Thursday, October 20, 2016

Millions in U.S.A. were at Risk - An Open Letter from One Former Army Photographer to Another


Jim Whitcomb
Studio Houston Digital Photography
5401 Mitchelldale Suite B2
Houston, Texas 77092

or 152 Rainbow Dr
Livingston, TX 77399-1052

or 568 Savannah Park
Conroe, TX 77302

Phone 713 682 0067

A decade or so ago, I found an Internet published article that said you are a former official photographer for the 30th Artillery Brigade missile unit on Okinawa. I was searching the Internet for info about other former soldiers - like us - who had been stationed at the 30th Arty Bgde. There is a web site for the 30th Arty, and also personal 30th Arty history sites by veterans of the brigade. On those site's guest books, I posted entries asking if anyone remembers the 30th Arty photo lab that we each had worked in - during our separate tours of duty there. I need witnesses to the facts that the 30th was not authorized a photographer, we photographers were not issued any Army camera gear, could not order photo equipment and supplies through normal channels, and the photo lab was set up in a nuclear fallout emergency decontamination chamber for an underground communications bunker called, "The Mole Hole."

Military records can be used to prove what I say. I obtained a list for jobs of all personnel legally assigned to the 30th Artillery Brigade, and no photography MOS is listed. I also tried to obtain copies of Morning Reports and Unit Rosters from the National Personnel Records Center St. Louis, but I cannot afford the search fees. These efforts were made about a decade ago, and as per suggested somewhere online, I tried to get a university student of history to do the search for free. A student in a school near the records center. I emailed every address I could find for history professors, and others at those schools, but never received any replies. 

Morning Reports and Unit Rosters contain record of dates personnel arrived at the 30th, their MOS's/job titles, when soldiers left, etc.. With certain time period copies of the records, people can see some of how the brigade photographers were listed for the Army to see. Did they list my MOS as 84G20 Photo Lab Tech or still photographer? Was I put in as a mail clerk or some other cover? Were you earlier photographers written in every daily record as working in your original MOS or as a photographer MOS? 

I say that there is info in various Army records to prove the 30th had no right to have personal photographers. 

I watch a lot of history on TV and read about history. It is amazing what can be dug up from military records. No records from my time on Okinawa can show me having been legally assigned to the 30th, or issued photo gear, or regularly ordering and receiving photo supplies.  

To me, being the first Army photo school trained photographer assigned to the 30th Arty Bgde, it was like certain soldiers in the brigade had broken the book of Army Rules & Regulations right over my head - and those soldiers destroying rules and regulations in it. 

There I was at Ft. Monmouth, N.J., with an Army Photographic Laboratory Technician School issued 4x5 Graflex large film camera & full kit in a carry case, on my first day at photography school. Great gear to learn photography on, but impractical compared to 35MM cameras that were the professional photographers' popular choice in those times. Those Graflex kits stayed at the school, and I never saw any in use anywhere after that.   

When I first found your web site, and saw that you have been working with digital photography for years, I had been active in film photography and custom hand printing photos in a darkroom, and was just switching over to digital. The info on you revealed that you are - like me - an outdoorsman who likes to hunt and fish (I was a Maine Guide). The idea came to me that - after you would give a written statement to the Veterans Administration about that 30th Arty Bgde photographer situation - you could coach me some on digital; when I would go to Texas to pay for most of a hunting and/or fishing, plus photography, day or two we could go on in your part of the world. I only needed basic info on how digital differs from shooting film. I planned that to be after you helped me set my VA records straight as to the facts of the 30th Artillery Brigade Okinawa 'Official' Photographer & photo lab not being authorized.

That time I called you on the phone, we talked about our 30th Arty photographer experiences for over an hour. You recalled how we 30th Arty photographers were never issued camera gear, we could not order most of the supplies needed, and we could never normally advance in rank - due to there not being a slot for a photographer at the 30th.

