Second of Two Parts
A note from Observer correspondent Richard L. Fricker: Gary Dotterman and I met as classmates the first year Bishop Kelly High School opened in Tulsa. We joined the Navy Reserve in 1962 and were ordered to active duty in 1964. We saw each other only twice after boot camp, once in San Diego and once in [Subic Bay] Olongapo City, Philippines.
After we left the Navy we maintained our friendship, although our lives took very different paths. Gary worked in several political campaigns in Oklahoma and on the national level. I began my career in journalism.
As a member of the Communist Party he has taught at several colleges and universities. Once asked about his party membership he told a Boston journalist, “Hey, three tours of duty in Vietnam earned me the right to be a communist, so you can go f—- yourself.’”
Most recently he and Geraldo C.R. Dias operated a Bed and Breakfast in Boston owned by the party. They were married in 2005 and have since retired to Geraldo’s [Gene] hometown of Ipatinga, Minas Gerias, Brazil where he remains active in local politics and farming.
In addition to his other activities Gary remains an ardent adherent to his Roman Catholic background.
Photo: Gary Dotterman aboard the USS Leonard F. Mason, off the Vietnam coast in 1964
BY GARY DOTTERMAN
A short 50-plus years ago Richard and I joined the United States Navy. In 1964 we were given orders. I was sent to the USS Leonard F. Mason DD-852.
The Leonard was assigned to operations in Vietnam. I was 20 years old, ready to serve my country. Richard was sent to another ship, ordered to Vietnam.
My ship patrolled the coast of South Vietnam, stopping from time to time to fire our five-inch guns. We would fire for hours and send a landing party to count the dead.
Generally, it would be a small fishing village, but sometimes it would be a small city. This would be to support ground troops.
We were told to count anything that once walked on the earth. Washington was demanding high body counts, so people, children, cats, dogs, chickens, cows and moneys were all VC [Viet Cong]. Then, after three months, we would travel to another area like Hong Kong, Philippines or back to Japan.
At one point we were sent to “show the flag” in the waters off Indonesia – so the government could murder 200 people that were on strike in Jakarta.
It was OK because they were just Communists, then back to Vietnam to “save them for democracy” as well as stopping the dominos from falling. It was a sister ship that was “fired on” that gave the president the “Tonkin Gulf Resolution” allowing us to move from being advisers to troops.
Three tours later I returned home a very changed person. Burning villages, killing women, children and elderly is not my idea of bringing “freedom and Democracy to the world.” The words still stick in my head, “ … we must destroy them to save them,” “ … Credible deniability,” “ … the only good commie is a dead commie” and so many others just to keep us from killing the ones who are sending us into battle.
This is very hard for me to continue because for it has been 50 years of drinking and self-medication to try and forget the things done there. The nightmares, sweats, dreams and guilt for not having the balls to say not in my name, no more killing.
In late 1964 I wrote an open letter to the Democratic Party of Tulsa County telling them to inform the president we are fighting on the wrong side. It was stupid.
At the time I believed in the system and felt that if the president just knew what was going on, he would do the right thing.
I would never disobey an order; at the same time I believed I was a U.S. Citizen with the “Right of Free Speech.” Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Having been active politically in Tulsa I should have kept quiet. I had marched for civil rights and to stop the nuclear bomb.
My mouth caused me trouble. The Navy C.I.D. had two officers educate me on “Humphrey McClure of 1954.” After that education I was returned to Japan, never to see Vietnam again.
I still feel guilty for the crimes my country had us to commit in the name of freedom. It never ends; today we send our troops into wars because the elected leaders of other countries do not agree with our interests.
Just look at the Middle East. They elect a president in Egypt and we are not happy so in our interest we help in removing him. Then we damn the Russians because the Ukraine’s elected president does not like us, so we support a rebellion and get upset that Russia is involved with the Ukraine.
At the same time we are telling Russia not to interfere with Ukraine we are demanding the removal of the elected president of Syria.
We could end hunger and homelessness in the world for what we spend on war. We give a blank check to war and cut food stamps. Will we never learn?
I cannot continue to think about what we are doing and have done to make the world poor and weak so that 1% of the USA can profit from our service.
But they seem unable to help the veterans by giving our benefits, housing assistance, health care … I could go on. But we must remember that it is a long tradition to forget those of us that served, from the Revolutionary War to the wars today.
Just as the government gunned down the bonus marchers of World War I, many of us died while trying to get PTSD and AGENT Orange addressed as real problems.
So, after 50 years, I can say that Vietnam was the best education I ever received about my country. I only pray that you do not need to learn about the real world by killing for the USA. But they always remembered to say THANK YOU for your service [now f— you].
We are No. 1 in the world for taking care of the 1%, protecting corporations, imprisoning the most people, and telling the world to follow or suffer.
After all, this I need a drink. I only hope I can sleep this week.
Photo: Observer correspondent Richard L. Fricker and Gary Dotterman, post-boot camp