Smoking up history 40 years ago today

It was 40 years ago today that my fellow Navy boot camp “shipmates” were summoned into the “Smoke and Coke” lounge. I realize that since this was 40 years ago it must seem ancient to some. Just that the lounge included “Smoke” makes it equally dated since smoking itself was banned in boot camp quite awhile ago.

I can’t remember what our company commander — these days called a “recruit division commander” — said or if he said anything. He just turned on the TV and, about the time I had lit up a Kool or whatever I was smoking back then, on the tube came our commander-in-chief.  The president of the United States back then was Richard Milhous Nixon, a.k.a. “Tricky Dick.” After a wordy introduction he came to the meat of the matter:


 ” … I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.

 “To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.

 “Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.”

The thunderous applause and cheers from my boot company of about 80 guys quite frankly amazed me. My fellow boots came from Bed-Stuy, Boston, from the Caserios of San Juan, the Fifth Ward of Houston, from the never-ending cornfields of Iowa, from Philly, the Rocky Mountain high of Denver and, of course, from the pineywoods of East Texas. Not to mention from everywhere in between.

Boot camp was the place I was introduced to the true “melting pot” of the U.S. of A. But for some reason, I figured the kids from the ghettos were out hustling or shooting up smack all day, or the farm boy riding their tractors or the rest of us out smoking weed being oblivious to what ailed America. But these guys knew as much, some probably more about our nation’s leadership and what an awful five-something years it had been with Tricky Dick presiding. One only has to remember that Nixon was elected amid the height of the Vietnam War and many of us in boot camp didn’t have any idea as they entered high school or the work force or college whether we would have to some day join the fun fighting the Viet Cong or the NVA.

The postwar 1970s were a pretty cool time to be a young person with an open mind. Being a military guy didn’t make you hero as some are anointed these days. Still, it was a time to release ourselves from the dreaded conditioned called “uptight.” One didn’t have to head for the ivory towers to enjoy those days either. And one didn’t have to be around the news all day to know what was happening at the top of our political food chain.

We came, we saw, we got rid of Tricky Dick. And we cheered and thrust our fists in the air. Ding dong the Tricky Dick is gone. Long live President Ford.