Tributes & Stories

1973

My Failed Attempts to be a Feared Upperclassman
Marching on with Army
Sasebo 

 

MY FAILED ATTEMPTS TO BE A FEARED UPPERCLASSMAN

By Bob Bartron, ’73

After surviving plebe year and getting a solid handle on the academics during youngster year, I commenced the next phase of progressing through the “un-college.” It was time for the transition to an “upperclassman.”

At the end of my short summer leave period between Youngster year and the start of Second Class year, I went to the civilian barber at home and had him give me a “high and tight” Marine-style haircut. The next day I reported along with 3,000 others as the Brigade reformed at Annapolis.

I assumed a deep scowl and walked totally erect with my heals clicking on the tile as I marched the halls like one ticked-off Marine. I wanted the plebes to fear me and never realize that I was a human being.  I would lock them in a mean stare and give a faint growl of disapproval whenever I passed a plebe.  

It was actually quite effective.  I once caught my own reflection in a hallway window and it scared me—and I’m fearless!

However, my rough, tough, no-nonsense facade was not supported by my classmates. During one of the first meals in the Mess Hall I was deep into my act, sullen and sending out mean-as-a-stepped-on-snake vibrations, when I asked a plebe to pass the salt.  But the plebe was totally overwhelmed by the noise and activity of the Brigade being back, with all 4,200 eating and talking at the same time. The plebe failed to respond to my request and since his sole job for this meal was to ensure all my wants and needs were met, his inaction was totally unacceptable.  So I asked for the salt once again, this time in a louder voice. The plebe remained frozen and lost in what we called a “clutch.” I actually asked a third time and even used the word “please” in my request. The plebes at the far end of the table had heard my request and promptly passed the salt and pepper down the line and the classmate next to the plebe who was suffering the “clutch” was hitting the arm of his buddy trying to get him to take the shakers.  But the plebe just sat there mesmerized by the surroundings and totally unresponsive to his simple tasking.

It was time for me to make an unforgettable impression on this plebe and his classmates. I jumped to my feet, ramming my chair back four inches and then I leaped onto the chair and shouted at the top of my voice, “What do I need? A special request chit approved by the Commandant to get some salt?”

All conversation at the surrounding tables stopped for an instant and in that fleeting moment of silence I shouted, “Pull your head out and give me the salt!”

Before the plebe could respond, the silence was broken by my classmates in my company. They yelled at me, “Sit down, Bart! We’re trying to eat here! Get your own f--king salt if you want it!”  And all these comments were accompanied by rolling laughter from others in my company.  It seems as hard as I tried to appear the hard-nose, Marine wantabe, they saw through my thin acting skills.
But I did have a tough reputation with the new plebe class...for maybe one day.  

If you had a sense of humor and perspective about the challenges at the Academy then I was not the upperclassman you would fear in 31st Company. I played with the plebes, but the emphasis in my interactions was not necessarily education as it was fun. If you did not see the humor in the act, then I had no time for you.

A classic example was when I burned a plebe at the stake. His crime was not displaying a positive Christmas spirit. It was early December, 1971 and this plebe came chopping down the shaft on 6-1. It was the hallway where I lived and it was after evening meal but before study hour. The plebe was not from our Company and had obviously wandered into our spaces by mistake. Any plebe with an ounce of sense would have immediately recognized his error and reversed course and cleared datum. But this plebe was just standing in the narrow hallway in front of my room’s open door. I took notice of him.

“You lost plebe? What are you doing in my shaft?”

“No, sir, I’m not lost.  I just don’t know where I am for sure,” he responded in typical sea lawyer logic.  

Nothing I detest more than a sea lawyer, so I shouted, “Up against the bulkhead, plebe!  And brace up!”

He hesitated and this ticked me off a little, so I stepped outside of my room and locked him in a glaring stare.  

“You have the Christmas spirit, plebe?” I inquired.

“Yes, sir” came the tentative reply.

“Then how about a little caroling since you trespassed in my shaft?  Let’s hear Little Town of Bethlehem.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” he said and then tried to sing the carol only to falter on the fourth word, so I interrupted his feeble attempt.

“You know what an honor offense is, mister? I sure hope you weren’t lying to me when you said you had the Christmas spirit, because that lame attempt at caroling makes me doubt you were telling the truth.”

