided perimeter patrol whenever possible, but Sgt. Watson appeared to enjoy it. Although it was customary to walk perimeter patrol, Sergeant Watson drove it in order to shoot as many kids as possible. He was one sick puppy. I would not have been surprised if the Army awarded him a medal for shooting unarmed civilian children. I cannot delete the image from my mind of Sergeant Watson driving along the fenceline with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on a shotgun pointing out the passenger side window of his patrol car. We should have given him a blanket party to beat some sense into him, but instead we tried to ignore him. Sgt. Newsome roomed with Sgt. Watson and emulated his behavior. They both are welcome to take me to court for failing to disguise their identities. Go ahead, make my day. I would love to tell a judge and jury how their actions disgraced our country. Forty years have passed and I still have nightmares about children with distended bellies thrusting their hands through the chain link while pleading, Da me chocalate; da me un centavo; Por favor, tengo hambre.
The poor people who build their shacks, las casas de carton, precariously perched on stilts along the banks of the Curundu River use its waters to fish, swim, drink, launder, and go to the bathroom. The Panamanian government derides them as squatters, but they spring back almost as quick as they are bulldozed. Once I stayed overnight in a shack in Hollywood, Rio Abajo, but I won't ever do that again. The roof leaked so badly that I barely slept. Also, the lady who took me there introduced me to her mother and several children of whom I had been blissfully unaware. I should have listened to my mother as I was preparing to leave home, "Bag and baggage. Always look before you leap."
The Canal Zone has always had a colonial culture. By law, every family must employ one or more maids. A maid gets room and board plus $40 per month. All government housing, military and civilian, is built with maid quarters on the ground floor. Military barracks, enlisted as well as officer, have "houseboys"—grown men who support large families on the money they earn by shining boots and pressing uniforms for approximately $60 a month plus tips. Due to excessive humidity and the equatorial climate, I sometimes changed my uniform three times a day. Our houseboy smiled as he shined my brass and touched up my boots. Both his smile and his banter had a saccharine quality, i.e. in retrospect they were sickeningly, artificially sweet. He had learned to smile "as if he liked it" in order to keep his job. Long hours and low pay, however, he smiles anyway because there are hundreds of others who would do almost anything to have his job. Colonialism sucks.
The Republic of Panama has no public schools. Most elementary and secondary education takes place in Catholic schools. However, very few impoverished families can afford a good education for their children. School uniforms and books cost more than many students can afford. Consequently, the literacy rate is low. I somehow managed to send Eulalia Herrerra's six boys to school during the two years I lived with her in Panama. Although I was not their father, I felt it was my duty to provide for them. If I accomplished little else of value during my time in Panama, I can at least say I helped to send underpriveleged children to school. I immersed myself in the local culture, learned to speak Spanish, and did my best to counter the prevalent stereotype of the Military Policemen as insensitive United States imperialists whose excessive authority had gone to their heads. I would like to believe that when Panamanian students shouted "Yanqui Go Home" at demonstrations, they did not have me in mind. Being a lowly Private First Class, I had no hand in making United States policy. I simply followed orders. Don't blame me for getting the United States kicked out of the Canal Zone. I'm not a gabacho, I'm no sadist, and I don't get my kicks shooting Panamanian kids off of chain link fences with a shotgun.
The vast majority of United States citizens were blissfully unaware of how Uncle Sam formulate policies in their name of which they would never have approved. Colonialism and imperialism are not pretty. As a Military Policeman I was responsible for suppressing dissent and keeping the natives in line. Was I simply following orders or was I guilty of committing crimes against humanity? You be the judge. It has kept me awake at night for four decades. Now that it is out, I can stop punishing myself. Self-flagellation and hair shirts aren't my bag.
Please don't dismiss this book as yet another left wing liberal assault on imperialism and its negative effects on undernourished, poverty-stricken native people. Although of prime importance, the story of the Panamanian people loses a lot when told from a solely economic perspective. For instance, it is hard to imagine General Omar Torijos delivering a speech to the nation about how the business of Panama is business. Herbert Hoover and Omar Torijos are at opposite ends of the political spectrum—having next to nothing in common. Panama has an older, richer culture than that of the United States. Darien was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his last expedition and a settlement was established in 1501, more than a century before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. American tourists cannot get intoxicated on 40 proof rum like Panamanians do. The Panamanian calendar is full of fiestas, whereas blue collar workers in the United States frequently cannot afford to take a day off. It can be argued that in the case of the United States, improvements in economics does not necessarily mean there will be gains made in the overall quality of life.
Who has a legitimate right to govern Panama? According to the United Nations, it is the exclusive right of the Panamanian people. However, the record of history does not bear this out. Originally, Panama was a frontier province of Gran Colombia. Less than a million people inhabited the isthmus then, few of whom were interested in politics. France negotiated an agreement with Bogota to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via a sea level canal dug across the isthmus. The idea was that ships would no longer have to round the tip of South America. But disease decimated the labor force and the French corporation that was building the canal had no choice other than to declare bankruptcy. Eventually, the United States government purchased the assets. They aimed to succeed where the French failed. Using gunboat diplomacy, the United States helped Panama to declare its independence from Gran Colombia and leased the Canal Zone for a renewable period of 99 years in exchange for a token pittance. Understandably, the people of Panama felt cheated and began to stage protests against what they claimed was United States imperialism. Of course, this explains my presence and that of hundreds of other U.S. Army Military Policemen in the Canal Zone.
Shortly after I returned to the United States in December 1970, and was honorably discharged, President Carter cancelled our lease and gave Panama back the Canal Zone. Panama did not have enough trained engineers to run the canal and sought the assistance of China. Subsequently, the economy of Panama took a nosedive. The moral of the story is that it is best to be careful what you wish for. Panama was not prepared for what it got. Consequently, the rift between the United States and Panama turned out to be an exercise in futility for both sides. Neither benefitted. My time in uniform and that of thousands of others who were drafted to serve in the Canal Zone, was ultimately wasted. President Carter was a God fearing Christian of good character. But he made the wrong decision concerning the Panama Canal. Unfortunately, it is much too late to do anything about it.
Cold Warrior, Canal Zone
Much of the Cold War was fought in Third World nations. In Central America insurgents fighting wars of liberation were supplied with arms and propped up economically by various Eastern bloc communist nations. Shortly after arriving in the Canal Zone, a civilian bank in Balboa was robbed. An analysis by Army Intelligence at Quarry Heights indicated the perpetrators were holed up in one of the numerous reinforced concrete bunkers built in World War I and World War II that had been abandoned and subsequently was overgrown by jungle. After the robbery took place, we donned flak jackets (not as effective as Kevlar body armor) and searched the bunkers. Several shots were fired, but nobody was injured. We later heard that U.S. military deserters had fired on us in an attempt to avoid capture. At least one was caught, but we heard no more about it. Had the deserters joined forces with the insurgents? Because the Vietnam era was fraught with cultural unrest, almost anything was possible. Armed Forces Radio did its best to avoid the subject. Since we were not paid to think, we were not well informed. We were treated like mushrooms, i.e. we were fed shit and kept in the dark. Also, we weren't authorized to wear canvas jungle boots; consequently our leather boots rotted on our feet. I got a bad fungus infection which 40 years later occasionally flares up and gives me trouble. God blessed America with "purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain." Satan later cursed us wih incursions into foreign wars. Leave us alone—go back to hell!
In 1989 an infamous pockmarked Chorillo drug trafficer, General Manuel Noriega, was elected Presidente and had the chutzpah to unilaterally declare war against the United States. Following a brave airborne assault from 500 feet by U.S. paratroops on the Guardia Nacional Headquarters at Rio Hato, Presidente Noriega fled to the Vatican Embassy, later surrendered, and was sentenced to serve a long prison term in the United States. After his release, he was arrested by French Interpol agents, and transported to France to serve a European sentence for drug smuggling. The morals that can be drawn from this tragic story are numerous; among which are never lick the secretions from toad warts, do not try to bully a nation 100 times your size, refrain from referring to Frenchmen as "frogs," (lest they frogwalk you into a dungeon cell), and just because you grew up in the streets of Chorillo, does not mean the newly activated Dignity Battalions will support you in a suicidal war against the United States. If all this is too much to remember, it is enough to remember to stay away from drugs and ugly psychotic drug pushers such as Presidente de la Republica de Panama, General Manuel Noriega. History will remember him as a minor player, a miniscule man who didn't know diddly squat and didn't have the street smarts to cover his ass. My advice to Manuel Noriega is to mellow out, express remorse, and become religious. Blessed Assurance, Jesus washes our sins in his blood. It is never too late, even for a reprobate like Manuel Noriega.
Panama has a history of changing governments more often than most men change their jockey shorts. It is the giant plantain among the Central American Banana Republics. In Panama politics generate more enthusiasm than World Cup futbol. Revolucions are designed not to hurt anyone. A few shots are fired into the air. El presidente then flees office and seeks asylum in the United States. To tell what is going on, one must look behind the scenes. A handful of landowning families rule the entire nation, changing alliances frequently in reaction to fluculations in global economic conditions. La Republica de Panama is a prime example of an oligarchy. Caudillos (political strongmen with charismatic appeal—often mounted on white horses) appear to fare well in the tropical climate. For example the people elected Arnulfo Arias to the presidency three times, only to have him leave office in the face of a military coup d'etat. The ironic part is that Panama jettisoned its military forces decades ago. All that actually changed was the name—instead of being an ejercitio (army),it is now known as the Guardia Nacional (Panama National Guard).
By law, all Panamanian citizens must vote in a national election. This is accomplished by issuing cedulas, i.e. national identity cards and punching them at the polls. However, it is rather ineffective because ballot boxes are routinely stuffed by corrupt politicians.
Follow up and investigative detective work for the Provost Marshal is done by plainclothes CID warrant officers. In the Republic of Panama, such functions are brutally performed by plain clothes DENI agents, whose authority is virtually unchecked. DENI regularly obtains confessions by torture and frequently intimidates those who oppose the regime by making dissidents "disappear."
Every U.S. Army installation in the Canal Zone has one or more gates routinely staffed by one or more Military Policemen whose duties are to regulate access to military bases and provide security for the installation. Accordingly, only military personnel wih valid identity cards and Department of the Army civilians are permitted to pass. This works well for vehicle traffic and a handful of well-intentioned pedestrians. But it should be noted that chain link perimeter fences, easily penetrated by anyone with wire cutters, were sieves through which insurgent geurillas passed with impunity. For the most part the illusion of security is what is important, because most bases have no "Top Secret" activities. The one exception is Quarry Heights, which the Pentagon has designated the nerve center for the Southern Command. Army Security Agency (ASA) troops are stationed there. Purportedly, almost all military and civilian communications are monitored and analyzed for content at this location. Imagine a facility designed to prevent Bradley Manning types from doing any damage to American intelligence. I attempted to shop at Quarry Heights' PX once and was politely turned away. I must admit, I was favorably impressed.
The Guardia Nacional resembles a platypus in that it seems to be a somewhat distorted amalgamation of military styles borrowed from foreign armies. For instance, the Guardia Nacional moniker is definitely an American knockoff, while obtaining an army by means of a lottery is an anachronism in this day and age.
I immersed myself in Panama's rich culture. However after crossing the border into Panama, American culture and the English language ceased to exist. Unless I spoke Spanish, nobody understood me. In this environment, I learned Spanish fast. Moreover, I became attuned to the subtle nuances of Latin life. For example, I came to realize that everyone in Panama hails from one of the interior provinces. Panama City is the place people go to get a job and make money—it is considered ugly and brutal; people owe their allegience to Chiriqui, Darien, or the village that they were born in. While they reside in Panama City, they prefer to socialize with people from similar backgrounds to their own. Unlike big American cities, everyone seems to know everyone else. More important, they like them. And they are big-hearted enough to accept outsiders like myself, i.e. unless they try to lord it over the natives. I have no desire to emulate the stereotypical Ugly American—referring to a grown Panamanian as "boy," or cursing the climate as being "ungodly hot." With time, my blood thinned and I actually began to enjoy the weather. Of course, experiencing a buzz from the locally distilled and bottled, one-dollar-per-liter, 40 proof, unfiltered rum (¡Ron Cortez, Que Bueno Es!), I could not help but enjoy myself. Cheap thrills and la vida loca may not be truly satisfying, but at nineteen years of age, they certainly seemed to do the trick for me. That's me, Yankee Doodle Dandy. I put a feather in my pith helmet and called it macaroni. And I tried my best to sober up before reporting to duty.
Latinos work hard and play harder. Considering the high level of productive activity that I witnessed, their economy is not keeping pace with their efforts. Lack of education may be what is holding them back; a nation cannot maintain its infrastructure without civil engineers and technicians. Yes, I like Panamanian culture. At the same time, I realize they need to focus on providing children with a good education. My heart goes out to the starving, malnourished children of favelas such as Hollywood. They deserve better. Charity is not a permanent solution. They need to learn how to provide for themselves—screw Yanqui imperialism. ¡Viva la revolucion!
Panamanian currency and coinage is inextricably tied to that of the United States, e.g. $1=1 Balboa. Yet the vast majority of the Panamanian people, along with their leaders, are in denial of the economic ties that bind Panama to the United States. Federal Reserve Notes are in everyday circulation. It is high time for Panamanians to accept the truth at face value. Panama is a U.S. dependent nation largely because they chose to be.
Obviously, Panama could greatly benefit from a Free Trade Agreement with the United States that would eliminate tariffs and encourage foreign investment. As a gesture of good will and good faith, Panama should return the crumbling Panama Hilton hotel (in its present state it is a specter of its former self) to its rightful owners. Like the song "Tobacco Road" says, they need to blow it up and start over again. Colon, the Atlantic terminal of the Panama Canal, is now a Duty Free Port with a thriving black market.
According to President Ronald Reagan, he singlehandedly won the Cold War without firing a rifle shot. His Defense budgets were truly astronomical; so much so that the numerous Star Wars projects which he proposed had shocking sticker prices that made it nearly impossible for the Soviets to keep pace with Western technology. Nonetheless, they tried anyway and eventually their economy went bankrupt. One by one the Eastern republics and satellite states succeeded from the USSR, including some with nuclear arms. The end came when the Berlin Wall fell. Tech-savvy Flash Gordon and an enterprising Buck Rogers ultimately triumphed over the backward Volga Boatmen. "Yo Ho, Heave Ho"—and out they go!
Hallelujah! The Soviet Superman had shown himself to be financially vulnerable. Maxim Gorky had predicted it. The average Russian no longer had a paying job. They became Creatures That Once Were Men—phantoms hulking among the ruins of the 75 year old socialist society, desperately trying to stay warm—no longer a real threat to the West. The Soviet Supernova imploded, becoming a massive Black Hole from which nothing could escape. The average lifespan of Russian males dramatically plummeted from 70 to less than 52. Free-flowing vodka compounded the problem.
Of course, we still had to contend with burgeoning Wars of Liberation. But "Duck and Cover" was gone forever—Aidan and Caitlan, my grandchildren, would not live in fear of communist bogeymen.
Marx and Engles proved to be little more than flustered windbags. Their workers' paradise never materialized. In order to be successful, economic philosophies must be firmly rooted in pragmatism. Marx and Engles knew next to nothing about human nature. Stomachs with Legs, we consume as much as we can stuff into our mouths, nevermind obesity; ignore the environmentalists—the American Dream is fast becoming embarrassingly noveau riche. Why not gild the lily? Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple. Now, they are back, big time. I choose to reject materialism because it hampers my creativity. Besides, living in a slow manual wheelchair makes excess impractical. If I must supersize something, let me supersize wisdom. God did it for Solomon. He can do it for me. Blessed Assurance, set my mind free! I don't need 700 concubines to satisfy me.
Fort Amador is a picturesque hybrid of Army and Navy (mostly U.S. Marines) set at the Pacific terminus of the Panama Canal. In World War I, it was feared that Germany would seize the canal. Consequently, boulders and tons of dirt were dumped in shallow waters to create islands and causeways for the large artillery emplacements of the Coastal Artillery (then a part of the U.S. Army, however, it has been absorbed by the Field Artillery). Amador Causeway became a Lover's Lane following World War II. I recall coming across a parked Packard with steamed windows. Since I couldn't see through the windshield, I banged on the roof with my baton, saying, "What is going on in there?" To which a feeble voice replied, "We were just necking." I told him to put his neck back in his pants and drive away.
The guardshack at the front gate is manned by two Military Policeman, one strack United States Army Military Policeman and one pathetic, bedraggled, unkempt Marine in rumpled, wet khakis, looking very much like someone who jumped ship at Rodman Navy Base. He had run two miles from his barracks through a tropical squall to be posted at the front gate—all in all fifteen Marines had accomopanied him, waiting their turn at being posted at various points on the island. Evidently, they had the hots because they ludicrously ran in place instead of sitting down while waiting for the guard to be posted. He had lost his helmet in the hurricane force wind and was being berated by a staff sergeant whose vocabulary included words and phrases which I had not heard before (or since). Of course, I was warm and toasty in my freshly pressed and starched uniform with dark mirror reflective Ray Ban aviator sunglasses and pithy, albeit understated, pith helmet, having been posted via a patrol car five minutes earlier. However, he saluted with gusto. I would have rewarded him with a milk bone, but I did not have one. A wet Marine has that wet puppy smell. Yes, Marines stink. This leatherneck needed a bath. I refuse to believe that the Navy Department could not afford a vehicle for posting the Marine guard. He brightened considerably when I offered to bring him a hot lunch from the messhall. I forgot the plastic tableware. No problem; he slid the tray into his mouth and lapped it up. Pretty soon, it was gone. He still looked hungry. I vowed to bring along a box of Milk Bones the next time I was scheduled to work at that gate. By way of education, one salutes officers, not blue bumper stickers. There are few things worse than a snappy salute wasted on some officer's frumpy frau.
Military families do most of their grocery shopping at base commisaries. According to Army regulations, unmarried soldiers, foreign nationals, and U.S. civilians are denied access. In actuality, many Panamanian officials and senior Guardia Nacional officers were given commisary cards as a goodwill gesture. Nothing ever got to me as bad as one arrogant Panamanian aristocrat who waved his commisary card in my face. I took him into a storage room and gave him a full body cavity strip search, after which I wrote a three page report concerning his suspicious behavior. I resented having to guard commisaries while not being allowed to shop there. Being the closest military base to Panama City, Fort Amador had so many Panamanians sneaking into it, that it took hours to implement alerts. Security was a joke. The long causeway was a favorite landing spot for canoes offloading bales of marijuana from rusting South American cargo vessels. They were difficult to spot on moonless nights. Also, it was hard to report landings because much of the causeway was within a dead spot in which our Motorolas could not send or recieve radio transmissions. Why the Army did not build repeaters and relay transmitters to eliminate the dead spots is beyond me.
Fort Amador is named for Manuel Amador Guerrero, the first president of Panama, who served from 1904 to 1908. It includes the island of Naos, the causeway and a small strip of shoreline. I understand this is where the pirate Henry Morgan hid after raiding old Panama City. It has an ancient musty feel to it; no doubt it takes a Rudyard Kipling to truly appreciate it.
I was patrolling the causeway one evening when I noticed a tan late 1950's model Volkswagen driving erratically, occasionally weaving into opposing traffic and barely avoiding a head-on collision with a five ton Army truck. The driver was dressed in olive drab fatigues and appeared to be drunk and/or stoned, so I switched on my red light and siren. He slowed down, but did not pull over. When he came to the front gate, the Marine MP waved him through, despite my Dodge patrol car right behind the Volkswagen, lit up like a Christmas tree and wailing like a banshee. Code 3—accelerating pedal to the metal with red light and siren—an adrenalin rush beyond compare. Left hand on the steering wheel, right hand releasing my shotgun from its stand. This was one of those moments that made it all seem worthwhile—one exhilerating Code 3 could make me forget about the low pay, rigid military discipline, and cockroach infested messhalls. Even today, 40 years later, my dog and I raise our heads and howl in resonance with passing sirens. Boston Blackie, Jack Webb, and Broderick Crawford did not seem to realize what it was all about, but my black Labrador, Lady, and I do.
So, given all the ruckus, why didn't the Marine MP halt the Volkswagen at the front gate? Since he was a Marine MP and had most likely never driven a patrol car, he had never experienced the thrill of a Code 3. He probably did not care one way or the other. Or maybe the expired saltpeter shit-on-a-shingle he ate for lunch was giving him stomach cramps and threatening to come back up.
Upon exiting Fort Amador, the driver of the Volkswagen made a left turn onto the Pan American Highway, traveling up and over the Bridge of the Americas. In hot pursuit, I caught up to him on the far side of the bridge. I suspect he had already thrown whatever drugs were in his possession out the window, because he finally pulled onto the shoulder and stopped. Parking my patrol car directly behind him, I switched off my siren and considered shooting out his left rear tire to prevent him from fleeing, but thought better of it. I had no sooner approached the driver's window when out of the corner of my vision, I saw my vehicle slowly rolling down the steep incline towards the Volkswagen. My bumper went over his back bumper and dented the hood of his engine compartment before coming to a stop.
This kind of thing is not supposed to happen. But what to do when it does? I took my wallet from my back pocket and forked over a $20 bill. Not exactly kosher, but nothing about this particular incident coincided with reality. Is there any way to shield myself from the unexpected? As the Volkswagen drove away, I noticed the bumper sticker said "Shit Happens!" The thrill of the chase had caused me to make an error in judgment. According to regulations, my jurisdiction did not extend beyond the front gate. As it was, it had cost me three days pay. Some people learn, others, like me, get burned.
Situated at the Pacific terminal of the Panama Canal, Fort Amador is one of the only spots on the Pacific coast of Panama where the view is not spoiled by mud flats. At twilight, flocks of lime green parrots huddle together on palm trees for protection against predators. Along the banks, green iguanas slither into the Panama Canal, their long tails propelling them forward while acting as a rudder. Unlike the Republic of Panama, the Canal Zone (including the military bases) had laws protecting these reptiles. Poaching carried stiff penalties and jail time for repeat offenders.
