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‘Seven Stiff Charlie’
A UDT Navy Man Speaks on Service on Veterans Day


Mike is a tall, lean, leather-faced man of 78 years. His nose has been broken by a right cross or overhand right punch. He has his name tattooed between the knuckles of his right hand. He wears a Vietnam Veterans service cap. His remaining teeth on the top are yellowed. Mike’s two front teeth are missing from the bottom row. His hands are long-fingered with prominent knuckles. Mike never rises, but I’d say he is six foot four inches tall—could be Chuck Conner’s hillbilly cousin. We spoke in a bar on the Eastern Baltimore County waterfront.

Was born outside of Rochester New York. Got in trouble in school and the judge told me, I could go to war or go to prison. I was sixteen—prison, nah. War always sounded like fun. My old man was drinking at the bar—plenty in—so I took the parental agreement paper to him and said, “Hey, Pops, I got a job. They need your signature,” and he John Hancocked it.

Took basic and weapons and specialty in [camp’s name] California. Got my jump school in at Benning and Brag. Took survival training in [camp’s name] West Virginia. Certified UDT.

Got to see Bob, Hope Phillis Diller and Rachel Welch on their world tour in Sixty-Eight. In Sixty-Nine I had leave in Australia and got to see Olivia Newton John—what a woman.

Shipped out from California. Stationed in Guam, Philippines, Okinawa, Taiwan, Hong Kong—no shit, the British owned it but we were there. In Nam it was anywhere on river, the Brown Water Navy. We had the old World War II PT boats. We had twin fifty-calls. I gotta tell you they didn’t work worth shit whenever you were pushing upriver past rock apes—apes, fucking long-armed monkeys that live in the rocks. They were protecting themselves, constantly throwing rocks at our turrets. They told us not to fuck with the rock apes and some joker let loose with a fifty-call over their heads one day and there was no peace after that. The rocks would jam the turret and you have to clean them out. They like anything shiny, including the bolt of your weapon. They’re more curious than humans and want to know what that shiny stuff is about and you don’t want to be down range when they find out.

The most scared I ever was was pulling guard duty at night and hearing a black panther just beyond the perimeter, another time hearing a tiger growling. They had Fuck-You Lizards, like the insurance lizard, but they have a mating call in their throat that sounds like “Fuck You” so that’s what they called them. The deadliest animal was this snake that they had no anti-venom for and when it bit you it was Seven Six Charlie and you were with God. I did my two tours in Nam and stayed in twelve years.

I’m not from around here. I was homeless—the people called me Camp, because that’s what I do when I got no money. Until retirement I worked as an assistant horse trainer for forty years, helped [names a horse] win the Kentucky Derby. The VA sent me up here so I don’t have to camp out. But I could still survive in the woods—I’m a Yankee alright, but I’ve got skills thanks to UDT training.

Thought Crimes: Against the Goddess

Combat

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Survival

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