Say Goodbye to Sailor Man

Say Goodbye to Sailor Man

By Jack Summer

It was 25 years ago on 31 Oct 1995, that one chapter in my life ended and I moved on to the next one. I retired from the UNITED STATES NAVY.

The ship that I was on left for the east coast to be decommissioned. If I hadn’t already been through the Panama Canal once before I would have stuck around but I put my papers in. It was time to go. So I was transferred to Naval Station San Diego for a little less than two months. There I had to call in a couple of times a week from home and showed up only once in uniform to let them know that I was still alive. It was some tough duty.

On my last day I just had to go to the personnel office on base to sign some paperwork and get a copy of my service and medical records and then I drove home. When I got home I just didn’t want to take that uniform off so I passed out Halloween candy to the neighborhood kids still wearing it. I still have it hanging up in bedroom closet where it hasn’t been worn since. I’m sometimes tempted for sentimental reasons to try it on but I’m sure that it has shrunk over the years, but the hat still fits though.

Do I miss being in the Navy? Yes and No. I don’t miss the BS but the same can be said about everywhere you go in life. The one thing I do miss is the people. From the camaraderie that was developed while on a ship that was rocking and rolling during heavy seas to all of the foreign ports that we hit on the way (I’ll just leave that one to your imagination) it can be a tight knit family.

I haven’t been getting much trick or treaters these last few years though. The neighbors kids have all grown up and moved on and my house is in a not so target rich environment. Who the hell would want to walk to my house up in the hills to get a couple of Kit Kat or Snickers bars, I know as an ex-kid I wouldn’t!!!

But I will be ready for them if they do show up. The wife has bought a big bag of candy and it’s ready to go in a plastic jack-o-lantern that we got years ago. She has even given me a warning (as she does every year) not to touch it and that it’s for the kids. HA!

So from this Sailor Man I wish you all a HAPPY HALLOWEEN and don’t eat all of the candy, save some of it for the day after.


Good Night, Jerry Jeff Walker

Good Night, Jerry Jeff Walker

“I’m wild and I’m mean, I’m creating a scene

I’m goin’ crazy

I’m good and I’m bad, I’m happy and sad

And I’m lazy

I’m quiet and loud and I’m creatin’ a crowd

And I like rabies

I’m ’bout half off the wall but I learned it all

In the Navy”


CPO Richard McKenna and Sand Pebbles

CPO Richard McKenna and Sand Pebbles

By Peter Yeschenko

One of my favorite movies is the 1966 movie “The Sand Pebbles.”

The movie was set in pre-WWII China and was based on a book/novel written by Richard McKenna, a career Navy Sailor who spent time in the Far East during the 1930s.


DID YOU KNOW…that the writer of the Sand Pebbles was a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer?!


Chief McKenna was born in 1913 in a small town in Idaho.

Seeking more opportunities than could be found in such a rural part of the country at the height of the Great Depression, Chief McKenna joined the US Navy in 1931 at the age of 18.

He served for 22 years, including 10 years of active sea duty. He also served in both World War II and the Korean War and retired shortly afterward as a Chief Machinist’s Mate.

Because of the benefits of the GI Bill, Chief McKenna was able to attend college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he studied creative writing.

He also married a librarian, Eva, whom he met at the college.

Chief McKenna’s most popular book was The Sand Pebbles in 1962, a 597-page novel later made into the well-known 1966 film of the same title.

The protagonist was an enlisted career Sailor on a US Navy river gunboat named the San Pablo in China during the 1920s.

Chief McKenna himself served aboard a river gunboat on the Yangtze Patrol, but about ten years after the events in his novel and of more modern construction.

USS San Pablo was an ancient gunboat seized from the Spanish in 1898.

The Sand Pebbles won the $10,000 1963 Harper Prize Novel and was chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.

Chief McKenna suffered a heart attack and died at his Chapel Hill N.C. home on 4 November 1964, at age 51.




By Anonymous

Now each of us from time to time has gazed upon the sea

and watched the mighty warships pulling out to keep this country free.

And most of us have read a book or heard a lusty tale,

about these men who sail these ships through lightning, wind and hail.

But there’s a place within each ship that legend’s fail to teach.

It’s down below the water-line and it takes a living toll

– – a hot metal living hell, that sailors call the “Hole.”

