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Heroin: A True Story

       
                                                



      This Message is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help me God                    
                                                                                

                                               

Denzel Washington's depiction of Harlem heroin kingpin, murderer and sociopath Frank Lucas in "American Gangster"  was a box office sensation.

                                   
This link is to a second trailer for the movie.

                                                 Here is a third movie trailer.

                                                 Here is a fourth movie trailer                                  

                                              This link is to a lengthy documentary
                                            

The documentary gives more details of Lucas' drug ring that annually smuggled 2,200 pounds of pure heroin into the United States using military aircraft and military bases.

However, the true story leaves Hollywood far behind. For one thing, "American Gangster"gives the impression that with Lucas' arrest, the trafficking of heroin into the United States by the use of military transport aircraft ended. In fact, the trafficking continued unabated. I know this first-hand, because in the 1970's I was a foot soldier in America's so-called War on Drugs at Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, Californa. This turned out to be an extremely dangerous way to spend one's time in the military.  I would have been a lot safer if I had been stationed in the jungles of Vietnam, because at least then the Air Force would have believed there actually was an enemy out there when I busted the Norton Air Force Base smuggling operation in January, 1976.

The drug cartel tried to kill me on two occasions in 1977, and they almost succeeded in permanently shutting my mouth on a third occasion in 1977 when they were actually trying to murder my wife by draining all the brake fluid from her car. Since my wife and I were in the middle of a fiery divorce at the time, if she had crashed the car, I would have been the prime suspect as the cause of her accident. Fortunately for me, as a one in a thousand chance, I drove her car for the first time in eleven months, and I was lucky enough to survive the total brake failure three minutes later out on a crowded expressway. Actually, I survived because of a miracle -- a miracle as defined by the Catholic Church -- an event that totally defied the laws of physics -- specifically, the rule of physical law that is referred to as Newton's First Law of Motion.

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One of the people with whom I worked in 1976 on a heroin smuggling case at Norton stated to me that the traffickers would kill both of us before they would let the story of this crime reach the public's attention. Sadly, he was half right; he was the victim of homicide outside St Louis in 1992, during a period of time when he was once again trying to help me get to the bottom of the Norton story. A few weeks earlier, on March 11, 1992, another man whom I was trying to reach for information regarding the situation at Norton was shot dead in New York City by a hitman contracted by a Colombian drug cartel. He was murdered on the very day I was scheduled to contact him. I can only infer from these two homicides that the Norton traffickers were potentially still active as recently as 1992, trying to cover the trail of their hideous crimes.

Jonathan Kwitny, a 16-year veteran reporter for the Wall Street Journal, wrote in his book "The Crimes of Patriots - A True Tale of Dope, Dirty Money, and the Central Intelligence Agency", that the shipments through Norton Air Force Base were orchestrated by senior U.S. officers, and the quantity of heroin trafficked on a regular basis was up to 50 pounds per shipment; plus, the heroin being smuggled through Norton was 100% pure China White - reputedly the most powerful heroin on the planet.

As a point of reference, the quantity of heroin involved in the famous 1971 film  "The French Connection"  was the one-time shipment to New York City of 132 pounds of heroin that was 87% pure; nevertheless, the French Connection heroin was valued at $32 million on the streets of America in 1971.

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                                                                                             CHAPTER ONE

                               
Norton Air Force Base, located in San Bernardino, California
                                                            August.1977

The past 41 years of my life -- since 1977 --  have been extremely difficult, but I am here to deliver this Message at this time. Don't ask for proof. I have little proof. But every important thing I tell you is true. Sadly, I have no power to make you believe the truth. I can only tell you what is true. The rest is up to you.                                               


I have been asked this question: A cartel tried to kill you twice in 1977 and you survived. How did you manage to do that?    

                      I can answer that question in a single word: Paranoia 

When I reported to the Air Force Inspector General in 1976 that heroin was being smuggled into the United States through Norton air base, I was literally laughed out of  Brigadier General Thomas E. Clifford's office. I was taken for a nutty fool who watched too much television. General Clifford replied that he was so sure no such thing could be happening at Norton that he would not even initiate a formal investigation. Instead, General Clifford told at least one of the people whom I suspected was a member of the smuggling ring that I was on to them and had filed charges.

General Clifford was either a complete, idiotic jackass, or he was corrupt and on the money take. However, Clifford went on to become a two-star general in the Air Force with a prestigious career, complete with assignments at the Pentagon in Washington. 

I know that the smugglers knew that I had reported them because one of my suspects pulled me aside in February, 1976 and told me that he knew I had gone to the Inspector General, and if I did that again people were going to suspect that I was mentally ill for thinking such criminal activity was going on at Norton.

I realized that I was in great danger since the cartel knew that I had reported them, so I was always vigilant of my surroundings. Frankly, I expected there would be an assassination attempt at some point. If anything, I was surprised that it took so long -- the first attempt didn't occur until August, 1977. 

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Late one night in August, 1977, I was speeding home from a date at 4:00 AM -- down one of the many deserted roads near Norton air base. When I was about a  half mile from the back gate to the base, all of a sudden I realized that there was a person lying on his back in the middle of the road. I slammed on the brakes in full-blown panic. Since I was going very fast my car's wheels screeched loudly and the smell of burning rubber filled the passenger compartment. I just barely avoided hitting the person as my Nissan 280Z sports car skidded to a stop. In fact, I came within ten feet of literally running over the person. At the very last second, he -- the person in the road was a man -- sprang into motion and jumped to his feet.

I stopped less than ten feet from the man; I was angry -- he had almost ruined my perfect no accidents record. I lowered the driver's window and yelled; "What's wrong with you, fool? I almost killed you." The man responded in a calm, but almost pleading voice: "Please help us. There's a hurt woman over there!" as he pointed off to the side of the road. In the near pitch-black darkness I could barely make out that there was another person, apparently a woman, lying face down on the passenger side of the road, maybe 20 feet away. Plus, there was a person kneeling next to her -- bending over her.

A moment later another man stepped out of the darkness on the opposite side of the street. He was a big man; he could have played linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The linebacker-guy started yelling: "Please, sir, there is a hurt woman over there! Please get out of the car and help us!"

                    My only thought was: "Hell, no. What in the goddamn hell is this?" 

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                                                             Mr. Asia

I did not know at that time, but what was happening to me on that deserted road in 1977 was a Mr. Asia-style abduction. In the 1970's there existed an organization or an individual that became known as Mr. Asia. To this day, the Drug Enforcement Administration still does not know whether Mr. Asia was in fact a single person  -- possibly a man named Terrence John Clark or another man named Christopher Martin Johnstone -- or the name of a drug cartel. From time-to-time, allegations surface in the media that a drug cartel named Mr. Asia is still in existence. 

Mr. Asia definitely had a terrible reputation among those who knew of its existence, but it usually tried to keep a very low profile. Unlike the Mafia, generally, Mr. Asia does not murder the people with whom it has a quarrel in plain view of the media and passer-byes. Instead, Mr. Asia's specialties were these: If Mr. Asia did not like you, then you would be abducted, murdered and simply disappear off the face of the Earth, never to be seen again. In the alternative, the disfavored person might become the victim of an unfortunate, fatal car accident. Another alternative is when the disfavored person becomes an apparent suicide.

                                        Back to the deserted road in 1977

Paranoia told me: "Walter, there is no way in the world that you're getting out of this car."  

The man who had approached from the driver's side of the road and the fool who had lay in the middle of the road, were now both standing in front of my car. I turned my headlights to high beam, so I could see their faces clearly. The two men started walking slowly towards my car, while still positioning themselves directly in front of the car; they were maybe eight feet in front of my car, and they were moving closer. I did not want them any closer, so I threw the gear shift into reverse and shot backwards ten feet. As I backed up, my car's back-up lights came on, and for a fraction of a second, I glanced in the rear view mirror. Thank God!  In my rear view mirror were the images of four men, twenty feet away, crouched over and running towards the back of my car.

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I yelled out: "Get out of the way!" to the two fools standing on the road in front of me. My foot was on the clutch; I hit the gas and ran the engine up to around 6,000 RPM for about 1.5 seconds, and then I popped the clutch. My thoughts were very clear: These people are about to kill me.

The Nissan 280Z paid for itself that night; in the next five seconds that sports car roared to 60 MPH on my way to 85 MPH and safety.

When I popped the clutch, I fully expected to kill the two men who were standing in the road. But in fact, they both managed to get out of the way. In a flash, the fool who had lay in the road did a full backward somersault in his successful effort to avoid death by speeding car. He apparently had remarkable athleticism; I did not see how the football player cheated death. Even though I am an accomplished black belt in Korean karate, Tae Kwon Do, I am forever grateful that I did not have to deal in hand-to-hand combat with a man who could do a backward somersault from a position of standing still.

I was not that far from the rear gate of Norton. There was always an armed sentry at the gate. I was so glad to see him, although I did not know the guard personally; we had never met before that night, and I do not remember the man's name

 pulled up to the guard and breathlessly said: "I'm Captain Lewis from the JAG office. There are a bunch of men, maybe eight, about a half mile back down the road that runs along the perimeter fence next to the base. I think they're up to no good -- maybe carjacking or assault -- you should send a couple of squad cars down there to check it out. Exercise extreme caution, they're probably armed!" 

The guard had a shocked expression on his face; he then snapped to attention, saluted me and barked: "I'll get on it immediately."

I then drove a few blocks to my home, in the safety of Norton's bachelor officers' quarters, and I went straight to bed. It was very late at night, just an hour from dawn; I was soundly asleep within a few minutes. This event happened on a Saturday night/Sunday morning.

When I got to the legal office on Monday morning, I went straight to the front desk and picked up the police blotter, which was a chronology of all the significant events that happened on the base over the weekend.  I expected to see a report of the incident that I had related to the gate guard, but there was no report in the blotter. Not a single word. Apparently, nothing happened in the pre-dawn hours of that Sunday morning, on that deserted road near Norton air base. 

Apparently, absolutely nothing at all took place on the dark, deserted road. Nothing at all.

         

At that point, I had no real concept that these brutal sociopaths would never stop until I was dead.

Over the next 41 years they would try to kill me four times. Over these four decades, I have stared death in the face on eight separate occasions. as I battled with the cartel. So much has happened that it is hard to know where to begin when telling this story. 

.In November, 1977, I made a vow to the God of Abraham that I would stop these people or die trying. God promised me that my death would not be necessary

What the heroin criminals did not anticipate until November, 1977 was that after four decades of battle, I had barely got a scratch anywhere on my body. I have suffered some injuries, but no lasting damage prior to February 17, 2017.  However, among the cartel, many of them are already dead and rotting in Hell. 

Chapter 9 of "Destiny" includes the complete story of how I stopped fearing the cartel, and why the heroin criminals became terrified of me two days before Thanksgiving in 1977. On that date, I starred certain death in the face twice -- in the same day. The first incident was total brake failure as I drove my ex-wife's 1970 Volkswagen Bug down Highway 15 near Riverside, California. 

I I survived what should certainly have been a fiery,fatal car crash, Right away, I  took the crippled Volkswagen into a service station, next to the highway, for repairs. The mechanic assured me he could fix the problem with the brakes -- he presumed there had been a leak of brake fluid that drained the system dry.

As I sat in a large field behind the service station waiting for my car, I was overwhelmed with despair. I started crying because I had just escaped a horrible car crash and almost certain death. I had picked up two hippie0lookinghitchhikers at the freeway on ramp minutes earlier; they also would surely have died. If my ex-wife had driven the car instead of me, she would have suffered the same fate; plus, I would have been the prime suspect in her homicide, since  we were in the middle of a loud and angry divorce in November, 1977.

IIt was a hot day in Southern California, despite the fact the calendar was near the end of November. The temperature was in the 80's. and If I wasn't embarrassed for the mechanic to see me cry, I would have sought the relative comfort of the station's waiting room. I wanted to be alone in a rocky field behind the station. Men don't cry, or, at least, they don't let others see them crying.

