Aircraft Carrier Qualifications for the RA5C 1965

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Todd and I received orders to fly to the USS America (CVA 66) for carrier qualifications. “We must complete six night and twelve day landings to qualify,” he said. He had carrier qualified as an A-4 pilot, but needed this hurdle to fly the RA5C. Despite my growing doubt as to remaining in the RA5C program, I had to complete this phase as Todd’s teammate for him move on with his career.

We met the aircraft carrier at Jacksonville, reported for duty, and found our quarters. The pilots had separate room assignments from the navigators. The America was one of four Kitty Hawk-class super carriers commissioned in 1965. She had over five hundred officers, nearly five thousand men, and carried about eighty aircraft.   A small city on water, she served meals all day and night and had a sick bay similar to a small hospital. After a roast beef dinner we heard over the loud speaker: “Aviators assemble on the flight deck for Carrier Qualification briefing in the ready room.” I walked with navigator friends whom I had met at the mess hall and Todd went with the pilots.

Once I arrived on the flight deck, our ready room pilot told us where to meet for his briefing. He wore gold-framed Top Gun aviator’s sun glasses, no tie or cap, and slicked his black hair back on the sides like Elvis, had a deep southern accent, and side burns. At 5’ 7”, he strutted around like a rooster, head in the air, chest out, far superior to the rabble he led.

“Foller me, pa-lots and dee-esses,” Elvis yelled, in slow twangy southern accent and swaggered up a ladder toward the ready room.

“Sir, what do you mean DS’s?”I asked hustling up to him.

“DS stands fah dip-shit. All back-seaters ah dip-shits,” he shouted without turning. Didn’t he know many had died in the RA5C? Why would he insult the men who had sacrificed their lives? I started at him, when a large navigator grabbed me from behind.

“He’s not worth it. Listen, learn, and keep silent.”

“You’re right,” I slowed down, took a deep breath, and felt the remark lodge in my gut twisting. How many other pilots spoke derogatorily about us? The midshipmen I had recently addressed about the program may have recognized this aspect of naval aviation.

Red lights of the Ready Room preserved our night vision. We settled into rows of dark leather seats. “Elvis” warned of take-off and landing dangers. “Aahh weall not poot up with any mistakes or not follering maah orders. I weall wash out anyone who performs stupidly.”

Glaring from my chair, aware of his power over us, I listened to his “Great Santini” speech. He was an obstacle course we had to hurdle to become “carrier qualified.”

I never imagined such an egotist would act as our carrier qualification-training officer. How many other narcissists wore the uniform? The frustration of the day led me to the carrier library where I found W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. It relieved me from some of the anxiety of my first aircraft carrier takeoff and landing. The protagonist rebelled against his parents' wishes for him to be a clergyman. He went on a journey to find meaning in his life. What a coincidence to have selected it at a time I had decided to leave naval aviation for another branch of the Navy and once studied for the ministry. Maugham’s book made me consider what I must do to find purpose in an unraveling life.

Up at 6:00 A.M., we ate breakfast, and left for an 8:00 A.M. takeoff. Todd and I entered our assigned aircraft and did our preflight check. The ground crew removed the locks from our wheels. Todd maneuvered our aircraft to the catapult. They gave him the signal to turn on the after-burner. He ignited our two J79 thrusters that roared as flames struck the deflector shield behind us. Waiting for the thrust from the catapult added to the tension of the moment. A loud THWAK rattled me, followed by a mighty force launching our aircraft like an explosive slingshot, propelling us one hundred and eighty knots (two hundred and seven miles per hour) off the carrier deck as the America sped thirty mph through the Atlantic Ocean into the direction of the on-coming wind. Todd drove our jet into the waiting arms of the air with the force of lift on the wings and the thrust of both after-burners that blasted flames in columns of pure fire ten feet behind us. The force jolted my body hard against my ejection seat. From my tiny window slots for the few moments RAN’s could leave them open before shutting them for radar reading, I saw we had cleared the flight deck and began gaining altitude. We banked around and entered a flight pattern that would bring us back to the stern of the carrier.

Todd adjusted his approach watching a mirror device called the “Meatball.” He had correctly lined up the aircraft for landing when the image resembled a ball of hamburger meat. The carrier deck had four wires spaced so a jet aircraft’s tail hook had a good chance to connect with one of them after impacting to bring us to a jerking halt.

