- From reading your introduction, Nick Danger was the manifestation of the Ranger being unable to relieve the Connie and the Midway riding to the rescue on its thousands of horsepower. It was cross fertilized by the hours you whiled away reading Raymond Chandler. Did you always intend to be a writer or was this a pre-Internet way to stay busy?
No, Ranger’s collision happened in the Straits of Malacca after we completed Indian Ocean Deployment #1. We had been relieved out there by- Coral Maru?- and returned to Japan after months gone. Ranger was headed to the IO to support Hostage Rescue operation “Eagle Claw” when she was struck by a merchant ship. Damage was significant.
With Ranger needing repair, she was directed to head for Yoko for repairs and we were directed to return to sea and assume Ranger’s role way out there after only a week or so ‘home” in Japan. There are many stories about the interpersonal relations of the Ranger crew and the Midway families while we were gone. Nick Danger was a project intended to relieve some of the anxiety and endless sameness of operating in a pleasant blue environment. We were in Perth Australia on IO #1 when word came about the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran. We sortied north out of Freemantle, Perth’s port city, assuming we would head north to take station in the North Arabian sea. Instead, we were directed to proceed to Mombasa, Kenya, for a scheduled port visit. It was very cool, with a little apprehension about what was happening next.
2. Which was more difficult, what you did with the squadron or keeping Danger’s adventures from flying too far afield?
They were literally the same thing. Afloat, we worked Squadron business as an integrated part of flight ops for Air Wing FIVE. The Air Intelligence officers assigned to the squadrons were seconded to the Carrier Intelligence Center- CVIC. We augmented the Ship’s company intelligence staff, performing the mission briefings and debriefing the aircrew on their return four hours after the brief. Also worked recognition issues, other training, handed out cameras and film, worked on relevant charts, answered questions and tried to keep them accurate. Merchant shipping was big on the sea lanes, and periodically SOVINDRON (Soviet Indian Ocean Squadron–not an official acronym, used by the CVIC) would deploy a submarine to keep us on our toes- nothing hostile, just interested. So it was all one kluge of unstoppable activity, of which Squadron mess treasurer (“Get more plaques made!”), legal officer blah blah went along with SERE school in California or Maine (Search, Evasion, Resistance and Escape), JEST (Jungle Evasion and Survival Training) in the Philippines to ensure we were all on the same sheet of music. SERE school was pretty interesting, beatings and waterboarding included, no extra charge. That was all part of working.
Liberty was very much like the bar scene in the original Star Wars film. It included Tokyo, Hong Kong, Subic Bay, Bangkok, Mombasa, Perth and Nairobi, among others. At the world-famous Grace Hotel Coffee Shop in Bangkok, they served the employees of the clubs on Pat Pong Road after the bars closed down. At the bar there, one of the other fighter guys shouted out: “Where am I going to find an Laotian lady at this hour?” He succeeded.
3. It seems like you published a chapter of Nick Danger every day? Was this the schedule and how did you find the time to be a naval officer and a writer?
I tried to publish something every day that the Midway Multiplex would print. The trick was to try to do something we all knew about in a unique environment. The PacMan game machine in the Dirty Shirt Wardroom was worth several issues and plot changes. It was written in the same way we did operational things. In between flight operations or in a spare half hour between one thing and another (the only other things were eating, sleeping or working out), I would jam some paper in an IBM SelEctric typewriter, bang on it for a while and then run it down to the newsletter guys. There was, I heard later, some mild controversy over the idea that one of the squadron guys was generating the continuing story, but RADM Bob Kirksey apparently thought it was good for morale or something, and I tried to stay a bootstrap away of anything that would get in the way of good order and discipline. Apparently it worked. Racy enough for the time without being too disruptive. But to a crew used to the Philippines, we were indeed the Navy’s “Foreign Legion” in perpetual motion.
4. What is the significance of Nick Danger, Third Eye? Is he psychic or does it have some other meaning?
It was an idea borrowed from the Firesign Theater, a comedy troop of deranged hipsters popular in the early 1970s. The term ‘Third Eye’ was their attempt at jamming the vaguely spiritual references of the crazy late sixties (Hindu and others) and 1940s cinema noir into the reality that we were actually a ship of war on what appeared to be the razor blade of conflict.t we were actually a ship of war on what appeared to be the razor blade of conflict.
5. What is the relationship between JR Reddig and Vic Socotra?
JR was a new Ensign fresh out of NIOBC (Naval Intelligence Officer Basic Course) and volunteered for Midway, then considered a two year ‘hardship’ tour. After two IO deployments from Japan, they offered him a one-year tour in Korea at USFK (U.S. Forces, Korea) to “get even” with the other Intel folks who got three year tours at CONUS-(Continental United States) based squadrons and ships. I was irate about that, still in the Foreign Legion mode in Korea and wrote a fun book about it called “The Snake Ranch Papers,” named after our hooch at Yongsan Garrison at Seoul. I actually got more operational time in Navy and Joint before it was cool. Then OSIS (Ocean Surveillance Information System) and anti-Soviet sub analysis as things got strange with the Soviet Union. Writing a newspaper on the floor of the stock exchange is how one watch officer described it.