Suddenly, I found myself in Heaven talking to the God of Abraham. At first, I thought I was dead, but God assured me I was alive and had travelled weightlessly within the light to Heaven.

"Walter, you are alive for a purpose. The scourge of drug smuggling and addiction are becoming an immeasurable plague on Earth; a plague that must be stopped," were among His words to me. "The situation is bad now, but there is no situation so bad that it can't get worse."

 We spoke for a very long time, I vowed to never falter in my efforts to bring to justice the criminals who had tried to kidnap me three months earlier and who had tampered with the brakes on my ex-wife's car.

IIn Chapter 9 I describe fully w me and what I experienced in Heaven. Here is only a part: "Walter, because of your character and integrity, you have been given a powerful gift for your fight against these killers. You are invincible; you will win every battle. Do not worry about a fight with eight men. You alone could easily triumph over 8,000 men. You would triumph over eight billion adversaries as easily. I trust that you will not compromise with wrongdoers or evil. Plus, the Brothers will help you and watch over you always. You met one Brother earlier today. He was one of the two hitchhikers you picked up five minutes before the brake failure. The Brothers are special. but you will seldom see them in person. You must learn to hear and see their messages when they speak to you by telepathy as you sleep and dream. The Brothers also have a power. They always know the future. They know what will happen in a second, a minute, an hour, a year or centuries later. They are very knowledgeable. Their knowledge is their power." 

We spoke for 48 Earth minutes, although in Heaven it was difficult to quantify the length of our conversation.  I was in Heaven for much longer than 8 hours, and I know this because we ate two meals and I spoke with my deceased relatives for at least an hour. We played six innings of baseball. Heaven had the best food ever; the best music ever. and the captivating aroma of a springtime morning filled the air. 

II  crashed back to Earth as the auto mechanic called out to me from the corner of the garage. I walked out of the field into a conversational distance from the man dressed in oil-splattered jeans and khaki shirt. 

"I checked out the entire system. You were right -- there wasn't a drop of brake fluid in the car. So I searched for a leak. Here's the thing. There was no leak. I went over every inch of the braking system"

I I listened intently as he told me "Dude, you've got enemies. Serious enemies. Someone took the brake fluid out of your car."

Over the next few minutes, the mechanic re-filled the braking system with fluid and tested the system for performance. I paid the man, thanked him and drove off towards Norton. The base was only a mile away..

 I was all sweaty in the late-season California heat. I wanted to change my uniform shirt before going back to the office. It was such an advantage that my apartment in the bachelor officers' quarters was less than 500 yards from the Norton legal office. 

Ifelt emotionally and physically drained as I walked slowly up the stairs to the second floor of my apartment building. The base bachelor officers' quarters were built like a Motel 6, with the hallway to each unit on the outside of the building. 

II walked slowly to my door, when suddenly my head jerked backwards, not because something had struck my face but because my body had reacted involuntarily to the fact that in a split second a bullet from a large caliber sniper rifle had struck the air within inches of my nose. But the bullet did not hit me because. as light blue streaks of haze filled my field of vision. the bullet hang suspended in the air inches away, right between my eyes. And then, the bullet soundlessly dissolved into a liquid, which remained suspended in air, like a ping pong ball-sized bubble. Then, with a splash the tepid liquid showered my face, with the force of a spritz from a child's summertime water pistol.

An azure-colored force field had saved me from a sniper's bullet that was fired at my head. 

 God had said I was invincible in all battles against the drug traffickers, and I had just survived a second assassination attempt that day. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, 1977. That was the day I should have stopped fearing the drug cartel and that was probably the day those money-hungry, homicidal sociopaths became aware of the problem they had regarding me.

After more drama at Norton air base, I was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1978. Ten years passed as I attempted to locate the members of the cartel; my research and investigative efforts were fruitless since most of the information available on drug trafficking in the 1970's and 1980's was more aimed at entertainment, cocaine and South America rather than anything about heroin cartels. For example:

                                                                                               "Miami Vice"

                                                                           "Scarface" Part I  and  Scarface Part lI                                                                

                                                                                           "Scarface" Part III   

 Despite life's many distractions, meaningful pursuits and ambitions, over the next decade, I did learn to hear the Brothers as they spoke to me telepathically in my dreams from time to time. 

I
The past 41 years of my life have been extremely difficult, but I am here to deliver this Message at this time.

Don't ask for proof of the claims made in this Message. I have little proof. But every important thing I tell you is true. Sadly, I have no power to make you believe the truth. I can only tell you what is true. The rest is up to you, as a person with the human power of free will.  It's time to get real. 


Denzel Washington's portrayal of Eli in the Hollywood production "The Book of Eli" raises a point that has haunted me for years. Specifically: Bullets bounce off Eli; he battles against formidable odds and always wins; his gunshots always find their target.

 Would it not be a lot more efficient -- for lack of a better term -- for Eli to simply fly like Superman to Alcatraz and then just hand the people there the Book?

                                                              Walking by Faith, not by vision

                                            

                                                                     "The Book Of Eli" 

                                                                      "The Bar Scene' 

                                                             "First Shooting Scene"
                  
                              The book Eli carries is the World's last surviving Bible.
 He is walking tirelessly -- for years -- across a devastated future-America, guided by his faith in God. At the end of the movie, you discover that Eli is blind                             


  have posed this question to the Brothers many times: "Why does it always have to be so hard?" But the question goes unanswered. In fact, it took me 26 years to figure out who the Brothers are; they did not tell me, even though by 2018, they have saved my life at least five times. And that is just counting the incidents of which I have knowledge; I suspect there have been many more attempts on my life that have failed to even reach my awareness.

The Brothers could easily tell me next Saturday's winning lottery numbers, or the name of my next wife, or which party will control Congress in 2021. But I know they would never do that unless it was necessary to our mission at some critical time.


                 

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                                                                                                CHAPTER TWO        
                                                                          Lockheed C-5 Galaxy -- intercontinental American transport aircraft

                                           
                                                                                       Code Word: Swordfish
                                                                August 10-12, 1987


I really can’t say that I remember August 10, 1987 like it was yesterday, because 31 years ago is a very long time. But I remember it well enough.

I’ve always liked the idea of visiting the places where I lived earlier in life, so when the opportunity presented itself in 1987 to visit Westover Air Force Base, I was really excited. I was going to get a chance to see two houses at Westover that were my homes when I was a teenager.

I was driving Highway 90 to Boston in order to attend a litigation settlement conference, and the freeway passed right by Westover, which is near Springfield in western Massachusetts; it would be a five mile detour. It would be fun -- a great chance to reminisce and take a few pictures of the old air base.

 I understand a lot better today many of the things that happened at Westover that day. The thing is, in August, 1987 I was ignorant regarding so much of what took place. Ironically, my ignorance was a huge part of my survival that day. I was not playing dumb; I was in fact very much unaware of the scenario unfolding around me.

Take, for example, my New York City Police Department detective’s gold shield – the cops’ badge that fell out of the glove compartment of my car in front of that black guy, the construction worker. Without the detective’s badge, I may have never been allowed on Westover that morning. And then there was the role played by my sunglasses; without the sunglasses, I may have never left Westover alive. Or at least without a big fight in order to overcome the huge odds againstme.

The day was partly sunny, as low hanging clouds passed overhead, sometimes blocking the in-and–out Massachusetts morning sun. It was fairly early in the morning – probably about 7:30 AM. Just about the time that a construction worker would start his workday.

After I exited Highway 90, I almost immediately felt lost. I did not recognize the road leading from the interstate up to what had at one time been the back gate to Westover Air Force Base. For one thing, I thought that I was driving up to the main gate. I wanted the main gate because my recollection told me that the main gate was closer to the housing area where I lived back in the 1960's. The year 1987 was long before GPS guidance systems; if you were lost, you asked someone for directions.

“There’s a guy,” I thought. “Hum, the brother sitting at the bus stop. He’ll know.”

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“Excuse me, which way is Westover Air Force Base?” I called out through my open car window. I pulled my car to a stop near where the man was leaning forward on a bench at a bus stop.

“There’s no such place,” he responded with a strangely somber facial expression.

“What?” I said, knowing full well that the base had to be just a mile or two away, and the base was huge – well over 2,000 acres.

“Hey,” the man broke into laughter, “I’m just messing with you. It’s called Westover Air Reserve Base now. Are you heading over that way?”

“Yea, can I get there by this road?” I asked, after realizing that he was a friendly jokester type of person. By the way he was dressed – overalls, work boots and lunch bucket – I figured he was a construction worker, and I found out during our short drive to the base that I was right.

“It’s really a hard place to find, but I work there, if you give me a ride, I can show you how to get there. What kind of car is this? Mercedes?” he said looking inquisitively and approvingly at my new Acura Legend.

I chuckled to myself, because he was the third person that week to ask me whether my new car was a Mercedes. The two-door Legends were a new design by Acura. Many people had never seen one before mine.

It was ironic, I thought as I pressed a button releasing the door lock on the passenger door. It was while living at Westover that I became infected with a Massachusetts tradition: Namely, giving rides to hitchhikers. Talk about reminiscing, I remembered fondly the times years ago when Sherman, Oliver, my sister and I would drive my family’s Cadillac around the nearby colleges calling out to the students on the sidewalks “Where’s the party tonight?” and giving rides to the coeds and guys who were making it on foot through the campus areas of nearby Amherst and Springfield.

“No, it’s Japanese. A new company called Acura,” I responded as he opened the door.

“Nice. It’s got a good look. Is it fast?”

“Oh, yea,” I replied, although inside I cringed because I had almost gotten a huge speeding ticket the previous day. I was going 105 on the interstate when the cop saw me. Almost gave me a heart attack.

The man was jovial. “I was only kidding about the base being hard to find. It’s right down this street a bit.”

“Hold on a sec,” I said as he opened the door, “Let me pick up this stuff so you can get in the car.” During the drive over to Boston, I had rummaged through my glove compartment trying to find a little plastic bottle of baby oil. I’m addicted to putting baby oil on my hands 

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any time my skin feels dry. I had dumped a lot of things in the glove compartment when I left New York for this trip, and now most of the glove compartment’s contents were tossed and disheveled on the passenger’s seat. Included in the small pile of glove compartment stuff was my New York City Police Department detective’s gold shield. The cop’s badge was inside its black case and was tossed open-faced on the car seat. The gold shield looked totally real, despite the fact that the badge was totally fake – bought, for ten bucks, years before at a novelty store in New York City’s Times Square.

The construction workers’  eyes dropped to the car seat, and amid the road maps, driver’s manual and other clutter, he could not have missed seeing the bright and shiny police badge, but he said nothing about it. He introduced himself – although his name went in one ear and out the other.

The drive to Westover only took a minute or two. He was a construction worker who had been working on construction projects at Westover for quite some time. I did not know until my hitchhiker told me that the base was no longer a part of the Air Force Strategic Air Command. Westover, which at one time was home of the historic 8th Air Force’s squadrons of B-52D Stratofortress nuclear bombers, was now operated by an Air Reserve transportation wing. The once bustling base now was mostly closed down because of budget constraints.

We rolled up to Westover’s entry gate. I was right about one thing. The road I was on led to the base’s back gate, not to the base’s main gate. That was a bit of a problem, I thought, because the main gate was closer to the housing area. However, my thought was – “No big thing. I figured I’ll just find my way to the other side of the base. It should only be a short drive; I’ll remember how to get there once I see a few landmarks.”

I pulled up to the guard gate. An armed guard walked a few steps over to the driver’s window and looked inside. My passenger greeted the guard by name and the guard responded to my passenger by name. Then my new-found friend said, “We’re good, Hal” – actually, I do not remember the guard’s name – “open up, I’m getting an early start today. I got a ride from one of your people.” Hal glanced at my face, smiled and then waved my car onto the base.

