Thanksgiving Thoughts on Immigration

In the autumn of 1621, a group of people who had long inhabited this land sat down with a group of immigrants calling themselves Pilgrims to celebrate a successful harvest. Initially, the native born had been suspicious of the new immigrants. The newcomers had come from across the sea without permission and without any rights over the land they occupied (you might even call them undocumented). They dressed oddly, had a different color skin, spoke a language the native born didn’t understand, and appeared to have few practical skills (they were nearly hopeless at hunting and fishing). Nevertheless, the native born shared their knowledge with the immigrants -- of local crops, planting and harvesting, and navigation – and thereby helped the immigrants survive.

In that first Thanksgiving, three hundred ninety-three years ago, the two groups joined together to express gratitude and mutual respect. It seems fitting that today we honor subsequent generations of hard-working immigrants, as well as the native born who have welcomed and helped them succeed in this bounteous land. This would seem most appropriate since our history of later killing most, taking their lands, and subjugating them to second-class citizenship on reservations. This was the legacy of manifest destiny our Christian leaders used to justify such brutality and ignore the concept of love your neighbor as yourself! For Republicans to object to all immigration reform efforts and demand deportation of millions of people who could continue to do jobs our people will not  is keeping with our forefathers who revered slavery in the face of such teachings their religion considered fundamental! (The first paragraphs were taken from Richard Reich's post on Facebook today)


Happy Thanksgiving.

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Ferguson Grand Jury Verdict and Protests

Ferguson Protests 112414

The transcript of Officer Darren Wilson’s testimony before the Grand Jury revealed much that seems to have gone under the radar of those that blame Blacks for protesting another unarmed youth killed by a police officer. Robert Reich’s comment strikes at the process by which Wilson was exonerated:(1) When there’s conflicting evidence about whether an unarmed person has been murdered by a police officer, a public jury trial is the appropriate process for determining guilt or innocence, not a grand jury in which there’s no opportunity to cross examine the accused.


(2) The role of the media isn’t to guess whether someone is guilty or innocent, or to give the accused free airtime to explain his side of the story (as did ABC this morning). It is to report the news.


(3) Poor, minority communities deserve community policing that builds trust, including minority police officers, rather than law enforcement that’s viewed by a community as repressive.


(4) Armed law enforcement personnel should be equipped with body cameras of the sort now used in many communities to assure responsible behavior.

(5) There is no excuse for looting, burning, or other forms of violence. Innocent people are harmed or killed. Communities may not recover for years. Trust is further destroyed.

The transcript of officer Wilson’s Grand Jury testimony struck me as a lawyer prepared defense that gave the jury little opportunity to do other than exonerate Wilson. Telling was the admission by Wilson that he did not write up an incident report as required by virtually all police departments when a fatality arises from a police confrontation with a member of the public. Instead Wilson called his lawyer fifteen minutes after the killing as Brown bled to death in the street where he lay for over four hours on his face. Never did an incident report ever surface in the grand jury proceeding and it appears from the news reports afterwards, against procedure, no incident report survived the incident even if he did write one.

After seeing his lawyer, and the three months before the grand jury heard the case presented by a long time advocate for the police, we hear Wilson say he was attacked by Brown with two punches to the face, and that Brown appeared to be a demon who was much bigger (both were 6' 4" but Brown was 60 pounds heavier) and stronger than Wilson who claims he feared another blow from this monster would kill him, so he shot him after the tussle. He even claimed Brown reached into the window of his police car and tried to grab his pistol. He said Brown had it pressing against his leg but miraculously was able to free it and tried to shoot Brown but the gun only clicked with no bullets fired until he tried again and shot Brown twice in the arm. That caused Brown to withdraw and move away. So Wilson followed and unloaded his gun on him as Brown supposedly turned on him again, charging with a demonic face. Not a part of the testimony but from a recording of the shooting it was clear that Wilson unloaded his pistol in a rapid machine gun like fashion. Other eye witnesses not called before the grand jury said Brown raised his hands before the volley and the final shot killed Brown to his head while he was on the ground.