He stood there in silence, totally confused about how to select a correct response to my attitude.  He had yet to learn that there is no correct response when an upperclassman was just playing with you.

“You stay here.  I’ll be right back,” I ordered as I returned to my room.  I came back with my can of lighter fluid we used to remove built-up shoe polish on our shoes and a small box of wooden matches.

“I think you are probably a pagan, plebe.  And you know what we do to pagans in this neighborhood?”

He did not reply, but just remained at a brace against the bulkhead totally confused and wishing he had never turned down the 6-1 shaft.

I popped open the spray top of the lighter fluid can and proceeded to squirt a nice arch on the floor around his shoes. Once it was very wet, I sprayed a small squirt over the tops of his toes. He kept his “eyes in the boat” while he wondered what I was doing down around his shoes. Once I was satisfied that the fluid was appropriately placed, I stood up and showed him the matches.

As I lit one match, I said, “Around here we burn pagans at the stake.” I dropped to my knee and moved the match closer to the flammable liquid, saying, “I wouldn’t move if I were you or there could be some pain attached to this.”

As I lit the lighter fluid and small blue flames grew to a couple of inches, my classmates started to take notice of my fun in the hallway. They did not need any explanation of what was happening...Bob was playing with a plebe again...nuff said.

Soon the lighter fluid had burned out and the plebe who was now sweating something awful, finally smiled at the creative harassment he had endured. Everyone in the hall had a good laugh; after all, burning a pagan at the stake wasn’t done that often, even at the Naval Academy.  

The episode ended when I got close to the plebe’s ear and whispered, “Are you going to pay attention in the future and not get lost anymore?”

He nodded.

“Well, I doubt you will be coming back down this shaft anytime in the near future. Lesson learned. Now carry on and return to your room for study hour.”

He dropped his brace and rather than chop back to his room he was able to stroll because I had granted him “carry on” for the rest of this journey. However the high-gloss shine on his shoes was now a dull deposit of melted shoe wax.

And I am willing to bet that he tells the story about the time he was burned at the stake to his grandkids.

 

 

Marching on with Army

By Craig Dawson ‘73
These are the facts (as I remember them):

On November 27, 1971 the Army Navy game was played at Philadelphia’s JFK stadium. Navy lost a heartbreaker 23-24 with a controversial call nullifying the winning touchdown for Navy.

Prior to the game, I marched on with the Corps of Cadets as a 2/c midshipman. I was a knucklehead. Subsequently I was punished and then granted amnesty. This is the story:

It all started with a hat. My roommate in the 18th company was Dennis Gillespie, the best friend anyone could have in the Brigade. Somehow Dennis, or Gil as he was nicknamed, had acquired a West Point cover. The hat became a topic of conversation in our room during study breaks (which were often).

We finally decided we needed a complete West Point uniform, although at the time it was unclear what we would do with it. Since I had a friend from my hometown who had graduated from Virginia Military Institute, I was able to have him send me one of his uniforms. The VMI Keydet uniform is identical to West Point’s with the only exception being the inside of the cape is red.

With a complete uniform in hand the question was what to do with it. Now to understand why we were working this idea, you have to know the 18th Company in 1971. Our company fully embraced the spirit of the Army Navy competition. We had several varsity football players in our company who everyone liked, particularly because they always had the gouge. But our primary source of motivation was our company officer, Major Charles Wuerpel. Major Wuerpel was the Army exchange officer and he let everyone know he was the Army officer in Bancroft Hall.

The build up for the Army Navy football game was something. Major Wuerpel would take his speed boat and buzz the YP’s on the Severn. We would lock him in his office on 7-3 only to have him rappel out the window and reappear from the elevator on deck. Of course the ultimate prank was when the Brigade stole and demolished his sports car at a T-court pep rally and then handed him a check for a new car.

So with this 18th Company spirit it was decided we would use the uniform to march on with the Corps of Cadets at the Army Navy football game and since I had a N* letter sweater to wear under the uniform I was elected to execute the stunt.

On game day it was relatively easy to access the field prior to the game. Gil and I were Cannoneers and as 2/c it was our duty to drive the cannon to the field. For those unfamiliar with the Dahlgren cannon, it is currently on display at the Naval Academy visitor’s center. Back in the 70’s it was fired after every Navy score.