One afternoon I was slowly driving along an overgrown jungle path that led between a number of World War II era, long abandoned concrete bunkers which had been built in preperation for a last ditch stand against a Japanese assault on the canal that failed to occur. We had caught a few deserters there the previous week and interrogation of them by CID (Criminal Investigation Division) warrant officers had revealed there were at least three more. I was about to give up and return to base when I came across a barefoot Panamanian man in tattered shorts with a burlap bag slung over his shoulder and a hound dog close by his side. He froze for an instant, then he dropped the bag and began running through the jungle. I thought the dog would lead me to the poacher, but he seemed glad to be rid of his former master. Inside the burlap bag there was a 3 foot long female iguana. One of the nails on each foot had been thrust into her soft belly and her tail was shoved backwards between them, rendering her helpless. Next I drove to a phone and called Eulalia, telling her to have Jorge (her second oldest son) meet me on Fourth of July Avenue. Jorge later took the hound and the iguana to our apartment (we had moved from Parque Lefevre to a decent neighborhood in Bella Vista that was relatively free from crime). By the time my patrol ended and I went home to our apartment (I no longer considered the barracks to be home), Eulalia had roasted the iguana. Since it was more than twice the size of a Butterball turkey, I have no idea how she did it. All I know is that the eight of us, plus the dog, dined on it for several days. It tasted like the capons my mother had occasionally cooked for Thanksgiving dinner when I was growing up. The eggs taken from the female's throat sack were a delicacy. Mostly yellow yolk, they almost melted in my mouth. Our usual dinner was white rice with a small strip of beef or pork marinated in salsa (fortified tomato sauce). I had never ate so well, before or since, in my life. Several people have told me that the eggs sell at exclusive restaurants for upwards of twenty dollars apiece. A gourmet, I am not, but I do appreciate good food. I find it ironic that one of the ugliest lizards in the world tastes fantastic. Failing chicken farms in the southern United States would do well to switch to raising iguanas. People would probably shy away from iguana at first, but once they ate it, they would be hooked just like me. Imagine iguana skin cowboy boots, durable suitcases made of iguana hide, and wallets that would never wear out. One of the working girls at La Gruta Azul was nicknamed La Iguana. I'm not sure whether her skin or her cold-blooded nature earned her the moniker—when I drink rum, all women look good to me.
Several months after the incident with the iguana poacher, I was patrolling Curundu, when the dispatcher sent me to an address in Officers' Housing. A lady had complained that she was sitting on the toilet seat in the upstairs bathroom, when an iguana climbed vertically twenty feet up the inside of a four inch diameter cast iron disposal pipe and bit her butt. That must have been some stunt, considering that iguanas are plant eating herbivores who disdain meat. Because she was a bourgeoise Barbie, I got the Polaroid out of the trunk of my patrol car and proceeded to take photos of her injured ass. The bite marks looked suspicious—like they were made by a human being, possibly by a lover who loved to nibble. The Desk Sergeant inserted them in her file and a Criminal Investigation Division warrant officer further investigated it. Part of my job as a Military Policeman was to satisfy Barbies. I was sincere in my desire to do my duty to God and Country. Barbies are human with human flaws and human needs. Never fret—you can count on me. I aim to please!
Curundu Housing Area, Fort Clayton, Dry Season 1969
Corruption; Thy Name Is Sergeant First Class Thrush
SFC Thrush grew up in the mean, unforgiving streets of Hell's Kitchen, New York, with a modicum of book knowledge and an abundance of street savvy. When the neighborhood boys fought to establish who would be in charge, Thrush always wound up on top of the heap. He honestly enjoyed fighting. No knives or guns, but he was free to gouge, kick, and punch as much as he pleased. Barrel-chested and muscular, his bare knucle prowess soon made him the alpha male in Hell's Kitchen. He was a male role model. A contemporary of Joe Lewis, he never got the opportunity to fight professionally. After seeing him in action, I honestly believe he could have knocked out Mohammed Ali. There was simply no stopping this man.
Thrush's draft lottery number was drawn near the end of World War II. The Army seemed to fit like a glove.
Three square meals a day, a warm place to stay no matter how broke or how drunk he had become; no rent, no bills to pay, and best of all fighting enemies was encouraged. It fit like a glove and now the gloves were coming off. Hit them hard and make them bleed.
And every week or so, he had a whore shit on his chest and rub it in with her buttocks. When he could afford it, he had two or three take turns at it. Yes, Thrush was one sick puppy. But it really did not matter, because nobody believed him when he bragged about it. He talked about it so much that I figured he was making it up. Too bad there wasn't any YouTube or videos back then on which he could document his exploits.
During the Korean War, Thrush came into his own. He started out small, selling cans of Sterno on Seoul's blackmarket. He quickly graduated to bigger things. Need an air conditioner or a mobile kitchen? Almost anything could be bought and sold—it was only a question of money. He negotiated deals with a number of supply sergeants. Thrush was immersed in his natural element. Thrush loved the Korean War. It was proving extremely profitable for him.
The Korean War was not happening at random. Each and every part was carefully scripted, choreographed, and orchestrated by hierarchal layers of military leaders in both Pyongyang and Washington, D.C. Authoritative, patriotic, powerful men like SFC Thrush, each seeking to obtain maximum bang from their allotted bucks. Thrush was not that much different, he was simply more perceptive, recognizing how to personally profit while aptly fulfilling his military obligations.
Perhaps Thrush heard of or maybe even participated in one or more of the Million Dollar Point projects that disposed of surplus ordnance following the Second World War. Tons of working jeeps were loaded on barges and dumped in the ocean rather than incurring the cost of transporting them back to the United States. On the inside back cover of post World War II comic books were advertisements offering brand new jeeps packed in cosmolene for fifty dollars each. After the United States, China, North Korea, South Korea, and the United Nations agreed upon a ceasefire, Thrush was ordered to load thousands of jeeps on barges and dump them in the ocean. Subsequently he devised a scheme to divert them to a South Korean businessman who built oversized wooden jitney bus bodies that he mounted on jeep chassis. Please do not judge him too harshly, recall that Air Force General Bombs Away Curtis LeMay and Emperor of Japan and Korea Douglas A. MacAthur together with the Pentagon advocated dropping a string of nuclear bombs along the 51st Parallel in order to keep the North Koreans and their Chinese allies at bay. Thrush was not a megalomaniac, he had no desire to kill the Korean War Goose that laid golden eggs for Thrush and everybody else in the military/industrial complex.
Nobody bothered to file the serial numbers from the engine blocks. Seven months later, the jeeps turned up in North Korea, driven by North Korean soldiers. They were subsequently traced to Thrush, who was in turn courtmartialed, convicted of theft of government property and sentenced to several decades of hard labor at Leavenworth, Kansas, during which time he stacked bricks and broke large rocks into gravel.
At Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks, he quickly acquired a reputation for being street smart—the toughest of the tough. Thus, when Colonel Gerecke received a transfer to Germany near the end of the Cold War, he secured a release for PVT Thrush and assigned him to be a bodyguard for his wife and children. Thrush eventually regained his stripes and accompanied Gerecke to Panama in the Southern Command.
Thrush was a schemer, a wheeler-dealer without equal. Give him an inch and he promptly stretched it into a mile.
In late 1969, the Army Corps of Engineers began demolishing the aging Curundu Housing Project which dated from when the canal was built. After hauling off everything of value, the walls came down. However, nobody had bothered to remove the outdated black rotary phones. That night when our platoon was on duty with guards posted at both Clayton and Curundu Gates, Thrush took a 5-ton cattle truck from the motorpool and drove it to Curundu Housing Project where he loaded it with rotary phones. Rendezvousing with a Panamanian businessman on Fourth of July Avenue, Thrush negotiated a good price for the phones, delivered the goods to a warehouse in Chorillo—returning the 5-ton cattletruck to the motorpool just before dawn when our platoon's shift was ending. As the green parrots disbanded from their nightly perches, soaring aloft to eat the morning mosquitos, my platoon chowed down on the S.O.S. (shit-on-a shingle—fetid hamburger in gravy on toast) they served us at the mess hall, grateful for not having been caught heisting phones. Several days later Thrush treated us to an all expense paid weekend at a bordello in Rio Hato. Having no desire to risk courtmartial, I had refused to take part in the plot. Being the only member of my platoon who did not come down with the crabs (scabies), I thank God for not having to shave my pubic hair. No blue ointment for me. The only crabs I am interested in come from the sea.
Two months later, Sergeant First Class Robert Thrush retired to a finca (ranch) on the TransAmerican Highway in Darien Province, Republica de Panama. Subsequently, he married a former United Nations interpreter by whom he had two children. Corrupt to the core, I am told he bribed Presidente Manuel Noriega for the contract to outfit, arm, and train the Dignity Battallions in Chorillo, Noriega's birthplace. Evidently, Thrush did a bangup job of it because the Dingbats raised more hell than the Guardia Nacional when we invaded and arrested Noriega for trafficing cocaine. As far as I know, Thrush is still enjoying the life of a gentleman rancher and has expanded his finca. More power to him!
Please bear with me while I relate one more Thrush story. A batallion of Marines graduated from the Jungle Survival School at Fort Gulick and were awaiting sea transport to Vietnam at Rodman Naval Base. They were getting antsy, so we provided them with cheap 40 proof rum, and staged a beach party at Kobbe Beach, complete with BBQ pork and numerous whores. We got the Monkey, a local porno starlet, to pull a trainful of Marines (one-at-a-time, of course). Everyone was guaranteed a good time.
Spec4 Mahieu and Spec4 Allison were assigned to patrol the perimeter and keep the party from spreading. When a number of Marines overpowered a Naval Shore Patrol and commandeered their jeep to make a drug run, Mahieu fired a warning shot and pistol whipped the driver. The Marines grabbed Mahieu's .45 Colt semi-automatic, prompting Allison to request a backup force. In less than 10 minutes the barracks emptied and assembled at the motorpool. After conducting a guardmount in which the MPs surrendered their lethal weapons to the armorer, 4 pickup loads of Military Policemen went Code 3 (red light and siren) to Kobbe Beach. With a pinewood baton in each hand, Thrush ordered us to stay in the pickup trucks while he waded into the fray. Disobeying his orders (definitely not unprecedented), I went to the rear of the mob and stared in dismay as Thrush acted like Moses and parted the sea of Marines. Both batons broken, Thrush proceeded to stab people in the gut and the neck with the splintered hilts. Using plastic tie wraps, he bound their wrists and ordered us to throw them in the beds of the pickups. I found Mahieu's .45 in a galvanized trashcan underneath a newspaper. It took several weeks for the Marines to heal, delaying reinforcements for the War in Vietnam. Nevertheless Colonel Gerecke was elated and hung the bloody crossed stubs of the pinewood batons on the back wall of the Provost Mashal's office. In those days, we reveled in blood and gore, largely because we did not know any better.
Colonel Gerecke was convinced that the Army needed more men like Thrush. No way, Jose. He caused more problems than he was worth. Modern geurilla warfare involves winning the hearts and minds of the locals. Will Rogers once said "he never met a man he didn't like." Of course, he never met Thrush. Corruption needs to be wiped out wherever and whenever it raises its ugly head. Full of avarice and vice, the Ugly American is becoming a thing of the past.
Sink or Swim, Cultural Immersion 1968–1970
I do not believe in doing things half-assed. When I decide to do something, I go all the way. Moving into Parque LeFevre was fortuitous. It had been designed as enlisted family housing for the Panteras (Light Mechanized Infantry) unit, Guardia Nacional. My rent, including utilities, was $12.50 per month. I lived on the second floor and shared a toilet and a cold water shower with the apartment next door. In order to access the toilet and the shower, it was necessary to step out onto the shared balcony. I actually enjoyed it. Kinky? More like an R rated sit com. Half the time, the toilet paper was wet, the other half of the time, the toilet paper was missing. One learns to make do.
Wet toilet paper is not half as bad as putting the laundry on the clothesline with no clue whatsoever whether the sun will come out or a monsoon will ensue. Wet clothes in the tropics harbor fungi and insects. Two hours of scrubbing clothes with a washboard in the kitchen sink, but the drizzle drags on. The secret is to quit caring—Don't worry; be happy! Do your best—screw the rest.
Our apartment had excellent ventilation. A space was left between the gypsum walls and the roof, as if the roof had been built on stilts. This allowed the air, the spiders, and the cockroaches to circulate at will. When I switched on an incandescent light at night, close to a hundred cockroaches launched themselves from the ceiling into the air, gliding to the floor on gossamer wings. How romantic! Poets choke while trying to evoke the enduring bond between man and roach. In the book, Papillion, the prisoners in solitary confinement on Devil's Island thrive on a high protein diet of watery greul supplemented with cockroaches. As one instructor in Jungle Survival School at Fort Gulick pragmatically pontificates, "Either you eat the cockroaches or the cockroaches eat you."
Most apartments in Panama, like those of Germany, have no closets. For a while, I used nails on which to hang my clothes. However, this sometimes resulted in rust stains which were difficult to remove. Eulalia had grown up in Chiriqui province where her father still lived. After learning he hand-built wooden cabinets, I wrote to him (he had no phone), offering him $200 to build us a large armoire. A week later, he rode a chiva bus to Panama City and stayed with us for 10 days while he fashioned the armoire from some hardwood rough-cut planks. Despite not having any electric tools, he worked with precision from plans he kept in his head. No nails or screws were used. The boards were cut with a hand saw, all joints were dovetailed using a hot glue he made on our small gas stove. Everything was sanded by hand and then brushed with three coats of shellac. It was every bit as good as American-built Shaker furniture. This was true craftsmanship such as was rarely seen in the modern age. I was so impressed that I gave him a $50 bonus, which he refused to take. I insisted and he reluctantly pocketed it. After he went back to his small farm in Chiriqui, I discovered the $50 laying on top of the armoire.
Most multi-story buildings in Panama City were not equipped with elevators. Consequently, people stayed in shape going up and down stairways. Also, washing machines were a luxury few working families could afford. The first time I used a washboard to do laundry, I discovered muscles I was not aware were there. Fortunately, I never had to beat laundry against a rock in the middle of a fast-flowing freshwater stream.
Futbol (soccer) is Panama's national sport. Children play it on vacant lots without referees. Those too poor to buy a ball, make do with whatever is available. Packaging material wrapped in tape is a common substitute. Futbol stars and top-rated boxers are adored. Me, I swim. Nobody cares about swimming. I could get eaten by a great white shark and it would probably not make the newspapers.
North Americans, especially dependents, tended to regard the jungle as an inconvienence. Not a day went by without the Desk Sergeant taking a report on how Nature had encroached on a quarters area. Patrols were dispatched to remove poisonous green tree snakes from washer hoses, hairy gargantuan tarantulas from bedrooms, and vermin-ridden three-toed sloths from carports. It was a losing battle. These creatures had inhabited the jungle thousands of years before there was a United States or Panama. They were simply taking back land that was rightfully theirs. As far as I am concerned, they are welcome to it. Anyone who thinks an assemblage of boards, nails, and paint can keep the jungle at bay, does not understand the tropics. Many vines and creepers grow more than a foot a day. The jungle was here long before we were, and it will still be here long after we are gone.
In most of the developing world, civilization is little more than a thin veneer attempting to soften harsh realities. In places it has rubbed bare, exposing the anger and violence which lies beneath. For the most part, the British philosopher, Hobbes, had it right, we experience "continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." I can no longer live in denial. Massive quantities of booze will no longer drown out the vision of malnourished, half-clothed children thrusting their little hands between the links of the 12 foot, barb wire topped, chain link fence, crying, Da me. (Give me). There is more than enough to go around. The problem is with a system of distribution which inherently divides us into haves and have-nots.
Racism is also a problem. Thousands of English speaking black Jamaicans were recruited at the end of the 19th century to build the Panama Canal. Today, their descendents largely live apart from the Spanish speaking majority. Integration is proceeding far too slow.
In the late 1960s, private automobiles were mostly for the rich. To get to Panama, I paid a five cent fare to ride a yellow Canal Zone bus approximately ten miles to the Canal Zone bus terminal in Balboa. Crossing Fourth of July Avenue, I boarded a chiva bus and paid five cents for a six mile ride to Parque Lefevre. Since there were no bus stops in Panama, I shouted, "Parada" and the bus pulled over to let me off. Although rather bumpy, I must admit I enjoyed it. Colorful strings of tassles and framed images of saints hung from the cieling. Brightly painted exteriors resembled Christmas ornaments. Occasionally a duck would elude its owner's grasp, half waddling and half flapping down the center aisle. Sometimes the rear seats and the roof rack were stacked high with bunches of bananos (medium-sized yellow and small red bananas) and platanos (large green cooking bananas).
When a breakdown occurs, the passengers mill about while the driver tries to get the bus to start. They offer suggestions such as one elderly lady who recommended praying to St. Michael, the patron saint of travelers and animals. The driver finished filing a corroded spark plug terminal, mumbled a prayer, and the bus started on the first try. Was it due to an intervention by St. Michael? I am by no means an expert in such matters. What I do know is that God helps those who help themselves. In other words, it isn't enough to pray for something. God gave you two hands and a brain. He expects you to use them to the best of your ability.
Young enlisted men usually could not afford to buy a car in Panama. However, four guys from my platoon went together and bought a twenty year old sedan. Since they did not have enough money to buy insurance, they had to park it off post. Less than two weeks later they got drunk and drove the car through a heavy chain that ran between two pillars in front of Panama's Presidential Palace in downtown Panama City. Fortunately, Omar Torrijos was away on a visit to several of the republic's provinces or they might have been shot by the Presidential Guard. Colonel Gereke kept it from becoming a diplomatic incident by having my platoon repair the damage on our time off before El Presidente returned from his junket. The four partners were forced to sell the car, but they were lucky in that they weren't court-martialed. Buses were a bargain at a nickel fare. Cars were a luxury meant for officers who wanted to avoid fraternizing with enlisted men. Personally, I liked riding buses.
Standard Operating Proceedure (S.O.P.)
The 534th Military Police Company was operating at half strength in early 1970. This meant that each Military Policeman was expected to do the work of two men. To take up the slack we went on 12 hour shifts, seven days a week which made for being on-duty a minimum of 84 hours per week. But we rarely complained because we realized that our soldiers in Vietnam had it much worse than we did.
What I dreaded most was recieving a radio call to proceed to a domestic dispute, especially when I was not assigned a patrol partner and there was not a unit near enough to back me up if I needed it. I remember one afternoon when the desk sergeant received two or three phone calls from some neighbors who reported a sergeant in their apartment complex was physically fighting with his wife and they were concerned for her safety. Being the nearest patrol car, I was ordered to investigate. When I arrived, they were still going at it, fighting tooth and nail on the lawn that bordered the apartment complex. She appeared to be winning—there were relatively minor lacerations to his scalp, but he was bleeding as if an artery had been cut. I asked one the women watching the fight if the couple had children and she answered that a friend had taken them to her apartment where they were listening to a ghetto blaster (the cutting edge of late sixties boombox technology) that covered up the sounds of the fight. With the children out of the way, I decided to break up the fight. By this time his olive drab green Army-issue T-shirt had turned dark crimson from dirt mixed with blood. I decided to intervene, which turned out to be the wrong thing to do. The moment I stepped between them, she jumped on my back, knocking off my pith helmet and raking my face and neck with her long fingernails. Meanwhile he punched me in the stomach and I went down. I had no way of knowing that, due to prior similar incidents that had resulted in a court martial which found him guilty and subsequently sentenced him to a loss of rank and forfeiture of two months pay. Evidently, they hated the Military Police more than they disliked each other. The duty officer drove by and he ordered the crowd watching the fight to disperse. The Canal Zone police were summoned because the Military Police cannot apprehend dependents and civilians. The CZP handcuffed the wife and took her to Balboa where she was booked for disturbing the peace. I drove the husband to Gorgas Hospital and after learning his injuries were minor, I phoned his First Sergeant who agreed to handle it himself, which kept me from having to write a lengthy report. Under the circumstances (I had been knocked out cold—not a flattering image of me or the Military Police Corps), the incident was reduced to a desk blotter entry with few details. Actually, it turned out better for everybody—both the Military Police Corps and I were saved from embarrassment, while the husband did not suffer any loss of pay or reduction in rank. In other words, it had a happy ending. The only thing that suffered was my inflated ego. No matter how you slice it, humble pie has an extremely bitter aftertaste.
A guardmount inspection of vehicles, uniforms, equipment, and weapons was conducted by the duty officer (usually a second lieutenant) at the motorpool before our platoon went on duty. Because it rained almost every day, the uniform and weapons inspections took place under a corrugated metal awning. Since we had a houseboy (part and parcel of the white colonial tradition) who shined our boots, ironed, and cleaned the barracks, we almost always looked neat and clean. Standing in formation at attention we unsnapped our patent leather holsters, removed the magazine from our .45 Colts (model A-1, 1911), raised our handguns toward the sky in unison upon the duty officer's command, thumbed off safeties, pulled back the slide, and presented arms. Taking each weapon in turn, the duty officer checked for rust, dirt and/or damage but frequently forgot to check to see if a round had been chambered. Having then released our slides, we sometimes unintentionally shot holes in the corrugated awning. It leaked like a sieve. One wiseacre 90 day wonder quipped, "you guys put the bullet holes in the roof; you deserve to get wet."
Our khaki uniforms were tailored to fit skin tight. We have to look good on duty because it is our responsibility to enforce all uniform regulations. For example, when a grunt enters Fort Clayton gate, he must tuck in his shirt and button it. If he appears intoxicated and becomes belligerant, we phone his First Sergeant and tell him to come to the front gate, where the First Sergeant takes custody of the miscreant. It was standard practice to handcuff the soldier to the perimeter chain link fence until a non-commissioned officer from the soldier's unit signed for him. One night a handcuffed drunk dropped his trousers, mooning the duty officer. I promptly jabbed him several times in the gut with my baton whereupon his behavior grew worse. Stepping behind him, I used both hands to choke him with my baton until he lost consciousness. Choking an unarmed, handcuffed man may seem severe, but nothing else worked. I had not smelled alcohol on his breath, which made me suspect he was under the influence of PCP (an animal tranquillizer that results in violent behavior in humans). Regaining consciousness several minutes later, his disruptive behavior increased, causing me to kick him in his gonads repeatedly. He finally got the message and shut up. I believe in pragmatism—in the real world one has to do whatever works. If that makes me appear mean, then so be it. Christianity instructs us not to take pleasure in the misery of others. I'm only human; I do the best I can.
Town Patrol was the unit that patrolled the bars (J and K Streets) and the bawdy houses (Rio Abajo). Since we were operating in a foreign country (Republica de Panama), our authority was limited to U.S. military personnel. We were there to keep them from drunken brawling and/or stiffing (not paying) the working girls for sexual services. Town Patrol was composed of one Military Policeman, one SP (Navy Shore Patrolman from Rodman Naval Base or one Security Policeman from a Canal Zone Air Force Base, and one Guardia Nacional armed with an ancient rusted Smith & Wesson .38 calibre snubnose revolver. The Guardia Nacional tended to be semi-illiterate campesinos who frequently became wild-eyed pistol wavers when provoked. The 534th Military Police Company provided the patrol cars. We were essentially a glorified taxi service for GI's who experienced trouble holding their liquor. When things got out of hand we posted the establishment off-limits to military personnel.
Transistor AM/FM radios were not permitted while on duty. When we were caught with one, it usually meant an Article 15 (non-judicial punishment administered at the discretion of the company commander)—reduction in rank by one pay grade and/or forfeiture of one month's pay. Since it was better to get caught with a radio than to risk a court-martial for sleeping on duty, almost everyone had a small 6-transistor radio. I had a black Hitachi which I wedged in between the windshield and the dashboard when I was assigned a vehicle or hid in the guard shack when working a gate.