At that time, I did not realize that I had just penetrated the first layer of security at a classified location, which was masquerading as a place that was not worth visiting by anyone. In August, 1987, I really did not understand what had just happened or why. But in retrospect, I have learned my lesson – never carry a fake police badge. You may wind up someplace where you should never tread. It was not a case of fools rushing into danger. I simply had no idea of what I was driving into.

My discovery that day was a total accident. For years I have been afraid to make that admission, because my intuition tells me that the fact I am still alive is based upon the appearance that I know more than I actually know, and that I have strengths and information that I do not have.

My hitchhiker gave me directions to his job site; it wasn’t long before I dropped him off.

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Westover of 1987 had changed drastically from the Westover I knew in the 1960's. I had figured that I would take the back road over to my old housing area, this was a road that ran along the northern/western perimeter of the base and connected the base’s two residential areas. I drove past the neighborhood where Oliver and Sherman lived and pass the tennis courts where our gang played a really mediocre level of tennis during the warm Massachusetts’ summer evenings so many years ago.

Then the road abruptly ended. I hit the brakes.

Back in the 1960's, the road that connected the two housing areas passed through a small wooded patch, and then resurfaced in the middle of the airbase. Not now. The roadway had been demolished; where once there was pavement, was now thickly forested vegetation. The road was gone. “What a waste of the taxpayer’s money,” I thought.” Good grief. Who bulldozes a perfectly good road and allows a forest to regrow?”

I got out of my car and took a good look. “What kind of land management is this?” Now, I would have to take a much longer route over to the officers’ housing area. A waste of gas and time, but I figured I was good on the time, since I wasn’t due at the hotel in the Boston area for more than two hours. Actually, the settlement conference I was in Massachusetts to attend was not until the next day, but there were some details I wanted to iron out that afternoon at the hotel; so there was some deadline pressure, but not much.

Finding my way across the base was not easy, because back in the day, I would seldom “go the long way.” I took a number of wrong turns; basically, I just tried to keep heading in an eastward direction. One thing for sure, there was no one to ask for directions -- Westover was a complete ghost town. There were no people anywhere, at least not any I could see. The buildings all looked deserted, and it appeared that many had not been in use for years.

Finally, I saw the perimeter of my old housing area – I recognized the buildings as those in which the highest ranking officers lived back in the Sixties. What used to be the high rent district of the base was still decently-preserved, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw next.

I drove slowly up to the housing area – my old neighborhood. I was driving slowly because, ironically, the posted speed limit on the street was 15mph – like there was some other vehicle to collide with. As soon as I entered the housing area, the road ended. There was a concrete and steel structure blocking the road’s access by car. The roadway itself continued – there was pavement, but the roadblock was designed to prevent a vehicle larger than a motorcycle from passing. For a second time, I stopped my car in order to take a look at what struck me as ridiculous.

Page 10


By design – obviously – a person could not drive into my old neighborhood. You could walk, apparently, since the street’s pavement was in passable shape, as far as I could see to the bend in the road. But that was not the startling thing. It was the dense, tall vegetation.

Weeds, trees, grass and all sorts of bushes had grown wild – apparently -- for years. Alongside the roadway, it looked like a jungle. The greenery was in most locations as high as the tops of the windows of the deserted houses. I had never seen anything like this in America, or abroad. A large part of Westover looked like Massachusetts of the 1600s. Except for the fact that the rooftops of the houses were visible, the place had returned to forest.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought. And then I thought some more. In a bizarre way, pictures of the houses like this would be even more personally valuable than a couple of plain-vanilla shots of two old houses.

“Well, this is it. I came here to get pictures of my old houses and I’m getting pictures of those houses, or at least the jungle engulfing the buildings.” I figured I had time to walk the distance to the closer house – at 3-B Powell Street, maybe even as far as the second house at 8A Young Street. Plus, I wasn’t bugged that morning by hay fever congestion and coughing, as I had been for the past week or two, so the thought of walking a distance was not extremely daunting

“Hey, the weather is good, and it’s not very far. Just walk down there,” I thought as I grabbed my Canon AE-1 camera. “There’s plenty of time – a 30 minute walk – I figured. “I can make it.” What’s better,” I recall thinking, “This is cool, especially since it has only been a few days that my arthritis and back troubles would allow me to take a lengthy walk anywhere. This is a great day. Let’s go.”

So I started down the road on foot. It was farther than I remembered it to be, in part because we – my sister and our friends -- never actually walked this road. When we were young, we were always on bikes, and then as older teens, by car – never walking.

But I was in good spirits. The early morning sun was warm, but the day was still cool. The birds were singing loudly and joyously. And I remember thinking that it would be nice to know the names of the different kinds of trees and bushes I was passing. Just something to know; probably wouldn’t take long to learn how to identify the common trees in North America. I could buy a cheap book over at Barnes and Noble.

And then I realized that the birds had stopped singing. Actually, what I first noticed was that the only sound I heard were my own footsteps on the pavement; then I realized that the birds had stopped singing.

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I kept walking deeper into the neighborhood, thinking: “Maybe just the first house on Powell Street. This is too long of a walk for pictures of both houses. What happened to the birds?”

A few minutes later, I heard a sound in the brush alongside the road. My head jerked reflexively in that direction. I couldn’t see anything. Twenty yards later, I heard a similar sound. Something was moving through the brush parallel to me. I kept walking for another 50 yards, during which time I heard nothing but the sound of my footsteps and my own heavy breathing.

All of a sudden, there was a clamor of activity in the brush around ten yards away, and the thick weeds parted.

Wild dogs -- five of them—walked briskly and menacingly out of the brush and onto the roadway in front of me.

They were all large dogs: three shepherds, a collie and the fifth canine was something mixed. I could see immediately that they were feral, because they were not groomed; their coats were matted and they didn’t look well-fed. I focused in on what appeared to be the lead dog. He was the tallest shepherd I have ever seen, but his ribs were showing.

For a second, I thought: “Maybe they’re friendly.” That’s when the lead dog starting growling, saliva dripping out of its mouth. One of its front teeth was missing, and it had a gnarly looking cut on its face -- a red, open wound.

The brush behind me rustled loudly, and I looked quickly over my shoulder. Two more mongrel dogs.

I was surrounded. There were five dogs in front of me and two dogs behind me. They were all feral; they might as well have been wolves. I quickly got the picture: “Apparently, they were hungry or territorial, and I was either breakfast or an unwanted intruder.”

I have seen enough TV to know that running was not an option, and I did not feel that they were going to let me just walk away. There was going to be a fight. Seven large dogs against one somewhat out-of-breath human; those are not good odds for the human.

Back to the things I have seen on TV – the source of much knowledge for city kids about wild animals. First, a pack of predators has a leader, and that’s probably the biggest dog. The biggest dog should be the focus of my attention, because if they are going to attack me, the alpha dog will lead the attack. TV wisdom says: Confront the alpha wolf; do not show fear; do not try to run away; and look that dog in the eye.

Page 12


I remember thinking that this would be a great time to have a semiautomatic, 9mm handgun with a 14-shot clip, sitting in a holster on my hip. Too bad, I didn’t have one with me.

All I had with me was my Canon AE-1 camera. Obviously, I did not think this was a good time for cute dog pictures. My nose was picking up a musty stench; the dogs smelled bad.

Years before, my Korean karate teacher had said, “When you are confronted by multiple assailants, you should plan and execute your attack; do not wait for their assault to begin. You may only have to kill one, but you should plan the steps necessary to kill them all.” In karate, we used to practice fighting against several, simultaneous attackers. But never did we practice fighting seven against one. Never did the circumstance of conflict with wild animals come up. After all, this is America in the 20th century – not a wilderness encounter in 1650.

Alpha dog strode towards me slowly; only about ten feet separated us. It moved slowly, like I was being sized up, not because the animal was fearful, but because it was cautious. He was flanked by four other dogs that were slightly behind Alpha. I figured in a few more seconds he would charge me, probably leaping from the ground in the final few feet, and come flying towards my throat or my groin, like a big musty, hairy missile.

I planned to punch him with a straight-on blow, the most forceful single hand-strike in Korean karate; I would go directly into its mouth, shatter its cranium and explode its brain. It would fall dead to the ground, unless I missed the target. Accuracy was all important, and that’s the reason why I opted for a punch rather than a sidekick; a kick would give a more forceful strike, but kicks tend to be inaccurate. This was no time to just stun the animal or break a few bones. That thing needed to be dead if there was any chance of dealing with the other six, angry predators.

There was no time to plan what to do with the other dogs; it was just as well, since there probably was no realistic plan that could deal with six additional attacking dogs.

I was holding the Canon camera in my right hand, gripping the camera by its leather strap. I figured that I needed to drop the Canon in order to free my hands. For a fleeting second I thought: “I don’t want to drop the camera on the concrete; that’ll break it.” Then, almost immediately, another thought struck me: “Drop the camera. These dogs intend to tear you to shreds, and you’re worrying about your camera? Get serious. This may be the end, and you’re worrying about breaking your camera.”

A second later, I let the camera drop, and it fell almost to the ground, but the leather strap was intertwined in my fingers, and that prevented it momentarily from hitting the pavement. Instead, the camera bounced and jerked at the end of its strap, while suspended in the air a few inches above the ground.

Page 13


When the camera fell suddenly, Alpha halted in its tracks. Something about the camera startled the dog, and I could see he was staring at the camera as it jerked around above the asphalt. I shot a glance downwards. The camera was fairly large and most of its exterior was black, but the top quarter panel of the Canon has a silver-looking, metallic finish. The silver top of the camera had caught the morning sunlight and sparkled brightly. Alpha was staring at the sparkles from the sunlight, and the dog seemed not only mystified – it seemed afraid. It cowered backwards on its hind legs.

I swung the camera by its leather strap, a foot above the ground in front of me, at first, back and forth, like a pendulum, two or three times. Then I swooped the camera up into a circular motion in front of me, like a sideways windmill. I kept spinning and spinning the camera, as it generated a show of sparkling, reflected sunlight. All the dogs in front of me pulled backwards. Some of them made a muffled, whimpering sound. Alpha had stopped growling. Instead, the dog turned his head sideways, and then he turned away from me in what appeared to be fright or confusion. My mind raced: They must think the sparkles are fire. That must be what they think. They know fire is deadly, or at least painful. They’re scared. Good.”

The last bit of TV knowledge: Walk towards the wild animal as if you have no fear. I took a step towards Alpha, with my camera still spinning sunlight. The dog immediately turned and ran, and a second later the other four dogs shot back into the brush. I half-turned and looked over my shoulder. The two dogs that had been ten feet behind me had turned and were running away into the brush. A few seconds later, I was alone in the middle of the road.

For a moment, I breathed sighs of relief. My heart was pounding, and I felt out of breath. I needed to get out of there, so I turned and began walking back to my car. I figured the car was probably a thousand yards away. I didn’t run, but I walked quickly back to my car, scanning the brush around me constantly, as I continued to spin the camera like a sparkling windmill. My arms began to feel strained, but I figured the dogs were probably watching me, although I couldn’t see them, and I wanted their fear to remain solidly in place.

“Forget about the pictures of the houses,” I thought. It seemed like forever before I could see my car in the distance, and the last minute or two were the most stressful. I was thinking with every step: “What if they realize it’s just sunlight and they come back?” Step by step, the car was closer and closer, until finally, I unlocked the door and slumped into the driver’s seat, securing the door behind me. Never had it felt so good to sit down.

I was totally out of breath, and my arms were aching. I just sat there in the driver’s seat trying to catch my breath and thinking about how much worse the conclusion of that experience could have been.

Page 14



“Damn,” I thought, “When I bought the Canon ten years ago, it’s a good thing I didn’t get the all-black model. No sparkling from that.” I always prized my camera; photography had been my hobby for more than a decade. But, wow -- my Canon was definitely my buddy after all that.

I sat in the car for ten minutes, with the windows opened just an inch or two; the car felt like a fortress. Plus, I figured if the dogs came back, I could just drive away.

After resting in the car, I drove back towards the center of the base.

