Annually, March 29th
is National Vietnam Veterans Day. At the March Field Air Museum, we celebrate
the day with an open house, open to all veterans, of all conflicts. This year
will be no different but let me tell you about last year’s open house.
In hosting the day, the museum
brings on additional docents to assist the museum’s guests and answer
questions. Nelly, one of our docents was asked to docent at the museum’s
Vietnam support base exhibit. The area contains several helicopters flown in
the NAM and the exhibit is configured to resemble a support base, but, on a
smaller scale. Several hours had passed since the museum opened for the day and
things were going smoothly when I saw Nelly enter the museum. Nelly was crying
and when I approached her, she told me that she needed a little time to compose
herself, but that she was ok.
Several of the vets who had
gone to the support base entered the museum and I could tell that they had been
crying as well. So, what happened? I proceeded to the support base but found
nothing amiss, so I had to patiently await Nelly’s explanation. Nelly finally
approached me in the museum’s hangar and somewhat composed, she told me the
Several vets had gathered
around one of the museum’s Huey (Bell HU-1) helicopters and some small talk
between the vets netted a couple of stories.
The vets were standing next to the aircraft when one of them shared a
story about a lift mission his squad had experienced in 1967 as an Army grunt. He
was standing at the opened cargo door looking at the passenger seat as he told
his story. According to Nelly, who was standing near the vet, he named the NAM
location and other information pertinent to the event. The mission started
normally but as the chopper neared the landing zone (LZ), the machine took hits
from ground fire and the landing went badly. Several of the soldiers were
killed and some injured. As the vet continued with the story, another vet who
had been standing in front of the chopper turned his walker and faced the rear
of the aircraft intently listening to the story teller.
He walked toward the story
teller and stopped next to him. The story teller noticed the vet standing next
to him. Both men looked at each other. The vet with the walker asked some pertinent
questions about the crash. The story teller told the other vet that he was on a
Huey that crashed, and it sounded like his incident. The story teller said that
an unknown soldier had pulled him from the burning helicopter, but he never
knew who it was. The injured soldier was medevac’ed out before he found out the
identity of his rescuer. The first vet asked the second vet to describe what he
looked like at the time of the incident and the second vet described to him his
appearance at the time. The first vet said, “It was me who pulled you
out!” They both went on, through tears
and hugs to describe the event and its aftermath.
According to Nelly, there
was not a dry eye on that support base.
What were the odds for that chance meeting?
“Welcome Home Vietnam
Vets” took on a whole new meaning that day for Nelly and those Nam vets.
This year, I hope the two
men attend this year’s celebration, I’d like to welcome them home personally.
So, there I was a police sergeant at the LAPD Wilshire Division on the roof looking north toward Hollywood and crying my eyes out! I was mad, sad, and upset. The real kicker was that I had absolutely no control of the situation. I was in full uniform, the supervisor of 40 some field officers possessing the powers granted to a sworn sergeant of police of the LAPD and yet there I was on the roof of the station, crying!
It was 1992 and four F-16’s were swooping down over a Gulf I parade which was in progress down Hollywood Boulevard. Oh, and get this, they were allowing Westmoreland and Viet Nam vets to march in the parade, at the rear, but nonetheless in their parade.
God, I was beside myself. Do I have to explain to you that feeling? The feeling started when the Flying Tiger 707 bringing me back to the world had to make an emergency landing at Seattle-Tacoma Airport because of a blown main gear tire whose pieces were picked up on the runway back at Yakota AFB, Japan. Well, we landed, and no one got killed so off we went to a “no steak” dinner (supposedly you got a steak dinner at Mc Cord AFB or Fort Lewis, I can’t remember who told us that one) homecoming.
Because of the diversion to Seattle-Tacoma we would be starting our 30-day leave 2 hours earlier. Before we could initiate the task of getting a military stand-by flight home, we found ourselves in a “debriefing” room with an Army guy telling us to keep a “low profile.” Well I understood that! Getting shot at a few times at the beach gate on Phan Rang’s north east perimeter made a believer of filling those sand bags to the max and then “low profiling” behind the bulging blessed things!