My pilot banked the Vigilante and lined up the mirrors as we approached for our first carrier landing. We started to descend with airspeed at one hundred and twenty knots. “The landing will shock your body and rattle your brain,” experienced aviators warned. I waited, and waited, as we descended. “KKKRRUNCH” pounded my ears and my body felt a tremendous jolt from our landing gear catching a wire. The braking force threw me forward and then back against my ejection seat like a rag doll despite my powerful harness.

Pilots who discussed carrier catapults and landings often referred to it as better than sex. From the back seat of the RA5C, these events resembled two pilot-controlled collisions. A back-seater waited for the forces of steel, jet propulsion, landing gear, and traction to throw him around in his cage. We continued this adventure until we had made six landings. Afterwards we rested while others took their turns. Todd landed our aircraft admirably, but not perfectly. The impact bumped and jolted me like no landing or other event in my life, even screeching to a halt in front of a cement bridge when testing my stingray on a wild 100 mph right pass to get around traffic in D.C. that ended two feet from concrete and certain death. My seat belt jerked me from the force, but nothing like landing on a carrier. Todd missed the wires a few times, which happened to most aviators. That was not a failure, with the huge RA5C, or a mistake. When an aircraft failed to catch a wire, the pilot must quickly accelerate using after-burner to avoid dropping into the ocean. The next day we completed our sixth and final day of carrier landings ending an exciting incomparable life-event.

Night landings were an entirely different matter. Walking on the carrier deck at night was frightening. The darkness impaired my vision even though I had spent fifteen minutes in the red light of the ready room to improve night vision.   Bumping into objects on the carrier deck at night the first time I wandered there, my shins were bruised but I did not fall. Even trying to climb into the cockpit challenged me as the ship rolled and lurched from the force of the Atlantic Ocean and the powerful wind we drove into to obtain maximum lift. Waiting for the impact from the force of the catapult in the dark, being powerfully thrown off the edge of the carrier, and experiencing the drop that occurs just after the aircraft leaves the deck, and then landing with violence, were each unique experiences. Feeling and hearing the “KKKRRUNCH” when our aircraft caught a wire with the landing hook in the darkness of night on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in a rolling sea is difficult to explain. A collision analogy comes close, but at night you have to multiply it by fear, inexperience, faith in the pilot’s ability, and fate. Blind in a steel bullet shaped box, I had no control over anything.

When Todd missed a wire on an attempted night landing, the airplane hit the carrier deck with a loud THUD, a scrape, sparks, and a bounce followed by a roar and jolt from an after-burner blast he initiated thrusting us past the carrier deck into the black night. My stomach felt squeamish and made me think I would lose my lunch for the first time in a plane.

“How’d you like that one, Dan?”

“I didn’t know you could make the plane dance like that.”

“Get used to it. This plane is hard to land on a carrier.”

“OK, but I may have to send my G-suit off to the cleaners if we hit anymore hills.”

“Relax and enjoy it. Where could you have any more fun?”

“Maybe a margarita at Daytona beach.”

The rest of the evening he missed many more wires than during the day, which spooked me. When we had completed our night landings my blood pressure and breathing returned to normal. After the first night catapult, I thought of the complete lack of control another RAN must have experienced when his pilot could not prevent the ocean crash that took their lives. Unlike most Navy assignments, the RA5C back-seater’s safety depended on the pilot. Others shared a windshield with the pilot and could assess immediate danger.

The thought of vulnerability to instant death in a crash, or a slower drowning in water, were always present. I had to put that out of my mind, or treat it as though it could not happen. Eventually, I asked myself, “How could I ever have been persuaded to sit in an enclosed bullet shot from a catapult?” Coming to terms with a death-risk strikes everyone differently, but for aviators, it starts with the officer who hands us simple wills to designate beneficiaries during flight training. Researchers say that when we face our own death we have a kind of psychological immune response. Our brains automatically cope with the conscious feeling of distress, unconsciously seeking out and triggering happy feelings, a mechanism scientists theorize helps protect us from depression or despair. I tried not to think about death until at night when frightening visions would awaken me. Duke pre-ministerial readings and great literature caused me to ask more questions, loosen the hold of prior religious beliefs, and admit I no longer knew whether heaven or God existed, or there was life after death.

