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You don’t smoke, you don’t chew, you don’t drink, you don’t screw—damn, boy, what do you do?

Memories of those words and that question, and memories of Archie Williams, W.C. Fields, Shirley Temple, dirty old men and a certain red-haired office typist—all came together in my thoughts this morning while I reminisced in search of fodder for my blog. If that group has in any way piqued your interest, read on.

I’ll begin with the red-haired office worker, an administrative clerk sitting sideways with legs crossed while operating an old-time word processor, a dinosauristic but cleverly constructed machine that combined mechanical, electrical and manual functions, a machine known as a typewriter. When the machine was operated properly it produced ink impressions, alphabet letters, on white unlined material—paper—a versatile material with many uses, made from wood pulp and commonly used for writing and printing upon but with various other uses and capabilities and sometimes referred to as tissue or tissues, quintessentially used at work, at home and away from home.

Just as an aside, I wonder how many readers will resort to Wikipedia for a definition of the word quintessentially. In the past, one in search of a definition would have referred to another dinosaur, that quaint publication known as a dictionary. Alas, that item is swiftly disappearing from our society, but I have one to which I felt I was entitled. I purloined it from my office when I retired from government service. In fact, I retired twice from government service, first from the military and then from federal law enforcement—the dictionary I brought home on the second retirement was simply a free upgrade of the one from the military.

But I have digressed from my original objective, to tell the story of Archie Williams. For that I apologize and return forthwith and continue towards that objective. From the information given in the first paragraph you, the reader, probably have in mind the image of a young auburn-haired beauty in a mini-skirt seated sideways before an office typewriter with her legs crossed and showing lots of leg, both lower leg and thigh and you would be right—except for the fact that the typist was a young red-haired male member of the United States Air Force, clothed in khaki shirt and trousers showing no leg, belted in blue and shod in black, sporting on his sleeves the three stripes of an Airman First Class, engaged in a spirited conversation with Archie Williams, an Air Force master sergeant, a six-striper similarly clothed who embodied and displayed the unique characteristics of W.C. Fields, an old-time veteran Hollywood comic of black-and-white film fame, in at least one of which films he shared billing with a very young and very precocious Shirley Temple, a child prodigy who tap danced, beautifully and at length while wearing a very short dress, and whose characteristic close-ups revealed curly hair, a cute smile, snow-white legs and significant expanses of white underwear, both front and rear, as she tapped and whirled and smiled enticingly for the camera.

I know, I know—you’re wondering why the previous sentence is so lengthy, nearing 200 words. It’s because I’m trying to equal or surpass the length of the one in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, not the longest sentence in literature but certainly among the longest—1,300 words. Of course, that’s very brief compared to a sentence in Ulysses by James Joyce that has 4,391 words—more or less!

I will digress no more—I’m running out of ink, so I’ll try to finish this posting. I’m reasonably certain that you, the reader, are wondering where this is going so I’ll put your mind at rest. I read an article in a magazine prized by men that in big city theaters that show the old black-and-white movies in certain theaters with Shirley Temple displaying her dancing talent, the major part of the audiences consists of dirty old men. Admittedly, some of the dirty old men simple needed a place to rest or to sleep, and some were addicted to black-and-white movies regardless of their contents—some may in fact have been movie producers, black-listed by Senator McCarthy and forced out of the movie industry—maybe.

My contention is that the dirty old men in the audience felt that the child prodigy was wearing that smile and showing the underwear just for them, and as a result of that feeling they perhaps—alright, probably—reached illegal and unimaginable plateaus of pleasure during the showing, a la Pee-wee Herman.

While I was busy in the Administration Office on a typical working day, I was privy—inadvertently—to a conversation between Archie and the young red-haired leg-crossing sergeant that centered on the typist’s off-duty activities. After quizzing him on those activities Archie told him, in Archie’s replication of W.C. Fields whiningly nasal tone, poetically and in rhyme, You don’t smoke, you don’t chew, you don’t drink, you don’t screw—damn, boy, what do you do? Archie’s height and girth, his stance, his ambulatory movements and his habit of carrying an unlighted cigar all mimicked W.C. Fields. While Archie’s physical characteristics were not controllable, I believe that the cigar and his voice were perhaps props, intended to imitate the old-time actor and indulged in so much over time that they belonged to him and were part of his persona, just as legitimately as they were for W.C. Fields.