It houses engines run with steam that makes the shafts go round.

A place of fire, noise, and heat that beats your spirits down.

Where boilers like a hellish heart, with the blood of angry steam,

are molded gods without remorse, are nightmares in a dream. Whose threat from the fire’s roar, is like a living doubt,

that at any moment with such scorn, might escape and crush you out.

Where turbines scream like tortured souls, alone and lost in Hell,

are ordered from above somewhere, they answer every bell.

The men who keep the fires lit and make the engines run,

are strangers to the light and rarely see the sun.

They have no time for man or God, no tolerance for fear,

their aspect pays no living thing a tribute of a tear.

For there’s not much that men can do that these men haven’t done,

beneath the decks, deep in the hole, to make the engines run.

And every hour of every day they keep the watch in Hell,

for if the fires ever fail their ship’s a useless shell. When ships converge to have a war upon an angry sea,

the men below just grimly smile at what their fate will be.

They’re locked below like men fore-doomed, who hear no battle cry,

it’s well assumed that if they’re hit, men below will die.

For every day’s a war down there when gauges all read red,

twelve-hundred pounds of heated steam can kill you mighty dead.So if you ever write their songs or try to tell their tale,

the very words would make you hear a fired furnace’s wail.

And people as a general rule don’t hear of these men of steel,

so little heard about this place that sailors call the “Hole.”

But I can sing about this place and try to make you see,

the hardened life of the men down there, ’cause one of them is me.

I’ve seen these sweat-soaked heroes fight in superheated air,

to keep their ship alive and right, though no one knows they’re there.And thus they’ll fight for ages on till warships sail no more,

amid the boiler’s mighty heat and the turbine’s hellish roar.

So when you see a ship pull out to meet a war-like foe,

remember faintly if you can, “The Men Who Sail Below.”


USS Barbour County LST-1195

USS Barbour County LST-1195

Underway 26 January 1984, the USS Barbour County LST- 1195 spent five weeks conducting individual ship drills and amphibious refresher training with Marines from Camp Pendleton.

In late March 1984, USS Barbour County’s engineering departments began training for service inspections.

She moved alongside the USS Ajax AR-6 for last-minute engine repairs on 13 April.

Departing San Diego on 23 March, the tank landing ship moved to the Silver Strand Amphibious Boat area for her final week of pre-deployment refresher training.

A sign of the troubles to come were two small fires that broke out that day, one in an air conditioning compressor and another in an ice machine motor.

Despite high winds and heavy seas, the USS Barbour County conducted two days of difficult beaching and bow ramp exercises on the strand.

Late in the afternoon on 25 April 1984, the USS Barbour County began her last planned beaching operation.

Unfortunately, while trying to retract, the ship swung to starboard, jammed her rudders in the sand and, by 1840, she was fully broached in the surf.

Damage control parties ballasted the ship down to reduce wave damage for the night.

The following day, fleet tugs USS Quapaw ATF-110, the USS Narrangansett T-ATF-167, and rescue ship USS Florikan ASR-9 towed the USS Barbour County off the beach.

To add insult to injury, while moored at San Diego, the USS Barbour County suffered a major fire in the bosun’s locker on 2 June 1984.

Following a series of temporary repairs and inspections, the USS Barbour County was towed to San Pedro on 16 October to commence a major yard period at the Todd Pacific Shipyard.

These repairs included new hull plating, engines, and steering gear as well as numerous electronics upgrades.

The tank landing ship began sea trials on 4 June 1985 and, after successful completion moved to San Diego on the 22 June.

Numerous months of refresher training were required to get the ship back into shape, however, and these exercises were not complete until early November 1985 when she finished her last week of amphibious landing operations.


A Snipe Primer on Tools

A Snipe Primer on Tools


DRILL PRESS: A tall upright machine useful for suddenly snatching flat metal bar stock out of your hands so that it smacks you in the chest and flings your beer across the room, denting the freshly-painted project which you had carefully set in the corner where nothing could get to it.

WIRE WHEEL: Cleans paint off bolts and then throws them somewhere under the workbench with the speed of light. Also removes fingerprints and hard-earned calluses from fingers in about the time it takes you to say, ‘Oh shit!’

DROP SAW: A portable cutting tool used to make studs too short.

