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Interview with Solomon Reed [June 7, 2003]

Jennifer King:

My name is Jennifer King. I'm interviewing Solomon Reed for the Veterans' History Project in association with the Library of Congress for James Madison High School. Solomon Reed is a Command Master Chief--retired Command Master Chief of the Navy. Why don't we go ahead and get started, (chuckles)

Solomon Reed:

Ok.

Jennifer King:

Ok ... first question is, why did you choose the Navy?

Solomon Reed:

When I was a little boy, working on sharecrop farms--that's what we did. It was a very hard life, and the farms were right on the ocean in Florida, and there was crew ships used to leave Miami, and I used to watch those crew ships sail off into the distance. And I had such a strong imagination, I'd just wish myself on one of those ships to take me away from all the hardships, pain, and suffering that I was experiencing as a child.

Jennifer King:

Right.

Solomon Reed:

And so that had such an embedded impact upon me--that ship sailing away. That when I became of age, sixteen, and one of my dear friends joined the naval reserve and he came back in his uniform, and I remembered him before he went, he was a scrawny little guy, but when he came back, he looked good.

Jennifer King:

(laughter)

Solomon Reed:

And he told me about... about the Navy, "join the Navy, see the world." And when he said "see the world," that evoked those memories that I had as a child--being aboard that ship, sailing away over the horizon. So--it was kind of a two-fold thing--I liked the uniform, but primarily, it struck a chord within my person, of getting out of a situation and doing something different with my life. And the Navy also seemed to draw from that opportunity, from what I saw with my friend. So I followed him and joined the Naval Reserve as well, so we was both in the Navy Reserve. And after three months, I went active duty, so that was the beginning of my naval career.

Jennifer King:

Wow. Ok ... what is the difference between an enlisted man and a ... an officer, and basically what kind of officer were you, lines, staff, limited duty, or warrant?

Solomon Reed:

Well, the difference between an enlisted and commissioned officers are what--what you have are warrant officers and commissioned officers. First, the difference between warrant officers and commissioned officers--and enlisted can... can go into the warrant... become a warrant officer. But in order... to receive a commission, you have to receive a commission from Congress. Basically, you have to have a college education, ok, and you have to apply for a commission, and you go to Officer Candidate School. And after you finish Officer Candidate School, then your commission has to come in as a...as a...as a... commissioned officer--or you graduate from one of the Academies. And then you're commissioned as a commissioned officer. The enlisted, ...you their requirements are that you have a high school diploma--I mean... there are individuals who come into the enlisted side with college degrees, 'cause they choose not to be an officer. The rank structure with the commissioned officer, you go from an Ensign in the Navy to a four star admiral... ok. And the warrant side you go from Warrant Officer 1 to Warrant Officer 4. And enlisted you go from E-l to E-9, which is Command Master Chief. But even with the E-9, there are several levels of E-9. You can have Command Master Chiefs, ok, an' that means that they are the senior enlisted person aboard that command and they are responsible for all the enlisted men in that command. And then you have, what you call Fleet Master Chiefs, they're res-... they're the... they're the senior enlisted in the whole fleet. And then you have the Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, he is the senior enlisted for the entire Navy, so you... so you have Master Chief in your job--Command Master Chief in your job--and you have... I'm sorry, you have Master Chiefs in your job and you have Command Master Chiefs responsible for all the enlisted in that particular command.

Jennifer King:

And did you volunteer for your assign-...for your first assignment or tour (REED chuckles) and...or were you assigned to it?

Solomon Reed:

(chuckles) There's a... there's a saying that the Navy has--and I think the other branches of the service have as well, I can only speak for the Navy--and is... they... they'll allow you to fill out a dream sheet. And that is exactly what it is, it's a dream sheet. You get a chance to choose three different places that you would like to go. Sometimes, you're very fortunate and you luck out, and you get your first choice. But there's always the need of the Navy that comes first. If the need of the Navy is for a certain place, and there's a billet for you there, that's where you're gonna go. So...so you don't really get to choose, you know, the Navy really choose for you; it's filling that need that is there. So I don't think there had...there was...there was...there--my entire thirty-year career, that I ever chose a particular place and got what I wanted. It was always what the Navy wanted me to go--but it always worked out, because every place that I got assigned I enjoyed it to the uttermost and derived the best that I could from it.

Jennifer King:

Ok, ... then... what kind of information or services were you providing for the Vietnam Conflict?