Since then, I have emailed you, but you never replied.

On Okinawa, you maneuvered your way into a photographer position at the 30th Arty. I was sent there after enlisting for the Photo Lab Tech School course and graduating at the top of my class. Which earned me an advance in rank to Specialist 4th Class. Prior to basic training, I had 3 months inactive duty, so I could finish basic training when there was a Photo Lab Tech School slot open, then 7 months active duty in basic & school. 10 months and I'm an E 4 - that is quick advancement in rank. Only an excellent soldier could do that.

I sure was happy to receive orders to Okinawa. None of us in my basic training or photo school units wanted to be sent to Vietnam. Just underneath that, my greatest fear was to be stationed on the east coast, where I had lived my entire life up till going to Okinawa. I wanted to travel, live, work & serve my country about halfway around the world from East Coast U.S.A., which is right about where Okinawa is.

I was the first 30th Arty Bgde photographer who was trained by the Army. You previous ones were guys who came from other 30th Arty Bgde jobs, you wanted to be photographers, you willingly used the camera gear you purchased inexpensively on Okinawa, and you others were probably listed as working in your original MOS's job's in the brigade. This was explained to me by the 'photographer' whom I replaced. When I reached the 30th, there were two guys working as photographers - Swiggert and Medley. They were lousy and lazy at it, not much talent, and rarely showed up for work or printed what they had shot on their 30th Arty assignments. Years before you entered the service, your American Soldier father had gotten you that first decent camera, and you got into it with a lot of natural talent. You were a young world traveler destined to be the excellent photographer you are.

You told me you set up the 30th Arty's photo lab, and did good work there. The recent work on your website is absolutely superb. You're photography career is outstanding.

In a number of places on the Internet, I have posted written pieces about not being issued photo equipment or legally given photo supplies at the 30th Arty. Other military veterans have left comments saying I was supposed to "improvise & adapt" to do my 30th Arty photography job. At Photo Lab Tech School, we were taught to improvise & adapt. Ask the cooks for serving pans to use as print developer trays, dip negatives in helmet steel pots full of developer, stop bath, & fixer, and how to adjust photo chemical mixes to using swamp water, etc.. That, I was ready, willing and able to do. But a camera is a camera and nothing can replace it, film is film, photo paper is photo paper (can't use typing paper scrounged from clerks), chemicals for developing are what they are - these cannot be improvised & adapted from anything else.

From movies and TV shows about the military, I knew about military scrounging, supply sergeant finagling, and midnight requisitioning (swipe it from another Army unit). You grew up with your dad in the Army, and you were an enlisted man who was good friends with, regularly shot pool with, some of the highest ranking officers on Okinawa. Indicating to me your father was a popular officer in the Army. You knew how to get what you needed outside normal channels. Especially when the 30th wouldn't give you an advance in rank and that general, whom you shot pool with, forced the 30th to advance you and before the orders even came through the general even pinned the new higher rank on your uniform for you.

I had no experience there. I knew no one who could get me photo supplies outside normal channels, and the supply sergeant could only requisition out of date film, paper and chemicals other unit photographers would not, rightfully, use. No camera gear was issued me at all. I used my personal, Okinawa purchased, professional grade camera - a 35MM Pentax Spotmatic - with out of date film that sometimes produced unusable negatives from Army assignments. I then had to inform my superiors the work was ruined by out of date film. My dedicated shooting done well, which I wanted to give my comrades nice prints of, but had been screwed up by no fought of my own. Several times there was no film, so I used my money to buy some at the PX.

The worst part for me is the location of our photo lab in a nuclear fallout emergency  decontamination chamber in the underground communications bunker/fallout shelter known as "The Mole Hole." Remember how perfect it was for a photo lab? With its door to the outside that was always padlocked on both sides. Soldiers assigned to man the communications equipment, and who had lived through a nuclear blast, but had nuclear snow on them, were to step into the first tiny room, take off their clothing, step into a one person sized shower, then step out the other side of it into a small room/good sized janitor's closet, be handed fresh uniform clothing and then be allowed into the main part of the bunker. 