PLIERS: Used to round off bolt heads. Sometimes used in the creation of blood-blisters.

BELT SANDER: An electric sanding tool commonly used to convert minor touch-up jobs into major refinishing jobs.

HACKSAW: One of a family of cutting tools built on the Ouija board principle… It transforms human energy into a crooked, unpredictable motion, and the more you attempt to influence its course, the more dismal your future becomes.

VISE-GRIPS: Generally used after pliers to completely round off bolt heads. If nothing else is available, they can also be used to transfer intense welding heat to the palm of your hand.

OXYACETYLENE TORCH: Used almost entirely for lighting on fire various flammable objects in your shop. Also handy for igniting the grease inside the wheel hub out of which you want to remove a bearing race.

TABLE SAW: A large stationary power tool commonly used to launch wood projectiles for testing wall integrity.

HYDRAULIC FLOOR JACK: Used for lowering an automobile to the ground after you have installed your new brake shoes, trapping the jack handle firmly under the bumper.

BAND SAW: A large stationary power saw primarily used by most shops to cut good aluminum sheet into smaller pieces that more easily fit into the trash can after you cut on the inside of the line instead of the outside edge.

TWO-TON ENGINE HOIST: A tool for testing the maximum tensile strength of everything you forgot to disconnect.

PHILLIPS SCREWDRIVER: Normally used to stab the vacuum seals under lids or for opening old-style paper-and-tin oil cans and splashing oil on your shirt; but can also be used, as the name implies, to strip out Phillips screw heads.

STRAIGHT SCREWDRIVER: A tool for opening paint cans. Sometimes used to convert common slotted screws into non-removable screws and butchering your palms.

PRY BAR: A tool used to crumple the metal surrounding that clip or bracket you needed to remove in order to replace a 50 cent part.

HOSE CUTTER: A tool used to make hoses too short.

HAMMER: Originally employed as a weapon of war, the hammer nowadays is used as a kind of divining rod to locate the most expensive parts adjacent the object we are trying to hit.

UTILITY KNIFE: Used to open and slice through the contents of cardboard cartons delivered to your front door; works particularly well on contents such as seats, vinyl records, liquids in plastic bottles, collector magazines, refund checks, and rubber or plastic parts. Especially useful for slicing work clothes, but only while in use.

ADJUSTABLE WRENCH: aka “Another hammer”, aka “the Swedish Nut Lathe”, aka “Crescent Wrench”. Commonly used as a one size fits all wrench, usually results in rounding off nut heads before the use of pliers. Will randomly adjust size between bolts, resulting in busted buckles, curse words, and multiple threats to any inanimate objects within the immediate vicinity.

SON OF A BITCH TOOL: Any handy tool that you grab and throw across the garage while yelling ‘SON OF A BITCH!’ at the top of your lungs. It is also, most often, the next tool that you will need.


Boy Howdy Says Goodbye To Maria

Boy Howdy Says Goodbye To Maria

By Garland Davis

Boy Jenkins and Sam walked into the Southern Ozarks bar. He took his seat at the same table he had sat at every Friday night for the last two years. Sam turned in a circle twice as dogs do and lay down beside him. Jeanette, the waitress, said, “Howdy Boy Howdy,” as she brought his usual draft beer and a double of Kentucky Bourbon. He tasted the bourbon and followed it with a sip of the beer.

He said, “Sam, I don’t know if you are a lucky Sumbitch you don’t drink or if you are an unlucky Sumbitch you don’t drink, either way, here’s looking’ at you shipmate.” Sam’s tail swatted the floor twice in acknowledgment. He had found Sam as a puppy cowering in the cold rain at a truck stop near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Sam became his driving partner for three years until he retired and then became his housemate at a cabin in the Ozarks.

Boy and his twin sister had been born in one of the Southern states with only A’s for vowels. His mother had died shortly after their birth. A clerk preparing the birth certificates had entered their names as “Boy” and “Girl” Jenkins. Girl had been adopted by a family from Memphis and Boy had been taken by an uncle to raise who beat him and used him as slave labor on his farm. When he turned seventeen, Boy confronted him and forced the ‘uncle’ to sign the permission for him to join the Navy at seventeen.

