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Murder in Mexico on Falcon Lake . . .

Murder in Mexico on Falcon Lake . . .

Television and newspapers today are sharply focused on the recent murder of a jet-ski rider that was moving around on the Mexican side of Falcon Lake that straddles the international boundary between the U. S. and Mexico. It’s a giant reservoir, a body of water that extends some fifty miles along the Rio Grande River. The waters of the Rio Grande River are impounded by a huge dam near the city of Roma, Texas. The invisible international boundary line in the lake divides the countries of Mexico and the United States, and divides Texas and the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

The murdered man was on a jet-ski, a personal watercraft, and was accompanied by his wife who was mounted on a second jet-ski. She witnessed the murder and successfully escaped with her life. Now her story is being questioned because neither the jet-ski nor a body has been found by Mexican authorities, and those worthies will not allow American law enforcement officers to participate in the search. I believe that privilege is being denied because the jet-ski and the body were recovered either by Mexican authorities, persons working for Mexican drug cartels or by members of a Mexican drug cartel. I also believe that both the jet-ski and the body, and especially the body, have been concealed or destroyed in such a manner that the odds of them being recovered or found range from slim to none. I predict that they will never be found, and without the body or the jet-ski the Mexicans will continue to deny that no criminal action occurred.

Much of this is standard procedure in relations between us and our neighbor to the south. The drug cartels control Mexico with the use of cash from their illegal operations—local and federal Mexican officials either accept the bribes or they will be killed—other citizens, with or without an offer of cash, will in either case look the other way to avoid being killed. That’s a brutal way for a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate—perhaps a trillion-dollar conglomerate—to operate, but it is quite effective.

I worked on the Texas-Mexico border as a Customs inspector for twelve years, first as a trainee and journeyman inspector at Progreso, Texas, then as a first-level supervisor at Roma and Falcon Dam for two and one-half years, and finally at the port of Brownsville, Texas for another three and one-half years. I then spent three years at Customs Headquarters in Washington, DC and later held enforcement positions in Houston and San Antonio for another ten years. Looking back on my experiences and the knowledge I gleaned over a period of twenty-six years, I feel fairly well qualified to express my opinion of that murder incident and of the area where it occurred.

One brief statement can describe the incident. It is true—it happened. The man was murdered, either by cartel members or persons supporting the cartels, and the murder is being covered up with the knowledge and assistance of Mexican federal officials. That area on both sides of the border was lawless even before it became a part of the United States in 1848 following our war with Mexico . It was lawless then, it is lawless now and it will remain lawless into the predictable future. That is the nature of the terrain and its population on both sides of the international boundary, whether on land or on the water.

It is not my intention to paint every person in the area as lawless—the population contains the usual mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly—well, perhaps more of the bad than of the other two—my neighborhood and any other neighborhood reflects a similar amalgamation of people, differing only in degree. That area along the Texas/Mexico border is lawless because of its terrain and its proximity to Mexico. Smuggling in Starr County, Texas has for centuries literally been, and to this day remains, a way of life for many of the county’s residents. Merchandise, animals and people are routinely smuggled from Texas to Mexico and from Mexico to Texas, while cash, weapons and ammunition are smuggled into Mexico and illegal narcotics are smuggled into Texas. Much of the smuggling is done to avoid paying duty and taxes on the U. S. side, and paying duty, taxes and mordida on the Mexican side. Mordida is the diminutive of the verb morder, to bite—mordida is a little bite added to the legitimate cost of importations and exportations—on the Mexican side it adds a considerable amount to the cost of doing business, whether legal or illegal business.

A case in point would be the movement of horses across the Rio Grande River in the past, and perhaps even now. The law requires that live animals be subjected to examination by proper officials, whether  going out of the U.S. or coming into the U.S. In past years quarter-horse races have been held and probably are still being held, on both sides of the Rio Grande. Rather than be bothered by quarantine laws and paying mordida, owners and trainers would take their horses to a bend in the river that would guarantee that a horse forced into the water would swim to the other side, where an accomplice would recover the animal, then off to the races– time saved, no veterinarian fees, no holding period, etc. One must necessarily view that as practical, and the odds of being detected were virtually nil. The point is that if one can smuggle a full grown horse from nation to nation in both directions, smuggling narcotics should be a snap—and it is.