The Provost Marshal of the West Bank of the Canal Zone, Colonel Gereke, personally monitored Military Police radio transmissions, insisting that we follow proper radio procedure. For the most part, we did as ordered. But after midnight, radio traffic got slow and inevitably some homesick draftee would key the microphone of their Motorola to transmit Stairway to Heaven, Crimson and Clover, or some similar rock and roll ballad that Armed Forces Radio was broadcasting to the Southern Command. Colonel Gereke made an effort to put a stop to this horseplay by threatening to institute a general court-martial procedure for anyone caught in possession of a private radio while on duty. He went so far as to order the duty officer to check all guard shacks and motor patrols a minimum of twice nightly. It was rumored that he had requested the Signal Corps to triangulate unauthorized transmissions so as to identify the culprit. Although the transmissions became shorter, they defiantly came more often, affecting daytime as well as nightime radio traffic.
One night I was assigned to work Curundu Gate on the graveyard shift. Before going on duty, I ate a big plate of muscles cooked in salsa (spicy hot tomato sauce) at a shabby restaurant near the mud flats for 75 cents. Three hours later, diarrhea struck me shortly after being posted at Curundu Gate. Curundu Gate is the back entrance to Fort Clayton located on the border abutting Hollywood, the poorest slum in Rio Abajo.
Gabachos like myself don't belong in the tropics. We no sooner eat the local food or drink the water, then we are struck down by diarrhea. It is what we get for going places we don't belong. Cortez, Pizzaro, and Balboa periodically suffered from diarrhea, along with their men. Diarrhea was given to Europeans by the native gods, when the conquistadores double-crossed the Indians. And it is the gift that keeps on giving. If your buddy has it, you will probably get it, too.
We were in the midst of the wet season and it had been raining steadily all month. Only one or two cars an hour entered or exited the gate. I keyed the microphone of the large Army Motorola radio sender/reciever and requested to have the duty officer's driver take over the gate so I could relieve myself in the jungle. Thirty minutes went by and the duty officer had not shown up. I had severe cramps and desperately needed to take a shit. Finally, I placed my 7 pound Colt .45 on top of the Motorola along with my black ironwood lead-centered baton, dropped my trousers, squatted over a small metal trashcan, and emptied my intestines. For over 20 minutes I stayed in that position, nearly filling the trash can. After the nausea had passed, I wiped my butt with sheets from the Business Section of The Star, the English-version Canal Zone newspaper, and resumed my post as if nothing unusual had happened.
I hurriedly pulled up my pants, refastened my webgear, donned my helmet liner, and placed my baton and my Colt .45 in their respective holsters. When I looked up, the rain was coming down in sheets. During a bright burst of lightning, I saw the duty officer's vehicle approaching my gate. I thought of dumping the trashcan, but I doubted I had time to do it. Instead, I sprayed the interior of the guardshack with Army issue bug spray to cover up the smell and set the rest of the newspaper on top of the trashcan, so it functioned as an improvised lid.
The newly minted Second Lieutenant duty officer was livid with rage and accused me of listening to an unauthorized private AM radio while on duty. Actually, I had forgot to bring it with me. But the duty officer claimed he had been monitoring my transmissions and was certain I was abusing my orders and needed to be disciplined. As evidence he cited that the signal had grown stronger as he approached Curundu Gate. He ransacked my gateshack, throwing my rain gear on the floor, but couldn't find an AM radio because there wasn't one. But he was obsessed with the notion that I had been monkeying around on the Military Police radio channel. As lightning flashed, he continued to search the tiny 2 foot by 3 foot gate shack. Finally, he noticed the newspaper lying across the top of the trash can. He must have been feeling like Marshal did as he searched the sand in the mill run at Sutter's Mill in 1848 for specks of gold. He quickly lifted the newspaper with his left hand while he thrust his right hand to the bottom of the trashcan and swished it around, desperately groping for the illusory transistor radio. But he was no John Marshal and Curundu Gate in no way resembled Sutter's Mill. As he withdrew his right hand, liquid shit dripped from his fingers and he screamed like a little girl. The duty officer's driver and I burst out laughing. His right hand was covered in shit up to his elbow. It really wasn't as bad as it seemed, because it quickly washed off in the rainwater. Nonetheless, he threatened his driver and I with Article 15s for laughing at an officer. Since there is no such regulation in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, nothing ever came of it. He was most likely too embarrassed to bring us up on charges. As I think about it forty years later, I'm still laughing. The life of a draftee Military Policeman in the late 1960's held few pleasures. I guess that is why I value this unplanned, furtive attempt at one-upmanship so much.
Although it is funny now, it certainly was not then. Even a green second lieutenant has the clout to make life rough for an ordinary soldier. I was pleasantly surprised that it did not happen, which makes me think that God, too, has a sense of humor.
The hottest item on the Panama City blackmarket in 1970 was U.S. Army bug spray in the olive drab aerosol can. Potent beyond belief, it was for insects the equivalent of Agent Orange. One miniscule spray would thoroughly defoliate a garden window full of house plants.
There were 24 cans to the case. One case on the blackmarket sold for enough to purchase a night of exquisite carnal pleasure at the Gruta Azul in Rio Abajo. Of course, I did my best to avoid such temptations. Sometimes, however, my best was not good enough. After all, I am only human. May God forgive me my trespasses.
Corozal was a civilian Department of the Army maintenance and repair facility located in the Canal Zone fifteen minutes from Panama City. Consisting mainly of warehouses and machine shops, it resembled a stateside industrial park. Although it had no gate, the vehicle traffic in the morning was horrific, army and civilian trucks honking their horns while experiencing gridlock. Near the front entrance four roads came together, creating an enormous bottleneck. I was standing in the middle of the intersection on a weekday wearing white gloves and directing traffic when a 5-ton military vehicle collided with a young man driving a motor scooter. He was not wearing a helmet despite it being mandatory. He hit the asphalt head first, cracking open his skull. There was not much I could do for him, other than to fold my poncho and place it under his head to make him more comfortable while I directed traffic around him. The driver of the 5-ton truck was anxious to leave. I used my baton to bust his windshield when he tried to run over me. I also unholstered my pistol, pulling the slide back to chamber a round and thumbing off the safties. But I did not shoot because there were two passengers in the vehicle. The ambulance arrived too late to save the cyclist. Several days later, I tried to get the supply sergeant to take my blood-stained poncho and exchange it for a new one. He refused my request, saying no Panamanian is worth spoiling a poncho. I wiped some human gore on his countertop and told him to lick it clean. I also called him a wimp, saying he had no idea of what it was like to watch a kid's brain ooze out of his head, sliming my white gloves and destroying my rain gear. Forty years later, the blood and gore stains still remain, both on my rubberized Army-issue poncho and in my head. My soul grieves.
On Saturday mornings, I went to the rifle range to shoot my Colt .45. At the beginning I barely qualified for a bolo badge, but by the time I left, I shot expert with either hand. The .45 is more difficult to shoot than any other pistol. Weighing more than seven pounds, its large caliber bullets pack a terrific whollop.
Because I only weighed 135 pounds, I had problems shooting my six round 12 gauge pump action riot shotgun. It nearly knocked me over backwards when I fired it. The barrel climbed higher with each succeeding shot. Besides it took me ten minutes to unlock it from the dashboard.
To better supply individual Military Police needs, a large percentage of shotgun shells were hand-loaded by the Master Sergeant Armorer.BLANKS—paper wadding; sometimes smeared with a combustible gel to set jungle fires during the dry season.
ROCKSALT—crystals of salt that cause intense pain when they penetrate a demonstrator's skin.
BIRDSHOT—small BB's of copper or lead.
BUCKSHOT—large BBs and pellets of copper or lead.
SLUGS—solid metallic projectiles that can penetrate radiators and engine blocks (aim low to roll a vehicle).
Frequently, hand-loaded shotgun shells are given a larger number of grains of powder to increase lethality. Double-loaded shotgun shells are standard in overseas Military Police units. Far too often, effectivness is reduced by unclear or incorrect labeling.
My favorite weapon was the M-60 grenade launcher. The grenades resembled ping-pong balls packed with explosives. It launched upwards with a 45 degree trajectory—perfect for clearing the first canopy at the edge of the jungle. Insurgents do not like grenade launchers. Due to a trajectory that closely resembles that of a mortar shell, the shooter does not need to aim line-of-sight. Hear a rustle at the edge of the jungle? Lob half a dozen ping-pong ball grenades in that general direction. Maybe you net yourself some insurgents. More likely you will kill an entire family of iguanas. It is just like roadkill, you eat well for a week. If you have never gone fishing using percussion grenades, you should be ashamed to call yourself a fisherman. This beats Ronco's Pocket Fisherman all to hell.
Back in the day, there was no such thing as GPS, we had to make do with a magnetic compass, a steaming cup of coffee, and a contour map. The rain is pelting my face while I try to take a bead on where our platoon is headed. According to regulations, the lieutenant is supposed to be doing the navigating. However in the four years of Reserve Officer Training (ROTC) he took at Southeastern Mississippi Agricultural State College, the instructor did not bother to cover the compass, in fact he was not very good at anything other than drinking beer. Consequently, we have been walking in circles for more than two hours. The lieutenant says moss always grows on the north side of trees. I do not see any moss, there are only giant masses of fungus dripping from the trunks and branches. We were supposed to reach Rodman Naval Base by lunch. God help us! We don't want to end up as a thirty foot anaconda's lunch.
Not all draftees entered into the Army as privates. Doctors who were drafted became officers. Specialists, such as surgeons, were commissioned as Majors. However, they lacked command experience. But their quarters were sumptuous. Upstairs and downstairs maids were not uncommon. One surgeon lined the hardwood floors with old newspapers, converting his quarters into a dog kennel. This did not bode well with the Provost Marshal, Colonel Gereke, who ordered the 534th Military Police Company to keep close tabs on this particular Major's activities. Bimonthly his quarters were inspected to insure compliance with health regulations. A relatively minor infraction four months later gave the Army an excuse to evict him from his quarters. I never once saw him walk the dogs. I doubt they were housebroken.
In Panama City there was a Guardia Nacional on every street corner—some locations have entire squads of them—others are sandbagged machichinegun emplacements. The military presence was thicker than green bottleflies on a Texas turd in midsummer. Life was incredibly cheap. I once saw a twelve year old shot for stealing a loaf of bread. It was a scene that could have come from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, with one important difference—Les Miserables was fiction while this was a real child with a real gunshot wound, gushing real blood. It seems the only human rights in a third rate banana republic military dictatorship eminate from the barrel of a gun. I will never forget the face of the Guardia Nacional that shot the starving child—pockmarked and angry—the face of an oppressor.
Hordes of small children with homemade plywood shoeshine kits infest the westernmost (Balboa) terminal of the Canal Zone where they beg for spare change in the daylight hours and huddle together sniffing glue vapors from a paper bag at night. The shoeshine kits are a ruse that prevents the Canal Zone Police from charging them with loitering. Most of these children have no families and do not go to school. Having been put up for adoption shortly after birth, my heart went out to them. But there was little I could do about it. To paraphrase a line from the Communist Manifesto: From each according to his abilities; to each according to how much they can grab. Military oligarchies are a waste. We should be ashamed to supply the ordnance that permits them to oppress their own people.
Usually situated in areas devoid of mud flats, resorts and beaches abound. In the Canal Zone, Kobbe Beach is composed of fine grains of white sand devoid of broken glass, cigarette butts, and plastic litter. In the daytime there are lifeguards, but the absence of a shark net, keeps many people from taking a dip in the ocean. Tobago Island off of Panama's west coast was famous for its pristine waters. Likewise the San Blas Islands, near Colon, are a vacation paradise. Not being within a designated combat zone, we did not get Rest and Recreation (R & R). Other than Kobbe Beach, I saw little of Panama's good side. I can testify, however, to their excellent beer, having downed far more than my share of cerveza Balboa, Hecho B Negra—a meal in a brown bottle—and a raspy local version of malt liquor, guaranteed to put a man under the table. After all, a good soldier guzzles whatever is available. There was no danger of me becoming an alcoholic since I spent at least 12 hours per day on duty, seven days a week (including Christmas). Work is definitely the curse of the drinking class.
In late 1969, many soldiers were protesting the war by wearing a black armband when in uniform. The Army overreacted, charging some with treason and/or aiding the enemy. In some cases the death penalty was sought, while in others bad conduct and dishonorable discharges were meted out. It blew over in two weeks, but what I remember most about it was the crusading overtones. Although mutiny was out of the question, we searched quarters and confiscated private arms. I participated in two dawn raids, neither of which netted anything of consequence. Children screamed, dogs barked, and babies cried. We broke down the front door of an apartment when a dependent refused to answer the door. Of course, it was for effect because we had the key, but the Staff Sergeant in charge did not choose to use it. It was like a scene from a black and white World War II Gestapo flick. Caught up in the spirit of the moment, I flung a screaming woman against a wall. Bad ass me and I sometimes lose control. I'm not proud of it, but I cannot deny that I did it.
Most land south of the equator is part of the Army's Southern Command. It is perhaps better known as the Lost Command, because it was often seen as a drain on resources by military planners during the Cold War. Its nerve center was located in Quarry Heights, which along with its brainchild, the School of the Americas, was responsible for recruiting, training and maintaining the Death Squads of Central and South American military dictatorships. Those with the conviction and courage to protest dictatorship frequently were tortured and murdered, often snatched from their beds in the middle of the night. Human rights and democracy were merely watchwords, the reality was quite different. This resulted in the rise of insurrection movements, some of which conducted attacks on the Canal Zone. My policy was to shoot first and ask questions later. Kill them all and let God sort them out. Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara claimed attrition was the solution and I swallowed his flawed philosophy hook, line, and sinker. Yes, I listened to the leader. God forgive me. I know I do not deserve it, but I beg you to have mercy. I did not do it to be evil.
Since we were a Military Police Company, with people constantly going on and coming off duty, our messhall served breakfast 24 hours a day, but it was far from the food mother made. The eggs were dehydrated, the French toast was soggy, the maple syrup was watery—it looked and tasted like dirty tranmission fluid—I doubt it ever came within six hundred miles of a real maple tree. In fact, I bet it was made in a New Jersey chemical plant, probably Dow or Monsanto. On weekdays they concocted Agent Orange and on Saturdays they manufactured imitation maple syrup using the same equipment without bothering to clean it. However, I preferred it to S.O.S., which I am told boars refuse to eat. Whenever possible, I ate at an Air Force messhall. The food was similar, but it was prepared better. The Air Force had civilian chefs, while the Army made use of conscripts. I do not imagine many gourmet restaurants employ people who get their kicks jerking off in the stock pots. It probably would not kill me, but the thought of it makes me gag.
Military Policemen were not allowed to wear jungle boots in the Canal Zone. In that climate, leather boots turned into mush and fell apart at the seams within six months, nevertheless, we stood inspection daily and our boots had to be spitshined. Shining wet boots is an art. First, the surface of the boot is dryed by passing the flame from a lighter over it. Second, a can of Kiwi is set afire until the wax becomes liquid, at which point it is poured evenly over the entire boot. It takes a while to learn, but when I did it right, the duty officer could see his face reflected in the deeply shined toes. Spit and polish may seem ridiculous in the tropics, but I gather it was meant to impress the natives that we were better than them. Of course, sometimes it failed to make the desired psychological impression and we had to kick it into them. Since there were few restraints on my behavior, I sometimes went a bit too far. Give a 19 year old unlimited authority over the natives and, at least in my case, it went to my head. I believe political pundits refer to people like me as ugly Americans.
Of course, I did not consciously conspire to further American colonialism. Like other enlisted men, I was simply following orders. However, according to the standards set by the Nuremberg Trials, this neither absolved me from acting responsibly nor did it justify the brutal acts I committed. In my way of thinking, I did what was necessary. If society needs a scapegoat, let them castigate the old men who send young men like me to war. Better yet, let's give women true equality by requiring them to register with the Selective Service when they turn eighteen. Body bags are unisex. Why not permit women to have equal rights in providing human fodder for the American war machine? I am of the opinion that if women were drafted, the American people would not be as quick to support unnecessary wars.
During my second year in Panama, the 534th received a shipment of lightweight Motorola portable walky-talkies which were supposed to have a range of 45 miles and would allow a patrol to communicate with the dispatcher from anywhere in the western Canal Zone. But even with brand new batteries, they barely managed to transmit two or three miles. The bulky batteries did not fare well in the tropical heat and high humidity, they had to be changed weekly. I suspect they had been rejected in Vietnam, and were sent to us because they could not figure out anything better to do with them. The way it works is that Department of the Army staffers at the Pentagon sent ordnance that failed to meet specifications to the Lost Command as a way to get them off of their accounts. This dumping procedure happened all too often, but it came to an abrupt end when Fiano was on patrol and had his testicles blown off by a shotgun wielded by a drunken grunt around 0300 one morning. Nobody heard his radio calls and he nearly bled out before we found him four hours later. The next time our platoon went on duty, a number of us broke into the supply room, took all of the portable Motorolas and shotgun slugs (made for penetrating radiators and engine blocks when a vehicle atempts to run an Military Policeman on foot down) and we drove our booty to a spot near the canal where we spent an enjoyable hour blowing the defective walky-talkies to hell. We could have spent years in Leavenworth for intentionally destroying government property, but when the Criminal Investigation Division warrant officers questioned us individually, we stuck to our mutually agreed upon story that Communist insurgents had raided the supply room and we had given chase. When I asked if we were going to be decorated for our valor, my interrogator kicked over the wooden stool I was sitting on. I suppressed a laugh. We had disposed of two dozen defective hand-held radios and we were not sorry for it. Good riddance! It would not bring Fiano back his sex life, but we had made sure it could not happen to the rest of us.
The Army firmly believes in group punishment. Since my life often depended on how fast another patrol unit came to back me up, I refused to rat on anyone in my platoon, regardless of the issue. We were closer than family—we necessarily functioned as blood brothers because our lives depended on each other. Whenever the platoon refused to identify a platoon member who had screwed up, we got confined to barracks. This meant we were relieved from duty for an indefinite period and the other platoons—already working twelve hour days and stressed to the limit—had to take up our slack. When the pressure became unbearable, we took up a collection. One of us would sneak out at night and buy several cases of beer at Fort Clayton's bowling alley. Outwitting our platoon sergeant and the Duty Officer, we tiptoed back up the concrete stairs, sat on our bunks in our underwear, and drank ourselves blotto. Then we ripped the fire extinguishers off the wall and sprayed everyone. In the tropical heat, it felt good. We passed out in the wee hours of the night, but somehow made formation a half hour after reville. Being young, our lack of sleep was compensated for with prodigious amounts of alcohol. Miller, Hams, Lucky Lager, Coors, Schlitz, Falstaff, Burgie—after three beers, it all tasted the same. Besides, we did not drink for the taste; we drank to get drunk. When we ran out of beer, those most desperate drank mouthwash. I managed to stay buzzed on less than $150 a month. From lack of a better phrase, we called it "going for the gusto". That jingle was probably copyrighted by Schlitz, but nobody cared. Shit and Schlitz, the similarities did not go unnoticed—it was six of one, half a dozen of the other. Drink two six-packs and things become blurry. Shortly after my ETS and honorable discharge, the Southern Command installed beer machines in the barracks in an effort to increase reenlistment.
While I was rumbling in the jungle, thousands of miles from home, my platoon buddies were my family. When the shit hits the fan and the bullets start flying, my life was dependent on these soldiers. I cannot praise them enough for backing me up. I remember them as if the struggle took place yesterday. While, in reality, it happened more than forty years ago. In my dreams, I am nineteen years old, swept up in a black and white drama; we are the good guys fighting the good fight against godless communist insurgents. It is a war of attrition—the more of them we kill and send to hell, the better. I have a recurrent nightmare in which the evildoers are scaling a wall and my platoon is shooting them down as fast as they come. We kill them all, the young and the old, the big and the small—confident that God will sort them out. It always has the same ending. I lob several grenades over the wall with a M-60 grenade launcher until their blood and brains fall on us like rain. The wierdest part is that we like it. Then I wakeup in a cold sweat, my sheets drenching wet. Yes, I immensely enjoyed it, cheering my squad on every step of the way. God, please help me! People have various reasons for attending church. I go because I need to go. Last week, at altar call, the bishop placed his hands in mine and prayed to God to save me from my demons. Although I had never met him before, I had the distinct feeling that he knew everything about me.
I dream in the past tense. Faces of members of my company from 43 years ago come to me rich in detail. Although I have not seen any of them in four decades, I clearly recall their names (Note: no matter how close we were, we were never on a first name basis. The Army used last names first and we necessarily followed suit. If any of the following men (at that time, women were excluded from the Military Police Corps) read this book, please contact me. My email address is email@example.com. Include date of service in the Canal Zone and any other pertinent information:
SP4 Mahieu (draftee from New York)
PFC Juan Zayas-Zayas (from Ponce, Puerto Rico)
First SGT Campbell
2nd LT Kramer
SGT Newsome (totally fearless—With six MPs in a 1967 Dodge patrol car, he drove up an unpaved one-lane mountain road at speeds in excess of eighty miles per hour, swerving around vehicles going while up the mountain)
SP4 Joseph Kuchta (hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvannia). He was the only person in the Third Platoon who refused to have his uniforms tailored
SP4 Llaña (Panamanian with thirteen siblings who joined seeking American citizenship—my parents helped his family to emigrate to the United States after I was honorably discharged)
SP4 Fiano (shot in the groin while on graveyard shift perimeter patrol in Curundu)
Lo and behold! Sp4 Fazi was surfing the net one hot April night when he came across my Home Page. He phoned me and we spent several hours relating our remembrances. I confessed to having been the person who smuggled a young woman from Rio Abajo into the barracks and concealed her in a third tier bunk. We inadvertently overslept and First Sergeant Campbell caught a glimpse of us coming down the stairs the next morning. He was not able to identify me, however, we were hugging the left bannister, which indicated we had come from the Third Platoon's area. Despite intensive interrogation, nobody ratted on me. He was angry and restricted my platoon to the barracks for three nights. I slid down a rope from a second story window and bought three cases of beer from the bowling alley across the street from our barracks. We drank ourselves stupid, pulled the fire extinguishers off the walls and soaked each other until well after midnight. While clutching a can of Hamm's in the crook of his right arm as he was playing grabass with some guys from his squad, PFC Hamby slipped on a puddle of foam on the cement floor and sprained his right arm. The next day, First Sergeant Campbell threatened Hamby with an Article 15 for damaging government property (meaning Hamby's right hand). I surmise First SGT Campbell was bluffing, but PFC Hamby took the threat at face value and went on duty after taking a handful of Darvons for the pain. He was lucky he didn't run his patrol car into a tree. We were a close bunch. To this day I am grateful that nobody turned me in despite the idiocy of my actions. Our attitude was FTA all the way. [Note: FTA does not stand for Fun, Travel, and Adventure.] Thank God, the draft is a thing of the past. I believe that patriotism should be promoted in our public schools. When our nation needs us, we should be proud to go. Fleeing to Canada is a coward's way out. Don't get me wrong. Ex-President Jimmy Carter probably had good motives, but granting a blanket Amnesty to draft dodgers was definitely a mistake.