The photo lab adaptation had black drapes hung down like shower curtains for into one side and out the other side of the shower. That way, we could part the drapes on one side, step into the shower space, close the drapes behind us, then open the other drapes and into the other room - so as to not allow light into the darkroom.

Our tall, heavy, work table for the photo enlarger and developing trays blocked the padlocked outside access door to the chamber, with us always entering the Mole Hole through the main door - a heavy vaulted door - then down the entrance hall a little to the left was the inside access door to the lab. Had there been nuclear attack on the Island of Okinawa, the double padlocked door had to be unlocked and opened, the enlarger table, the refrigerator in there where we stored film, paper and chemicals, would have had to be moved out to allow assigned personnel into the decontamination showers for the bunker. Photographers were not part of the communications and command crew, so we would have had to leave and die of radiation poisoning out there.

All while other unassigned GIs out there were trying to force their way in, a few most likely trying to hand their children in to the guys guarding that enlarger room door. Denying entry to unauthorized, panicking personnel mobbed up outside the doorway. GIs would have been brutally fighting each other for a chance to get inside the bunker, where crates of supplies, uniforms, etc. were always kept in case a nuclear attack forced assigned personnel to stay in there for two weeks. In there, they were to communicate with all branches of the U.S. Military about defensive and offensive moves against an enemy attacking the U.S.A. from China. Okinawa is extremely well located for that task - being centered hundreds of miles off the coast of China. 

But having the decontamination chamber compromised, such as it was, personnel inside were likely to be contaminated with nuclear snow coming in with other personnel, and everyone may have gotten sick and died. In that probable scenario, the communications crew would not be able to warn other U.S Military of subsequent attacking aircraft or missiles passing over the Okinawa area heading for the United States. Which could very well have lead to millions of Americans at home being wiped out. I have never fully recovered from the trauma of learning what the photo lab meant to our nation's chain of defense and the guilt of being part of weakening an important link in that chain of defense.

The guilt and shame I am saddled with - to this day - holds me far down below what I am capable of accomplishing. Guilt and shame that the United States Army - my beloved country's military - would commit such crimes. Guilt and shame that I did not do more than reach a point where I refused to be a part
of their illegal & immoral use of United States Government properties. All members of the military are government properties, so that includes me back then, along with the Mole Hole decontamination chamber and all the photo lab's photography equipment and supplies.

Had I contacted the media, that would have led to America's enemies knowing about a weak link in our chain of defense. Such a story being told would be good for enemy morale and bad for ours.  

Had I informed the Department of the Army or my senator or congressman, whether anything was done to end the 30th Arty's use of a photo lab and photographers, I faced certain retaliation from certain personnel of the 30th Arty. Anything from making my pay records disappear - so I could not be paid - to transferring me to the most miserable, out there in the loneliest nowhere good to be duty station the Army had or to Vietnam as a marked man who would be sent into hell holes from where few return alive. In the military, all around the world forever & always, retaliation against whistleblowers can be deadly to the person bringing dark hearted facts into the light.

I was 20-years-old. What 20-year-old can go up against such military power?  

On Okinawa in 1970, on assignment with my - personally purchased - 35MM Pentax Spotmatic, during change of command ceremonies. That was in front of Gunners' Gym, which was part of and across the street from the 30th Arty Bgde Headquarters Battery office building (not seen), and that's our three story barracks in the background. All of the brigade's highest officers, and most of their family on Okinawa, were there waiting for the rest of the 30th Bgde soldiers to come marching past in review.