Some of Starr County’s features were summed up thusly by a writer in a Playboy magazine article published in the 1970s: The author told Playboy’s readers that in order to visit Rio Grande City, the  county seat of Starr County, Texas you should fly into San Antonio, rent a car and drive to Laredo, make a left turn there and drive until you smell feces—that would be Roma, Texas—then continue straight until you step in it and you’ll be in Rio Grande City, the county seat of Starr County. I seriously doubt that the article increased tourist traffic in the area.

Mexico as a nation and Mexicans as individuals have always felt that our annexation of Texas in 1845, an act that led to our war with Mexico, was illegal and it probably was. Mexico has also always felt that the land lost to the United States in 1848 with Mexico’s defeat in the war between the nations was unwarranted and unfair. Perhaps the drug cartels will at sometime in the future reclaim much of that land, especially in the lower and upper Rio Grande Valley and in the great state of Arizona. The cartels already rule Starr County during the hours of darkness—the next step is to dominate the area during daylight hours—the way things are going now, it could happen.

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

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2010 in bridge, law enforcement, neighbors, politics

 

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A two-week boat ride to Japan . . .

In 1950 I traveled from San Francisco to Japan in 14 days, and back to San Francisco in another 14 days, with a considerable amount of time spent in Japan and South Korea between the trip to the Orient and the return to the United States, somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 months. Fifteen of those months were spent in bad neighborhoods—they were spent at Taegu in the south and Kimpo in the north, two of our US airfields in South Korea during the Korean War.

I refuse to call it a conflict. It was a war, one in which more than 40,000 members of our armed forces died during four years of fighting—that qualifies it to be called a war, not a conflict.

I traveled by bus from my mother’s home in Midland, Texas to Alpine, Texas, then by train to Los Angeles and up the Pacific coast to San Francisco. The month was April, and the trip up to San Francisco—a distance of almost 400 miles—with the blue Pacific Ocean on the left and the green mountain slopes on the right was memorable. In San Francisco I boarded a ferry and was taken to Camp Stoneman. I was quartered for a week or so before boarding another ferry to the Port of San Francisco where I boarded an army troop ship bound for Japan.

Camp Stoneman, located in the city of Pittsburgh some forty miles from San Francisco, was a staging facility for military personnel traveling to foreign destinations to the east from the Port of San Francisco. Arrivals from oversea assignments and those departing for such assignments traveled by ferry to and from the Port and Camp Stoneman. Opened in 1942, the camp was shut down in 1954. Click here for images of Camp Stoneman and its brief history.

We departed for Japan on the USS Daniel L. Sultan, a U.S. Army vessel named for an army general, a ship that on this voyage would be loaded with 5,000 troops, 500 dependents and an indefinite number of cats and dogs, pets of the dependent members. When we pulled away from San Francisco, we headed north instead of west to pick up the dependents and their pets in Seattle, Washington.

My brother Larry, an army Warrant Officer, was stationed at the Yakima Training Facility and I obtained permission to debark in Seattle—yes, debarking, that’s what they called it—in order to make a phone call to him. No, I did not have a cell phone—they had not yet been invented. Our conversation was brief, limited to expressions of how are you, how have you been, how is everyone else, where are you going, and good luck.

On my return to the ship I ran afoul of the Officer of the Day, the worthy that stands on deck by the gangplank to greet boarders, to inquire as to their reason for boarding and to ascertain whether contraband is involved in their boarding. I had no problem answering the questions, but I committed a serious breach of military protocol.

As any sailor knows, when one boards or debarks a military vessel, courtesy must be given by saluting the United States flag flown by the vessel. I had been briefed on that courtesy and I saluted accordingly, but I was chastised—chewed out—by the Officer of the Day. It seems that I saluted the prow of the vessel instead of the stern. I had been below decks ever since boarding the ship and had no idea which end was which, so I took a guess—I guessed wrong.

Other than that, the two-week voyage was uneventful. I was seasick for the first two days and spent a lot of time hanging over the rail, and I learned to gauge the wind—one had to watch one’s output closely because one’s output had a bad habit of almost reaching the waves and then riding the wind all the way back up, often to its origin. I learned early to heave and then quickly step back from the railing. Some others weren’t that lucky. There’s an old joke that goes like this: The admiral asks a young sailor if he has a weak stomach, and the sailor says, No, sir, I am throwing it just as far as the others are.

Every GI on the ship had a daily detail. Some worked in the galley, some in the heads, some did laundry and various make-work tasks, but I was one of the very privileged—I was assigned to the poop deck detail. No, not that poop deck, not that flat-roofed cabin that is erected at the stern of old-time ships for storage and to serve as an observation point. The word poop is derived from a French word poupe, meaning stern, the back part of the ship.

