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A country breakfast? Never, not for a country boy. . .

While rambling around a Virginia blogger’s site I came across a photo masquerading as a breakfast in a Huntsville, Alabama home. I was born in Alabama but left there as soon as I could, illegally migrating at the age of five with my family far off to a westerly location in Mississippi, some thirty miles distant from my birthplace. For the next eleven years or so, I had many occasions to return to rural Alabama and I consider myself an expert on country breakfasts, including their composition, presentation and consumption. Click here if you are even the least bit interested in my humble beginnings—it’s a good read—check it out.

Please heed my warning—do not attempt to follow a mule while breaking new ground for planting if this is all you had for breakfast because neither you nor the mule will last until dinner—yes, dinner, not lunch. Country folk do not do lunch, except perhaps while visiting in colder climes in the northern regions.

A so-called country breakfast: This photo supposedly depicts a country breakfast offering in a Huntsville, Alabama home. Granted that it is a beautifully composed and presented photograph, neither it nor the meal constitutes a real country breakfast. Click here for the original posting with the photo, narrative and comments.

This is the narrative from the original posting:

Breakfast at Sue’s 23 11 2008 En route to Texas for the holidays, we stopped to stay overnight and spend Sunday with our friends, Sue and Steve, in Huntsville, Alabama. They moved from Virginia in April 2007. Sue always has funny napkins on hand, and Sunday morning’s breakfast proved no exception—guess she’s not a Yankee anymore with that attitude! Sue buys most of her funny napkins from Swoozie’s.

And this is my comment on the counterfeit breakfast, a comment that is beautifully composed and presented and can be consumed far more readily than the fruit and pseudo sandwiches shown in the photograph:

Breakfast? BREAKFAST? In Alabama? Where are the grits and eggs and sausage and bacon and biscuits and gravy? No new ground ever got cleared and plowed and cotton never got planted, chopped, picked and hauled off to the cotton gin by people with such a breakfast—that’s not a breakfast, that’s a brunch. Is that a glass of tea? FOR BREAKFAST? Where’s the steaming mug of coffee, one-half chicory, one half cream (real cream) and the other half sugar (real sugar)?
This is a country breakfast!

I can only surmise that the invasion of hordes from Northern climes has wrought such drastic change. That “breakfast” wouldn’t provide enough energy to get a team of mules harnessed and hitched up to the wagon. What a pity, or as we say in South Texas, “Que lastima!” As Stephen Foster lamented in his ode to Ol’ Black Joe: “Gone are the days . . .”

With that off my chest, let me say that the table setting is lovely, the photography is superb as always, and your hosts Steve and Sioux—I mean Sue—are the ultimate in graciousness. Their migration from Alexandria to Huntsville is Virginia’s loss and a boon to Alabama—these are people who will always “. . . leave the light on for you.” Click here for a beautiful dissertation on painting, poetry and picking cotton, all relative to this posting—a great read!


And as always when the need arises I will render full disclosure concerning any of my WordPress postings. The breakfast blogger is my daughter, one of my three princesses, the one that lives, loves and labors in Virginia, and that bogus breakfast is the work of a transplant from Virginia, formerly a neighbor and still a best friend of the blogger, her BFF as they say on facebook. Sue is a lovely lady that has become a genuine Southern belle in every respect except, of course, in learning what constitutes a country breakfast. I trust that she will learn and conform as time passes—and time is fleeting, Sue!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

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Posted by on May 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Revisited: Coming out of the shadows . . .

Coming out of the shadows . . .

During the 18 months that I have been blogging on WordPress I have largely avoided postings of a political bent, whether a bend to the right or a bend to the left. I have not been entirely successful, but I feel that I’ve kept my preferences fairly in control. This posting will, in one fell swoop, cancel every effort I have made to remain neutral. With this posting I am coming out of the shadows and into the bright light of day. I am going to share my feelings about the influx of foreigners across our southern border, and contribute a suggestion that will bring that influx to a halt.

By some estimates, an average of 10,000 illegal aliens—I refuse to call them immigrants—successfully penetrate our southern border each day—10,000 come in and stay in—they do not return home, and are added to the rolls for the greatest entitlements given by any government on earth. These penetrations include drug smugglers and people smugglers as well as ordinary folks seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

Do the math. That’s 3,650,000 per year, and in the coming 10 years that total will be 36,500,000 added to the estimated 20,000,000 already in the United States for a total of more than 56,000,000. I realize these are estimates, but they are in the ball park—perhaps fewer or perhaps more.

A frightening picture—how can our economy withstand such an onslaught? It can’t—this so-called illegal immigration will bankrupt the nation, an absolute given when combined with the current administration’s stimulus packages, entitlement programs and related actions. It can be stopped. Read on.

The solution is to build a wall, but not necessarily a fence or an opaque wall such as was built by East Berliners. Not that such a wall is ineffective—it was highly effective. It stood for some 28 years and in all those years a total of only 5,075 people successfully crossed to the West, an average of 181 people per year—181 successful illegal immigrants, so to speak. Among the unsuccessful attempts were 200 people that died in their efforts to immigrate illegally from East to West.

Mexico as a  sovereign nation is lost. That nation is lost to the drug cartels and nothing short of intervention by the United States military could return Mexico to the people, its rightful owners. That, of course, will never happen. Eventually there will be a cartel candidate for the Mexican presidency and the Mexican citizens will handily elect that candidate, if for no reason other than fear of the consequences if that candidate is repudiated.

Mexico is out of control. Its army and its state and local police are powerless to stop the cartels, no matter how many millions of dollars the US donates to their efforts. People are dying in the streets on both sides of the border, bullets are flying across the border, people have died on both sides of the border and many more will die in the future. That situation will only escalate unless we take action to prevent it now, or at least slow its momentum.

We don’t need a wall. Illegal aliens and drug smugglers will go over, around, under or through any wall we build, regardless of its height and regardless of its composition. As a law enforcement officer with the US Customs Service over a period of 26 years I have been to every official border crossing between Brownsville, Texas and San Ysidro, California and to many points in between those border crossings, and I know that a wall will not stop the infiltration of illegals, whether immigrants or drug smugglers.

Our border with Mexico is 2000 miles in length. That’s 5 280 feet per mile. With three feet to the yard, one mile has 1,760 yards. A hopelessly obsolete 30-30 caliber rifle, the efficiency and effectiveness of which is eclipsed by modern military rifles, will kill a deer at a range of 200 yards. If we divide 1,760 yards per mile by 400 yards, we arrive at a figure of 400. If in that mile we wished to kill every deer that crossed an invisible line we would need only 44 sharpshooters, spaced 400 yards apart and armed with a rusty old 30-30 caliber hunting rifle—pretty soon the deer would get the message and avoid crossing that line between hunters.

Obviously if we wanted to kill every deer along a 2000-mile line that would require a force of some 88,000 hunters. However, if we armed hunters with .50 BMG rifles, the weapons used by military sniper units, weapons with a range of more than a half-mile, one shooter could cover one mile, a half mile in each direction, and we would then need only 2,000 hunters, one for each mile of our 2,000-mile border and an additional 4,000 officers in order to cover three 8-hour shifts per day—far fewer than, just for example, the number of border patrol officers presently on the southern border. We would also need extra officers to cover for days off, sick days, days on annual leave and training requirements, but the total would still be far fewer than the current staff.