There was never any training of assigned personnel for using the decontamination chamber. This indicates that the higher ups figured it would never be used for what it was designed to do. The 30th Arty Bgde changed brigade commanders, while I was there. I rode with the new commander, a full bird colonel, to his command inspections of all 13 missile sites, and the ordinance unit. He inspected headquarters and the Mole Hole last. When the new colonel inspected the photo lab, he greeted me with the warm smile he usually gave everyone, he looked in, then I expected him to be briefed on the decontamination chamber by the head of the section.

I was certain, really certain, that the colonel's decontamination chamber briefing was to be my ticket out to another unit - where I could get my job done with all Army issued gear, equipment and supplies. But no one said anything about him as brigade commander coming in through the decontamination chamber to stay in the fallout shelter for two weeks - after a nuclear attack. The colonel was a damned good man, whom I had been pleased to be developing a good working relationship with. The Army had trained me to be a soldier, then trained me to be a photographer, and as soldiers I'd have stepped in front of incoming rounds to protect my commanding officer. Tragically for me, though, the colonel - whom I still hold the utmost regard for - politely turned and left without any Mole Hole personnel telling him about decontamination. My very soul shattered. Fucking shattered.

It hasn't ever healed back completely together again. Never will.

This was before I knew it was all bullshit about the 30th Arty actually doing an important job in the Free World's chain of defense.

Previously, I had applied for a transfer out to another unit on the island, because I sure did love the adventure of being there in the Orient, wild times with my GI buddies, a good & welcomed half way 'round the world from the East Coast of America - where I had lived my life before Okinawa. The inter-island transfer was denied. A clerk in the headquarters unit CO's office said, "You can't get the inter-island transfer, because you're too valuable. But! If you want a transfer to Vietnam, we can get you there within two weeks."

What that clerk meant by me being too valuable was, the hole in the system they had pulled me the trained photographer through had closed. It was a matter of paperwork kept from being seen by certain personnel along the line who'd know the 30th was not authorized a photographer and stamp the request denied.

That 30th Arty CO Office clerk was an E 6 Staff Sergeant who had nearly 10 years of service in, but had not himself been to Vietnam. That type of lifer knew how to avoid Vietnam. Most of the 30th Arty lifers were like that. I didn't understand how they could be in the military for a 20 to 30 year hitch, during 5 years already of war, and not at least want to go there and, as flashed through my mind, "See what the action is."

And his Vietnam transfer offer inferred I should shut up and keep producing photos of the cadre and officers, at work and play, for them to have copies of, or they'd make me take my chances in the war zone. If they could finagle me into their Army unit, they could finagle me out to Nam without me asking for a transfer to Vietnam.

The situation with lack of proper photography equipment & supplies was unbearable. A few weeks after I was not given the inter-island transfer, I decided to apply for the transfer to Vietnam. That evening, I had a friend drive to the PX for two cases of cold beer. We came back to the barracks, I gathered up everyone around who felt like drinking some beer, handed each guy a cold one, opened mine, took a sip, then told them this was my going away party, because I was putting in for a transfer to Vietnam in the morning, and then as soon as it would come through, in a week or two, I had to pack up and head out. They instantly became darkly morose and looked away from me. Most of the 8 or 9 GIs there, several were good friends the others I did not know well or at all, most would not even look at or speak to me.

Unbeknownst to me, three of them had recently completed tours of Vietnam. One Nam Vet began to speak harshly at me, one would only utter agreements with the other on spoken points and sternly (combat survival stern) glance over at me, the other Nam Vet neither made a sound nor would look at me, intensely holding his face away from me against the wall. Combat vets in Vietnam did not want to know FNGs - Fukin New Guys - so the vets would not be affected badly by the inexperienced FNG getting killed. I have the brutal details of what was said written out and published elsewhere, I will not bring it up here, but I am lucky to have had them 8 or 9 guys all together convince me to not put in for that transfer to Nam. I let them know they had convinced me not to volunteer, and it became a pleasant evening of beer drinking and friendship solidifying story swapping.