Solomon Reed:

Well, primary intelligence... fleet... the headquarters in London, England... we process a lot of the raw intelligence that came out of Laos, Cambodia, out of Vietnam... and that information basically was... was sent up to a higher command. Most of the things we even didn't understand. You know all of you saw... you saw the data but you simply didn't understand what was going on. But a lot... you had CIA agents... and agents in on the ground in those countries and a lot of information was coming out of those countries. And that information supported the war that was being waged in-country, so it was primarily data processing, so I mean that's basically we had ... we had...we had a computer center set up there at Air Force/Navy in London. And not only did we support that operation, but we supported a lot of intelligent operations through out the European theater. But primarily it was in support of intelligence.

Jennifer King:

OK, on your tour in England, what kind of duties did you perform. Is there... how would you basically describe what you had to do there?

Solomon Reed:

Well, it started out when I first got assigned to England ... it was down at William Common, it just was a Royal Air Force Base in the country in Berkshire. The assignment there was primarily to support the disarmament exercise that was being contemplated between the United States and Russia. As you know this was during the height of the Cold War and both sides were wrapping up their nuclear armament and other ends, but yet were some movements in how we would enter to a treaty that could be monitored and verified. I think Reagan, his comment was, basically as long as we can verify, ok, that we have no problem in entering into a treaty. So our job was to come up with equipment and techniques that could actually verify whether indeed the opponent is living by the treaty. If we are limited to so many type planes or so many types tanks or whatever, we had to be able to determine and be... to accurately assess whether they were doing that. So we had technicians who actually developed equipment, and then we had field testers who actually went out into the field and actually test these equipment. We would go to an Air Force Base, as an example, and we would set sensors out on the air field and as planes would land, the sensor would pick up the information and that information we would take back and we would analyze it. And you could tell by the different signals that each plane gave off what type of plane it was. Whether it was a KC-135, was it a you know a Harrier jet, whatever type of plane. And it was very interesting, challenging work to do that, or you set up the sensors along the road and as tanks or trucks would pass by it would... the signals that would be registered on the equipment. Different spikes and you could tell what type of tank what type of truck. So those are the type things we did in country. You know for a number of months, and then I transferred up to headquarters and ... and when I got transferred to headquarters that's where I got into the data processing work with intelligence. My job there primary in the... first started off in the EAM, called electric accounting machine division. And basically what we did there was... all the data came in on... let's say had to be processed onto cards, we called keypunch cards. You actually keyed holes in the cards and then you had another machine that actually verified those holes and insured that everything you keyed in was correct. So you had one person who would do the keypunching and then another person would take what you keypunched and would verify what you keypunched. You would actually just duplicate what you did, if you made a mistake then the error would be caught and corrected. And then it would either go to a sorting machine or correlating machine. And from there it got loaded into the computer, ok, and the computer would read all these holes and would store this data and it would number crunch; would actually process this data into whatever logic that was programmed for the computer. During those days it was a massive computer but it... but compared with that computer--the power of that computer with what is today--a hand held palm pilot has more power than that computer (chuckles) and that shows you that technology has advanced so tremendously. But that's basically what we did. I started out in EAM equipment and move up to the computer operation--actually operating a computer--and that was always the goal. You'd start out in the keypunching and you moved over to verifying and you moved over to the other machines and your goal was to get trained to the point to become a computer operator. Ok, and after you become a computer operator you went to the point of becoming an analyst, ok, to analyze even the data that came off the computer. Well, fortunately... unfortunately, I never got to the point of being an analyst because by the time I got to be a computer operator it was time for me to get transferred to somewhere else. So from... from 1968 to 1971 that what was I did.

Jennifer King:

So from '72 to '73, when the last soldiers were pulled out of Vietnam...

Solomon Reed:

Right.

Jennifer King:

What were you doing at that time? 2

Solomon Reed:

Well, you know... well we had... there was a Seventh Fleet and there was a Sixth Fleet. The Seventh Fleet was primarily and was a major supporting fleet for the Vietnam Theater. I got transferred from London to Norfolk, Virginia and I got assigned aboard a combat store ship, a USS Concord. That ship job was to keep the other ships supplied with food, water... with all the things they needed in order to continue to operate up in the Mediterranean. There was... even though the Vietnam War was going on, you know, there was other things that the military had to do as well, and we had forces elsewhere. And during the early '70s the Israel-Arab situation was brewing up in 1973. Actually that's where we had the big upheaval, and we were out in the Mediterranean at that time in support--actually one of our ships got attacked by the Israelis, USS Liberty, and we lost some of my friends aboard that ship. But according to all the reports it was an accidental bombing, although we have our suspicions about that--I won't go into that. But... but that was a big, big thing. Being out in the Med', and actually the biggest threat in the Med' at that time was the Russians. Our job was, basically, to keep the fleet on the line out there to insure that the Russians did not have overwhelming presence. So we... we showed the flag. So the Sixth Fleet responsibility was basically for that, and so from 71 to 73 that's what I was doing.