Got it? Six thousand sharpshooters from a vantage point created by towers—heated and air conditioned with porta-potties, of course, and its occupants armed with .50 BMG rifles and furnished with infra-red night-vision goggles, binoculars, radios, MREs for sustenance, plenty of water and lots of .50 BMG ammunition, and every deer that attempted to cross that invisible line between sharpshooters would not cross it, but would instead remain on that line. It’s rational to believe that all the other deer would soon wise up to the danger and not come near one of the towers.

Mind you, I have nothing against deer, but the situation on our border with Mexico reminds me of the joke about the papa alligator eating all but one or two of the million eggs or so laid by the mama alligator. The punch line of that joke is that if it were not for the papa alligator we would be up to our posteriors in alligators, just as we will eventually up to that level with those that we erroneously refer to as undocumented immigrants, of which they are neither—they are illegal aliens, and we need to deal with them now, sooner rather than later.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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The view from the southern border . . .

I wrote this article during  a three-year assignment at U.S. Customs Headquarters in Washington, DC. It was published in the 1986 winter issue of Customs Today, the official magazine of the U.S. Customs Service. The Customs Service has changed dramatically since that time. The number of ports on the southern border may have changed, some added and some deleted, and staffing has been increased and titles have changed, but the mission of Customs inspectors has not changed—I made no effort to reflect the changes in the article for this posting. It is reproduced here exactly as it appeared in the 1986 winter issue of Customs Today. Click here for a similar article published in the 1984 fall issue of Customs Today.

The view from the southern border

Everything you are about to read is true. Any resemblance to actual persons, situations and locations is purely intentional and nothing has been changed to protect the innocent. On the southern border there are very few innocents. Most of the traveling public spends its time trying to find ways to outwit customs inspectors, and most customs inspectors lost their innocence when they accepted their assignment on the southern border.

This article is intended to show southern land border inspectors as they are—not just a group of people in a certain geographical location or a segment of a larger group with similar functions, but as individuals subject to the frailties, vagaries, and sublime achievements of human nature. It is meant to inform, to educate, to entertain and perhaps to amuse—to stimulate and provoke thought and action, and to show life and work on the southern border from the heart and through the eyes of the inspectors themselves.

Most inspectors are satisfied in their chosen profession, including its location. Many were born, reared and educated in or near the area in which they now live and work, and many enjoy social, economic, cultural and familial ties with people on both sides of the border. Probably few of them would change even if given their choice of assignments at an airport or seaport, or at another of the 25 ports and stations along the southern border.

Those 25 crossing points between the United States and Mexico cover some 2,000 miles, a thin blue line of customs inspectors stretching from Brownsville at the tip of Texas on the Gulf of Mexico to San Ysidro in southern California on the Pacific Ocean. Tour those ports, and travel from the old-world balustrades of Brownsville to the gleaming spires of San Diego—from the dry sub-tropic air and lush vegetation of the Rio Grande Valley to the high thin air of El Paso, through the searing heat of southwestern deserts where the giant saguaro cactus sometimes attains heights of fifty feet in its lifespan of 200 years, and across the fabled Imperial Valley of California to San Ysidro and the cooling breezes of the Pacific Ocean.

From Brownsville to Progreso and on to Hidalgo, follow U.S. Highway 8, known locally as Old Military Highway, the same route patrolled by General Zachary Taylor and his troops during the war with Mexico. Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the border between Texas and Mexico was moved southward to the Rio Grande River, known to the Mexican people as Rio Bravo, or Brave River. The treaty also made California, Arizona and New Mexico part of the United States. The borders with Arizona and New Mexico were fixed by treaty at the Gila River, and the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 extended them to their present limits.

At Los Ebanos watch the operation of the world’s only hand-operated international ferry—no traffic backups at Los Ebanos because the ferry will only accommodate two cars on each trip. The modern aluminum vessel now plying the waters of the Rio Grande replaced a series of wooden vessels which in their turn were replacements for the original operation, a lone boatman moving passengers and cargo across the river in a vessel made by welding two automobile hoods together.

Continue to Rio Grande City and to Roma, an area rich in history and folklore. A new concrete structure spans the Rio Grande River at Roma, just upstream from the old suspension bridge which, although condemned, stands proudly as a monument to the skills of earlier engineers and bridge builders. Some of Roma’s adobe walls still bear the scars of bullets fired by revolutionaries, renegades and Rangers, and just a stone’s throw from the Customhouse is the church plaza where Marlon Brando, as the legendary bandit Emiliano in the movie Vive Zapata, fell and died under a withering hail of rifle fire from the surrounding balconies and rooftops.

Continue the tour through District Headquarters in Laredo and on to Eagle Pass and Del Rio. En route to Del Rio spend a few moments of silence near the spot where Customs Inspector Richard Latham was murdered after being kidnapped from his post in Del Rio in February 1984, the fifth-fourth Customs officer to die in the line of duty since 1900. There can be no fault attached to the deaths of those fine officers. Their contributions to the Customs Service extended to life itself, and those sacrifices will be acknowledged when the Congress of the United States recognizes customs inspectors as true law enforcement officers, entitled to hazardous duty recognition and early retirement.

Between Del Rio and Fabens lie miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles, except for the solitary port of Presidio. En route to Presidio, visit the Lily Langtry Saloon in Langtry, Texas where Judge Roy Bean dispensed his personal and peculiar brand of frontier justice as The Only Law West of the Pecos. Langtry takes its name from the saloon that was named in honor of the celebrated actress, a lady loved by the judge from afar for many years. Miss Langtry eventually came to Texas to meet her admirer, but the judge could wait no longer—he died shortly before her visit.

From El Paso and District Headquarters to the California state line, ports and stations are suspended from the main highways by lengthy, lonely ribbons of state highways, and each port represents a major detour from the main route. Each is worthy of the detour if time permits, because each is unique and each is an integral part of the U.S. Customs Service.

On to Columbus, New Mexico and Douglas, Naco and Nogales, District Headquarters for Customs operations in Arizona—to Sasabe, to Lukeville and the federal inspection facility dewigned by the architectural firm of Frank Lloyd Wright, to the twin ports of San Luis and Andrade—the port directors are twin brothers—and on to Calexico in the heart of California’s Imperial Valley. On a recent December morning the writer stepped out on a motel balcony in El Centro for a breath of clear cool desert air, and memories of a childhood on the farm came rushing in, triggered by a strong breeze coming from the direction of El Centro’s numerous cattle feed lots. Continue to the port of Tecate, just across the border from the Mexican city of Tecat from which Mexico’s famous beer takes it name. End the tour of the Mexican border at San Ysidro, the world’s largest land border crossing point, with24 lanes of incoming vehicle traffic.

No feature on Customs could possibly be complete without statistics, and this one is no exception. However, the statistics will be limited to certain completely unbiased minimums. Land border inspectors comprise about one-third of the total inspection force of 4,500, and that group of 1,500 is fairly evenly divided between the northern and southern borders. Since only thirty million of the 300 million people that enter the United States each year come by air and sea, the remaining 270 million enter at land border ports. For those of a statistical bent, these figures mean that 33 percent of the work force processes 90 percent of the passenger and pedestrian workload.