I was looking for the way off base, but I couldn’t find the exit gate. Instead, I turned in the wrong direction and wound up next to the flight line, near what used to be the Base Operations building. I glanced at my watch, when I realized that I had turned in the wrong direction searching for an exit out of Westover. I still was good on time. My stroll into the housing area jungle had not taken very long – I probably only walked 1,000 yards into the housing area, I was with the dogs for less than a minute, and the trip out of the jungle was a whole lot faster than the trip into the jungle. I was still good on my schedule. I would comfortably arrive at the hotel in the Boston area with enough time to do the things I planned for the day. No problem there. I just needed to figure out how to get back to the interstate.

Right there in front of me was an open gate onto the flight line – wide open. Great, I thought: “I’ll get a few pictures from the flight line. I should be able to get a good photograph of Mt Tom.” Mt. Tom is the 1,200 foot high peak, located northwest of downtown Holyoke, not far from the base. When I was a teenager, Mt. Tom is where people went skiing during the long, Massachusetts winters.

“Mt. Tom should make a good photo this time of day.” There were some low clouds in that direction: “If these misty clouds will cooperate with the sun.”

So, with photography in mind, I drove onto the flight line. There wasn’t a soul around, and, in fact, I had seen no one since I dropped off my hitchhiker. Westover was a deserted ghost town.

I drove about 150 yards out onto the flight line, stopped the car and put the Acura into park with the engine running. One thing for sure, I wasn’t going far from the safety of my car.

As I swung my legs out of the car, I looked for Mt. Tom off in the distance. There it was. “Dang,” I thought, “The lighting is lousy. This is not going to be a very good shot. It’s too grayed, and even with my telephoto lens, the peak is too far away to have any real character.” Since I was there, I squeezed off a couple of shots of Mt. Tom, but I knew they probably would never reach public display; instead the photos would most likelyy join the cardboard boxes containing thousands of so-so pictures I have taken over the years.

Page 15


My attention had been focused on Mt Tom, which was to the north of the spot where I parked the car. I took a moment to glance towards the south, after losing my enthusiasm for Mt. Tom.

“Damn, airplanes,” I spoke out loud. Two C-5 Galaxy transport planes were parked on the tarmac near the Base Operations building, no more than 75 yards away. I chuckled, because I had not even noticed the two huge aircraft when I first drove out onto the tarmac. In fact, they were parked in a location between Base Ops and nearby hangars where they would not be visible from the nearby road, or even at the gate. It did not occur to me at the time, but the two C-5s may have been parked in that location for the specific reason that they could only be seen from the air or if you were standing right where I was standing. Otherwise, the buildings would shield the aircraft from view.

The C-5 Galaxy transport, originally built by Lockheed, is among the largest aircraft ever operated by the U.S. Air Force; it is used for intercontinental-range airlift. The Air Force first flew the C-5s in 1969, so I had seen them before on a number of occasions; it was an old aircraft, and not very sexy. They were transport planes – to me, the least interesting of all aircraft.

“Huh,” I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “Take their picture, since you’re here.” I raised the camera to my right eye and confronted one of my photographic weaknesses; namely, I do not have good vision, so focusing my camera is always a challenge. I scanned the surface of the closer airplane, looking for a straight line of rivets, or whatever, to use as an aid in my struggle to focus the camera. I searched the belly of the fuselage and the landing gear. No straight lines. Through the telephoto lens the plane's dirty tires seemed only a few feet away.

I could not find a straight line on the surface of that plane, even though I scanned the plane for a large fraction of a minute through the telephoto lens. At the time, that difficulty did not really catch my attention; I just got tired of looking, and decided to scan in on the airplane’s wing, it was straight, of course, but on an angle; I then pressed the shutter button for a couple of frames. The camera’s power winder swished two or three times as the frames clicked off. Then I noticed a peculiarity – something very peculiar.

The sun was in and out between the clouds, but there was direct sunlight. As every photographer knows, sunlight is yellow in color. Reflected sunlight is yellow all over the planet.

But this aircraft was reflecting sunlight as blue. It was clear, especially with the telephoto lens, that the reflected light off the skin of the C-5 looked blue. Once I noticed the anomaly, I stopped and stared. “That is really strange. How is it doing that? Why is it doing that?” I took a couple more pictures of the near aircraft, and then a few pictures of the more distant C-5.

Page 16


“That’s really something,” I pondered, “Have I ever seen anything do that before? I stared for a while, scanning the aircraft through the telephoto lens.

“Hum, whatever,” I mused, “Oh, well, let’s get going.” I was on the flight line for probably no more than three minutes. I never even turned the car’s engine off. When I hopped into the driver’s seat I took a few seconds to reach into the glove compartment for my prescription sunglasses, switched the sunglasses with my regular glasses, and in a few moments I was rolling back through the flight line gate.

At least now, I had my bearings straight. I had a good recollection of where the base’s main gate was, driving from the Base Ops. I put my camera on the passenger’s seat and headed down what at one time had been one of Westover’s main streets.

Out of nowhere, a small SUV – perhaps a Suzuki -- appeared in my rearview mirror. The SUV was speeding in my direction, and passed me in a zoom; then the driver hit the SUV’s brakes as it pulled in front of me. The other car screeched to a stop, and I had to hit my brakes as well to avoid rear-ending the vehicle. The driver’s door flew open, and a man sprang from the car. He was wearing a uniform -- some kind of police uniform --  at least that was my presumption since he was wearing a sidearm in the holster on his belt.

He walked briskly back to my car. My driver’s window was open.

“Were you just out on the flight line?”

“Yea,” I responded, almost stuttering, “I was just taking a couple of pictures of Mt. Tom.”

The cop scowled: “Give me that camera. Now!” He was pointing at my camera, which was lying on the passenger seat.

“What’s wrong?” I stammered, while at the same time handing the cop my Canon.

The man did not answer my question; instead, he gave me this order: “I need for you to follow my vehicle back to the office. Follow me. Do not attempt to drive away. Let’s go.” At that, he turned and strode with authority back to his Suzuki.

“OK, sure, of course,” I said, without hesitation, “Whatever, you say, officer.” I am not sure whether he even heard me – it was more like he just took it for granted that I would follow. It was obvious that he felt completely in charge.

He got back into the SUV and we both drove a couple of hundred yards to “the office” – a small, nondescript building that was close to Base Ops. He swung his vehicle into a parking slot, exited and pointed towards a parking space for me. At the time, I missed how unusual that gesture was, because there were plenty of open parking spaces. Why this particular space? In retrospect, I suspect this parking space was preferred because I would not be able to see my car if I looked out of the building’s windows

Page 17


“This way,” he said as he motioned towards a door. The officer held open a door to the building as I entered; he had a loose grip on my camera’s strap. I started to say “Don’t drop that,” but I decided such a comment was unnecessary and flippant. Common sense told me that this probably was not a good time to be a smart aleck.

There were four policemen in the office – to the best of my recollection. There may have been three officers, plus the cop who had pulled me over; or perhaps five officers in total. It might have been that one more cop entered the office after I was inside They were all wearing the same sort of uniform, and it wasn’t any Air Force uniform I had ever seen – dark pants and an official looking shirt. The shirts had an insignia, but I have no recollection of what that insignia depicted.

When I entered the building, all eyes were on me. And they all seemed to be agitated -- even angry with me.

“So what were you doing out on the flight line?” was probably the first of a barrage of questions. The questioner did not wait for an answer before the next command was blurted out: “Let’s see your driver’s license.” I handed my license to an outreached hand, and a few moments later I heard a copier machine running through its copying cycle.

“How were you able to get on base?’ My response was straightforward: “I drove on base through the back gate. About 45 minutes ago. The guard said to come on in.”

“You were in the housing area?” asked one of the cops. That question took me by surprise, because I hadn’t told them that I went to the housing area.

“Yes, I went to the housing area because I wanted to take pictures of the houses I lived in when I was a teenager. I used to live here years ago; my father was stationed here when the Eighth Air Force was here with the B-52s. Back in the Sixties.”

“You know something,” I said earnestly to my questioner, “You’ve got a bad wild dog problem in the housing area.”

“Oh, yea, Mr. Adams?” Another cop spoke as he handed my driver’s license back to me.

“Yea, I ran into a bunch of dogs – seven of them -- that were downright menacing. And my name isn’t Adams; Adams is the name of the street I live on in Brooklyn.”

“There are some stray dogs out there,” the cop said nonchalantly. “Did one of them bite you?’

“Naw,” I replied,”I stared them down and they ran off.” Several of the cops glanced back and forth at each other and then redirected their focus on me.

“Why was it so hard to find your car? Why were you driving around in circles?”

“I got a little turned around when I left the housing area. I was trying to find the main gate, but I got the direction wrong and wound up back near the flight line. Since I was there, I thought I would go out onto the flight line and take a few pictures of Mt. Tom. So I did, and then I was leaving when I was pulled over. I also took a couple of pictures of the C-5s parked there.”

Page 18


“Why were you taking pictures of the aircraft?”

“Well, no reason. I like to take pictures . . . and the airplanes were right there.”

“Yea, but taking pictures on the flight line is prohibited. This is a restricted area. That’s why we’re taking your film. Here, here’s a receipt and your camera.” One of the officers handed me my camera, along with a small card reading “TAG NO. 69,  DATE 10 AUG 87", signed by Joseph L. D’Alessio, indicating the seizure of:
                                    
                                   “1 ROLL  35 MM – PARTIALLY EXPOSED”.




“All right,” I said, “I didn’t know about that rule. I mean, this place is deserted. I didn’t think there was any problem with going to the housing area or the flight line. Sorry, about that. Can I go now? I’m in a bit of a hurry to get to Boston. I’m on my way to a business meeting in Boston.”

“Not so fast,” said one of the officers. “We may have to detain you for a few days, so our people can come and interrogate you.” The officer said a location that the interrogators would come from; I wish I could remember the location. To the best of my recollection, he said the name of an installation in Virginia.

“Whoa. I need to leave now. What more is there to ask me about?”

I really couldn’t tell who was in charge among those several men. One thing that was striking about them was the fact that they were all old. All of them were in their fifties, if not older.

Page 19



While I was in the office, each of the cops asked me questions. Each of them was listening at me. I glanced at each of them, but I couldn’t describe their faces, except for one. The cop sitting off to the side; the one who wasn’t saying much of anything. He might have been the one who had originally stopped my car. I’m not sure because, I didn’t really look at his face until we were in the office.

He was a big man; a little paunchy now, but he looked like he could have been a football player in his younger years. He was more in shape than the others. The others just looked old and stern-faced. They were all White.

One of the officers said after a few tense moments, following the suggestion that I might be detained for days, “I don’t think there is any need for anything further. You can go. But leave the base right away. Just follow the main road outside the door.”

That was a relief. I was pretty complacent up until the part about being detained. I didn’t see how I could be in any real trouble for taking a few pictures on a deserted air base.

“Great. I’ll be on my way. For a second there I was beginning to worry that you guys thought I was a Russian spy.” I feigned a laugh. “I’m not a Russian. I’m from Detroit. In fact, I was in the Air Force years ago at Norton Air Force Base out in California -- back in the Seventies.”

“Wait a minute. You were at Norton?” said one of the cops. All the cops broke out in smiles, and they started saying things like, “What? I knew it. You’re with the Group right? The Group sent you here to test our security?” You’re in the Group?”

I was surprised. When I mentioned that I was stationed at Norton, the room went immediately from frowns to jokes and laughter.

I responded reflexively: “What group? I’m not with any group. What are you talking about?”

Instantaneously, the smiles returned to frowns. They glanced furtively at each other, and then looked back at me. A chill fell over the room. I did not know what to make of what just happened. I did not know what to say next. It was probably best that I said nothing, because at that point my life may have depended on my immediate exit from Westover.

“OK,” one of them said, “You’re free to go.”

I clinched my camera in my right hand, and the property receipt in the other, and I headed for the door.