Since there was no opportunity to cross examine the officer, the grand jury was presented with an officer armed with mace, who decided not to carry a taser gun because he didn’t want to. Both those alternatives would have prevented a killing. Of course after a few bullets hit Brown had Wilson stopped the rapid volley there was a good chance Brown would have survived. But this jury had no opportunity to hear Brown’s version because he was dead. His friend, an eye witness, had already made conflicting statements to the police and most likely would not have been believed.

Nevertheless, Eric Holder began a federal investigation of the police department at Ferguson and the Brown incident that could be the basis of a federal indictment where a jury would be impaneled and the witnesses subjected to cross examination to determine whether the Ferguson police department discriminately applied the law against Blacks and Wilson violated Brown’s constitutional rights.

 Daniel C. Lavery

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Floundering at Twenty Without a Rudder

Duke Chapel with courtyard

Sophomore year at Duke found me pledging Beta Theta Pi fraternity after my roommate and a few Betas convinced me it would enhance my social life. Switching from the pre-ministerial program to pre-medicine, I was faced with two demanding courses Zoology and an advanced Chemistry course: Qualitative Analysis. The Zoology textbook contained fascinating details about the development of animals and insects with an enormous scientific vocabulary. There was a two hour lecture in the science auditorium and lab experiments that explored genetics, evolution, and animal dissection for three hours each week.

Qualitative Analysis emphasized lab work, with a one-hour a week lecture and classroom problem solving. My fraternity brothers told me not to worry about this course because they had all the laboratory exams for past years even though each year’s questions were uniquely different. Assuming a minimum of study was required there I focused on my other courses and frat pledging.

World History from World War I to II had a professor who arrived in tweed coat and tie and lectured from memory until the bell rang. He rattled off historical facts as if they had just occurred regarding philosophers, artists, authors, poets, musicians, architectural designers, military leaders, social movements, and connected the consequences of each to the past, present, and possible future. I had never encountered a more informed man. In each of his two classes a week my notes accumulated to more than a hundred pages. Assigning about fifty pages of the text a week, a research paper of 1500 words, he also suggested much outside reading.


Weight-lifting during the summer had strengthened my shoulders, arms, and frame adding thirty pounds of muscle. However, missing the two-a-day practices in August while in Europe made me change my mind on joining varsity football when I thought how the other players might view me as a late comer. Winter varsity baseball interested me far more. My added strength improved my hitting, especially to the opposite field. I was able to drive an outside pitch over the right fielder’s head and occasionally over the fence. The varsity coach mentioned my name in the college newspaper as one of his best prospects who would probably start on the varsity.


As quarterback for the Beta flag football intramural team, my play helped us earn the respect of other fraternities and challenged the view that Beta only housed weak-minded party boys. Nevertheless, other fraternity pledges visited our dorm and routinely sang, “Let’s all go down and piss on the Beta House.”

The Beta pledge master, an ex-marine, towered over us at 6’5” and his drill-sergeant mentality was intimidating. Of the many tedious pledge tasks, at least some were humorous. Required to carry a five-gallon jar under each arm to class during hell week and collect gum under the tables in one jar, and cigarette ashes in the other, I looked ridiculous when emptying ashes and gum into awkward jars.

Duke Chapel 1958

Performing a ballet dance on Sunday morning in front of the Duke Chapel was timed by the Betas so my performance began as the crowd of dignitaries, faculty, students, and guests departed from the Church service. A Duke dance major gave me advice, lent me her pink tutu, and showed me how to spin, leap, and move as gracefully as I could. We choreographed a series of movements involving running to a spot, tossing a spiraling football high in the air, and leaping so the ball would land close enough for me to catch. Twirling in a circle, spinning the ball underhanded, and moving gracefully while smiling, the routine had a comical effect: I looked like a clown.