The most terrifying experience in my life happened at a missile firing practice event, when a launched Hawk Missile nearly fell back down. There was a viewing area set up, with bleachers for spectators. One young GI came in with his young wife and their newborn baby, plus an other soldier's wife and small child. That was a heart warming scene to see, and I took a photo of them. They sat on the bleachers with the other people there. Behind them were Army trailers where 30th Arty missile men were working. The top ranks were over to the left of that in a plywood hut that was partly dug into the side of a hill, where they could get the best view of the day, while one was on a loudspeaker announcing for the day's activities. The hut had a little deck on the front, where I was sitting and shooting film, when the errant missile went up.

The Hawk shot up about 100 ft., began to sputter & stall, leaned a tad bit backwards towards us spectators, and we were terrified that the engine was going to kick back in as the bird went backwards at an angle towards the bleachers. I can never forget the collective, horrified, gasp that came up from us all together. I did not waste a split second taking a photo, as my entire self zeroed in on the wobbling missile, because if it did shoot down into the spectators, I instantly planned to dive over to the side of that hut and hill, where I'd be protected from potential shrapnel from the Hawk possibly exploding in the bleachers.

My instincts clearly defined the next necessary action as, "As soon as it explodes, jump back up and run over to give the 1st first aid to the baby, and by that horrific moment later, other survivors will be running in from every direction to also give first aid to anyone injured and still alive."

Then the Hawk's engine kicked in full power, the bird actually sort of shuffled in place for a long second, as it regained a lock on the target drone being towed past out over the sea, and the missile flew away from our direction. Collectively, we were never more relieved in our lives.

On Okinawa, in the 30th Arty Headquarters' barracks, where we lived, my buddies could see I had eventually become upset and depressed. One evening, when I talked about the whole situation with a group of them I was hanging out with, one guy said, "You worry too much about it. You don't know that our missiles are obsolete. The newest enemy aircraft are fast enough to fly into Okinawan air space and drop bombs quicker than our missiles can be fired. If there is a nuclear attack, we're all gonna die. Fukit, man, don't mean nuthin."

On another day, while on photo assignment at a missile site, I asked a section leader sergeant buddy of mine if it was true that the missiles were obsolete. His, moral devastating, reply was,"You saw what happened at the missile firing practice. Remember the announcer giving two countdowns then announcing hold on folks they have to fix a problem. It took us three tries to get the one Hawk up. Then that other Hawk nearly fell back down on us. Not only are they obsolete, I can take you down into my section and show you that a third of my birds can't even fly. The missiles need parts that I ordered, but the Army won't send them to me."

"Besides that, before we can be authorized to shoot a plane down, we have to have visual conformation from an Air Force pilot that the unidentified blip on our radar is an enemy flight. (the sergeant shifts his weight in the chair uncomfortably, obviously sickened by the 30th Arty facts walking around in his head) One time, we had an unidentified blip coming our way across the ocean. I called Kadena (Air Force Base) to have a fighter jet go up to check the blip, and they said their fighter jets were all either on missions over Vietnam or way out on practice runs. So - 15 minutes later - the Air Force finally gets an unarmed cargo plane & crew up. They fly out and see that the blip is a small prop plane with two guys in it. It turned out that the pilot was a missionary from the Philippines with a friend he was taking along on a trip to Japan, and their radio had conked out. FIFTEEN MINUTES! If it had been an enemy jet, somebody here on Okinawa would have been bombed that day."

"Crews, man, don't let this crap get to you. It ain't worth it. We can't do anything about it. I'm just puttin' in my time, then I'm going home to Texas and forget about it and go on with my life. You do the same, brother, you'll be alright."