Inspectors on the southern border live and work in proximity to, and are in daily contact with, the people of a foreign nation, a country of some 70 million struggling through a deepening economic crisis, a people those currency is today worth only one-twentieth of its value 12 years ago. The inspectors are very much aware of conditions across the border, and although they carry out their responsibilities with diligence and dedication they are sometimes reluctant witnesses to the laws that they enforce.

They understand the conditions that drive people north in search of work and a better life, fleeing an economy with an unemployment rate of forty percent—four of every ten workers—and an unemployment rate even higher in border cities. They know the people that subject their infant children to the dangers and rigors of an illegal border crossing are attempting to escape an infant mortality rate that approaches fifty percent among children up to the age of five years.

With tragic frequency the inspectors learn from a motorist or pedestrian of a floater in the river—the Rio Grande has claimed another life. Many that attempt the illegal crossing come from the arid interior of Mexico. At home they had no lakes, no river, no YMCA, no municipal pools or backyard pools, and no country swimming holes—they are victims of the deceptively tranquil waters of the Rio Grande because they cannot swim—they simply never had the opportunity to learn. Sometimes the inspectors learn that others have been found dead or dying or wandering aimlessly without food or water in the deserts of West Texas or New Mexico or Arizona or California, left there by alien smugglers that first exacted their profits for services rendered.

To work on the southern border is to bear witness to poverty, misery, despair and tragedy, and it is impossible to remain untouched or to become inured. Inspectors may mask their feelings with a veneer of cynicism, a facade of callousness or indifference but they understand—they feel, and they care.

While the southern border involves a certain amount of danger to the safety and wellbeing of the inspectors, they realize that theirs is not the only inspector positions that are fraught with peril. They have all heard the horror stories associated with airport duty—of the many close encounters with stellar figures of the entertainment industry, of heaving bosoms and violet eyes, and of the sports world, and with diplomats, senators, representatives and other high-ranking officials, all exemplifying the rigors of airport duty. They know that climate control systems at the airports sometimes malfunction, and they are aware of the constant struggle by management to keep the lid on the annual overtime pay cap.

Their awareness of overtime problems may be faintly tinged with envy because land border inspectors make their overtime money the old-fashioned way—they earn it. Virtually all overtime is non-reimbursable and each call out requires the full two hours on duty—no rollbacks, no lag time and no standby time. The four overtime periods earned on Sundays and holidays demand the full eight hours, and the eight-hour tour of duty is spent alternating between primary and secondary stations at vehicle and pedestrian checkpoints. The overtime pay cap presents very few problems for management on the southern border, because the cap is rarely within the inspectors’ reach.

Airport hardships are freely acknowledged by southern land border inspectors, just as they freely acknowledge the every-present dangers faced by airport inspectors from smugglers, fugitives from justice and from all the criminal elements of our society and other societies of the word.

They acknowledge such hardships because they face the same problems—except for the Hollywood stars, high-ranking officials, climate control and the overtime pay cap, and an almost endless array of other problems including working exposed to vicious extremes of hear and cold, precipitation in all its forms, and unremitting atmospheric pollution caused by wind and dust and dirt, and by gases and solid particles spewing from the exhausts of millions of vehicles. Our neighbor to the south has no environmental protection agency to impose and enforce pollution controls, and there are no government restrictions on lead content and other petroleum additives.

We can only speculate on the long term effects of constant exposure to concentrated amounts of nitrogen oxides, lead, sulphur, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and other toxic substances. It has been estimated that an adult inhales 30 pound of air daily. With more than one-third of their time on duty spent in highly polluted areas, land border inspectors ingest at least ten pounds of contaminated air daily. They must ultimately pay a high price for such exposure in upper respiratory infections and diseases, in kidney and liver and heart problems, in aggravated asthmatic and bronchial conditions, and in impairment of vision and psychomotor performance. In short, they must eventually pay a high price in virtually every physiological system and body function.

Inspectors on the southern land border face many dangers and enemies not covered by their position descriptions. In addition to smugglers, fugitives from justice and a representative cross-section of every criminal element known to law enforcement, they are faced with many situations that are not covered in the inspector’s manual and must be dealt with as they occur.

Consider the risk inherent in convincing a child that the candied apple on a stick purchased in Mexico is a potential threat to America’s citrus industry, and that its importation is restricted by the United States Department of Agriculture. The child neither knows nor cares about agricultural restrictions and prohibitions. If time and traffic permit, the inspector will sometimes supervise the immediate and on-site destruction of the prohibited item by the importer through internal consumption.

Even more risk is involved when the inspector is forced to tell a truck driver that the beautiful sea-turtle boots he just paid $150 for must be confiscated and held for the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife—in many instances the trucker left his old boots in Mexico and therefore is shoeless when released by the inspector.

There is risk involved in telling a lady that her five gallons of fresh mango slices, carefully separated from the seeds because she believed only the seeds are prohibited, will be held for the scalpel, microscope and food-grinders of the Agriculture inspectors. The traveler is only slightly mollified by the inspector’s explanation that the flesh of mangoes is prohibited because the pulp, not the seed, is the host for the destructive pest USDA seeks to control.

Many families supplement their limited or fixed incomes by shopping for food staples on the other side of the border, and when their fresh eggs, pork, potatoes and fruits are confiscated their reaction is far too often that of hoping that the inspectors enjoy the meal.

With the first hint of snow in the north the annual migration of snowbirds begins. These winter visitors arrive at border cities singly and in pairs, and sometimes in caravans a hundred strong. They will spend the winter foraging for food and drink, and as any land border inspector knows, their diet consists mainly of cookies, liquor, vanilla and garlic, all purchased in the markets of Mexican border cities. Of various phenomenae observed among the snowbirds these are among the most fascinating—not one has ever been to Mexico before, and a highly disproportionate number of them are sibling twins.

Inspector: Didn’t you bring a bottle of liquor from Mexico yesterday?

Snowbird: Officer, you may not believe this but I have a twin, and I’ll bet he was here yesterday.

In some areas the winter visitors stretch local tourist facilities to the breaking point, along with the tolerance and patience of most Customs inspectors. In the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, they expand the normal population of 400,000 to more than three million. Fortunately the breaking point is never reached, of facilities or of patience and tolerance, and with the advent of spring the homeward trek begins.

The annual ebb and flow of winter visitors is repeated in varying degrees at every crossing point on the Mexican border. To southern border inspectors these are the signs of changing seasons, as sure an indication as is the first snowfall or the first robin to their counterparts on the northern border.

Strong kidneys and a weak bladder were the downfall of an illegal alien one evening at Brownsville, Texas. An alert inspector noticed what he suspected to be a gasoline leak in a sedan whose occupants were in the Immigration office obtaining permits. He conducted a smell test to the liquid and determined that it was not gasoline, and a closer inspection revealed a smuggled alien concealed in a compartment behind the rear seat. The long drive from the interior of Mexico and the delay in the office was the alien’s downfall. He was promptly documented and returned to Mexico, and the driver of the vehicle was arrested for smuggling.

