Thursday, June 4, 2015

R.S.

"If my wife knew about my fiancĂ©, and if my fiancĂ© knew about my girlfriend, and if my girlfriend found out about my wife, I'd be in a heap of shit."  Ron Silverado


While at a salsa social at DNC last Thursday night, I met a new guy.  Well, new to DNC anyway.  He knew how to salsa, which made him an immediate hit with the ladies because he brought new moves to the mix.  Named Ron, he reminded me of my graduate school roommate, Ron Silverado.

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When we met at Pace Graduate School of Business, Ron, or R.S.,  was 28 years old, while I was 26.  For the first month of the semester, Ron slept with his K-BAR, the Marine fighting knife, clutched to his chest with both hands like a crucifix (see photo above).  He said it made him feel better.  I was all for that.

Ron was proud of his service in the Navy, and he used to regale us with his war stories.  We were all too busy during the week with school, but the weekends were usually free.  Saturday night became story night, with Ron at center stage.

Ron told us he joined the Navy straight out of college.  He applied for and gained accepted into the SEAL program, went through their rigorous training, and deployed to South East Asia for a year's tour of duty in 1970.  SEAL is an acronym standing for Sea, Air, and Land.  I love the SEAL motto:

         “Fuck the fucking motherfuckers before the motherfuckers can fuck you.”

SEAL combat school encompasses training in all three phases of warfare, including underwater demolition, sea-borne land insertions, and HALO training.  High Altitude, Low Opening parachute jumps involve jumping out of a plane at night at extreme altitude, falling several miles in darkness, and opening the chute at low altitude, in order to land undetected by radar.  Ron said this especially scared him because he couldn't see anything but the stars rotating overhead, accompanied by the sound of the wind rushing past his helmet.  An attached altimeter deployed the chute automatically when the air density increased to the set point (he hoped).


I asked Ron if he had any more jumps after he left the Teams.

He said: "No. I won't ever jump out of a perfectly good airplane again.  Only two things fall out of the sky:  bird shit and idiots." 

Ron recalled his very first mission.  The Team was seated around a campfire when the order to leave the wire came down.  Ron was petrified.  He couldn't move.  The Team assembled to leave, and Ron just sat there.  Half way to the wire, the Team stopped, about-faced, and looked at him.  If he didn't go, he would be kicked out of the Teams, and likely drummed out of the Navy for cowardice.  He got up, and went with his buddies.  Forever after, he was the first man up when it came time to leave on a mission, and usually took point.

Because the Teams would deploy into the bush for thirty days at a time, the Navy hospital corpmen would issue the troops methamphetamine pills they called Black Beauties to help them stay alert and alive while on patrol.  Ron became addicted to the speed pills, so much so that by the end of his tour he had to wear a sanitary napkin to control the rectal bleeding.

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Prior to one mission, Intelligence reported the likely visit of a Viet Cong tax collector to a certain village over the weekend.  Because they were universally hated, information from snitches on tax collectors was easy to come by in the War.  With orders to capture or kill him, Ron and the boys deployed around the ville, and waited several days for the tax collector to appear.

The Team Leader told them: "Let's capture this fuck alive, and we'll have a beer party with the money we liberate when we get back to camp."

This got a "ooo-rah" from the Team.

In the evening of the third day, the tax collector appeared.  When the t.c. began walking down a path towards the village wearing a back pack, Ron stepped out from behind him, and yelled "Dung Lai!",  ordering him to halt in Vietnamese.  The target took off running.  Ron had an over/under rifle, with an M16 on top and a M203 grenade launcher slung underneath.  When fired, the 40 mm grenade does not arm until it has traveled 25 feet, in order to protect the operator from a close proximity explosion.  Ron hoped to hit the guy in the back pack with the unarmed grenade, knocking him to the ground, but otherwise unhurt, as per orders.  Unfortunately, the target went a step too far, and the grenade exploded, blowing  the money and the tax collector to bloody bits.  The Team gathered around, hooting and hollering, complaining about Ron and the lost beer party.  Thereafter his Team nickname changed to Money Bags.

Late in his tour, the Team deployed to Cambodia on a secret mission to collect intelligence on troop movements.  Spotted by NVA regular army troops, a running gun battle ensued as the Team tried to escape.  They managed to get away, but Ron's training camp swim buddy, Steve, sustained a stomach gunshot wound.  Ron carried him to safety, but they could not call for extraction until daylight.  Steve bled out in Ron's arms while they waited for the helicopters to land.  Before he died, Steve made Ron swear that he would leave the Navy when his tour was up, go back to America alive, and live life for the both of them.  Extracted together, one alive and one dead, Ron kept his promise.




While Ron told us this story, he was rocking and sobbing and crying.  The four of us put our arms around him and held him in a group hug until he regained his composure.  After that, unbeknownst to Ron,  R.S. stood for Really Sick.

Ron mustered out a month after Steve died, and the Navy dropped him off at a bus station in San Diego with a suitcase and his severance pay.  At loose ends, and still amped up from combat, he bought a Harley, and began riding up and down the west coast with a gang of other ex-servicemen, raising hell, drinking beer, and taking speed.  After a nihilistic year, he quit the gangs and the drugs, cleaned up his act, applied to graduate school, and got a job.


His first job began with a phone call from his mother.

"Ronnie, your uncle Matio has been arrested and jailed in Guatemala on some trumped up charges and the police are demanding money for his release.  He needs rescue."