I really had no idea how I was going to join the Army march on. At the stadium I purchased a Navy pennant which I hid under my cape. As the Corps marched on I watched from the sidelines and fell into the last rank of the last company on the field. When my new company came to a halt, I pulled out my Navy pennant and waved it behind my back. I heard a few cheers and then suddenly a group of photographers rushed to my position and starting taking pictures.

At that moment my adrenalin kicked in and I started running through the ranks, taking off my overcoat so my letter sweater could be seen. Thank goodness for Army discipline. Not a single cadet would break ranks to stop me, although I do remember hearing some expletives. I ran off the field and joined the Cannoneers. Next a midshipman usher appeared and pointed up to the stands telling me that the Deputy Commandant, Captain Phil Ryan, wanted to see me immediately. Now this was awkward, because I was a member of the varsity squash team and Captain Ryan was my Officer Representative. Any hope of special consideration was quickly dashed when Captain Ryan said, “That was a dumb thing to do. You will return to the Academy immediately after the game and report to the officer of the watch.”

After the game, I got on the bus (along with my date for the weekend) to return to school, only to discover it was the wrong bus which was headed to downtown Philly. As soon as the bus arrived downtown, I turned myself in to the Brigade operations center. My date, who had never been a midshipman drag, was befuddled and hungry. A tear in her eye produced an order to take her to dinner and then get on the next bus to Annapolis. By midnight, when I had made it to the OOW, several phone calls had been made concerning my whereabouts. I was now considered a conduct case.

For those of you who have earned a Black N, you know there is nothing like waiting to be hammered after you screw- up. My week after the game was spent waiting and then I had to travel with the squash team for a weekend of away matches. Upon our teams return late Sunday night, Captain Ryan took off his O-Rep hat and as Deputy Commandant had me sign my letter of reprimand which ordered restriction until Christmas leave and restriction the first four days of Christmas leave. The beautiful part of the letter was that I was instructed to attend all varsity squash practices and matches.

I spent the week going to class and requesting EI sessions for my four days of restriction during leave. My professors seemed a little annoyed but all cooperated. At the end of the week I departed for another away trip with the squash team.

This was the weekend when my lucked changed. That Saturday the president of the African country of Dahomey (it no longer exists) dined in the mess hall. As customary for a head of state, he granted amnesty for all minor conduct offenders. When I returned from the squash trip my company mates told me about the amnesty, but with only a few days until Christmas leave I was not optimistic. My offense was not officially covered by midshipmen regulations and I really was not in a position to submit a special request chit asking for amnesty.

Imagine my surprise when I was notified my restriction at Christmas was rescinded and I could go home on time. I would later hear that my company officer, Major Wuerpel had stood up for me, and the powers at be in the administration may have thought it was pretty good prank, off the record of course.

To recap for the record, I never received any demerits for marching on. Second semester I did earn my Black N, but that incident was a misunderstanding not worthy of discussion. I never knew who took the picture of me that day but it is one of my prized possessions and proudly on display at home. The ninety seconds on the field was the most fun I ever had as a midshipman. But I have one piece of advice for present day midshipmen. DO NOT DO THIS AT HOME.

Beat Army!

 

Sasebo

By Stewart Hancock Jr.

It was the end of January 1951 in Sasebo, Japan. As soon as I boarded the USS Hamul, AD20, I heard an unforgettable, congenial and upbeat voice say “Hi, Stew, great to see you. I have a real deal for you! How about a new pair of shoes?’

You’ve guessed it. It was none other than our super-salesman classmate, Joseph T. Small. The St. Paul, CA 73, where I was a CIC officer, had just come in to Sasebo from doing shore bombardment and operating with the carriers off Korea. I had been sent ashore at the request of the convening authority of a Court martial to be held aboard the Hamul, Joe’s supply ship. I was to act as defense counsel for two sailors from a DE who were accused of intentional murder for allegedly strangling a rickshaw driver named Yoshiaka. More on Joe Small later.

The two sailors -- one big, slow, and agreeable, the other small, smart and aggressive – decided to go ashore on liberty in Sasebo sometime during the afternoon of November 6th, 1950. They drew their pay, changed their dollars into yen and purchased a case of Suntory’s beer and some bottles of Suntory’s whiskey. They then proceeded to a Japanese dance hall where, after consuming copious quantities of the beer and whiskey, they created a notable disturbance and left.

