Chief Murray and I stood, looking at the specially equipped and painted Boeing 707, with a big American flag painted brilliantly on the vertical part of its tail, until Kissinger, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman disappeared into its side door. The plane was called Air Force One when Nixon was aboard, but usually, he flew the newer 707. The crew on the tarmac called the plane”SAM two-six-thousand”, for unknown reasons.
“Henceforth, whenever Kissinger needs to be driven somewhere, you get to do the driving,” Murray said to me while his cigarette lay burning itself out on the hot concrete under our feet.
I wondered, idly, if it might not ignite stray fumes and blow us all to hell. There must have been ten ‘no smoking’ signs plastered all over the area, but Murray didn’t seem to care, and nobody confronted him about it. How Murray had insinuated himself so deeply into the president’s security was beyond me. I would have thought that a small-town police chief would be totally ignored by such powerful forces surrounding us, but that wasn’t the way it was at all.
I drove the big limo back to San Clemente at ninety miles per hour. There was no traffic, to speak of, on I-5 at off-hours. Murray stayed silent in the passenger seat, unmoved by the high speed, smoking one cigarette after another. I wanted to ask my laconic passenger a ton of questions but could not work up the courage. He had let on that my Beach Patrol job was good for a year, funded by a Congressional earmark given to the Department of Justice. It had to be redone at the end of that year if it was to be redone. My wife called the job a phony exercise invented by phony people for phony purposes. The ‘the three pee job,’ it had become, at least to her.
“The beach patrol has existed for many years, you know,” the Chief finally offered, as our limo shot down through Mission Viejo. “Some of our officers have ridden with lifeguards in their yellow jeeps over the years but the patrol was iffy, at best, when it came to major, or even minor, enforcement of anything, even in stopping drinking on the beach. Now, we’re going to have a real beach patrol, with a cadre of reserve officers trained to run two officers a shift down there.”
I was shocked but said nothing, while my mind began to race. Was I a ‘reserve’ officer? I had no idea. My badge number was seventy-three, which I presumed had something to do with my call number, but my identification card only read ‘patrolman.’ I would not be cruising the beaches alone anymore? That might be good or bad, depending. I felt another galvanic change coming. Another change that was completely out of my control. Without looking over or commenting about the Chief’s revelation, I sensed that he was very pleased about the coming changes. I wondered if Nixon was anything close to being as good a politician as Murray. I also wondered when all the new changes would be filtering down to affect me.
I parked the limo in its usual spot at the compound and walked to the Bronco. Murray got out at the gate, as a San Clement patrol vehicle had been dispatched to pick him up. The Chief didn’t have a city car. He had no need of one since he simply used on-duty officers to take him where he wanted to go in their cars. I guided the Bronco out of the lot, but instead of taking it out on the streets where it could only move at about twenty-five miles an hour, I turned south, toward Camp Pendleton and eased it onto the narrow access path the surfers used to get to Trestles Beach. Camp Pendleton could not be accessed from the compound side, as a heavy running creek ran along the border of it at the bottom of a gentle canyon, but an impassable canyon nevertheless.
The path was narrow, but not too narrow for the Bronco, although branches from the encroaching bushes scraped against both sides of the vehicle as I guided the vehicle carefully through. The path and bushes ended suddenly right near the tracks. The beach had changed since only a few days before, as it often did due to the tide, the waves, and the never-ending wind. A big dune rose up between my position and the beach itself. The dune ran between two big outcrops of rocks. I sat in the Bronco, the V8 idling, and wondered if I should get out, turn the front hubs to switch into true four-wheel drive, and make a run at the sand dune or simply turn around and go back up the path I’d come down. Normally, with its giant tires, the Bronco didn’t need to be in four-wheel at all anywhere on the beach.
I looked up and down the tracks. There were no trains visible and I could see for quite a distance. An idea occurred to me. I got out of the vehicle, walked around to the front of it, and examined the entire front end. I looked again at the tracks. Carefully, I moved to one track and began putting one of my feet in front of the other. I knew that my feet were about a little over nine inches in length. The distance between the tracks was just over seven of my feet. I got a small stick and drew a line out from the middle of each of the Bronco’s front tires. I walked the distance between those two lines. Just over seven of my feet, exactly the same as the distance between the tracks.
“Really?” I whispered to myself, getting back inside the Bronco. I turned the vehicle several times to get it into position. Finally, I was ready, the Bronco pointing north toward San Clemente’s main beach facing the two tracks directly. I eased the Bronco off the raised asphalt that ran between the rails at the bottom of the path. The Bronco moved forward and onto the tracks, although I got no feeling at all that I wasn’t still on solid ground. I stopped and got out. What I saw was astounding. All four tires of the Bronco were centered on the tracks, the big wide tries slightly lapping over the center of each rail.