Jennifer King:

So... sorry, I'm kind of disorganized right here...

Solomon Reed:

That's ok.

Jennifer King:

With... with your job, was the American reception of African Americans in the Navy... diff-... different from--or African Americans in general--different from the British? Was it worse or was it better?

Solomon Reed:

Well, when we ... when I got stationed in London, the reception that we received in England was an absolute breath of fresh air. I think because the British Empire encompassed such a multi-cultural variety of people that they had a melting pot already for one--you know you had the East Indies, you had the Indians, you had the Pakistanis, you know, you had the Africans--that were British citizens. And therefore it was easier to be accepted and not looked upon as being strange or different. And so the... my tour there in England was a very pleasant tour. I don't think--I think maybe one or two times I ran into a racial situation. But for the most part I had a very pleasant tour there. Back in the States is a whole different story, there--not so much anti-Afro American--although there was a lot of that going on--it was anti-military. There was a tremendous backlash--anti-war movement in the United States that if you had a uniform on you were--you were--you were considered... you know, as they used to call you child-killer. They spat upon you; you would come into the airport and people would spit upon you. You know, there was such a hatred towards us in the military because of Vietnam situation--it didn't matter whether you were serving in Vietnam or whether you had a uniform on--you got that kind of treatment. And it's interesting, I don't believe that the majority of the American public felt that way. I think there was a very loud, vocal, strong element that took the high road out there and the solid majority kept--just stayed silent. And so I think that was kind of disconcerting to me was in a uniform-- to see that our country did not support us. And here we were willing to put our lives on the line--and everyday we put our lives on the line. Whether you were actually serving in country in Vietnam, you know, with an M-16 in your hand, or whether you were out, you know, aboard a carrier in the Mediterranean. I mean the dangers are so high in those situations, so your life is on the line, you know, day-in and day-out. But yet we did it because we believed in our country, believed in what it was doing--there was a strong tremendous bond of patriotism that ran among those in the military--at least the ones that I knew. There was a strong racial conflict within the military--I speak for the Navy-- we had a real hard time in the early 70s. At that time, there was--the black power movement was beginning to... you know... to... people... black is powerful, and the Black Muslim was on the rise, and so there was a lot of friction--a lot of friction between the Caucasians and the Blacks even... aboard ship. And actually there was some serious incidents--where we had some serious riots onboard the ships--almost to the point of almost mutiny in some respect. But we had an Admiral, a chief of Naval Operations named Zumwalt, who took the rein of the Navy. And I think that the things that he did--he was not so popular among the officer corp--but the enlisted loved him. He came in and he took a very aggressive role, and he used to send out what you called Z-grams--and these were edicts from his office to the fleet--that they had to take action to resolve issues. And--he brought a little more humanity back into the picture--and that was something like adding a little balm to the wound. Because I think we did get wounded, and so it was needed--they called it touchy-feely--and it was kind of touchy-feely--but fortunately I think we needed that, we needed that touchy-feely. And we got better, we healed and I think we came out of that stronger, wiser, and a more durable Navy than what we were prior to that. But I never lost faith in the principle of the Navy--even though we had some hard times in those years. Because when I first came in--I digress a little bit-- when I first came in I came out of the South, the Deep South, during what we called the Jim Crow days. And there was no opportunity for Afro-Americans, especially down in the South. And the Navy was an opportunity to do something with one's life, and yet, even though there were still some segregation on the outskirts of it--but once you got in, ok, the opportunities were there. And that was really left up to you. If you had a desire to achieve, then the opportunity was given to you to achieve. And there was always someone there--around--who was willing to give you a helping hand if you wanted to be helped. And I recognized that immediately--and 1 never had that in the civilian world--especially from my counterparts, the Caucasians, because it was just the opposite. Being Black, Caucasians most certainly wanted to put you down, want to keep you down, because if you tried to better yourself that was a threat. And they simply would not tolerate that. So here, I had people encouraging me, you know, to achieve, to excel--and that was like Briar Rabbit being thrown into a briar patch--you know, this was my world, this was what I wanted. So I fell in love with the Navy, because it was the first time that I felt that I was being allowed to rise to the level of achievement that was left up to me. And I took advantage of the opportunities. So even though there was problems, I looked beyond the problems and looked at the opportunities still there. Now--I digress too much on that--but that was how it started with me as far as it started being very fond of the Navy. So I'm very, very partial...

