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Navy Reserve duty on Harbor Drive – not My Lai, but pretty sordid

They also serve who only sit

George Bacon was unshakably naive. He had spent three years of active duty as a Navy officer and still he was astonished to see what he saw when he later joined the Navy Reserve. Maybe he was just a victim of circumstances. His first tour of active duty on a river boat north of Danang — the young lieutenant who had been his boss had let Ensign Bacon include in his duties teaching Vietnamese sailors to speak English and helping a 25-year-old Buddhist monk build an elementary school just south of the DMZ. Bacon saw Vietcong atrocities, saw his South Vietnamese sailor friends wounded, and when he himself was wounded as the North Vietnamese attacked his boat with homemade grenades, his world view, and his view of the Navy as a purely honorable profession, was only reinforced. While he was later stationed at the Naval Amphibious School in Coronado, the Navy paid him enough money eventually to buy a duplex in Mission Beach, it provided him with a large group of easy friends, and it was later to provide him with G.I. Bill money for graduate school. When Bacon left the Navy as a lieutenant junior grade in 1971, he did so reluctantly.

Bacon felt that the Reserves were the best way to ease the pain of cutting his umbilicus to the Navy. Besides, it was $120 a month, just for one weekend a month. Some of his friends encouraged him to join a local Reserve group called I.U.W. (Inshore Undersea Warfare). “That's where all our old friends are. It's a great unit. Lotsa kicks. It's the most active Navy Reserve unit in San Diego... the summer duty is in Hawaii." Even when Bacon went down to the Naval Reserve Center on Harbor Drive and Nimitz, the lieutenant commander assigned to counsel him advised him to try I.U.W. “Yeah, that's the place for you. I just went to their picnic last week. It was a real gas."

So he tried I.U.W. The first weekend meeting he attended, everyone was very friendly. The other officers shook his hand, the enlisted men said, “Welcome aboard, sir. Glad to have you aboard."

Later the first day — Saturday Bacon rode out with part of the group to an area near the Point Loma lighthouse to see some of the unit's harbor defense equipment. While waiting for the van with sensitive electrical gear to establish communication with some of the patrol boats off the Point, he spent several hours listening to two lieutenants and a lieutenant commander discuss San Diego's economy. One of them owned part of a trailer park in National City and taught in the San Diego city schools, another was an underwriter for Fireman's Insurance and owned a hamburger stand in Imperial Beach, the third was an accountant who held part interest in a restaurant soon opening up in Hillcrest. Well, these people were pretty interesting after all. In the middle of the conversation, while the group was sitting down to eat box lunches, a helicopter made a few passes near the lighthouse. One of the lieutenant commanders chuckled. “Old Frank really was able to pry loose a helo to take some pictures of us. Oh, brother!"

By the time the next weekend drill came up. Bacon had been assigned the job of assistant boat officer. “That's not a bad job, George. The further away you stay from Stevenson (the Commanding Officer) the better off you are. If you hang around here, they'll give you paperwork to do." The boat job seemed like a lot of fun, too. Steaming through San Diego Bay, releasing sono-buoys into the water near Zuniga Point at North Island, and enjoying the fresh air. George was bothered by the fact that some of the men really stunk of whiskey, though, and he wondered about the case of beer he saw in the hold of the patrol craft.

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The next few weekend drills were uneventful. There were several conferences, some just officers, some officers and enlisted. The officers and chief petty officers got up in front and discussed morale, haircuts, plans for the coming year, organization for hours and hours and hours. The rest of the time was called “Department Training" on the Plan of the Day, which meant that there was nothing to do but make oneself scarce. One lieutenant snuck into a room in an adjacent building to read his Sunday L.A. Times. A couple of lieutenant commanders slithered over to the Naval Training Center to play paddleball. A boatswain's mate invited his friends to join him in the back of his camper to play gin rummy.

On Saturday morning of the fifth weekend, while everyone was still standing in formation just after colors, the Commanding Officer made a speech about our I.U.W. being the first in the nation. There had been, it turned out, nationwide competition between Reserve units based on a total number of points earned. Points were earned by the individuals' drill attendance, advancement, re -enlistment, percentage of the unit attending the two-weeks summer drill, and soon. Our unit, I.U.W'. 11-3, was leading all other I.U.W. units in the country in points. But things were very close. So close that I.U.W. 11-1, the other I.U.W. unit in the naval district, looked to be forging ahead. So everyone had to work very hard.

The commanding officer called Lieutenant Bacon into his office. Standing between the commanding officer and the executive officer. Bacon was told that his job as boat officer was of little importance now. What really mattered was his otherwise-unimportant job as Public Affairs Officer.