On Monday afternoon, September 28, 2015, I received an email from Sandy, Joe Kuchta's youngest daughter, who wrote that her father had read my book and wanted to get in touch with me. After telephoning him that evening, I invited him and his family to fly to California and stay in a spare bedroom in my home while we relived old times.
Question: Was F***ing Margarita (of Canal Zone fame) a real person or was she a figment of our vivid imaginations? I know of nobody who has ever met her in person. Keep in mind that nymphomania is an extremely rare disorder. After hearing a number of stories concerning her exploits, I cannot help but think there was some kernal of truth about her. Please send me her address and phone number. I need to renew old aquaintances.
Considering how close we were, it seems incredible that I completely lost contact with my platoon. Not once in the 43 years since I got out of the Army have I ran into any of them. It is as if they vanished from the face of the planet. Nary a clue after having thoroughly searched Bing, Facebook, and Google. Either aliens abducted them or I failed to search in the right places.
Is it possible to bridge a 43-year-old gap? I doubt it. I started this book in an attempt to come to grips with long-standing psychological issues that were threatening my well-being. Going off on a tangent is probably a bad idea. However, I might benefit from seeing events from someone else's perspective. Anyway, it will not hurt to try. As my mother used to tell me, "nothing ventured, nothing gained."
Shortly after I was discharged, Sergeant First Class Thrush retired from the Army. Subsequently, he married a Panamanian woman half his age. They bought a large tract of land, called a finca, virgin jungle which they slashed and burned in order to raise crops. They now have two children. I wish them happiness.
I have tried several of the online services that claim they can put people in touch with their old army buddies. They have yet to produce anything. Maybe what I need to do is to jump butt naked from a small plane trailing a 534th MP Co.—Canal Zone streamer.
I turned 65 years-old last June. We are old. How many of us will be alive in five or ten more years? Airborne units have annual reunions. We should, too.
Did anyone go bisexual or gay? Come out of the closet. This is the 21st century; anything goes. Do any of you have a desire to dress in women's clothes? Considering that we spent a lot of our time policing the local sex industry, it may have had an unwholesome effect on some of us. We were all straight arrows—with the possible exception of SFC Thrush. We were not a bit kinky. Horn dogs? Of course, but we were pedigree, 100 percent American horn dogs.
As stated in a previous chapter, President Jimmy Carter decided to abrogate our 99 year lease on the Canal Zone years before it was scheduled to be renewed, much as the British later did with the Crown Colony of Hong Kong. Many Zonies were third or fourth generation colonials. Panama confiscated their property without paying them compensation. Reparitions are in order for their sacrifices and loyal colonial service. When the United States pulled the plug on the Canal Zone, the Zonies were the ones that suffered. We have a responsibility to do right by them.
At the time it was completed in the early part of the Twentieth Century, the Panama Canal was an engineering marvel. It is a shame today to have Chinese engineers operating and maintaining what was formerly an exclusively American venture. Looking out of a second story window in our barracks, I saw freighters seemingly sailing across the lush tropical mountains as they transversed a system of locks. Daily, it reinforced my belief in the superiority of United States' technology.
Having been designed at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the locks of the Panama Canal are not wide enough to accomodate modern super tankers. There has been several proposals to build a sea level canal to replace the current canal with a long ditch connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In December 1958, President Eisenhower proposed in a speech to the United Nations that the world should promote an Atoms for Peace program to excavate a sea level canal. When it later proved to be impractical, other nations (mainly Nicaragua and China) proposed accomplishing it by conventional means. Three times as long and almost twice as deep as its rival in Panama, the 173 mile long Nicaraguan canal will ultimately require the removal of more than 4.5 billion cubic meters of earth—enough to bury the entire island of Manhattan up to the twenty-first floor of the Empire State Building. Due to the worldwide economic slowdown that followed the Great Recession of 2007—2009, there is not much chance of this occurring anytime soon. Presently, it is all show and no go. However, on June 13, 2015, a protest was staged by Nicaraguan farmers and others whose land would be negatively affected by the man-made waterway. The Nicaraguan government, by contrast, is predicting that the canal will finally achieve the Sandinista dream of eradicating poverty. In return for a concession to the Chinese (including a 50 year lease, renewable for 100 years), it hopes for billions of dollars of investment, tens of thousands of well paying jobs and, eventually, a stable source of national income. Keep in mind that Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in Latin America. In September 2015, ongoing environmental concerns forced a delay in construction until 2016.
About the time I was promoted to Specialist 4 in late 1968, Manuel Noriega, a diminutive, ambitious young man with a smallpox-marked face was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Guardia Nacional. Like many of his contemporaries, he was secretly in the pay of the Central Intelligence Agency (a common occurence during the Cold War). Since he was also involved with the drug trade and was known to frequent the bordellos in Rio Abajo, I most likely came into contact with him, but he does not stand out in my memory. Having convinced military dictator Omar Torrijos of his loyalty, he was quickly promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and would become dictator himself after General Omar Torrijos died in a plane crash. Did Noriega plant a bomb aboard the military aircraft? Since the investigation remains incomplete, there is no way of knowing, but it cannot be denied that Noriega benefitted from the tragedy.
After seizing power, Noriega promoted himself to General. Shortly thereafter, he bullied the Panamanian legislature [Author's Note: he was fond of waving a loaded pistol at anyone who opposed him] into a formal declaration of war against the United States of America, presumably to avoid being charged with drug trafficing and murder. U.S. Army Airborne troops parachuted in a dawn drop from 500 feet into the Guardia Nacional's base at Rio Hato, meeting only token resistance. This was a truly remarkable achievement, given that it had never been done before in a combat setting by a large number of Airborne troops. [Editor's Note: Having proven that low level drops below 500 feet were possible for Airborne assault troops over clearings surrounded by triple canopy jungle, it is reprehensible that people had to jump to their deaths from the top stories of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, because they did not have access to parachutes. After the 1993 Trade Center bombings, the Port Authority who owned the Twin Towers, New York Mayor Rudy Giulani, and the New York Fire Department, were aware that the skyscrapers had become targets for jihadi terrorists, but failed to take the safety precaution of stockpiling parachutes for people on the upper floors. Isn't it amazing that common people in vehicles on the ground were protected by airbags, while professional white collar workers 1,300 feet in the air had no protection whatsoever? Osama Bin Laden brought down the Twin Towers, resulting in billions of dollars in property damage. Due to lack of foresight, Mayor Rudy Giulani was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of jumpers. Justice demands that he should be charged with criminal negligence for failing to take minimal safety precautions.]
Noriega sought sanctuary at the Vatican Embassy in Panama City. He subsequently was the target of an extensive U.S. Psychological Operations effort which resulted in his surrender. After standing trial in a U.S. circuit court, he was sentenced to two decades in a federal prison, following which he served time in French and Panamanian jails. Nonetheless, Manuel Noriega has the distinction of being the only man alive to have made a Declaration of War against the United States and lived to tell about it.
I grew up as a Baptist. Ever since I can remember, I have had an unshakeable faith in God. In Sunday school, we studied how Peter denied Jesus three times in one night, as related in Matthew 26: 69-75. Although I was only ten years old, I questioned Peter's commitment to Christ. Surely, I would never do that even when threatened. Peter went on to found the Catholic church and he became the first pope. That is a good reason to be a Protestant. Catholics tend to stray. I like to think I am made of sterner stuff. Yo, Peter, you messed up big time. Please don't take it personally; when my time comes, don't shut the Pearly Gates in my face.
When it comes to religion, I am rather pragmatic. It is not that I don't believe that miracles and epiphanies occur—scriptures assure us that they do—but they are few and far in between. The odds of a miracle happening to me or someone in my family are very low.
At least, that was what logic was telling me. Since I had no experience in such matters, I had no way of knowing that miracles are a matter of faith—they literally fly in the face of logic. However, I was not expecting a miracle. When I witnessed a miracle in the summer of 1970, I did not immediately recognize it as such. At first my mind attempted to rationalize it as some unusual form of natural occurrence. No doubt the apostle, Paul, tried to do the same thing when his life was miraculously transformed by God while he was traveling on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-9). But when his logical mind was unable to ascribe it to anything other than what it was, he had no choice other than to fully embrace it, going with the flow, changing from hateful Saul, the Roman tax collector, to loving, caring Apostle Paul over the course of three days. Likewise I went from being an enforcer for American imperialism to a supporter of international self-determination. I didn't particularly want to do it—I had to do it! Free will does not always automatically prevail. Uncle Sam had not consulted me when he pulled my IIS student deferment and reclassified me as IA nor did God ask me if I agreed with how he transfigured me. When an individual's free will conflicts with the scheme of things, the greater good of mankind necessarily takes precedence. I had to serve someone—it was either God or the devil. I chose God and four decades later, I can say for certain that I have never regretted it. We can't always get what we want, but when we put our trust in God, we usually get what we need.
In the 534th, the platoons rotated shifts. On this particular day, it was my platoon's turn to be on day shift. Guardmount (inspection of men, uniforms, and equipment) was conducted as usual at the motorpool prior to relieving the night shift. We looked good in our starched, tailored Class A khaki uniforms, patent leather MP gear, extended length ironwood lead-filled batons, spit-shined black leather boots, handcuffs, leather magaine holder, and tan canvas pith helmets. Standing at attention, we pointed our Colt Model 1911 .45 caliber pistols straight up at arm's length and pulled back the slides in unison.
The duty officer began examining us, looking for anything out of order such as a missing button, dirty weapon, tarnished brass, boots not shined or not properly bloused, uniforms insufficiently starched, and hundreds of other nitpicking details. Deficiencies were given gigs which, when accumulated beyond proscribed levels, triggered non-judicial punishment (commonly referred to as Article 15's). Finished with the first MP, the duty officer rigidly stepped in front of the second. Each of us were examined in turn. A crowd of Panamanians were peering at us through the chain links of the motorpool's security fence. They were watching a Yanqui imperialist military tradition—the Canal Zone's version of the Changing of the Guard. No doubt our spiffy attire made us appear to be knockoff Beefeaters. We dressed to impress— motivated by pride and our desire to be as good as we could be. Although draftees, we were well aware of our elite status. Our expressionless faces and strict drill showed the natives outside the fence that we were dead serious. Mess with us and you do so at your own peril.
Guardmount ends with a flourish. When the duty officer comes to the end of the lineup and the last man has been inspected, the platoon releases the slides on their .45s, with the pistols pointing skyward. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that ends the show. But once in a great while, a stray chambered round that the duty officer failed to catch puts a hole in the corrugated metal roof. This is the moment the crowd of natives have been waiting for—proof positive that the gringo military police are not infallible. Catcalls ensue from our unwanted native audience. Meanwhile, the shooter stands at rigid attention while the duty officer berates him, threatening court-martial and/or relief from duty. Since the sand-filled wooden firearm clearing barrels had been removed from the motorpool after the mechanics mistook them for ashtrays, negligence was impossible to prove in any legal procedure. And the fact that we were operating far below strength meant that nothing short of unwarranted lethal attrocities could get a military policeman relieved from duty. Besides, relieving a drafted MP from duty might turn out to be giving him his heart's desire.
Have you ever had a sock come up missing from a washing machine? Where did it go? Nobody knows. The same thing goes for rounds chambered by a Model 1911-A Colt .45 caliber handgun. I have an idea it has something to do with a malfunctioning spring at the bottom of the magazine, but it could be something else. Maybe a monkey stole it as he flew out of the First Sergeant's ass. In the modern Army, the .45 has been replaced with a 9 mm pistol. Too bad; it makes the monkeys sad.
Please excuse me for having gone off on a tangential issue. I will try in the future not to do it again. Getting back to our main topic—having more than one stray round a day go through the motorpool's corrugated metal roof during guardmount was, to the best of my knowledge, unprecedented in the 50 year history of the 534th Military Police Company in the Canal Zone. Everyone (except for the Panamanians) considered it to be a bad omen. Unfortunately, there was little we could do about it. I went on patrol that day with a sense of foreboading. I fully expected more bad things to happen. We had been forewarned. However, I figured I would make the best of it. After all, life must go on. Only for me, it came close to ending. If it were not for faith, I doubt that I would have survived.
After guardmount, I drove approximately ten miles westward on the Transisthmian Highway to Fort Amador, where I posted a man from my platoon at the gate before I began my patrol duties. Fifteen minutes later, I turned onto the two mile manmade causeway which connects the mainland with an island that formerly was home to the big guns of a Coastal Artillery installation. Following World War II, airpower had eliminated the need for heavy coastal guns. They were removed; only a concrete complex of ammunition storage bunkers and heavy gun foundations remain. Because it is extremely picturesque, it degenerated into a tryst rendezvous, a kinky lovers' lane where anything goes, a nightly carnal smorgasbord, everything from homosexuality to pedophilia. Illicit sex of all types, including beastiality, can be purchased. Prices vary, but several Marines told me it is a bargain compared to the sex trade in Bangkok. On the inside cover of the gateshack's logbook an anonymous Marine MP penciled "Welcome to Fucking Paradise". I must admit, those Marine Military Policemen have a way with words. I found it an apt description of a place where hedonism was gradually gaining the upper hand.
The traffic on the Motorola Military Police frequency that day mostly concerned a suspicious fire at the Curundu Clubhouse, a large rectangular meeting hall located at the rear end of Fort Clayton that served as a sandwich bar during daylight hours. The military firemen found evidence of arson. An accelerant—gasoline—caused the fire to spread rapidly. In less than thirty minutes the building burned to the ground. It was hot enough to scorch the theater across the street. Fortunately, nobody was killed or injured in the blaze. The desk sergeant ordered all units to be on the lookout for the arsonist. Since a description of the perpetrator was not provided, I had no idea of what I should look for. Unless the arsonist bragged about his crime to someone, he had nothing to fear from me. However, the all points bulletin had no sooner been broadcast, when I came across a new Jeep Wrangler parked on the side of the causeway road. As I drove by, I noticed a large metal sign propped up on the hood which read "PARKING FOR CURUNDU CLUBHOUSE ONLY". I quickly put it all together. Executing a quick U-turn, I drove back and confronted the Wrangler's driver, a 17-year-old smart-mouthed punk. A green decal on his bumper identified him as a Department of the Army civilian which told me he was an underage Zonie. He was well aware I had no authority over civilian minors. All I could do was to ask the dispatcher to request assistance from the Canal Zone Police.
I told him that the CZP civilian authorities were on their way, but he had no intention of waiting. Without a word, he jumped into the driver's seat of the Jeep Wrangler and put the key in the ignition. I leaned over and grabbed the ring of keys. Jerking them from the ignition, I threw them fifteen feet into the canal. With man-eating great white sharks feeding on garbage illegally dumped overboard by foreign freighters, his keys were as good as gone. It must have been my best pitch ever. I remember my second grade teacher telling the class how George Washington threw a silver dollar across the Potomac. Although he probably outthrew me, he had the benefit of a wind up, plus he skipped it across the river. With all due respect, I am proud of what I did. It made the punk arsonist boiling mad. Grabbing me around the neck, he wrestled me to the ground. I was three years older, but he outweighed me by at least sixty pounds.
We were rolling around, wrestling on the strip of bermuda grass that bordered the causeway, each of us attempting to throw the other down a four feet rock embankment into the canal. We were street fighters; biting, kicking, gouging, choking, hitting below the belt. This was no rules wrestling; catch-as-catch-can; anything goes. It was a fight to the death. I tasted blood from a blow to my mouth. Biting his ear, I got a taste of his blood and liked it. The predator that lurked within me was taking control. Education, law, and civilization are a thin veneer which quickly vanish in the struggle to survive. All my life I had suppressed my killer instinct. My long-term goal prior to the Army was to earn a doctorate in psychology that would enable me to lead the tenured ivory tower existence of a university professor. Now, here I was in a Central American jungle, a human animal experiencing an overpowering urge for a fresh kill.
Rolling back and forth along the narrow grass corridor for what seemed to be hours, but in reality was only three or four minutes, I tore at his genitals; sometimes with me on top, sometimes on the bottom. I attempted to change direction, but lacked the mass it would take to roll into the water. When I unsnapped my baton from my left side, I felt him flip open the flap of the leather holster on my right hip, deftly sliding the seven pound Colt .45 handgun from its holder. I still did not worry, my .45 Colt semi-automatic was a difficult weapon to shoot. I had been practicing at the firing range every Saturday for almost two years, but I barely qualified as an expert. With its massive recoil, it had the kick of a Sharp or a Henry with a trigger mechanism that slowed the user down considerably.
The Colt Model 1911 A-1 was developed in response to the Moro uprising on Mindanao shortly after the United States wrested the Phillipines from Spain. Moslem mullahs encouraged native warriors to enhance their courage with hashish. They assured them of invulnerability—Allah would direct the American Springfield rifle bullets to bounce off their bare chests. Such is the power of human will that they kept on coming after death with large holes in their torsos. Colt demonstrated to General MacArthur (Governor of the Phillipines and Douglas Mac Arthur's father) that a .45 striking anyone anywhere at less than 50 feet would bring them spinning to the ground. One minor problem remained. The Model 1911 occasionally went off wihout warning. This was solved by the addition of three safeties, each of which must be thumbed off in proper sequence for the weapon to fire. It was truly a pistol for enthusiasts and was marketed to civilians for over a century as such.
With the ironwood baton gripped tightly in my left hand, I swung wildly at the gun in his right hand. Being right-handed, there was little force to the blow. It glanced off the barrel and slid along the ground. He pulled the slide back, chambering a round. Next, I heard him click off the safeties in the correct order. Having ate, slept, and prayed with a Colt .45 by my side for more than two years, I did not need to see him do it—I could tell what was happening by the distinctive clicks the pistol made. Every man in my platoon could take their handgun apart and reassemble it while blindfolded. I was well aware that all the punk needed to do was to squeeze the trigger and I would be dead meat.
Paperback writers are fond of claiming that in the seconds before a person dies, his entire life flashes before his eyes. They got it wrong. My glasses had fallen off early in the fight and my vision was blurry. I heard Tommy James singing Crimson and Clover over and over. Every jukebox in Panama had been playing it for the past year, plus Armed Forces Radio and a Spanish version on Panama City's Radio Montanita. It was an overplayed broken record, but I could not get it out of my mind. The 45 rpm single had vastly out-sold my personal favorite, River Charles.
At such close range, the punk could not miss. Given our positions, I surmised I was going to be gutshot. Worse still, I had pissed on the magazine which normally resulted in infecting the wound. Yes, I was aware that it violated the Geneva Convention, but I had not been a signatory and I could care less. If it was up to me, we would be using explosive bullets with slugs marinated in rizen made from castor beans.
Totally exhausted, I awaited what seemed to be an inevitable bullet which would end my struggle. In fact, I welcomed it. Even though I walk through the valley of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.—Psalms 23. I did not fear death. Rather, I knew it was the necessary precursor to eternal heavenly bliss. I accept whatever God gives me and I am grateful for it.
Only God has the power of life and death. The punk was a mere tool and a dull one at that. God alone knows the place and the time of our death. Being a mortal, my demise was inevitable; but this was not to be the day. I awaited my last breath, longing for an end to pain, but glory eluded me. I looked up and saw the business end of a #4 persimmon wood driver with its steel face pressed against my opponent's right cheek. I was so intent on capturing the arsonist that I had barely noticed an officer hitting a golf ball up the causeway. Although my glasses were missing, my vision had become crystal clear. The officer was of average height and weight. He was a Major, but there was something unusual about his uniform. The shirt was synthetic, perhaps dacron, satin or rayon; pastel green, a far cry from olive drab. No doubt, it was part of a test by Natick Labs (the Army's research, development, and testing facility, located in Massachusetts). It was not important, at most it was a minor uniform violation—I had no desire to look for flaws in the source of my salvation. I had been spared and wanted to hug my rescuer.
Every time the punk moved, the officer took to his backswing. As I took my gun from the arsonist's hand, I imagined the golfer taking a full swing and hitting the evil doer's head 350 yards down the causeway. Fore! This was more fun than standing at the 18th hole during the final round of the Masters in Augusta, Georgia.
I was handcuffing the arsonist when the Canal Zone Police arrived. Military Policemen are not supposed to handcuff civilians, but I felt that the gravity of the crime warranted an exception. I looked for the golfer, but he was gone. Mere seconds had elapsed, but he was nowhere in sight. Since I had a clear view of more than 2,000 yards up and down the lower part of the causeway, this really bothered me. All I knew about the golfer was that he was an Army Major. I don't remember him wearing a nametag. I wanted to thank him for saving my life. After transferring custody of the arsonist to the CZP, I resumed my patrol of the causeway. There were three Majors listed as living on or near the causeway, but they were too old to be him. I was dispatched to a domestic dispute in a Naval housing project and necessarily put the matter away for the time being.
Over the course of several decades, my slumber was disturbed by various versions of the incident. They seemed to be struggling for dominance in my subconscious. There was even one in which I was heroic. Being a fabrication constructed by my overactive ego, it soon fell by the wayside in favor of one in which God miraculously saved my bacon, despite my inability to perform the job properly. In reality, I was a wannabe Military Policeman—130 pounds when soaking wet, near-sighted, astigmatic, flat-footed; a bookworm posing as a man of action. It was a wonder that I had not pissed my pants. Due to this recurring dream, my self-esteem dropped to an all-time low. Thank God I was not suicidal.
Who was this mystery Army golfer? Although I had seen his face up close for less than 20 seconds, the image was burned into my subconscious. A fine-boned, oblong face with a nose that had been beat to a pulp prior to being reconstructed by an expert plastic surgeon. He was outright handsome; to say that he possessed sexual appeal was an understatement. I had never seen him before, but he was hauntingly familiar. Obviously, a charismatic leader, an Alexander the Great whom his soldiers would follow to the ends of the earth. A chiseled, haughty, jutting jaw indicated he extracted respect as his due. Would I ever see him again? As it turned out, even if someone had disclosed the answer, I would not have believed him. There are things in this world that we are not meant to know. Fortunately for me, there would eventually be closure, but I would have to wait for the appropriate time and place.