Ron replied, "OK, ma, I'll take care of it".

R.S. immediately flew to Miami, rented a speed boat, drove it to Guatemala, broke his uncle out of prison, and brought him back to the States. 


During his summer vacation before entering Pace in the Fall, he earned his scholastic money in his second job.   The job involved training Cuban expatriates in the finer arts of guerrilla warfare in a camp outside of Miami. His uncle told the Cubans about his exploits in Guatemala, and he landed the gig.  I met Ron at Pace the week after this job ended.


                                                                                
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One incident involving Ron stands out in my mind.  I drove a 1965 Buick Rivera at the time.  One day, Ron and Lucky and I had arranged a triple date.  To get the car ready, we rode in it to a local car wash.  With the three of us in the car, I drove into the automatic wash bay.  In the middle of the wash, the low-slung undercarriage got caught in the towing mechanism, and we lurched to a halt.  We looked at each other, saying, now what do we do?  Ron was wearing his favorite silver shark-skin suit.  He opened the door and got out in the middle of the washing machine, coating himself with water and soap.  He went to the office door, banged on it, and loudly demanded that the attendant come out and free us from the clutches of the machine.  The owner emerged and saw Ron, soaking wet and covered with soap suds, ranting about the mishap.  The football New York Giants held their summer camp every year at Pace.  This guy resembled Hall of Famer Howie Long.  He stood at least 6'4", weighted about 265, and looked like a lumberjack.  Ron was 6'1", going about 190 lbs.  The owner became irate at us for getting stuck, and at R.S. for being over-bearing.  R.S. began to rant and yell that he wanted his suit cleaned, as well as our money back on the wash job.  A prepositioned, 4 foot long 2x4 leaned against the wall of the office.  The owner reached over and picked it up with practiced ease, holding it in his right hand like a nightstick.  Ron instantly transformed into a raving berserker.

 "Come on, asshole, take a swing, take a swing, I dare you!" he screamed, because he knew he couldn't attack people, but he could certainly defend himself.

As he was doing this, his artificial front tooth flew out of his mouth, and hit the owner square in the chest. (His original tooth was knocked out by his former girlfriend, Helene, with an old-school telephone handset when she found out about his wife, but that's a different story.)   Ron became apoplectic.  Recognizing crazy when he saw it, the owner carefully put down the 2x4, and told us to leave or he was calling the cops.  Lucky and I pulled Ron away, herded him into the Riv, and drove off in a spray of gravel.  Ron had to change his clothes before the big date.

In the middle of the spring semester, Ron got a job working as a bouncer in a mafia-owned bar just over the Tappen Zee Bridge.  After Ron explained his former life as a SEAL, the owner hired him.  One weekend, Smokey Robinson brought his entire band from Detroit, including the back-up singers, and all the costumes and stage effects to the bar and played his entire Las Vegas set for about 10 people.  Apparently, he had some gambling debts to pay off.

On his last day working there, Ron ejected an unruly patron from the bar.  The guy went across the street, retrieved his bolt-action deer rifle from the trunk of his car, and began shooting at the windowless, cement-block building.  Ron, having taken in-coming fire before, knew what it meant when pieces of cinder-block began imploding into the club. He instantly dove head-first behind the bar for cover,  colliding with the owner on the way down.

After they collected their senses, the owner ordered Ron to "Get out there and do something!"

 Ron shouted: "What?! Are you crazy?!  He's got a gun!"  Ron wanted to call in an air strike.

The owner fired him as they lay prone behind the bar.





                                                  A Short History of Methamphetamines:

                                                          1928 Nazi recruitment poster


Meth was first crystallized in the lab by a Japanese chemist in 1919.  He noted in his publication that the drug might exhibit central nervous system stimulant effects.

Twenty years later, Nazi war planners knew war with Russia loomed on the horizon.  The population of the Allies in 1940 approximated 400 million, while that of Germany hovered around 80 million.  As a result, Nazi war planners knew that order for them to win, the German soldier would have to achieve fantastical amounts of killing.  Thus, the Nazis sought a drug to allow outnumbered soldiers to stay awake for days on end.  A literature search for stimulants yielded methamphetamine as a candidate.  Nazi doctors synthesized the stuff, and tried it out on concentration camp "volunteers".  Repeated tests showed not only were the users wide-awake and alert for days, but to the doctors delight, with continued use they became hyper-violent and super paranoid; perfect for soldiers who needed to continue killing without rest.

In 1940, the German army shipped more than 35 million doses of Pervitin (their name) to the troops.  Later in the war against Russia, with the German army encircled on the plains west of Leningrad, it became difficult to supply the troops with sufficient quantities of Pervitin, so the Nazi doctors came up with a simplified field method for cooking meth.  One soldier in each company was assigned to make enough for the whole unit.  The cooker would make a kilogram at a time in his helmet, dry it, and distribute the powder to the troops.  Clandestine labs across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico still use this Nazi-developed field method.

 Ron's introduction to methamphetamines  was orchestrated by the U.S. military.  The Pentagon dispensed more methamphetamine to U.S. troops during the Vietnam War than the whole world consumed during WWII.  Reportedly, the average American soldier in Vietnam consumed 30 to 40 meth tablets per year.  About 2,500,000 Americans served in Vietnam during the ten year war,  so a huge number of Americans had their introduction to meth served up by the U.S. military.  The meth epidemic came home to America following the end of the Vietnam War.