His sister had learned that she had a twin brother while trying to find her birth parents and had tracked him down while they were still on active duty. He was proud of her. She had retired as a Commander in the CNO’s Public Information Office. She lives with her husband near her two daughters and their families in Charleston. Boy and Sam travel there for Thanksgiving each year,

Boy took another pull from the whiskey and pulled a worn photo from his pocket and propped it against the saltshaker. It was a black and white image of a smiling young Filipino girl. It was the only picture he had of Little Sister Maria. She was the sister of an old girlfriend with whom he had fallen in love with and planned to marry until the ship’s captain had arranged a transfer back to the states to prevent another of his sailors from marrying a Filipino. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Boy was able to get his detailer to modify the orders to the Riverine forces in Vietnam.

Boy gave Maria all the money he had and all he could borrow from the Credit Union. He would be back on R&R in six months and without interference, he could push the marriage request and they would be married within a year. He arranged with his old Chief who was stationed at Subic to receive and cash money orders and provide the money to Maria.

The Riverine forces were more of an advisor/trainer function during the last year of the war. The American sailors were observers instead of active participants in operations, though there was little difference between getting shot at as driver or passenger.

All Boy’s plans for his life with Maria ended the night a Vietnamese coxswain panicked under fire and accidentally rammed another boat. Boy’s right arm was fractured in four places and he was unconscious, in a coma, when he was evacuated from the war. He progressed from a hospital ship off the coast of Nam to the hospital at Clark AFB and finally to Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii.

After regaining consciousness in Hawaii, Boy’s earliest memory was walking down the steps of the Admin building in Charleston and saluting a pretty female Ensign. Over the next few months, he slowly regained memories of San Diego and USS Chicago until one morning he awakened knowing everything.

Over the next few years Boy searched for Maria. He took three thirty day leave periods and walked the streets of Olongapo hoping to see her lovely face coming his way. He hired Filipino Private Detectives to find her. All to no avail.

The years passed. Boy became a Chief Petty Officer and eventually retired from the Navy. He lived in Olongapo for two years in one last hope that he would find Maria. He finally gave that up and moved to San Diego where he spent a few years working at a marina taking care of rich men’s boats.

Laughing at an old joke about a grizzled retired Chief who placed a boat anchor over his shoulder and started walking inland, Boy decided to metaphorically do the same.

Someone asked the Chief, “What are you going to do with that anchor Chief?”

“I’m gonna walk until someone asks me where you are going that funny-looking pick and that is where I am going to live for the rest of my life.”

The Southern Ozarks became that place for Boy. He became a nomad trucker, working for a small company and going where the loads carried him. He did that for a number of years and decided one morning to retire from working and catch up on the books he wanted to read. Besides, he suspected that Sam was getting a little tired of holding down the right seat of that Peterbilt. He had never spent a lot of money on himself and it had accumulated in the bank and credit union. He had more of the stuff than he would ever need, and his pension and Social Security provided more each month. He bought a cabin and five acres backed up to what passes for a mountain in Southern Missouri and he and Sam settled down to live out their lives.

Boy sipped his beer and bourbon and looked sadly at Maria’s picture. He said softly, “Honey, it is forty years ago today we said goodbye. I loved you then and I love you as much now. Sometimes a smell or whiff in the air takes my mind back to many years ago and you are with me there. I can almost hear you talking or laughing in my heart. That’s when I long for our days together. I sit here on this date each year contemplating what should have been our life.”

A single tear slowly trailed down his cheek as he drank down the bourbon and signaled for another.

As Boy sat staring at the photo, a tall slender woman came through the door and walked to the bar. She talked for a minute with Jeanette and then walked to his table. “May, I sit and talk with you for a few minutes Mister Jenkins?”

Yes, if you make that Chief. Mister never seemed to fit me too well.”

As she pulled the chair out and sat, she noticed the picture leaning against the saltshaker and with an intake of her breath she said, “Maria.”

Shocked, Boy asked, “How do you know Maria? Where is she? Tell me.”

“Maria died of cancer many years ago in North Carolina where she lived with her sister Lila. She thought you were killed in the war at first but when she couldn’t find your name on the wall she became convinced that you were alive. Here is a letter that she wrote to you. It was returned as undeliverable. She thought you had been killed in the war.” She said as she passed an unopened envelope to him. It was addressed to him in Vietnam. Someone had written across the front, “KIA!”