Jennifer King:

I see.

Solomon Reed:

Very partial to the Navy.

Jennifer King:

Alright. If there was discrimination--if any in the Navy--did it have any impact on the duties that you were called on to perform?

Solomon Reed:

That's a good question. When I first came in, I got sent to NTC, Naval Training Command at Great Lakes, Illinois for my recruit training. And in recruit training I had a wonderful experience--I transitioned from being a civilian to a Navy man--and had a very successful time. But when I got transferred out of Recruit Training Command, I was transferred out as an undesignated seaman apprentice. Which means I had no job qualification, ok? ...Excuse me... and so I simply--they said you was non-designated, you didn't have a job category. At that time there was very limited opportunity in regards to technical jobs. Most Afro-Americans were going into sub-servicemen ratings, which means that you were a barber, or you worked in supply, or you worked on the deck--chipping paint, painting, as a bolster mate, but as far as the technical ratings was concerned, there was very little opportunity to get into those ratings. So there was some lingering bias in that area. I got transferred to Washington D.C. Navy Yard. And while I was there as an undesignated apprentice--they had a data-processing school there. And there was a chief in that school--and I did... odd-end jobs, I used to make coffee for the white students and I used to clean the classrooms and, you know, I cleaned the bathrooms--that was my job. But this chief--'cause I used to ask questions, and I used to kinda hang around--and this chief saw something in me and allowed me to sit in on class, not as a student but to sit in on a class. And I was absolutely voracious in my appetite as learning and that impressed him. And it was out of that whole process that I got designated and was even allowed to take the "machine accountant" exam. I was one of the first African Americans to become a machine accountant. So it's like OK you've broke that barrier. I didn't see it as breaking a barrier. I saw an opportunity was presented to me and I took advantage of the opportunity. And so that's how I got into data-processing was being at the right place at right time and showing an interest and a desire and someone recognizing that initiative and giving me an opportunity. But once I got into the rating, and I experienced some hostility among my fellow shipmates, because they were all white. And therefore, you know you go into a command and so some did not appreciate me being there. But for every one did not appreciate you being there, there are 2 or 3 who did. So you learn to overlook those ones and focus on the positive. And that got less and less as time went on. And those individuals did not stay because Navy was changing and if you did not change with it you simply did not stay with it. So even with those Afro-Americans who were militant, if they didn't change with the Navy, they couldn't stay either. As Navy went through the revolutional change, those of us who wanted to be with it changed, our attitude changed. And we learned to be a family; we learned to be shipmates; we learned to work as a team. And so that's how the Navy came. I think today we came through its revolution through change.

Jennifer King:

While you were in England, you mentioned before that you worked with the CIA somewhat or some of the personnel of the CIA. Could you go into that a little bit or is that classified information?

Solomon Reed:

Well, I tell you there are things that we did... We had no direct contact with any field agent or any thing like that. It's just that we... the data that we received came from the field; it came from many sources. And that data was processed by us there in a data-processing center. So we speculated many times as to how these people, how did they get this data; how they got this type of thing, but actually didn't have any contact. Although, I must admit there was one occasion when I was approached by an agent of the KGB who tried to turn me, who tried to actually get classified information from me. Any time, they tell you if there is any contact with anyone who try to befriend you--and its very subtle how they do that. And this was an Englishman. Just being in a pub and they just befriend you, buy you a drink and next thing they start asking questions, leading questions, innocent questions. But you were trained--you know, trained to be on your guard. There are certain innocent questions that they ask that cause alarm bells to go off. Any time you get that type of thing you are to report it. So I had that one encounter. It was kind exciting. It was kinda exciting. But there was agents who tried to get information from us personnel that was in-country. And they knew, they knew where you worked. They knew where the places that you frequent. But they did a good job on training us as far as keeping ourselves out of trouble in the sense of financially. Plus the Navy took good care of you; they looked after you. And we looked after each other, ok? If you had a shipmate that you knew was in trouble, then you didn't stick our head in sand and pretend you didn't see it. You reported to somebody because it didn't take much time for someone to get into financial trouble or get himself romantically involved in a situation and find himself compromising his country. So they drummed it into you time and time again. So, no not directly with intelligence other than we handled the data, we processed the data that was given to us. That was what we did in those couple of years there.