But I digress here. He went on to tell us how unpopular we were in this part of the world (home?) and how we should not display any ribbons or acknowledge the fact that we had been in the NAM. That was my welcome home from war, hooray for our side!
I got a ride on a United 727 to Los Angeles and found myself at a window seat separated from a middle-aged female passenger by the empty middle seat. After about 20 minutes in the air, I ordered a scotch and soda. I turned 21 in the NAM but got asked for ID anyway. Not having eaten for a while the go juice hit me like it was meant to. The lady was talking to the stewardess, but my mind was on seeing my family at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), so I paid no attention. The stewardess got my attention when she plunked another plastic cup of go juice on my tray. Before I could say anything, she nodded toward my air companion and left. The woman asked if I was coming back from the war but before I could answer her, I saw the sand bags going up in the middle seat. Heck, she looked innocent enough and there was something in her eyes that said, “Please answer the question,” so I told her, “Yes.” She lifted her glass of red something and asked that I join her in toasting those who were not coming back.
My mind raced back to the night at LAX when I left for the NAM. An Army guy walked off the plane as we were boarding the TWA fight to Seattle and told an older man and a teenage girl, “I’m not going.” I still don’t know why, but the image played in my head for a couple of seconds.
I did not know what to say to my flight companion, so I just took a long drink from the cup. She said, “thank you” and until we said, “good bye” at LAX, we did not speak again.
A substantial number of my family met me as I walked off the plane and they had a big sign that read, “WELCOME HOME SERGEANT DIAZ.” Holy smokes, didn’t they know that we were deep in Indian country and they were blowing my cover? Throw them some sand bags!
Little did they know that 22 years later THAT sign, my family, the Air Force, the Marine Corps Reserve and two police departments would positively acknowledge my service in the NAM. But for now, I was being assigned to the 63rd Military Airlift Wing, SPS, at Norton AFB, in San Bernardino, California. I was home, but not the same home I had left. The feeling started to run deep the more I ventured around in “the world.”
I went to an apartment complex in the city of Upland, about 22 miles west of Norton, to apply for an apartment. I found myself sitting next to a guy with short hair too. He looked military, so I figured I was going to have competition for the one available apartment. He asked if I was military and I said, “Air Force.” He asked if I had returned from the war and not seeing any sand bags, I told him that I had.
I asked him, and he said, “Navy, back from North Korea.” I was talking to a U.S.S. Pueblo guy, didn’t know which one and didn’t know if he was telling me the truth. I never found out, but I just put the application back on the manager’s desk and humbly left.
The next apartment manager was not a nice person. He didn’t like the military in any form and said so. Vietnam veterans were out of control, drug-addicted, spring loaded and on short fuses. He said other things, but this is what I related to my father, a WW II veteran who served in the Pacific.
The, “WELCOME HOME FROM THE GREATEST WAR” veteran who was proud to have served, and still removed the manufacture tags from anything “made in Japan.” He said what I began to truly believe: “Just because you served in Viet Nam doesn’t mean life or anyone owes you a living.”
I can talk about his parenting ways, but I am after all, preaching to the choir, the children of depression era kids, you know. So, I shut up like all the other guys at Norton and did not talk about the NAM to anyone but them. In November 1971, three months after my discharge, I joined the Ontario Police Department. I got “extra points” for being a veteran and Hispanic and got hired with six other guys, beating out 350+ applicants. Ain’t bragging, it’s just part of my story.
In 1973, I was eyeballing the LAPD. I took the tests, got the same “extra points” and joined the “Marine Corps” of Law Enforcement. About 90% of my class were NAM vets and we quietly talked about the war. No one cried telling stories of the bad stuff, we were young. The same stories today are probably slightly distorted because of the distance from the events and we do cry, just take a look at Randy Cunningham, the first Navy Ace of the war. When he was young and telling his stories, he used his hands like aviators do and he displayed a lot of the John Wayne “do or die” syndrome. Today, the same stories bring tears to the man’s eyes.