Korea time included a military coup in Korea, civil Unrest at Kwangju, Analogous Response ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) ops in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor and best fun.
With Cold War, Persian Gulf War and GWOT (Global War on Terrorism) were four or five undeclared but real contingency ops, mostly focused on the Persian Gulf. Other assignments included organizing Congressional Travel to Haiti, Burma, PRC (People’s Republic of China) & Pyongyang, and more excitement. Writing about it meant a certain dual tasking and processing of life, since I was supposed to provide accurate notes as “aides memoire” to the trips and then I could play with it if I got time. As with all things Midway, it was part of a continuous process of all sorts of unrelated things jammed into one very large one of operating a nuclear-armed (“I can neither confirm nor deny!”) mobile airfield far from America’s shores.
“Vic” came from the early days on Midway in the northern Arabian Sea. Much later I was working at CIA HQ on the Community Management Staff in Y2K times. The Farm- the CIA training facility on the Neck- had done some business conducting classified seminars for Government customers, and we were billeted behind the fence for a couple of those sessions.
The place is interesting, and includes property that was once colonial. The house where the last Royal Governor of Virginia hung out was one of the interesting parcels. I did a photo journalist story about the place- nothing about who ran the facility or why. I duly submitted it for Agency review prior to posting it. They said “no” because “the location is classified.” Now, the fact that everyone on two rivers knew what and who ran the place was irrelevant.
I decided to keep doing what I was doing, but nothing more about the Royal Governor, nor what we call “True Name” blogging. There were a lot of people at Langley operating in various manifestations- covered, uncovered, ambiguous, so things like pen-names were common not only in professional tradecraft but social situations.
Vic Socotra is the phrase we used for Soviets operating (or hanging on the hook) in the approaches to the Suez via the Gulf of Aden at Great Socotra Island. When we arrived at what became GONZO Station, we would say it something like “Soviet Indian Ocean Squadron NOB continues routine operations in the vicinity of Great Socotra Island.” That lasted a couple weeks since they normally were doing nothing. It soon became “SOVINDRON vic Socotra NTR.” Or, better said, nothing to report.
Vic Socotra became a more general locational phrase to identify things happening at the SOVINDRON anchorage, or in the general vicinity of the island, toward the entrance to the shipping channel up the Red Sea.
6. The Midway seems to cast a spell over many of its crew and now it’s volunteers. What spell did it cast over you? Did any other job ever come close to the Midway’s Magic?
Yes. And yes. Yes, no, yes. This is one of your volunteers, who asked what bunkroom I lived in for two years, and then sent me a picture of what it looks like now. Sleep was precious there. I still could reset the circuit breaker out in the passageway in the deep silent darkness when the line tripped out. Nick Danger happened because the lunk private detective seemed to be just what we needed at the time. Ever have a job that occasionally meant hanging out of the moving helicopter at ten thousand feet tracking a missile shoot? Once, suiting up and strapping on the back seat of a 55,000lb. Phantom fighter, being hurled off the front end of a moving Midway to go feet-dry and pass Mt. Fujiyama inverted before a routine recovery on the field at Atsugi Naval Air station? The one that still had hard-stands for the Zero fighters that once operated from there against us? Meeting one of their then-ancient aces- Warrant Officer Saburo Sakai, thanking him for his service and hospitality in his land?
7. Your blog, https://www.vicsocotra.com/ is deliciously ambiguous. I love your tag line “Purveyor of Glib Words to the World.” How long did it take you to come up with that and has it been difficult to live up to that motto?
That all gets to the nature of what I have done for fifty years. It started before the internet, of course, and when I saw or did something I thought was interesting, I would write a letter about it, addressed to one or two folks and with enough carbon paper to keep a copy. There is a body of that stuff from Midway around someplace, and another one or two about the last cruise of the IJN Nagato, initially the same sort of thing I did penned by the American XO who took the Japanese battleship down to Bikini Atoll for the Crossroads atomic tests. Great story he did not finish, and may have been one of the Navy people who died young because of radiation exposure. He was a great pal of my Uncles, and his papers were all I had. Part of the dynamic tension in the business was that we wrote for a living- taking the words from the aircrew or the meeting or the trip and crafting them into a narrative that made sense. That stuff was stark and hard edged and based on fact. Taking those sorts of situations and breathing things into them for context- non-frightening context-was the ability to use a slippery glib word for something intensely real. Describing a routine catapult shot on a routine relocation hop. Drama and routine all wrapped up in one- the essence of the Midway experience. She also was home to pals who went to war on her in the Gulf. She is a ship of magic.
