Paul M. Bushmiller
I was born in Brockton Massachusetts on a Friday. I'm told Rocky Marciano came from Brockton. It would be nice to think of that along with my memories of the the place. But I left there when I was eleven months old so I have few of those. I think about Rocky Marciano a lot anyway I grew up in two other Massachusetts towns: Plymouth and Holliston. Plymouth is where my family moved after Brockton. We moved from a third story outside walk up one bedroom apartment to a 1820's cape cod farm house across the street from a dairy farm in a largely unvisited rural corner of Plymouth. (on Sandwich road between the Eel river and Forges farm if you must know).
Our neighbor across the way, Walter Angström, was one of the Town Bankers and was an exceptionally serious man. How serious, you ask? He didn't like the Beatles. Somehow he had it arranged so that one of the benefits of his job was that his bank always bought him the latest model Cadillac every year - always black . Another of our neighbors was a lobsterman by trade as was his grown son who took over his float marks. Nobody was doing much lobstering, there was more money in power plant construction, at least for the years Pilgrim station was going up. It seemed very far away back then, but as I think about it now I realize it was just down the street from my elementary school, so it was only three or four miles off. I still have many vivid of memories of first and second grade at Manomet elementary. Among my favorites is lying on the grass bank leading down to the playground watching the jets( Delta Darts) from Otis Field streak across the sky and trying to guess at what point of their traverse they would break the sound barrier.
The summer between second and third grade my family moved to another town in Massachusetts (Holliston) about forty miles away. The best part of that summer was that we got to spend the entire summer at my grandparents beach cottage on Cape Cod. If nothing else this forever fixed for me the notion of what a real summer was supposed to be like - roll out those lazy hazy crazy days (but bail out the rowboat and rake the seaweed off the beach first, "lets make this place ship shape"). Chores - chores are important.
Holliston had allowed subdivision contractors to build far more houses than they had thought to build classrooms. in September I found myself in the grand hall of the towns VFW building along with ninety or so other nine year olds. Three teachers no partitions other than two extra blackboards placed between the three amorphous groups of desks. Catastrophic entropy is the phrase I think covers this best. I still remember the look on my teachers face that first day. The bar in the lower floor opened early (VFW bars are immune from public house rules) by early afternoon the tanked unconsoled veterans of the second and greatest war would begin to percolated to the top of the steps and cast low invectives on the nascent generation. I don't know what other American children elsewhere learned in 3rd grade. I spent the year watching the trains go by on the Milford branch line which ran just outside the back door. It marked the end of my interest in formal education.
The next year, forth grade, was in the basement of the Xavarian brothers seminary dormitory. They would drop by every so often. They seemed like nice folk. The grounds contained a beautifully maintained park , the "Our Lady of Fatima Shrine", supposedly the largest outdoor rosary on the east coast. I recommend a visit if you're ever in the neighborhood. The greatest occurrence of this year was the perhaps two week period when, in the afternoons, for world history our teacher (Ms Laravee) a former nun showed the slides of her trips through Spain (mostly) and Europe (possibly Central and South America as well) undertaken in the early sixties when she was still under the habit. It was the first hint I had that a wider world truly existed. It was an awakening that has not ended.
The next few years where a bartered deal of sorts - less exotic locales, less distance from superintendents and principals. traded for regular classrooms, real gymnasiums and libraries. The walls of the school fell away to the horizon in those years. But this is no metaphysical point I make. This was construction. It involved bulldozers, arc- welders, pneumatic drills and yards upon yards of concrete. In the end two medium sized schools a quarter mile apart merged into one very large school. I moved on to the new High School (the immediately prior project). Everything was still fairly new and shiny, everything still worked. To be honest we felt fortunate; when we thought about it. I never paid all that much attention. After I graduated I took a bus down to Spartenburg to visit my best friend who had moved there the year before.