Five minutes later, I was at the main gate. The guard came over to my car window, took a good look inside, and then waved me through. I was off the base seconds later and heading back to the interstate. I looked back in the rearview mirror and saw the guard watching me drive away.

Page 20


“Well, that turned out to be a big waste of time,” I said to myself, while looking at the dashboard clock. I was still okay on the time needed to get into the Boston hotel, but just barely. Before I reached the interstate, I pulled over to the side of the road and rummaged through the glove compartment looking for my sunglasses. I couldn’t find my sunglasses in the glove box, but after a few seconds of looking, I realized that I already had my sunglasses on.

“Oh, right,” I said to myself, “I put my sunglasses on out on the flight line.” I shrugged my shoulders and thought: “Wow, they interrogated me while I was wearing sunglasses. It seems like they would have asked me to take them off, on general principle, so they could see my eyes.”

It only took a few minutes to reach the interstate. By the time I merged into the early morning traffic, I had a chance to start reflecting on the last hour of my life.

Dogs? Wild or strays, whatever. I sure did not see that coming. Massachusetts is not the Wild West. The last thing on my mind when I started into the housing area was encountering a dangerous animal, much less a pack of seven dogs that seemed bent on mayhem.

“Damn,” I thought, “When I bought that camera, I’m glad I didn’t get the all-black model.” The fact that the sunlight’s reflection off the silver top of the camera fooled those dogs saved me from a situation that could have gone very badly for me, or very badly for that Alpha dog. They thought the sparkling sunlight was fire, and they knew fire was big trouble.

“Face it , Walter” I thought, “ That was probably going to go very badly for me. Seven vicious dogs? That situation was probably hopeless. I might have been able to handle two or three, but not seven. Not if they all attacked at the same time. No way.”

Those cops didn’t seem too worried about the dog problem on their base. “What agency were they?” I tried to remember what emblem was on their uniforms. There was some sort of government-looking insignia, but I couldn’t remember what it said.

I held up the card that they had given me for my film, putting it into my line of vision above the steering wheel. “Joseph D’Alessio” was the signature. “Which one was Joseph D’Alessio?” I wasn’t sure. Was he the one who did most of the questioning? I didn’t remember seeing him signing anything. He must have been the person who handed my camera back to me; that made sense. As a matter of fact, I didn’t remember seeing anyone writing anything down. I heard a copy machine running, and I figured they were copying my driver’s license. At least one of them had read my driver’s license – remembering the cop who had mixed my last name with the name of the street I lived on.

Page 21


“Hell. I didn’t get that film for free. At least there weren’t any worthwhile pictures on it,” I simmered. “That film wasn’t free. They took my film over a couple of pictures of C-5s -- old-ass transport planes? That’s ridiculous. Maybe I should complain to someone and get my film back.” I kicked that thought around a bit during the 70 minute drive to the hotel near Boston, but I decided that complaining about the seized film would be a big waste of time. After all, there weren’t any good pictures on the film.

The hotel had great amenities, but perhaps the most important feature for me was the desk in my room. I had some work to do in preparation for the next day’s settlement conference, so I dove right into that task.

A couple of hours went by before my thoughts meandered back to the reflected light – the blue light reflected off the two airplanes. It finally hit me: If the color of sunlight was changed, that means that the wavelength of the light was changed. The surface of those two airplanes had shifted the wave length of electromagnetic waves. When I reached that realization, I got very excited. Shifting the wavelength of electromagnetic waves was at the heart of stealth technology. Those two airplanes were stealth.

In 1987, there was very little information in the public domain concerning stealth technology. Stealth – airplanes that could not be seen on radar. The Department of Defense had made it known that a new stealth airplane – a bomber – was near operational status, although no pictures of the airplane had been released to the media.

Since I am an aviation enthusiast, this was very exciting. I exclaimed, while sitting at the hotel desk: “Those planes must have been the new stealth bomber.”

Very exciting was putting it mildly. Seeing the new stealth bomber before pictures were in the news media was extremely exciting. I could understand why the cops took my film, and I could forget about getting the film back – that would never happen.

“Wow”, I thought, “This is a scream. I can’t wait to tell somebody.” The thing was, however, at that point in my life there weren’t a lot of people I knew who shared my excitement about airplanes. There was one person who came to mind, partly because I had been thinking about telephoning her anyway. Let’s call her Anna, but that’s not her real name.

Anna was an ex-girlfriend; I had ended our six year long relationship a week earlier. We hadn’t really talked since the breakup, and I wanted to say – something – even just “Hello, how are you?” -- to the person with whom I talked virtually every day for six years. So, I picked up the phone in my hotel room and called her. She didn’t answer; her answering machine kicked in. I left a message saying that I was away in Boston, “Hi” and all that. Then I said something like this: “You’ll never believe what happened. I stopped at Westover on my way to Boston, and I saw two stealth bombers. They were parked on the flight line. I even took some pictures, but these cops pulled me over and grabbed my film. Wild, huh?”

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I finished my preparations for the settlement conference by mid-afternoon, and I decided to go for a long jog. The hotel was in a good-looking, suburban neighborhood and the weather was great. A nice run would be a good pastime before dinner. It turned out to be a good time to think about what happened earlier in the day.

Eventually, the realization hit me that those two planes were not the stealth bomber. For one thing, they were too big to be bombers; they were larger than the B-52, and it was clear that American bomber aircraft were getting smaller, not larger in size. In addition, the little information there was in the media, about the stealth bomber, indicated that the jet had a very futuristic body-shape.

Plus, I chided myself: “Get serious, Walter. You correctly identified those planes the moment you saw them. They were C-5s; old-ass transport jets.” I was jogging, but my pace slowed to a walk, and then I stopped in my tracks.

“Wait a minute,” I finally put it together, “Those two planes were stealth transport planes.” I had never heard anything in the media about using stealth technology on transport planes.

“Why would the Air Force even want that?” I thought. “Maybe the concern was about the transports being shot down. They had to evade radar so that enemy fighter planes or surface to air missiles couldn’t find them.” That made sense, I figured. Or at least that’s what I believed for a few hours.

During my jog, I was once again grinding on the fact that my film was gone. I didn’t like dogs so much anymore. My arms were a little sore from swinging around the camera for so long. I was trying to remember where that interrogator was to come from. “Did that guy say Langley? Did he say Quantico?” I couldn’t remember. “What was the agency name on those guys’ shirts?”

I wondered why they had a huge change in attitude when I said that I was at one time stationed at Norton. It was then that I realized that the football player-looking guy did look familiar.

“Was he stationed at Norton?” I began to wonder why his face looked like someone I knew. I recalled earlier that day thinking: “I had seen him before”, but the thought was fleeting. None of the other men looked like anyone I met during my Air Force years; at least, I was pretty certain I hadn’t.

That one guy though – the one who was a little younger than the rest -- he looked like he used to play ball. It donned on me that he was the cop who was looking at me so intently. During the time I was in the office, all the cops asked me a question or two, but the others seemed somewhat preoccupied with other things. They were not glaring at me. The football player at times seemed to stare, almost as if he was wondering whether he knew me.

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Then it hit me like a lightning bolt. I had seen that man before. He was one of the men who had tried to get me out of my car that night in 1977. He was the one in my headlights – right in front of the car -- on the driver’s side. He was the guy who did the talking that night. There was no doubt about it. I was certain.

I was standing motionless by the side of the road. Forget running any further; I needed to sit down. Suddenly, I felt sick to my stomach. There was a tree stump nearby, and I used it as a chair. For a while, I just sat there.

“God,” I thought, “This is huge. That was one of those people who tried to snatch me over that heroin mess back at Norton, and he’s guarding a stealth transport plane.” A stealth transport plane would be a drug smuggler’s dearest, wildest fantasy come true.

I felt like I was going to throw up; I could barely walk.

It was a couple of miles back to the hotel, and I needed to get back there right away. I hitchhiked. I told the car’s driver that I had just twisted my ankle while running and thanked him for his help at a difficult time.

My mind was racing all night. Why didn’t that guy recognize me? I realized that I had been very, very lucky. My hair as a civilian was much longer than it was when I was in the Air Force; my moustache was bigger; plus, I was wearing my sunglasses the entire time I was in the office. I recalled that my name was never spoken. In fact, the one cop had called me “Mr. Adams”, as he transposed my surname with the name of the street on which I lived. The football player never saw my driver’s license; the one cop made a copy of the license, and then handed the license back to me.

“Okay, okay,” I tried to calm myself, “I’m in the clear. I’m out of there.” But I knew that would not last. Eventually, I realized where I had seen that man before. That cop would eventually remember where are paths had crossed ten years earlier. His assignment that night` was to abduct me. I was going to disappear off the face of the planet – just like so many others had. I was the person who tried to run him over with my car. People do not forget nights like that.

I tossed and turned in my bed all night – I couldn’t sleep. The facts were simple. First, they will figure out who I am. Second, they have my address. Third, they will never believe that I just stumbled upon them by accident – a tourist at a deserted Westover. Fourth, I saw stealth transport planes – that alone was huge. Fifth, I knew their track record for homicide -- they would kill me as soon as possible.

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I needed to get help from the authorities. I needed to plan how to do that. Would anyone even believe me? No one did before at Norton.

Morning finally came; I had hardly slept at all, I needed to get the settlement conference finished, so I needed to suck it up and drive to the meeting. I got dressed, checked out of the hotel and got on the road for the final few miles into Boston, heading for the meeting site. I was very troubled by my thoughts. Should I call the FBI? The DEA? Would anyone even believe me? I was sure the first question would be: “Did I see any drugs at Westover?” And the answer was  -- No.

My thoughts were interrupted by a more immediate problem. I really didn’t make it very far down the highway before my car started acting up. The check engine light on my dashboard lit up. This was not good news, and totally unexpected since my Acura was almost brand new, with less than 3,000 miles on the odometer.

I pulled over to the side of the highway. Something was wrong with the engine, and I had no idea what the problem was.

Literally, I had no idea. Many years later, in a conversation with one of Hal Lipset’s technicians, I became enlightened. Hal Lipset was a famous private investigator, who was best known for the many ways in which his organization was capable of planting eavesdropping bugs. Most famously, in an olive within the liquid of a martini, sitting on a desktop at a Congressional hearing. Let’s call Lipset’s technician by the name of Dan.

Dan told me years later, “I’ll tell you with certainty what was wrong with your car. It wasn’t the engine. They put an electronic tracking device on your car – a transponder. Those things were notorious for blowing out the new technology of onboard computers in cars back in the 1980s. They were tracking your movements. They were a rich bunch; that type of equipment isn’t cheap.”

As I pulled to a stop on the highway’s shoulder, I felt a cringe of anxiety. “Oh, no. I’m not going to get to the meeting on time. I should call AAA.”

I turned the engine off, and sat there for a few moments. “Let’s assess the situation. The car is still rolling. Maybe I should just keep on driving. Yea, but maybe that would cause more damage. Damage to what? The engine sounds fine; it’s not like the thing is smoking or grinding. Or just plain not running.”

I turned the ignition key and the engine fired up perfectly. The check engine light was off. “All right. Let’s go.” I checked my side view mirror, waited until the traffic was clear, and then pulled out onto the highway. A few miles later, the warning light came back on.

I pulled off the highway at an exit and called AAA. I wasn’t going to make it to the meeting on time – if at all. I remember thinking, “I never would have had this problem with my old Volkswagen. It doesn’t even have a check engine light. If there was something wrong with the Volkswagen’s engine you wouldn’t know it until it just quit running. Maybe that’s better.”

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The AAA guy got there eventually and gave the car a once over. “I don’t see a problem,” he said. “Just drive it, if you need to. But I’d run it by the dealership soon and have it checked out.” So, that’s what I did. The check engine light would come on and go off from time to time until I got a chance to take it to the service shop a few weeks later. The mechanics told me the engine was fine, but the car’s computer had gone bad, which was embarrassing for Acura, since the Legend was brand new. Thanks for the new car warranty; the replacement computer – a $1,000 part – was given to me for free by Acura.