A check of an automobile trunk at the port of Progreso prompted by sounds of feminine giggling produced three smuggled alien females, all young and all ladies of the evening, bound for cantinas and cash transactions on the U. S. side of the border. Although Mexico and particularly the stare of Tamaulipas has made some effort to clean up border red light districts, the so-called Boy’s Town found in every border city in Mexico, but they still exist. They are variously called la zona roja—the red zone—and la zona de tolerencia—the zone of tolerance.

The red light districts contribute to the inspector’s frustration by eliciting this answer to the question of whether the person acquired anything in Mexico—Oh, God, I hope not! If every inspector had a dollar for every time he has heard that answer on Saturday night and Sunday morning the Customs Service would not need early retirement for inspectors—they could retire early just on that income.

They could retire even earlier if compensated for the number of times the same inquiry is answered by Just a belly full of good food—you can’t tax that, ha, ha, ha! Such answers highlight one of the worst aspects of the job. After a short time the inspectors have heard every possible answer or combination of answers, and find little humor in them, particularly near the end of a long tour of duty. Their inability to respond with a laugh or a smile is usually interpreted as surliness, or as indifference or dissatisfaction with their job.

And how about this one? Oh, nothing much, just a little pot. Further questioning and inspection produces a little pot, molded and fired in the clay kilns of Mexico, and evidently purchased for the express purpose of playing a trick on the Customs inspector. And this one—Oh, just some liquor, and a single bottle is held up for inspection. Search reveals one or more additional bottles, and when the declarant is questioned the response is, Well, I told you that I had some liquor—I just didn’t say how much liquor.

The question of citizenship frequently generates this response—Of course I’m an American citizen. Do I look like a frigging Mexican to you? Or this one—Yeah, I’m an American citizen—are you? The latter response is usually directed to Hispanic Customs inspectors. The varieties of questions are not endless—they are finite, and the inspectors quickly learn the entire repertoire.

The size, numbers and feeding habits of southern mosquitoes, especially those of Texas, are legendary. They are undoubtedly known to people all over the world, and this article will not attempt to expand or dispel those legends—except perhaps to advance the theory that many, perhaps most, of the unauthorized discharges of weapons by southern border inspectors are directed against mosquitoes, and the action was the last resort of the inspector in defense of his life or that of another, as required by the firearms manual. When a mosquito is the target there are usually two distinct sounds, depending on the shooter’s accuracy. The first is made by the weapon’s discharge, and the second is made when the mosquito hits the ground.

An ever-present enemy and perhaps one of the most dangerous is boredom, ranging from the frustration of starting an eight hour shift at San Ysidro facing an endless sea of vehicles and finishing the shift without ever seeing a break in the line, to the utter boredom of waiting for a vehicle to break the monotony of the night and help the inspector stay awake.

No southern border inspector will ever admit to having fallen asleep on such a shift, but almost every one of them will confess they have spent some time with their eyes closed, checking their eyelids for cracks. One inspector, whose name appears beneath the title of this article, opened his eyes after such an operation in the wee small hours of the morning to find an auto parked beside him at the primary inspection point, its engine turned off and its occupants waiting politely and patiently for the inspector to finish the inspection of his eyelids and begin his inspection of their entry into the United States. They were early morning commuters, traveling to work in the vegetable fields and citrus groves of the Rio Grande alley.

Other insidious and deadly enemies of land border inspectors are familiarity and complacency. They see the same people day after day, many of them several times during the course of a single shift, and this familiarity must inevitably color their judgment and their treatment of the traveler. Such people may attempt to break the law because their estimate of the chances of being caught are based on the superficial and cursory treatment accorded by some inspectors.

Complacency has killed more law enforcement officers than any other habit or characteristic, and Customs inspectors are particularly vulnerable. They are not in the position of street cops that know they are in a danger zone and are far more likely to govern their actions on that basis. The Customs inspector must continually be aware that in the usual crowd of migrant workers, affluent businessmen, bona fide tourists and little old ladies in tennis shoes may be, and probably is, one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted fugitives.

Everything you have just read is true, but the observations, thoughts and opinions interspersed in the narrative are personal—they belong to the writer. They are therefore highly subjective and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or feelings of any other person or group. No offense is intended through their expression and none should be taken. Certain observations may be viewed as criticisms by some, but they are constructive in nature and intent and should be regarded in that light.

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Hershel M. (Mike) Dyer is a Program Officer in the Office of Inspection Control, Office of Inspectional Liaison at Headquarters. He spent 12 years as an inspector and supervisory inspector on the Southwest Border.

 
 

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Coming out of the shadows . . .

During the 18 months that I have been blogging on Word Press I have largely avoided postings of a political bent, whether a bend to the right or a bend to the left. I have not been entirely successful, but I feel that I’ve kept my preferences fairly in control. This posting will, in one fell swoop, cancel every effort I have made to remain neutral. With this posting I am coming out of the shadows and into the bright light of day. I am going to share my feelings about the influx of foreigners across our southern border, and contribute a suggestion that will bring that influx to a halt.

By some estimates, an average of 10,000 illegal aliens—I refuse to call them immigrants—successfully penetrate our southern border each day—10,000 come in and stay in—they do not return home, and are added to the rolls for the greatest entitlements given by any government on earth. These penetrations include drug smugglers and people smugglers as well as ordinary folks seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

Do the math. That’s 3, 650,000 per year, and in the coming 10 years that total will be 36,500,000 added to the estimated 20,000,000 already in the United States for a total of more than  56,000,000. I realize these are estimates, but they are in the ball park—perhaps fewer or perhaps more.

A frightening picture—how can our economy withstand such an onslaught? It can’t—this so-called illegal immigration will bankrupt the nation, an absolute given when combined with the current administration’s stimulus packages, entitlement programs and related actions. It can be stopped. Read on.

The solution is to build a wall, but not necessarily a fence or an opaque wall such as was built by East Berliners. Not that such a wall is ineffective—it was highly effective. It stood for some 28 years and in all those years a total of only 5,075 people successfully crossed to the West, an average of 181 people per year—181 successful illegal immigrants, so to speak. Among the unsuccessful attempts were 200 people that died in their efforts to immigrate illegally from East to West.

Mexico as a  sovereign nation is lost. That nation is lost to the drug cartels and nothing short of intervention by the United States military could return Mexico to the people, its rightful owners. That, of course, will never happen. Eventually there will be a cartel candidate for the Mexican presidency and the Mexican citizens will handily elect that candidate, if for no reason other than fear of the consequences if that candidate is repudiated.

Mexico is out of control. Its army and its state and local police are powerless to stop the cartels, no matter how many millions of dollars the US donates to their efforts. People are dying in the streets on both sides of the border, bullets are flying across the border, people have died on both sides of the border and many more will die in the future. That situation will only escalate unless we take action to prevent it now, or at least slow its momentum.

We don’t need a wall. Illegal aliens and drug smugglers will go over, around, under or through any wall we build, regardless of its height and regardless of its composition. As a law enforcement officer with the US Customs Service over a period of 26 years I have been to every official border crossing between Brownsville, Texas and San Ysidro, California and to many points in between those border crossings, and I know that a wall will not stop the infiltration of illegals, whether immigrants or drug smugglers.

