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Bridge of the Gods

Bridge of the Gods

On a cool summer morning it all started on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway with the wind at our backs looking east.

I’m talking about Interstate 84 and the 378 miles which stretches from Portland, Oregon to the Idaho border.  Senate Bill 461 took effect in January 2014 which required the use of private funds to be used in the purchase, installation and maintenance of the large brown signs which designates the route to honor all veterans who served and those who became casualties** during the Vietnam war.

There are approximately 20 signs installed to-date and our riding group passed a couple as we headed toward the base of the Blue Mountains to the Wild West city of Pendleton for the Pendleton Bike Week (PBW).  We took the Cascade Locks exit and rode across the cantilever bridge that spans the Columbia River called the “Bridge of The Gods.”

Maryville Winery

Maryville Winery

There we picked up another rider in our group and headed east on highway 14.  We stopped in Stevenson, WA at the Venus Café for a bit of breakfast then made our way winding along through the Columbia Gorge through the forest and up steep bluffs.  We did a quick stop at the Maryhill winery, traveled past the largely dismantled aluminum smelter plant and then after a short stop in Umatilla we arrived in Pendleton.

This was the inaugural year of the PBW and based on my observations it looks to have sowed the seeds for the start of a recurring big event.  Bikers flooded the convention center, took in vendor booths, relaxed with musical entertainment, cruised around town and spent money which was an economic boost for the city!

Helmley's

Hamley’s “Old West” Saloon

Some key highlights were:

  • There is power in the wheat field and power in the rain because the Rogue Brewery Ale House officially launched the Pendleton Pilsner.  They grow their own hops, malting barley, rye, pumpkins, honey and other ingredients for refreshments.  The new Pendleton Pilsner is brewed at the Rogues HQ in Newport, Oregon and I’m reminded of that movie… where Frank the Tank states: “Once it hits your lips, it’s so good!
  • Pendleton’s legendary hospitality continues in fine style.  The local food was 1st class, the staff at restaurants were most personable and everywhere folks seemed genuinely friendly and appreciative of the motorcycle enthusiasts being in town.
  • PMR Registration

    PMR Registration

    The 100-year old mahogany bar at Hamley’s.  We spent a fair amount of time enjoying Pendleton’s iconic “old-west” saloon and taking in the towns ambiance.

  • Wildhorse Resort & Casino was most entertaining.  Operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the 10-story hotel and resort pulls in the people and the gaming revenue seemed brisk during my short time there. Yes, I contributed to their next expansion project!
  • Attendance of Rattlesnake Mountain H-D from Kennewick, WA at the rally celebration added icing to the cake.  The dealer brought over a bunch of motorcycles and there was a rather large assortment of accessories, parts and t-shirts for attendees to load up on.
Rally Crowds

Rally Crowds

Eric Folkestad, event partners and business leaders are likely making plans for 2016.   I chatted briefly with Eric and he deserves a big shout out from the riding community in taking on the risk and pulling together this quality event.  Motorcycle rallies are a huge gamble and you have to bring your “big girl panties” to the party because it’s not easy.  Note: That is a biker saying and apologies if I offended anyone wearing panties!  Granted he’s had practice being the co-owner of the Hells Canyon Rally and then selling his stake to his brother, but for any motorcycle event to be successful you need to bring large groups of riders together, offer up great entertainment, get biker vendors to support the event, cover the civic (OSP, police, 1st responders etc.) duties and hope that you don’t suffer financial ruin in the end.

Motorcycle Show Trophy's

Motorcycle Show Trophy’s

I’m happy to have participated in the “First PBW!”  Congrats on a most successful rally Eric!

Lastly, I wish I could report that there were no accidents, but Mr. Jason Anteau, 43-years-old, sadly died Friday night in a motorcycle accident at the west end of Pendleton.  Mr. Anteau worked for the Oregon Department of Transportation, was a Hermiston volunteer firefighter and was attending the rally.

Motorcycle Show

Motorcycle Show Entry

The preliminary investigation revealed speed and distraction were not factors, nor were any of the drivers impaired.  More information reported HERE.   Obituary HERE.  Rally’s can be a recipe for danger, but PBW is very small compared to other high profile events (i.e. Sturgis, Laughlin River Run etc.) where thousands of riders are packed into a congested area.  It’s an unfortunate blemish this occurred during the rally and we’re reminded once again how important safety awareness is to the motorcycle community, and how precious life really is.  My thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Anteau’s family and friends!

UPDATED: July 29, 2015 – added link to Mr. Anteau obituary.  Also adding that Mr. Anteau was on the Oregon State HazMat Team and was the vice president of the East Desert Diamondbacks chapter of the Iron Order motorcycle club.