“With trembling hands, he opened the letter. It was short, a profession of her love and to tell him that she was pregnant, and they would have a child in the spring.”

He said, “A baby. Maria’s baby! Do you know where the child is today? he said as the tears dripped off his chin.

She placed her hands over his clenched fists and said the word for the first time in her life.



Navy Birthday 2020

Navy Birthday 2020

245 years ago today On Friday, October 13, 1775, meeting in Philadelphia, the Continental Congress voted to fit out two sailing vessels, armed with ten carriage guns, as well as swivel guns, and manned by crews of eighty, and to send them out on a cruise of three months to intercept transports carrying munitions and stores to the British army in America. This was the original legislation out of which the Continental Navy grew and as such constitutes the birth certificate of the navy.

USS Bonhomme Richard (1765)

USS Missouri

Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier


Virginia Class Submarine

Fast Attack Submarine at work

Captain John Paul Jones





By Dick “Beak” Stratton, Captain, USN (Ret.)

It was a warmer than usual summer day in Clark, South Dakota when a rather large and ungainly young man, a recent high school graduate, set about finding his way in the world. The salivating Navy recruiter asked the youngster what it would take to have him sign up: “why, I’d like to go to Australia .” It was as good as done. After all, in 1966, if you were lucky enough to ship out on the USS Canberra, more likely than not, during the course of your hitch, there will be a port call to the ship’s namesake— Canberra, Australia.

This young man came from a solid, patriotic Norwegian Lutheran stock that believed when your country called, you answered. You did not go to the bus station but to the recruiting station. You did not go to Oxford, you went to Vietnam. So Douglas Brent Hegdahl III shipped out to boot camp at San Diego, where he slept through the Code of Conduct lectures since he would not be fighting in the trenches. Lo and behold, he did get orders to the USS Canberra. At that time Canberra with 8-inch guns mounted on the pointy end and missiles on the round end was assigned to steam with the Gulf of Tonkin Yacht Club in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam. (And, yes, She did have Canberra, Australia on her Port of Call list.)

Doug’s battle station was the aft ammunition handling room for the 5-inch guns, located aft in the bowels of the ship. One morning he had the 0100 watch while the Canberra was steaming down the coast of North Vietnam firing its 8-inch guns against targets of opportunity (bicycles, water buffalo and occasional trucks) on Highway 1.

At about 0330 he rolled out of the rack. Being a prudent farm boy, he locked all his valuables in his locker and then proceeded to go out on the deck for a breath of fresh air before manning his battle station. Now there is a non-repetitive exercise in the surface Navy called “going out on deck when big guns are firing.” If the concussion does not blow you over the side, it will at least blow out your eardrums. But Doug must have slept through that safety lecture. He doesn’t know what happened. Either not being night-adapted, or being without his glasses, or concussion did it, he ended up going arse over teakettle into the South China Sea about three miles offshore with no life preserver, no identification, no nothing. Meanwhile, he watched the Love Boat merrily steaming over the horizon, firing at the coastline and never missing him for two days.

There is not much to do in the South China Sea at 0345. He took off his boondockers and hung them around his neck in case he needed them when he reached the shore. He stripped off his dungarees, zipped up the fly, tie off the cuffs, and popped them over his head, as he was taught, to make a life preserver. He reports back to you that it doesn’t work. (He missed the part about old dungarees, with holes, out of the Lucky Bag would have to be kept wet if they were to hold any air at all.) So he put on his trousers, socks and shoes. (Sharks? Sea snakes?) Somewhere along the line he had heard that drowning was a “nice way to die;” so he thought he would try it out. He put his hands over his head and down he went—bloop, bloop, bloop.

Now both he and I had heard the myth that when drowning you would get cuddly, warm, all the nice things in your life would flash by in your mind and you would go to your eternal reward to the sound of music (harp?). Doug resurfaced and reports back to us that it is all malarkey: there are no movies, there is no music and it’s colder than Hell!