I constantly tried to identify my benefactor. Hardly a day went by without me analyzing the few things I knew about him. In the interim, I married a beautiful Japanese American nine years younger than me. On December 8, 1975, she gave birth to a son, whom we named Che Peter Dungan. He was three months premature. I loved them both. Gradually, it bcame clear to me that my wife, Elizabeth, was unhappy. She left us when Che was seven years old to pursue a career in medicine. I became a single father, cooking, cleaning, and going to PTA meetings. Since I was terrible at finances, I had Che help me out. He taught me to invest. By the time he was a freshman in high school, we were doing fine economically. He excelled at politics, sports, and academics. I prayed to God that he would become a good person like my father, Russel. Jesus granted me my wish. Our Congressman appointed Che to West Point when he was 17. He graduated and went on to distinguish himself in three wars (Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan). Just like his grandfather, he was a war hero. He made me proud. He came back from Afghanistan as a battle-hardened Major. His face had matured. It did not shock me that his Class A uniform and facial structure matched that of the man who had saved my life on a Panama causeway, 35 years before.
To me, New Age paranormal phenomena is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. There is no contact with spirits from the world beyond except through Jesus Christ. Accept it for what it was—an inexplicable miracle. We need go no further.
Lately, I have begun to think the miracle was for the benefit of my son who at that time had not yet been conceived. Obviously, had I died that day, he would not have been born. And that would have meant a great loss for humanity as Che fought in three wars and went on to become a lawyer who practices before the Supreme Court.
The problem, as I see it, is that when we are young, our egos make us think that we are at the center, i.e. the focus, of the actions that affect us. In reality, we often are merely incidental or tangential to a given issue. In other words, young men feeling their testasterone regard themselves as hot stuff. As we grow older, acquiring wisdom and humility, life teaches us how hot we are not, sharpening our perception. No longer does the universe revolve around us. The punk arsonist probably saw in me a hated authority figure, symbolizing his father, his teachers and everything else he was rebelling against.
As a group, Military Policemen were not well liked. Grunts do not appreciate us writing them up for petty bullshit such as leaving a button unbuttoned or not properly blousing one's boots. Relatively minor uniform violations can cost a soldier one month's pay and/or a one step reduction in rank at the discretion of his company commander who acts as judge, jury, and prosecutor in such matters. Also, we placed bars and brothels off-limits, bluntly resolved domestic disputes, and acted as the Army's Department of Motor Vehicles. Due to insufficient manpower, we mounted single man patrols with limited backups. Consequently, we shot first and asked questions later. I could get away with murder as long as my actions helped to maintain military discipline and keep the natives in their place. Out of necessity, we became clannish and avoided off-duty confrontations by frequenting bars and similar establishments that exclusively catered to Military Policemen. Most of us had an us-against-the-world attitude which, although it seems to have served us well during the Cold War era, it later proved to be rife with psychological side effects. Speaking for myself, an unwholesome, suspecting demeanor contributed to thirty-five years of debilitating inner struggle and mental hell.
Military Police tradition and superstition influenced my behavior. I steadfastly adhered to the adage that if I urinated on my .45 bullets, they would result in deadly infections in anyone I shot. Since plain clothes Criminal Investigation Division warrant officers did almost all of the follow-up detective work for the Provost Marshal, I had no way of knowing whether it actually increased lethality, but I kept doing it anyway. One major consequence was that the steel magazines rusted quicker and had to be replaced sooner. Our SSG Armorer told us that if we did not quit pissing on his magazines, the 534th's First Sergeant was going to order the cooks to add saltpeter to our powdered eggs. [Note: Saltpeter is an essential ingredient of black gunpowder that the Army purportedly adds to the rations of frontline troops to suppress their sexual desires.] Although I was convinced the Army would stop at nothing to make us miserable, it pissed us off so bad that we began marinating bullets overnight in latrine urinals. After all, we were deeply engaged in an undeclared war of attrition with Cuba-sponsored Communist guerillas. It was kill or be killed. My attitude was to kill as many atheist communists as possible and let God have the pleasure of sorting them out.
There are no atheists in foxholes. The first time I came under prolonged fire, I pissed my pants and hugged the ground for dear life. It was hard to believe that someone would want to kill me—the crowning glory of creation (or so I thought), an intellectual posing as a military policeman, whose true political colors were not that far removed from those of the revolutionary insurgents who were shooting at me. I might look like an enemy, but deep down I was a frustrated artist, a wordsmith whose sole ambition was to detail and celebrate life. I silently prayed to God to spare me. In a moment of ongoing desperation, I promised to write an upbeat novel glorifying God. What I did not know at the time was that 30 years later, I would make good on my promise by writing The Gospel According to Condo Don, a fictional eyewitness account of the Second Coming of Christ as told by an aging homeless alcoholic.
That book, together with a whole lot of assistance from a team of Veterans Administration occupational therapists, helped me launch a satisfying career as a fiercely independent author/desktop publisher, specializing in political analysis. I strongly believe in free speech and democracy. By the grace of God, American technology is transforming global development. As a nineteen year old Military Policeman I fought for freedom with a gun. Now, as a writer/publisher I fight with a pen, achieving a progressive socio-political agenda via my Home Page, www.fdungan.com, which is currently receiving more than 5,000 hits per day. I struggle harder today than I did then, having learned to fight for human rights in a much more effective way. Life is about struggle. Our existence in this material world is a test of fortitude. We are here to learn what we need to know in order to advance to the next spiritual level. Cheap thrills are not for me. I follow the path of knowledge, focusing on my goal. Blessed Assurance—Jesus is mine! All it takes to succeed is unwavering faith.
The Canal Zone Governor had the ultimate authority to deport anyone from the Canal Zone. In cases of arson and other felonies, standard operating procedure was to declare the accused personna non grata and send them stateside for trial or court martial. More often than not, the entire family was barred from the Canal Zone, losing their 15% tropical pay, government provided quarters, heathcare, and servants. Since many residents were third or fourth generation Zonies, the adverse effects must have been life-shattering. I doubt that the punk arsonist realized how much his family would suffer until it was too late to do anything about it. Drawing a moral from this tragic incident is easy: Do Drugs and Lose—family life is often the first to go.
In late 1969, General Omar Torrijos started to ratchet up anti-American sentiment in a new effort to take control of the Canal Zone. I desperately needed to move closer to the Canal Zone, preferably where I could respond to an alert faster. Besides, the newly built apartments in Parque LeFevre were becoming family quarters for NCO's of the Pantera Battalion of Panama's Special Forces. I was also tired of sharing our bathroom with a neighboring apartment. Eulalia located an apartment above a panaderia (bakery) on Fourth of July Avenue in an upper-class gentrified residential neighborhood known as Bella Vista. The rent, $25, was twice as much as we were used to paying, but we were upwardly mobile and could easily afford it. We made the move shortly after our middle-aged housekeeper was assaulted because she worked for me, a U.S. Army Military Policemen, regarded by many Panamanians as a foreign oppressor.
Tropical humidity makes me feel sticky. Unforetunately, houses built in the Republic of Panama do not have hot water heaters. Tapwater is almost always lukewarm, especially when it travels through galvanized steel pipes. If you want to feel squeaky clean, I strongly suggest you bathe or shower in the Canal Zone. Better yet, do not allow your mind to dwell on it. A message to those who prefer an ice cold morning shower: Forget it!After my morning shower, I slide down the brass banister to the first floor where the panaderia sells freshly baked bread and pastries. For $1.35 I purchase enough sliced French bread and mantequilla (butter) to feed our family and the large white duck who lives on the concrete balcony. Later, Felipe gets rid of the duck muck by hosing down the balcony onto the sidewalk below. I have told him countless times to shout out a warning before washing the feces down the drain, but at twelve years old, Felipe rarely listens to anything I say. He wants to become a caudillo which puts him at odds with me.
It turns out that Bella Vista is much ritzier than I thought. Carnival (Mardi Gras) was a week long celebration, a far cry from the carnal binge of Rio, Sao Paulo, and New Orleans. The small Panamanian middle class is religious, conservative, and nationalistic. Almost all schooling is performed by the Roman Catholic church. Uniforms are mandatory; dress codes are strictly enforced. With the University of Panama closed by the oligarchs, secondarias have become hotbeds for protest and political demonstrations. Eulalia's younger sister, Myra at 17-years-old was already a well-known student leader, under surveillance by DENI for alleged communist leanings.
Myra graduated from secondaria with honors, receiving a four year scholarship to Patrice Lumamba University in the Soviet Union. Her utopian ideals got her in trouble with the KGB. Afterwards, she was imprisoned without trial. She found out the hard way how evil permeates communism. Her downfall occurred because she valued Marxist theory more than the religious principles she had learned in school. Poor Myra! Russian prisons are musty, dank, and unheated—unholy places that try the soul.
Prisoners in the lock-up at Fort Clayton's Military Police station were fortuate in that they ate the same food as we did. Normally we held them until their First Sergeant arrived and took custody. Since the Desk Sergeant, Dispatcher, and Duty Officer worked less than 15 feet down the hall from the lock-up, disruptive prisoners were not tolerated. I witnessed an irate desk sergeant stomp a vociferous, unruly drunk into submission. Nobody ever questioned a prisoner's bruises, lacerations, and broken bones. In the United States Army you misbehave at your own risk. Discipline is strictly enforced—no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Panamanian jails are notoriously corrupt, putrid, and filthy hellholes. During World War II, a U.S. soldier was tried and convicted in the Republic for having murdered a Panamanian woman. In 1969, our State Department arranged for him to spend the remainder of his sentence at the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I accompanied a United States Embassy official to a Guardia facility in Rio Hato where I signed for custody of an emaciated individual whose skin was mostly sores and bruises. He smelled like his clothes had been smeared with excrement. Staring straight ahead, he grunted one word answers when questioned. Because he kept losing his balance, I did not handcuff him. Fortunately, I had neglected to bring leg irons with me. Although my orders were to transport them to Albrook Air Force Base, I radioed the Desk Sergeant for permission to take them to the Emergency Room at Gorgas Hospital. The embassy official agreed with my decission to have a doctor examine the prisoner. Life is cheap in Panama. Thank God, someone at the State Department cared. I doubt that the prisoner could have survived much longer without medical attention.
Central American prisons usually do not seperate political prisoners from ordinary criminals. Torture is commonplace. Often this leads to revolution. Corrupt Banana Republic officials who get wealthy by pocketing bribes should be denied asylum in the United States. Human rights require vigilant enforcement in order to take root in emerging democracies. Far too many times, our foreign policy supports oligarchs and dictators because it is convenient to do so.
The entire Herrera family became attatched to the dog I confiscated from a poacher. Since I intended to take him wth me when I returned stateside, I bought the dog a license. People living in the republic hardly ever bother to register their dogs with the municipal government. Although the fee was outrageous, I rationalized the expense as protection from it being killed or stolen. Periodically, the Guardia Nacional reduced the number of stray dogs by spraying poisoned milk on the sidewalk. One day the kids were walking the dog and it licked up a puddle of milk and died. That night, we sewed the dog into a blanket and buried it in a flower garden of Panama's Presidential Palace. Fortunately, we did not get caught. I know it sounds wierd, but it was my way of getting even with the oligarchs who murdered our dog. May they suffer a similar fate.
On June 3, 1970, the guys from my platoon and a few Guardia Nacional acquaintances threw me a surprise birthday party. They held it at my apartment in Bella Vista. Instead of the usual 40 proof Ron Cortez, Eulalia splurged on a dozen bottles of 150 proof Puerto Rican Bacardi filched from the bar at the El Panama Hotel. Not realizing that the Bacardi was more than three times stronger than what I normally drank, I guzzled the smooth rum as if it was water. Several hours later, after the party was over and everyone had gone home, I was making love to Eulalia, when I vomited a mixture of spicy chicken wings and Bacardi on Eulalia and our bed. I was disgusted with myself and expected her to ask me to leave. Without saying a word, she took a shower and changed the sheets. Nobody else would have tolerated my behavior. This woman was truly a saint. One thing for certain—I did not deserve someone as good as she was.
The Panama Canal, the 19th century tecnological marvel that joined the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, has faded over the decades and has been relegated by its Chinese administrators to the status of road kill. They want to remove the locks to accomodate supertankers that are too wide to negotiate the current canal. Many want to build a wider sea level canal across the isthmus at its narrowest point in Nicaragua. In the unlikely event that the Nicaraguan project could raise the necessary funding, the Panama Canal would be hard pressed to remain operational.
Currently, ship owners are avoiding the issue by routing large vessels around South America or through the Straits of Magellan. At best, this is a temporary, make-do solution. As I see it, widening the Panama Canal is both desirable and feasible. The problem is that the United States no longer produces men of great vision such as Teddy Roosevelt. Modern politicians do not have what it takes to commit the United States to long-term projects that do not offer immediate gratificaion and/or reelection to public office. Unless we change our ways, we stand little chance of sending humans to Mars, improving infrastructure, or constructing a sea-level canal across the isthmus. The self-centered leaders of the "me" generation lack character and initiative.
In 2006, Panamanians got tired of waiting for the United States to devise a plan of action and approved a referendum to expand the Panama Canal, doubling its capacity and allowing far larger ships to transit the 100-year-old waterway between the Atlantic and Pacific. Work began in 2007 to raise the capacity of Gatun Lake and build two new sets of locks, which would accommodate ships carrying up to 14,000 containers of freight, tripling the size limit. Sixteen massive steel gates, weighing an average of 3,100 tons each, were built in Italy and shipped to Panama to be installed in the new locks. Eight years and $5.2 billion later, the expansion project is nearing completion. The initial stages of flooding the canals have begun and the projected opening date has been set for April of 2016.
As early as August, 2015, grim videos emerged showing water streaming through cracked concrete at the Pacific end of the ongoing Panama Canal expansion project. The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has since acknowledged that leaks developed during stress testing of the new locks.
The Panama Canal Authority tentatively stated that the leaks will not result in further setbacks, but samples taken from the massive concrete structure have shown serious problems, and ACP is still waiting on a full assessment from the project's contractor, Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC).
If the leaks do cause delays, they would be added to the long list for a project has also faced massive cost overruns and bitter contract disputes. The initial target opening date for a bigger canal was October 2014, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the original canal. But that was first pushed back to April 2015, and then to the current target of April 2016. The ACP has previously downplayed the likelihood of delays, only to reverse itself.
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Situated at the Atlantic entrance to the canal is Colon, a duty free port with vast warehouses full of Chinese and European made consumer goods. In 1970 a partially assembled English manufactured kick-start Norton motorbike cost $850 crated and hoisted off a tramp freighter. They almost always leaked oil and had inferior suspension. Colon swelters in the equatorial tropical heat. Nearby is Fort Gulick, a jungle training school run by U.S. Army Special Forces troops.
Thank God, I was stationed on the Pacific side where cool breezes created a more healthful environment.
Communist mainland China should not be permitted to extend its influence in Central America. Because the Panamanians have proven incapable of maintaining and administrating the Panama Canal, its territory should rightfully revert to Columbia (formerly known as Gran Colombia), the South American nation from which it succeeded. Panama was too busy staging revolutions and failed to provide higher education for technicians, engineers, and administrators to run its waterways. I doubt Colombia would experience much of a problem taking up Panama's slack. By way of enforcing the Monroe Doctrine, the Chinese communists should be sent packing, leaving Colombia to take charge by default.
Central America and the Caribbean are too Balkanized to function in an efficient manner. What is needed is economic and political consolidation. A free trade agreement for the region would benefit everyone. Oligarchies, dictatorships, and communism have no place in 21st century organization. Governments need to be stable and free of corruption for business and tourism to take root.
Central America and the Caribbean would do well to develop a regional peace keeping force along the lines of the African Union which has lately been doing an excellent job of defeating jihadists and restoring order in Mali and the Central African Republic. In the early years of the 19fh century, brave men such as Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin were wresting independence for Spanish-speaking Latin America from the Spanish crown. The initial philosophy was to establish a United States of South America but petty politics prevailed, leading to the creation of a number of petty independent nations—each with its own Constitution detailing the rights of landowners. Indians, slaves, and mestizos eventually were recognized as human beings and won the right to vote.
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The Republic of Panama has the largest ship registry in the world, with more than 5,700 ships flying the Panamanian flag. A ship is said to be flying a flag of convenience if it is registered in a foreign country for purposes of reducing operating costs or avoiding government regulations. The term has been used since the 1950s and refers to the flag a ship flies to indicate its country of registration. The country of registration determines the laws under which the ship is required to operate and that are to be applied in relevant admiralty cases. Today, more than half of the world's merchant ships (measured by tonnage) are registered under so-called flags of convenience, more commonly referred to as open registries. These Panamanian flagged ships often make the news in one way or the other when they get into some kind of a problem. Very often bad things happen to them—they sink, run aground, get hijacked by pirates, sequestered in port, or whatever. Adding to the confusion is the fact that a ship is often built in one country, registered in a second country and owned by someone in a third country; with a polyglot crew devoid of loyalty, ethics, and morals. This explains why the captain and crew frequently abandon ship in emergencies with little or no regard to the welfare of passengers. This entire setup is considered great business for the tiny Republic of Panama which makes millions of dollars every year from the fees it charges ship owners.
Registry of commercial shipping needs to be updated in order to eliminate confusion concerning rights and responsibilities of ship owners. At least seventy-five percent of the officers of any ocean-going ship should be recruited from the owner's country. Also, ocean going vessels should be required to be registered in the country of origin with allowances being made for international NGOs and other non-profit humanitarian organizations. Flags of convenience bring to mind a bygone era of leaky, rusting tramp steamers captained by shady characters with questionable backgrounds.
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During the 2 years, 1 month, and 19 days I spent in Panama, it had six revolutions, countless insurrections, and daily helpings of superfluous drama and intrigue. For a fledgling nation of less than two million people, they managed to create enough ruckus to warrant stationing thousands of U.S. troops in the Canal Zone at a time when America was scrounging for young men to fight in Southeast Asia. What a waste! Given the circumstances, the U.S. should have been setting the terms, rather than permitting despicable Banana Republic sabre-rattling caudillos to seize the initiative. It amounted to much ado about nothing. In order to flourish, business must have a stable environment. We no sooner renounced our claims to the Panama Canal than Panama suffered a severe economic recession. Renouncing our 99 year lease of the Canal Zone territory was one of the Carter Administration's biggest mistakes.
What Panama needs most is responsible leadership and education. The majority of school age children in poor areas such as the interior and Rio Abajo get little or no schooling. Catholic schools do what they can, however, public education (without regard to religion or income) is a prerequisite for improving the economy.
Extending My Tour of Duty
I was working as West Bank Supervisor, a Spec4, E-4 in a Sergeant E-5 slot, when my 18 month tour of duty expired. It happened all of a sudden. Most guys had a shorttimer's calendar hanging from the inside of their wall locker. But I suppose I was not very anxious to return to garrison life in the States. There was the possibility of being sent to face a court-martial at Fort Hood or serving out the rest of my enlistment in Vietnam. Since I was now an E-4 over two years in grade, I was earning the munificent sum of $250 per month, a fortune considering I had been receiving $98 per month a mere two years earlier. I had become comfortable with Central American culture and was enjoying my role as a substituite father for Eulalia's six sons. Wonder of wonders, I had made friends among the racially segregated Pantera Battalion, Guardia Nacional, who had taken residence in the newly built concrete block apartment complex in Parque LeFevre for which I paid $12.50 per month rent (including all utilities). A PSNCO had persuaded me sign a sheaf of papers which extended my tour of duty in the Southern Command for an indefinite period of time. I should have asked for promotion to Sergeant along with a $300 bonus. The fact that I failed to ask for all I could get testifies to how much indoctrination I had undergone.
I hired a housekeeper for $30 per month plus meals to assist Eulalia for four hours on weekdays and Saturdays. She scrubbed the bedsheets in the kitchen sink with a washboard and did battle with the cockroaches and spiders that infested our apartment. She would no sooner kill them than others from adjoining apartments would take their place. When we switched on the bedroom light at night, dozens of roaches would glide down to the floor on amber gossamer wings from the celing fixture and scurry towards the walls. In Biology 101 at college, the professor had said that roaches were one of the oldest and best adapted creatures on the planet—able to survive fires, floods, and hits by weapons of mass destruction. We eventually learned to get around in the dark, so as not to disturb the cockroaches.
Mosquitos, flies, centipedes, beetles, ants, and other insects added to our frustration. Also, monkeys, sloths, snakes, iguanas and thousands of other jungle creatures make their homes in the triple canopy rainforest that surrounds human habitats. The jungle must be cut back with machetes regularly or it will reclaim housing areas.
The desk sergeant received a high volume of complaints by dependents disturbed by snakes and beasts in or near quarters areas. For the most part, we responded by sending a Military Policeman who shot the larger creatures with tranquilizer darts and released them deeper into the jungle. Once I responded to a call and found that a group of children had been playing with a large white sloth that was hanging upside down from a tree limb. Sloths are so slow that insects burrow beneath their fur, but their long sinewy arms have enormous strength. One boy placed the sloth around his neck. In the course of 15 minutes the child was strangled to death, despite the efforts of the other children to break the sloth's hold on the boy. I tried my best to console the boy's mother and the family maid, but they kept wailing long after an ambulence departed with their deceased child. After they went back into the house, I killed the sloth with my shotgun, drug it into the jungle, and buried it four feet deep to keep the other animals from digging up the carcass. It was a needless death. Somebody should have cut the creature's arm off or stabbed him in the stomach. There were plenty of knives in the kitchen. Of course, 20/20 hindsight cannot bring back to life the deceased. Still, I can't help but wonder if I could have saved him had I arrived a few minutes sooner. I was delayed because I was eating a mango when I took the call on the Motorola and took the time to wash my sticky fingers in the canal. Besides, the dispatcher had not said anything about it being a Code 3 emergency, which meant I was not authorized to use the red light and siren. Forty years later it seems like a lame excuse. The dead kid's T-shirt was soaked in blood from where the sloth's toes punctured his neck. I did not think to rip off my own T-shirt to bandage his wounds. In my job nothing gets someone killed faster than a MP failing to properly assess the situation. This was not the first or the last time I fucked up and someone died because of it. Why did it have to be a kid? I wanted to be a real Military Policeman. I guess I got what I deserved—romanticism drowning in guilt. Any glitz or glory was tarnished to the point where it could not be salvaged. I was learning humility the hard way.