He had something going for him that I didn't: he was legally assigned there, could at least order equipment and supplies, and advance in rank if doing a good job. And he did not fear being in the small rooms of the photo lab/decontamination chamber when nukes hit but might not kill everyone at once, and I would have had to hustle my photo lab out of the way as GIs were fighting each other to get in to the decontamination showers to be safe in the well stocked fallout shelter while the radiation outside subsided. Me being not authorized to stay in there after any attack, I had pictured myself walking out with other GIs' M16s or 45Cals pointed at my back as I fended off other unauthorized GIs who might be going insane while possibly begging the armed guys behind me to at least take some GIs' babies inside.

Later, a double punch to my gut thoroughly devastated me. One: I was on photo assignment up at the officers' club for a brigade officers' wives' fashion show. One young wife leaned into another and gleefully said, "You know, of coarse, that the missiles are obsolete."

Those gleefully smiling wives did not care about the missiles being obsolete, because their husbands being assigned to the 30th Arty Bgde meant those men did not have to serve in Vietnam.

Two: In emails I sent you, I told you I had also located a former lieutenant of mine, and he had once gotten me ten crates of Marine Corp photo paper (he claims not to remember). Paper I could not use due to it not being compatible with the lab's safelight. Then I had so many Marine Corp marked crates of paper that I had no place to hide them from being seen by someone who might get me busted for it.

So there I was - angry as can be at the 30th Arty and their wives, and me with no paper to print photos on. That was the end of my time as 30th Arty photographer.

The 30th Arty photo lab, to me, was a weak link in America's chain of defense. Until GI buddies informed me otherwise. Then I began living with the knowledge that -  nuclear defensively speaking - the entire 30th Artillery Brigade on Okinawa was worthless.

Written scientific articles from the 1960s, republished on the Internet, confirm that the Nike Hercules Missiles (some with nuclear warheads) we had were obsolete - due to Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles becoming the best delivery system for nuclear war heads. Hercs were for shooting down enemy planes. Eventually, Hercs worldwide were taken offline. We had the Hawk Missiles too, and they were deployed for years afterwards, but had been upgraded and still suffered performance problems.

Do a web search for Nike and Hawk missiles, the info is on a respectable number of web sites.

I had grown up knowing I'd eventually serve in the American Military. Always willing to defend my country & the Free World. The same as 99.99% of us who served. Then I was made official photographer for the 30th Artillery Brigade - a unit where no soldier was actually doing anything for that defense.

Now, how-in-the-flyin-fuk could I come out of that overwhelming shit with 'all systems intact'? 

I didn't. No caring person could. It nearly destroyed me. It caused my life many problems and much pain. Still does.

Along the way, comments have been made to me that I should just be grateful I wasn't sent to Vietnam and to forget the whole 30th Arty thing. That is saying I should either consider it extortion I had to pay or a bribe willingly paid by me to the 30th Artillery Brigade for me staying out of Vietnam. I am neither type of person. I would not allow them to take it all from me, nor would I willingly pay it - the costs of camera equipment plus film & photo paper & other photo equipment & supplies needed to continue working as the 30th Arty photographer.

After I ran out of photo paper, I refused to go buy photo supplies anymore, and was transferred over to Gunners' Gym - to hand out basketballs and tennis shoes to GIs playing games there. A waste of my military training and photographic accomplishments - I had made a lot of brigade soldiers happy to have photo prints of them and their comrades to keep and send home. The end of which sent me sinking further down into the depression that began the third day I was in the 30th Arty, when Swiggert told me he was officially a clerk, not a photographer, there was no slot for a photographer - we could not advance in rank, and he had explained the facts of how the decontamination chamber was converted to use as our photo lab.

Above is the most recent Google Earth image of where the former 30th Artillery Brigade Headquarters area on Okinawa was. Where the U.S. Army Post at Sukiran once was. The 30th Arty Bgde headquarters office building is marked HHQ. The driveway in the front of the building goes to the parking lot where soldiers working in the offices parked. 

The driveway to the south of the building goes to a south side door of the office building, where the brigade commander's driver parked, and opposite that is where the entrance to the underground communications bunker - called the Mole Hole - is. Where the 30th Arty photo lab was. 