“We need publicity. That's how we're going to win that competition. We gotta be noticed." The executive officer looked seriously into Bacon's eyes, and then glanced at the commanding officer. “Lieutenant Bacon, this Public Affairs job is what's going to make Commander Stevenson here a full Captain, it's going to make me a Commander, and it's going to make you a Lieutenant Commander."

And thus began George Bacon's most intense period of disillusionment. He'd read about the Peter Principle and Parkinson's Law and he knew the Navy, like any other large organization, was rife with petty bureaucrats, card punchers, and empire builders. But to see the process so magnified, so close at hand, was hard to stomach.

Lieutenant Jones, the unit's Personnel Officer, had been a friend of Lieutenant Bacon's since they were both on active duty in Coronado together. They had both gone to small Midwestern colleges and had both been on small boats in Vietnam. But Lieutenant Jones somehow found it easier to get along with others. His advice about I.U.W. was to play “their game," to always say yessir, yessir, and stay out of the way. It's only a weekend, and it's a lot of money for one weekend. It was Lieutenant Jones w ho came into the Commanding Officer's office one day to report to the C.O. the number of re -enlistments; These re-enlistments were made by encouraging sailors to get out and then re-enlist, a sleight of hand, of paperwork. Bacon was also sitting in the C.O.'s office one day when the C.O. was telling some of his sailors who couldn't go to Hawaii on summer duty to drop out of I.U.W. temporarily. He could then transfer other sailors into the unit who could go to Hawaii and push I.U.W.'s point count even higher. Then he would transfer the original sailors back in. Lieutenant Jones, as the months before the end of point competition got fewer and fewer, began to complain, “God, I wish the C.O. would lay off and settle for second place. If we come in first, sure as hell they're going to investigate us!"

One Sunday was almost entirely devoted to getting a good picture of Commander Stevenson shaking hand's with a two-star admiral who was coming down from Long Beach. The unit's assets, including the IUW control van, the patrol boats, and even the UDT divers, were gathered on a point at the Point Loma submarine base. Almost all of the unit's officers were there, other officers from other Reserve units were invited, and a contingent of Junior NROTC high schoolers were on hand. The Admiral finally arrived in his dress white uniform, pictures were taken here and pictures were taken there, but unfortunately for Commander Stevenson, the pictures never came out. The special photographer, a Chief Davis, never arrived. Chief Davis, a publicity photographer for Rohr Industries, belonged to an air reserve unit, but Commander Stevenson had promised him a free trip to Hawaii, at the Navy's expense, if he would come to important IUW events and photograph them. This Sunday, Stevenson had to rely on one of his own men, whose specialty happened to be porno-photography, and the pictures were all out of focus.

None of Chief Davis' pictures were out of focus and he did manage to photograph IUW members on the unit's more productive weekends. Eventually the C.O. handed Davis' completed photos to Bacon and said he expected to see a lot of stories in the San Diego media soon. The C.O. and the executive officer both threatened Bacon's drill pay status if nothing “started happening." Bacon started writing simple stories about what a great unit I.U.W. was and how exciting summer duty in Hawaii was. And to be sure the stories appeared in the right place he made sure to get copies of every story to the Navy Dispatch. Most papers in San Diego were desperate for filler stories but especially the Navy Dispatch; the IUW stories, which always got printed, looked somehow very appropriate above the ads for Shirley's Shiek Massage.

Bacon began to ask his fellow officers in the unit if things were really as political as they seemed. One's relations with senior officers in the unit and even with officers above the C.O. in the Reserve chain of command seemed to matter most. And often, at the all-officer conferences, there would be great sighing and gnashing of teeth by the C.O. about his superiors in the Reserve chain of command — the Group Commander and his staff. “The only reason they haven't kicked me out of the unit," another lieutenant confided to Bacon “is that I have connections on the Group staff and the C.O. knows it. He doesn't dare kick me out." The emphasis on politics and the use of blown-up publicity to forge ahead politically seemed revolting to Bacon. “It's not like My Lai or anything/' he told another junior officer, “but the whole business is pretty sordid." And he kept feeding stories to the Navy Dispatch.


On Saturday, November 17, just a month after Bacon was told by the C.O. that he was transferring him to another unit, as soon as the paperwork for a transfer could be processed, IUW 11-3, Stevenson's unit, was named the “number one IUW unit in the country." The ceremony held at the Naval Training Center, was ornamented with the usual military pomp and attended by the usual dignitaries. Mayor Wilson praised the honored units and stressed the importance of the Navy Reserve. The only disclaimer were the occasional smiles on the faces of some of the IUW officers and a comment whispered by one of the enlisted men, “God, if we're number one, the best in the country. I'd sure as hell hate to see the worst."