Questioning the wisdom of my choices led to the next hurdle all aviators faced if they chose to turn in their wings and pursue a less hazardous position in the Navy. Would I be seen as a coward? The pressure was to suffer uncomplainingly the hazards inherent in the military. Annapolis inculcated that into me. Nevertheless, I was different from my Dad and brother and had decided to seek an Academy appointment, in part to gain their approval, but also for an expectation of a life filled with adventure and excitement. I had survived intense indoctrination and wore the ring that established acceptance into a Navy fraternity of men who would lead while others followed.

At night I confronted my fears given the state of information I had acquired in the RA5C program. So removed from controlling the aircraft during dangerous maneuvers, I looked forward to ending my aviation adventure. I felt more like a monkey in a cage than a professional aviator during training when so many RA5C systems published by North American Aviation Company did not work at the training command. The information available to the back-seater was no substitute for eyes watching for danger during landings or takeoffs. That exacerbated my feeling of not having control of my fate. Of course, the pilot could activate our ejection seats, and “punch us out “in danger. But, a successful ejection occurred only when the aircraft reached sufficient altitude and speed to allow the parachute to deploy. I had to admit, continuing to sit in the back seat of the RA5C during “carrier quals” in fact, meant I felt like I was a dip shit, whether I admitted it or not. Others learned to accept it.


Related Images:

Baby Boy in My Arms

Baby Boy in my arms

Hot and sweating from crying

Alone and feeling sorry

Parents at formal party

Took him to flowing ribbons

Translucent colors shimmer

Glinting as light reflected

Blue eyes brighten in wonder

We move through color curtain

Elated boy smiles and coos

Enthralled by the here and now

Tiny fingers on curtain

Brush away tears on his face

Grampa hums, whistles and sings

Connected in love-embrace

Ages so different yet close

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The Dangerous Drone Dilemma


The dilemma facing us with drones needs a fresh perspective: "What is the alternative?" Or as some might say, "What is the worst that can happen?"The later is the danger that when we overreach we create enemies whose tactics are brutal and have no care for children, babies, women, and the elderly. (Sounds a little like My Lai, doesn't it?) So we at least aren't openly talking about nuclear holocaust as we did back in the Cuban Missile Crisis two heads of state resolved with secret meetings despite their henchmen threatening to expose their compromising as unpatriotic and weak.

Many of these Al Qaeda types are so determined they will not stop until they either kill themselves with others, or set off bombs that allow their escape for another deadly terrorist act when the next opportunity arises. They have to be dealt with like insects. Really? It seems so despite that inhuman response. What stretch of logic says they have any human qualities left when they send bombs to where babies are nursing? That too can be said of Vietnam’s “Rolling Thunder" that did not discriminate while "CARPET BOMBING!"So it is no wonder that presidential adviser John Brennan, argued that because the US is in a worldwide, armed conflict with Al Qaeda and its allies, drone strikes are governed by the laws of armed conflict. Targeted killings are therefore legal and can be carried out in self defense. The US is not applying the laws of war or human rights law to its targeted killing policy. Instead ‘the United States has cobbled together its own legal framework for targeted killing, with standards that are far less stringent than the law allows,’ says the ACLU’s Hina Shamsi,national security director.

Is there anyone who would argue that carefully calibrated drone use would be worse than the direct targeting of civilians that occurred in Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Can we sanction human agents making life and death decisions safely sequestered in comfortable quarters thousands of miles from the kill zone? What if the justification comes from questionable sources, is often circumstantial, based on hearsay, or guilt by association? More troubling if it turns out the executioners' decisions are erroneous or based on information provided by something like video game screens?

So the worst that can happen is that we keep breeding hatred by our use of drones that don't perform accurately like some expect pest control to. When the poison kills our own we have lost. And the drumbeat for more and better weapons becomes it’s own driving force in the military industrial complex. More, and better drones will appear like better nuclear missiles. The armaments will grow. They have become a radicalizing force in some Muslim countries. And proliferation will inevitably put them in the hands of odious regimes where everyone will be vulnerable, unless a real disarmament movement is finally lobbied for, and established world wide to prevent our mutual destruction.

