There was a guy from the South, a lieutenant. Now, most of us were brand new, Lieutenant J. G. Junior Grade. Or, ensigns. Ensign being the lowest of the low, in the Navy. That meant you didn't know nothing. You had an officer's stripe and you were in charge, but you were ignorant. It was true. So, this guy named Tom was the lieutenant in charge of the entire watch- We had four watch sections, which alternated so one group could have a day off. We worked around the clock. Tom sat at this desk right near those pneumatic tube things I was telling you about. It would get really slow, especially on the night shift. In the day time it would get really busy because there were always people in and out, papers to shuffle, but at night we'd just put our feet up on the desk and there were these reports that would come in from DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], CIA, Navy intelligence, Air Force and Army Intelligence.
Kennedy was President; we were in Laos at the time. We weren't supposed to be in Laos. So, we'd get these reports from the CIA and Navy and the Army with names like "Souvanna Fuma" and "Souvanna Fong." There were different Lao armies in the field; we'd get a report from the Navy saying, "Souvanna Fuma" was pacifying this area. Well, then we'd get reports from the Air Force saying that Souvanna Fuma's guys were using their concussion grenades to kill carp in the rice paddies, they didn't have their heart and soul in the battle. So Tom and I'd read these and we'd laugh like hell. It became obvious that "A" was being backed by the Army; "B" was being backed by the Navy; "C" was backed by the Air Force. The Army was saying that the Navy's guy and the Air Force's guy weren't really good generals; the Navy was saying that the Army's guy wasn't really good. They were vying with each other and all of a sudden this Communist named "Kong Lee" shows up. He had crack paratroopers, and he went in and stared killing everybody and taking over everything, and all three of the services were screaming that he was a Communist and we had to unite and get him, get rid of the Communist.
As soon as he pretty much solidified his hold on the military operation over there -- which, was just a bunch of cousins fighting each other, or not fighting each other, thank god -- the CIA claimed him as their guy.
It turned out it was the CIA's backed guy that was taking over. Then the messages started fading out, and the internecine war between us stopped, and everybody thought Kong Lee was a hell of a guy, he was a true patriot, and he wasn't a Communist at all -- they just forgot they ever called him a Communist. It was insane.
Tom and I'd gotten friendly on the job, and he was really a bright guy. He was gonna stay in the Navy. He was a Southern gentleman, Vanderbilt educated I think, but he wanted to make the Navy a career. One day I came to work and he wasn't there. Nobody ever just disappeared. You'd have orders to go somewhere else, and, you'd talk about the new assignment.
We'd gone over to Tom's house several months before this. Tom was gay, and his partner and he had bought more than one house on Capitol Hill; they'd buy these row houses and renovate them. They were both skilled carpenters, did all their own plumbing, and any of the wiring that they could get away with. They were good enough to renovate a decrepit brownstone.
At that time, Capitol Hill was a real ghetto, a slum, and a very very rough area. There were shootings. It was -- I forget what the polite word was at the time -- it was a Black neighborhood. Tom and his friend were engaged in blockbusting in reverse. They went in and bought a house for $13,000, renovated it, and sold it for $26,000. They bought one for $20,000 and sold it for $46,000. And now, these same houses are a quarter of a million and up. If you could get one for a quarter of a million, it'd be a miracle. Tom's house was really funny. Everything was perfect, it was immaculate. The only jarring note was that they had painted the fireplace mantel a deep purple as sort of a sign of their commitment to each other. So we had a lot of laughs over that.
Well, it turned out that they had taken Tom's security clearance and made him resign from the Navy because he was . . . In those days, there was no such word as "gay," he was "a goddamn queer." So they threw him out of the Navy. Later on, when I got out of the Navy, I went back to Navy Intelligence because it was the softest job I'd ever had in my life. I was doing background checks, which meant that you went to neighbors, and the former employer, schools -- and checked the police records of different personnel in the Navy that were going for security clearances, and, it was a very soft job. It required about, four hours work a month and I was going to law school. They gave you a car, and you drove around and interviewed people. You know, it was nonsense. But, you had to find out if the people were thieves . . . Really it was a gay witch hunt. For the security clearances in those days, the most horrible thing was to be gay. Queer. They never said anything but queer. "Homosexual" when they were really being polite.
One day they asked for anybody who wanted to volunteer for surveillance duty on the weekend. Well I didn't wanna volunteer for anything, having been in the Navy for two years, and been brought up right anyway, y'know, so I didn't volunteer. And the guys came back in on Monday and they're all bragging about how they'd broken into an apartment house and planted a microphone in the headboard of the bed of some career officer Wave. They were gonna prove that she was "ho-mo-sexual."
When I found out what they were doing, I said that we should allow homosexuals to remain in the service, take away the stigma, then there's no reason to consider them security risks. The next day, I was called into an interrogation room. It was a tiny room with a two-way mirror. It had two telephones on the desk. One was a microphone for the recording device and one was a telephone in case they wanted to call somebody in there, and the two-way mirror of course led into a room which everybody knows about now cause it's on all the TV shows, but in those days I had helped record the "interviews" when they were interrogating somebody and I had looked through the mirror.
And there was a full Commander in uniform in the room with me, that's three stripes; there was a Lieutenant Commander, two-and-a-half stripes; a couple of lieutenants; three civilians in suits. I was sitting across the table from a civilian and I said "What the hell's this all about?" And they said, "Just pay attention son, we want to talk to you," And I said, "No you don't wanna talk to me, whaddya want?" I knew there was at least that many people in the room behind the mirror, watching what we were doing. I couldn't figure out how I became the object of so much attention, but there I was. They said, "Well, we don't think you have the right attitude for this job." I said, "I don't, but what do you want me to do, would you like me to resign?" They all stepped back a full foot. The Commander, who was a career Navy guy, with some decent ribbons on, he'd seen a lot of duty, must've been a little chagrined to be there.
"What should I put down for reasons, should I put down for personal reasons?'
"You can put down anything you want, son."
So I said, "Ok, well I'm outta here . . ."
I called my wife, I'm standing on the curb in downtown Washington D.C., outside this temporary Main Navy they called it then, and I realized I didn't have a job. I had one son, and Poppy was eight months pregnant with the second one. I didn't have a job, I didn't have any insurance. She'd been going to Navy doctors . . . and I said, oh shit, what am I gonna do? So that ended my Navy Intelligence career.
Bob Doyle was born, in 1937, at Northampton, Massachusetts. He attended public schools and graduated from Holy Cross College (1959), and obtained his law degree from Georgetown (1963). He served in the U.S. Navy from 1959 to 1961, mostly at the Pentagon on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations. He has practiced law in Northampton from 1963 to the present and has been active in Democratic politics ("it seems forever"). He lives in the foothills of the Berkshires. With his friend and colleague, Peter D'Errico, he has for the past decade represented, among others, traditional native peoples and nations. He is married to Poppy McCluskey and they have eight children.