I was elated. I’d discovered something I knew was important, or at least very exciting, depending upon what could be done with the Bronco’s new potential capability. I stared up the tracks. I was going to have to spend time examining the tracks in both directions to see where there were safe places to get on and off the tracks. I would also have to find out how far the train cars extended out from the tracks, as there was only so much space between those tracks, the huge rocks on the beachside and the face of the cliff on the other. The trains came through at a regulated fifty-five miles per hour, and there was no published schedule for them available that I knew of. I had no idea how fast the Bronco could go once it was up on the tracks. There were some safety issues but they could be worked around or accommodated, I figured.
From inside the Bronco, I heard a radio squawk even over the sound of the Bronco’s idling V8. I ran to the driver’s window, but couldn’t get inside the vehicle fast enough to catch the radio handset in time. I didn’t have to, I realized, halfway across the seat. It was the compound calling.
“Beachboy, see the man,” was the command that blared out from the red handset.
I pulled back and looked around. Had I been spotted? Was what I was doing illegal, or maybe just unacceptable? There was a ton of electronic surveillance all around the compound but few live security personnel, at least visible at any time. If I was spotted with the Bronco on the tracks there might be trouble.
I got the Bronco off the tracks and headed back up the path, traveling faster than when I’d come down earlier. I tucked the railroad transit idea into the back of my mind and thought about the area I was driving through. I also made a mental note to try to track down the dispatcher for the compound, as I’d been Flash and Junior in Vietnam, and I hadn’t really liked either nickname. Beachboy was of a similar snarky nature and, although I’d never had any luck getting rid of the other two names (other than by moving away from the area) and I didn’t want to be known as ‘Beachboy’ to everyone while living and working in San Clemente.
In truth, I didn’t patrol the compound area much at all. There was nothing to do along the short stretch of sand in front of the estate, except eyeball occasional surfers, watch oblivious lovers or chase border crossers further north. Admittedly, I did ferry border crossers up the beach upon occasion, if they had small children with them. I had to have them ride on the roof rack or sit on the front fenders, however, as they usually smelled so bad that, if they were allowed inside, made the Bronco reek for a week.
I preferred to run up and down the beaches of San Clemente in the super-silent, near-invisible Bronco. Those beaches had real people doing real things. It was also fun to patrol the streets on occasion, although I stayed away from car stops. The Bronco was too slow, too hard to control, and only had the dimmest of emergency lights on a single bar running just above the windshield.
The last time I’d received a ‘see the man’ directive it’d come from Ben Williams, the head of the Secret Service, and his office was at the Coast Guard Headquarters, located just up and beyond the compound parking lot. I headed for that building once I got off the path.
A California HP cruiser was parked near the door that led into the Coast Guard Headquarters office building. I parked behind it. I started feeling relieved. It wasn’t likely the Highway Patrol would have been notified and dispatched for my railroad tie experiment in such short order. Something else was brewing.
I went inside. Williams sat behind his desk, smoking a cigar.
“You ever take that beach thing out on the freeway?” he asked, picking a small bit of cigar off his lip with the index finger of his free hand.
“Ah, maybe once,” I stuttered out, trying to remember what I’d been doing out there only days before. I’d wanted to see what the safe top speed of the Bronco might be on a surface highway in an emergency. The freeway was big, wide and, during early and late hours, had no cars on it at all. The freeway was only one year old, the former two-lane highway (referred to as ‘blood alley’), had been avoided and people had not caught on to using the new four-lane much.
“The Chippies out there,” Williams said, flipping his speck-hunting finger toward the still open door, “are here because of you.”
I gave no reply, simply sighing silently inside. I could not seem to stay out of trouble, no matter how seemingly innocuous my behavior.
“You care to explain?” Williams asked, “since these guys seem to feel you might be trying to work traffic on their turf?”
I’d already learned that the freeway, cutting San Clement basically in half, was off-limits to the local police. There was an unspoken agreement that the freeway belonged to the Highway Patrol and the city belonged to the local police, for traffic stop purposes, anyway.
“The Bronco can’t even make it up to the minimum speed required to be legal on the freeway,” I said. “How the hell am I going to go out and catch speeders?”
“Let’s go face the music,” Williams said, being careful when he got up to balance his cigar on the edge of the ashtray instead of putting it out.
I knew then that the interview or interrogation outside would be short.
The four Chippies, now out of their vehicle, ignored me when I walked out, examining the Bronco from bumper to bumper as if it was some classic car on display at a fair.
“He’s not working the freeway and if you think anyone else can drive that specialty vehicle then you all need to run back through the academy,” Bill said from behind me.
The four resplendently uniformed men milled about for a few seconds, the tallest of them finally saying something in reply.
“Got that, and thank you,” he said.
Seemingly satisfied with that brief promise, made by a man who wasn’t even a member of local enforcement, the men climbed into their Mercury-Marauder Black and White and drove away. I smiled to myself when I noted that the Marine on duty at the gate made them individually show their wallet identification cards before he’d let them out.