Several weeks later, shortly after midnight on a moonless night, I spotted the outline of an Indian poling a bundled reed canoe in the shallows less than ten feet out fom the shore at Fort Amador. He appeared to be searching for a place to land where the rocks would not rip apart his boat. Since I had just changed the gate guard, there were three of us in the patrol car—Spec 4 Mahieu, PFC Davis, and myself, the driver. Since it seemed unusual, I pulled over to investigate. The three of us, waded out and hauled the boat ashore. We had surprised the Indian who shook his head when we spoke to him and claimed he could not understand Spanish or English. He was not being cooperative. Throwing back a heavy canvas tarp, we discovered his cargo was bales of marijuana, wrapped in clear plastic sheeting. I suspected he (and probably others) were in the process of illicitly offloading illegal dope from a freighter anchored outside the mudflats. We definitely needed CID assistance. I walked back to the patrol car to radio the station, but the reception was piss poor and I ended up driving out to the island where I was able to contact the station. However, when I returned, the Indian, the canoe, and the bales of pot were gone. I already knew Davis to be a lying fork-tongued demon, so I refused to believe it when he claimed that the timid,unarmed Indian had somehow unlocked his handcuffs and escaped from two heavily armed Military Policemen in a boat that had to be poled. Had the San Blas Indian (he was short and had a gold ring through his nose) bribed them to release him? I searched the pockets of both Military Policeman, but found no drugs, no gold, and very little cash. Of course, the search was probably illegal, but I was too angry to give a damn. I was lucky. Neither man filed a written complaint and Davis was sent stateside two weeks later after being caught in the act of having sex with an underage Department of the Army dependent bubblegummer. As for Mahieu, I never did hear his side of the story. He was a goldbrick who probably did not issue a citation or write a Military Police report during the 18 months he spent in the Canal Zone. Nonetheless, he ETSed (estimated time of service) Specialist Fourth Class about the same time I got busted to PFC. I guess that says more about me than it does about him.
For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?—Matthew 7:3
If you look at a map of the Western Hemisphere, it is obvious that drugs grown in South America must be transported through Central America in order to get to the United States. Often Panamanian leaders are bribed by drug lords to insure safe transit of narcotics smuggled through Panamanian territory. Presidente Manuel Noriega was so blatantly corrupt that the United States invaded Panama to remove him from office. This took place four years after I was honorably dicharged from the Army.
I was responsible for apprehending a number of soldiers for possession of drugs (pills, meth, powdered cocaine, marijuana, and opiates). Some were sentenced to years of hard labor at Fort Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks for possessing a few seeds and/or stems of cannabis. It was my sworn duty to apprehend suspected wrongdoers. I did not determine guilt or impose sentences. Nor did I ever plant drugs on anyone. I am not trying to duck responsibility for the things I have done; I am merely relating what was done so as to enable you to reach your own conclusion. However, I warn you from my own experience that being overly judgmental sometimes results in disasterous consequences.
My son and his wife will not talk to me. Our relationship is so strained that they won't give me their phone number. They say I am a bad influence on my two grandchildren, Aidan and Caitlan. Of course, that's bullshit. My son, Che, and his wife, Amber, are both attorneys who excel at playing mind games. The fact is that I would never do anything to hurt my grandchildren. I live on the West Coast and they have chosen to live on the East Coast. Petty differences aside, I miss them deeply. A day does not go by without me thinking of them.
Working Girls in the Sex Trade
Only foreign-born women can work as prostitutes in the Republic of Panama. After being fingerprinted and passing a rigid medical examination, the potential sex worker is issued a license by the Panamanian government which must be renewed monthly following a medical checkup by an American military doctor who comes semi-monthly to their place of business. Any woman who tests positive for a sexually transmitted disease is barred from employment until her tests come back negative. Never pick up a streetwalker because they have an increased risk of infection. Of course the medical officer is accompanied by a Military Policeman who can place an establishment off-limits if it fails to meet minimum health standards. Final authority rests with the Provost Marshal and Southern Command. Girls must be 12 or older and show proof that they possess adequate means to return to their country of origin. They can be deported according to the whim of Panamanian officials without explanation. In reality, these working girls usually have limited freedom since their place of employment almost always retains their passport.
The high temperatures and excessive humidity of the tropics have given rise to virulent varieties of sexually transmitted diseases which are unknown in the States. Be forewarned that the government considers it your responsibility to maintain a healthy perspective. Military personnel are frequently not permitted to return to the United States until they are determined to be free of disease.
Before I shacked up with Eulalia, I took chances. One night, I was so horny that I paid a prostitute named China to have sex with me, despite her having disclosed to me that she was on her period. Because she was bleeding profusely, I put a large terrycloth bath towel under her and we proceeded to have intercourse. I was under the impression that women could not transmit STD's at the height of their periods. Later, an American medical officer told me that I was mistaken and was at risk even though she was on the rag. Blood turned out to be a better lubricant than petroleum jelly. Fortunately, I did it only one time and did not get a venereal disease.
It is a bar girl's job to get a soldier drunk in order to seperate him from his money. Commonly, she will ask you to buy her a drink when she sits down at your table. If it is payday, she might even sit on your lap. You order two shots of premium whisky, but what you get is another matter. The bartender pours you a shot of locally distilled rotgut from a bottle of Jim Beam that has been adulterated so many times that the label is faded and beginning to peel. He reaches down and pours the bar girl a shot of sweetened brown tea which you think is whisky. As he serves the mixd drinks, he places a small poker chip on the table next to the tea (in Spanish the chip is called a ficha). At the end of her shift, the girl cashes in her chips. She wants you to accompany her upstairs to her room where she skillfully slides a condom on your penis with a flick of her tongue. Usually it is all over in less than fifteen minutes of fake moaning and groaning. Cleaning up your private areas with a filthy washcloth is free. You pay the punta approximately $6, depending on how kinky she got. Did she order champagne? Add $5 per glass. All transactions are cash; credit cards are only accepted by the call girls at the Panama Hilton (El Panama), who typically charge officers and civilians $100 and up for a night of pleasure. Parties involving more than one woman often cost upwards of $250—cokeheads pay extravagant prices for blow and speedballs. How high can you get before getting busted? That question can best be answered by former Presidente Manuel Noriega, who was convicted in United States federal court for taking millions of dollars in bribes for permitting South American cartels to traffic drugs in Central America. [Note: Beware of cartel call girls who drink imported cognac. A pretty charming woman I met at a an upscale bistro drank me under the table. Hours later I woke up with a splitting headache.]
Whores (puntas) come in a number of sizes and shapes with a wide range of prices. Basically, they come equipped alike, with a vagina and a clitoris, except in rare cases of female circumsicion. In the dark you cannot tell the difference between a high priced call girl and an ordinary $5 a pop crack whore. If glitz and glamor turn you on, turn off the lights and put a brown paper bag over her head. In between the sheets, they are all pretty much the same. Half the fun is in feeling your way around unfamiliar territory. She deserves a good time, after all, she is doing her best to satisfy you. Never be condescending—her emotions are every bit as important to her as yours are to you. Always make her swallow, as spitting is uncouth. Be responsible—whenever possible wear a condom—however, I never did. Besides which, a little starch is good for your diet. A Veterans Administration nursing home nutritionist informed me there are less than twenty calories per level teaspoon of semen. Miraculously, while overseas, I did not catch anything more than a mild case of venereal warts which I believe I acquired from Lynda Terri Brannan, my first wife (while on leave—two years before we were married).
With globalization the sex trade enlarged. Women are being recruited from Southeast Asia, India, and China. Sex tourism is the latest rage. You might as well not request a virgin because you will pay a high price and most likely will not get what you want. Most clandestine sex tourism agencies now accept credit cards. Never do this online. Don't take a chance on someone stealing your identity. Be wary. Transactions should be made in person. If you use a credit card, demand the carbon copy. Do not commit any information concerning illicit activities to your hard drive.
Are you into beastiality? Looking to satisfy a barnyard fantasy, as was Thomas Granger in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, in 1642? Do you desire more than a donkey show? Thousands of miles closer than the back alleys of Macao, no need to travel to Bangkok, come see what Panama has to offer. It is guaranteed to satisfy the farm boy in you. Make them squeal with delight. Rally 'round the maypole! Homosexuality and child pornography is old hat. Performances scheduled nightly. Get in on the sexual revolution. Help to push the limits of sexuality while satisfying your hidden urges.
Does this seem a bit outlandish for your conservative tastes? Unfortunately, when it comes to legal brothels, there aren't many options. The Blitz Bistro/Brasserie on 14th Street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York City is a more-show-than-go, watered-down example of an establishment catering (at an extravagant price) to the perverse carnal pleasures of hedonist nouveau riche Yuppie elites. However, it was recently closed for its inability to pay bribes demanded by Vice Squad officers and petty precinct politicians. A decade ago, the Mustang Ranch near Reno, Nevada, was seized by the Internal Revenue Service for failure to pay back taxes. No doubt, while undergoing reorganizaion, its range of services was severely cut back. Yes, the Gruta Azul is sleazy, but at least you get what you pay for at discount prices without worrying about your drink being drugged or your wallet stolen. Do not despair. Should these young ladies fail to measure up to your expectations concerning beauty, you have the option of lowering your personal preferences or turning off the lights. Besides which, you would rather not fornicate with your cockroach brethren. The dark is your friend—it hides multiple evils. The last thing sick puppies like you want to see is blood stains on the sheets. Be grateful for what you get. Panama is one of the last places on earth where virile young men can sow their oats without fear of remonstration. Officers fare far better than enlisted men. They can afford to get a room at the Panama Hilton or to rent a swanky studio apartment by the hour from one of many No-Tell-Motels in the downtown area. Of course, I was not permitted to police these places. Officers resemble European hereditary nobility in that they can do no evil. They set the rules and everybody else does as ordered.
Excuse me, I digress. My original stated purpose was to effect a cure for the sexual and psychological difficulties I have experienced. Ascribing my demonic urges to others does not diminish my guilt. May God have mercy on my soul. I have been sorely tempted. With help from my Savior, I command Satan to get behind me. I intend to sin no more. Repentence walks hand-in-hand with forgiveness.
Human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery, is one of the most wide-spread and egregious violations of human rights in our world today. Traffickers and pimps use tactics that are virtually unthinkable to lure, control, and compel their victims into forced carnal labor and commercial sex acts. These abusers use violence, threats, false promises, and the illusion of love to slowly break down their victim's sense of humanity over time. They normally feed off their vulnerabilities, the victim's need for care, love, and affection—and use them against their prey. I can think of nothing that is more evil than knowingly profiting from the emotional and psychological vulnerabilities of another human being to exploit and physically abuse them.
Many victims of sex trafficking are forcibly branded or tattooed by their pimps to dehumanize them and reinforce the trafficker's message that they are the slave owner's property and must do their bidding. Pimps have tattooed the word "daddy" or the slave owner's name on their victims, or even used symbols like a product barcode.
Although the vast majority of prostitutes are females, I encountered a handful of cross-dressing male transvestites as well as a muscle-bound cabana boy in tight-fitting black spandex shorts whom I found at 3 AM walking along the Fort Amador causeway after an officer's wife in a sports car dumped him there following a wild night of debauchery.
Sexual crimes are often perpetrated against men and boys by women. National Guard Military Policewoman Lynndie England at Abu Ghraib proved to the public that sexual abuse is in no way limited by gender. Please note that in this particular instance a photograph was taken that revealed an unmuzzled German Shepherd snapping his teeth inches away from a naked male prisoner's genitals.
Photographs showed England and a handful of fellow soldiers taunting Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, tying dog leashes around their necks and grinning behind a pile of naked bodies. No remorse: England, who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), said she misses the routine of the military. Lynndie England, who was found guilty of abusing Iraqi prisoners, has refused to apologize for her actions. The images sparked retaliatory beheadings, brought shame on the U.S. Army and led to calls for the resignation of White House officials, including then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. But speaking from her parents' hometown of Fort Ahsby, West Virginia, where she now lives with her seven-year-old son, England said a soldier should never say "I'm sorry" to the enemy.
Ever since Balboa conquered Panama for the Spanish Crown, Panama has been a den of iniquity, attracting freebooters, pirates, alcoholics, soldiers-of-fortune, and conquistadores in rusty suits of armor, whose loyalty seldom extended further than their self-interest. Vice ruled; sloth, avarice, and gambling florished in the humid, disease-ridden tropical environment.
Gambling was such an integral aspect of Panamanian culture that a French lottery scheme, along with stock issues, bonds, and loans from the Third Republic of France, were used to finance the construction of the (original French) Panama Canal. It was alleged that officials of the Panama Canal Company had bribed members of the Chamber of Deputies to procure approval by the Chamber of Deputies for a lottery loan in 1888. The Chamber exonerated all the accused deputies except one, temporarily halting Georges Clemenceau's political career.
In 1698, five ships sailed from Leith docks near Edinburgh, Scotland, in a bid to found a Scottish colony at Darien in southern Panama. Three thousand colonists died of tropical diseases and battles with the Spanish within nine months of building Fort Saint Andrew. The disaster helped end Scotland's independence because the colony had been funded by public subscription—an early example of a financial mania. Public bodies, town corporations, members of parliament, landed gentry, and thousands of private citizens—sea captains and surgeons, apothecaries and ironmongers—sank their life savings into the scheme. Between a quarter and a half of the available wealth of Scotland was spent, and lost.
The questionable Panamanian financial scheming of Scotland and France led to bankruptcy. Both national gambles stood almost no chance of succeeding. Yet, responsible upstanding people bought into them site unseen. Truly amazing! Avarice has no boundaries, nor does it know any limits. Future generations would be impoverished by an inane, albeit willful, blunder. Were these early examples of mass psychosis?
Executives surveyed by the World Economic Forum have pegged corruption as Panama's biggest problem for business. Many of the qualities that have made Panama a hub for global trade and finance also attract malefactors. Drug cartels from Mexico and Colombia take advantage of its location, dollarized economy and free-trade zones to move their products and launder their proceeds. Panama's low tax rates (including no wealth or foreign income taxes) make it a haven for those seeking to shelter or hide assets. Revenues from the canal and huge investments in infrastructure—a five-year public investment program of as much as $15 billion amounted to more than 50 percent of Panama's 2010 gross domestic product—feed temptations for misappropriation, bid-rigging and bribery. Notwithstanding five successive elected civilian governments since the 1989 United States intervention that toppled General Manuel Antonio Noriega, Panama's civil institutions and democratic culture remain weak. Its judiciary is seen as lacking political independence: In 2012, the World Economic Forum placed it 132nd out of 144 countries in that regard. The news media faces intimidation and harassment. And President Ricardo Martinelli's administration has been marked by scandals and efforts to amass executive power. As one U.S. State Department diplomatic cable put it, the president "may be willing to set aside the rule of law in order to achieve his political and developmental goals."
President Jimmy Carter never would have been able to ram through his two treaties giving away our Panama Canal if the Senate in 1978 could have looked into the future and known that, when the United States flag was lowered on December 31, 1999, Red China would become its gatekeeper. But that is exactly what happened. China took control of the ports at either end of the canal. China has been operating these ports since 2000 and their influence inside Panama has grown as indicated by a bill submitted to the Panamanian legislature that mandates teaching Mandarin in all Panamanian public schools.
Mainland China should stay out of Panama. The Monroe Doctrine needs to be enforced. Godless communism does not belong within our sphere of influence. We don't want to pay for Jimmy Carter's mistake.
During the days of slave trading, Nigerian slaves brought to the Caribbean were forced to accept the Catholic religion. While outwardly becoming Catholic, secretly they never stop practicing their old traditional rites and fused their ancestral spirits and deities (orishas) with the most venerated Catholic saints. This fused religious tradition took a strong root in Cuba and spread from there to different countries in the Americas and evolved into what is now known as Santeria. In Panama, a country where people predominately believe in Jesus Christ, Santeria is practiced by people looking for a way to be successful. Be it in money, love, career, family. For many Panamanians, Santeria provides a hope for a better life or an easement from problems that plague. It is of interest to note that Santeria is prohibited by the Catholic Church for having occult roots.
When Panamanian military dictator, General Manuel Noriega, walked out of the Vatican embassy in 1989 and into the custody of United States drug agents, various items on his person reportedly gave away the fact that he was a devotee of Afro-Caribbean witchcraft. Not only was he grasping a crucifix, wearing a cult necklace and carrying a magical amulet in his pocket, he was also wearing red underwear—all it was said to ward off demons. American soldiers also uncovered a collection of occult shrines in Noriega's various headquarters and residences. The U.S. Army took all this very seriously. They called in Chief Warrant Officer James R. Dibble, an expert on the occult and head of the general crimes team at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The Army wanted Dibble, then 38, to analyze the discoveries and help develop a psychological profile of Noriega. It turned out that for protection against his enemies Noriega had invoked the aid of various spiritual creeds, including Santeria and Condomble (the Brazilian equivalent of Santeria and Voodoo), Brujeria (witchcraft), Egyptian mysticism, Voodoo and Palo Mayombe. The largest trove of occult items was uncovered in Noriega's headquarters at Fort Amador outside Panama City. Inside was a freezer containing more than 30 trabajos, black-magic totems directed at Noriega's enemies. Among them were George Bush Senior, Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger, Panamanian Archbishop Marcos McGrath, Senator Jesse Helms and Miami Judge William Hoeveler, who presided at Noriega's drug trafficking indictment in 1988. A photo of Ronald Reagan was covered in red candle wax, which was meant to immobilize the former President. According to Dibble, the trabajos were put into the freezer as a means of freezing the actions of the person. In another room was an altar to Saint George, which held a lock of Noriega's hair, a ritual stone, called an otane (said to contain the spirit of a Santeria saint) and other personal items. "This altar was to grant [Noriega] power," Dibble went on to explain, adding that Noriega and "cult worshipers" like him believe spirits can manipulate the fate of mortals.
Our Job is to Keep the Sun from Setting on the American Empire
A Colonial Military Policeman's job was twofold: to make certain United States troops maintained proper military discipline both on and off duty and to make the natives toe the line—showing respect for all things American.
Because of the immense manpower requirements of the ongoing war in Vietnam, we operated at about 40 percent of our authorized strength. It meant we had to cut corners. Since there were no backups, it became necessary to shoot to kill in situations where there was a potential for things to get out of hand, particularly in cases involving mob violence. Unlike civilian police, we did not give warning shots, read perpetrators their Miranda rights, nor address people by their first names. Civilian police arrest perpetrators for breaking civilian laws, Military Police apprehend soldiers for violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Perhaps the biggest difference is that Military Police do not have to worry about commissions and review boards. Civilians have civil rights while soldiers obey orders, regardless of how it affects them personally. When a Military Policeman goes on duty, his foot and wall lockers are left open for inspection. Yes, I maintained an apartment in the republic, but that right could be revoked at any time for any reason by my company commander.
When we were off-duty they were constantly messing with us: grabbing people for details, pressuring us to contribute to the Provost Marshal's favorite non-profit charity, policing the area (policing in this instance means picking up cigarette butts and bits of trash). However, once we went on patrol we were pretty much on our own. I always had the impression we could get away with murder as long as it did not reflect negatively on the Provost Marshal or the Military Police Corps. This was before cell phone videos came into being. If there were no witnesses to an incident, we could embellish our reports any way we chose. In two years spent overseas in which I wrote hundreds of reports, I was never ordered to rewrite an incident report. I doubt if most of them ever got read. Some were entered into the desk blotter, but the majority were shredded and thrown into a wastebasket by the desk sergeant.
The West Bank Military Police station was housed in a two story building at Fort Clayton. The bottom floor was an out patient clinic for dependents. Up two flights of stairs was the Military Police station, which occupied the entire second floor. Here, at the end of the shift, we wrote our reports. Those few Military Policemen who had problems writing or spelling found themselves standing gates or pulling foot patrols. I was usually assigned motorized patrols because my reports were clear and concise. Actually, I think it helped me perfect my creative writing skills. I tried to put myself in the best possible light. When it comes to report writing, always CYA (Cover Your Ass) and pray.
The Military Police station consisted of a report writing area filled with wooden tables and chairs, a long elevated hardwood counter behind which the desk sergeant sat, smaller counters on either side of the desk sergeant for the desk clerk and the dispatcher, and a steel barred holding cell situated directly across the aisle from the desk sergeant where he could keep an eye on what was going on within the cell. In the middle of the cell's plaster ceiling a single naked incadescent lightbulb burned night and day. Before placing a prisoner in the cell, we removed his belt and boot laces to keep him from hurting himself. After a nut case broke the light bulb and slit his wrists with one of the glass shards while the desk sergeant was away from his desk, maintenance put a heavy-duty wire basket fixture around it from which one prisoner later swung back and forth until he gained sufficient momentum to hurl himself at the steel barred door, making a deafening ruckus that earned him a much deserved beating.
The holding cell at the station was primarily for soldiers who had violated the UCMJ in some manner or had been picked up downtown because they had drank too much and they needed to sleep before being taken back to their unit by their First Sergeant, usually getting them an Article 15 that resulted in loss of rank or forfeiture of pay. However, during demonstrations or insurrections by Panamanian civilians we stuffed in forty or more people who we were technically holding for the CZP. Usually this was a pretense for questioning by CID warrant officers and/or Army Intelligence. Sometimes this involved torture. It was rumored that they shocked genitals and hung people by their heels, but I never personally witnessed any of that. Of course, they took care not to break bones or leave marks. However, I did see prisoners come back from questioning with bloody mouths and chipped or broken teeth.
Whenver possible, everyone (Panamanians and Americans alike) were supposed to speak English—the official language of the Canal Zone. All signs were either in English or in international symbols. Being a California native, I expected government to be conducted in both English and Spanish. However, Jim Crow had evidently come to the Canal Zone long before I did. Fully grown Panamanian men were routinely addressed as "boys". Derogatory terms such as "spic" and "greaser" were commonplace. Black skinned Panamanians (descendents of Jamaican laborers who dug the Panama Canal) were often referred to as "chombos". When the canal was being dug, workers and administrative personnel from the United States were paid in gold, while all other workers were paid in silver. Civilian pay was dependent on race. For example: by treaty live-in housemaids could not be paid more than sixty dollars a month. Being corrupt, La Republica de Panama received an undisclosed amount for providing Zonie families with servants.
It takes an avid, insensitive racist to call a forty year old black man a "boy" when he works from dawn to dusk seven days a week, being the sole income source of his family in Rio Abajo. I am ashamed to admit that everyone (including me) called our barracks houseboy "boy". We had no other choice because he never told us his real name. Maybe he did it to avoid paying taxes or maybe he didn't trust us. But what seems more likely is that he wanted us to underestimate him so he could cunningly ignore treaty limitations on the amount of money a domestic servant could earn. The work—spit shining boots, ironing uniforms, shining brass, scrubbing toilets, and mopping floors—was degrading, but he never complained. And he supplied us with other services that helped to make barracks life more bearable—for a price, of course. Need a taxi? Want a lottery ticket? Like to watch cocks fight? Everything could be arranged. It was only a matter of money. Quid pro quo—anything goes. This man knew how to hustle. We became dependent on him.
Because I was not married, I was not issued a commissary card and was not permitted to buy groceries at the base market. Adding insult to injury, I was often posted to stand guard with a shotgun at the entrance, checking the validity of commissary identification cards and apprehending shoplifters. Purportedly, the reason for not allowing single enlisted men to have commissary privileges was to keep us from blackmarketering, which might have made sense except that Panamanian VIPs were often given complimentary cards (ostensibly as a means of currying favor). Of course, they had no qualms about making money on the blackmarket. Here I was stuck with buying inferior meat and produce in Panama City markets at inflated prices while upper class Panamanians got rich at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. Frequently, I found something wrong with their cards and confiscated them. If anyone protested, I burned their card on the spot, effectively destroying the evidence.