When the crowd gathered, frat brothers directed them to my outlandish spectacle. Tossing a football in the air, catching it, doing ballet moves, twisting and turning, rolling in the grass, jumping up with the ball, and then starting over, attracted many gawkers with nothing better to do. Although laughing through the routine and trying to make it humorous, the stint humiliated me and made me look foolish. Finally, after the chore ended, I dutifully curtsied, and the gathering responded with a loud ovation.

Duke University Campus 1958

Another duty was to procure a photograph of me with a nude woman. Not knowing anyone at Duke who could fulfill this task, I went to a clothing store and asked a salesperson if I could put a mannequin next to me on a bed for a pledge assignment. He laughingly agreed. Quickly removing the clothes from one, putting a coat over her shoulders to hide the fact she had no arms, I reclined next to her in a bed for the photo. Later, my secret was disclosed as some impetuous brothers demanded her name.

Nude Female Mannequin

They also required me to enter a movie theater in Durham with a large fish in each hand during a kissing scene of a movie and yell, “Fresh fish for sale.”

“Go ahead and make an idiot of yourself, but do it quickly, and leave,” the manager laughed and said when he heard what I had to do. The audience responded with a rousing roll of cackling after my announcement when the Rock Hudson kissed Doris Day in “Pillow Talk”. Bowing with two smelly sturgeons from a seafood store tucked under my arms, I dashed out and gave the fish to the ticket-taker for his help.

Pillow Talk KissPillow talk poster

Required to paint the testicles of a reindeer statue in front of the Durham Police Station bright red, I feared that prank might get me arrested for the crime of malicious mischief. Why would the brothers require me to take such a risk? Was becoming a Beta that important? Why not say, “I won’t expose myself to a crime for anybody.” After considering quitting, I rejected dropping out from peer pressure and decided to show them risk-taking didn’t bother me. My past was full of danger. Waiting until 3:00 AM, I crawled on my belly under the reindeer, opened a can of red paint, brushed it on hanging stone balls, scurried silently to my feet, and disappeared into darkness.

Reindeer statue Bronze

The final hazing incident occurred on Hell night. Our pledge master ordered all twelve of us to the darkness of a parking lot at night. He placed a steel bucket upside down, and poured undiluted tincture of wintergreen, extremely painful to the touch, on the top. There was a quarter of an inch of the furiously spicy fluid to sit on. Carefully placing a tiny green pimento-filled olive in the center of the mixture, he ordered: “Get in line, strip naked, bend down, crouch over the bucket, and pick up the olive with your sphincter muscle. Remove the olive from the bucket and drop it in the garbage can.” This allowed the irritating oil to inflame our entire underside. Each compliant pledge jumped up, and screamed from the pain as the offending liquid hit its intended target. Many dropped the olive and had to repeat the procedure. Once any pledge successfully finished the process, he hopped like a rabbit, and yelped like a wounded dog. As each naked pledge lowered his butt towards the olive, our pledge master watched from his chair next to the bucket to ensure the pledge grasped the green grape-sized olive. The voyeur smiled as each of us struggled with his torture. When we were finished, I walked back to my dorm and wondered what ever drove me to allow myself to waste so much time pledging a fraternity, despite some intelligent brothers and parties that we would soon enjoy in the future. But pledging left me disillusioned and disappointed that I wasn’t more deeply involved in academics.

Pledging included memorizing an enormous amount of Beta materials, attending pledge meetings, appearing at all Beta functions, meetings, parties, dances, washing cars, cleaning rooms, making beds. These tasks interfered with my academics and forced me to neglect an advanced Chemistry course, Qualitative Analysis, that I should have taken more seriously. Not leaving enough time to study the concepts, I had temporarily put off studying the course in depth thinking the frat file cabinet would help me. It was another dismal distraction I never used and tried to learn the principles, formulas, and solutions to difficult problems in the few weeks left before the end of the semester.