“You know what they really wanted?” Williams asked, looking at the back of the burbling patrol car, as it sat, the men inside getting their identification materials back together.
I gently shook my head, glancing at William’s profile. He reminded me, uncomfortably, of my old commanding officer at Treasure Island, now assigned to the nearby Marine Base. But, Ben, although gruff, wasn’t mean or stupid.
“They wanted a chance to see the operations here so they could tell all of their buddies that they were on the inside of the compound command center,” Ben said when I didn’t answer. “They got nothing, so they’ll make up a bunch of crap to let everyone know they were important here.”
He then walked back toward the door we’d come out of before stopping and turning.
“You tell those clowns nothing. Not a damn thing or I’ll have your ass. And that goes for Murray and the local cops, your new friends, as well.”
I stood looking at him, making sure I wore no expression. I was not about to give him the benefit of any answer at all unless I was ordered to. But I wasn’t so ordered. He simply turned again, went through the door, and closed it without inviting me back inside. All I could do was shrug and head for the Bronco. I wasn’t about to tell anyone anything, much less serve as some sort of threatening messenger working at the behest of the head of the Secret Service.
I drove down through San Clemente to the base of the long pier. The drive was uneventful. It was Sunday afternoon, so there were plenty of people about, particularly at “T” Street, an area of sand that stuck out into the ocean about a quarter-mile south of the pier. A high overpass ran from the cliff edge above the railroad tracks, and then directly down switchback stairs to the beautiful beach below. Not only was it a great beach area, but there was ample parking along the side streets of the neighborhood atop the cliff. I drove the Bronco to “T” Street on the dry sand, through the crowds of beachgoers, all moving out of the way of my vehicle.
I had learned to have the radio on ‘outside speaker’ for such work. I could reach over, click the handset of the local Motorola, and make a squawk come from the speaker. It was sufficient to get people to notice and then move out of the way. The driving was fun, although very slow going because sometimes beachgoers had to move towels or blankets to let the Bronco pass. I was watching for little children all the time, and that was a challenge. My tires were so big and soft though, I wondered if they would actually hurt a child if I did run over one. I didn’t want to find out the answer to that question, however.
I turned the vehicle around and drove back to the pier, making much better speed by getting down on the wet sand, as it was low tide and there were plenty of flat areas just down from the dry sand dunes that were up closer to the railroad tracks When I got to the pier base I ever-so-slowly worked the front tires of the Bronco over the foot-high edge of asphalt that separated the sand from the pier pad. The first gear was really low so the small truck could move inches at a time, but with great power. I stopped, once I got the Bronco fully up on the flat concrete pad.
People surged about, parting like moving water around the Bronco. They ignored it, and me, however, as if we were merely fixtures of the pier structure itself. I looked over at a low flat building built out onto the sand. It had a large clock tower sticking out on the top of it.
I checked my watch. The clock was accurate. The building was brown, with the clock tower sticking up out of it. That was made of natural rock. The only bright color visible was yellow. Huge yellow letters were painted across the beachside of the building. They read ‘SCLG,’ which I knew stood for San Clement Life Guards. I knew that eventually, I would have to go to the building and meet the guards who managed the beach, but first I wanted to meet at least one of the guards alone.
A hundred feet out on the pier a lifeguard tower stuck up and out from the side of the wooden structure. The pier itself was wide enough and solid enough so that the Bronco could be driven all the way to the small restaurant at the very end. I’d made that trip several times, parking there and then having a cup of coffee at the neat little restaurant.
This time I decided to stop at the tower for the first time. I left the Bronco and went up the stairs. The top of the tower was a single room with glass windows angled outward and running three hundred and sixty degrees around. Just outside the glass was a planked walkway with thick two-by-six railings. The tower looked tough enough to handle any storm that might come it’s way.
I cupped both hands and pressed the sides of them against the tinted glass to see inside. A big smiling man stood just beyond the other side of the glass, waving me toward the door.
I walked through the door.
“Welcome to San Clement Life Guard Tower Zero,” the man said. I noted that he was much taller than me and about twice as thick.
The big man seemed made of muscle, even though he wasn’t attired in anything other than the normal red lifeguard swimming trunks and yellow “T” shirt. I also noted that he made no attempt to crush my hand in his larger grip.
“Bob Elwell, the man said, introducing himself.
“Why would anyone name a tower ‘zero?’” I asked. “That’s like making a statement that the place doesn’t exist.”
“Can’t say,” Bob replied, with a laugh. “I’m only a guard for the department although I was just elected president of the surf lifesaving association. Lifeguard departments don’t always make a whole lot of sense to outsiders.”
“Or insiders either, apparently,” I replied with a smile.
Bob gave me a brief history of the San Clemente Lifeguard operations, including the areas of coverage up and down the beach running back and forth in front of, and down from, the city itself.
“Have you checked into the headquarters yet?” Elwell asked.
“Not just yet,” I responded, noting that the man’s expression had lost its look of good humor.