UPDATED: July 29, 2015 – The 2016 Pendleton Bike Week will take place from July 22 to July 26th. According to this report co-founder Eric Folkestad said the event met attendance and revenue goals and was able to break even. PBW brought in a total of 5,740 people over the five day event. The event peaked on Saturday, when 2,150 motorcycle enthusiasts arrived at the Pendleton Convention Center.

Photos taken by author.

**Approximately 57,000 Oregonians served “in country” during the Vietnam War with 719 killed in action.  Another 5,000 were wounded in action.  39 remain missing in action after 40 years.  Of the 333,000 veterans living in Oregon, approximately a third served during the Vietnam conflict. Interstate 205 (I-205) is also known as the War Veterans Memorial Highway and Highway 97 is known as the WWII Veterans Memorial Highway.  Thirty-three other states have officially designated highways in honor of Vietnam vets.

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Hat-On-High“A little piece of you,
The little piece in me
Will Die
For this is not America”

It’s a song (HERE) by jazz fusion band Pat Metheny Group, Lyle Mays and rock singer David Bowie.

The song is profound and meaningful – and absolutely perfect for today’s circumstances.  But, I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

I’m an avid HDTV watcher.  The last few days I’ve spent time on the RETRO (RetroPlex) channel.  Interestingly there’s been an increase of movies about disillusioned civilian contractors working in the U.S. Government on the line-up.  Covert operations complete with code names, spy camera’s that even Bond would be envious.

someone-talkedIn the 1970’s it was called the “black vault” (classified communications center).  Move forward 30+ years and it’s a data center called PRISM which serves as a communication facility to vacuum up information on millions of private citizens in contradiction to the 4th amendment.

And while we’re on the topic, I was under the impression that the NSA hired Ph.D’s with military service, but now we learn that Edward Snowden, a low-level IT technician making $200K a year – only in America could a civilian contractor who didn’t graduate high school or complete college make $200K – used a banned USB thumb drive to smuggle documents.

I just don’t understand the lack of outrage about his salary, but I’m off point.

Mr. Snowden stated that he justified smuggling documents because the intelligence community had become the United Stasi of America – a reference of the surveillance powers over their own citizens that the East German Stasi – the secret police in the former Democratic Republic of East Germany.

Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex (MSR)

Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex (MSR)

Is this déjà vu all over again?

You might recall that back in 1979, journalist Robert Lindsey chronicled the true story of Andrew Daulton Lee and Christopher John Boyce.  Two high school buddies from good families who were tried and convicted of espionage.  Boyce’s FBI agent father landed the floundering 21-year-old a job at TRW who developed and manufactured satellites for the CIA.  Boyce became disillusioned after learning about the CIA activity to remove Australia’s Prime Minister Gough Whitlam because he wanted to close U.S. military bases.  With Lee’s help, Boyce set out to sell government secrets to the Soviets.

Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex (MSR) - Radar

Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Radar – “Prairie Pyramid”

In 1985, the book was turned into a film called The Falcon and the Snowman.

As I watched the movie on RETRO, I was reminded of my employment at ITT/Federal Electric Corporation.  I worked at the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex (MSR) or as the locals called it, the “prairie pyramid.”  It was the only operational ABM (Anti-ballistic Missile) defense system.  It’s mission was to defend the continental U.S. from a ballistic missile attack from the USSR or China.  And similar to the movie, security requirements of any installation housing nuclear weapons are specific and extensive.  There were 30 Spartans (long-range intercepts) and 70 Sprint (close-in intercepts) missiles on the complex.  I initially worked at the MSR (Missile Site Radar) facility for about a year prior to receiving a restricted access clearance.  I was then moved to the RSL (Remote Site Launch) facilities which housed the close-in intercept missiles and on many occasions had access to “exclusion areas” (nuclear missile field) in the facility.  The RSL’s were hardened against nuclear blast and were capable of operating autonomously while “buttoned up” during an attack.

RSL (Remote Site Launch) #2

Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex – RSL (Remote Site Launch) #2

After all these years the Edward Snowden story speaks to me, both at a national level and from the mundane working world.

Christopher Boyce justified his actions by claiming he was selling information in the hopes of fostering peace between the Soviet Union and the U.S.  Or there was Daniel Ellsberg who in 1971, as a leading Vietnam War strategist concluded that America’s role in the war was based on decades of lies so he leaked 7,000 pages of top-secret documents to the New York Times.  It was a daring act that ultimately helped lead to Watergate, President Nixon’s resignation and the end of the war.  Do you recall when Nixon stated: “Quit making national hero’s out of those who steal secrets and publish them in the newspaper.”

Spartan commemorative plaque in Langdon, N.D.

Spartan commemorative plaque in Langdon, N.D.

Unfortunately in 2013 this all sounds similar.

