Army Air Boats in Vietnam

Although I wasn’t able to get a visa for Vietnam, I was able to talk with swift boat veterans to get a feel for the time and place, and I visited a tropical prison in the Philippines to get a sense of what a Vietnamese prison might have been like. –Tony Hillerman

Slab City, Navy Town

Into the Wild, Staring Emile Hirsch

Being active-duty Navy, I am far from a hipppie. My hair is short, like 3/8ths of an inch. (Correction: 7/16th. On the long side.) I don’t use the word groovy. I believe in personal responsibility. I shower daily and don’t wear tie-dye or smoke anything exotic.

I saw a movie once when I was deployed and it stands as the entertainment highlight (albeit with few other choices) of that deployment. And the movie could have been a hippie’s dream.

The flick was “Into the Wild” about some kooky kid who gives up society to go live in the wilderness. He dies in the throes of an Alaskan winter, unprepared. Alone. Christopher McCandless (an ironic name, considering his fate) was the misguided soul and I liked the movie for its poetic nature shots. I was in the Middle East and seeing trees, anything green, was a relief.

One scene had Christopher out near the Salton Sea, in an area known as Slab City. Interestingly enough, the location is garnering quite a bit of press due to the suffering real estate market. The slabs are leftover from a Navy base and a Marine Corps training area:

Slab City or The Slabs is a camp in the Colorado Desert in southeastern California, used by recreational vehicle owners and squatters from across North America.

Slab City Christian Center

It takes its name from the concrete slabs and pylons that remain from the abandoned World War II Marine barracks Camp Dunlap there. A group of servicemen remained after the base closed, and the place has been inhabited ever since, although the number of residents has declined since the mid 1980s.

One last note on hippies, I respect folks who want to return to the land. Who lead productive lives. Who work. There were probably well-meaning hippies in the nascent part of hippiedom. But the whole phenomenon is tarred with the non-showering, druggy, lazy brush by the clinger-ons.

Returning to the Land?

That said, I am tolerant, to a point, and have never started any beefs with anyone over lifestyle choices. Just don’t ask me my opinion or get in my face. You live over there, I’ll live over here.

Around the corner from Slab City, if there are corners in the desert, is a SEAL training facility for SEAL Team One. Camp Billy Machen:

Radarman Second Class Billy W. Machen, a 28 year old sailor from Dallas, Texas, was acting as point man. Coming to a clearing in the jungle growth, RD2 Machen halted the unit and moved ahead into the opening to reconnoiter.

As he paused and searched the surrounding area, he suddenly spotted several Viet Cong (VC) guerillas. Rather than retreating and seeking cover, Machen initiated fire and attacked the enemy unit, forcing them to trigger their ambush prematurely.

The resulting hail of fire from both banks of the river alerted his fellow SEALs to the danger and allowed them to take cover, return fire, and engage to suppress the VC attack. Machen, however, was killed in the initial fusillade.

Some folks have set up websites praising Christopher McCandless. As if his lack of action is commendable. They call his journey heroic. Me, I got other heroes. Like Petty Officer Billy W. Machen. A life of service to country versus a life of avoidance and refusal to accept personal responsibility. I don’t doubt that Chris was a nice guy, but Billy is the one to be respected, admired, praised. . .