Our border with Mexico is 2000 miles in length. That’s 5, 280 feet per mile. With three feet to the yard, one mile has 1,760 yards. A hopelessly obsolete 30-30 caliber rifle, the efficiency and effectiveness of which is eclipsed by modern military rifles, will kill a deer at a range of 200 yards. If we divide 1,760 yards per mile by 400 yards, we arrive at a figure of 400. If in that mile we wished to kill every deer that crossed an invisible line we would need only 44 sharpshooters, spaced 400 yards apart and armed with a rusty old 30-30 caliber hunting rifle—pretty soon the deer would get the message and avoid crossing that line between hunters.

Obviously if we wanted to kill every deer along a 2000-mile line that would require a force of some 88, 000 hunters. However, if we armed hunters with .50 BMG rifles, the weapons used by military sniper units, weapons with a range of more than a half-mile, one shooter could cover one mile, a half mile in each direction, and we would then need only 2,000 hunters, one for each mile of our 2,000-mile border and an additional 4,000 officers in order to cover three 8-hour shifts per day—far fewer than, just for example, the number of border patrol officers presently on the southern border. We would also need extra officers to cover for days off, sick days, days on annual leave and training requirements, but the total would still be far fewer than the current staff.

Got it? Six thousand sharpshooters from a vantage point created by towers—heated and air conditioned with porta-potties, of course, and its occupants armed with .50 BMG rifles and furnished with infra-red night-vision goggles, binoculars, radios, MREs for sustenance, plenty of water and lots of .50 BMG ammunition, and every deer that attempted to cross that invisible line between sharpshooters would not cross it, but would instead remain on that line. It’s rational to believe that all the other deer would soon wise up to the danger and not come near one of the towers.

Mind you, I have nothing against deer, but the situation on our border with Mexico reminds me of the joke about the papa alligator eating all but one or two of the million eggs or so laid by the mama alligator. The punch line of that joke is that if it were not for the papa alligator we would be up to our posteriors in alligators, just as we will eventually up to that level with those that we erroneously refer to as undocumented immigrants, of which they are neither—they are illegal aliens, and we need to deal with them now, sooner rather than later.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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13 weeks of basic training . . .

This is the first of what may be many postings concerning my 13 weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The training was a lifetime crowded into a mere ninety-one days. A related posting covering my enlistment and arrival in San Antonio can be seen here. That posting also has some interesting insights on Boy Scouts, rattlesnakes, John Wayne, Mississippi’s National Guard, tortoises, snipes and bacon and eggs and wieners and various other unrelated items—trust me, a visit is well worth your time!

And now on to the first day of my 13 weeks of basic training:

I entered the United States Air Force’s basic training course on March 7, 1949 exactly 61 years, one month and 29 days ago as of this date. I was there for 13 weeks, and to this day the sights and sounds and smells and events, whether positive or negative—and there were plenty of both—of that 13 weeks are just as strong as they were then, more than 61 years later. I can successfully recreate in my mind—and as one will see, in print—the tiniest happenings and recall of the faces and many of the names of most of the people involved—fellow trainees, training instructors, commanding officers, chaplains, cooks and Red Cross representatives. I can vividly recall my first day at Lackland Air Force Base here in San Antonio, Texas, a day of whirlwind events involved in the requirements of first-day processing.

We started by stripping to the buff—off with shirts, pants, shoes, socks, undershirts and shorts. Our clothing and shoes were picked up and placed in a container labeled with our names. We were told they would be held and returned to us at the conclusion of basic training—unless we indicated that we did not want them back, and in that case we were told they would be donated to various charities. I cheerfully abandoned my T-shirt, shorts, jeans, socks and scuffed sneakers. They were called tennis shoes back in those days, even though nobody played tennis, at least not in my level of society—come to think of it, nobody plays tennis in my current level of society either—not much change there.

In return for giving up our garments and our modesty, we were issued a Towel, bath, olive drab, 1, an item that we dutifully wrapped around our waists—unrolled, of course, to provide a modicum of cover both front and rear. There were several people that had to hang on to both ends of their towel at all times—their ample waistlines prohibited knotting the corners together at one side or the other to provide cover.

From there we submitted to the official ministrations of barbers, gentlemen that were proficient in rendering one unrecognizable to one’s mother or any other person, with just a few strokes of an electric clipper. The barber shop was a large room with multiple barber chairs, each with a long wooden bench directly in line with each barber’s chair. We straddled the benches and hitched our way from the rear to the front as the work progressed, and then from the front position to the chair. The hitching along generated lots of jokes, most obscene but all funny, many involving splinters and sitting too close to the man ahead, or for lagging behind (so to speak) and not putting enough distance between one’s self and the man directly behind (again so to speak).

When the barbers finished with us, not a hair was left standing—one could see where the hair had been but could only speculate as to the nature of the departed coiffures. For many of the trainees, ears that had been invisible—including mine– were now quite prominent. We were directed from there to the shower room, a huge area with multiple shower heads on both sides, closely spaced, and once there we doffed our towels and showered. Here, as in the barber shop, there were many jokes, most off color but most were funny depending, of course, on whether one was the butt of one or more jokes—and I’ll have no more to say on that subject!

After showering, we girded our loins with our towels, now quite wet, and joined a line to pick up military clothing—olive drab undershirts, olive drab shorts, olive drab one-piece fatigues, an olive drab fatigue cap, kakii shirts and trousers, collar brass, an olive drab web belt and brass buckle, hat brass and a garrison hat, a stiff-brimmed hat that was issued in two pieces—the hat cover was separate but was not available. We wore the hats to our quarters with no covers, nothing to protect our bald pates from the merciless summer sun of South Texas. Our issue of clothing included four sheets and two pillowcases, one pair of brown low-quarter (dress) shoes and two pairs of  brown brogans (work shoes), a laundry bag and and a duffel bag—both olive drab—carriers in which we stuffed our newly acquired wardrobe.

Yep, I joined the Brown Shoe Air Force—black shoes and blue uniforms came in 1951—I was in Japan when the first GIs arrived with the blue winter uniforms and the blue accessories for the summer kakis. When any of the Japanese girls asked why the others wore blue, we told them that the blue uniforms identified men that were afflicted with a social disease, men that  should be avoided at all costs. It worked for a little while, but it was too good to last.

As an aside, I must state that I was the only trainee that was issued white T-shirts instead of the olive-drab wife-beater undershirts. The smallest size available  was too large for me, so I was given a supply of T-shirt, white, round neck, 7. At first I felt special because I had always worn T-shirts, but as basic training progressed I would come to hate those T-shirts—more details on that later.

We marched several blocks to our barracks, a two-story edifice built before World War II began, constructed of wood with asbestos siding and standard roofing. Our home for the next 13 weeks was identical to all the others in that area, differing only in the building numbers—ours was numbered 4029, just one of many in Lackland’s 3724th Basic Military Training Squadron (BMTS). I said we marched, but it wasn’t much of a march—our combined movements were simply pitiful attempts to keep in step to the cadence voiced by our training instructor (our TI).

We entered the barracks, picked out a spot on the lower floor of the building, put down our bags and sat on them while our TI briefed us on things to come in the next 13 weeks. His first words on entering the building, after taking a long look at the group, a prolonged look at each man, some of the looks prolonged to the point of nervousness on the individual’s part. After staring at each trainee, his gaze returned to me, and he held that gaze while he said “Well, you look like a pretty good group—with a few exceptions.”