As dawn came he started swimming away from the sun, hopefully towards shore. He could see the haze of land, but the harder he tried, the further back it receded. So he just rolled on his back, playing like a whale, humming a few tunes and saying a few prayers. Notice he never gave up. How many people have we been exposed to in the course of our lives, in a situation like that would have just plain given up? About 1800 that same day, a Vietnamese fishing boat came by and hauled him out of the water—some twelve hours later. Even those peasant fishermen could figure out that this moose would never fit in the cockpit of an A4 Skylark. They turned him upside down and inside out which garnered them absolutely nothing. Remember, he had prudently left everything back on the ship in his locker. Picture yourself being tortured to admit you were a CIA agent who entered the water in Coronado, California to swim ten thousand miles across the Pacific to infiltrate their shores!

When the authorities got him ashore, they showed Doug piles of materials allegedly written by Yankee Air Pirates who had been captured before him. (95% of those captured in North Vietnam had been tortured, were not offered the option of death, and were made to give more than Name, Rank, Serial Number and Date of Birth sequence permitted by the Military Code of Conduct and required by International Law.)

Doug recognized that something was amiss, but, as he said later, “Geeze, they’re officers, they must know what they are doing.” So he decided his best ploy was to pretend to be stupid. He got them off target by comparing farms in North Vietnam and South Dakota. He didn’t realize that even then the Communists were categorizing him to gauge his usefulness to their cause. His dad had about ten motel units, numberless vehicles and all kinds of land—but no water buffalo. No water buffalo meant in Vietnamese parlance that he was a “poor peasant.” This is just as well, as Communists had murdered over 20 million “rich peasants” in their various revolutions because those folks are unreconstructed capitalists. A little miffed at first, Doug caught on right away—he is a quick study—it was to his advantage to play out the poor peasant act to the bitter end.

Tired of the verbal jousting the Communist cadres told him that he would have to write and anti-war statement for them. He joyously agreed. The interrogators were dumbfounded. This was the first Yankee to agree to do anything without being tortured first. They brought out the paper, ink and pens. He admired them all and then stated: “But one small thing. I can’t read or write. I’m a poor peasant.” This was quite credible to the Vietnamese since their poor peasants could neither read nor write.

So they assigned a Vietnamese to teach him penmanship, spelling, grammar and sentence structure. Immediately his learning curve went flat. Eventually, the interrogators gave up in disgust; writing a confession for him and having him sign it in an illegible scrawl. He admitted to the war crime of shelling the presidential birthplace of Ho Chi Minh and signed it as Seaman Apprentice Douglas Brent Hegdahl III, United States Navy Reserve, Commanding Officer, USS Canberra.

No one has ever seen this piece of paper.

Doug was shuffled around from pillar to post since his captors didn’t know where he would fit into their propaganda plans. One mistake they made was to put him in for a while with Joe Crecca, an Air Force officer who had developed a method of creating the most organized memory bank we possessed to record the names of pilots shot down and imprisoned in Vietnam . Joe took this young Seaman and, recognizing the potential, painstakingly taught Doug not only 256 names, but also, the method of memorizing, cross-referencing and retrieving those names. It was no easy task that Joe set for himself for it was not intuitively obvious to Doug the value of such mental gymnastics.

It was a hot summer day when I first met Doug. I was in solitary confinement again. The Communists did not care for me, which was OK because I didn’t like them either. My cell door opened and here was this big moose standing in his skivvy shorts (prison uniform of the day). “My name is Seaman Douglas Brent Hegdahl, Sir. What’s yours?”

It is awful hard to look dignified when you are standing in your underwear, knock-kneed, ding-toed, pot-bellied, unwashed, and unshaven for 100 days. I automatically recited, “Dick Stratton, Lieutenant Commander, USS Ticonderoga.” Immediately I saw that I probably made a mistake as his eyes rolled back in his head and you could see what he was thinking: “Cripes, another officer!” But notice that instinctively he asked the critical and most important question for survival: “Who is your senior?” The rule we lived by was: “If I am senior, I will take charge; if junior, I will obey.” The Communists took a siesta for two hours every afternoon which was a good deal for us as we were free from torture and harassment. I was laying on the floor on my bed board and Doug was skipping, yes, skipping around the room.

I asked: “Doug, what are you doing?” He paused for a moment, looked me in the eye and cryptically said: “Skipping, Sir” and continued to skip. A stupid question, a stupid answer. After a moment, I again queried: “What ya doin’ that for?” This stopped him for a moment. He paused and cocked his head thoughtfully, smiled and replied: “You got anything better to do,Sir?” I didn’t. He continued skipping. I guess he did learn one thing from boot camp. You can say anything you want to an officer as long as you smile and say “sir.”