In 1975, I was assigned to Central Division (downtown) and was walking a foot beat with a classmate of mine. Steve was an ex-Army LRRP (Long Range Recon Patrol) and was as tough as they come. We got to interact with the first Vietnamese refugees who had been displaced from the south and sent here. It was very interesting.
One incident that stands out in my mind was a Vietnamese gentleman who approached us and said that he had been duped by a store advertising an item, but had been given another item of lesser value, boxed in the container that showed the advertised item. All was going well until the “victim” told us that he was not to be treated this way because he was a “high classed” Vietnamese. Steve picked the guy up by his shirt and the guy grabbed Steve’s wrist to hang on for the ride up to eye level. I won’t repeat what Steve told him, but what would you have said? Did I mention that Steve was tough? That was the last time that I can remember the NAM being “up front” in my mind. Like most of us NAM vets, I put it in a closet somewhere; remember what my dad had said?
Fast forward to1991. So, now Gulf I commanders are talking, “no Vietnam this” and “no Vietnam that,” remember? They actually wanted to win this one. Well, they did. They were allowed to and there was no Johnson or McNamara to hand them a bite of the shit sandwich. Then they came home (welcomed) in uniform, with ribbons, folks waving at them (with all their fingers), no sand bags and now they get a parade—with “us” allowed to march in the back. Remember the start of my story?
Heck if I was going to march behind as an “after thought.” If we, Nam vets, have a legacy, we showed them how NOT to fight a war and how NOT to treat returning service veterans. The antiwar protestors learned something too. Forward to the Gulf II, 2002. I am now assigned to Hollywood Division where we get our share of protests, marches and the like. So, I am working a major protest as the Adjutant to the Divisional Commanding Officer and we can pretty much go where we want. We were at the corner of Hollywood and Highland where I see a female with gray hair, maybe my age holding up a protest sign and taking pictures. She was dressed, almost like she must have looked in the sixties as a protester. Now, I am a 55-year-old “Sergeant Pig.” She doesn’t say that, she “looks that.” I figure what the heck and say the following, “You know, this is quite unique to me.”
She asked, “What is?”
So, I told her where I was when this sort of thing was going on in the sixties. (By the way, I missed the sixties, graduated high school in 1966 and joined the USAF in 1967, do the math.) She said, and I quote her because the words went right through me, vest and all, “We did that wrong back then. We attacked you guys, not the war like we should have.”
Now, let me get this straight—a generation of military men and women were sacrificed by the government and the folks back home took it out on them. Remember people yelling, “baby killers,” and the jerk apartment manager?
But today, they are attacking the war/government and leaving the troops alone. I told you about our legacy and the protestors learning something. But who paid the price? Need I say? We are an exclusive club of brothers and sisters in arms. Let’s not forget those beautiful selfless nurses. I recently heard on a talk show where serving in the military was the subject. Some guy called in and started lamenting the fact that going to Canada got him out of the military but “someone had to take my place,” during the NAM war and that someone might have gotten killed. WELL HELLO!!
I’ll finish with this; I have been in uniform since I was 19. I have carried a weapon every day of my adult working life—I will be 57 this year. I am in the twilight of my Law Enforcement career with retirement just three years away. When several incidents on the LAPD caused us to go through periods of really bad press, guys would ask me, “You don’t have to be here. Are you going to retire?”
My response was, “When I left Viet Nam, we were winning, and we lost that one. I ain’t leaving here until we are winning again.” My late aunt, God rest her soul, once asked me, “You are always looking for trouble or something wrong, that is your job, but what will you do when it is over, if you survive?” I/we are survivors. We are brothers, sons, fathers and in my opinion, are the second greatest generation who took up arms, WWII veterans being the greatest.
We will never have full closure; we will never get our homecoming parade and not everyone will agree why we went there in the first place. We meet on the street and nodded, “welcome home” to each other. We see a NAM decal on the back of a guy’s car and if he looks old enough, we give each other the thumbs up.