Across the street to the left are the large parking lots for the old Gunners' Gym, PX retail shops, and special services buildings (personal music practice, crafts with rocks and gems, leather, etc). The gym was where the grass area is that has the wide white cement gym entrance walk that was under an overhanging front roof on the gym - marked GG. South across that street, catty cornered to the old office building, is the old 30th Arty Headquarters Company barracks - marked B. 

That is all Marine Corp now, has always been military, so Google Street View is not available nor is good 3D of it. Therefore, I cannot confirm that the underground bunker is still in that hillside. But it was originally designed to be undetectable by low flying enemy pilots, and the way that grass is mowed makes me think it is still a hill with an underground bunker. 

About a decade ago, I phoned Gunners' Gym, and spoke with a Marine on duty there. He told me that the Mole Hole was still there and had metal bars welded across the entrance so no one could go in. If that underground bunker is still there, it would not take much for someone to legally enter and verify that it is set up like I say. That tall, heavy table, which held the photo enlarger and developer trays, may still be there, but I doubt the place has much of anything in it. The only important fact to verify is that the nuclear fallout decontamination shower is there where we used it as a light safe entry to the tiny enlarger room.

I work as hard as I can, today, web publishing over ten thousand - internationally appreciated - photos and videos, plus hundreds of written pieces, and creating a bunch of free blogs/poor man's web sites. Simply web search my screen name ursusdave to find it all. My Flickr photo sharing account enjoys the most Internet traffic, with 10,000+ photos & videos receiving more than 2,749,794 combined hits. This after decades of struggling, stumbling, rarely producing any photography, always and still withdrawn from society to some degree, dogged by debilitating depression, seeking and receiving mental health care that sometimes got me somewhere. A decade and a half ago, I took photography and writing classes at a community college, and that has brought me to the somewhere I am today. Barely surviving on a meager non-service connected disability pension from the VA. The VA acknowledges my depression, but not its actual root cause from being illegally assigned as a photographer to the 30th Artillery Brigade working in an unauthorized photo lab that created a weak link in out country's chain of defense - endangering the lives of millions of Americans.

Ever since the early 1970's, I have told various amounts of these 30th Arty facts to various VA employees - doctors and councilors and such. They either do not believe me or don't care.

What I have published on the World Wide Web proves that I love photography work, and do it well. Including becoming a master craftsman at publishing my photography and writings on the web. Unfortunately, I do not make money at it. I now only have one inexpensive digital camera. I sorely miss the creative control and photo quality afforded by using professional camera equipment.

It has all been rough on me, my family, friends, women I shared love with, some bosses, some co-workers, also some acquaintances, plus others along the way.

Years ago, two younger cousins of mine once said their dad told them I had "come out of the Army sort of shell shocked." My uncle knew I had not been in combat, but "shell shocked" was a close explanation of what happened.

What it is, is, I came out 'shit shocked'.

The VA says I have "adjustment disorder", which is a lie. Something to keep me from receiving service connected disability benefits. According to the VA definition of adjustment disorder it begins when a person cannot adjust to new surroundings, and usually lasts for several months of the person not doing well in their new place in life. But my Army records clearly show that I had no problems until I was at the 30th Arty for several months. Upon arriving I easily began plenty of good friendships, and I loved being on an Asian island. Not only that, I was a suburban/urban kid from Baltimore who had moved to the woods of Maine at 18 and fit right in, and that was two very different life styles that I did well in. As an adult, I have lived in various places always fitting right in. Adjustment disorder I do not now have or have ever had.

I did have a nervous breakdown of some sort. On October 20, 1970, in my barracks room at Headquarters Battery 30th Artillery Brigade, I had grown so frustrated and angry at the illegality and immorality of being assigned as brigade photographer that I put my fist through a window. I cut a tendon in my right arm and was given an Article 15 punishment for damaging Army property. The company commander said it wasn't because I broke the Army's window, it was because I injured myself and I was Army property. His facial expression & body language revealed sincere empathy for me, and he was only punishing me because he had to.

