Only in L.A.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
While serving as Shore Patrol Officer in Long Beach California I was assigned to Deserter Apprehension duty. During one of these occasions I found myself in a situation that made me stop and wonder "how did I get here"? The whole thing takes a very strange twist in the end!

Submitted: January 19, 2013

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Submitted: January 19, 2013



Only in L.A.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation that makes you stop and think “how did I get here”? Well, imagine you find yourself under a bush behind a house in a suburb outside of Los Angeles. The house has a porch with a back door, it's 11 o'clock at night and any minute now a Marine who has been declared AWOL may come running out that door and there's a good chance he may be armed. The only weapon you have is a, flashlight! This is when you ask yourself “how did I get here”? You really don't have time to analyze right now but later, you back track in your mind a chain of events that brought you to that moment. Sure you could go all the way back to a grade school teacher, your parents maybe a movie you saw once but in this case I only had to go back a few months to come to the conclusion that “oh yes” that's when it started!

After 6 months of The West Pacific, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea the old John Paul Jones was tired! So in February of 1981 the Guided Missile Destroyer DDG 32 checked in to Long Beach Naval Ship Yard for a complete make over. You name it and it was broke, everything was in need of a fixin!

The “yards” was a pretty good place to be for a bunch of Sailors that were about as tired and broken as the old girl herself. The work was pretty hard on some days, filled with deck grinding, chipping and painting but there was no sea time so it was like unofficial shore duty. Southern California, Los Angeles, Redondo Beach, Holly Wood! First stop was “Dry Dock”!

While the ship was in dry dock the entire crew had to be moved into barracks. The barracks of today or not what people see in the movies. There were no long rows of bunks, there were individual rooms with two or four sailors per room. I had been advanced to the rank of E-5 during the cruise so my accommodations were one of the two man rooms. Most of the work on board the ship in the early days of the yards was contracted to civilian ship yard workers so consequently many of us were offered temporary assignment duty or TAD. The duty I was offered was with the Shore Patrol Unit. I was going to be a Cop for six months!

Shore Patrol training lasted for a week. We were versed in basic law, apprehension, securing evidence and self defense. In one class they even passed around a marijuana cigarette so that it could be placed in our records to certify that we know what marijuana smells like. Why? If an agent was required to testify in a case where the smell of pot had prompted us to enter the room or area, the defense attorney could ask us what marijuana smelled like. If we said it smells like burning rope, he could say how did you know it wasn't burning rope so we were to say we smelled marijuana, how do I know? Because it's in my records that I was in a room with a controlled marijuana cigarette burn!

Our schedule was three days on and three days off. Twelve hour shifts 6 to 6, rotating nights and days. The day shift was boring but the nights were wild, all the crazies came out! The wildest assignment was the Enlisted Club at night. In those days the drinking age on the base was 18 for beer and 21 for liquor. Nothing like an 18 year old Nebraska farm boy with about 10 too many beers in him who decides he can whoop everyone in the club. Some of them actually could so now we had to move in and subdue him. First approach was to try and talk them down, most of the time this worked but not always.

We carried on our belt, one set of handcuffs, one night stick and one can of maze. The maze I never once used but the night stick was called on frequently. Usually as a method of forcing someone to the floor without hitting them just as a push apparatus. Get them to their knees and lay them out, then cuff them with hands behind their back. If they were cooperative and calmed down we'd just give them a ride back to their ship in the squad car and turn them over to the Officer of the Deck. One incident, we found this kid asleep on the floor in the bathroom of the club. We woke him up and took him back to his ship, didn't even cuff him, just walked him up to the quarterdeck and explained to the Officer of the Deck that he wasn't in any trouble just too drunk. My partner asked the guy if he was OK and for some reason he came with a “hay maker” out of no where that landed right on my buddies jaw! He looked at him and then we both but him to the deck! Made no sense at all.