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George Bacon was unshakably naive. He had spent three years of active duty as a Navy officer and still he was astonished to see what he saw when he later joined the Navy Reserve. Maybe he was just a victim of circumstances. His first tour of active duty on a river boat north of Danang — the young lieutenant who had been his boss had let Ensign Bacon include in his duties teaching Vietnamese sailors to speak English and helping a 25-year-old Buddhist monk build an elementary school just south of the DMZ. Bacon saw Vietcong atrocities, saw his South Vietnamese sailor friends wounded, and when he himself was wounded as the North Vietnamese attacked his boat with homemade grenades, his world view, and his view of the Navy as a purely honorable profession, was only reinforced. While he was later stationed at the Naval Amphibious School in Coronado, the Navy paid him enough money eventually to buy a duplex in Mission Beach, it provided him with a large group of easy friends, and it was later to provide him with G.I. Bill money for graduate school. When Bacon left the Navy as a lieutenant junior grade in 1971, he did so reluctantly.

Bacon felt that the Reserves were the best way to ease the pain of cutting his umbilicus to the Navy. Besides, it was $120 a month, just for one weekend a month. Some of his friends encouraged him to join a local Reserve group called I.U.W. (Inshore Undersea Warfare). “That's where all our old friends are. It's a great unit. Lotsa kicks. It's the most active Navy Reserve unit in San Diego... the summer duty is in Hawaii." Even when Bacon went down to the Naval Reserve Center on Harbor Drive and Nimitz, the lieutenant commander assigned to counsel him advised him to try I.U.W. “Yeah, that's the place for you. I just went to their picnic last week. It was a real gas."

So he tried I.U.W. The first weekend meeting he attended, everyone was very friendly. The other officers shook his hand, the enlisted men said, “Welcome aboard, sir. Glad to have you aboard."

Later the first day — Saturday Bacon rode out with part of the group to an area near the Point Loma lighthouse to see some of the unit's harbor defense equipment. While waiting for the van with sensitive electrical gear to establish communication with some of the patrol boats off the Point, he spent several hours listening to two lieutenants and a lieutenant commander discuss San Diego's economy. One of them owned part of a trailer park in National City and taught in the San Diego city schools, another was an underwriter for Fireman's Insurance and owned a hamburger stand in Imperial Beach, the third was an accountant who held part interest in a restaurant soon opening up in Hillcrest. Well, these people were pretty interesting after all. In the middle of the conversation, while the group was sitting down to eat box lunches, a helicopter made a few passes near the lighthouse. One of the lieutenant commanders chuckled. “Old Frank really was able to pry loose a helo to take some pictures of us. Oh, brother!"

By the time the next weekend drill came up. Bacon had been assigned the job of assistant boat officer. “That's not a bad job, George. The further away you stay from Stevenson (the Commanding Officer) the better off you are. If you hang around here, they'll give you paperwork to do." The boat job seemed like a lot of fun, too. Steaming through San Diego Bay, releasing sono-buoys into the water near Zuniga Point at North Island, and enjoying the fresh air. George was bothered by the fact that some of the men really stunk of whiskey, though, and he wondered about the case of beer he saw in the hold of the patrol craft.

Sponsored
Sponsored

The next few weekend drills were uneventful. There were several conferences, some just officers, some officers and enlisted. The officers and chief petty officers got up in front and discussed morale, haircuts, plans for the coming year, organization for hours and hours and hours. The rest of the time was called “Department Training" on the Plan of the Day, which meant that there was nothing to do but make oneself scarce. One lieutenant snuck into a room in an adjacent building to read his Sunday L.A. Times. A couple of lieutenant commanders slithered over to the Naval Training Center to play paddleball. A boatswain's mate invited his friends to join him in the back of his camper to play gin rummy.

On Saturday morning of the fifth weekend, while everyone was still standing in formation just after colors, the Commanding Officer made a speech about our I.U.W. being the first in the nation. There had been, it turned out, nationwide competition between Reserve units based on a total number of points earned. Points were earned by the individuals' drill attendance, advancement, re -enlistment, percentage of the unit attending the two-weeks summer drill, and soon. Our unit, I.U.W'. 11-3, was leading all other I.U.W. units in the country in points. But things were very close. So close that I.U.W. 11-1, the other I.U.W. unit in the naval district, looked to be forging ahead. So everyone had to work very hard.

The commanding officer called Lieutenant Bacon into his office. Standing between the commanding officer and the executive officer. Bacon was told that his job as boat officer was of little importance now. What really mattered was his otherwise-unimportant job as Public Affairs Officer.