When I heard Archie’s question I immediately decided that I had no other business in that office, and I hurriedly relocated so I could satisfactorily react to the question without incurring the enmity of the typist. I never knew the typist’s answer, if in fact he gave an answer, and I did not have the temerity to ask Archie how his talk with the typist was concluded. I did learn later from another source that the typist shared his lodging and his life with an over-the-road non-military truck driver. I find it interesting that in that era I was not aware that my service had either an animus against, or a tolerance for, members with sexual preferences that differed from what traditionally has been our society’s norm—there was no don’t ask, don’t tell policy. At that time, circa 1965, I was in my sixteenth year of military service, and if my service had a problem with such preferences it was never part of my training. Over the years I served during peacetime and wartime with several such persons and had no problems—none at that time and none now.

Archie died in the mid-1960s, and his earthly remains were interred in Fort Sam Houston’s national cemetery here in San Antonio, Texas. Full military services were provided, with taps, rifle volleys and uniformed pallbearers, and I was one of the six men that carried the casket, with Archie safely ensconced inside, a considerable distance through interminable rows of upright grave markers to an open grave, fitted with the mechanical device that would lower the casket.

Archie was a big man that in life would have approached a weight of 250 pounds, perhaps more, and at least partially because of that weight I almost preceded him into the excavation that had been prepared for him alone. As we marched towards the open grave I quickly concluded that he had not been embalmed—had he chosen that mortuary option—not required in Texas—he would have been considerably lighter. Of the six pallbearers, I’ll give you three guesses as to which pallbearer was less tall than the others, and the first two guesses won’t count—not that I am necessarily short, mind you, but I will admit that I was less tall than the others.

My position as we marched Archie, feet first through the rows of white markers, was at the left forward corner of Archie’s casket, the corner closest to his left foot, I am convinced that mine was the heaviest area of the weight we carried, perhaps fitted with a large anvil—perhaps Archie had been a blacksmith in his youth and the anvil was placed as a salutary salute to that profession—he may have suffered from a left club-foot, but I doubt that it would account for the weight at my corner.

Just as we moved the casket to a point directly over the grave and the lowering mechanism, my right foot slipped into the opening and I frantically relinquished my portion of the weight—I became an ex-pallbearer. However, the remaining five pallbearers apparently divided up my former contribution to the operation and held the casket up until I could reposition myself and return to pallbearer status, and we then properly placed the casket, stepped back and snapped to attention, and the ceremony continued and was concluded without further incident. In my haste to return both feet to solid ground, scrambling to avoid being interred with Archie, I soiled the knees of my uniform trousers as I frantically returned to an upright position—the soiling process could have been far worse, I suppose.

I have good reason to visit Fort Sam Houston’s national cemetery these days. I don’t remember where we left Archie some fifty years ago—that’s far too much time for me to be expected to remember his Section and Plot numbers. I have promised myself that I will ask cemetery office personnel for the location of his grave. I want to say hello to him, and I may hear again the question below, the question he addressed to that red-haired typist, and perhaps the typist’s answer to the query—if Archie chooses to confide in me:

You don’t smoke, you don’t chew, you don’t drink, you don’t screw—damn, boy, what do you do?

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

 
 

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One soul departs, and another arrives . . .

One soul departs,

and  another arrives.

I have read the letter that follows many times and each time my heart—my soul, my spirit—soars to incredible heights, and then descends to incredible depths. I know that I am not worthy of those heights, but I would like to believe that I do not deserve to remain at those depths.

I have vowed that in the time I have remaining above ground on this sphere—this earth—I will dedicate my efforts, my will, to live my life in a way that honors my wife, my family, my friends and my God. I hasten to add that I will accord that honor in my own way and not necessarily in ways favored by our society, nor by actions sanctioned by various religious denominations. I know that I cannot undo the things I’ve done in my lifetime that I should not have done, but I can try with all my might to do the things I should do in the time I have left in this realm.

I will begin this writing by saying proudly that I have the finest neighbors anyone could possible have, a beautiful couple that lives just a few feet away on the west side of our house. The husband is a self-employed architect and the wife is an educator-at-large in local school districts. They have two grown sons and a brand-new granddaughter.

My wife was in hospice care, and shortly before she died our neighbor gave her a gold chain with a pendant fashioned into the I Love You symbol in American Sign Language. She expressed her sorrow to my wife for her illness and her sorrow that she could not be with her until the end—her elder son’s wife, living in a distant city, was near child delivery and the doctors anticipated problems with the baby. My wife died before the neighbor left, and the neighbor’s sorrow—her sadness—is eloquently expressed in the letter she gave me before she left.