8. If life is a conspiracy theory, which theory do you find most plausible?
This week demonstrates the whole thing. I lived the sixties- all of them- as a teen. A President was murdered in public. Then a spiritual leader of great stature was shot down on a motel balcony. And then a brother of the murdered President was shot campaigning for the same office. And the attempts on the lives of other Presidents and governors of Southern states. None of them had much explanation, except for “deranged lone gunmen/women.” Now, we have a clumsy attempt to insert millions of bogus votes in an attempt to remove a legitimately elected President on a fraudulent vote count that is the product of increasing fraudulent activity that incudes our 7th District of Virginia Congressional representation. The idea that hundreds- thousands- of people who swore the same oath to defend the Constitution that I did- participated in this and that it seems about to be successful, and maybe permanent. I find this all wildly improbable in the nation in which I was raised. I think there is the distinct possibility that it is true.
9. What are your current literary inspirations?
I wrote as things happened, and cleaned it up when I could spare the time. The best effort is a biography of an older pal named Donald “Mac” Showers, one of the last survivors of the station HYPO codebreaking group at Pearl from WWII. Unlike most, he had no civilian job to return to after the end of hostilities since he was so young, and stayed in. I came to his attention through my use of a disparaging- glib, if you will- term about General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. I called him “Doug-out Doug” in some social context and it concerned Mac because his boss, Chester Nimitz had a primary directive: “Don’t disrespect the General.” We got over that and became friends. The very idea of getting the Japanese to disclose their target at Midway atoll happened at the corner of Mac’s desk in The Dungeon at Pearl Harbor, conceived by the legendary Jasper Holmes. So that was fun and took a couple years of meetings. But we traveled together through the big Defense reorganization of 1948, and the creation of CIA and NSA, and the later abuses that occurred, and the fixes to the scandals of Watergate, and establishment of the FISA Court system, and his final retirement with the current Intelligence Community I served. The last volume is about the ten-year decline of his beloved wife to early onset Alzheimers, and what it takes to live a 26-hour-day with dementia sufferers and their loved ones. My Dad was doing the same thing when he told me what it was going to be like, so it was personal and real. All the Intel issues he worked are now back in full bloom, so real life with him was also time traveling into the past and future. Anyway, that book is complete, but deserves proper traditional treatment.
Others in Process:
“The Lucky Bunch:” Naval Intelligence and the Mob in New York and The Castle on the Hudson. Fun with Lucky Luciano.
“Love and War in the West.” Civil war family romance amid the Rebel and Yankee aligned recent Irish immigrant community in a tumultuous America. Really fun, and true.
“Snake Ranch Papers” a 14-month one year tour in the Republic of Korea during a military coup conducted by Lt. Gen Chon tu Hwan.
“Boondoggle” Congressional travel in a Haitian-Burmese-North Korean crisis. Oriented to fine hotels in pariah nations.
“Tales from Big Pink,” life in the remarkable Arlington, VA, in the go-go decade that followed Y2K.
“Cruisebook,” the last Cold War Med Cruise 1989-90 as the Wall Comes Tumbling Down and the long struggle….ends?
There are a couple others, including a cookbook I was working on with pal Jinny Martin. She had been an attache wife, and I asked her, and pals from the circuit for sure-fire dishes to prepare when Hubby says he is coming over with the Hungarian delegation for drinks. It was fun, while in progress with lots of photos. I edited her group’s memories of having families in the Philippines and Japan in Cold War times.
And cars- Dad was assistant head of design at American Motors, and he was in that crowd of forward thinkers and creative artists. I came home from high school one afternoon and his gang had a collection of racing machines in the driveway, including a Ferrari Testa Rosa. We were part of it all- first ticket was 120-in-a-50 violation in a pals 440RT Charger while still on my learners permit. Other memorable rides included the Syclone World’s Fastest Production Pickup Truck, the black-and-white-beetle convertible “Shamu” and the 1959 Rambler Cross Country station wagon that Dad designed. Fun stuff in the go-fast years.
Currently in work is a book called “Swamp Postcards,” devoted to this crazy year, and “The Seventy Days” between the election and what is coming next. Glib words conceal the humorous enormity of what is going on in the wide world and right here
10. If somebody asked you why, how do you respond?
I am a predigital creature, but collected sights and situations that were interesting were always…interesting. I felt we lived in times that had a historic aspect, having studied them in college, at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and Harvard’s JFK school of Government later. Seeing how it really works was something that kept me going, in the Fleet and Washington and on the streets of places like Pyongyang. It made telling the story of it fun, even if living in the lower rack of a four man compartment on a WWII ship was a necessary part of the whole story. I volunteered for Japan duty out of a failed attempt of the heart, and what the meaning of being alive really is. I still don’t know, but it is…interesting. This is the first time in life that things are not hurtling from one thing to another without respite. It is a treat to be able to look back at it all with wonder.
For readers interested in reading some of Nick Danger’s adventures, check out Vic Socotra’s website.https://www.vicsocotra.com/wordpress/novellas/nick-danger/
For readers interested in reading some of Nick Danger’s adventures, check out Vic Socotra’s website.https://www.vicsocotra.com/wordpress/novellas/nick-danger/