No, my detail involved poop, the real McCoy. People with pets were required to exercise them every day on the rearmost part of the top deck, and the poop naturally followed. Every morning the call came over the intercom—first a series of shrill whistles, then came the words, Now hear this, now hear this—sweepers, man your brooms, clean sweep down fore and aft.

I never knew what was swept down at the fore, but I learned over two weeks about sweep down aft. It wasn’t that bad, though. There was always a strong breeze, if for no other reason than the forward motion of the ship. We used high-pressure hoses to wash down the deck, and we used the brooms to loosen poop reluctant to go into the Pacific Ocean.

I was quartered on Deck 4C, four levels below the top deck and three compartments aft of the head, or latrine. My bunk was second from the floor in a tier of four canvas bunks stacked from the floor to the ceiling. I was lucky because the fellow in the bunk above me was slightly built. The unlucky ones were those with a heavyweight sleeping in the bunk above them. In some cases, it was difficult for them to turn over without bumping into the weight hanging above. Bummer!

Speaking of the head—it’s at the extreme front end of the ship, but it would have been far better situated for use had it been located amidships. The bow of a vessel rises and falls with every wave, and one that is urinating must be ready to stop and restart the stream as the bow rises and falls. If not, one will be hitting one’s shoes as the bow rises, and splattering the wall as the bow falls.

If you have traveled on a ship you’ll understand what I mean, and if you have not, just ask any seasoned sailor how the system works. In the event of heavy seas, one would be advised to perform the act in a seated position—not very manly, but much safer and much easier on one’s shoes—and the wall.

We arrived at the Port of Yokohama, Japan two weeks later and docked in a harbor festooned with jellyfish. Just form a vision of Monet’s ponds covered with lily pads, then multiple it by thousands, perhaps millions, and you’ll have a vision of the Yokohama harbor.

A short time later—oops, let me rephrase that. The words short time have a very different meaning in military lingo, so I’ll say that a bit later a dozen or so of us were on a GI bus headed for Yokota Air Base, near Tokyo in Northern Japan. The bus ride, Yokota Air Base, Fussa and Tachikawa merit a separate posting—stay tuned!

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

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2010 in Military, Travel, wartime

 

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Tattooed lady and Battle of the Century . . .

Tattooed lady and Battle of the Century

Early in my military career I was privileged to spend some 15 months in one of the most beautiful countries in the exotic far East—well, actually my time there was mandated by the US Department of Defense because of the Korean War, a conflict that began in June of 1950 and was in full swing throughout my sojourn there.

My superiors told me that I was there to help South Korea resist a takeover by North Korea and others, specifically communist China, a northern neighbor that was in turn assisted by Russia, a nation that obligingly provided war weapons and other materials. I did the best I could to help win the war, but the outcome was not completely successful—it raged on for some four years and ended in a draw. The truce that ended the war still exists, and the possibility of renewal of the conflict ebbs and flows.

My memories of my time in South Korea are plentiful and vivid. Among those memories is one of a small RCA portable record player and two vinyl records, one 45 RPM (revolutions per minute) and the other an LP (long play, 33 1/3 revolutions per minute)—yes, Virginia, vinyl records—cassette tapes, CDs and DVDs were many years into the future. I don’t remember who claimed ownership of the records or the record player, but the two records and their contents still loom large in my memory, and for good reason—I listened to them so many times that I still retain most of the lines. They were the only records we had, so they had a lot of play.

The 45 RPM had the song below—I don’t remember the flip side because we rarely played it. I don’t remember the artist, but internet research indicates that the artist was probably Skeets McDonald, a county singer prominent in the 1950s and 1960s. There are numerous versions available online, all differing in some respect, but the one below is the real McCoy–trust me—I’ve been carrying it around in my mind for some 60 years or so—hey, I sometimes use it to lull myself to sleep! These are the words I remember:

Once I married a tattooed lady
It was on a cold winter day
And tattooed all around her body
Was a map of the good old USA.

Upon her leg was Minnesota
On her shoulder Tennessee
And tattooed on her back
Was good old Hackensack
The place where I longed to be.

Upon her chest was West Virginia
Through those hills I did love to roam
And when the moonlight starts to shine
Down on her Wabash
That’s when I recognized my Indiana home.

Special note: There are two words in this posting that are generally considered vulgar—both words basically consist of four letters and one syllable. Either may be used as a noun, whether singular or plural, and both may be conjugated under the prevailing rules of conjugation and used as verbs—present, past, future and all the more subtle tenses allowed—and both may be used as descriptive adjectives.