With her permission I have reproduced the letter and am posting it exactly as written, including the pen-and-ink sentence at the top of the page. She professes little talent for writing, but in my opinion, unlettered and unfettered though my opinion may be, she has a tremendous talent for writing and should pursue that talent, whether as a vocation or as an avocation.

Her letter follows, exactly as written. The first sentence just above the poem—This was in my heart today—was written in ink in the upper margin:

This was in my heart today:

Courage is not the towering oak
That sees storms come and go,
It is the fragile blossom
That opens in the snow.
—Alice MacKenzie Swalm

Dear Mike,

You hurt so deeply…..so, so deeply. You are sad, on top of sad, on top of sad. And all I know to say is, “I’m sorry.” So trite…..it screams out that I can’t even begin to feel your pain. I want to just sit and cry, cry, cry with you. Janie left you for another. That will always break your heart. She left you, she left you…how could she? You were always there for her. Year after year, day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, second after second…..you were always there for her. But she left anyway. Gone, gone, gone. You always knew that she would leave you. It never mattered. You would do it all over again if you could. If only you could.

She said that you were a “Good Man.” A good man. A loving man. A caring man. A clever man. A funny man. A loyal man. A knowledgeable  man. An interesting man. But a man all the same. Not perfect, but not a requirement for Janie.

And there lies the real beauty. Janie left room for others to live their own lives. To make their own mistakes. To make their own amends. To write their own stories. To make their own verses and rhymes. To be their own selves. To find their own beauty. To find their own strengths. To find their own weaknesses. No matter where you were in life, whether in the good or the bad, she welcomed you home when you were ready to be home. She didn’t push or prod. She just waited. She knew you would eventually come home. She led by example. Every needle, every probe, every surgery, every bruise, every doctor visit…she said, “Be strong. Be strong, be strong, be strong. It was her battle cry. No words needed. She screamed it out with the softest of cries. So strong…..yet so, so gentle.

I’m your neighbor. I’m just simply a neighbor. How could I be touched this way? For me, death and birth are coming at the same time. I didn’t want to choose one over the other. But here it is, saying choose, choose. Janie’s example said to pick life. Choose life, she said. It is with sadness that I go. Even when I should be filled with bubbling joy. Be strong, she says. Go and be strong.

You are a good neighbor. The best. Be strong. Be strong. Be strong. “Live” she says. Be strong. She will wait for you to come Home.

With Sad, Sad, Sadness,

Your Neighbor, Your Friend,

Kathy

Postscript: At the memorial for my wife, our daughters placed the “I Love You” pendant in their mother’s hands, along with a small card with Biblical quotations given to her many years ago by her sister, Christine. The only other jewelry was a gold chain with a small pendant that I brought home many years ago from a foreign assignment while in the military. The pendant has a French quotation that translates as “I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.”

My neighbor is back home now and back in work harness. Her granddaughter, Caitlan, was delivered successfully by Caesarian surgery. The baby weighed eight pounds and two ounces at birth, and she is healthy, happy and growing by leaps and bounds.

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

 

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Our tombstone inscriptions . . .

Prior to the interment of my wife’s mortal remains in Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery here in San Antonio, I was asked to provide any information that I wanted in addition to the mandatory data required by military regulations. An official of the funeral home said that I would have three lines for our use, each line consisting of a maximum of 15 letters including spaces. After securing agreement from our three daughters, I submitted the following three lines, to be placed below the lines required by regulation. These lines were my original submission:

Cry not for me
I am at home
I wait for thee

Shortly after that submission I was contacted by a cemetery representative, and was told that only two lines were available for my use after the mandatory items were inscribed. After a few minutes of looking at possibilities, I realized that any one of the three lines I had submitted could be deleted. I could remove the first line and the inscription would read:

I am at home
I wait for thee

I could delete the third line and the inscription would read:

Cry not for me
I am at home

And finally, with the second line removed the inscription would read:

Cry not for me
I wait for thee

Again with the agreement of our three daughters, I chose to remove the second line, so the inscription will read:

Cry not for me
I wait for thee

Of course, when my earthly remains are placed with the mortal remains of my wife in our temporal holding place—and I will join her, either sooner or later—her inscription will again need to be formulated, primarily because she will no longer be waiting for me—at that time I shall have arrived.