As one might expect, I took that to mean that I would find some obstacles in the road ahead—and I did. However, although I took some pretty hard hits none stopped me—I encountered rocks frequently in the 13 weeks, but one by one I conquered them by ignoring them, climbing over them or going around them. I graduated successfully in spite of being one of a few exceptions. At the end of the 13 weeks I proudly sewed on the single stripes of a Private First Class in the world’s greatest air force, a promotion after only 13 weeks in service! I accepted my pay raise of $2.50 a month, making my total compensation a whopping $75 per month and left for home, with a ten-day delay authorized while en route to technical training at Chanute Air Force Base at Rantoul, Illinois.

Hey, don’t laugh about my salary! My food, lodging, clothing, cleaning, laundry, medical care and dental care were all free, and all I had to do was follow orders and say sir to everybody with more than one stripe. I was just 16 years old and I had the world by the tail with a downhill pull—a veritable bird’s nest on the ground. And I was no longer under the watchful eye of a certain Salvation Army captain, the duly empowered truant officer in my small Mississippi town. I was free at last, and all I had to do was  go to places such as Japan and Korea and Germany and Vietnam whenever I was told to go—I figured that was not too bad a deal, except when wars were being fought in such places. Since none were being fought at the time, I felt little concern about future wars—perhaps I should have, but I didn’t.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2010 in Humor, Military, Travel, wartime, Writing

 

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Snipe hunting—a tale retold . . .

From wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snipe_hunt

A snipe hunt, a form of wild-goose chase that is also known as a fool’s errand, is a type of practical joke that involves experienced people making fun of credulous newcomers by giving them an impossible or imaginary task. The origin of the term is a practical joke where inexperienced campers are told about a bird or animal called the snipe as well as a usually preposterous method of catching it, such as running around the woods carrying a bag or making strange noises. Incidentally, the snipe  (a family of shorebirds) is difficult to catch for experienced hunters, so much so that the word “sniper” is derived from it to refer to anyone skilled enough to shoot one.

In the most popular version of the snipe hunt, especially in the American South, a newcomer is taken deep into the woods late at night and told to make a clucking noise while holding a large sack. The others, who are in on the joke, say that they will sneak away and then walk back towards the newcomer, thereby driving snipes towards the bag holder. The frightened snipes, they say, will be attracted to the clucking noise and be easily caught in the bag. The newcomer is then simply left in the dark forest, holding the bag, to eventually realize his gullibility and find his way home or back to camp.

What follows is my posting dated June 21, 2009. Click here to read the original.

Age 13—banished from Boy Scouts of America . . .

Long, long ago in another century, having completed 16 years of life and in my seventeenth year, I told a little white lie concerning my age and enlisted in the Army National Guard of the sovereign state of Mississippi. My reason for enlisting was purely selfish—members reported for training one day each month on a Saturday. We dressed in one-piece fatigues, combat boots and fatigue cap, all of which (except for the cap) were far too big for me, and were paid $10 each for our attendance and efforts.

Big money.

My enlistment lasted for one month and 23 days, and then I resigned so I could enlist in the United States Air Force. I told a big non-white lie about my age, a lie which was duly sworn to by me, my mother and the recruiting sergeant (I was still six months short of 17, the age at which enlistment was permitted with parental consent).

A whole set of circumstances prompted that enlistment, not the least of which was the starting salary—$72.50 per month, with a guarantee of promotion from Private to Private First-class after only 13 weeks of training, providing, of course, that  I successfully completed the training. That promotion would include a pay raise of $2.50 per month for a grand total of $75 per month.

Don’t laugh—housing, food, clothing and the opportunity to see the world (after learning a trade) would all be  free.

Sweet!

But I digress—back to my truncated tour of duty in the Boy Scouts of America:

Just three years before I became a member of America’s fighting forces at age 16, I became a member of the Boy Scouts of America at age 13 in a small town (pop. 2,500) in Mississippi. I was the new kid on the block, and the Scoutmaster of the local Boy Scout troop invited me to join his group. Lured by the promise of adventure, companionship, and the opportunity to learn all sorts of useful crafts and how to survive in the wilderness, I unhesitatingly signed up.

My membership in the state’s Boy Scouts of America chapter lasted even less time than my membership in the state’s National Guard—I was a Boy Scout for one month—just one month, and I was given the boot, ejected with malice and aforethought. Had the Boy Scouts of America been giving dishonorable discharges, I would have received one.

In two short weeks after I joined the Boy Scouts of America, my fascination with that organization had soured, and I was not one to keep discontent bottled up inside. When things went awry in my life, I complained. One shining example of my treatment in the troop, and of my penchant to complain, was a boxing event scheduled by the Scoutmaster, an exercise ostensibly intended to teach us self-defense and proper sportsmanship.

The Scoutmaster divided the troop into pairs, and coupled me with a boy roughly twice my big—older, taller and heavier than I. After my opponent landed several hard blows in the first round (I landed none), I stepped out of the ring. Actually, I stepped across the ring’s perimeter—it was a square marked by a chalk line drawn on the floor. Once safely outside the ring and out of my opponent’s reach, I stated forcefully and emphatically that I was quitting (the fight, not the troop). When I made known my reluctance to continue the fight and my decision to concede, I included some improper language concerning the event. That language was in reference to my opponent and to the obvious lack of fairness in the selection of sparring partners, and was applied forcefully and impartially to my opponent and the Scoutmaster.

The improper language was properly addressed by the Scoutmaster. He admonished me on my behavior, my language and my obvious lack of sportsmanship, and told me that my tenure in the troop depended on my future performance. His lecture was delivered forcefully and loudly in full sight and sound of my erstwhile opponent and the rest of the troop.

Bummer.

Two weeks later the troop went on a 12-mile hike (six miles out, six miles back) to a nature area for an overnight stay. We started our trek early on Saturday morning and reached our destination several hours later, with stops along the way so the Scoutmaster could lecture us on local flora and fauna.For much of the trek we traveled at the Boy Scout pace—10 steps running, then 10 steps walking, 10 steps running, then 10 steps walking, etc.

We arrived at the nature area and established our camp near a small lake, where we  were scheduled for a morning swim the next day before setting out on our return hike to civilization. The rest of the day was devoted to hikes along well-established trails, with the Scoutmaster pointing out items of interest—with explanations such as these:

“This is a pine tree, and these are pine cones.”

“This is an oak tree, and these are acorns.”

“This is a turtle.”

The turtle comment was prompted when one of the Scouts spotted a species of reptile idling along near the trail. I knew it was a land-based tortoise, but being fully aware that I was in enough trouble already, I wisely kept that knowledge to myself.

Near nightfall while returning to our camp, we encountered a remarkably lethargic full-grown Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake lying in the trail. It was a creature of heroic proportions—our Scoutmaster properly identified the snake thusly: “This is a rattlesnake, and its bite is deadly poisonous.” He explained that since snakes are nocturnal and hunt for food at night, this one was probably still digesting his catch of the night before.