Jennifer King:

While you were there in London at the Navy Headquarters there, what was the basic British attitude toward American military personnel there? Were they a little hostile?

Solomon Reed:

There was a fringe group, and these were the college kids. The average bloke, the average British person could care less. I mean, they just went about their day-to-day business. But the intellectual, the college kids, they were whipped up into a frenzy by their professors who were Marxist/Leninist leaning, you know, Socialist. So we got tremendous amount of protest, you know, we always have demonstrations because Navy's headquarter is right across the street from the American Embassy. So anytime there is a massive demonstration to American Embassy protesting the war in Vietnam, we also got a massive protest as well, and we had to lock down. We lock things down. And marines were posted at the front lobby with Ml 6s were posted on the second floor in case of any breakdown. Fortunately, we never had any breach by anyone. We had people throw rocks. But the British police did a great job in riot control. They was able to minimize any kind damage that the students were able to inflict upon the American presence. But as far as hostility by the public itself in the sense of being out living in the community--because we all lived in the community--in different places. No, we never experienced any hostility. You just kind of blend in, you kind of blend in with the population but never experienced any direct hostility from the population, only indirectly when they had big demonstrations against our facilities be it at one of the air force bases or at the headquarters.

Jennifer King:

Is there any kind of very memorable occasion that you remember during that time or during some kind of conflict?

Solomon Reed:

Well probably the one thing I remembered. I really wanted to go to Vietnam and I looked for opportunities, the possibility to go to Saigon, or you know something like that. But I never could get an opportunity to go. But during the Tet Offensive, the Navy headquarters in Saigon was bombed and we lost some personnel in that conflict. I think all of us who were in the support arena--not because of choice but because that was where the Navy needed us-- when we looked at our fellow sailors who were aboard ships out in the Tonkin Gulf, or who were in country as medics or on the riverboat patrols and facing the danger every day. We have to admit that there was a little bit, I'm sure there was a little bit, of guilt in that. But I think we quickly learned--I know I learned, that we all had a role to play--and it was all of us playing those roles in conjunction with the mission that enabled the mission to get accomplished. So whether we were in London supporting or in country supporting, it was work in tandem that got the mission accomplished. So I think when the headquarters in Saigon got bombed, during the Tet Offensive, I think I became very much aware of just how dangerous the situation in Vietnam really was and how difficult it was for us to deal with the populace's uprising. Then seeing so many of your fellow service men come home in body bags was not an encouraging thing. I think the morale... if anything was memorable it was how low the morale was. You look back at home and you see how your fellow Americans were against the war and were against the military. That was probably the hardest thing to deal with. It was something that was memorable but from a negative point of view. I still carried some memory of how bitter I was. Yes, I got a little bitter for I saw all the dear young men and women who were losing their lives and there were no appreciation whatsoever back at home for the sacrifice that they was making. And somehow we just lost sight of what we were accomplishing there and what we was trying to accomplish there. Basically, we were trying to keep a country free, that's what it was all about. To keep the communists from taking over the country, and we were willing to put our lives on the line for that. But somehow we lost sight of that and because of the support was not there, I believe that was a factor why the war was not won, because we simply did not have the public support. You can see the difference between that conflict and the Persian Gulf War I conflict. We had the public support and as a result, that war was resoundingly won. So, public support is very critical. The population have to believe what you are doing. If they don't believe what you are doing, it is very very difficult to achieve victory. I think with all the wars, you have to see that you have the backing of the country, and we lost the backing of the country in Vietnam. That was the result of what we had to... we lost.

Jennifer King:

Do you think that also played into the fact how it is the longest war in America's history? Vietnam war being the longest war. Do you think that the loss of American support and the fact that the nation was so divided over the issue was one of the problems?

Solomon Reed:

