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A Berkeley Confrontation over Vietnam

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A Berkeley Confrontation over Vietnam

In 1966 I drove from San Francisco to Berkeley for softball with Jerry, a high school friend and third year law student in Berkeley, a city with radical politics, The Free Speech Movement, and anti-Vietnam War protests. After the game, he invited us to his apartment where I noticed bookshelves of literature, history, politics, philosophy, law, and more. His friends were graduate students in Law, English, Comparative Lit., and History. I tried not to feel intimidated by the academic achievement surrounding me.

I needed to inform Jerry of a crucial decision I had made and blurted out, "I turned in my wings and transferred from flying in jets a few months before the Navy assigned me navigator of my ship. So did my pilot."

"Why did you do that?"

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 "I heard pilots say at the officer club, "Here comes the pilots and there are the bombardiers. The ones that fly are men, and the others are queers.'"

 "What else?"

"Our ready room instructor referred to navigators as "dipshits' even though some navigators died in the RA5C nicknamed, "The Flying Coffin.'"

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"Nice."

"The heaviest jet to land on carriers, it had the most losses in Vietnam, and the worst safety record with maintenance problems."

 "Those are damn good reasons."

"I cheated death by transferring. The North Vietnamese shot down the crew who replaced me. They didn't recover the navigator. His pilot remains a prisoner in Hanoi."

"Sounds like the smartest thing you ever did."

When I said I was about to navigate 300 Marines to Vietnam, the mellow mood shifted. "Why the f*ck are we in Vietnam?" Jerry spat out.  

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"To stop communist aggression into a country that needs us," I offered. Unexpected laughter greeted this simplistic explanation.

 "Where did you learn that?" A tall bearded law student asked.

"Naval Academy classes in Far East History and counter-insurgency, the Coronado Naval Base courses, and Defense Department articles."

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A Berkeley Confrontation over Vietnam