I was running on empty all that day, but the day did finally end. I drove halfway back to New York that evening and spent the night with a friend near Albany, New York. The next morning, August 12, 1987, I returned home to Adams Street in Brooklyn. While unpacking my car, I noticed the sunlight hitting my camera. There was no sparkle as it had done two days earlier. Weeks later I read that the silver top of my camera was made from an alloy that does not reflect sunlight at all.

The realization struck me that morning in Brooklyn that the fireworks display that frightened the Westover dogs was not simply reflected sunlight. I remarked under my breath, "God, thanks for watching over me and intervening in just the correct, silent way." If there had been a noisy dog massacre -- such as with gun fire -- I never would have made it to the flightline; I never would have seen the stealth transport planes."

By the time I got home, I was a nervous wreck. I considered checking into a hotel – and paying cash, so I couldn’t be tracked by a charge on my credit card.

I wished that I knew someone in the FBI; someone high up in law enforcement to whom I could relate the spectacle I had seen, and put it all in context. The story was a long one, and I suspected that if I walked into an FBI office and just started talking no one would believe me.

I called Anna again. Still no answer, but I left a message telling her to not mention to anyone what I had said about seeing a stealth airplane, and that I needed to talk to her, so call me. She never called me back.

At some point, I concluded that the best thing to do was to contact a friend from law school. His name was Peter Sherwood; that is his real name. I wanted to contact him, because I felt that he was the most influential person I knew that was in any way involved with law enforcement. Peter Sherwood was New York State’s Solicitor General.

I figured that the last thing in the world I wanted to do was complain to the New York City police. By that point, I had realized that one of the reasons why I was able to walk in on that scene was because the construction worker thought I was a New York City cop – that’s how I had so easily got onto Westover, in the first place. Plus, I had always been convinced that the police in my precinct were on the take from druggies. It was a well-known fact in my neighborhood that many of the neighborhood grocery stores sold marijuana and other things over-the-counter to those who knew how to ask for it. These illegal sales were taking place with the precinct’s cops walking the beat outside the stores. Apparently, the cops of Brooklyn’s 84th precinct were blind to what was going on in the neighborhood regarding drugs. They couldn’t see a thing.

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By the evening, I had decided that a phone call to Peter Sherwood was definitely the way to go. I pulled out my address book and dialed Peter’s home number; he wasn’t there, but his wife, who was also a friend of mine from law school, said that I should reach him tomorrow at his office. “Great,’ I responded, “I’ll do that.” Tomorrow morning is only – what, 14 hours away. I can do that. I’ll wait. Right.

For some stupid reason I decided to call my parents in Atlanta. I really don’t remember what my point was, but the conversation turned crazy. Halfway through the phone call it struck me that I never should have got on the telephone. I spoke to my parents, my sister and brother, but I doubt whether they realized that I was trying to code talk to get a message across. I didn’t mean half the things I was saying at face value.

Finally, I hung up the phone on Atlanta. I decided to try to call Anna again, but her phone just rang and rang. I hung up, but after a few seconds it struck me that her answering machine didn’t pick-up. That was strange. I thought, “Maybe I misdialed. Let me dial that number again.” So, I lifted my phone off the hook – to my surprise, the phone was still ringing from the call I hung up on a few seconds earlier.

“What?” I thought, “How is that, it’s still ringing.” I clicked the phone’s release button a few times trying to kill the first call, but the phone line would not disconnect.

Many years later, Dan, Hal Lipset’s technician, said he had heard enough: “Your telephone was tapped, and it’s an illegal wiretap – that’s not a legal wiretap.That would never happen with a court authorized wiretap, and that’s because legal wiretaps are done by an entirely different method. There is someone probably parked in a van or truck in your neighborhood who had tapped into your phone line. That inability to hang up a call is a dead give-away. But get this: The guy manning that wiretap just got electrocuted. He’s dead, or at least terribly burned. There was a screw-up in the wiring that just shot a huge jolt of electricity into his headset. He just died; his head was probably burned off his shoulders. Right at that moment.” Of course, on August 12, 1987, I had no idea that had happened.

I hung up the phone and left it in its cradle for a few minutes, wondering whether all that meant something. I picked up the telephone again; the dial tone was there, so I redialed Anna’s number.

Anna was a neighbor of mine; she lived in the building next door; I lived on the 15th floor, and her condo was on the second floor of her building. I could see her windows from my condo. Her lights were on, and her blinds were loosely closed. I peered down from my home as the telephone rang several times. Eventually, the answering machine kicked in with its outgoing message. I was watching intensely, and, suddenly, I saw a silhouette move across the narrow cracks between the blinds’slats. “She’s there,” I thought, “Why isn’t she answering the phone?”

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I sat down for a moment; for just a moment. I decided to go over there and check on her. I was worried for her safety, because I had called her from the hotel in Boston – one of my very few phone calls from the hotel.

“What if they tracked my credit card paying the hotel bill, went to the hotel, flipped out a cop’s badge on the desk clerk and demanded the records of my phone calls?” I thought nervously. “I’ve got to go over there and check on her, right now. And I’m not going empty handed. Nobody is playing games here.”

I went into my bedroom, reached into my armoire and pulled out a shoebox that was taped shut. I got a pair of scissors and cut off the tape. I opened the box for the first time in almost ten years, reached inside and took out a black leather case. I knew what I had to do.

I unzipped the case, reached inside and pulled out my Smith and Wesson 38 caliber revolver – my unregistered handgun – illegal in New York City. Inside the shoebox wrapped in an old sock was a small box of 25 bullets. I loaded the gun, and took a small, concealable holster out of the shoe box. The holster was the sort designed to fit inside the bearer’s pants, at the waistline, held in place by the man’s belt. I stuck the gun inside the holster and put the holster on my left waist, covered my waist with my shirt, so no one would be able to see that I was carrying a gun.

I hoped there was going to be some mundane reason she was not answering the phone, but I wanted to be prepared just in case the worse was happening. After all, these were the people who tried to kill my ex-wife back in California. I stopped for a minute before I left my home: “What’s the plan, Walter?” I tried to think through what I was about to do.

“I’ll just go over there and knock on the door,” but that’s not enough. “What if they overpower me and take us both hostage – and just drive away with us?”

I wasn’t thinking very clearly, because I concluded that I should at least disable our cars, so they couldn’t escape in our cars. That was silly; if they wanted to transport us, they probably had vehicles of their own. I also thought, maybe now I should call the local police. “And do what -- explain to some desk sergeant over at the 84th precinct that I was having trouble with drug smugglers and now my ex-girlfriend won’t answer the phone?” Yea, right. I figured, as far as the police were concerned, it would probably be best to just get a random cop on the street, better than calling someone in officialdom over at the precinct house, asking for assistance against drug traffickers.

Back to stupid ideas. I decided that I would disable Anna’s car; I don’t remember what the supposed logic was behind not also disabling my own car.

I took a knife from my toolbox; I was going to slash her tires. No one would be going anywhere in her car.

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I had never slashed a tire before. It did not take long to learn how to do it; you just stick a knife in the side of the tire, away from the tread. I was surprised how easily the knife cut the tire. I flattened one tire; then I did the other three. I didn’t even consider the fact that I was going to have to buy her new tires one day. If I had been thinking prudently, I would have done just one tire, or maybe two – certainly, not all four.

After I finished with her car, I went in the back door of her building and took the elevator up to the second floor. I took a couple of deep breaths before I rang Anna’s doorbell. At first there was no answer, so I rang the bell again, but this time I rang the bell over and over. Anna answered the door, but she talked through the door; she wouldn’t open the door.

“Walter, just go home and call me on the telephone,” she said in a strained voice, over and over.

“Why? What’s going on in there?”

“Go home. Call me on the phone,” she kept saying. I became totally alarmed, and drew the gun from the holster. “Is there someone there holding you? Open the door.”

I didn’t know what to do. I decided to show her the gun, thinking she would realize I was there to save her. I held up the gun, sideways so she could see it through the peephole in the door. Bad move.

She exclaimed, “Walter, why do you have a gun? Go away.”

By that time I was convinced that she was being held against her will. I decided that I would fire the gun in order to attract police attention – to get those random street cops into the building, right now.

The apartment building’s hallway was completely indoors. There was no such thing as firing a round into the ground or firing into the air. If I was going to fire the gun, I was going to have to shoot at something indoors. The apartments’ had heavy metal doors. I decided to shoot a very flat trajectory shot at her door – a bullet that would hit the door at such a flat trajectory that it would bounce off the metal, and then ricochet, with its energy largely spent, down the long hallway. Hopefully, the ricochet would not zing right back and slam right into my face.

Blam! I had fired. The ricochet missed me. I could hear running footsteps inside her apartment. I heard at least one voice inside the apartment; I wasn’t sure what was said or whether I heard more than one voice.

I waited, but I lost track of time – I’m not sure whether it was 30 seconds or a minute. I heard no further sounds. I fired again. Blam! No sounds. I waited another minute. The thought jumped into my head: “What if they are hopping out her window. A person could jump to the ground; it’s not that far.” I decided that I would go downstairs to the lobby, so I could run around to the back of the building and see if men were trying to jump out her windows.

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“Damn! Where are the police? Didn’t anyone hear those shots and call the police?”

I started down the staircase to the lobby. The gun was in my hand. I stopped for a second and put the gun back into my holster, covered by my shirt.

I barged through the stairwell door into the building’s lobby on the first floor. I was running fast, and my momentum carried me forward a few strides into the lobby.

Wow! There were at least eight cops – maybe even ten – in the lobby. They all had their guns drawn. Someone yelled out “That’s him.” There was a cacophony of voices: “Halt, now! Stop running!”

I stopped immediately and threw my hands into the air. I spread my fingers in order to make it easy to see that my hands were empty. I’ve seen the TV shows; I knew what to do. I stood absolutely motionless, except for my eyes. I scanned the room. I had never seen so many cops in one place, except for newsreels of funerals.

Most of the officers holstered their weapons, but a few of the ones closest to me had their firearms pointed dead at my head. I looked down the barrel of a gun right in my face; I could see the tip of its bullet in the chamber.

I spoke, in a quiet voice: “The gun is in a holster under my shirt on my left side.”

The cop holding his gun in my face changed his facial expression as another officer lifted my shirt and withdrew the Smith and Wesson. A cop got behind me, grabbed my arms and clamped on handcuffs.

Another officer started reciting the Miranda warning to me. I shocked them: “You have the right to counsel . . .,” I started reciting the Miranda warning in unison with him, “I know, the drill.” The policeman stopped the Miranda warning mid-sentence and blurted out: “Are you a Federal agent?”

“No,” I replied, breathing deeply – trying to catch my breath. I spoke softly: “No, I’m not a cop, but get me out of here. There’s a woman in that apartment with the shot door, bring her with us. There may be men holding her against her will. If there are, they’re killers, but try to take them alive. Get us out of here. This is a matter of National security. Now, hurry, some of you, get upstairs! Somebody go around back, they may try to jump out the window.”

The three officers closest to me stared at me in shocked disbelief.

“What?” One of them said and pointed to the other officers. “Upstairs, now!”

Another officer took me by the arm and led me out of the building. Within a few seconds, I was in the back seat of a squad car. As I slumped down in the seat, I suddenly felt totally exhausted. There were blue and red lights flashing all over the place; I don’t know how many squad cars were there, but there were a lot

The car sat by the curb for a few minutes, then several cops came out of the building walking alongside Anna. A cop was in the driver’s seat of the car I was in, and then a second officer got into the car at the same time Anna was coming out of the building. I asked the cop: “Is she okay?”

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“She’s fine. She was alone in the apartment,” he responded. “Let’s go,” his command was directed to the policeman in the driver’s seat. The car shot away from the curb and sped down the street.

Ten seconds later, the cop in the passenger seat, turned to the back of the car and said: “What’s this all about? Does this have something to do with Ollie North and those missiles to Iran? Is this about the Contras?” I glared at him for a second, and I said: “I don’t know anything about that. Why do you ask me that?” He said something in reply, but I cannot remember how he responded. That officer’s name was Christopher Perham; that is his true name.