No doubt. No doubt indeed. I think that indeed--and the other thing that I cannot overlook as well being in a uniform at that period of time--we knew that it was very difficult for the field commanders or the military to run the war. Because the war was being run out of the White House, out of Washington. You cannot win the war that way. You have to let you commanders in the field to do what they think is necessary to do and give them the equipment and men to do the job. You can't run a war and play politics with it. And Vietnam was a very political war. It was very political. You just had so much politics involved in it that it became a war. Look at the difference between what happened in Persian War I or Kosovo, You basically gave the people who were in charge of winning the war, General Powell, the equipment and the men to do the job and they do the job. But that was not the case in Vietnam War. There was a lot of second-guessing of General Westmoreland, there was a lot of things being done in the country that was not kosher. It was a very difficult time. Could we have succeeded there? Of course, I believe with all my heart that we could have succeeded there, but it would have taken a country supporting its troops. But we had bled so much and lost the confidence of the American public. And it was a very negative war. One of the biggest things when you have the reporters and you see women and children being killed. And those images are being flashed across the TV screen everyday, in the newspapers, the mass media, it's very hard for a country that wears its heart on its sleeve to get behind that. And it was a very brutal war and the communists certainly used--definitely used--that very effectively to turn the population against us. They used women and children even as combatants. You know, a child would come up to a group of American soldiers and toss a grenade. So that was just one of those realities, that was what happened. The troops became very leery of everyone and there was some atrocities committed, but when you are in the heat of battle, and your enemy comes in all shapes and sizes what do you do? So I felt for those guys, those guys who was out there trying to pacify the country, in the midst of napalm and North Vietnamese regulars. It was a tough time--a very tough time, but without the public's support there was no way we could have won that war. We lost too many lives. So to answer your question, yeah.

Jennifer King:

Did you have any friends that had to go there to do active duty support?

Solomon Reed:

I did not have any friends from the headquarters where I was stationed at went in country. But I did have two brothers who actually were serving in country. Both of my brothers served in the 101-cavalry division. My oldest brother got wounded while he was serving; he got a shot in the back. My other brother actually got temporarily blinded by a napalm strike that came too close to his unit, but he did get his sight back; although he was still temporarily blinded. So I got first hand of reports about what was happening from my brothers. One of the things they always said was "don't come here, you don't wanna come here." Both of them served one tour (one year). But there were some people loved it and they served 3 tours. They loved the combat, they just loved the danger. But it was a difficult time for this nation. We got wounded because of that war and it took a long time for us to heal. But we are a country that can go through that, and still come out on the other end, a better country. I don't think that many countries can do that. That says something about America, says something about us as a people. We had such a divisive thing occurred. But yet now if you look at how the veterans are looked upon, there is respect and there is honoring. Even this project here that kind of warms the cockles of my heart, because it is a way of recognizing, you know, the solid contribution so many of us have given to this country from WWII up to this present time. It is the price many have paid. The ultimate price, which is their lives. But I think if you asked us, would you do it again? Would you do what you did again? I know that I can only speak for myself. I would do it again. I would sign my name on that contract and stay the 30 years that I stayed. I don't think that I could say in a better way "Thank you America, for being the country that you have been to me."

Jennifer King:

With your brothers experiences during the war, did they say anything about the conflict with the Viet Cong in relation to the immense "tunnel system"?

Solomon Reed:

Yes, they called it the "tunnel rat". There was always one individual, usually he was the smallest guy and these guys were absolutely insane because--but they gleefully would want to go down those holes and tunnels. Some men lost their lives too because sometimes those holes were booby-trapped. But it was just one of those things. They was very happy that they was big guys, ok? (KING laughs) Never get choosed to be a tunnel rat, ok? And they was VERY happy about that. But they never had any problems with the volunteering. Being the point man was another big thing, big danger. No one really wanted to be on the point because that's the person--if you're the point when you get attacked--normally was always the person to get hit first. The other thing that they said was that the officers--there was a lot of fragging. These young officers would come and think they know everything. They would do things were stupid; they would risk the lives of their troops, ok? Someone would lob a grenade into their tent. Blow them up and frag them. Was that right? Of course not. That kind of war brought that kind of thing out in people. This kind of things you did not hear from Korean War or WWII. But Vietnam, it seemed that it brought the worst in people. They talked about those things. And there was a segregation there. The "brothers" stayed together and the whites stayed together. But yet they might have stayed together because of cultural identity maybe--if that was a thing--they still managed to operate as a unit and fight as a unit. But there was a lot of drug use. Big time drug use. And many of our troops came back actually addicted. One of the biggest drugs there was heroin. "China white" they used to call it-- because it was so plentiful and so cheap. Mostly because opium was available and so guys started snorting heroin during country and got a habit and came back to States. Now that habit became a monster. $5 for a fix in Vietnam but now to get a fix is maybe $50 or $100 a day in the US. How do you get that kind money? Later in my career when I came back to US, I became the drug and alcohol counselor. We had a lot of sailors from the Vietnam era that was-- they was dopers, they was heroine addicts. We gave them minimum amount of counseling (30 days of treatment) but eventually had to remand them to a Veterans hospital. Very few came back to active duty. It was a very damaging war on many fronts. But out of all that damage, still, the nation, we have healed. I think we are a better people as a result.