He then efficiently and effectively killed the snake, consigned it to the bushes beside the trail so later passersby would not be alarmed by the sight of a dead rattlesnake lying in the trail—a very thoughtful and solicitous person, our Scoutmaster.

At the time my sympathies were with the rattlesnake, but considering an event that transpired later that night I came to appreciate and even admire—nay, I came to bless—the Scoutmaster for his actions.

Read on:

For our evening meal we had an open fire over which we burned, and feasted on, wieners and marshmallows. At a late hour, near midnight, one of the older boys asked if any of us wanted to go snipe hunting. I innocently declared that I had never heard of snipe hunting—as a result of my innocence, I was selected to straddle a ditch in the woods and hold open a burlap bag, and the other boys would spread out and drive any snipe in the area in my direction. I was told that the snipe would be moving very fast, and that I would feel them when they hit the inside of the bag. When I felt them hit, I was to close the bag and return to camp with my catch.

I straddled the ditch, held the bag open and listened to the others shouting and shaking limbs to get the snipe moving in my direction. I held my position and the bag firmly as the noises  faded into the distance and for several hours after that. I held my position and that damn bag into the wee small hours of the morning, until I finally realized, and accepted, the fact that I had been had, thoroughly and severely.

And during all that time I kept my head on a swivel with my eyes and ears wide open, looking and listening for rattlesnakes, deadly poisonous creatures that search for food during the hours of darkness, knowledge that I had gleaned—and retained—from the Scoutmaster’s lecture a few hours earlier. Blessed, or perhaps cursed, with deductive powers, I deduced that their food could possibly include a Boy Scout, especially one of diminutive size.

When I returned to camp all the others were asleep.

I awoke the next morning to an empty camp and footprints all over my opened backpack, a container that had sheltered my breakfast, a meal that should have included bread, bacon and fresh eggs—and would have except for the fact that the eggs were smashed and the bacon and bread slices were in the dirt. I could faintly hear the shouts and laughter of my fellow scouts—my friends—down at the lake, enjoying a morning swim after a hearty breakfast, one which I slept through because of my late return to camp.

Please be patient—I’m almost to the end of this tragic tale.

I arose, dressed, tinkled into the smoldering campfire ashes (I felt that as a Boy Scout, it was my solemn duty to do my best to prevent forest fires) and started a search for the dead rattlesnake. I found it, took it by the tail and dragged it, unseen behind me, down to the water’s edge near the dock. All my fellow scouts—my friends—were in the water and none paid any attention to me as I walked down the slope.

When I got to the water’s edge I began whirling the dead snake around over my head, and when I had it moving fast I shouted, “Snake!” and loosed the rattler toward the largest group of Boy Scouts in the water. The snake scored a direct hit, a splash-down right in the middle of the group. The boys scattered in all directions, some swimming for the dock, some for the bank, and some for open water—one boy put his head down and frantically thrashed toward the dock, sporting a rooster tail as he swam. He neglected to raise his head to take his bearings and crashed into the dock, opening a nice gash in his scalp as a result of his negligence.

When we left the nature area the Scoutmaster would not allow me to march with the troop for the return trip—I was banished to the rear of the formation and ordered to “stay there and eat dust.” That was no problem for me—I hated that routine of running ten steps, then walking ten steps, etc., etc. The troop stuck to the routine and trotted out of my sight long before we reached town.

On our return to town I was drummed out of the Boy Scouts unceremoniously, without being accorded the entertaining formalities used by old-time military commanders and depicted in Hollywood western movies.

Picture this:

John Wayne standing stiffly at attention with his commanding officer ripping off epaulets, stripes, shoulder patches, sleeve patches showing years of service and service overseas, and the chest-full of medals and decorations Wayne had earned by fighting the deadly redskins, all witnessed by the entire company, and then his hip-twitching slow walk out of the fort as the massive gates were swung open for his exit, away from the fort, the U. S. Army and his long-time fighting companions and into whatever the future might hold in store for him, all accompanied by the sonorously sad beat of the drum.

No, I had not earned the privilege of being officially drummed out of the Service—I was simply told, “You’re out. Don’t come back.”

No explanation was necessary—I knew very well why I was no longer a Boy Scout. In retrospect, I rationalized that I never really wanted to be a Boy Scout anyway—after all, I was invited to join in the beginning, and I succumbed to pressure exerted by the Scoutmaster and a few of my peers.

I was innocent—the fault was theirs.

That’s it—my enlistment in the Boy Scouts lasted only one month, three weeks short of my stint in the Mississippi National Guard. I earned no merit badges, not one, didn’t even come close to earning one. I earned no diplomas, received no recognition (other than the Scoutmaster’s acknowledgment of my nefarious activities). I never had an opportunity to assist a little old lady across the street or splint a bird’s broken wing or start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, and I never had a prayer of attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

Joke:

Wanna know how to start a fire in the wilderness?

Rub two Boy Scouts together.

Sorry about that and I apologize, but it’s out of my control. I can’t help it—it’s in my nature.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Age 13—banished from Boy Scouts of America . . .

Long, long ago in another century, having completed 16 years of life and in my seventeenth year, I told a little white lie concerning my age and enlisted in the Army National Guard of the sovereign state of Mississippi. My reason for enlisting was purely selfish—members reported for training one day each month on a Saturday. We dressed in one-piece fatigues, combat boots and fatigue cap, all of which (except for the cap) were far too big for me, and were paid $10 each for our attendance and efforts.

Big money.

My enlistment lasted for one month and 23 days, and then I resigned so I could enlist in the United States Air Force. I told a big non-white lie about my age, a lie which was duly sworn to by me, my mother and the recruiting sergeant (I was still six months short of 17, the age at which enlistment was permitted with parental consent).

A whole set of circumstances prompted that enlistment, not the least of which was the starting salary—$72.50 per month, with a guarantee of promotion from Private to Private First-class after only 13 weeks of training, providing, of course, that  I successfully completed the training. That promotion would include a pay raise of $2.50 per month for a grand total of $75 per month.

Don’t laugh—housing, food, clothing, medical and dental services and the opportunity to see the world (after learning a trade) would all be  free.

Sweet!

But I digress—back to my truncated tour of duty in the Boy Scouts of America:

Just three years before I became a member of America’s fighting forces at age 16, I became a member of the Boy Scouts of America at age 13 in a small town (pop. 2,500) in Mississippi. I was the new kid on the block, and the Scoutmaster of the local Boy Scout troop invited me to join his group. Lured by the promise of adventure, companionship, and the opportunity to learn all sorts of useful crafts and how to survive in the wilderness, I unhesitatingly signed up.

My membership in the state’s Boy Scouts of America chapter lasted even less time than my membership in the state’s National Guard—I was a Boy Scout for one month—just one month, and I was given the boot, ejected with malice and aforethought. Had the Boy Scouts of America been giving dishonorable discharges, I would have received one.

In two short weeks after I joined the Boy Scouts of America, my fascination with that organization had soured, and I was not one to keep discontent bottled up inside. When things went awry in my life, I complained. One shining example of my treatment in the troop, and of my penchant to complain, was a boxing event scheduled by the Scoutmaster, an exercise ostensibly intended to teach us self-defense and proper sportsmanship.

