April Fool’s day this year, a snowy, icy one, found me soothed by the warmth of our wood stove, so it took something extreme to get me to leave its comfort. That something was the realization that the President’s recent budget request to Congress was for $54,000,000,000 MORE for the US military at a time when we outspend the next five major countries combined for our defense! Today, when over half of our tax dollars, yours and mine, go toward military expenditures, I’m learning that some social programs such as Meals On Wheels are in jeopardy. This has to be too much overkill. There’s something wrong here, and it’s personal. I’ve had friends who were dependent on Meals On Wheels. Even my own handicapped grandson’s assistance has been cut!

As members of Veteran’s for Peace and PeaceWorks my wife and I have marched and stood vigils for years. Each Friday she also distributes boxes of food for families who can’t afford decent meals and her daughter volunteers weekly at a homeless shelter. We donate to organizations trying to address some of the weaknesses in our social systems. Still there’s this feeling of impotence — that “finger in the dike” feeling. What else can a couple of old fogies do?

These thoughts eased me up grudgingly from the couch to join about 35 others once again protesting the christening yet another killing machine, the USS Thomas Hudner, at BIW. I didn’t know LTJG Hudner personally but I knew of him. He was about three years behind my graduating class when we won our gold wings at Pensacola. As naval aviators flying the same carrier-based fighter aircraft, the Corsair, we were brothers in a rather small fraternity. Hudner was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for making a forced landing to rescue a fellow pilot, alive but trapped in his burning plane. Ensign Jesse Leroy Brown, the US Navy’s first black aviator, had been shot down behind enemy lines near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea during the infamous retreat by US Forces from Chinese troops who had crossed the Yalu River to reinforce the North Koreans in the winter of ‘50-’51. Hudner was unsuccessful and was airlifted out by helicopter. This tale, “The Flight of Jesse Leroy Brown”, is on my bookshelf.

Two and a half years after this incident, a truce on the Korean Peninsula having just been signed, I was flying an AJ-1 Savage from various aircraft carriers in the Western Pacific. The Savage, a three-engine (single jet) heavy attack aircraft was being introduced as the U.S.Navy’s first capability to deliver an atomic bomb from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Years earlier, in December ‘45, I had seen and even smelled the ashes of Tokyo, the result of U.S.firebombing, and later, the rubble of Manila. From training films I had been thoroughly briefed on the devastation an atomic bomb could wreak and I learned how to deliver it.

President Eisenhower had hinted at the possibility of an atomic attack to bring China and North and South Korea to the negotiating table with the U.S. By the end of July ‘53 an armistice was signed and all parties agreed to observe a line separating North and South Korea. (It is still being respected but is in extreme jeopardy at this moment.)

In that same year I was a Savage aircraft commander assigned a target in China, should the Chinese or North Koreans breach the demilitarized zone across the peninsula at the 38th parallel. My assigned target was the airfield on the outskirts of Canton (now Guongzhou), the third most populous city in China, numbering in the millions even then. My offset-aim point was an island in the Pearl River, which flows through the city. My crew and I practiced simulated deliveries and drops as did other aircrews on other Chinese targets. Had it been ordered we would have delivered. I was 29 years old.

Years later, after I grew up, I began to question what I had been involved in. Even later, as a civilian, realizing the horror that could have happened, I made a pilgrimage to that very airport in Guongzhou to find peace. Then I came home and sought out Veterans for Peace and PeaceWorks.

This April 1st, as I stood across the street from BIW with other peaceful demonstrators I realized I had to do more while I was still able. Was I up to it? This was one of my better days. With eight others I crossed the street with my walking sticks to stand silently on the white line defining BIW property in protest of the latest addition to the strongest navy the world has ever known.

Time will tell if this simple, nonthreatening gesture will have a positive effect. We certainly hope to see BIW employees remain gainfully employed. They have the skills to create a more peaceful world, one in which we all can thrive.

Our purpose, or at least my purpose, is to call attention to the extreme cost to each of us to maintain this Military-Industrial Complex President Eisenhower warned us about 65 years ago. Shouldn’t we divert some of our war-fighting tax dollars to solving some of the social problems sapping our strength before we become weakened from within? We could even increase employment while at the same time lifting up some of those in need, by diverting some of our energy to peaceful purposes such as creating commuter rail right to BIW, thus easing highway congestion with its consequent pollution. Imagine, for example an electric (solar?) commuter line from Portland to Rockland, stopping right at BIW and there connecting to a spur to L/A. No more piling into buses! No more traffic! BIW employees could construct the trains. We could become less dependent on oil or coal while cleaning up our act.

Let’s hope we make the right choices when we send the government our dollars.

P.S. Bath can be proud of its police force. We protesters were treated with respect, except when my walking sticks were seized. I hope these ideas will help some of your officers understand why we had to interrupt their day.

Bob Dale is a member of PeaceWorks. He lives in Brunswick.

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