Jennifer King:

The use of the napom, did your brothers mentioned any side effect besides the temporary blindness?

Solomon Reed:

Well. I saw my brothers after they came back from Vietnam. They were different than before they went. They were changed people. And I think that most people came back from Vietnam were different. They were more angry than I knew them. So, it had lasting effect on them. They were more jumpy. I contribute one brother who has died I believe that the injuries he sustained from Vietnam ultimately shorten his life span. My other brother before he went into Vietnam, he was a very dynamic individual. I saw him very much becoming a CEO of some company. He had that type of drive and that type of ambition. After he came back from Vietnam, he lost his motivation. He lost his drive. And although he has survived... but he just survived. He works as a carpenter... smoke a little pot. And that's not the brother that I knew. So, it seems that something has taken away from him. He lost a piece of his soul. So a generation got damaged. Definitely, there is no question about it in that war. I believe that if this country was in support of them, I don't think as much damage would have been caused. I think that having to go through what they went through and then to have to receive the scorn, of their country was just too much for their psyche. I think that where the damage really is. I know that even I was not in country and I felt the effect of the after the heart of the hurricane. It affected me and I even wasn't in country. I cannot even imagine how it would affect me. I don't think that I would stay for 30 years in the Navy if I had been in-country, experienced what they had experienced, and came back and experienced the hostility and rejection of my country. I think I would have chucked it in no time at all. But the fact that I didn't experience that, I did experience, you know, the scorn. But that was manageable.

Jennifer King:

So, especially after the war, was there a large like drop in military personnel?

Solomon Reed:

Well, there was a downsizing. We were at one point a 600 ship Navy. We had to have a large Navy presence to manage all the affairs of the world that we was involved in. But after the Vietnam War, there was a big draw down. We went from being a 600 ship Navy to 350 ship Navy I believe it was. All the battle ships got decommissioned. And those are the big boys, the BBs. You could send a shell that weighs the size of a Volkswagen 21 miles in country. Devastating, those battleships. But they are ancient relics now because what can be delivered onto a site now by Tomahawks and cruise missiles makes those ships just obsolete. But all those ships got decommissioned. We went what we call through a lean-mean period wherein the military budget was cut deeply. Our pay, we didn't get pay raises, so it was discouraging at one time because you felt like a stepchild. You weren't needed anymore. I remembered how we had to "cannibalize" to keep things running we cannibalized different things because you just couldn't get new things. You learned to be very creative in your supply system. But, again when Reagan came into office, things turned around big time. The defense budget got a big increase because, the point was, we basically had a situation where we had to confront the Russians on a superiority standpoint. So, that was a big thing to see the military at least to get back on to what we called the front stage again and start getting some credibility back again, then morale started rising. It is kind of surreal because you know when you're actually there--and at that point of time I was at a leadership position--and when you tried to talk young man and woman to stay in the Navy, you know, but yet you didn't have much to offer them to stay in the Navy; it was a hard sell, a very hard sell. Other than things will change you know and there will be more opportunities. And things did change. So, it became very easy, easier to offer to young men and women to reenlist, to stay onboard. You we saw more and more people actually make a career out of it. Because it became a pleasant place to be. Thequality of life became much better aboard ship. Became much better on shore, on shore installations, the housing situation improved. So the quality of life definitely took a big upturn. And that remained for number of years and we took another dip. But, yes, it had some effect.

Jennifer King:

Just to wrap up a little bit over here, what are your thoughts on Daniel Ellsberg the publisher of the Pentagon Papers?

Solomon Reed:

Well at the time when that happened, I felt that he should have been prosecuted. Absolutely, I mean, he violated the Secrecy Act as far as I was concerned. It was a highly classified documents that got leaked, so being someone in uniform I felt that he broke the law and he should have been prosecuted. That was at the time how I felt, but as I look back in history, things had to come to light. If they had not come to light, then the war would have gone on and many more lives would have been lost and I don't think that we would have achieved victory anyway. Because as I said because as I said it was a more politics involved in the war than really allowing us military to fight the war. So in one respect, looking back at history maybe it was not such a bad thing that happened. If that had not come to light we had so much shenanigans going on in the administration, house had to be cleaned, and so it really caused everyone to take a real hard look at what we were doing, how we were doing it. And we found out after taking a hard look, we were not doing it well. There was too many precious lives being cast on the heap of convenience, political convenience in some respect. No precious blood of sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters should be wasted like that. We lost some of the cause and so that was a turning point when that happened. But as I said I had one thought when I was there in uniform at the time, but as I look back on it now I see that it was something that had to happen.