Some of us have gone back to the NAM for various reasons. Over 58,000 never made it home physically, some of us never made it home mentally. How will our NAM experiences come back to us in our minds and hearts now that we about to retire and will have the time to really think this through? When I hear a NAM veteran say he’s been back 30-something years, what is he really saying? What did he leave there? What is missing? Most veterans of other wars don’t make statements like that, why?
I can still smell the country, the war. I can dream it in color and “don’t tell me no.”
When “Big red” (the sun) hits me just right, I am at the beach gate or main gate with the Korean MPs. I can go back there anytime I want to. I can’t remember where the car keys are or why I left the Watch Commander’s office and went to the front desk, but I remember the NAM and the 20-year-old kid who went there. Do I feel sorry for him, admire him, mourn him or try and comfort him? I’ll know soon enough because that Army briefer and his words, “DON’T MEAN A THING” now. And I don’t give a damn about those SAND BAGS.
When we who served in the NAM are gone, what will generations of military and civilians say about us?
A few weeks ago, I asked forty cops, “Why did you become a cop with the LAPD? Who influenced you to join?”
Twenty-four responded and these are what they said. BTW, This survey didn’t conform with any recognized rules for surveys or polls but it’s a whole lot more accurate than the polls for the last presidential election!
My last Ramblings described how I became a cop and now I’m about to describe how twenty other LAPD cops joined the finest police department in the world. I’m a little prejudiced.
I’m going to bunch a few of these responses together because they’re very similar. The cops who responded came from different eras. The earliest joined in 1956 the latest 1998. So there were different economic situations. I’ll use only first names to save any embarrassment.
The number one reason: guys were getting out of the military and looking for a job. Quite a few were married with small children and needed to support their family. The majority of the respondents were fresh out of the jungles of Viet Nam—some were drafted, others joined. Doug liked the military but not Viet Nam. Surprisingly, a lot of them were Marines. A few were in military police and infected with being a cop.
Quite a few had low paying jobs and saw no future in their current employment. Skip was earning $1.75 an hour and found that he could be a police student worker (Definition: they work at a police station, filing paperwork and doing odd jobs. They are exposed to cops and their stories, probably closer to a police cadet. They’re usually under-aged to go to the academy) for $2.25 an hour. Brad wanted to be a park ranger or marine biologist but found out the pay was pretty low. Cops get paid better. He was also a police student worker.
The second highest response was they watched Adam 12 and Dragnet on TV. Ed, the oldest, said he listened to Dragnet on the radio, a real generation gap from the rest of us. My son and I used to watch Adam 12 together. He’s also an LAPD cop. I’ve worked with many young officers whose dads and mothers were cops. Keith watched Adam 12 and read Joseph Wambaugh books. [As did I. My father was an MP in the Army then his retirement job was as a Deputy US Marshal. Some law enforcement blood there. Adam 12 was a big show in our house. Years later, the dispatcher, Shaaron Claridge, who did the broadcast in the show opening, was my model for radio procedure. There was no formal training other than OJT-on the job.–Thonie]
Another multiple response was they were acquainted with a cop and listened to their cop stories. The cops’ stories get to everyone—exciting and dangerous. And cops also had good benefits! Jim replied that he lived three houses away from a LAPD sergeant and the sergeant encouraged Jim to take police science classes. Roger was in a dead end job at Douglas and wanted to join Santa Monica PD. They required a AA college degree so Roger attended classes. The instructors were LAPD and told great stories. Roger never did work near the beach after thirty-eight years with LAPD.
Come back to read the third and last installment of “Why Be a Cop?” on Sunday, February 19, 2017.