When final exams approached, the grim dilemma burgeoning became reality. Using what little money I had for a tutor for the last two weeks of classes was far too late. The teacher’s strong southern accent mangled the English language, and was difficult to understand. Despite knowing how to solve the problems, he could not teach me the subject. I didn’t understand how to solve the assigned problems, worried about the final exam approaching like a two-hundred and twenty-pound linebacker, and floundered aimlessly with each practice problem. Two students joined me for tutoring. Each paid him, so he soaked us for three times what he normally charged. He refused to take us individually. After attending ten sessions where he solved a problem from the text, quickly set up the correct solution, and reached the answer without explaining how he calculated it, my fate was sealed. None of these excuses justified neglecting my studies I lamented.

Entering the final exam with a C minus, when I looked at the exam, the questions confused me. They were worded differently from what I had studied. Trying to set up each solution by listing the formulas, I hoped to at least receive partial credit that might help me pass. When my grade appeared in the mail, I could not believe it. For the first time in my life, I had received an “F.” Feeling horrible and humiliated, I recalled my father saying, “You’re wasting my money by not taking the NROTC scholarship,” and my faith in myself eroded. How could I call home and announce my abject failure?

The Chairman of the Chemistry was supposed to arbitrate appeals of final exam disputes. I appealed seeking partial credit on some problems. The Chairman informed me, “Your meeting is scheduled for 8:00 AM Monday.”Arriving before the appointed time having hurried across the campus to the place for the meeting a mile from my dorm, I waited until 8:00A.M., and knocked on his door when the hour arrived. No one responded. After knocking every five minutes thereafter, at 8:30 AM, a fat man waddled out of the door, a large leather brief case in hand. He glanced at me.

“My name is Dan Lavery. I’m here for the 8:00 AM appointment.”

“I know who you are, Mr. Lavery. You are an F student and always will be.”

With mouth open, unable to defend myself, shaken from his blunt dismissal of me, I watched as he left me there having winnowed the chaff and dropped me from his ivory tower. What a fool I had been!

My mind started spinning into utter confusion. How would my father react to my flunking a course after dropping the NROTC scholarship, costing him extra money, and wasting my time with fraternity boys who barely knew me? How many hours, days, months, had I wasted pledging to earn an idiotic fraternity pin? It was absurd. My confidence was on empty. My relationship with Dad had soured from my impulsive decision to switch from NROTC to pre-ministerial studies. Needing to restore that relationship, I realized Dad had wanted me to succeed and genuinely believed the Naval Academy would fulfill any young man’s dream with a superior education, discipline, and a professional future in the Navy.

But, my academic strength was in literature; and the professors in the English Department truly inspired me. What kind of a future would await me if I graduated with a major in English? Teaching? Too immature, I couldn’t visualize opportunities for English majors that would interest me, even from a prestigious university like Duke. While walking to my dorm, the Deans’ words entered my mind: “You were lucky to get into Duke. You are a borderline student. Maybe you should sign up for the Marines.”

Maybe I should seek a military career; try to get into Annapolis where a different kind of fraternity existed, serve my country, and work with others on a large dedicated team. Both my brother and father thrived in that atmosphere. If they could do it, it might be right for me after all. A major change in my plans for the future could turn things around and secure my broken relationship with Dad who would support that decision since he had said, “Some of the midshipman who had previous college experience entered the Academy more mature and performed better for it.” Dad knew from experience because he had attended the University of Chicago before entering Annapolis in 1928.

Richard J. Lavery Jr, Midshipman, USNA, 1928-32

Captain Richard J. Lavery, Jr. USN

When I reached the Beta house, I had already made up my mind. In seconds my suitcase and belongings were packed in the 1949 black Buick Grampa gave me. A brilliant pre-medicine senior frat brother from Maine, Boyd Eaton, tried to change my mind, “You can take the Qualitative Analysis course over in the summer. Don’t cash it all in. You have a bright future here.”