Jennifer King:

Just two more things before we finish. I was just wondering if there was any experience that you had during the Vietnam Conflict or Persian Gulf War that was funny or that was kind of like a light-hearted moment that you had perhaps with crewmates or whatnot.

Solomon Reed:

The Persian Gulf War I happened at a time when I was getting very close to wrapping up my career. I had an opportunity to again put in my dream sheet. We have a person who is responsible for assigning where we should go. It's called a detailer. For as many years as I can remember, my entire Navy career, all the detailers for my particular rating were men. So we had a lock on that, OK, it was a man-thing. Well our rating became more open to females and as they advanced in the rating, lo and behold the time came when that position was held by the first female. And she had a vengeance on us men because it was a "good-old-boys" network. That term means that we looked out for each other, you scratch my back and I scratch your back. And that's how I worked for years and years. So, I thought well I'm a good old boy, it should work for me too. It's time for it to work for me. So about the time I went in to apply to put my dream sheet in I knew for a certainty that I was going to get my first choice because I'm the Command Master Chief you know, I'm not just anybody. I'm not asking for anything big I just want my last tour of duty to be in Florida in Pensacola, Florida, because that's where I'm going to retire at and there was a billet there, technically there was a billet there. It meant that I would have to... it was an E-7 billet and actually only an E-8 could go down one. They may look at an E-8 going down and filling an E-7 billet but it's just not possible for an E-9 to fill an E-7 billet except in the good-old-boy network. Well I didn't think I was going to have a problem so I put my dream sheet in and I put Pensacola, Florida, and I didn't even put anything for my second or third choice because I knew that I was going to get my first choice. I got denied! I got flatly denied and I was absolutely stunned. And I went down to have a face-to-face talk up with my detailer and she just told me that the good-old-boy network has been decommissioned. This is a new day. I go by the rules. The rule says that you can't do this Master Chief and Master Chief it won't be done. I said, "Well, we'll see about that." And I went in and requested to talk with my Admiral whom I have eye-to-eye and mouth-to-mouth with, I mean am his Command Master Chief. And I feel that all he has to do is say, "Make it happen, detailer". Well, lo and behold, when I went in to speak with him, there is a thing called being politically correct and this was at a time when no one wanted to be perceived as being biased towards females. The feminist movement was strong, DAGO WIT in the Pentagon, women for the military OK and they were very strong. So everybody was ... and plus we had come out of Tailhook and that situation so everyone was kind of walking on eggshells. So when I went in to talk to my boss and, if it was a male that was in that position that had said that to me I believe he would have said, 'Don't worry, Master Chief. I'll make a call down to his boss and we'll get it taken care of." The fact that it was a female that was sitting in that position I didn't get his support. He just basically said "Well, that's the rule. I don't want to set a precedent." So I went back down and talk to her. He said if you can't convince her to change it I'm not going to step in to intervene. So I went back down again and this time I put my charm on I'm not so cocky now so I put my charm on and she said, "Well, I'll tell you what, Master Chief. I'll give you a choice. You can either stay here and retire or I can send you to the Persian Gulf." Well, the days of my being in combat or my days being in a combat situation were long gone. That was for others now. I'm looking at 27 years in the Navy. I don't have that young glitter in my eyes of wanting to feel and experience danger anymore. I'm looking at a rocking chair now. I'm looking a fishing line in my hand. I'm looking at quiet days and quiet walks. So my choice was "I guess I'll stay here, Master Chief." So I stayed at Bureau of Navy Personnel and retired from there. So I did have an opportunity to go to the Persian Gulf, but the zeal or the desire was not within my breast to go.

Jennifer King:

Just as one last thing, last thing, is there anything that you would say to a future generation concerning the war, or military activities.

Solomon Reed:

Someone said that, "War is Hell". And that is true. There is no such thing as a good war. There never will be a good war, because in every war there are lives are lost, and lives are precious. On the other hand, freedom doesn't come without a price, and somebody has to pay that price. I am just thankful that there are men and women who are willing to come up to the line and say, "I'm will willing to pay that price." Because I think that every time we see a young man or young woman in uniform we have to say that they are willing to pay the ultimate price to defend this thing that we call freedom, this thing that we take for granted sometimes. And if war is a result of our having to do that, to maintain the freedom that we enjoy in this country and even to share this freedom with others across the world. Then it's a small price to pay because I don't think that you can put a price on freedom. There is no way you can. So that would be the one thing that would sum everything up. The price of freedom comes high but it is well worth the price to pay.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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