As for my inscription on the front of the final headstone to be inscribed and erected, I will entrust the inscription to the sensibilities of our three daughters, and I trust that they will be gentle in complying with that responsibility, and unanimous in their decision, whatever it may be—but none of that two out of three stuff!

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

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2011 in death, Family, funeral, health, marriage, Military

 

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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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A brisket for Nephrology . . .

This is a letter to my wife, one of the purest and sweetest beings that God has ever created. Her immortal soul returned to its Creator on Thursday, the eighteenth of November, 2010 at 9:15 in the evening. Immediately after joining Him she left His presence, and anointed with the divine influence of His grace she returned to our mortal world for a few brief moments. Her return is documented and discussed here.

Hi, sweetheart,

I know you’re watching and I’m sure you were part of the annual get-together in the Nephrology Clinic at Brooke Army Medical Center, but I’ll recap the luncheon for you just in case you overlooked some of the folks that attended. It was held on Thursday, December 16, the day that would have been your day for dialysis. You’ll remember that Thursday is the least busy day for the unit. There was only one patient that morning, and I believe that was an in-hospital patient.

All the nurses were there: Gracie, Linda, Irene, Gloria, Jackie, Tammie, Jim, Carver, Henderson and Patti, the Head Nurse, along with Kathy, the dietitian, and Dr. Reynolds, the officer-in-charge of the Clinic. Many of the dialysis patients were there, including the Big Colonel and the Little Colonel. The Big Colonel expressed his sadness at learning of your death, and offered his condolences to me and to our daughters, saying that we and you would always remain in his thoughts and prayers.

Dr. Reynolds welcomed us to the event and asked that we never forget those that are longer with us, specifically naming you and Mrs. Kirk, that beautiful little lady with the short gray hair and the ever-present smile, always commandeering a wheelchair and chauffeured by her husband. She followed you from this realm just a few days after you left us.

Dr. Reynolds introduced the chaplain, and following the chaplain’s brief prayer with blessings on those present and those not present, we lined up at the trough for lunch, and what a spectacular trough it was. The tables stretched at least thirty or forty feet along one wall and each table was loaded—the staff should be enjoying leftovers for several days, probably through the weekend and into next week.

You should be very proud of me because with you beside me, coaching me at every step, I prepared a seven-pound brisket, from HEB of course, and brought it still hot on my arrival at the clinic, along with sauce, chips, bread and four gallons of sweet tea from Bush’s Chicken in Converse—incidentally, there has apparently been a complete change of personnel at that location—I recognized none of the staff there.

Rita met me at the entrance of the hospital with a handcart to help carry everything. I also brought another large framed piece of art to add to our gallery in the clinic. That makes a total of fourteen pieces lining each side of the hallway from the entrance all the way to the dialysis section. I’m told that your “art gallery” is an attraction for other hospital staff and patients and visitors. I know that you and I did not make the donations as a memorial, but it doesn’t hurt that it serves as a memorial to you.

Cindy helped me create gold foil stickers for the pieces, and I placed one on the lower right corner of the glass of each, and I also placed a label on the flat-screen television you donated to the Nephrology Clinic to replace that little dinky tube television that was there. Each of the gold stickers reads, Donated to Nephrology by Janie and Mike Dyer. And just in case you are wondering, Rita still watches The View every morning with religious fervor.

I wish the hallway were a bit longer so I could expand the gallery in your name. I also wish that I could create another Taj Mahal to honor your name and your life, but I’ll have to be satisfied with the Taj Mahal that resides in my heart and in my memories of you and of my life with you. Just as is the original Taj Mahal in India, the Taj Mahal in my heart and memories is a symbol of our eternal love.

I helped the nurses set up the banquet tables (Irene made me don plastic gloves before I could help sanitize the tables). When the signal was given to Come and get it! I joined the long line, loading far more on my plate than necessary, but I admit shamefully that very little was left when I finished. I shared a table with Ernie, his wife and his daughter. You’ll remember Ernie as the camera-bug transplanted to San Antonio from El Paso so his severely handicapped wheel-chair-bound daughter could receive treatment here. He is still following Cindy’s blog and working on his photographic skills.

Unless you were preoccupied in another area, you probably noticed that I visited you in the cemetery that Thursday afternoon. There were few visitors that day, but the machines and their operators were present as always, hard at work maintaining and enhancing the grounds, watering and grooming and planting and preparing new communities for military wives and husbands and for the orphaned children of military families. The perpetual care provided by our government for those families ensures the beauty and the future of one of the largest such cemeteries in the nation.