“Duke is a great University and graduating would enhance your life whatever direction you go,” former roommate, Steve Hopkins pleaded.

“I let my father down by flunking a course. He can’t afford the tuition. I’ll study for an appointment to Annapolis as my Dad and brother did,” I said trying to look resolved. They both knew I was devastated. During our friendship, we had discussions about the fraternity, sports, and life. Boyd had visited my home one vacation. Of all the Betas, he impressed me the most. Because of men like him, and Steve, I had thought pledging the fraternity would improve my social skills, introduce me to attractive coeds, and make me more confident. Both made me feel joining Beta would help me have a limitless future. Boyd majored in English and minored in the sciences on his way to medical school. Blind to such possibilities, my disappointment and an impetuous perspective drove me from Duke because of a relatively small failure. Now they believed I had made an irresponsible decision, but knew they couldn’t change my mind or remove my guilt for failing a course and wasting my father’s money. Focused on fulfilling my father’s plan, I did not look to my heart, and left Durham’s dust a few hours after the Chemistry Chairman assaulted me.

Black Buick on road

Driving over the hills and past pine forests of North Carolina, I thought of qualifying for Annapolis before arriving in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Given my recent Chemistry course failure, what made me think I would succeed at an engineering school with intense science courses and military indoctrination? Why had I not dropped the fraternity madness? Wasting valuable time diverted me from finding my path for meaning and purpose at Duke where many flourished. Having lost the confidence that surrounded my past from recent bewilderment, I recalled my pride in my Dad and brother, and wanted to return to that secure mold. Not praying to God, nor listening to my inner voice of truth, the drumbeat of my father’s plan drove me. Anyone could realize their dreams at a university like Duke, but after giving up the ministry, I wandered without a rudder. Soon I would be tested like nothing I had experienced before.

front gate USNA 1960Bancroft Hall Mishipman in Whites parading to mealDan entering RA5C 1965 Judgment RA5C on the groundVietnam USS Oakhill black and white

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Remember How Fragile Life Is


Oak Hill Navigator

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez

I arrived at the Naval Amphibious Base at Coronado, California in February 1966 for “Indoctrination in Counterinsurgency.” One of the female instructors warned, “Bob Dylan and Joan Baez are subversives out to destroy America.” None of my fellow officers confronted her over these provocative remarks, which I found offensive. Their vital folk music spoke to a rebellious generation. I liked their sound and message. However, for me join the protests emerging like scattered fires on the America’s landscape, it would take something more

Bob Dylan The Times They Are a Changing

At the Coronado officer’s club, I met some aviators who had recently returned from Vietnam. They knew the pilots on the USS Ranger (CVA 61) and informed me that the North Vietnamese had shot down Lt. Gerald Coffee and his navigator over Vietnam on one of their first flights in February. These two officers had relieved Todd and me when we dropped out of the RA5C program a few months earlier. Only the pilot survived and was imprisoned at the infamous Hanoi Hilton where he was tortured. This news sent chills down my spine. Our rescue team could not recover the body of the person who had sat in the seat I would have occupied. I had cheated death again.

Vigilante Clamshell Cockpits opened

Much later, I saw a printout describing the attack on that RA5C, which “…was shot down by AAA while making a photo reconnaissance flight near Cap Bouton, North Vietnam, 19º12’N, 105º45’E. The SAR resulted in a vicious mêlée as destroyer Brinkley Bass (DD-887) and guided missile destroyer Waddell (DDG-24), the latter “straddled” by enemy salvos, ‘slugged it out’ with communist batteries. A total of 33 Navy and USAF aircraft were ‘diverted to suppress enemy fire’ while a USAF Grumman HU-16 Albatross attempted to locate the downed crew. Coffee survived but was captured, not returning home until 12 February 1973.”

CHAPTER 27-Y RA5C landing on aircraft carrier 1965

Another report said the navigator died from wounds, although he had ejected from the plane. The pilot watched as his crewmate’s parachute entered the water near a beach. North Vietnamese villagers found his body and buried him at the scene while fishermen captured Coffee and took him to the North Vietnamese military.