Beginning in 1969, the Provost Marhal ordered all Military Police units to apprehend anyone in uniform wearing a black armband. Black armbands were intended as a silent means of protesting the Vietnam War. Rumor had it that violators were to be levied to frontline infantry units in Vietnam. Evidently the punishment was effective beczuse within a few months the armbands disappeared.
Anyone identified as a dedicated protestor was given a bad conduct discharge (not to be confused with a dishonorable discharge) upon returning stateside for seperation. Participating in an anti-war demonstration while in uniform was a definite no-no. Pity the soldier who was court-martialed and sentenced to hard labor on reduced rations at Fort Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks in Kansas. Breaking large rocks into smaller rocks with a sledgehammer is not fun. Evidently, we have our own version of South Africa's Robben Island. Unlike the white apartheidists, however, we keep it hidden from view behind walls on a large inland military base.
Why do Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guantanamo and Diego Garcia, remain part of the American Empire? Why was America's 99 year lease on the Canal Zone rescinded a decade early, with the Panama Canal having been ceded to Panama? I believe that the give away had little to do with political unrest and demonstrations. Guam and Diego Garcia are strategically situated to protect America's interests whereas the Panama Canal could not accomodate large tankers and had been losing money since the Eisenhower Administration. Being a product of Nineteenth century technology, it was unable to afford the high labor costs of former eras and it was too slow to recover. Due to its extreme southern location, the Southern Command did not participate in the Cuban Missile Crisis or the invasion of Granada. Of course, President Carter also had a part to play in the debacle. His personal and religious philosophies did not permit him to take a hardline stance on the issue. He was no Teddy Roosevelt. Evidently, he failed to absorb the lessons on manifest destiny and gunboat diplomacy espoused by his Alma Mater, the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. Don't get me wrong. Jimmy Carter was and is a good man, a man of high morals and ethics. However, what appears to be best for the future of mankind does not always coincide with the best interests of the American people. He would have made a better Secretary General of the United Nations. His stage should have been the entire world; instead, he settled for the restrictions imposed upon him by the American presidency. After Nixon, we needed a man like Carter, but Panama was definitely not his finest hour.
The original French attempt to build a canal across the isthmus was defeated by rampant tropical diseases that kept whittling away the labor force. After De Lesseps failed to surmount the problem, he sold his right to build a canal to the United States government that, following extensive studies, assigned Dr. Walter Reed to tackle the disease issue. He dispatched dozens of teams of men to spray the stagnant pools of water in which the disease-carrying mosquitos bred. He also paved the streets, built sewers, and brought running water to the Canal Zone and Panama City. After conquering yellow fever, construction was able to get underway. Dr. Walter Reed saved the day when he instituted modern sanitary measures. However, no sooner had Reed departed than Panama regressed, while the Canal Zone continued to advance, which explains the stark economic contrast people today see at the border. Needless to say, child mortality in the Canal Zone is lower than in Panama City.
G. Jennings invented the flush toilet. Businessman Thomas Crapper popularized it by bringing it indoors and adding a ballcock. After the Army Corps of Engineers finished constructing curbs and gutters and paving the streets in downtown Panama City, they put at least one flush toilet on each floor of the clapboard cold water tenements in Chorillo. Although the residents continued to pour wastewater off their balconies onto hapless pedestrians on the sidewalks below, feces and urine were no longer part of the filthy mixture. In poorer areas, bathrooms were shared and multi-family arrangements were common. The only bathrooms I ever saw in public places were on the second floor of the Gruta Azul in Rio Abajo. They were almost never cleaned. Lude limericks, phone numbers, and pornographic drawings covered the walls, most of which it would be inappropriate to repeat. One poem that was probably composed by one of the working girls stuck in my mind:If you sprinkle,
When you tinkle.
Be a sweetie
And wipe the seatie.
In all the time I spent policing the Gruta Azul in Rio Abajo, I never went upstairs with any of the girls. Nor was I tempted to do so. It was not that I did not find them attractive, it was simply that I had learned how the sausage was made and was not enamored by any part of the process. Overall, I found prostitution repulsive. Indentured life sucks. Having sex with strange, kinky men was not worth the small amount of money they earned. Nor was the work glamorous and exciting. They were forced to act as if they liked it. The madames who managed the place did everything imaginable to get on the good side of patrolmen. Drinks for MP's were "on the house" and they soon made me aware that private parties could be arranged at no cost in exchange for looking the other way when transgressions occurred. When fights started or the women became overly aggressive, I went outside and nailed an "Off Limits" sign to the entrance. The desk sergeant would later determine the length and severity of the penalty. When special circumstances emerged, such as a troopship enroute to Vietnam docking overnight at Rodman Naval Base, restrictions were lifted by the Provost Marshal in order that the troops bound for Vietnam could party together in one place while the 534th Military Police made sure nobody went in or out without the approval of shipboard officers. The asphalt parking lot was full of grey U.S. Navy buses. Of course, these parties were exclusive and private. In essence, the U.S. Navy rented the whorehouse for the night.
Being a "straight arrow" sometimes had ludicrous consequences. One time I was introduced to a guy in a spandex speedo who made it clear he was the brothel's resident homosexual. They must have been testing me. I called him a faggot and threatened to turn him in to the Guardia Nacional (homosexuality in Panama is punishable by death). He beat a hasty retreat.
Women and girls dress in traditional costumes for fiestas and parades. They wear numerous petticoats topped by a floral-patterned dress. The garb has a practical side to it in that it enables them to squat in the street whenever they feel an urge to relieve themselves. Bystanders cannot be sure of why a girl is stooping. As far as anyone knows, they dropped something and are stooping to pick it up. At the end of the parade are sanitation workers with brooms who sweep the excrement into the gutter. By United States standards, this practice would be deemed unsanitary. But this is Panama City, Panama, where there are no public restrooms. Panama is an impoverished nation that is struggling to develop. Please, cut them some slack.
Most meat markets, carnecerias, in Panama City did not have refrigeration in the late 1960's. Many were open-air stalls, subject to contamination by flies, gnats, worms, and other pests. I never saw a butcher wear vinyl gloves, but I did see a gull swoop down on a stall near the mud flats and steal a cut of pork while the proprietor was busy with a customer. The one bright spot was that the price of beef was set at sixty cents per pound for all cuts of meat, with flap meat going at the same price as top sirloin. One consequence was that cafes bought luxury cuts such as rib eye and filet mignon early in the morning before the government inspectors went on duty. Everybody knew what was happening, but nobody ever did anything about it. The traditional way of preparing beef was to cut it into strips and cook it in salsa with peppers, garlic, tomatoes, and onions being the primary ingredients. It is normally served with white rice that has been boiled in oil before being boiled in water. It is delicious.
At night on the sidewalk outside of the bars on "J" and "K" Streets, vendors grill meat on improvised braziers made from automobile fenders—the closest thing that Panama City has to fast food. Sometimes the meat is skewered on a wooden stick, much like a kabob. The meat tends to be whatever is available: dog, rat, iguana, or bird. After a night of bar hopping, you are in no condition to care. Bon appetit.
Scams to Beware When Cantina Crawling
Salesmen are constantly going between bars attempting to pawn off shoddy goods and services on unsuspecting soldiers. My favorite is the man in a trenchcoat with a dozen watches on each arm. Inside his floor length coat is a small jewelry store with shiny bracelets and strings of pearls hanging from hooks sewed into the lining. How can he afford to sell Rolex watches, gold necklaces, and diamond rings at a discount? He will most likely say he is fencing stolen property. Of course, he is lying. He bought it from a Chinese ship in the duty-free port of Colon. It's all fake, but it looks real in the dim light of a bar. The "Rolex" watches will stop shortly after the shady character exits the bar and the "solid gold" rings will turn green from corrosion before the night is over. By the time the naive soldier returns to barracks, he realizes he has been taken by a conman. When I was on duty, I made the crooks refund the buyer's money and then I would confiscate the rest of his inventory. If he resisted, I would take his bankroll and split it with the Guardia who was accompanying me on town patrol. What I did was illegal, but I got away with it. Like everyone else, I hustled when I could. The only law I strictly obeyed was the Law of Survival. No matter how tough they were, I could be tougher.
Flitting from table to table is a man with a Polaroid (he refers to himself as a photographer). For one dollar he will capture the magic moment you spent with a drunken wench in a dimly lit corner of a cantina. Nevermind that she received a ficha for each of the drinks you bought her; love conquers all. For a mere $5, the man behind the camera will forever immortalize your tryst in a series of six photos of you squeezing the woman you just met and most likely will not remember in the morning—unless, of course, you caught the crabs or a sexually transmitted diease from her. Please do not mail the pictures to mom. She might not understand.
After midnight, an old lady wrapped in a threadbare cotton shawl slips in the front door. She goes from table to table at the Panamericana attempting to sell a rosebud to a soldier for the woman he is embracing. Although it only costs one dollar, there are few takers. If the barmaid sees her, she will throw the old woman out of the bar. I feel sorry for her and buy a rosebud which I give to Eulalia. It quickly becomes a nightly ritual when I pull town patrol. I am not sure where the roses come from, perhaps from the funeria several blocks away. Eulalia fills an empty beer bottle with water and puts the rosebud in it. It is bright red—the old lady sells no other color. One night the flower lady surprises me by saying "Thank you, Mr. Fred." Someone must have told her my first name because the black and white plastic nametag on uniform only has my last name on it. I cannot imagine how harsh her life must be. Constantly belittled by proprietors and drunken customers, she has no right to be vending flowers in bars. Everyone laughs when an angry barmaid pours beer over her head. People become mean when they drink too much. The elderly flower lady faces a constant barrage of undeserved verbal and physical abuse.
Hearts and Minds
Soldiers are taught to kill. Fighting and aggression become a way of life for combat forces. Expecting them to play nice is perhaps a bit too much. No doubt Panamanians see Yanquis at their worst. It is the responsibility of the State Department to promote America's image abroad. Panama in 1968 was a nation of less than two million people. It would not have cost that much for America to award full scholarships at United States' universities to Panama's best and brightest high school graduates. We let the Soviets beat us to the punch. When Eulalia's younger sister, Myra, received a fully paid four-year scholarship to Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, I felt ashamed. While we were defeating communism militarily, Marxism was winning the hearts and minds of the campesinos. We keep repeating the same mistakes. First Vietnam, then Panama, and later in Iraq—our State Department cannot get its act together. America is an easy sell, our diplomats need to try harder.
Gunboat diplomacy will not win the day. People resent intimidation. One should never use force until all other options have been exhausted.
Anyone from a NATO aligned nation who can pass the mental and physical tests should be able to enlist in th United States Army. Making military service a requirement for becoming a citizen would be a great improvement over granting amnesty to illegal aliens. In order to be valued, freedom must be earned, not given. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
Because most American soldiers do not speak Spanish, Panamanians tended to view us as an unwelcome foreign occupation force. Of course, this could have been easily remedied by limiting assignments in the Canal Zone to bilingual Puerto Ricans and enlisted troops who graduated from the Spanish language division of the U.S. Army Defense Language Institute. It is a simple, frugal solution to a problem that has plagued most colonial powers. It definitely beats maintaining an extensive military presence and does not produce enemies because it tends to reject unwarranted violence.
It makes no sense for the United States to spend billions on war without following it up with programs to increase the peace. The University of Panama was closed by the Panamanian government for most of the time I was in Panama. Students had no hope for the future. It should not have surprised us that they rebelled. In the late sixties Guardia Nacional troops were posted on almost every major intersection in the capital city. It was ridiculous to see sandbagged machine gun nests in the heart of the business district. What were they protecting? Neither Columbia nor Costa Rica posed a threat to Panama. Or were the checkpoints intended to strengthen the military dictatorship against a democratic uprising? The money spent on suppressing rebellion should have been spent on reopening and expanding the University of Panama. Minds are a terrible thing to waste. I fear that the Republic of Panama wasted an entire generation of the best and the brightest.
Although gringos are at times not liked by Panamanians, our goods and services have a stellar reputation. Products manufactured in the United States are known to last. American culture is emulated and readily embraced by the upper class, however, many campesinos scoff at it. Forgive them, for they are functionally illiterate and don't know any better.
Since the Panamanians no longer want us to run the Panama Canal, we ought to explore our alternatives. Using 21st century cutting edge technology, we could cut a sea-level canal without locks across Nicaragua. All it would require is a treaty between Nicaragua and the United States and initial funding by Congress. The canal should be able to accommodate two-way traffic, large navy battleships, and wide supertankers. This idea is nothing new. President Eisenhower proposed such a canal in the 1950's, but it was rejected because it involved using a series of atomic bombs to excavate the trench. Back then, we did not fully understand the danger that radiation poses.
About the time I had six months to go in order to complete my enlistment, Colonel Gereke ordered me to set up an Animal Control unit—essentially, he wanted me to become a glorified dogcatcher. I was not keen on the idea because I considered it a step backwards towards pursuing a career in law enforcement. But he was used to getting his way and I thought it better not to attempt to discourage him. He outfitted me with a brand new Chevrolet pickup with a large cage bolted to the bed, a tranquilizer dart gun, assorted loop snares, several canvas snake bags, a 100 feet coil of rope, a mobile handset radio with an improved range, and a mandate to conduct Animal Control at all military bases—Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard on the Pacific side of the canal. At this point I should have asked for a promotion to E-5, Sergeant, but it never came to mind. Later, I discovered that I, being a Spec4, lacked the rank to do the job properly. It speaks volumes that the NCO who took over my position when I ETSed stateside was an E-6, Staff Sergeant with several years in grade.
Most calls involved removing feral dogs and cats from quarters. Maids were frequently frightened by green tree snakes hanging from laundry hoses. Their venom contained a nerve agent. Antidotes were available at Gorgas Hospital for those victims who could get there within an hour. After that the heart started beating irregularly. However, since tree snakes have difficulty chewing through human skin, Trvieso-Gomez was the only person I saw bitten. Bushmasters were a far greater danger, but I know of no one who died from it.
The Desk Sergeant began to receive reports of a panther in the Curundu area. They became so numerous that my company commander ordered me to spend two weeks in the field searching for the predator. People were warned to stay inside their quarters at night. I suggested digging a large pit with poisoned pointed sticks and a live boar at the bottom, covered with a lightly thatched camouflaged bundle of palm fronds at the surface, but Colonel Gereke nixed it because a child might fall in it. How stupid. Nobody (other than me) would be dumb enough to roam the jungle at night, especially when they thought there might be a panther on the prowl. The Central American panther is akin to an Everglades panther in that it is midnight shiny black and only half as large as the panther you may have seen at a zoo. Nonetheless they have a full-sized snarl that sends shivvers up most people's spine. I wanted to kill the cat with a shotgun, but I was ordered to shoot it with a tranquilizer dart. No way! In the end, I killed it with four shots from a M-60 grenade launcher, after which I buried the evidence. My company commander suspected what I had done, but he was happy I got the Colonel off his back. Thank goodness he did not give me an Article 15 for disobeying orders. I was grateful for what I got—a long soaking shower, approximately 15 pounds of tough, stringy bushmeat, and the longest sleep I have ever had. Eulalia stewed the meat and we ate panther for six days. Please don't knock it, if you haven't tried it.
I used a number of snake snares, most of which were some variant of a length of rope or wire that was doubled before being passed through a small diameter pipe made of PVC or metal. The trick was to pull the loop over the snake's head and tighten it. Usually I would first gain control of the snake by holding its head to the ground with a forked stick. It is not nearly as dangerous as it sounds. I made safety first and was careful not to showoff or become overconfident. Nor did I take any Polaroids of me with a boa constrictor coiled around my neck. As you probably guessed, snake is good to eat. Don't let anyone deceive you by saying that snake tastes like chicken. When undercooked, it tends to be tough and/or stringy. When dining in a cosmopolitan restaurant that features reptiles, order a female iguana, the eggs in her throat sack—if cooked seperately—are delicious. Definitely not chicken; no egg whites whatsoever. It should cost approximately $50 per person (including a salad and a half liter of white wine) in Central America; if you can find it stateside, count on paying two or three times as much. It should be cooked in its own broth; sauces disguise its wild flavor. Share the experience with a girlfriend and she will be yours forever. No kidding, women are like elephants—they never forget, especially the homely, overweight ones who appreciate fine cuisine. Don't believe me? Phone (951) 689-39...and speak to Margarita. No, I am not dumb enough to give readers the full number. Margarita is mine—get your own woman.
I did it all: issuing licenses, capturing animals who posed a threat to humans, and administrating the program. Thank goodness I was getting out of the Army in a matter of months and would be boarding a flight to Fort Jackson where I would be processed for ETS, issued a Class A uniform, and handed an Honorable Discharge, written on a scrap of paper that was intended to simulate parchment.
Eulalia knew that my tour in Panama was almost over and I would be going stateside without her to pick up where I had left off at UCI when I had been drafted. I had asked for and gotten an early out to go back to school. I planned on living in a VW van to save money to pay my tuition. I could barely support myself on the paltry allowance the Veterans Administration intended to pay me. Eulalia was a saint—she never whined or carried on. Of course, she had prepared for it, having purchased a small cinderblock house on a finca in the interior for $500. She had also gone from an hourly worker at the Panamericana to a salaried manager. All of her boys were doing well in Catholic school and she was leasing an apartment in Bella Vista, less than three blocks from where she worked. She no longer needed me.
About a month before I left, we went to mass at the cathedral. It was the first time either of us had attended. Since it was conducted in Latin, we didn't get much out of it. Afterwards she gave me an amulet that consisted of thin white string wrapped tightly around a light object. She told me it would protect me from evil spirits on my flight home. I carried it in my pocket for almost a year, until the string broke and the amulet fell apart. Inside was a folded lithograph of Jesus. Superstition?—maybe. But it must have been effective because nothing bad happened to me when I had it with me.
Most short timers bought or made a short timers (advent) calendar that helped them count down the last 100 days of their tour. Mine hung from a hook inside my wall locker. Each day I opened a numbered door. When all the doors were open, it would be time to go home. My calendar featured an illustration of Wile E. Coyote screwing the Roadrunner. Underneath the drawing was a caption which stated in large bold letters "SATISFACTION". I was so short that the army ants had to climb up a vine in order to piss on me. Needless to say, the song, Short People by Randy Newman experienced a resurgence in our barracks as twenty of us prepared to catch the big silver bird that would fly us in a matter of hours to an outprocessing center in Fort Jackson. Hallelujah, Let My People Go. God is great! Stuff that in your hymnbook. Jubilation Day is almost here. Out of bondage—free at last!
I had made a number of friends during my stay in Panama. I was not yet aware of it, but they had contacted some of the guys from my platoon and were arranging a going away party for me. Now, 40 years later, I remember them well. Those that have died are still alive in my memories. Although I am in severe pain, nonetheless, I smile when I think of them. General Douglas MacArthur said it best: "Old soldiers never die, they just fade, fade away."
My last week was supposed to be spent in casual status. However, General Johnson, head of the Southern Command, was retiring. They gave him a party and posted an MP (me) to the front door. I acted as a glorified doorman, opening and closing the door for people who were perfectly capable of doing it themselves. All was fine until a Guardia Nacional sub-lieutenant had too much to drink and vomited on me. Without thinking, I threw him into the swimming pool. He deserved it. But the following day, I was given an Article 15 and reduced in rank to PFC. Adios, Good Conduct Medal. I would be going home without any medals on my chest. Some hero! Oh well . . . at least I was still going home. I had taken the military bus to Basic Training at Fort Ord with less than a dollar in my pocket. The Salvation Army took pity on me and handed me a plastic bag containing a razor, shaving cream, a toothbrush, and toothpaste—essential toiletries not issued by the U.S. Army. Three years as a Military Policeman had done little to improve my economic condition. I was going home as poor as I had come. Family is more important than money. Let the Army stuff their Article 15 up their ass. No medals, no gifts . . . my parents didn't notice. My parents were better than anything that money could buy.
Everybody whose tour of duty was up, except for me, was given a reenlistment interview. Most of them blew it off. It bothered me that I was not given the chance to do so. Had my Article 15 become an indelible stain on my record? It had not affected anybody else in that manner. Years later, I learned my medical records from 1968 were stamped with "Ineligible for Reenlistment due to Flat Feet" in the right hand corner at the top of each page. My feet got progressively worse and finally put me in a wheelchair, unable to stand or walk. Since whining about it does no good, I've done my best to forget about it and move on. The trouble is that there is only so far you can go in a manual wheelchair before you poop out. Arm muscles won't get you as far as leg muscles. Regardless of how optimistic I act, there is no escaping the fact that I got a raw deal. I wasn't the first and I wouldn't be the last. As the doughboys sang in the Great War, World War I, i.e. the war that was supposed to end all wars: Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, Smile, SMILE! Doesn't that make you want to pierce roly-poly Pillsbury Pop-N-Fresh Doughboy with your index finger until the white turns to purple and he stops that annoying chuckling?
Now that I was going home, everybody wanted to buy me a beer. On base this entailed the usual American brands, but in the republic guzzling a beer could be an adventure. Cerveza Balboa was the favorite, followed by more than a dozen Central American beers which varied greatly in taste and alcohol content. Perhaps the strangest was HB Negra. It had a kick similar to rum and was one-third mash—a meal in every bottle. Hache Be Negra; truly the breakfast of champions! Guaranteed to put hair on your chest irrespective of gender.
I got numerous lectures on sex during my tour in Panama. They all said the same thing: always wear a condom. But the Army didn't issue condoms and I was too embarassed to ask for them at the PX. Fortunately, I never caught a sexually transmitted disease. The closest I came to it was a minor case of the crabs (scabies) which everybody caught because we did not have any chairs in our barracks and we had to sit on each other's beds. Stupid, but we had no other choice.
I sold my patent leather gear to one of the replacements, gave away eighty percent of my fatigues; likewise to four pair of Class A khakis. My days in uniform were approaching the end. Besides, Fort Jackson would be issuing me an Army green Class A uniform to go home in. After I packed my duffel bag, there was lots of room left which I filled with a pack, a machete, and a pith helmet—contraband that I was told I could not take home. I figured they would confiscate it if they examined my duffel bag. I really did not care, one way or the other. For the past eighteen months I had been laying my life on the line on a daily basis. Life was full of risks—to hell with the regulations; let them do as they may. All that was important was that I was going home to my family. Almighty God had permitted me to survive. I had faith. It was all I needed to get me by.
I was flying non-stop from Tocumen International to South Carolina aboard a Flying Tigers military charter flight. Since Flying Tigers is primarily a cargo outfit, this was far from first class. In fact, the two stewards were males (a rarity in 1970). I could have cared less as long as it got me there. Goodbye Panama, hello world.