“Cadets, I’d now like to discuss something that’ll be vital for you to know when your, like, out here, on the job, as a police officer. And, that’s the correct way on how to eat a doughnut”
Zed McGlunk, “Police Academy 2”
When I first wrote this piece back in November of 2012, I took a slightly lighthearted look on the training I received when I attended the local regional Police Academy back in 1979. However, since then, almost daily controversial incidents are shaking the Law Enforcement profession to its core. One question I keep hearing with increasing frequency, and that I find myself asking, is what training these officers are receiving. When I attended my academy, in many respects, the curriculum was developed in response to the tumult and unrest that characterized much of the late 1960 and early 1970’s. The pushback against Civil Rights led to riots that tore apart entire cities. The dissatisfaction with the War in Viet Nam led to violent protest that spilled onto university campuses. Radical terrorists with violent agendas led the way to a surge in violent crime. Without delving into a historical dissertation of those troubled times, law enforcement found itself mired in an unprecedented quagmire caught between those wanting social change and those demanding a return to “law and order.” Short staffed, ill-equipped and ill-trained, police officers across the country found themselves the target of dissatisfaction from all sides, often with tragic outcomes. It soon became obvious the old way of policing was not working and change began to take place.
Among its virtues and vices, the first “Police Academy” movie was a satirical look at some of the “revolutionary” adjustments Law Enforcement was undergoing in the early 1980’s. While mostly farcical, one of the few aspects of police work the movie did get right was that first critical training every police officer, deputy sheriff, highway patrol officer, constable and every Federal Agent has to successfully complete, known as “The Academy.” Most all such academies generally have a two-fold purpose. Obviously, the first is to prepare a cadet or recruit both academically and physically for the rigors of law enforcement field work. More feared, the second is to identify and screen out those individuals who prove unsuitable for a career in law enforcement either because of academic deficiencies, an inability to meet the physical training demands or from a variety of other reasons, including psychological.
How this is accomplished can vary widely; sometimes state training regulations mandate what is taught and how. In other instances, departmental training philosophies dictate training methodology. More often than not, it’s a combination of both. Some are near-military in their training approach with high stress and intense discipline as one might find in a “boot” camp. Others take a more relaxed, college campus type approach to training. Budgetary concerns are a significant factor; some agencies either by choice or necessity, put their recruits through the bare minimum of required training hours taking the approach that what is learned “on the job” is more meaningful. Other departments want better rounded recruits and can afford longer training academies.
In California, the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training mandates that a police recruit have a minimum “Basic Training” course of 664 hours. Most all police agencies in California have some type of field training program that follows graduation from an academy; they are usually around 12 weeks long or about 480 hours. Now 1200 hours or more of training may seem like a lot but consider this: in order to get a Cosmetologist license in California an individual must have 1600 hours of classroom instruction and another 3200 hours of formal apprenticeship. That’s a total of over 4800 hours! When’s the last time you read about a beautician taking someone’s life with a mascara wand?
Despite the plethora of books, movies or television shows of the police genre, few if any ever really devote much time to this essential beginners experience in anyway other than in a cursory manner. As every recruit is an individual, they bring to this formative training, differing levels of life experience, work experience, schooling, physical capabilities and emotional maturity. Consequently, while there are common training goals every recruit must meet, each always comes away with a differing perspective of their overall academy experience.
My own academy training took place in late 1979. While what I encountered was unique to me given my background, it does provide a framework for what someone going into the profession and attending a smaller, regional police academy in the early 1980’s would likely encounter.
I was hired by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office in September, 1979, who sent me to the Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) Police Academy in Santa Rosa, California. I had a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from California State University, Los Angeles and had just spent four years in the Army on active duty, most of that time as a commissioned officer. I had actually begun my law enforcement career almost two years earlier when I received a transfer from the Infantry to the Military Police. Still, I was savvy enough to know I had much to learn as there are vast differences between the missions of military law enforcement and civilian.
So, what were my overall expectations and goals as I embarked upon this new training experience? I had been through some of the most stressful, physically demanding and mentally challenging training that the military offered at that time. I had read Joseph Wambaugh’s early book “The New Centurions” which painted a very stark portrait of the Los Angeles Police Academy of the 1960’s very much like what I had encountered in Officer Candidate School, where the slightest mistake or rule infraction could mean failure and dismissal. The training sergeant from the Sheriff’s Office had told me the regional academy I was to attend was pretty laid back compared to what I’d encountered in the Army. However, having been erroneously lulled by such descriptions before, I was going to hope he was right but prepare for the worst case scenario.