It's like JFK and Khrushchev once decided, disarmament is against the military's advice, but is in the world's best interest. What happened to that sentiment? Hopefully, Nixon, LBJ, Westmoreland, Lemay, Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney and their minions didn't forever end that hopeful legacy. This is not Pollyanna thinking of a blind optimist; it is planning for survival with people determined to prevent peace for reasons including greed, religion, patriotism, and self-interest, among a host of others. That did not deter Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the passionate never-ending protesters against the Vietnam War until it was finally over.

The practice of firing a second set of drone strikes at the scene once people have come to find out what happened or to give aid is even more chilling than the well-known unintended civilian deaths in drone strikes. Drones routinely kill civilians who are in the vicinity of people thought to be “militants” and are justified as “incidental” killings.

However, assassinations were outlawed in 1976 when President Gerald Ford issued Executive Order 11905, Section 5(g): “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.” President Reagan made the ban clearer in Executive Order 12333. Section 2.11 of that Order: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” Section 2.12 : “Indirect participation. No agency of the Intelligence Community shall participate in or request any person to undertake activities forbidden by this Order.”

Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international affairs and politics at Princeton University states killing of civilians in drone strikes may constitute war crimes. “There are two fundamental concerns. One is embarking on this sort of automated warfare in ways that further dehumanize the process of armed conflict in ways that I think have disturbing implications for the future. Related to that are the concerns I’ve had recently with my preoccupation with the occupation of Gaza of a one-sided warfare where the high-tech side decides how to inflict pain and suffering on the other side that is, essentially, helpless.”

US Military Law of War Deskbook, states that law of war allows killing only when consistent with four key principles: military necessity, distinction, proportionality, and humanity. These principles preclude both direct targeting of civilians and medical personnel but also set out how much “incidental” loss of civilian life is allowed. The US military directs “all practicable precautions” be taken to weigh the anticipated loss of civilian life against the advantages expected by the strike.

John Brennan recently defended the legality of drone strikes and argued they are not assassinations because the killings are in response to the 9/11 attacks and are carried out in self-defense even when not in Afghanistan or Iraq. This argument is based on the highly criticized claim of anticipatory self-defense which justifies killings in a global war on terror when traditional self-defense would clearly not.

We can only hope that people of conscience will demand reasonable restrictions on the drone policy so that civilian casualties are the exception, and the person or persons targeted have been vetted sufficiently by someone other than our military to assure they are enemy combatants determined to kill Americans. A hearing before a judicial tribunal, while necessary if a bonafide American citizen is the target, is not a practical, nor necessary, solution for those who have defected and target our country for terrorist attacks.

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A Concussion, Bad Decision, and Baseball

(click to zoom picture and the article above with Dan throwing a pass; to get back to the post hit the back arrow)

As Long Beach Jordan's Varsity quarterback during the Poly game, I suffered a concussion on an unusual play. I faked the ball to two-hundred and twenty pound halfback, Dick Merrit, and handed it to fullback, Hal Steuber. He ran through the left side of the line when a fast linebacker, Alonzo Irvin, at 6 feet 2 inches and two hundred and fifteen pounds, CIF high hurdle champion, stole the ball! Irvin sprinted toward the sideline directly at me with the ball in his right hand where I was completing a fake end run. Lunging toward him with lowered head and feet churning, my helmet drilled him hard at his belt. He timed the collision to smash my helmet with his right knee just when my head dropped for the tackle. THWACK! My brain went blank into a dark dizzying spiral. Unconscious from the impact of the collision, my body collapsed and fell to the ground. Later I learned my tackle had sent him into the air and he fell hard to the ground. Two players dragged my limp one hundred and sixty-five pound frame to the sidelines. A worried assistant coach began asking questions. Groggy and garbled answers came from my mouth as I wandered in and out of bewilderment until I slowly regained consciousness. “My name is Dan Lavery. Today is Friday. We’re playing Poly. Put me back in.”

“Lie down and relax. You’re through for today,” said Coach Park. “Here’s the name and address of a neurologist you must see for tests after the game.” We tied Poly 19-19 as Skip Lawrence replaced me and helped the team win. Afterwards the neurologist concluded I had a concussion with no permanent damage.