The 84th precinct house was only a two minute drive away, not a long drive at all when the cars’ red and blue warning lights are flashing, and you can run all the stop lights.

Officer Perham led me into the station house. We stopped for a minute at the sergeant’s desk, and then I was led down a short hallway to a cell; the door was locked shut behind me. I was in a holding cell; I was alone.

I think I lost track of time. It may have been around 30 minutes later when I heard footsteps coming down the hall. The cell’s door had a large, barred window. A man stepped up to the window. He appeared to be in his late 30's; he was well-dressed, wearing a suit, he was well-groomed. He spoke with a Midwestern accent, with perfect diction. He was not a New Yorker.

“Mr. Lewis, first of all I want to commend you for what you tried to do at Westover. I don’t think I have ever known of a greater individual act of bravery in the history of our country. Look, we know about what’s going on up at that base, and we’re working hard to bring it to a halt. But we need more time.”

I was leaning against the wall of my cell, still handcuffed. He was speaking in such a hushed tone, that I took a few steps forward in order to be closer to the window. I didn’t know what to say; I didn’t know whether I should say anything at all.

“I need you to swear,” the man continued, “That you will tell no one about what is happening at Westover. We need more time to pull an airtight case together. I need your silence. Will you do that? Will you swear to me that you will tell no one what you saw? Will you do that for the good of the country? I’m sure that you, more than anyone, understands the seriousness of this situation. Can we count on you?”

I stared at him for a few moments, as I collected my thoughts: “In 1970, I took an oath to protect the United States of America from all enemies domestic and foreign. Yes, you can count on me. I won’t say another word.”

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“Good. I've heard a lot about you over the years; I knew we could count on you. Now look, you broke a bunch of laws this evening. You’re going to be charged with several felonies. That gun was yours, right?’

“Yea, it’s mine. I’ve had it for years. Is that surprising?”

“No, not at all. Don’t worry at all about prosecution. All the felony charges against you will be dropped before trial. The only thing you’ll be convicted of is the minor misdemeanor of having an unregistered handgun in your home. You won’t have to do any jail time or pay bail in order to get out of here in a day or two.”

In retrospect, it’s ironic. Until that moment, I really hadn’t even considered the fact that I had committed crimes trying to save Anna.

“Now, this is important,’ he spoke at a very hushed volume. “When you get out of here, a person will come to you. That person will state a code word. That code word is “Swordfish”. Never write down that word; never tell anyone that code word. When the person approaches you with the code word tell him everything you know. Can we count on you?”

“Yes, I understand.”

“Good. I knew we could depend on you.  Sir, I just want to say that I am in awe of the courage you have displayed. I absolutely stand amazed in your presence. Don't take this the wrong way, but I am amazed you're still alive.”

"I hear you," was my answer. "I almost got killed two days ago at Westover."

"What -- by the Group?" he whispered.



"No a pack of wild dogs in the housing area. There were seven of them, but they may have been guard dogs."."

"How did you beat them?"

"Another miracle, although I didn't realize it at the time."  

"Amazing." he was whispering. He then started turning, as if to walk away.

I said ‘Wait a minute. Who are you?’

He responded as he started down the hallway: “Don’t worry about that. When the person gives you the code word, all your questions will be answered. Don’t worry about anything.” And with that, he walked away from the window.

I stepped backwards and leaned against the cell wall. The handcuffs were beginning to hurt my wrists. I stood there for a few more minutes, and then I heard footsteps coming down the hall. A face appeared at the window. It was Officer Perham; he was unlocking the door.

“Okay, dude,” Perham motioned for me to come with him, “It’s time for your mugshot. Let’s go. Start walking.”


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                                                                 CHAPTER THREE

                                                             Prelude
                                                         1949 -- 1974
 

I was born in Detroit, Michigan in March, 1949, at Trumbull General Hospital. It’s important that you know the hospital of my birth, because Trumbull General was a Negro hospital – only Black people would go there, since in 1949 the practice of medicine in Michigan was segregated, as was the case in much of the country.
                  
     A circa 2010 picture of the Detroit house that was at one time known as Trumbull General Hospital
 

I am African-American. That’s why I was born at Trumbull General Hospital. The use of the word “Hospital” is somewhat misleading. In fact, Trumbull General was little more than a single family residence, although the staff did serve the Black community with pride and determination, despite technological shortcomings.


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In the year 2016, many Americans are surprised to learn that a function as vital as medical care was segregated in a northern state as recently as 1949. But the facts are the facts. There are aspects of the country’s past that many Americans would prefer to forget, because, by 2016, the racism of the past embarrasses the Whites of the present.

Despite the pockets of discrimination in Detroit in the 1940's, my parents had moved from Atlanta to Detroit in order to escape the more pervasive discrimination of the Jim Crow south. Black people could find jobs in Detroit; there were fewer “Whites Only” signs in Detroit.





My birth name was Cleophus Walter Valentine, Jr
In 1964, my name was legally changed to Walter Lewis

When I was a very young child – up until age 4 -- I thought that Detroit was the greatest place in the entire World. It was my whole world. In the 1950's, the residential neighborhoods were lush with huge green oak trees; most street were completely canopied with oak leaves in the warm, humid summer months. The windless nights were a symphony of insect sounds and night birds. Mercifully, the mosquitoes were few, so you could sleep with open windows, without the need for screens.

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There was plenty to do at my grandmother’s house, because Vancouver Street was totally overrun with spirited children. And none of the little kids were allowed to cross the nearest big street -- Grand River – that was too dangerous, since there was major traffic constantly, and the drivers tended to speed along the multi-lane north/south thoroughfare.

So the whole population of playmates was bounded on the east by the big street, and we couldn’t cross the alley behind the houses, because that’s where the rats were; plus it was messy. But no need to worry about the mess – simple, no one ever went there except for the garbage men in their big trucks. To the west, Vancouver ran forever – as far as the eyes could see, green lawn after green lawn. To the north was the other side of the street. Sandra and I knew nothing about the other side of the street; nobody did. And by nobody, I mean, among the gang of kids that were our playmates. We could see the other side of Vancouver – after all it was 100 feet away; it was right over there. But it really didn’t exist, because none of us were allowed to cross the street. The other side of Vancouver might as well have been on Mars. It was another planet, which strangely had no children. What are the odds? Not a single child on our block lived “over there”.

Sandra was my big sister. She was much bigger than I and two years older. She knew about a lot of stuff, and she was always happy to teach me what she knew. And she knew about all sorts of things.

Things like, “There is no fat man named Santa Claus who brings presents to anybody’s house on Christmas Eve,” she confided in a hushed tone. Grandmother was just downstairs in the living room, not far away, and she had told me that she knew a big secret.




Aunt Leanora, Grandmother Mundy and Tommie

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“What? Yes, there is. Tommie said so, and so did Aunt Leanora and so did Grandmother and Grandpa. I saw it on TV”, was my incredulous response, “Tommie told me so at the store yesterday when we were looking at toys.”

Sandra shook her head from side to side. “I don’t know why Tommie says that. She says it all the time. I know.“ Sandra was sneaking open the door to the staircase that led to the attic; she was being real quiet, as her hand slapped quietly against the wall leading up to the attic. She was looking for the light switch.

When the light came on, we knew what to do: move fast and soundlessly up to the attic. This meant passing the Ouija board that was leaning against the wall on the staircase landing. We were both afraid of the Ouija board because it had pictures of two witches on it. I didn’t want to see those witches, but I did want to see the big secret Sandra said was so important. It was only a matter of a few seconds, Sandra was standing over three large cardboard boxes and pulled back the old sheet that covered the boxes.

“Look here,” she said as she pointed.

One look and I was shocked. “What?” I exclaimed softly; we didn’t want Grandmother to catch us because we were sneaking, and when we were sneaking no none could ever know.

“It’s the airplanes. And Roy Rogers, too.” I was shocked. “Why are these here, Sandra? Santa brings these things on Christmas Eve.” I grabbed one of the airplanes’box and squeezed the cellophane in my fingers, trying to tear it open.

Sandra whispered in a screech, “No. Don’t open it,” as she pulled my hand away. “They’ll know if you do that.”

“These are the Christmas presents,” she whispered. “There is no Santa Claus. It’s Tommie she bought the airplanes, and look,” her finger was pointing to a colorful box, “There is the doll I want. It’s Tommie.” Sandra inspected the airplane’s box; the cellophane was deeply dented, but it wasn’t torn.

“That’s OK, she murmured, as she closed the huge box holding all the toys and carefully spread the sheet across the box, so it looked just like it looked before.

We crept quietly back downstairs to the second floor. Grandmother was back in the living room, she had gone out on the porch briefly to sweep a dusting of snow off the front porch. We were successful once again. We never got caught when we were sneakers, because we were really good at being sneaky.


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Sandra whispered to me as if to put an exclamation point on my shocking experience: “Tommie is Santa Claus, and I bet Grandmother and Aunt Leonora know it. I bet they know. I don’t know why they’re lying all the time about it. There’s no Santa Claus. It’s Tommie.”

My mother’s name was Tommie. When we were very young children, both Sandra and I called our mother “Tommie, I need some socks,” or “Has Tommie come home from the phone building?” Everybody else called her Tommie – Grandmother, Aunt Leanora and all their friends -- so Sandra and I called her Tommie as well. We had no inkling that was a little strange, since all the kids on our street called their mother by her given name. That was life on Vancouver, and life was good, as far as I knew.

My father was not in Detroit that Christmas because he was over there in Korea fighting the war. It was too bad that he wouldn’t be home when I got the airplanes and the gun, but I wasn’t feeling too bad about the whole thing because Tommie said Cle’s coming home soon, but he can’t come now because Korea is really far from Detroit.

Grandmother was so funny. She was always saying funny things and people would laugh out loud.

“There’s three things about Walter that you can tell for sure,” she would tell Tommie’s friends, “Right now, at four years old, you can tell that boy’s going to be a preacher.”

Everybody would laugh. “That’s right, Mrs. Mundy. You got that right. He’s always preaching to me now.” I wasn’t talking about church, necessarily, but I had opinions on a lot of things.

“Yea,” Grandmother would be entertaining the whole room, “That boy is crazy about those airplanes – all the time, and he never misses seeing a pretty woman. He’s watching them coming and going,” she would say in an odd tone of voice.

All of Tommie’s friends would just crack up when Grandmother would talk like that. When I was four, I did not understand why my mother’s friends would find Grandmother’s odd tone of voice all that funny.

Aunt Leonora would say something like: “Especially you, Elaine, with all that switching you do.” Everybody would laugh, especially Elaine, and Elaine would shoot back: “Listen Butt, I don’t do any more switching than you do. Walter just loves his Elainey so much.”

Tommie and Aunt Leonora definitely had a lot of really pretty friends. They were all so nice to me; I loved to hug them and play kisses. And they all thought I was so cute; they would tell me that every time they came to the house, or when Tommie took me places, like downtown to Hudson’s department store or to church or to the telephone company building. I really loved the telephone company building, especially at Christmas time. It seemed like all Tommie’s friends liked to hug and kiss, too. But I knew now, they were all lying about that Santa Claus thing.


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                    Sandra and Walter – 10 minutes after busting the Santa Claus story

All of the people at the telephone company Christmas party were singing about Santa Claus – every last one of them. And Santa Claus had been there, too! And he had a sleigh and everything.

“All this going on and actually it’s Tommie all along”, I thought. I wondered if my father knew about this. I would ask Cle when he comes home from Korea soon. He must know, but I remember that he had definitely told me that Santa would bring the airplanes, including the ones like he flies. He didn’t say anything about Tommie getting the airplanes.

It is not surprising that two children who call their mother by her given name of “Tommie” would also call their father by his nickname, which was “Cle.”

“Sandra and Walter come downstairs,” our Grandmother was back inside, the porch was swept clean of snow – luckily there was only a dusting. “The people are coming. We’re going to take pictures.”