One siesta period he said: Hey, Beak, you went to college and studied government; do you know the GettysburgAddress?” We got a brick (no paper or pencils for the criminals) and started to write it out on the tile floor until we got it correct. Then he stopped me with the question: “Can you say it backward?” Well, who would want to say the Gettysburg Address backward? Certainly not the Jesuits at Georgetown and especially not me. Doug could say it backward, verbatim, rapidly. I know because I could track him from the written version we had on the floor. “So what?” you might say.

The so what is that when they threw him out of Vietnam, and throw him out they did, he came out with 256 names that Joe Crecca had taught him memorized by service, by rank and alphabetically; next to each name he had a dog’s name, kid’s name or social security number to verify the quality of the name which we had picked up by tap code, deaf spelling code or secret notes. He still has those names memorized today and sings them to the tune of “Old MacDonald Has a Farm.” One of our intelligence officers asked him if he could slow the recitation down to make for easier copying. Doug replied “No” that it was like riding a bike, you had to keep moving or you would fall off.

If it weren’t for Joe Crecca, Doug and our government would not have had those names until the end of war five years later. In trying to get people to accept early propaganda releases, the Communists would have some “good cop” interrogator like the ones we called the “Soft Soap Fairy” talk to the prospect and sound him out for pliability. They got Doug one day and asked what we eventually learned to be the lead question: “What do you want more than anything else in the world?” The answer to the weak and willing was: “To go home to my family.” Doug thought for a long time, then cocked his head with a smile and said> “Why, I’d like a pillow, Sir.” This was not an unreasonable response since we had no pillows on our cement pads or bed boards.

However, the response sure confounded the enemy. They eventually came up with a name for Doug amongst the guards and interrogators: “The Incredibly Stupid One.” His original resistance ploy had paid off. Because they thought him stupid, they would let him go out in the cell block courtyard during the siesta to sweep up the grounds period monitored by only one sleepy, peasant guard. I thought that was great since it kept him from skipping and I could get some rest. However, curiosity got the better of me and I started to watch him through a peephole we had bored in the cell door. He’d go sweeping and humming until the guard was lulled to sleep. Then Doug would back up to a truck, spin the gas cap off the standpipe, stoop down and put a small amount (“Small, because it’s going to be a long war, Sir.”) of dirt in the gas tank and replace the cap. I watched him over a period of time do this to five trucks.

Now, I’m a liberal arts major who shot himself down, so all I can do is report what I saw. There were five trucks working in the prison; I saw Doug work on five trucks; I saw five trucks towed disabled out of the prison camp. Doug Hegdahl, a high school graduate from the mess decks fell off a ship and has five enemy trucks to his credit. I am a World Famous Golden Dragon (VA 192) with two college degrees, 2000 jet hours, 300 carrier landings and 22 combat missions. How many enemy trucks do I have to my credit? Zero. Zip. Nada. De Rien. 0. Who’s the better man? Douglas Brent Hegdahl, one of two men I know of who destroyed enemy military equipment while a prisoner of war.

Later on, Doug, having left his eyeglasses onboard Canberra , discovered that he had difficulty linking up isolated cell blocks throughout the prison compound with his defective distance vision. So he went to the authorities and asked if he could read some of their propaganda. They were delighted. Here was a prisoner, without being tortured, volunteering to read their swill. But then Doug cautioned them with his: “Small thing [They never learn]; I cannot read without glasses.”

So they trolled out a dime store clerk who fitted him with glasses by trying one on after the other until Doug said he could see. His near vision was OK. Unbeknownst to the clerk, he was fitting Doug for distance vision, Now, in between sweeps and gas tanks he was able to link up cell blocks not only by sweeping in code but now also using the deaf spelling code. The Vietnamese were big on token propaganda releases of prisoners to make various peace groups look good and our government look impotent. They would try to pick people who had not been tortured or in jail long enough to look emaciated. Usually they were volunteers, violators of direct orders from their Seniors and traitors to our cause of resistance.