“I’ll do that now,” I said, wondering about the change in the guard’s demeanor.
“Stop by any time I’m on duty and we’ll talk more,” Bob replied, sticking out his big right hand. “Maybe you can fill me in about what’s going on out at the point, and I’ll be able to tell you more about what’s going on in the department.”
I shook his hand and took my leave without responding to his request. Everyone wanted to know what was going out in and around the White House compound. I knew I had to be really careful in what I said about it if I wanted to keep whatever it was that I had for a job.
I eased the Bronco off the pier and headed down a short stretch of packed sand road to the big flat parking area located behind the headquarters building. Guard Tower Zero was just one of the upward thrusting watch towers, unevenly spaced, up and down all the beaches I patrolled, with the exception of the area in front of the Western White House Compound. There were no towers or lifeguard patrols, other than my own, in front of the compound, at Trestle’s Beach, or on down past San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant.
I parked just behind the headquarters building, shut the vehicle down, but left the ignition key on, with the public address speaker engaged, so the radios could be heard if I got a call. I had tried, at first, reporting my position to Scruggs all the time, like the other ‘regular’ street police units, but soon gave up. Scruggs didn’t care. I never got a call and he never responded to my position or activity reports. The Secret Service radio was even stranger. There was never any sound from it unless it was an abrupt laconic order to ‘see the man.’. I assumed that frequency to be totally private. What I really needed, and would have to remember to ask for, was one of the portable radios that clipped to my belt with the little handset attached to the epaulet of my uniform shirt. Every other San Clemente officer carried the portable units, while the Marshals and Secret Service had their own person-to-person radios, all with very distinctive earplugs and wrist transmitters.
I stepped through the back door of the big building and entered a different world. I immediately discovered that the structure was mostly a large metal shed for huge pieces of beach equipment. I’d seen the sand cleaning machines but hadn’t known where they were stored. I squatted down to examine one of them, to see how it worked. A rough mesh lined the bottom of the forward ‘scoop’ of the thing, I saw, but then I was interrupted.
“Can I help you?” a voice right behind me said, flatly.
I jumped up and twisted around.
“Just looking,” I replied, a bit embarrassed.
The man in front of me was tall, I noted, much taller than my mere five foot nine inches. He was well built and had a thin mustache, like Errol Flynn. An unkempt shock of black hair ran across the top of his forehead, thinning slightly. I guessed him to be about thirty years old. He wore a short-sleeve khaki uniform not dissimilar from the one I had designed for myself. It was adorned with silver captain’s bars on each collar. A pang of regret went through me. I would never wear those bars, which I had so secretly coveted while I was still in the Corps.
“Those screens shouldn’t be on those machines. The city crew screwed them on in order to recover change from the sand. I’ll bet they clear three or four hundred dollars a day that way.” He said the words with derision as if culling the lost change from city sands was some sort of crime.
I shook my head, not knowing what else to do in reply. I felt like I’d stepped into a different world.
I noted the inflection of his voice. There was something not right about it. By the time he finished talking about the beach machines, I’d fully pinpointed the oddness. The man had a lisp. A lisp so notable that old sexual prejudice was instantly called into the social equation, at least to a former Marine like me. The Marine Corps had been particularly sensitive about homosexuality, although I’d never given a damn about it myself.
“Sheridan Byerly,” the captain said, with a great infectious smile.
He held out his thin but powerful-looking right hand. I took it. We shook. There was no limpness in his grip, I noted, to my relief.
“I was wondering when you’d stop by to visit,” the captain said. “I’m second in command to the Chief here. He said we’d have to share the beach with you, although nobody seems to know exactly what you’re going to be doing on it.”
He stopped talking, the smile remaining on his face, however, at least for a few seconds. We stared at one another for a few moments, until it became obvious that I wasn’t going to say anything.
“Let me guess,” he said. I tried not to allow any expression to come to my face when the word ‘guess’ came out ‘geth.’
“You are part of that new contingent out there,” he waved toward the south with his left hand, where the compound was located. His eyes, however, never left my own. “You have that Bronco everyone’s talking about, a new uniform and….nothing whatever to do.”
The last four words were delayed a good five seconds before he delivered them.
I suddenly laughed out loud.
“Who the hell are you really, anyway?” I asked but didn’t wait for an answer before going on.
“You’re correct, nobody knows what I’m supposed to do, although everyone I run into seems to feel that I shouldn’t do anything that has anything to do with them or their own operations. Not that they’ll say that straight out, or much else.”
I spoke forthrightly because I’d been pleasingly surprised by the man’s penetrating intellect and the directness of presentation. Gay or not gay, the man was the first person in uniform who seemed to have caught on to the fact that my role was more than just a bit unusual, and that was okay with him. No one had spoken to me so directly about the job, except maybe Ehrlichman and my wife, since I’d gotten the job.