Then in Oregon we have the “slippery slimy” Senator Ron Wyden who tried to cast himself in a positive light.  Being on the Intelligence Committee, he had been briefed and knew the answer, but ask the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, “do you collect telephone data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”  Mr. Clapper should have duck the question – neither confirm or deny here in open session – but instead he provided the least “untruthful answer” – or LIED.

Hey, I want to defeat the terrorists as much as the next guy, but harvesting data on millions of innocent American’s…  I don’t recall signing up for that or empowering a despotic government here in the U.S.

And long before PRISM there was Good Will Hunting.  Why shouldn’t I join the NSA?  It’s a classic!

You might wonder where Christopher Boyce is now?  In 1977 he was convicted of espionage and spent time in various federal prisons.  In 1980, he made headlines when he escaped from Lompoc, CA., and remained on the run for 19 months while supporting himself by robbing banks in the Pacific Northwest.  In 1997, he was released from the medium-security prison in Sheridan, OR., and sent to a halfway house in San Francisco.  He married Cait Boyce, the woman who helped him fight for parole.  In 2003 at the age of 50 years old, he was released from the halfway house.  He remains free, but on parole until 2046, his original release date.  Mr. Lee was paroled in 1998.

Photos courtesy of U.S. Army, some taken by author at the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex (MSR) – near Nekoma, and Langdon, N.D.   Note: On the Falcon & the Snowman soundtrack the name of the song – This Is Not America is “Chris.”

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At Willamette National Cemetery

I remember watching the Vietnam War as a kid and seeing shooting and blood and bodies—and people were serious.  Very serious!

Then years later on the first night of Desert Storm in 1991, while watching CNN the contrast was stunning.  I remember thinking, are they reporting on a war, or are they trying to sell me on it?  These days the media is problematic as they would rather be first than be right!  Endless commentary without much reporting.  I’ve always thought that people should get information to make themselves smarter, not just to make themselves feel good and reinforce their viewpoints, but I’ve digressed.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day which commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service.  It is set aside so that we might reflect on the honor and sacrifice of those who courageously gave their lives to safeguard us and our way of life. Freedom surrounds each of us everyday—as we openly speak our minds, ride motorcycles freely in any city, where worship is feely exercised and where ballots are freely cast to change who will govern this great county.

It is a great county, and let’s take a few minutes today to remind ourselves of the consequences of war and remember the families of our Fallen.

Photo taken by author at Willamette National Cemetery.

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Mac (L) and Father (R)

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam war.

Occasionally I wander and this post has nothing about motorcycles.  However, it has everything to do with appreciating veterans.

You may recall that the U.S. entered the war to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam as part of their wider strategy of containment. The southern city of Saigon – later renamed as Ho Chi Minh City – was surrendered on 30 April 1975 to Vietcong troops when several tanks smashed through the gates of what was then known as Independence Palace and the last of the Marines were evacuated from the embassy roof.

But I’ve gotten way ahead of myself.  The year was 1962 in the hot dry desert of White Sands Missile Range and the Hawk Missile Training Program at the Air Defense School in Fort Bliss, Texas…

The 6th Missile Battalion (HAWK), 71st Artillery was activated by General Order 17, dated 19 February 1962, Headquarters, U.S. Army Air Defense Center, Fort Bliss, Texas. The HAWK – from the Latin name Accipter (birds that are known as hawks) – were made by Ratheon, and was an all-weather, surface-to-air, medium-range/medium-altitude missile system.  All HAWK missile artillery battalions served under the 97th Artillery Group (Air Defense Artillery) — “Hoomau i Luna” (Always On Top).

Golden Dragon Voyage - 1965

It would be three years later in July 1965 that the Battalion received Alert Orders for overseas deployment to U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) South Vietnam. The alert order initiated a series of actions to qualify the crews and readied the equipment for deployment.  In less than a month, the Battalion had multiple successful missile exercises and by 15 August 1965 the equipment was ready for shipment.  The PRD (Personnel Readiness Date) was established as 1 September 1965 and all personnel were POR qualified. The Battalion’s personnel were alerted for movement from Fort Bliss, Texas to Oakland Army Terminal, Oakland, California.

The main body (including my father) of the 6th Battalion (HAWK), 71st Artillery departed Oakland Army terminal aboard the USNS General Hugh J. Gaffey (T-AP-121) on 11 September 1965.  My father mailed me the above card which I’ve saved as a reminder of that voyage.  And in a twist of irony the ship turned out to be the very same troop transport ship that he traveled to Asia when deployed to serve in the Korean War some twelve years earlier.  Go figure.  At any rate, on the card above (name intentionally blocked out) you’ll note that at departure my father wore a Specialist E-5 Insignia, indicating the rank of Specialist E-5, or Spec 5 as it was commonly called.  It was phased out after the Vietnam War and today, all E-5’s are Sergeants, but during the Vietnam War, Spec 5’s were sometimes squad leaders or in charge of technical groups.  Most E-5’s in a Hawk Battery were senior radar or missile technicians and they reported to an E-6 or above maintenance Sergeant.   Interestingly an E-5 was the highest rank a draftee could receive without re-enlisting.  The E-5 in charge reported directly to the Maintenance Warrant Officer and functioned as the Sergeant in their chain of command.