On weekends things would occasionally get totally out of hand around closing time. This would result in the use of the “patty wagon” with a load of obnoxious sailors headed for our little jail. They would call us all sorts of names which we would deal with but then one of them would start talking about our Mothers! Well that was the last straw! Separating the cab of the trunk from the wagon area was a barrier with two foot square screen. We would pretend to not hear the insulter and tell him to come closer. When he would get near, the driver would slam on the brakes causing the guy to do a face plant into the screen. We fittingly called this a “screen test”! We would of course apologize for this and blame it on a dog who ran in front of the van. And by the way don't talk about my Momma!

Another duty we were assigned to was “deserter apprehension”. Calls would come in about certain individuals that were suspected to be deserters. These calls might come from neighbors, friends or sometimes families. Someone would call us and say that there neighbors son had joined the service a year ago, came home on leave and still there after a couple of months. We would run a check and find out that he was sure enough an “unauthorized absentee” from a particular base, ship or command. We weren't allowed to go to the residence on our own so we would get in contact with the nearest Law Enforcement agency. We'd meet up somewhere near the address, plan the apprehension and then move in. The police would knock on the door, ask if “Johnny Johnson” was home, when he or she would come to the door, we would step in and take over.

Most of the time it would be a smooth process. The suspect would usually just throw up their hands and say “you got me” or something to that order. Other times, not so smooth. Like the guy who put on his wife's house coat and shower cap and tried to sneak out the side door! His hairy legs gave him away! There was also the Mother who told us to be at her house on the 4th of July to pick up her son-in-law. We caught him climbing out the kitchen window. A woman hanging onto her husband, crying hysterically. Sometimes it was just over the top! We weren't forcing these people to go to Vietnam, it was peace time. They would be returned to their command, maybe serve a little brig time and more often than not then be discharged. Then there came a phone call one evening in August that took “smooth process” and knocked it right out of the park!

A lady called the station with a report that her neighbors husband had joined the Marines about a year ago. He had come home in late June and was still there. She said he seemed to hardly ever leave the house except to take the trash to the curb once a week and then occasionally she would see him in the backyard. His wife came and went as usual but he, never left. Oh, and there was one more thing strange about him. Every time he took the trash out or went into the back yard, he either carried a pistol or a rifle with him. She added that on one occasion he had caught her watching him and ducked back in the house quickly. She said it sort of scared her. His name was Bobby Bronson. The Chief ran a check on the guy and sure enough Private Bronson had left Camp Pendleton on a weekend pass in June had never returned. The address they had on file turned out to be vacant and subsequently been declared Unauthorized Absences, not deserter but does warrant apprehension. They faxed us a picture of Private Bronson.

It was my night for off base patrol so my partner and I took off for the nearest police station. Upon arrival we discussed the situation with a couple of officers. Since the information included the possibility that this guy could be armed it was a not going to be our normal procedure. Instead of two police accompanying us we would have four and we all suited up in Kevlar vests “bullet proof”!

We all dispatched to the area stopping a couple of blocks away in a parking lot. One of the cops in an unmarked car took a drive by the house to get an idea of the logistics we were looking at. He returned, got us all together and told us it was a small house, maybe 2 bedrooms with an open backyard, no fence, a couple of small bushes in the back, two entrances, a front door with no porch and a back door with a small porch. There was a street light about fifty yards west of the house.

The plan would be for Petty Officer Brag, my partner, to go with two of the policeman in the unmarked car and approach the front door. I was to go with the other two down an adjacent street, park and walk to the back of the house and cover the back door. We would work out the rest of the plan when we got there and access the area a little better. So off we went.

My group parked our car in a small community park then set out on foot across the neighborhood. All the houses were small with open yards. We tried to be quite and keep low not to arouse anyone, the surprise element was paramount. Within just a few minutes we arrived at the house, we could see our buddies in the front yard. One of the police came back to us and in a whisper told us the plan.

He would stand at the front corner of the house, another policeman would be at the rear corner with the other one on the opposite side of the back door. He looked at me and motioned to follow him. We knelled down behind one of the bushes. He took his flashlight and propped it up over a couple of sticks so that it was pointing directly at the back door. He told me that if the guy comes out, turn on the light then roll away as fast as you can because if he comes out shooting the first thing he's going to aim at is the light so you roll away and cover up. I'll give a signal when someone comes to the front door. I nodded and told him I had it.