Those are my conduct and efficiency ratings, with the casual conduct of May-June 70 when I was on leave between Photographic Laboratory Technician School and Okinawa. It all turned bad when I had had enough of the 30th Arty neither equipping nor supplying my photo work, and the photo lab negating the intended use of the nuclear fallout emergency decontamination chamber. When I began refusing to use my own funds to purchase film and photo paper for 30th Arty assignments. Using personal funds to complete Army assignments is against the law.

I was a verified excellent soldier, until after I was - illegally - assigned to the 30th Arty Bgde as a photographer.

Jim, I need you to write me a statement of the facts and send it to me. I need that for the VA. Just stick to what we talked about on the phone, what you know it was to have the photo lab set up and not being able to order equipment or supplies through normal channels. No slot for a photographer. The lab was in the Mole Hole decontamination chamber.

When I called you on the phone, about a decade ago, I could have recorded the call. Two things stopped me. One is it is illegal. But I doubt a judge would have punished me much at all for that - considering what my intent was and how unlikely it is to hurt you for you to tell the truth. I'm not concerned you'd sue me, because I barley survive down below the poverty line and own nothing of any considerable resale value. Two is that I did not care to offend you by clandestinely recording you.

One or two hundred times a year, since that call, I swore and swore and swore and swore to myself that I was going to ask for your help by you simply writing a short statement on my behalf. But the emotional wounds and trauma - brought on by 30th Arty's illegal actions against me - is like a rusting old bayonet stuck into a forever festering wound in my back. It hurts like hell, especially when I try to do something about it.

In 2014, a news story came out about U.S. Air Force missile launch officers cheating on tests. Learning about that made me feel ill. Because my 30th Arty experiences taught me that such nuclear nonsense does indeed happen, and I know it can never all be known all the wrong that is done by members of our military which weakens our defense systems. Our nation's enemies plan, train and probe for ways to take advantage of our weak spots. 

How could any person ever get all the way over knowing they were partly responsible for maintaining a weak link in our country's chain of defense? Which could have allowed our enemies to kill millions of our citizens. I was a 20-year-old, healthy, patriotic, hard working, talented, skilled, young American man, deeply troubled to learn of the 30th Arty photo lab being a serious hindrance to using the decontamination chamber.

I figure that you knew the missiles were nothing much - or outright worthless - in the necessary defense of the Free World, and that the 30th Arty photo lab in a decontamination chamber wasn't going to cause any defense problems. By the time I found that out, there had been months of reasonable anxiety, depression, sleep disorder, anger, too much of which has never left me.

Every few months, I check your web site to see if you are still alive. You are, and I need your help. I will find a way to properly thank you.

All I need from you is a short written statement of facts that the 30th Artillery Brigade on Okinawa was not authorized a photographer, the brigade photographer was not issued photographic equipment, could not order supplies required to do the assignments - they had to be scrounged/finagled, there was no slot for a photographer thereby there was no regular advancing in rank for 30th Arty photographers, and our photo lab was set up in the nuclear fallout emergency decontamination chamber of an underground communications bunker.

It is my right to establish the truth about my military history. 
Every order given me at the 30th Arty was illegal. This may not convince the VA to award me the earned - service connected - disability benefits. It may clear my name for my family and friends to know what I experienced at the 30th Arty Bgde was completely against U.S. Army Rules and Regulations.

What is found by web searching my screen name - ursusdave - reveals that I am good at photography, writing and web publishing and I work hard at it.

You are a well established, excellent photographer and successful businessman. Your honest words will carry some weight, and help me move up out of an adult lifetime lived below the poverty level. 

A sincere thank you from,

Photography and Writings by
David Robert Crews

{a.k.a. ursusdave}