My visit with you that Thursday afternoon was bitter sweet, as all future visits will be. I accept the sadness that cloaks and permeates each visit, but I exult in the knowledge that the sadness is temporary, because I know that at some time in the future I will join you and our immortal souls will be reunited.

And I know that, in the glorious morning of the Resurrection our bodies will be raised, and become as incorruptible as our souls.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling. I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.

Mike

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2010 in death, Family, flowers, health, marriage, television, Writing

 

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Brownsville Customs assignment . . .

Before I begin this dissertation, please allow me to digress with an explanation of supervisory titles in the US Custom Service. A first level supervisor is equivalent to a captain in the military, equal in pay and responsibilities, and wears the twin silver bars of a captain in the military. A second level supervisor is equivalent to a major in the military and wears gold oak leaves on the uniform. Chief inspectors and port directors are usually the equivalent of a lieutenant colonel in the military and wear silver maple leaves when in uniform. Many Customs port directors have higher grades and have the option of wearing uniforms or civilian garb—most opt for civilian dress.

Program officers at Headquarters also have the pay and similar responsibilities of lieutenant colonels in the military, and unless involved in some field action requiring the uniform, normally wear civilian garb. The pay and responsibilities of program managers at headquarters are also similar to the duties and responsibilities of a full colonel in the military. The comparisons to military personnel continue up to the pay and responsibilities equal to the grade of a four-star general.

During my 26-year career in federal law enforcement I had the misfortune—oops, I meant the good fortune—of serving US Customs for several years at the Brownsville, Texas port of entry located at the tip of Texas, opposite the city of Matamoros, Mexico. I began my career at the port of Progreso and I was promoted to a first level supervisory position at the port of Roma. After two and one-half years there I was again promoted and transferred to the port of Brownsville, Texas some 125 miles down river from Roma. Click here for a posting on Progreso.

My position at Brownsville was that of a second level supervisor, one of two such officers responsible for supervising a staff of three administrative persons, six first level supervisors and a staff of sixty senior, journeyman and trainee inspectors. I performed my duties under the watchful eyes of the chief inspector and a racially and professionally biased port director, and I was the favorite target for any person that lodged a complaint against management, regardless of the source.  Those activities were dictated and urged on by the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). Near the end of my tour at Brownsville, the Chief Inspector left my side and joined in the target practice.

A friendly journeyman told me that NTEU had directed the local Union Steward to have every grievance addressed to me, regardless of the supervisor involved—I was one of nine supervisors, yet all complaints came to me to be investigated and the results forwarded to upper levels including national headquarters, whether resolved or unresolved. The same friendly inspector said that every meeting of the Union members, whether locally or at District or Regional Headquarters, began with a request for input on me and on my actions.

Just as an aside, the Port Director and the Chief Inspector have since been arbitrarily transferred to that shining Port of Entry in the sky—a headquarters directed assignment, so to speak—and one may be reasonably certain that a significant number of the journeyman inspectors have joined them—some were quite advanced in age, and I left Brownsville 27 years ago. I can truthfully say that at this stage of life I hold no rancor for any of them—well, okay, perhaps a trace of rancor for the Port Director!

In spite of the onslaught of arrows (employee complaints) fired at me, none struck a vital organ. To paraphrase William Faulkner in his acceptance speech in 1950 for the Nobel Prize in literature, I did not merely endure—I prevailed. My actions and my decisions were upheld by mid-level and top-level management in every instance. The grievances filed numbered in the hundreds—none was resolved in favor of the complainant, neither by me nor by someone in the upper echelons. Most of the grievances stemmed from my efforts to reduce inspector overtime in accordance with instructions from upper level management given to me prior to assuming my duties there. Misuse of overtime was rife at that location, and my success was in inverse proportion to the number of grievances—as overtime declined, grievances increased.

The pay was good and there was no heavy lifting, so I stalwartly bided my time. I successfully withstood the onslaught for three and one-half years, from April of 1980 to October of 1983, and once again was promoted and transferred to US Customs Headquarters in Washington, DC as a program officer. Halfway through my three year tour in Washington I was assigned the title and assumed the duties of Program Manager for Customs’ National Canine Enforcement Program, and therein lies some tales to be told. Click here for an example of my duties, a tour of canine operations in California. This is just a teaser with more stories to follow, so stay tuned.

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

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2010 in bridge, law enforcement, Military

 

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Letter to the editor, McAllen Monitor, from a double-dipper . . .