When I visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. in 2004, I took my wife and three children to witness the navigator’s name etched on the “Wall.” “That man died in my place,” I said tearfully. Had I stayed in aviation, none of you kids would have been born. Remember how fragile life is. How lucky we are to be alive to honor those not so fortunate.”

Vietnam Wall ***

To report as the navigator of the USS Oak Hill (LSD 7) in March of 1966, I took the Coronado ferry to San Diego and parked near the ship’s berth. She was commissioned before the Korean War, in need of fresh paint, and an overhaul. As I approached the ladder leading to the gangplank, I wondered what kind of leaders I would encounter in this branch of the Navy. Amphibious ships had a reputation of being the slowest in the fleet; some said they attracted “bottom feeders.” I might be wandering into a world of egotistic dictators with limited knowledge and malicious attitudes. I walked up to the Officer of the Deck, and saluted, “Lieutenant J. G. Lavery reporting as ordered, sir. I request permission to come aboard.”

Vietnam USS Oakhill black and white

The officer had a black arm patch with gold “OD” on the sleeve of his white uniform saluted back. “Welcome aboard, Lieutenant Lavery. I’m Lieutenant Commander Kay. Show me your orders.”

“Here they are, sir,” I said handing him a copy and grasped his hand in a warm handshake, “Glad to come aboard, sir.”

“Our navigator can’t wait to see you. Take Lt. Lavery to the Personnel Office,” he barked to a sailor. The muscular black swabby saluted the OD and hurried along the port side of the ship. Following him, I peered down into the landing dock where three LCU’s (landing craft utility) could carry a tank and many armed Marines. After the Captain flooded the area and lowered the stern gate, they chugged out to the ocean and to an amphibious landing.

I arrived at the Personnel Office three decks below to meet the navigator. The hum of typewriters rose above shipboard life, never close to tranquil, often filled with unexpected noise. A sharp officer was in charge, sweat on his brow, fastidious expression, intent body language, hands shuffling papers, he was immersed in monotony. Scrutinizing a document from the overflowing inbox, he glanced at me.

“Lieutenant J.G. Lavery reporting to relieve you, sir,” I said with a salute.

“Welcome aboard Mr. Lavery,” he said quickly putting on his cap and saluting. “Good to see you. Take a seat and relax. I’m Mike.”

“Call me Dan. Why are you in the Personnel Office?”

“The duties you’re relieving me of, besides Navigator, include Personnel Officer, Postal Officer, and Legal Officer,” he said with a mid-western accent, appeared intelligent, and was in no sense a “bottom feeder.”

“You’ll have to qualify as Officer of the Deck and later as Command Duty Officer.”

“What do you do as Personnel Officer?”

He handed me a three-page job description that mentioned reviewing the mail, training officers and enlisted men, and distributing orders from the Captain to the Executive Officer. After an hour of learning the office routine and meeting the sailors assigned to the office, I asked, “May I see the navigation equipment?”

“Let’s go!” He bolted out the door, with me close on his heels.

Vietnam Navigator in charthouse

He took me up two flights of ladders (stairs) to the Navigator’s station in the Operations room. A chart of the San Diego harbor rested on the desk with a compass, pencils, and a long-armed ruler attached to a swivel. The Chartroom contained books on astronomy, tides, currents, lighthouses, and other navigational objects above a radarscope used for taking a bearing or identifying ships, boats, or debris in the water. If in a fog, Loran tables provided the ship’s position from Long Range Navigation signals. Sonar sent sound waves into the ocean to determine depth, or the presence of a submarine, torpedo, or rock.

Vietnam sextant for sun line

Sextants and star tables were available for night and day sightings. Everything I saw excited me. I admired Mike and was enthusiastic about the most responsible position the Navy had ever assigned me and realized more than ever, they required me to measure up to the highest standards.


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