The next morning, Japanese police discovered an abandoned rickshaw on the rocky path not far from the dance hall. In the rickshaw was a half empty case of Suntory’s beer and some opened bottles of whiskey. Next to the rickshaw, on its back, was the body of what was later identified as that of Yoshiaka. Its pockets were ripped, some ten yen notes were scattered about on the ground. Japanese police testified that a yellow Japanese comb was found at the scene. This might have been of some significance since the deceased was bald. Also, they said that they had made a plaster cast of a foot-print found near the rickshaw but neither the comb nor the footprint cast was ever produced. Nor did the Japanese police t produce the cigarette butts they found at the scene which were never identified as to brand or connected in any way with the defendants.

There were noticeable, semi-lunar marks on Yoshiaka’s throat. The small petechial hemorrhages visible on his eye balls and the bluish, cyanotic appearance of his skin pointed clearly to a death caused by asphyxia or lack of oxygen. There were severe bruises and deep lacerations on the back of his head apparently caused when he fell backward onto the sharp rocks. And, finally, on the ground near the rickshaw was a sailor’s neckerchief with a name stenciled inside which the investigators could not trace to anyone.

That was it. There was nothing to connect the two sailors from the DE with what had happened to Yoshiaka. They were “home free” until they violated the basic rule of all successful malefactors – never, ever return to the scene of the crime. Unbelievably, when their DE returned to Sasebo sometime in January, 1951, they went ashore and back to the same dance hall where they had been on the night of November 6th. The shore patrol had alerted the girls in the dance hall to keep an eye out for the two sailors with the case of beer and the whiskey who had created such a ruckus on the night that the rickshaw driver had been killed. One of the girls spotted them and called the shore patrol. They were picked up and charged with intentional murder.

Now, what had been solely the sailors’ serious problem had become my problem as well. I was totally inexperienced and had never tried a case. I had just graduated from law school before going back on active duty in the Naval Reserve. And I had been handed the assignment of defending two young sailors not just in any criminal case but in a trial for intentional murder where a conviction would command a sentence of life imprisonment or death. Needless to say, I felt more than a little overwhelmed. There was no one to consult with and no law books to refer to. I was alone and I held the future and possibly the lives of these two boys in my hands. But, as we’ve all learned so well, you don’t pick your assignments. You’re given a job to do and you do it!

Here is how, at the outset, the case and the issues shaped up to me. The circumstantial and other evidence that the police had the two sailors who were involved was almost irrefutable. There was a sailor’s neckerchief found at the scene. It could be established that there had been two sailors with a case of Suntory’s beer and some bottles of Suntory’s whiskey at the dance hall where they had created a disturbance. A half empty case of Suntory’s beer and some bottles of Suntory’s whiskey were found a few hours later in the rickshaw abandoned on the path not far from the dance hall.

Once the defendants had been arrested , it was a simple matter for the investigators to connect them with the DE and to show that the DE had been in Sasebo on November 6th and that the two sailors had drawn their pay and gone on liberty that day. But beyond that, some of their shipmates would testify that when the two sailors returned from liberty on November 6th or 7th, they said that they had been in a fight with a rickshaw driver. And one or more of the dance hall girls could, if necessary, identify them as the two sailors who had had the beer and the whiskey and had made such a scene on the night that the unfortunate incident happened. To be sure, The unexplained ripped pockets and the ten yen notes left on the ground and the non-production of the mysterious yellow comb, the footprint cast and the discarded cigarettes might have suggested that the Japanese police suspected that someone else had been at the scene. But this would have been very little help against all of evidence implicating the sailors including their very damaging admissions to their shipmates.

Thus, a “wrong two guys” defense was out of the question. There was really only one decisive issue. Did Yoshiaka die as a result of strangulation? Or was there some other cause of death? If the Court had adopted the prosecution’s theory—that the death was the result of strangulation—it would have been very bad for the sailors because, under the circumstances, strangulation would almost certainly have been found intentional. That almost certainly would have led to murder convictions and the mandatory sentences no one wanted to think about. Thus, everything hinged on one issue: cause of death.