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Later in the season we beat Lakewood 33-12 in our best offensive game. Their quarterback punted a low line-drive I caught on our thirty-five yard line. Our left defensive back, Walt Rapold, ran forward to block and dove into two players with his elbows outstretched. After following Walt, I cut sharply to the right and turned on my speed. Someone blocked their left end to the ground. Running as fast as possible I swung around him, but their tall and fast quarterback was bearing down on me so I ran wide to the right and turned up the field. As we raced he took aim for me. About twenty yards separated us when I accelerated with all my might. As we approached, the crowd sensed I had a chance to out-run him, and started a mighty roar. That motivated me to give it all I had. My final burst of speed allowed me to dash past him. The crowd exploded in aloud crescendo as I raced into the end zone for a sixty-five yard TD. My teammates embraced me while the crowd roared.

“Who made that touchdown?” asked Coach Park.

“That was Lavery,” someone shouted.

“I haven’t seen anyone run that fast since Benny,” said Coach Park. He came up to me, “I didn’t know you were that fast, he said.” At a loss for words, a smile lit up my face.

“Coach Park wanted you to consider moving to halfback because of your run back in the Lakewood game,” Coach Crutchfield said at the next practice.

“I’m a quarterback,” automatically came out of my mouth. He looked away and shook his head. Too immature to realize an opportunity, I let a chance for me to show my running skill as a halfback slip by. What if I had said, “I’ll do anything to help the team?” Hindsight often is 20/20.

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Coach Crutchfield had a crew cut under his baseball cap and a wonderful sense of humor he used whenever he felt we needed to loosen up with laughter. A football and baseball player at USC, he flew jets during military service and coached Jordan backs in football.  At 5’ 9” and two hundred and twenty pounds, huge muscular arms, thick neck, stocky legs well-defined calf muscles that bulged when he walked, his thighs looked like they belonged to a bull. You had to love baseball with all your heart to succeed on his team. After watching me hit a homerun into a palm tree in practice he elevated me to first-string right fielder.

The next day pitching in practice he gave an expert lesson in the art of hitting.  “Dan, you can get all the power you need without lunging at the ball. Take your stance.” I walked to the batter’s box and stood balanced with my feet three inches apart waiting for the pitch to start my stride. “Move your left foot toward me keeping your weight mostly on your back foot.” That opened my stance about one foot. “Keep extending until I say stop.” Opening until I couldn’t move any further was awkward, but balanced in a spread stance. “Give me a strong swing.” I tried to swing hard but was too extended. “Shift your weight to 2/3 on your back foot and crouch down. As you begin your next swing, shift your weight to the front foot.”

His solution gave me as much power in my swing as ever. “When you recognize the pitch as a fast ball you continue the weight shift to stroke the ball where it is pitched. When you see the ball is spinning it’s a curve or other off-speed pitch. Slow down and move your bat through the strike zone with a level swing. Try to hit the ball up the middle or to right center. If the ball drops low and away, adjust to meet it and send it over the second basemen’s head.” He pitched a fast ball I stroked over the left field fence as far as I had ever hit a ball. “Fine. You have eliminated your lunge and have plenty of power.” Crutch was right.

He threw another pitch that started to drop on me. I stopped my shift of weight and hit the ball in right field between the outfielders. “You have learned to adjust to pitches that have bothered you. With practice you’ll see a great improvement and are a different hitter who can attack anything.” My new stance and his approach gave me confidence.

I started in center field for one of the best varsity baseball teams in the City. The cheerleaders, including Bob and Mel, showed up for the Alumni game. Coach, will you let me pitch the Alumni game?”I asked coach Crutch.

“All right for the Alumni game, but I need you in centerfield for the season,” he said. Ron Fairly was in the lineup. He had set many records at Jordan but we won that game, and he didn’t get a hit in four at bats. Coach never pitched me again disappointing me but I loved centerfield and was in many game challenging situations from that crucial position. Against Poly, we led 4-3 for the City Championship on a smoggy day. Willie Brown, who later became a Hall of Fame safety for the Oakland Raiders, hit clean-up for Poly. In the last inning with two out, Willie came up with men on base. He slugged a ball deep into center field, which sailed so high in the smog my eyes could not find it. Running as fast as possible to a spot the ball should drop based on the sound it made off the bat, I fortunately saw a white sphere suddenly fall out of a murky sky and snared it in my glove to end the game four hundred feet from home. Only I knew how lucky that was.