At Fort Jackson, I completed a mountain of forms, managing to process out in three days. Most soldiers took four or five days, but my experience as a clerk at Fort Hood proved invaluable. Also, I refrained from going to the PX for a beer. The one bright spot was that nobody bothered to check my duffel bag for contraband, enabling me to take home some souvenirs. I left without having to endure a reenlistment speech. No glad handing, no handshake, no phony "thank you for your service to our country"—in the end, a second lieutenant handed me a DD214 along with a Honorable Discharge and I rushed out the door without bothering to salute. I was already feeling like a carefree civilian.
The flight to LAX went well. When I went to Panama, the United States was almost in a state of civil war. Teenage girls were spitting on soldiers' uniforms and calling them "Baby Killers." That seemed to have passed. One girl did ask me if I had been in Vietnam. I replied "no" and she went away. After that, I did my best to keep to myself. Four hours later, my jetliner touched down at Los Angeles International. I was almost home. Nobody bothered me except for a trio of Hari Krishnas in saffron robes. They must have picked me because my head was shaved.
I took a Greyhound bus to Orange County and got off at the bus stop on Harbor Boulevard next to the Disneyland parking lot entrance. Since my parents lived in Garden Grove (about a mile south of Disneyland), I decided to walk the rest of the way. I was halfway there when someone pulled over to the curb and offered me a lift. Two minutes later, I was staring at a butcher paper sign stapled to our wooden garage door which said, WELCOME HOME, FRED!
Nothing can compare to a home-cooked meal. After three years of powdered eggs, shit on a shingle, field rations, and grilled lizard, I appreciated my Mom's Yankee Pot Roast, gravy, carrots, and potatoes. Everybody treated me as if I was home from the dead—nothing beats people who really care.
I was not the person I was when I left home nearly three years before. My behavior had radically changed. For one thing, loud abrupt noises gave me the willies. I was suspicious of everybody, whether I had a reason to be or not. How could people go out in public with buttons unbuttoned and shirttails hanging out? I shaved daily and had a haircut once a week. I applied for work with California's Department of Employment, indicating I wanted to work in a bookstore. They sent me to a dirty bookstore in a rundown section of Santa Ana. Porno peep shows cost a quarter each. It was sleazy beyond belief. I lasted one day.
No doubt I was an angry young man. On a whim, I decided to go to my county's monthly draft board meeting, Selective Service Board #169, Riverside County, California, and give those elderly men a piece of my mind. For one half hour they calmly listened to my vitriolic diatribe. Surprisingly, there were no interruptions. When I ended, the Board's Chairman asked me if I thought I could do a better job than them. I replied with a resounding "yes." Two weeks later, following a thorough investigaion, Governor Jerry Brown appointed me to membership in Local Board #169. Little did I know at that time that I would retire from the Selective Service System with twenty-two years service. A framed certificate congratulating me on my innovations hangs on a hallway wall. It was not easy, but I did my best.
The Republic of Panama has no 15th Amendment; no Miranda Rights; and no hot running water. What it does have is a corrupt government, narcotics trafficing, a national identity card, cedula, and an over-inflated collective ego. NO MAS PANAMA. Not even if you paid me a million dollars to go there. Panama has become a satellite state of Communist China, dependent on Chinese engineers to keep the canal running. We fought the Red Chinese in Korea. I like the United States of America. I was born here and I will be buried in a Veterans National Cematary among fellow soldiers who, like me, served their nation well. Blessed Assurance; this is where I belong.
You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars—Matthew 24:6 Being the world's sole remaining superpower is an immense burden in terms of blood and treasure. Everybody wants the good life that the Western democracies enjoy. That is alright by me, as long as they are willing to work for it. Jihadists and angry revolutionaries belong in orange jumpsuits in solitary confinement at Guantanamo Bay. There are no free rides.
Prior to United States intervention via gunboat diplomacy, Panama was an insignificant, disease-ridden province of Gran Colombia with minimal prospects for the future. We introduced modern methods of sanitation and helped it to become the strongest economy in Central America. Six decades of colonialism was a small price to pay for such long-term gains. We showed them how to do it. Some Panamanians were ungrateful, but that is their problem, not ours. Overall, the Military Police did a good job, striving to make the best we could out of a series of stressful situations set in a torrid equatorial environment. We tried, what more did you expect of us?
My son has carried on our family's military tradition. In 1997 he graduated from West Point. He became a Kiowa helicopter pilot and served three combat tours (Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan). When he became too old to fly at treetop level using night vision goggles, the Army sent him to UCLA School of Law. For several years he was a JAG lawyer. He is now in private practice in Washington, D.C. Needless to say I am proud of him, his wife, and my grandchildren.
The active draft (Selective Service System) ended in 1975 and was replaced by an all-volunteer Army. In the old Army, a drill sergeant was permitted to physically abuse new recruits. That also ended in 1975 when women became part of the regular Army. Also, the new all-volunteer Army has better morale. For a while they went overboard with the changes by installing beer can machines in barracks and propagandizing that "Today's Army Wants to Join You" in addition to the ridiculous slogan, "An Army of One." Since there is no way to window-dress a profession based on killing, recruiting has dropped the touchy-feely bullshit and recruits are now given a better understanding of how the Army functions. Today's soldiers are expected to think. Yes, they must instantly obey all lawful orders which works to inhibit excesses such as My Lai and Abu Graib. All in all, the United States Army has changed for the better. I am 66 years old. If the Army would take me in an armed conflict, I would go in a heartbeat. May there always be an Army which acts to keep American citizens free.
Should the draft ever need to be reinstated, the Selective Service System should abandon gender bias and draft women as well as men. Since women tend to mature faster than men, women would be less likely to be supportive of "unnecessary" wars.
Do not make the mistake of thinking the draft is dead. The draft has merely been placed in "inactive" status. Men are still required to register with the draft prior to their eighteenth birthday. The data on the registration card is then entered into a United States government computer on the East Coast by a programmer. Thus, the draft can be fully activated in less than four days. That is really scary.
A protest song by Country Joe and the Fish that was popular when I was drafted sets the mood for what may well happen again if we fail to be vigilant:
It's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don't know and I don't give a damn, next stop is Vietnam.
And it's five, six, seven, eight
Open up the Pearly Gates.
No need to wonder why, whoppee!—
We're all going to die.
I am for a Universal Draft which would involve three years of service to the United States in either the military or civilian sectors. We all need to learn that freedom is never free—freedom's price is eternal vigilance by the men and women who serve this country.
Ancient empires such as Rome, Achaemenid Persia, Mauryan India, and Greece may have been cruel beyond measure, but they were less cruel and delivered more predictability for the average person than did anything beyond their borders. Who says imperialism is necessarily reactionary? Athens, Rome, Venice, and Great Britain were the most enlightened regimes of their day. True, imperialism has often been driven by the pursuit of booty, but that pursuit has in many cases resulted in a hard-earned cosmopolitanism. The early modern empires of Hapsburg Austria and Ottoman Turkey were well known for their relative tolerance and protection of minorities, including the Jews. Precisely because the Hapsburg imperialists governed a diversity of ethnic and religious groups stretching from the edge of the Swiss Alps to central Romania, and from the Polish Carpathians to the Adriatic Sea, they abjured ethnic nationalism and sought a universalism almost postmodern in its design. What followed the Hapsburgs were mono-ethnic states and quasi-democracies that persecuted minorities and helped ease the path of Nazism.
All of these empires delivered more peace and stability than the United Nations ever has or probably ever could. Consider, too, the American example. The humanitarian interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, and the absence of such interventions in Rwanda and Syria, show American imperialism in action, and in abeyance.
This interpretation of empire is hardly novel; indeed, it is embodied in Rudyard Kipling's famous 1899 poem, "The White Man's Burden," which is not, as is commonly assumed, a declaration of racist aggression, but of the need for the Western nations to take up the cause of humanitarianism and good government. From Rome's widespread offer of citizenship to its subject peoples, to France's offer of a measure of equality to fluent Francophone Africans, to Britain's arrangement of truces among the Yemeni tribes, to the epic array of agricultural and educational services provided by the Europeans throughout their tropical domains—Britain's Indian Civil Service stands out—imperialism and enlightenment (albeit self-interested) have often been intertwined.
The first post-imperial American presidency since World War II, the Obama Administration, seems to have exhausted its initial initiative and fervor. The European imperialists could be eminently practical men, becoming proficient at the native languages and enhancing area expertise. Nazis and Communists, by contrast, were imperialists only secondarily; they were primarily radical utopians who sought racial and ideological submission. Thus, the critique that imperialism constitutes evil and nothing more is, broadly speaking, lazy and inaccurate, dependent as it often is on the very worst examples, such as the Belgians in the 19th-century Congo and the Russians throughout modern history in Eurasia.
Nonetheless, the argument that imperialism constitutes bad American foreign policy has serious merit: the real problem with imperialism is not that it is evil, but rather that it is too expensive and therefore a problematic overall strategy for a country like the United States. Many an empire has collapsed because of the burden of conquest. It is one thing to acknowledge the positive attributes of Rome or Hapsburg Austria; it is quite another to justify every military intervention that is considered by elites in Washington.
The critique of imperialism as expensive and unsustainable is not easily dismissed. As for the critique that imperialism merely constitutes evil: while that line of thinking is not serious, it does get at a crucial logic regarding the American Experience. That logic goes like this: America is unique in history. The United States may have strayed into empire during the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the resultant war in the Philippines. And it may have become an imperial Leviathan of sorts in the wake of World War II. At root, however, the United States was never meant to be an empire, but rather that proverbial city on a hill, offering an example to the rest of the world rather than sending its military in search of dragons to slay.
This, as it happens, is more or less the position of the Obama administration. Obama essentially wants regional powers (such as Japan in Asia, and Saudi Arabia and Israel in the Middle East) to rely less on the United States in maintaining local power balances. And he wants to keep America's enemies at bay through the use of inexpensive drones rather than the deployment of ground forces. Future wars will make increasing use of robotics. Push button warfare is here to stay. World bodies such as the Geneva Convention and the General Assembly of the United Nations would do well to anticipate advances in military technology and establish parameters to keep them from getting out of hand.
The Secretary of State's energetic diplomacy vis-a-vis Iran and Israel-Palestine might seem like a brave effort to set the Middle East's house in order, thereby facilitating the so-called American pivot to Asia. And yet, no one believes that Iran, Israel, or Palestine will suffer negative consequences from the United States if negotiations fail. Once lifted, the toughest sanctions on Iran will not be reinstated. Israel can always depend on its legions of support in Congress, and the Palestinians have nothing to fear from President Barack Obama. The dread of imperial-like retribution that accompanied Henry Kissinger's 1970s shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East is nowhere apparent. Unlike former Secretary-of-State Kissinger, the current Secretary of State has articulated no grand strategy or even a basic strategic conception.
Rather than Obama's post-imperialism, in which the secretary of state appears like a lonely and wayward operator encumbered by an apathetic White House, it stands that a tempered imperialism is now preferable.
No other power or constellation of powers is able to provide even a fraction of the global order provided by the United States. United States' air and sea dominance preserves the peace, such as it exists, in Asia and the Greater Middle East. American military force, reasonably deployed, is what ultimately protects democracies as diverse as Poland, Israel, and Taiwan from being overrun by enemies. If America sharply retrenched its air and sea forces, while starving its land forces of adequate supplies and training, the world would be a far more anarchic place, with adverse repercussions for the American homeland.
Rome, Greece, and Hapsburg Austria were great precisely because they gave significant parts of the world a modicum of imperial order that they would not otherwise have enjoyed. America must presently do likewise, particularly in East Asia, the geographic heartland of the world economy and the home of American treaty allies.
This by no means obliges the American military to repair complex and populous Islamic countries that lack critical components of civil society. America must patrol the world with its ships and planes, but be very wary of where it gets involved on the ground. And it must start military hostilities only when an overwhelming national interest is threatened. Otherwise, it should limit its involvement to economic inducements and ongoing diplomacy—diplomacy that exerts every possible pressure in order to prevent widespread atrocities in parts of the world, such as central Africa, that are not, in the orthodox sense, strategic.
That would be a policy direction that internalizes both the drawbacks and the benefits of imperialism, not as it has been conventionally thought of, but as it has actually been practiced throughout history.
World trade depends on a stable environment—the fewer wars, conflicts, and civil disturbances, the better. Just as commerce flourished in the Golden Age of the Roman Empire during the Pax Romana, so business is flourishing today during the Pax Americana, which is to say that we are living in the Golden Age of the American Empire. We won World War I, II and the Cold War. Fascism, Communism, and all forms of totalitarianism are in decline. Yes, a few anomalies exist such as Cuba, Iran, and North Korea, but these nations are suffering from American sanctions. I predict that it is only a matter of time until their people cast off their chains and join the globalization bandwagon. Let's pray we have seen the end of world war. Of course, the aggressive nature of mankind dictates that there will always be bush wars and revolutions, but America's military might—an estimated 800 overseas military bases—ensures that they won't get out of hand. It's a good thing to be the world's last remaining superpower. Although patriotism may no longer be in fashion, I cannot help but say "Long Live the United States of America!" I survived the draft—in effect, it didn't kill me and only served to make me stronger. Citizenship should come at a price. For three generations my family has given military service to America. Of that, I am justifiably proud. Pax Americana, good for the United States, good for the world. It's a win-win situation. With luck, we can quit wasting our precious resources on fighting and turn to finding a cure for cancer and eradicating the common cold. Godspeed to a better tomorrow, where malnutrition, poverty, disease, injustice, and sorrow are no more.
About the Author
The author, Fred Dungan, was born in the Veterans' Hospital (at that time it was a U.S. Navy Hospital) at 7th and Bellflower in 1948 in Long Beach, California. At the age of nineteen, he was drafted by the Orange County, California, Draft Board in February 1968, one month after the Tet Offensive killed a substantial percentage of the Military Policemen in Saigon. At the time, he was in his sophomore year at the University of California at Irvine and was earning good grades. However, the Selective Service System judged that he was in a major that was not essential to the war effort and unilaterally changed his Selective Service status from 2-S to 1-A.
He took Basic Training at Fort Ord, California, and was later sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia for twelve weeks of MOS training as a Military Policeman.
In December 1970 he was granted an early out to return to the University of California at Irvine. He graduated with a Bachelor degree in Social Science in December 1972. Ironically, he subsequently served 22 years as a member of Selective Service Board #169, Riverside County, California, having been appointed by California Governor Jerry Brown during his first term in office.
Military Bases in U.S.A
Anniston Army Depot, AL
Fort Rucker, AL
Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, AL
Redstone Arsenal, AL
Clear AS, AK
Eielson Air Force Base, AK
Elmendorf Air Force Base, AK
Fort Greely, AK
Fort Richardson, AK
Fort Wainwright, AK
United States Coast Guard ISC Kodiak, AK
United States Coast Guard Juneau, AK
United States Coast Guard Ketchikan, AK
Arizona Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, AZ
Fort Huachuca, AZ
Luke Air Force Base, AZ
MCAS Yuma, AZ
Yuma Proving Ground, AZ
Little Rock AFB, AR
Pine Bluff Arsenal, AR
Beale Air Force Base, CA
Camp Pendleton, CA
DLI FLC Presidio-Monterey, CA
Defense Distribution Depot San Joaquin, CA
Edwards Air Force Base, CA
Fort Irwin, CA
Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA
MCAGCC 29 Palms, CA
MCAS Miramar, CA
MCLB Barstow, CA
MCRD San Diego, CA
March Air Force Base, CA
McClellan Air Force Base, CA
Naval Air Station Lemoore, CA
Naval Air Station North Island, CA
Naval Air Station Pt. Mugu, CA
NB Point Loma, CA
NCBC Port Heuneme, CA
Naval Station San Diego, CA
NWS China Lake, CA
Naval Post Graduate School, CA
Travis AFB, CA
United States Coast Guard TRACEN Petaluma, CA
Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA
Buckley Air Force Base
Fort Carson, CO
Petersen Air Force Base, CO
Schriever Air Force Base, CO
United States Air Force Academy, CO
NSB New London, CT
Dover Air Force Base, DE
District of Columbia
Bolling Air Force Base, DC
Fort McNair, DC
NAVDIST Washington, DC
Walter Reed Army Medical Center, DC
Eglin Air Force Base, FL
HQ SouthCom, FL
Hurlburt Air Force Base, FL
MacDill Air Force Base, FL
Naval Air Station Jacksonville, FL
Naval Air Station Key West, FL
NAS Pensacola, FL
Naval Air Station Whiting Field, FL
NCSS Panama City, FL
Naval Station Mayport, FL
NTTC Corry Station, FL
Patrick Air Force Base, FL
Tyndall Air Force Base, FL
United States Coast Guard Miami, FL
Fort Benning, GA
Fort Gordon, GA
Fort McPherson, GA
Fort Stewart, GA
Hunter Army Airfield, GA
MCLB Albany, GA
Moody AFB, GA
NAS Atlanta, GA
NSB Kings Bay, GA
Robins Air Force Base, GA
COMNAVREG (OAHU), HI
Hickam Air Force Base, HI
MCBH Kaneohe Bay, HI
Naval Station Barking Sands, HI
Naval Station Pearl Harbor
United States Coast Guard ISC Honolulu, HI
Mountain Home Air Force Base, ID
Charles M. Price Support, IL
NTC Great Lakes, IL
Rock Island Arsenal, IL
Scott Air Force Base, IL
Grissom ARB, IN
Fort Leavenworth, KS
Fort Riley, KS
McConnell Air Force Base, KS
Fort Campbell, KY
Fort Knox, KY
United States Army Recruiting Command, KY
Barksdale AFB, LA
Fort Polk, LA
Naval Air Station JRB New Orleans, LA
NSA New Orleans, LA
Naval Air Station Brunswick, ME
Aberdeen Test Center, MD
Andrews Air Force Base, MD
Fort Detrick, MD
Fort Meade, MD
NAS Patuxent River, MD
NSGA Ft. Meade, MD
United States Naval Academy, MD
Devens Reserve Training Area, MA
Hanscom AFB, MA
Soldier Systems Center, MA
Battle Creek Federal Center, MI
Columbus AFB, MS
Keesler Air Force Base, MS
NAS Meridian, MS
NCBC Gulfport, MS
NS Pascagoula, MS
Fort Leonard Wood, MO
MCSA Kansas City, MO
Whiteman AFB, MO
Malmstrom AFB, MT
NAS Fallon, NV
Nellis AFB, NV
NS Portsmouth, NH
Fort Dix, NJ
Fort Monmouth, NJ
McGuire AFB, NJ
NAES Lakehurst, NJ
NWS Earle, NJ
Picatinny Arsenal, NJ
Cannon Air Force Base, NM
Holloman AFB, NM
Kirtland AFB, NM
White Sands Missile Range, NM
Fort Drum, NY
Fort Hamilton, NY
NSU Saratoga Springs, NY
United States Military Academy West Point, NY
Watervliet Arsenal, NY
Camp Lejeune, NC
Fort Bragg, NC
MCAS Cherry Point, NC
MCAS New River, NC
Pope Air Force Base, NC
Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, NC
USCG Elizabeth City, NC
Grand Forks AFB, ND
Minot AFB, ND
Defense Supply Ctr Columbus, OH
Wright-Patterson AFB, OH
Altus AFB, OK
Fort Sill, OK
McAlester Army Ammo, OK
Tinker AFB, OK
Vance AFB, OK
Carlisle Barracks, PA
Defense Depot Susquehanna, PA
Defense Supply Ctr Philadelphia, PA
NAS JRB Willowgrove, PA
Tobyhanna Army Depot, PA
NS Newport, RI
Charleston AFB, SC
Fort Jackson, SC
MCAS Beaufort, SC
MCRD Parris Island, SC
NWS Charleston, SC
Shaw Air Force Base, SC
Ellsworth AFB, SD
Arnold AFB, TN
NSA Mid-South, TN
Brooks AFB, TX
Dyess AFB, TX
Fort Bliss, TX Fort Hood, TX
Fort Sam Houston, TX
Goodfellow AFB, TX
Kelly AFB, TX
Lackland AFB, TX
Laughlin AFB, TX
NAS Corpus Christi, TX
NAS JRB Fort Worth, TX
NAS Kingsville, TX
NS Ingleside, TX
Randolph Air Force Base, TX
Red River Army Depot, TX
Sheppard AFB, TX
Dugway Proving Ground, UT
Hill AFB, UT
Tooele Army Depot, UT
Defense Supply Ctr Richmond, VA
FCTCLANT Dam Neck, VA
Fort Belvoir, VA
Fort Eustis, VA
Fort Lee, VA
Fort Monroe, VA
Fort Myer, VA
Fort Story, VA
Henderson Hall, VA
Langley AFB, VA
NAB Little Creek, VA
NAS Oceana, VA
NS Norfolk, VA
NSGA Northwest, VA
NSWCDD Dahlgren, VA
NWS Yorktown, VA
SCSC Wallops Island, VA
USCG Hampton Roads, VA
USCG TC Yorktown, VA
Fairchild AFB, WA
Fort Lewis, WA
McChord Air Force Base, WA
NAS Whidbey Island, WA
NS Bremerton, WA
NS Everett, WA
NSB Bangor, WA
Fort McCoy, WI
FE Warren Air Force Base, WY
Joint Base—Pine Gap, Alice Springs
NS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
NSF Diego Garcia
Bad Aibling, Germany
Bad Kreuznach, Germany
Geilenkirchen AB, Germany
Ramstein AB, Germany
Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany
Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany
United States Army Europe, Germany
NSA Souda Bay, Greece
Thule Air Force Base, Greenland
Naval Air Station, Keflavik, Iceland
Aviano AB, Italy
Naval Air Syation, Sigonnella, Italy
NSA Gaeta, Italy
NSA La Maddalena, Italy
NSA Naples, Italy
Camp S.D. Butler, Japan
Camp Zama, Japan
FLTACT Sasebo, Japan
Kadena AB, Japan
Marine Corps Air Station, Iwakuni, Japan
Misawa AB, Japan
NAF Atsugi, Japan
Torii Station, Japan
Yokota AB, Japan
Lajes Field, Portugal
Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico
Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico
United States Military Training Mission, Saudi Arabia
COMFLEACTS Chinhae, South Korea
Camp Humphreys, South Korea
Kunsan AB, South Korea
Osan AB, South Korea
NS Rota, Spain
Incirlik AB, Turkey
Izmir AB, Turkey
JMF St. Mawgan, UK
Royal Air Force, Lakenheath, UK
RAF Menwith Hill, UK
RAF Mildenhall, UK
RAF Molesworth, UK
US Naval Activities, London UK
Buchanan, Pat, A Republic, Not an Empire: Reclaiming America's Destiny,Regnery Publishing, 1999, Washington, D.C.
Fulbright, J. William and Tillman, Seth P., The Price of Empire, 1989, Pantheon Books
Koster, R.M. and Sanchez, Guillermo, In the Time of the Tyrants: Panama 1968 - 1990, W. W. Norton & Company, 1990, New York, 430 pp.
LaFeber, Walter, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America, 1993, W. W. Norton & Company