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Sandra grabbed me by the arm and said “Don’t say anything about Santa Claus. Don’t tell them we know.”

“Why?” I answered, "I wanna know…”

“No. We found them sneaking. You know we never tell them about sneaking. And I don’t know why they were telling us a story, but make like we don’t know about anything. Christmas is in two days. You’ll see the same presents.”

“Okay,” I said. Sandra always knew what’s best. She would tell me all the time: “That’s because she’s older and bigger and knows things.”

Grandmother was downstairs calling to us: “Sandra, Walter come get your picture taken. Elaine’s here.”

We tiptoed quickly down the attic stairs, once again ignoring the Ouija board and its witches, when we reached the second floor Sandra shouted back: “We’re coming, Grandmother. I’m buttoning Walter’s sweater.”

When Elaine saw the two of us coming down the stairs, she exclaimed, “Look at them – they are just angels. I know you two have been good, right?”

Sandra answered, “Yes, Elaine, we’ve been real good.”

I ran up to Elaine and hugged her, as always; I loved her perfume and how soft she was. And then I said, as only a four-year old cute boy can: “Hi, Elaine, sweetie. We’ve been so, so good -- Sandra and me -- we’ve been just perfect.”

Two days later it was Christmas morning. There was no question about it. The toys were all there under the tree. All of them, including the little plane and the big plane we saw in the attic. The cellophane on the little plane’s box still showed the dent where I had almost torn it open. In retrospect, I chuckle because I called the planes “little” and “big”, when in fact the two model planes were the same size, but, in reality, one aircraft was a fighter plane, which was much smaller than the bomber, and that had been explained to me by Cle before he left for that place called Korea.

The little plane was a model P-51D Mustang, as flown by the 332nd Fighter Group, and the big plane was a B-25J Mitchell bomber, as flown by the 477th Bombardment Group, the fighter plane and bomber units of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Sandra and I had hoped that Cle would be home for Christmas, but he couldn’t get back to Detroit, since he was so far away. If we had been older, we would have understood there was little chance of him getting home for Christmas because if there were any favors to be given out to the troops by the U.S. Air Force, Cle would not be a recipient. In December, 1953, Cle was still being punished by the Air Force for trouble he got into back in April, 1945.

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 2nd Lt. Cleophus “Cle” Walter Valentine

Tuskegee Airman

Veteran of World War II, Berlin Airlift, Korean Conflict and Vietnam

Major Valentine was a career pilot in the U.S. Air Force

September 18, 1925 – January 13, 2006

This link is about the Tuskegee Airmen – The Red Tails -- in World War II

This link is to a second video about the Tuskegee Airmen fighting the Nazis in World War II

                     

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April, 1945

Freeman Field, Indiana

 

                             North American B-25J Mitchell attack bomber

 


 1st Lt. “Cle” Walter Valentine in the pilot’s seat at Freeman Field





                  Eight men of the 477th Bombardment Group, Freeman Field, Indiana


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In April, 1945, the Tuskegee Airmen’s 477th Bombardment Group was assigned to Freeman Field, a United States Army Air Corps base that was located near Seymour, Indiana, in the southeastern region of that state. This is where a series of events unfolded that would become known in history as the Freeman Field Mutiny.

In order to understand the Freeman Field Mutiny it is necessary to realize what race relations in the United States were like in the 1940’s. One can sum up those relations in three words: Segregated and oppressive. To the extent that many decades of Jim Crow oppression in America was changing, any such change was due to the active demands of the Black civil rights movement. In fact, the very existence of the Tuskegee Airmen came about because of the threat of civil disturbance surrounding demands by Blacks for access to employment opportunities.

Although individual Blacks had been involved in aviation for decades,1  it was not until the fall of 1940 that the U.S. War Department was confronted by demands for full participation in military service, as well as employment in the defense industry. In the spring of 1941, one of the titans of that era’s civil rights movement, A. Phillip Randolph, confronted President Roosevelt with a proposal for a commission that would insure fair employment practices within government agencies and in businesses fulfilling government contracts. Such a commission would require either Congressional approval, or, at the very least, an executive order from the White House. Randolph punctuated his proposal with the pledge that he would bring 100,000 Blacks to Washington on July 1, 1941 for a mass demonstration.2



President Roosevelt probably looked upon Randolph’s proposal as a threat. He wanted neither an equal employment commission nor a mass protest march in Washington. Congressional disdain for an employment commission was obvious in many regions of the country, not just the South. However, the specter of a huge civil rights march in Washington was influential, because Roosevelt realized that such a march would probably turn into a bloody confrontation with the District’s police force or counter-demonstrators.

Randolph was adamant. As a part of his proposal for a commission, was a demand for the establishment of centers where Blacks would be trained for skills in all branches of the aviation corps – pilots, bombardiers, gunners, mechanics, navigators and radio operators – in order to establish full access by Blacks to the air corps.

After a good deal of negotiations, Roosevelt chose to establish an employment commission and open access to the military services, rather than risk the spectacle of civil strife in Washington. Access to the Army Air Corps was established, and the training of fighter pilots began. It was not until more than two years later that the War Department agreed to form a bombardment group that would fly the B-25J, and this group was designated as the 477th Bombardment Group, which was activated on January 15, 1944 at Selfridge Field, outside Detroit.


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Segregation was not a social system that encouraged pride among the  commanders of the 477th, but the three White commanders that were pivotal in the chain of command were: First, General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, who was the Commanding General of the Army Air Corps. Second was Major General Frank O’Donnell “Monk” Hunter, who was the commander of Freeman Field, the Bomb Group and the First Air Force. Third was Colonel Robert R. Selway, Jr., the officer who was designated as the unit Commander of the 477th.

What were the conditions leading up to the mutiny? An in depth account has been provided by Flight Officer James C. Warren, a member of E Squadron, in his 1996 authoritative work “The Tuskegee Airmen Mutiny At Freemen Field”.

Flight Officer Warren describes the roots of the situation as follows:

“Maj. Gen Hunter was an unreconstructed advocate of the unwritten policies of the past. He adamantly insisted on having his way in command of black officers. All who knew him, especially the black officers, were aware that he rigidly opposed the mixing of the races. On several occasions he had written and talked about his views. He was aware that blacks hated segregation, yet his prejudice was too fixed to allow that fact to alter his attitude. Worse he made special efforts to implement and reinforce these attitudes whenever possible.”3

The impact of Hunter’s attitude on the combat training of the 477th was undoubtedly substantial, but Hunter’s racist attitude also extended to an effort to affect the social life of his black officers. Namely, Hunter felt that black officers should not be allowed to utilize the base Officers Club. Hunter insisted that the Freeman Officers Club should be for the exclusive use of the base’s white officers.

Making matters worse, was the fact that the civilian community of Seymour, Indiana was itself a segregated area:

“Seymour’s population of 8,000 people included no more than 75 black civilians. Most were farm hands, porters, and janitors scattered throughout the surrounding area. The community as a whole would not accept or intermingle with the black troops either socially or in their daily business. Restaurants, bars, hotels, and taverns refused to serve them. Typically some local grocery stores refused to sell groceries to wives of the black officers. A few officers and enlisted men attempted to force restaurants to serve them, claiming equal rights since they were members of the United States armed services. However, the restaurants' owners and merchants remained firm in their refusal. Several of the local merchants in Seymour posted such signs in their windows as "Colored will not be served.’”4

From the standpoint of Hunter and Selway, what needed to be done regarding the Officers Club at Freemen was classic segregationist ideology: By Base Regulation 85-2, there would be two Officers Clubs, a really nice one for the white officers and a not nearly as nice club for the black officers. The two club solution devised by Hunter and Selway ignored Army Regulation 210-10, paragraph 19, dating from 1940, that specifically opened the officers clubs on all posts, bases, and stations to all officers. However, it was routine for officer clubs to ignore Regulation 210-10, and many base facilities were segregated.5

After a series of meetings, the black officers of the 477th decided to break the base regulation by entering the white Officers Club and seeking service. During March and April, 1945, small groups of black officers attempted to enter the Officers Club, were refused entry and were arrested.


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Cle was arrested on April 13, 1945, and became one of 101 black officers that were caught up in the so-called mutiny. All were reassigned to Godman Field in Kentucky to await court-martial, but there was an outcry of support from black communities across the country. Under public pressure, the charges against all the officers except three were dropped.

The official charges against Cle were dropped within a few weeks, but as he related to me years later, he received a lot of retribution over the years and no favors. He would not expect to be among a few officers allowed to travel home for leave at Christmas. That is the sort of privilege that would never be extended to someone who had been arrested at Freeman Field, not even years after the charges had been officially dropped, and notwithstanding the 1948 Executive Order by President Truman that officially ended segregation in the U.S. military.




Detroit

So there we were in December, 1953 celebrating Christmas without Cle, and that seemed normal to me because he was always somewhere flying planes like Korea. And then after Korea there was Japan. I didn’t really know where those places were, but I knew they were too far away to come home.

Winter was over and spring of 1954 was well underway when one Saturday afternoon. Tommie and Grandmother had made lunch for the five of us – including Aunt Leanora, Sandra and I. We were all seated at the kitchen table, and I was enjoying one of my favorite meals. That’s when I heard a rumbling sound in the distance. My ears focused in as the rumble turned to a roar after a few seconds. I leaped out of my chair and ran out the kitchen door onto the back porch and literally bounced into the backyard.

Tommie yelled at me, " Walter, what are you doing? Come back here!”

I was incapable of hearing a word she said, because my childish attention was focused solely on that roar. I knew that sound from what I had seen and heard on television and in the movies. That screeching roar was coming from a jet. In fact, it was four jets flying across Detroit in tight formation. In most likelihood, the day was Armed Forces Day.

I did not know at the time, but from my recollection, I later knew the planes to be F-80 Shooting Stars, probably from the 439th Fighter-Bomber Wing, that were assigned to Selfridge air base, a few miles outside Detroit.

              

I had never seen a jet before that moment, and my excitement was totally overwhelming.

“Grandpa,” I exclaimed in a delighted yell, “You saw them, Grandpa. Jets! I saw them.”

Grandpa was in the backyard cleaning the brick barbeque grill, and he was smiling at me as he rubbed his brow in the sun, his straight, silver hair shone brightly. “We saw them, didn't we? They were fast and low.”

“Grandpa, one day I’m gonna fly fast jets. Just like them, Grandpa.”

Grandpa was, and always will be, my very best friend: "I bet you will, Walter. I bet you will," were Grandpa's words of encouragement.


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                                                                To be continued

 

                                                               CHAPTER SIX  

                                                         Norton Air Force Base
                                                          Monday, July 8, 1974




New 63d Military Airlift Wing C-141s on the ramp at Norton Air Force Base on a winter day in 1967.  The aircraft Serial 66-0177 is in foreground. This aircraft will become the "
Hanoi Taxi" which flew Bob Hope to USO shows in South Vietnam and in 1973, during the final days of the Vietnam War, repatriated American POWs from North Vietnam Arizona Senator John McCain was one of the POWs who flew home on the Hanoi Taxi. Aircraft Serial 66-0177 was the last C-141 to be withdrawn from service after a career of almost 40 years, as the last of the fleet was retired in 2006.  Aircraft Serial 66-0177 today is on permanent display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force


I was a little nervous that morning. After all, although I was commissioned as an officer in the Air Force in 1970, this day was the first time that I had actually worn an Air Force uniform. A real Air Force uniform; not an ROTC uniform.

I wanted to get this part right, since I figured getting off on the best foot with the base Judge Advocate General would certainly be helpful. I remembered clearly what the ROTC instructors had taught us back at the University of Michigan.

I walked at attention into Lt. Colonel Clifton D. Blanks’ office, pulled to a halt in front of his desk, and then loudly recited, as I snapped a salute, “Captain Walter Lewis reporting for duty, Sir. As ordered, Sir.”


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                                                          To be continued

 

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