We played in the CIF tournament at Blair Stadium in Long Beach against a great team, but lost 7-4. Their pitcher, a tall muscular right-hander, thought he could quick pitch me as I came to bat my third time. Starting to get into my stance with my bat loose, he uncorked a fastball right down the middle. Probably because of my relaxed posture, I slammed the pitch on the sweet spot with a fluid swing. The ball took off on a streak way over the center fielder’s head for my second hit that day, a triple that bounced off the four hundred foot wall marker. Lucky to lead the team in triples, bat over.300, and make many good plays on defense, I gave my all in my favorite sport.

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For my senior book report in English Composition, I chose The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come by John Bunyan (1678). He wrote his Christian allegory as a Protestant from jail for his outspoken Puritan beliefs that conflicted with Anglicanism. My thirty minute speech followed Bunyan’s protagonist, Christian, on a spiritual journey avoiding temptation and worldly sins. He eventually arrived at heaven by practicing Bunyan’s uncompromising convictions.

“Your passion for your subject came through. Have you given a thought to becoming a minister?” said my teacher after giving me an “A”

“I have, but my Dad wants me to obtain an appointment to Annapolis.”


In Senior Problems, we took a Kuder Interest Test to help us learn what careers might best suit our personality. Mrs. Poultney informed me the ministry, social work, law, military, and criminology were high on my list. She required us to interview professionals to assist us in considering a career. I interviewed a minister and a criminologist since I had my father to discuss a military life.

After interviewing an Episcopal minister I thought to myself how different he appeared from the one at Mom’s Church who held food drives for the poor. He never wrote a sermon because they were prepared by their order of service and had minimal outreach to the community. My interview with a criminologist impressed me far more, and piqued my interest. He loved his work and demonstrated his career benefitted society: it solved crimes, promoted justice, helped victims, and provided counseling to criminals. My research paper included interviews with leaders in each field, but left me undecided for my career choice.

When the time for college applications came, I applied for Duke, USNA, Dartmouth, and Stanford. By-passing study courses for the SAT because of my high grades, I was disappointed my scores were too low for the Naval Academy, but were sufficient for an NROTC Scholarship just below 600. I chose Duke because it was located between Washington, D.C. and Miami where my families lived, had a beautiful campus, their baseball team won the NCAA championship, and my orthodontist in Japan, an alumnus, had suggested it. “Why would you choose a segregated school for college?”my trigonometry teacher asked.

“I didn’t know Duke was segregated. Their literature said they were interested in students from every state and had many foreign exchange students.”

“You should have found out about Duke. Like many southern universities, it has discriminatory admission practices, but they do have high academic standards.”

Jordan High had no Blacks but a number of Asians and foreign students. Why would Mr. Edmunds teach at such a school if that was so terrible? I thought it reflected the neighborhood where the student lived. We had contact with Blacks in sports, at church, and when they performed music in our auditorium. There wasn’t a discriminatory bone in my body after living in Japan and Coronado. Duke would challenge me to improve myself but some doubts had been planted and I wasn’t even that sure about the NROTC when my dream was to become a professional baseball player and possibly a minister. Was I unprepared or was that par for the course for a high school student?

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Hastings College of Law Crime Lecture First Day

After I arrived to our Berkeley Apartment from on October 1, 1969, the phone rang: “This is Dean Muenster from Hastings College of Law,” rang out a familiar voice. “I have reserved a spot for you in our first year class!”

“Hallelujah!” I exalted, “What fantastic news!”

“We’re proud to have someone of your background at Hastings.”

“When can I pick up the class schedule and purchase the texts?”

“I shall put all the paperwork in the mail unless you happen to be in the area.”

“I’ll be there in an hour and save you the postage.”

I drove over the Bay Bridge, parked close to Hastings, ran to the entrance, and announced my presence to the secretary.

“Dean Muenster wants to see you.”

He came out of his office with an envelope under his arm and a smile on his face, “Welcome to Hastings, Mr. Lavery, I am pleased to have you join us.”

“And I’m so glad to be here.”

“We expect you to study law with the ‘Old—Navy’ enthusiasm.”

After completing the forms, handing them to the secretary, locating the books for classes, reviewing each course syllabus, I registered at the health office. Since Hastings was a part of the University of California, residents of California paid a minimal tuition that included health insurance. I wandered through Hastings’ campus, their lecture halls that seated over one hundred and fifty students, the moot court with high bench and counsel tables in front of more than a hundred seats for the audience, and finally the huge law library. Breathing in the atmosphere where I would be spending three years learning from some of the best legal minds in the country, I thanked my lucky stars.