I joined the Navy. College had not been in my future during high school. I had fifty bucks in my bank account and didn't spend my time mulling over scholarship choices. After a brief delay (due to overbooking) the navy extended an invitation in December to spend a few months in Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes Illinois. It's probably a nice place and colors probably do exist there, but I don't remember any. I recall great and hulking old buildings, and being behind a fifteen foot barbed-wire fence. The remainder of the spring was taken up at Lowery Air force base in Denver Colorado. Here I learned the intricities of basic aerial photo-interpretation. Train yards, shipyards, cranes, planes, tanks, degaussing piers, and rockets on a siding. All there to have their portraits taken and stories told. There was one more stop while on my way to the fleet, C class rate training school "Naval Intelligence Processing Systems" and it afforded a month and a half stay at a world war ii era barracks at what was called the Navy Annex in Key West Florida. A first class Atlantic beach lay outside the back door among the palm trees and Duval Street lay outside the front door flanked by palimentos. Happy hour on Fridays was at the top-of-the-LaChoncha, otherwise the West Key. The days were good, the evenings were good, life was good.
With the initial training regimes out of the way I was attached to my first Duty Unit: Reconnaissance Attack Squadron Seven, about eight miles up the road where NAS Key West was situated on Boca Chica Key. They, known colloquially as Heavy 7, were literally just getting back from a Mediterranean deployment on the Kitty Hawk. After handing over my papers and shaking every ones hands I was promptly reassigned to our units barracks beginning my three or four month life as a janitor. It was either that or the mess hall, but it wasn't your choice regardless. It was standard practice to all attached units to hand over new personal to the base command to routine work and maintenance. You learn the fine art of laying down water-emulsion wax on linoleum floor and polishing it to a mirror shine with a electric buffer (you learn to chip old wax off the floor near the walls where it tends to build up and yellow) You learn how to paint walls, how to "police a yard" (ie how to pick up trash) how to scrub toilets and showers. Sometimes you get to learn how to do things like re-cover a pool table with felt after some sorehead slashes the old one up.
As the training cycle for the next deployment got underway I was reattached to my unit and got a better idea of it. The Squadron flew North American Rockwell RA5C Vigilantes a large carrier based two engine supersonic attack plane. Converted from it's original role of dropping bombs to photo-reconnaissance it contained a bump-out under the fuselage which could be crammed with cameras. We practiced designing routes and photo runs. The pilots and navigators practiced flying them finding the selected object and taking usable pictures, which we would in turn review, identify, measure, label, and report on. I suppose my favorite practice target was the big top or the Roller Coaster at Circus World. If for no other reason than the pictures of the people at the top of the coaster watching a big gray bird with a 60ft wing span come straight at them at 360 knots. In February of the new year we flew out to San Diego for the units last active deployment - to the western Pacific aboard the USS Ranger (CV 61). I use "we" rather than "I" often when describing my time in the Navy. No time more so than on board ship where nearly everything is done in grand or small unisons. My work was to identify shipping we sailed past or had some plane fly over during the course of the day or night, and type up a series of standard reports on it all and deliver it to the radio room were it would be routed off to the relevant shore facility. All planes and helo's went up with camera the ubiquitous Topcon 35mm an American manufactured SLR which seems to exist only on US Naval vessels. As the day wore on a growing pile of blurry snapshots would both complicate things (in theory each one could generate its own sighting report) and simplify things if I could read the name off the hull and collapse a dozen sightings (or a 100) to one known ship- it was like Tetris in a way. The work had a nice balance of the photo-interpretation and intelligence yeoman sides of the Intelligence Specialist rating. It was good work for a nineteen year old. Its odd I remember this as well as I do and as well as the places that the ship went. Our operating port was Subic Bay in the Philippines. It was our first landing in the east. Subic was a cornucopia of impressions. The bay, itself a large deep water bay with arms of mountain ranges to each side, was quite striking. Olongapo the city which lay alongside the Kalaklan river behind the naval base was a bevy of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes all of its own. Hats off to Roy Harper and San Miguel!