These releases always were of three at a time. The magic of the number three was always a mystery to us. As our leaders exercised greater internal communications and controls, it became harder for the Communists to make up a propaganda release party. Seeking to round out the number they finally turned to “The Incredibly Stupid One” who, although not volunteering, was certainly too dumb to do them any harm.

As part of this conditioning, they had both Doug and I examined by “the Doctor.” This was a female soldier we saw through a peephole we had in the door get briefed up and then dolled up like a physician. The physician made a grand entrance worthy of a world-famous brain surgeon. The effect was somewhat spoiled by the face mask protecting her chin rather than covering her mouth; she really had no ideas what the face mask was for. The exam, after looking in all the holes in your head and listening your heart, consisted of “feeling you up” under the guise of palpitating your internal organs while the translator asked, “The Doctor wants to know if you miss your wife (girlfriend)? Wouldn’t you like to be with her now?”

Then they would pull Doug out for interrogations sounding him out for an early release. They told him not to tell me as I was an officer who did not care about his welfare like they did. They informed him: “Stratton would never even speak to you if you were in America .” Doug would come back from each go around and immediately tell me everything that was said. One time he plaintively asked: “Beak, you’d speak to me if we’re home now, wouldn’t you?”

They started to try to fatten us up with large bowls of potatoes laced with canned meat. No one else in the prison was getting it. As a result, I told Doug we couldn’t take it. We could either not touch it and turn it back in; in which case the guards would eat it. Or we could dump it in the slop bucket so that no one could eat it without getting sick. Doug thought this was a bit on the scrupulous side, but went along with it.

I told the Camp Commander that under no condition would I accept an early release even if offered and if they threw me out I’d have to be dragged feet first all the way from Hanoi to Hawaii screaming bloody murder all the way.

It was time to cut to the chase. Doug would have to go. Doug did not want to go. We finally told Doug that as long as he did not have to commit treason, he was to permit himself to be thrown out of the country. He was the most junior. He had the names. He knew firsthand the torture stories behind many of the propaganda pictures and news releases. He knew the locations of many of the prisons.

It was a direct order; he had no choice. I know, because I personally relayed that order to him as his immediate senior in the chain of command. Well throw him out they did. The 256 names he had memorized contained many names that our government did not have. He ended up being sent to Paris by Ross Perot to confront the North Vietnamese Peace Talk Delegation about the fate of the Missing in Action. He entered the Civil Service and is today a Survival School instructor for the U.S. Navy and the James B. Stockdale Survival, Evasion, Resistance, And Escape Center (SERE), naval Air Station, North Island, Coronado, California.

And yes, he can still recite those names!

You can watch him do it on the Discovery Channel special on Vietnam POWs—Stories of Survival. A while after Doug had been released, I was called over to an interrogation. It was to be a Soft Soap Fairy kind of gig since there were quality cigarettes, sugared tea in china cups, cookies and candy laid out on the interrogation table. A dapper, handsome Vietnamese, dressed in an expensive, tailored suit and wearing real, spit-shined wingtip shoes, came into the room with a serious look on his face—all business. “Do you know Douglas Hegdahl?” “You know I do.” “Hegdahl says that you were tortured.” “This is true.” “You lie.”

Rolling up the sleeves to my striped pajamas (prison mess dress uniform), I pointed to the scars on my wrists and elbows and challenged: “Ask your people how these marks got on my body; they certainly are neither birth defects or the result of an aircraft accident.”

He examined the scars closely, sat back, stared and stated: “You are indeed the most unfortunate of the unfortunate.” With that he left the interrogation leaving me with all the goodies.

Upon release I compared notes with Doug and we determined that time frame was the same time he accused the Vietnamese in Paris of murdering me [I had not written home once writing became voluntary] for embarrassing them in a Life magazine bowing picture. T

Thanks to Doug, despite the scars on my body, the Communists had to produce me alive at the end of the war. “The Incredibly Stupid One,” my personal hero, is the archetype of the innovative, resourceful and courageous American Sailor.

These sailors are the products of the neighborhoods, churches, schools and families working together to produce individuals blessed with a sense of humor and the gift of freedom who can overcome any kind of odds. These sailors are tremendously loyal and devoted to their units and their leaders in their own private and personal ways.

As long as we have the Dougs of this world, our country will retain its freedoms.