While driving back to our apartment in Berkeley, I sang at maximum volume, “I’ve been waiting so long, to be where I’m going,” from Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” At our apartment, I walked past the German shepherd who guarded the landlord’s property, patted him on the head, jolted up the steps to our second floor dwelling, and swung open the screen door.

Grabbing Joan for minute-long hug, “We’re going to celebrate. Hastings accepted me! They cover me for most health issues, have a medical staff, and the law school is fantastic!” We turned up the music, opened a bottle of wine, and danced.

My smile was permanent as I attended classes at Hastings the next week.  The opportunity to improve myself, gain knowledge of the law, and become a lawyer made a giant leap in my self-esteem. If I applied myself, I would be an authority on legal problems and could assist any cause or person with my knowledge and enthusiasm. It was a dream come true.

Reality set in as the grind of reading countless cases, briefing them on a specific set of facts, and understanding how the holding impacted the law, was the most difficult task I had ever encountered. Our professors had earned fame in their field and all but one belonged to the “65 and over club.” Professor William Prosser in Torts, Updegraff in Contracts, Green in Civil Procedure, Perkins in Criminal Law, and Faulkner in Evidence comprised the team. Rene Rubin taught Legal Research and Writing and was the only female on the faculty. Every professor but Rubin used his own treatise. Despite my eighteen years of education, I had never had a teacher lecture me on his own treatise. A bounce in my step remained even in tedious explorations. Hastings College of Law School Crime Lecture First Day 1969

Each text of five hundred pages required us to use a back pack and a brief case for notes. Fortunately, my schedule included only three courses a day. When I stacked my books at the apartment, it occurred to me that I would not be the same person after a year. There was no time for watching sports, movies, or late comedy on TV.

On the first day in Criminal Law, Professor Perkins walked slowly into the largest lecture hall with a majestic approach. His white hair neatly parted, he wore a dark blue, pin-striped three-piece business suit, with white shirt and red tie. He opened his seat chart and noted the empty seats as the bell rang. After he placed the text on the podium and turned the page, a man wearing a dark overcoat, a hat, a scarf, boots, and gloves barged into the class and shouted, “Professor Perkins, this is what you get for flunking me.” He pulled a black gun out. A loud explosion followed by smoke from the barrel shattered the atmosphere. The Professor fell to the ground behind the podium and the disgruntled student fled slamming the door behind him.

Before anyone could chase the criminal, another professor entered and shouted, “Remain in your seats.” As he concluded, Professor Perkins stood up smiling.

“Take out a piece of paper and describe exactly what you have just witnessed. In ten minutes I will inform you to stop writing. Sign your name to the paper and pass it forward. Start now.” After he collected the papers, he began to read the reports. Answers from intelligent law students witnessing the same event demonstrated we had different recollections of the color of clothing the criminal wore, his features, race, age, and the words he spoke. Professor Perkins had made us aware how important and difficult it is to obtain accurate facts on which to make a judgment from reliable sources.

He made a chart on the board indicating all witness statements for a description of the criminal’s eye and hair color, type of boots, their length, color of his scarf, overcoat, hat, trousers, and shirt. After tallying the statements, we learned how difficult it is for a witness to give an accurate account. Taking a large number of statements led to a “fairly accurate” depiction. After our professor asked the criminal to re-enter the scene of the crime, he had different colored gloves on each hand, different boots, his scarf was multicolored, and his hat had different materials in each of the bands around it. No one had accurately described the criminal or his words. The day’s lesson so impressed us, we broke out in a spontaneous standing ovation.


When I learned which classmates lived in Berkeley, we made a car pool to save money. Six of us formed a travel and study group, which included the student with the largest car. The passengers shared gas and toll expenses. Jim Tyler, Bill Crowell, Howard Watkins, John Corbett, and a student who dropped out of medical school joined in our funky car pool featuring Bill’s old green station wagon. The former medical student changed his mind after three weeks and reapplied for medical school and told us, “Hastings was far more difficult than medical school.”

Our professors encouraged us to form study groups so we could compare what we had learned. My group was made of intelligent students who came prepared for each session. My car pool added another source of information as we shared our thoughts an hour each way. On the way home  on Fridays sometimes we joyfully shared a joint after a hard week of cramming our heads with legal case studies, briefing precedent setting appellate cases, and keeping meticulous notes.

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