Perhaps, these boys or their mothers or fathers had same connection “up there” that I certainly didn’t have. But for whatever reason, we received one stroke of beginner’s luck after another. First and of the most critical importance, the Court sustained our objection and excluded the two written and signed confessions in which the defendants had admitted fighting with the rickshaw driver and probably choking him during the struggle. The investigator who took the statements admitted on cross-examination that he had played on the boys’ sympathies and had assured them that their mothers would have wanted them to confess. I’m not sure now that the Court was legally correct in its holding but it bought our argument that this was compelling reason for excluding the confessions.

There were other lucky breaks. The Japanese witnesses were anything but impressive. The witnesses along with the Japanese interpreter who, I believe, had been recruited from Sasebo were understandably very much on the side of the prosecution. After all, as they saw it, one of their own, a hard-working good man, had been killed by two drunken American sailors. But they were so anxious to help their side and exaggerated so much that some of their testimony was incredible. And it was impossible to cross-examine effectively through the interpreter. I would ask a question calling for a “yes” or “no” response. The witness and the interpreter would then converse at length in Japanese and finally the interpreter would turn to the Court with the one-word answer: “yes” or “no”. You had no idea of what the witness had really said or, for that matter, what he had been asked.

It was on the vital strangulation issue that Lady Luck was most kind to us. Joe Small had put me in touch with the medical officer on the Hamul who could not have been more helpful. He provided us with a plausible alternative explanation for the asphyxial death—that the deep lacerations and bruises at the base of the deceased’s skull could have resulted in a skull fracture and a sufficient trauma to that part of the brain which controls respiration so as to cause an asphyxial death. He loaned me his copy of the accepted authority on post-mortem examinations -- “Medico-legal Toxicology” by Dr. Thomas M. Gonzalez, the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City.

Dr. Gonzalez’ book, as it turned out, was crucial. His chapter on Strangulation emphasized that a finding of cause of death by strangulation is one of the most difficult to make and is often unreliable because there are so many other possible causes of an asphyxial death. All of these possible causes must be ruled out to be certain of the finding. It is necessary to make an internal examination of the throat to be sure that nothing is lodged there that could interfere with breathing. This is obviously essential. There should be an examination of the throat to see if there is a fracture of the hyoid bone, a bone located just above the Adam’s apple, which often results from the force required for strangulation. And there must be a blood test for alcohol.

The Japanese witness who had performed the autopsy and testified as to the cause of death was, strange to say, an eye doctor. He said that there no question that Mr. Yoshiaka had died as a result of strangulation. On cross-examination, he said his main occupation was prescribing and selling eye-glasses but that he preformed many autopsies, as well. When I asked him if he had ever performed an autopsy where the cause of death was strangulation, he said “Oh yes, many.” Then I asked “How many in the last fifteen years, can you tell me?” He hesitated and then said “at least, fifteen”. This answer was later cast in considerable doubt by the testimony of the Sasebo chief of police who said that, to his knowledge, there had been no deaths caused by strangulation in Sasebo in the last twenty years. But the Japanese eye doctor did give us some help by agreeing that a sufficiently severe wound at the base of the skull could cause death from lack of oxygen or asphyxia. And he did say that he had not palpated inside the throat to see if anything was lodged there. Nor had he performed a blood test for alcohol or checked for a possible fracture of the hyoid bone.

During the testimony on the cause of death, I had Dr. Gonzalez’ book with me but it was hidden from view under my desk. The prosecution’s final witness --and, for their case, unquestionably the most important-- was Lieutenant Herzog , a very arrogant Army doctor,. He was called to bolster the eye doctor’s testimony as to the cause of death. Lt. Herzog was abrupt in manner and very certain of his views He did not welcome disagreement. Although he had witnessed only part of the eye doctor’s autopsy procedure, the lt. Herzog was certain that it had been thorough and completed properly in compliance with all of the prevailing requirements. He had absolutely no question as to correctness of the eye doctor’s finding that the cause of death was strangulation. When I asked him whether, in his opinion, death by strangulation was a relatively easy finding to make by post-mortem examination, he replied that it was undoubtedly one of the easiest. He agreed that the eye doctor had not made an internal examination of the throat, had not tested the blood for alcohol and had not investigated the possibility of a hyoid bone fracture. But these procedures were totally unnecessary, he assured the members of the Court. He was very certain of that.