I wrote this letter to the editor of the McAllen Monitor while employed with the U.S. Customs Service in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. I spent twelve years on the Mexican border (1971–1983) as a Customs inspector, progressing from trainee to first level supervisor to second level supervisor, then transferred to Customs Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

This letter was my response to an editorial published by the McAllen daily newspaper, the Monitor. I never got the editorial update I requested, but I was rewarded by several subsequent submissions from the public on my criticism of the paper’s rant against “double-dipping” Civil Service workers, submissions that reflected and supported my comments on the paper’s editorial.

The McAllen Monitor
McAllen TX, Sept 17, 1977

Letter to the Editor:

Your editorial of Tuesday, August 30 entitled “Welfare—Civil Service Style,” is an unbridled and unprincipled attack on a segment of our population that has done nothing to deserve such an attack. You present only one side of the story and leave too much unsaid.

You say that there are 150,000 military retirees in federal service. How many military retirees are not in federal service? You estimate the average annual pensions of the 150,000 at $6,000 plus, and their annual Civil Service salaries at $12,000 plus. You don’t mention the extremes that make up those averages. You don’t mention the retired privates and corporals and sergeants, nor the many low-paying Wage Board and General Schedule jobs filled by military retirees. You say nothing of the merit selection and promotion systems in which military retirees compete equally with all others for employment and promotion.

You cite two extreme cases involving high salaries but you say nothing of the positions. Were they unique? Were the retirees qualified? Did they possess unique skills in scientific, professional or administrative fields that were urgently needed by the government? Skills that were not readily available from other sources? Since these things were left unsaid, they could well be possible.

You say that “98 percent of those who apply for federal disability retirement get it.” You omit the fact that virtually all those applications are based on years of service completed. Retirement eligibility has already been established. It has already been earned, regardless of whether the request for disability is approved.

You use the term “100 percent disability” as an all-inclusive condition, indicating that the retiree is supposedly unable to function as a worker. You either overlook the fact, or you are unaware of the fact that the disability percentage applies, not to the individual but to the percentage of his retired pay that will be exempted from federal taxes. And you overlook the fact that a retiree’s disability may have no effect in the career fields different from the one he is leaving.

You say nothing of other retired people in federal service. How many retirees from city, county and state Civil Service systems are employed in U.S. Civil Service? How many retired railroad workers? How many retired policemen, firemen and merchant seamen? How many independently wealthy people are employed by the federal government? Would you have our United States senator from McAllen resign his office? I’m certain his “outside income” is at least equal to the average military retiree’s pension.

I am ashamed and embarrassed by your editorial, not for myself or for the other military retirees in Civil Service, but for your editorial staff—for its lack of sensitivity and understanding and for its one-sided presentation of facts. I feel personally offended by such distorted reporting. I traded a military career spanning 22 years and two wars for a pension with no disability. Evidently my disabilities were not among those “relatively easy to fake.” I am now employed with the U.S. government and I am labeled a “welfare case” by you and your staff.

I cheerfully admit that I am a double-dipper, and I intend to continue double-dipping after retiring with a full pension at age 60 after 20 years of federal Civil Service. And I also intend to draw Social Security benefits based on maximum quarters paid in during military service. I suppose that will make me a triple dipper. Actually, I am already a triple-dipper because I am currently receiving educational benefits under the GI Bill. I suppose you would consider that another “welfare” payment.

You probably won’t get much repercussion from your editorial. The Valley is not a favorite of military retirees because of the high cost of living and the absence of those military facilities that provide additional welfare benefits—hospitals, commissaries, exchanges, etc. A military-oriented community—San Antonio, for example—would react more strongly.

Are our past wars really so distant that you feel free to use your critical and influential editorial space and privilege to condemn and label, as “welfare recipients,” people who served their country honorably in the armed forces for 20 years or more?

I would appreciate an editorial update, a note possibly, to the effect that while the system that permits double and triple dipping may be faulty, those involved in it are not. Not all of them “faked” their disabilities, and not all of them are simply “dipping in.” They are also “putting back.” Most were professional and dedicated military men, and most will never dip out enough with their pensions to compensate for the hardships, privation, and dangers they endured through their long military careers.

No military retiree objects to the highly descriptive, albeit somewhat derogatory, term of “double-dipper.” You may be sure, however, that every retiree objects to the “welfare” label. We deserve, and have earned, more honorable mention.

Hershel M. Dyer
Donna, Texas

 

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