We walked together slowly through the building, with Byerly giving out information about all manner of marine safety equipment and space. I just listened and tried to take it all in. We ended up in his office, he behind his desk, his back to the breaking waves visible through huge picture windows, and I in a chair facing him, enjoying the view behind him.
Three men burst through the open office door before anything further was said. I turned in my chair to look at them. They were actually little more than very large boys, I noted. They wore red lifeguard swimsuits and matching “T” shirts, with the same yellow SCLG initials emblazoned on their chests as Bob Elwell wore. ‘Rowdy’ was a word I would later use to generously describe them to my wife.
Their immediate injection of loud boisterous laughter brought me out of my chair, to stand off to one side of Byerly’s desk. The guards ignored me completely, instead walked right up to the front of Byerly’s desk and leaning forward. They laughed again. The captain stared at them with a deadpan expression but did nothing about their ill-mannered incursion.
Two of the boys sat down in the available chairs, one of which I’d just vacated. They sprawled there.
“What’s the haps, Sheri?” one of them asked, then they all three laughed again. Byerly’s face grew red but he didn’t move a muscle.
“It’s captain, to you,” he said, his voice soft and retreating, his lisp more pronounced, adding another element to an already weak-sounding reply.
“Yeth thir, Captain thir,” the largest boy, the one still standing, said. His hand snapped up to perform a crooked salute when he said the words.
I almost choked. I didn’t know whether to say something to support the captain or get the hell out of the office as fast as I could. It was a tragically funny scene I felt, but no laughing matter. I recalled my own recent stint as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps. If three of my Marines had pulled such a stunt they would have first been humbled by a twenty-mile forced march, and then led off to an even more painful fate I would have designed for them.
The biggest guard stood indolently next to the captain’s desk. He turned to me.
“Who’s the little Gestapo agent?” he asked, glancing over at me, before bringing his attention back to Byerly.
He flicked his right thumb in my direction while staring into the captain’s frozen eyes.
I remained still, watching Byerly closely. And then, I was surprised. His obvious restrained anger somehow turned off like a spigot of water. Instead of exploding physically or verbally at the guards, he became meek, to the point of smiling at them, and nodding, as if they were merely children acting up.
“This is the officer attached to the Western White House Detail, out at Cotton’s Point,” Byerly said, extended one hand out toward me, then left it hanging in the air, as if some fellowship or partnership existed between us. The gesture made me uncomfortable, but the outrageous behavior of the three guards held me silent. The two sitting guards arose from their seats to stand by the larger of them. All of them were considerably bigger than me. I felt like I’d fallen in among some association of mean lifeguard giants.
The three men stared at me, their expressions satirical, their cloned smiles insincere.
No one said anything for a moment until Byerly spoke again.
“These are some of my guards,” he said, gesturing toward the boys. “Billy Morrel, Charley Mac, and Joe Marion.”
He pointed from one to the other as he spoke their names. I reached out my right hand toward the middle one, Charlie Mac. He took my hand. He pressed hard, but I was prepared for such a move. I squeezed back, to hold my own, which I did. I hadn’t’ worked out every day for three years for nothing. The hospital surgeries, and time, had affected my walk, as I still had a very slight limp, but not my grip. We stood there for thirty seconds before Charley gave up. We both stepped back, our faces smiling but not our eyes.
“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” Charley’s eyes flicked down to my badge, then back and forth to the shoulder patches on my short sleeve shirt.
“Looks like another of those little San Clemente cops to me,” he said, his voice trailing away, but his sinuous challenging tone was unmistakable.
I didn’t know how to answer. It was like being cast way back to one of the school ground confrontations I’d experienced so long ago at Thornton Township High School, except we weren’t children anymore, and I wasn’t some small inexperienced kid. My mind raced.
The A Shau Valley flashed before me. A thin fog seemed to suddenly bathe the room, with nearly unseeable images of the jungle, mud, and rain trying to make themselves fully visible through it. Images reared up like might be seen in a horridly bad slide show. The Bong Song. The overturned tank. The dead. The dying. Even the crocodile. I shook my head, ever so slightly, trying to clear my vision. Without being aware of it at the moment, I adjusted my body, turning very slightly and drawing my right shoulder back, exposing only the left, the less injured, side of my torso toward the three men. I was also unaware that my right hand had languidly moved up to gently clasp the handle of the .44 Magnum. My expression had gone totally blank I knew. I focused my eyes on the three. I had no message to transmit to them whatsoever.
The room was silent, and then there was a seemingly loud snapping sound. I breathed deeply in and out. I realized I’d accidentally undone the snap holding my clamshell holster together. The images of the valley slowly faded. I breathed in and out again. I was going to be okay.
The guard to Charley Mac’s right read something into my lack of expression, and the seemingly unrevealing slight adjustments I’d made. His aggressive expression changed to an open smile.
“Ah, I’m Billy,” he said softly, and then went on. “We’re just messing with you. Welcome to the lifeguard Headquarters.” He held out his hand. I took his hand in mine, guardedly, but the handshake was real this time.