Now, everything depended on a witness -- who, if he was still living, was probably half the world away in New York City -- Dr. Thomas M.Gonzalez. To be able to use the opinions in his book on cross-examination, Lt. Herzog would first have to accept Dr. Gonzalez and his book as recognized authorities on post-mortem examinations. But, what if he didn’t? We had no choice. We had to go for it. And that best way to do that, we decided, was to utilize the Army doctor’s inflated ego. So I said “Doctor Herzog, may I assume that you, of course, have heard of the highly acclaimed and famous Chief Medical Examiner of New York City, Dr. Thomas Gonzalez?” Much to my relief, he replied, “Oh, yes. Of course.” When I asked whether he would consider Dr. Gonzalez’ opinions and his book on post-mortem examinations authoritative, he replied “Without question.” Lady Luck had smiled on us again! I felt like giving what would now be a “High Five”. Whether he had ever really heard of Dr. Gonzalez, I never knew. It made no difference. We were on our way.

When I then inquired whether he was quite certain of his previous answer that cause of death by strangulation was a comparatively simple finding to make., he replied dismissively, “As I said,, yes” , clearly signaling to the Court he considered the question both stupid and unnecessary. I then reached down and pulled Dr. Gonzalez’s book from under the desk, letting Lt. Herzog see the title. I could see that he was getting a bit uneasy. I opened Dr. Gonzalez’ book to the section on death by strangulation and – moving to the witness chair and holding the book so that he could see the text --I read aloud to the Court the paragraph stating that strangulation was one of the most difficult autopsy findings to make. I paused for a moment and then asked, “Am I correctt, Dr. Herzog, that you disagree with Dr. Gonzalez on this point?” He became enraged! He got up from the witness chair andlunged toward me. He accused me to the Court of unfairness and trickery. Lt. Harper, the JAG officer, had to calm him down.

I continued with similar questions on Dr. Gonzalez’ opinions as to the need for an internal examination of the throat, for an alcohol blood test and for checking for a possible hyoid bone fracture. His answers were jumbled and amounted to grudging admissions that he could possibly be have been wrong on some of his opinions.

Whether he thought he might be confronted by Dr. Gonzalez’ opinions again, I don’t know, but he agreed that a severe blow at the base of the skull could interfere with breathing and cause death from lack of oxygen. This was obviously important support for our alternative theory. When his testimony was over, Lt. Herzog left abruptly, without acknowledging the Court, the JAG officer or any one else.

We had no witnesses to call. The two sailors could have added little or nothing and to put them on the stand were they would be cross-examined could have been disastrous. It was the prosecution’s burden to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. We decided to rest our case and advised the Court that we had no proof to offer. The Court adjourned for the night and scheduled final summations for the next morning.

After Mr. Harper and I concluded our closing arguments, the Court retired to deliberate and about three hours later returned with their decision of not guilty of murder but guilty of the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter. We won the big one and you could hear the gasps of relief from the boys and their counsel and see the tears in the boys’ eyes. They were sentenced to ten years. I wasn’t completely satisfied, of course. I had hoped to get them off with involuntary manslaughter where the sentence would have considerably less. But it was considered a big victory for the defendants by those who had been following the trial.

That night, Joe and some of his shipmates and I went to a place where we sat on pillows on the floor and the Japanese hostesses, attired in their colorful kimonos, kept our cups constantly filled with saki while they sang played little games (Nothing improper, I assure you) This got to be a little dull, so Joe disappeared and a several minutes later reappeared with a four piece Japanese band. This, with the additional Saki we had consumed, livened things up and we had a great time, thanks to Joe.

I was on my way back to the St. Paul the next day. It was an experience I’ll never forget. More than sixty years have passed since the Sasebo trial but I remember it more clearly than most of the hundreds of cases I’ve tried or heard, opinions I’ve written or appeals I’ve argued since that time.

A final thought. The Court was patient, conscientious and fair. They knew I was inexperienced and had been assigned this extremely important task of defending two sailors charged with murder. As I look back on it, I think they came to a just, well considered and, perhaps – in view of the damaging content of the confessions which they kept out – even a somewhat lenient decision.

Justice was done. The system had worked.