Of the two records available, the LP record was the one most often played. It was titled The battle of the century, a championship contest waged between the US world champion and his challenger from Australia, a fighter that trained for the competition by traveling from his native country to the United States on a boat loaded with raw cabbages—a fighter on a freighter from a far-flung land, so to speak (I really love alliteration!).

Is the light beginning to dawn? Can you guess the nature of the contest? Huh? Huh? Can ya? I’ll give you this much of a hint—the operative words are raw cabbages.

If you have ever listened to a radio announcer’s description of a world champion boxer defending his title against a challenger, you’ll understand how the record sounded. The contest took place in a circular arena with elevated spectator seats arranged around 360 degrees. In the exact center of the ring was a post, gripped by the contestants to provide stability as they competed. The announcer described in detail the ring and its contents, the spectators including introductions of important personages attending, the contestants and their costumes—highly important items in the contest. Their fight statistics, records and titles won were given, as were many of their personal attributes and most important, the point system used to determine the winner was described in minute detail.

The contestants were fully and colorfully clothed, their costumes festooned with bangles and beads and sponsor’s ads, similar to NASCAR vehicles, all shimmering in the bright kleig lights. The only exception to being fully clothed was that a circular piece of each costume was missing at a strategic point, basically at the lower part of each contestant’s heine (my word, not the announcer’s). The challenger’s cutout circle was very basic and strictly functional, but the champion’s circle was festooned with ribbons that fluttered gaily at times during the competition, depending on the point value of his performance.

The point system included several judges, each scoring points separately and those points averaged to add to the total for each contestant. Points available ranged from a low of two points to a high of 15 points. The nomenclature of the two-pointer escapes me for now, but when I recover it —if I recover it—I will add it to this posting. The 15 pointer was called a triple flutter-blast, a triumphal feat equal to a grand-slam home run in major league baseball, a very rear—oops, I mean very rare feat that virtually always earned a standing applause from spectators. The only triple flutter-blast in this contest was generated by the champion, illustrating and emphasizing the talents that vaulted him—so to speak—to the world championship.

At several times during the fight, the judges found it necessary to examine the cutout to determine the presence of any wetness, the presence of which would nullify any points earned for that particular effort.

Okay, let me wrap this up—I’m sure you’ve deduced by now that The Battle of the Century was a f – – ting contest. I know, I know—I could have called it a flatulence contest, but somehow that word doesn’t ring true, so I used the word that punctuated—so to speak—the announcer’s account of the battle—I mean lots and lots and lots of times  during the contest. Please note that I have used it only once, and that time as an adjective in order to identify the nature of the contest—the addition of the gerund, the ing, was necessary in order to create the adjective. And also I camouflaged it by using a couple of dashes because I didn’t want to sully this posting by spelling out the word

The point score at the end—so to speak—placed the challenger ahead of the champion by only one point, and all the champion needed was a simple two-pointer to retain his title. He preened and pranced at a leisurely pace toward the post, bowing repeatedly to his cheering fans, waving and pointing and smiling and giving the thumbs-up signal. He confidently grasped the pole, squatted, took a deep breath and grunted, and a sound reverberated in the arena, a sound magnified by the sensors strategically placed near the post, a sound not heard even once during the competition—a sound that impinged on the hearing of judges, spectators and contestants alike.

Although everyone suspected the worst, there was a prolonged silence while the judges made a close-up visual examination of the cutout area in the champion’s costume, and at their signal the announcer shouted,

Oh, my God! The champion s – – t! He’s disqualified! We have a new world champion! Here, as in f – – ting, I have used dashes to avoid tarnishing my posting, my reputation and my future with Word Press.

From that point the record produced nothing but silence.

And then we played it over.

And over.

And over.

Both records were still being played by replacements when I exercised my right, after 15 months in Korea, to return to the land of big Post Exchanges and round doorknobs.

I must admit that I was glad the champion lost, if for no other reason for his taunting of the challenger when the contestants were first introduced to the spectators. When the champion stood to acknowledge the applause, he strolled over to the challenger, turned his back to him, bent over and expelled a single two-pointer then jauntily walked away, and the spectators roared their approval.

The announcer gushed thusly: Wow, I can’t believe that! What a champion, and what control! That was only a two-pointer, of course, but for the champion to waste even two points merely as a gesture of defiance, he has demonstrated his ultimate confidence in his ability to retain his world championship.

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

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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