“Don’t mind Charlie here, he’s not the smartest guard in the department, and Joe here, well, he drinks too much, but he’s funny as hell and his dog makes up for all the rest.”
I looked around briefly for a dog but didn’t see one. The three guards then left as they had come in; laughing, punching one another and bouncing off the walls. Only Billy looked back over his shoulder at me, as I snapped the safety to once again fully secure the .44 Magnum.
“Sorry you had to see that,” Byerly said, after they were gone, before turning his swivel chair around and looking out the window.
I knew I’d been dismissed. I also knew that there were going to be some adjustment problems I was going to have in my new job. I’d heard about flashbacks but thought they only pertained to drug usage. I now knew deep down that there was little question that such things extended well beyond the boundaries of drug usage.
I sat outside in the parking lot in the Bronco with the engine running, but going nowhere. I’d experienced a flashback. I was also scared. I felt like I’d been in a firefight but no shots had been exchanged. I knew that I couldn’t afford to be as out of control as I’d almost become.
“Beachboy,” came out of the compound Motorola. “See the man. Hotel Romeo Hotel.”
HRH could only be one person, I knew. It wasn’t Ben Williams. It had to be H. R. Haldeman. I needed time to get myself back into some kind of decent emotional shape, but there was no time. I backed the Bronco up and headed north toward the compound. I tried to take an inventory along the way. I liked Byerly, my new neighbor, Chief Murray, Bob Elwell, my wife, and my daughter. I could do it, whatever ‘it’ was going to be when HRH was done with me at the Nixon compound. Only when I arrived at the point leading up toward the path near Trestle’s Beach did I realize I was going to have to jump the sand berm that blocked the way. I knew I could do that too, as the adrenaline surge that had come visiting once again began to tamp itself down.
I spoke before that I am almost certain I must have met some of the SS agents and WH staff you saw at some point a couple years later. I am reminded of my time in Army EOD, who provided all the Bomb Disposal support to TSD of the SS. I spent the 1972 campaign year supporting the SS at events in the Midwest from Minnesota, St. Louis, Omaha, and several others I no longer remember. I was a silly looking kid in coke bottle glasses, a bad suit & haircut and It culminated in Nixon’s inauguration. We were threatened with jail if we told we were active duty Army due to the paranoia of the time. What agency the press or Senator McGovern’s Staff thought the goofy looking kid was with strains my imagination. I had no idea of what I was witnessing.
Amazing, SSG, and I mean you own experience in this milieu. Thanks for adding to the story with your own stuff.
Much enjoy reading what you write and also accepting the compliment of you writing it on this site.
Please don’t notify me of every comment.
Please unsubscribe from the comments. Should be on each notification.
Sorry about that
Excellent. It helps when I’ve actually been inside the compound although only at the house & outside grounds. I remember looking down towards that beach & noticing a Destroyer anchored offshore. Was that because Nixon was on board? That was a time I was enamored with the honor of being there but now that I read of what our government was doing behind the scenes I’m not so impressed.
Keep the good stuff coming Sir.
Thanks for the personal addition Laddie. All governments play games behind the scenes. Nixon never arrived by ship, left by ship or went aboard any Naval vessel offshore.
The first layer of presidential security is the Secret Service. The second layer further out responsible for grounds and surrounding area around the president is the
U.S. Marshals. The third layer, further out is the combined and appointed special forces of all the nation’s military. You were looking at part of the most distant security.
I should have technically been under the authority and auspices of the Marshals but Haldeman had other purposes for my existence.
Semper fi, and thanks for the interesting comment.
I’m sorry I guess I did make that sound like he might be on the Destroyer. I actually meant he was in the house. Man could I tell you a funny story about Nixon & his Secret Service during that debacle but I won’t now. It was hilarious the way it happened.
Great reading this one James!! Damn flashbacks come when least expected….
Thanks SgtBob, and yes, flashbacks are that way, although it’s been a long time since I’ve had one.
Appreciate the long time reading and support.
Great to see you cranking out more of you intriguing saga.
Always makes my day to read another episode and what you mananage to get yourself into and what comes flying up unexpectedly for you to deal with. Did you ever find out the who, how, why behind your landing this job?
Thank you Walter for the short but interesting comment. I did find out, much later on about how I got the job, but that will have to
wait. Appreciate the intelligent question, however.
Pleased to see you coming back so strong, LT. Keep ‘er coming. We are all enthralled.
Thanks for the great ‘enthralled’ comment and compliment Chris. Means a lot to me.
Semper fi, and I am hard at it right now, just as soon as I get finished answering comments.
Thanks James-really enjoy your writtings…….