The next few minutes seemed like hours. There was a little dew on the grass, with no lights around, I could see the stars clearly, a dog was barking down the street, it reminded me of home and that's when it occurred to me. I was lying in the grass under a bush in the backyard of a house out side east Los Angeles waiting for someone to burst out the door possibly with a gun and all I had was a flashlight! The burning question in my mind at that moment was.

“How the hell did I get here”?

Once upon a time, my life was simple. I went to work, played golf on the weekends, rode my motorcycle, played with my kids. Now I'm under a Goddamn bush waiting to be shot!

Before I had a chance to answer my own question the signal was given that someone had come to the door. I could hear voices from the front of the house then silence for a few seconds and more voices. A female voice began screaming, screaming and shrieking! Lights could be seen through the windows, there was a crash from inside the house. The officer from the front began to run towards us and then the back door was flung open wide with the silhouette of a very large man exposed!

Shit, this was it! I turned on the flashlight and then rolled to the left as fast as I could! I flipped twice, three times maybe more and when I stopped I covered my head and waited! I waited! Nothing. The silence was interrupted by the voice of one of the policeman. He shouted for the man to drop the gun! He repeated the order again! The other voice shouted, back away or he would pull the trigger! I peaked out through my fingers.

There was Private Bobby Bronson standing on the porch illuminated by my flashlight. He was wearing sweat pants and a sleeveless T-shirt, in his right hand was a gun but he wasn't pointing at anyone, he had it stuck down in the front of his pants.

Now the third policeman had joined us in the back yard, they seemed confused as to what to do. All of them had their pistols pointed at him. One of them asked the man what he thought he was doing. Bronson replied that if we didn't let him go he would pull the trigger.

There was a few more seconds of silence then one of the cops asked. “If we don't let you go, you're going to fire your gun off in your pants”?

The guy answered back with a trembling voice “I'll do it, I swear to God”!

I stood up now, this is seriously not what I expected. My buddy came around the corner out of the dark and stood beside me. He asked me what's the deal. I told him “he's threatening to blow his dick off if we don't let em' go”!

The senior policeman, the Sargent, had now taken over the conversation and said to the guy “come on man, you don't want to do something like that”!

“I don't, but I will, I can't go back to that shit” his voice really trembling now!

The fourth policeman now came around the corner with the guys wife in tow. She screamed “baby, what are you doing” and tried to break from the policeman’s grasp!

“I don't wana do it, but I can't go back there, all they do is boss me around! I can't go back, I'm sorry baby”! Now he started sobbing!

His wife started to get hysterical, Bronson was weeping now, this was getting out of control, and fast. The Sargent shouted at Brag to talk to him!

Brag told him, in an impressively calm voice, that we would take him back to the Navy base and he'd spend the night there. He paused for a second then added.

“Man, I know how you feel. Look, there's a good chance you'll be out in less than a month and back home. It ain't worth messin yourself up over”.

The guy started to cry now and asked Brag if he'd promise he would be home in a month. Brag told him he was sure of it. I knew it was a lie. This poor guy was going to be locked up for a long time but I understood that Petty Officer Brag was just trying to end this, right now!

The crying subsided and slowly he removed the gun from the front of his sweat pants and let it hang down by his side. The Sargent told him to put it on the floor and turn around. He hesitated for a few seconds then let the gun slip from his hand. The policeman rushed in quickly, one kicking the pistol out of the way and the other two pushing him up against the wall. I walked up and handed them my handcuffs which they quickly used to secure his hands behind his back.

The cops and I took Bronson to the Shore Patrol van and secured him in the back. Brag stayed with the wife and assured her he would be alright and we would let him call her from the station. We finalized everything with the Police and thanked them for their help then went back to Long Beach. Brag and I had some major paper work to do and a hell of a story to tell our crew.

When I checked in that evening, Bronson was gone. The MP's from Pendleton had picked him up around noon and that was all I ever heard of Private Bobby Bronson but the legend lived on for some time. Every time it would get slow around the station someone would propose that we play a game of “penis roulette”. Everyone would stick a gun in their pants, count to three and the first guy to shoot his penis off would be the winner!

© Copyright 2018 Billy Coy Sample. All rights reserved.

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