“We need publicity. That's how we're going to win that competition. We gotta be noticed." The executive officer looked seriously into Bacon's eyes, and then glanced at the commanding officer. “Lieutenant Bacon, this Public Affairs job is what's going to make Commander Stevenson here a full Captain, it's going to make me a Commander, and it's going to make you a Lieutenant Commander."

And thus began George Bacon's most intense period of disillusionment. He'd read about the Peter Principle and Parkinson's Law and he knew the Navy, like any other large organization, was rife with petty bureaucrats, card punchers, and empire builders. But to see the process so magnified, so close at hand, was hard to stomach.

Lieutenant Jones, the unit's Personnel Officer, had been a friend of Lieutenant Bacon's since they were both on active duty in Coronado together. They had both gone to small Midwestern colleges and had both been on small boats in Vietnam. But Lieutenant Jones somehow found it easier to get along with others. His advice about I.U.W. was to play “their game," to always say yessir, yessir, and stay out of the way. It's only a weekend, and it's a lot of money for one weekend. It was Lieutenant Jones w ho came into the Commanding Officer's office one day to report to the C.O. the number of re -enlistments; These re-enlistments were made by encouraging sailors to get out and then re-enlist, a sleight of hand, of paperwork. Bacon was also sitting in the C.O.'s office one day when the C.O. was telling some of his sailors who couldn't go to Hawaii on summer duty to drop out of I.U.W. temporarily. He could then transfer other sailors into the unit who could go to Hawaii and push I.U.W.'s point count even higher. Then he would transfer the original sailors back in. Lieutenant Jones, as the months before the end of point competition got fewer and fewer, began to complain, “God, I wish the C.O. would lay off and settle for second place. If we come in first, sure as hell they're going to investigate us!"

One Sunday was almost entirely devoted to getting a good picture of Commander Stevenson shaking hand's with a two-star admiral who was coming down from Long Beach. The unit's assets, including the IUW control van, the patrol boats, and even the UDT divers, were gathered on a point at the Point Loma submarine base. Almost all of the unit's officers were there, other officers from other Reserve units were invited, and a contingent of Junior NROTC high schoolers were on hand. The Admiral finally arrived in his dress white uniform, pictures were taken here and pictures were taken there, but unfortunately for Commander Stevenson, the pictures never came out. The special photographer, a Chief Davis, never arrived. Chief Davis, a publicity photographer for Rohr Industries, belonged to an air reserve unit, but Commander Stevenson had promised him a free trip to Hawaii, at the Navy's expense, if he would come to important IUW events and photograph them. This Sunday, Stevenson had to rely on one of his own men, whose specialty happened to be porno-photography, and the pictures were all out of focus.

None of Chief Davis' pictures were out of focus and he did manage to photograph IUW members on the unit's more productive weekends. Eventually the C.O. handed Davis' completed photos to Bacon and said he expected to see a lot of stories in the San Diego media soon. The C.O. and the executive officer both threatened Bacon's drill pay status if nothing “started happening." Bacon started writing simple stories about what a great unit I.U.W. was and how exciting summer duty in Hawaii was. And to be sure the stories appeared in the right place he made sure to get copies of every story to the Navy Dispatch. Most papers in San Diego were desperate for filler stories but especially the Navy Dispatch; the IUW stories, which always got printed, looked somehow very appropriate above the ads for Shirley's Shiek Massage.

Bacon began to ask his fellow officers in the unit if things were really as political as they seemed. One's relations with senior officers in the unit and even with officers above the C.O. in the Reserve chain of command seemed to matter most. And often, at the all-officer conferences, there would be great sighing and gnashing of teeth by the C.O. about his superiors in the Reserve chain of command — the Group Commander and his staff. “The only reason they haven't kicked me out of the unit," another lieutenant confided to Bacon “is that I have connections on the Group staff and the C.O. knows it. He doesn't dare kick me out." The emphasis on politics and the use of blown-up publicity to forge ahead politically seemed revolting to Bacon. “It's not like My Lai or anything/' he told another junior officer, “but the whole business is pretty sordid." And he kept feeding stories to the Navy Dispatch.


On Saturday, November 17, just a month after Bacon was told by the C.O. that he was transferring him to another unit, as soon as the paperwork for a transfer could be processed, IUW 11-3, Stevenson's unit, was named the “number one IUW unit in the country." The ceremony held at the Naval Training Center, was ornamented with the usual military pomp and attended by the usual dignitaries. Mayor Wilson praised the honored units and stressed the importance of the Navy Reserve. The only disclaimer were the occasional smiles on the faces of some of the IUW officers and a comment whispered by one of the enlisted men, “God, if we're number one, the best in the country. I'd sure as hell hate to see the worst."

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