So, why were HAWK missiles in Vietnam? It turns out that in 1965 the U.S. significantly increased the scale of its air strike operations against North Vietnam, and in response the North Vietnamese were using Mig-17’s with a top speed of over 1300 MPH and could suddenly pop up on radar screens without much notice.  In addition they deployed Russian Il-28 bomber aircraft which had the potential for first strike.  The heightened air threat from North Vietnam and the lack of allied low altitude radar coverage in the region meant that if the enemy wanted to exploit this weakness it was estimated that the bases in South Vietnam and north-east Thailand would be open to decimating attacks in minutes.  As a result, the 6th Missile Battalion men were deployed in various locations across Vietnam to defend their assigned air bases, fuel and ammo dumps, cities, major troop concentrations areas and free world ports in the Republic of South Vietnam.

My father along with rest of the 71st Artillery debarked at Qui Nhon after 17 days aboard the USNS General Hugh J. Gaffey (T-AP-121) on 28 September 1965.  In November 1965, Battery C, 71st Artillery became the first fully operational HAWK unit in Vietnam.  In 1966 the battalion relocated to Cam Ranh Bay where it remained until departure.  During the first six-months my father served as an Engineer Equipment Technician and Supervisor, however, in the final six-months he was assigned to the 41st Signal Battalion as a M60 “Door Gunner” on a UH-1 “Slick” Huey.  The “Slick” version was the configuration used for carrying maximum troops and other than the M60’s was not fitted with external weapons to save on weight.  The unit received numerous Vietnam citations ranging from Defense; Counteroffensive; Tet Counteroffensive and Consolidation.  My father returned to Fort Bliss, Texas in September 1966 and retired some ten years later.

Many of you know that the polished black granite of the Vietnam War Memorial is engraved with 58,256 names of fallen soldiers.  It unfortunately includes my cousin “Mike” who was KIA on Saturday, 08 April 1967 along with seven other men in his squad from Co. F, 2nd Bn., 4th Marines, 3rd Marine Division.  The following excerpt is from PFC James Popp’s Navy Cross which explained the situation:

“Private First Class Popp’s squad was conducting a squad-size patrol against the Viet Cong forces in Quang Nam Province. While moving along a trail in search of the enemy, the squad was suddenly taken under a murderous volume of small-arms, hand grenade and 40 millimeter grenade fire. The heavy volume of fire rained in from three sides,…continuation HERE…or HERE”.

But, what about that ship you ask?

It turns out the Admiral W.S. Benson-class troop transport – USNS General Hugh J. Gaffey (T-AP-121) – was built at Bethlehem Steel in Alameda, California and its history dates back to WWII where Admiral W. L. Capps made several trans-Pacific voyages to the Far East with troops between November 23, 1944 and August 4, 1945.  Then from September 1945 to December 15, 1945, it made three trans-Atlantic voyages returning troops to and from Europe.  In the 1950 – 60’s, the ship had a diverse service record where it spent almost two decades carrying men and material to American installations throughout the Far East and the Pacific Ocean during the Korean and Vietnam War support.

The ship was placed out of service and struck from the Naval Register, 9 October 1969 and then transferred to the Maritime Administration for lay up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet.  The ship was then reacquired and reinstated in the Naval Register on 1 November 1978 and was placed in service as a barracks hulk in Bremerton, WA., to serve as a barracks ship for the crews of ships undergoing major overhaul.  Later the ship was laid up in the NISMF Pearl Harbor, HI., and struck from the Naval Register on 25 October 1993.  In the ultimate irony, her final duty was a missile target North of the Hawaiian Islands during the RIMPAC 2000 EXERCISE where she sank on 16 June 2000, at location, in a depth of 2,730 fathoms.

Sure I’m proud of our family’s military service, but this post is more than that.  It’s about remembering the fallen of the Vietnam War.  Many came back to a non-welcome committee and deserve a major shout out.  There are Veteran Motorcycle Clubs and many independent riders across the U.S. who are dedicated to helping and honoring veterans.  If you are one thank you.  If not, then when you see a Vietnam Vet or any Vet for that matter, try and make a point to thank them for their service to our country.  Believe me they’ll appreciate hearing it!

Research for this post courtesy of: Army; BBC; 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery; GruntsMilitary.com; Global Security Org; General Orders and Code of Conduct; Military Personnel Records; Wikipedia; Navy; and family history.

Note: Photo of me above taken in El Paso, TX., circa; 1969 or ’70 and I’m in a ROTC uniform.

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