We hit a number of places while we were on station: Pusan Korea, Hong Kong, Phattya Beach Thailand, and Yokuska Japan that last because that is where there was a dry dock big enough to hold an aircraft carrier. A side trip made necessary by one of the other things we hit: an oil tanker called the Fortune (MS Fortune, Moravia). We had a hole in our bow you could have driven a pick up through - we nearly chopped them in half. It all made quite a mess. Hats off to Crash Kramer and Tasmanian Thies .You know who you are gentlemen
In a year of absolutely unique experiences in the east it is hard to single out any to relate, but it would be unfair not to try. One and two together: a lazy and quiet Sunday afternoon up on the signal bridge while tied up at the fleet quay at Subic. To one side the routine Navy flight ops and touch and go buzzings from NAS Cubi Point. To the other Olongapo. I recall the long hill that rises from the north bank of the river, and the power line that snaked along the ridge line, the ridge brown in the pre- monsoon dryness. Unfamiliar trees an unfamiliar shade of green, the town all awkward angles and unfamiliar shapes. Three and four: standing the first sponson watch in Hong Kong after dropping anchor at 0300 watching the sun come up and the dawn revel bare and full what the neon and incandescent had merely intimated in an earlier hour. The next day climbing to the top of Victoria Peak and looking back at our toy ship at its anchorage from the summit. Five and Six . The six ships of our task force at anchor three miles off in the dusk at Phattaya beach, with all their lights on, even lights strung along the radio aerials. Drinking with German tourists and Thai bar girls at the New Mosquitoes Travel lodge and Motor inn. Seven and eight: Endless enormous Tokyo and the din of Pachinko machines in Yokuska. Hats off to Kirin and Konnichiwa.
RVAH squadrons were being decommissioned. The Fleet hanger at NAS Key West was a temporary ghost town. The RA5C was a strange plane to begin with: designed in the mid fifties as a Mach 2 strategic bomber, it was a little too much a head of its time and never fitted or worked in its vaguely defined role. Through the sixties and seventies it served the Navy well as a bomb damage assessment/tactical photo-reconnaissance platform. Now it was over and off to China Lake for them. We twisted slowly in a strange twilight existence as the unit personal transferred out one by one.
We returned to Key West in late September. The squadron was decommissioned as soon as we got back to Key West. By then we were the last of the Heavy Squadrons and had the last three RA5Cs that still flew. The plane was considered obsolete and all the other units of Reconnaissance attack wing one were already gone A strange twilight period followed as the 200 or so members of our unit transferred away. I was in one of the last rounds leaving in late November. I was transferred to the Chief of Naval Operations Situation Room for Current Intelligence in Washington DC. I made 3rd class Petty Officer and 2nd class Petty officer the next year. It was an odd job in many aspects. A shore station assignment but a watch section involving shift work that by agreement of our supervisors constantly migrated through the clock. 12 hour shifts; nights for a week , days for a week, back again. It was those boundary points in the scheme that killed you. Working in the Pentagon seemed surreal enough as it was without eight hour turnarounds. The main advantage to working the overnight shift was racing the battery powered widgets against my counterpart in the ops division down the long hallways.
The military operated a sort of manual internet at this point. it was an effective and robust system known as "Message Traffic" whose primary design point seemed to be to ensure that it could deliver one thousand sheets of fresh text content from any system node to any system node, every day. My job was to carry it that 'last mile' and review and sort the elusive 10 to 20 percent of this that was pertinent for my Duty Officer. They would do the same thing for the briefer's and so on. The ideal was for our CO to look the Admiral straight in the eye each morning and say just one word to him.
The second year I was at the Pentagon, I took a freshman English from an university extension program. I thought it went well- I may have been wrong. Irregardless I followed that by retaking my SATs and followed that by applying to a handful of state universities. I gained my honorable in December and took up residence in a dormitory at the University of Maryland a few weeks later