Thanks a lot for that laconic compliment Richard. Keeps me going…
James LT Junior God Bless Stay Safe FLASHBACKS I did not go through the HELL You did. But suffer the same issue. I know I always start my messages with You using the same 3 names I’ve come to know You by though Your writing. If You would desire for me to drop any part of that greeting, please tell me. I do not need to dredge up old wounds. You are a survivor. God Bless Stay Safe Sergeant G Pappa Smurf
Pappa, I don’t mind the nicknames, although LT had not been invented back then. Some people refer to me by that nickname today though and I don’t mind.
In the CIA I became ‘The Cherub.’ Nicknames are seldom assigned to make the people so graced happy with the name.
Really enjoyed the read, Jim, and very happy to see you “back in the saddle”.
You have a unique ability to rapidly size someone up, and do it well and quickly.
Did a good bit of beach patrol as a State LEO in both Panhandle Florida and on some of the south-eastern beaches. Always interesting. Made me glad several times that I had paid attention to my CPR classes.
Envy a bit the varied terrain that you worked in – Florida is pretty much a flat, sandy topography. Heck, you had rocks and railroad tracks to play in.
Did you ever make Captain while you were in the Corps? Sure had an interesting service period.
Never got those captains bars, but did serve at other ranks while working for the Agency. Miliary cover is
great cover abroad and also can enlist allies with relative ease.
A lot going on in this great chapter! You handled your first flashback with grace, considering. Glad you’re healthy and writing James. Looking forward to the next one as always! Semper Fi!
I didn’t think I handled it with grace, except for externally. Inside I was a roiling mess.
It was so hard to come back and have to put up with shit that was so seemingly threatening and unacceptable.
Back here…I was becoming the Cowardly Lion, and I didn’t want to be that.
glad your back LT, was starting to wonder if you were going to leave us hanging. good read as always
Saturday. Chapter VI will go up on that day, as I am fully underway and working again after the COVID.
A few people have been so helpful…including the people writing on here, as well as Chuck Bartok, Dan C. and Jim Flynn.
I cannot thank you or them enough. I can only do so by continuing on at a now more consistent pace.
Semper fi, and thanks for the comment.
I’ll be looking forward to the next installment. Glad you are well.
Hoping to have the next installment up by Saturday.
Thanks for the asking and the compliment in your asking.
Interesting one word critique. Maybe you are British Harold. When I visited the British Royal Marines and excelled at
training with them physically the captain of the detail said my performance was ‘more than adequate.’ I was a bit miffed.
Later, at a Pub, I remarked about the rather weak compliment. The guys laughed. “This is Great Britain,” they all chimed,
“what he said is the highest compliment in this culture.”
Thanks Jack. Yes, I was lucky to get through the first, but not he last of the rather more dangerous flashbacks.
I didn’t dream of the Nam much at all though, and that was a benefit…but in the early days out of the hospital I
didn’t sleep much either.
Good one James,
Some minor editing suggestions follow:
Some history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VC-137C_SAM_26000
SAM 26000 was the first of two Boeing VC-137C United States Air Force aircraft specifically configured and maintained for use by the president of the United States. It used the callsign Air Force One when the president was on board, otherwise SAM 26000 (spoken as ‘SAM two-six-thousand’), with SAM indicating Special Air Mission.
A VC-137C with Air Force serial number 62-6000,[a] SAM 26000 was a customized Boeing 707.
It is USAF practice to truncate the serial number as presented on the tail to five-figures, the last figure of the fiscal year and the last four of the serial, hence 26000
To be more correct could spell “Sam” as “SAM”
his cigarette lay burning itself out on hot the concrete
Put “hot” before “concrete”
his cigarette lay burning itself out on the hot concrete
‘the three pee job,’
Can I assume there is sarcasm when the ‘three ‘P’ job’ becomes the ‘the three pee job,’??
chase border crossers further North
Lower case for “North”
chase border crossers further north
A rough mesh-lined the bottom
Seems the hyphen is extra
A rough mesh lined the bottom
“Your part of that new contingent out there,”
“You’re” instead of “Your”
“You’re part of that new contingent out there,”
You’re correct, nobody knows
“You’re correct, nobody knows
with the yellow SCLG initials emblazoned on their chests as Bob Elwell wore.
Maybe add “same” before “yellow”
with the same yellow SCLG initials emblazoned on their chests as Bob Elwell wore.
“Ah, I’m Billy,” he said softly, and then went on. “We’re just messing with you. Welcome to the lifeguard Headquarters.” He held out his hand for a second time. I took his hand in mine, guardedly, but the handshake was real this time.
IIRC You only shook hands with Charlie – not Billy.
as the fear that had come visiting once again began to tamp itself down.
After saying “I felt like I’d been in a firefight”
Somehow “fear” doesn’t seem to be inclusive enough of a word.
Maybe “adrenaline surge”
as the adrenaline surge that had come visiting once again began to tamp itself down.
Blessings & Be Well
Corrected as suggested.
Thank you, Dan
Good one LT. I bet those three shit when you unsnapped the cannon
I don’t think they really got it, maybe only a whiff. Civilians many times have no clue about potential
devastation standing right in front of them, although admittedly I didn’t look like what I was.