The Scoutmaster divided the troop into pairs, and coupled me with a boy roughly twice my big—older, taller and heavier than I. After my opponent landed several hard blows in the first round (I landed none), I stepped out of the ring. Actually, I stepped across the ring’s perimeter—it was a square marked by a chalk line drawn on the floor. Once safely outside the ring and out of my opponent’s reach, I stated forcefully and emphatically that I was quitting (the fight, not the troop). When I made known my reluctance to continue the fight and my decision to concede, I included some improper language concerning the event. That language was in reference to my opponent and to the obvious lack of fairness in the selection of sparring partners, and was applied forcefully and impartially to my opponent and the Scoutmaster.

The improper language was properly addressed by the Scoutmaster. He admonished me on my behavior, my language and my obvious lack of sportsmanship, and told me that my tenure in the troop depended on my future performance. His lecture was delivered forcefully and loudly in full sight and sound of my erstwhile opponent and the rest of the troop.

Bummer.

Two weeks later the troop went on a 12-mile hike (six miles out, six miles back) to a nature area for an overnight stay. We started our trek early on Saturday morning and reached our destination several hours later, with stops along the way so the Scoutmaster could lecture us on local flora and fauna.For much of the trek we traveled at the Boy Scout pace—10 steps running, then 10 steps walking, 10 steps running, then 10 steps walking, etc.

We arrived at the nature area and established our camp near a small lake, where we  were scheduled for a morning swim the next day before setting out on our return hike to civilization. The rest of the day was devoted to hikes along well-established trails, with the Scoutmaster pointing out items of interest—with explanations such as these:

“This is a pine tree, and these are pine cones.”

“This is an oak tree, and these are acorns.”

“This is a turtle.”

The turtle comment was prompted when one of the Scouts spotted a species of reptile idling along near the trail. I knew it was a land-based tortoise, but being fully aware that I was in enough trouble already, I wisely kept that knowledge to myself.

Near nightfall while returning to our camp, we encountered a remarkably lethargic full-grown Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake lying in the trail. It was a creature of heroic proportions—our Scoutmaster properly identified the snake thusly: “This is a rattlesnake, and its bite is deadly poisonous.” He explained that since snakes are nocturnal and hunt for food at night, this one was probably still digesting his catch of the night before.

He then efficiently and effectively killed the snake, consigned it to the bushes beside the trail so later passersby would not be alarmed by the sight of a dead rattlesnake lying in the trail—a very thoughtful and solicitous person, our Scoutmaster.

At the time my sympathies were with the rattlesnake, but considering an event that transpired later that night I came to appreciate and even admire—nay, I came to bless—the Scoutmaster for his actions.

Read on:

For our evening meal we had an open fire over which we burned, and feasted on, wieners and marshmallows. At a late hour, near midnight, one of the older boys asked if any of us wanted to go snipe hunting. I innocently declared that I had never heard of snipe hunting—as a result of my innocence, I was selected to straddle a ditch in the woods and hold open a burlap bag, and the other boys would spread out and drive any snipe in the area in my direction. I was told that the snipe would be moving very fast, and that I would feel them when they hit the inside of the bag. When I felt them hit, I was to close the bag and return to camp with my catch.

I straddled the ditch, held the bag open and listened to the others shouting and shaking limbs to get the snipe moving in my direction. I held my position and the bag firmly as the noises  faded into the distance and for several hours after that. I held my position and that damn bag into the wee small hours of the morning, until I finally realized, and accepted, the fact that I had been had, thoroughly and severely.

And during all that time I kept my head on a swivel with my eyes and ears wide open, looking and listening for rattlesnakes, deadly poisonous creatures that search for food during the hours of darkness, knowledge that I had gleaned—and retained—from the Scoutmaster’s lecture a few hours earlier. Blessed, or perhaps cursed, with deductive powers, I deduced that their food could possibly include a Boy Scout, especially one of diminutive size.

When I returned to camp all the others were asleep.

I awoke the next morning to an empty camp and footprints all over my opened backpack, a container that had sheltered my breakfast, a meal that should have included bread, bacon and fresh eggs—and would have except for the fact that the eggs were smashed and the bacon and bread slices were in the dirt. I could faintly hear the shouts and laughter of my fellow scouts—my friends—down at the lake, enjoying a morning swim after a hearty breakfast, one which I slept through because of my late return to camp.

Please be patient—I’m almost to the end of this tragic tale.

I arose, dressed, tinkled into the smoldering campfire ashes (I felt that as a Boy Scout, it was my solemn duty to do my best to prevent forest fires) and started a search for the dead rattlesnake. I found it, took it by the tail and dragged it, unseen behind me, down to the water’s edge near the dock. All my fellow scouts—my friendswere in the water and none paid any attention to me as I walked down the slope.

When I got to the water’s edge I began whirling the dead snake around over my head, and when I had it moving fast I shouted, “Snake!” and loosed the rattler toward the largest group of Boy Scouts in the water. The snake scored a direct hit, a splash-down right in the middle of the group. The boys scattered in all directions, some swimming for the dock, some for the bank, and some for open water—one boy put his head down and frantically thrashed toward the dock, sporting a rooster tail as he swam. He neglected to raise his head to take his bearings and crashed into the dock, opening a nice gash in his scalp as a result of his negligence.

When we left the nature area the Scoutmaster would not allow me to march with the troop for the return trip—I was banished to the rear of the formation and ordered to “stay there and eat dust.” That was no problem for me—I hated that routine of running ten steps, then walking ten steps, etc., etc. The troop stuck to the routine and trotted out of my sight long before we reached town.

On our return to town I was drummed out of the Boy Scouts unceremoniously, without being accorded the entertaining formalities used by old-time military commanders and depicted in Hollywood western movies.

Picture this:

John Wayne standing stiffly at attention with his commanding officer ripping off epaulets, stripes, shoulder patches, sleeve patches showing years of service and service overseas, and the chest-full of medals and decorations Wayne had earned by fighting the deadly redskins, all witnessed by the entire company, and then his hip-twitching slow walk out of the fort as the massive gates were swung open for his exit, away from the fort, the U. S. Army and his long-time fighting companions and into whatever the future might hold in store for him, all accompanied by the sonorously sad beat of the drum.

No, I had not earned the privilege of being officially drummed out of the Service—I was simply told, “You’re out. Don’t come back.”

No explanation was necessary—I knew very well why I was no longer a Boy Scout. In retrospect, I rationalized that I never really wanted to be a Boy Scout anyway—after all, I was invited to join in the beginning, and I succumbed to pressure exerted by the Scoutmaster and a few of my peers.

I was innocent—the fault was theirs.

That’s it—my enlistment in the Boy Scouts lasted only one month, three weeks short of my stint in the Mississippi National Guard. I earned no merit badges, not one, didn’t even come close to earning one. I earned no diplomas, received no recognition (other than the Scoutmaster’s acknowledgment of my nefarious activities). I never had an opportunity to assist a little old lady across the street or splint a bird’s broken wing or start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, and I never had a prayer of attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

Joke:

Wanna know how to start a fire in the wilderness?

Rub two Boy Scouts together.

Sorry about that and I apologize, but it’s out of my control. I can’t help it—it’s in my nature.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2009 in Childhood, friends, Humor, Uncategorized

 

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