I missed a detail regarding lifeguard clothing. There is a mismatch in the descriptions.
Historical pictures are not much help. There are several different colored tops. For consistency Let’s just give them all yellow “T” shirts and state the lettering as red (or white).
Describing Bob Elwell’s clothes – “normal red lifeguard swimming trunks
and yellow “T” shirt.”
Describing the Rowdy young lifeguards clothes – “They wore red lifeguard
swimsuits and matching “T” shirts, with the same yellow SCLG initials emblazoned on their chests as Bob Elwell wore.”
“They wore red lifeguard swimsuits and yellow “T” shirts, with the same red SCLG initials emblazoned on their chests as Bob Elwell wore.”
Towers on the South Side were odd numbered and North Side were even.
/ So the midpoint is zero?? /
A caption on an older picture contains …
“Note on the pier on the far left is the “white box” lifeguard tower which is the first 56-Zero tower on the pier. 56-Zero is still the first tower opened in the morning and the last to close at night.”
Further on there is a picture of the Zero Tower which you describe:
“By mid 60’s the Lifeguard Department had built a new zero tower which
still stands today.”
Blessings & Be Well
SAM = Special Air Missions, if you didn’t already know. I found out when I had to deliver CNG(compressed natural gas) to their hangar at Andrews Air Force Base because the driver neglected to refuel the dedicated CNG fueled van.
You are certainly meeting a cast of characters during your duty of the San Clemente beach patrol!
No, Leo, I didn’t know until now. Thanks so much for filling that gap in my memory…or maybe nobody at the time ever said anything.
Thanks for the compliment too.
Leo is correct about the SAM part. The 26000 is the aircraft serial number, also painted on the tail-thrust the “tail number”. Incidentally that aircraft was the same one that carried JFK’s body back to Washington.
You guys can be so informative. I had no idea what the aircraft designation was but on this site I get to learn it all, and then some.
JFK’s body plane. Wow. Thanks a lot for this information and Leo too….
James, Riveting, as usual. BZ
Thank you Jim. Your opinion, and motivation, help make it all work and keep me going. Half way through Chapter VI
and that should go up by next Saturday.
Semper fi, my friend,
I have had two Broncos in my life and enjoyed them both. Almost birthed my son in one of them.
That had to be something, a Marine, officer or not, facing insolent life guards, who showed no respect, and then you having the flashback. I believe in the second amendment and enjoy my guns, but even amid random shootings in our state and country, my legislature just passed an open carry law. I am permitted, but I don’t carry a gun for just that reason. It is too easy to get pissed off and pull it. It took a lot for you not to.
I am glad you got over the virus and are still writing. I enjoy it.
Thanks H. Kemp, for the comment and the understanding written into it. I wasn’t sure that I should write about the indident, as I do get concerned
that people might think I am unstable to this very day. I was unstable back then, and I’m not hiding that, but I somehow worked and muddled on through.
With help of many around me. I love the Bronco in retrospect much more than I cared for it when I drove it. It was a cantankerous machine. The one’s they rebuild now
have little in common with the roughness of the 72 model. The paint looked like it was applied with spray cans! The heater had one vent in the dash that worked from
the factory. The hubs were always a problem when needed. And so on.
Very interesting ….hung out at the beaches in San Clemente during my time at Pendleton- 68-69. Also at the San Onefere beach.
Did beach patrol in LA County – 73-80
Funny how riding up and own that windy surf beach area didn’t strike me as a great gift at the time.
Now, wow, what a time indeed.
You understand the vagaries of beach patrol like few possibly can.
Thanks for the comment.
Scary moments there. I sense changing coming. Thanks for the chapter.
Thanks for following so closely and thanks for trying to make a prediction…and your prediction is pretty damned accurate.
There was nothing accidental about why selection and I was anything but truly ignored, as I believed at the time.
Very well. Like I’m getting a glimpse into a mans head when he isn’t fully aware of his own thoughts.
Strange penetrating comment. I had to read it a few times.
Yes, that’s a very apt description of how some readers of intellect and deep thought must feel upon the reading.
I’m never sure how the writing is taken, except for the comments I get on here that help me comprehend.
I get it only in reverie though, as when I write it just seems to come out on its own.
Well you have done it again LT! Awesome chapter, but I sure it was a tough one to write, bring the past back to you. You’re a strong man Sir. Can’t wait to see what HRH wants of you. Your writing is so descriptive I saw all these people and could see the whole scene in my mind. Keep up the great work! Semper Fi Lt!!
Thanks Bob for that great comment and the huge compliment in it. I live the scenes all over again.
I don’t know why God gave me this memory but it sure helps in the writing. It just all comes back
the more that I write. Thanks again.
Thanks Rich, appreciate the analysis and the compliment.
Another great chapter, James. Thanks and Semper Fi!
Thank you Michael. Great compliment…and well received at this time.