Author's Bio.

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Mushroom Montoya circumnavigated the globe aboard the USS Trippe DE1075 after killing soldiers, woman and children in Viet Nam. Now, as a shaman, he heals the planet one person at a time. Mushroom Montoya has an active shamanic healing practice in Long Beach, California and he teaches at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Cal State Univ. Long Beach.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Vietnamese Fishermen

This reminds me of my time aboard the USS Trippe in Viet Nam in 1972. Fishermen had to feed their families, even if the war was exploding all around them.
And yet, there were some nights when it was quiet for a while, beautiful for a while, and the fishermen floated on the sea between the land and me, standing watch on my warship.
Excerpt for Viet Nam Body Count, Chapter 12:
I had been thinking
about the My Lai massacre when an old, weathered and wrinkled Vietnamese
fisherman attempted to bring his wooden boat alongside of the U.S.S. Trippe as
we patrolled back and forth about a hundred yards from the shore. Standing in
the hot midday sun, on the edge of his rickety boat, the fisherman pulled back
his pointed straw hat and yelled up to those of us on the main deck. We
couldn’t understand what he we saying.

“Stay back! Get
away from our ship!” someone yelled from the Helo deck, above me.

Unfazed, the old
man continued getting closer.

“What the hell does
that gook think he’s doing?” One of the gunners mates asked as he ran to the
machine gun on the Helo deck. “That fuckin Charlie better not be hiding a mine
under his boat.”

I put my hand on my
pistol. Sweat ran down my back. The old man put both his hands up, asking for
something, in Vietnamese. I stared at the boney, bare chested fisherman,
wearing what looked like pajama bottoms. A team of butterflies began taking up
residence in my belly. I pulled my pistol an inch out of it holster, hoping
that he didn’t have a mine or bomb hidden in his little old wooden boat.

Otis donned his
flack jacket and took his position, manning the M60 machine gun on the bow. It
was mounted on a tripod at the edge of the deck with an unobstructed view of
the rickety wooden boat. Otis’s hands were sweating. I could see them clearly.
His palms glimmered with droplets. They were in contrast to his eyes that were
frozen. His grip on the M60 machine gun was so tight it was making me sweat
even more.

Barry was summonedover the intercom as the ship slowed to a stop. He
knew how to speak a little Vietnamese, ...
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Thursday, September 5, 2019

Orange Faced Seiko

I purchased this Seiko watch at the Subic Bay Naval Exchange in 1972 and I wore it during my two Westpacs in the Tonkin Gulf during the Viet Nam war.

My Seiko stayed wrapped around my wrist for many years before it broke. I was unable to have it repaired because parts were no longer available.
When I started writing Viet Nam Body Count, I took my Seiko to a local jeweler who luckily had some spare parts that could replace the worn-out ones in my watch. My watch worked well during the time I wrote the manuscript for Viet Nam Body Count. I am grateful for this watch whose tic-toc helped to remind me of events onboard the USS Trippe in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Oddly enough, or perhaps fittingly, my Seiko stopped working again after my book was published. It worked magic, assisting me with recalling memories. It helped ground me when the memories were too hard to bear at the moment.
If my Seiko has a spirit, I am grateful to it. It served me well while I wrote the manuscript. I keep this watch in a dresser drawer so that when I open the drawer, I see my orange-faced Seiko. Sometimes I pull it out and wear it, for old time's sake.

The following is an excerpt from Viet Nam Body Count:
Our Mk-42 cannon, two decks above me, fired at a target. My back muscles tensed, my breathing sped up. After a few more shots, then silence. The second hand on my orange Seiko watch resumed its slow march around the dial. My five hour battle station watch ended at three in the morning. I had an hour before my sounding and security watch. My arms were sore from transferring the ammo. I wanted to sleep. But I knew that in forty minutes, the sailor who was currently standing watch would attempt to wake me and that would only piss me off.   

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Viet Nam Trigger

Today, a BIG,  pain infested sadness
Punched me without warning. 
As it snuck onto the surface 
Of my tongue.
It hid deep in the scent, 
As I drank a Heineken beerIn a Vietnamese restaurant.
That all too familiar scent 
Of the beer that I had drunk
When our ship sailed away
From the war
To repair and to replenish

In Subic Bay.
That cruel heartless sadness
Grabbed my umbilical cord
And yanked me across the Pacific Ocean
All the way back to Viet Nam. 
All the way back to 1972,
My tears drip.
I try to grip
Something, anything
That convinces me 
That 1972 is only a memory
It is only the sadness
That can hurt me now.

And I thank God
That sadness is temporary.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Mail Call

Excerpt from Chapter 11, Mail Call
The whop, whop, whop preceded the announcement on the intercom of a chopper's arrival. I ran up the ladder to meet my helicopter fire crew and assemble them at the Helo deck. I opened the repair locker and distributed the firefighting and rescue equipment. My primary function was to be the ship’s firefighter, the scene leader in charge, especially in the combat zone..

...As the helicopter descended slowly onto the deck, one of the helicopter crewmen lowered the anti-static cable to the sailor, who was wearing the cable glove. Grabbing hold of the helicopter's cable, the sailor attached it to the ship's anti-static cable that was attached to his glove. Once safely connected, he removed his glove from the combined cables and ran over to where the rest of us were standing. Permission was given to land. Whop, whop, whop, the helicopter blades slowed to a stop.

Only one of the chopper's crew jumped out onto the Helo deck. The setting sun, behind him, allowed only his silhouette to be seen. He turned around and pulled out a large bag and placed it on the deck. It was the mail. I smiled, along with my entire fire rescue team in anticipation of getting a letter from home. The ship's postman signed the release that the crewman had given him. He picked up the mail bag, threw it over his shoulder and, looking like a young Santa Claus in July, hobbled down to his office below decks to sort out the mail. When the chopper flew off, and we finished putting away our rescue gear, I hurried down to the galley and stood in the crowd of sailors waiting for the postman to arrive. It always seemed to take the postman a long time to sort the mail and take it up to the galley. And today was no different. While we waited, we talked about past letters that we received from girlfriends and our parents and wondered if the questions that we had asked in previous letters would get answered.

All eyes were glued on the postman when he entered the galley, carrying a large box with letters and a few packages. Taking a handful of letters in his hand he began calling out names. We waited like kids at an elementary school raffle. Those who weren't waiting in the mess decks were on watch or battle station. The postman would deliver their mail to their racks, later. But for now, those of us in the galley waited and hoped for our names to be called. As each sailor's name was called, he ran up grabbed his letter and ran out of the mess decks. My feet twitched at the announcement of each name. I wanted to grab the letters out of the postman's hand and search through his box. I hoped that the postman would call my name and that I would receive a letter from someone, anyone. I always looked enviously at anyone who received a letter from home when I ended up empty handed. Mail call always felt like playing a slot machine; someone always won. And when it wasn’t me, I felt forgotten and lonely.

Cigarette smoke billowed out of Matty's mouth when he said, “Damn, he's only got two letters left; I hope one of them is mine.”

“Montoya! You got a letter, a post card and a package,” called the postman.

“Wow! I hit the jackpot!” I yelled and I ran up to the front to get my prizes. A smile erupted on my face while Matty's eyes looked down, almost as if he were going to cry. I looked at the return addresses, a post card from a friend from firefighting school, a letter from my friend, Kathy, and the package from my parents. I had just passed through the galley door when Matty caught up with me. He was an eighteen year old radioman from the Bronx. He reminded me of my younger brother, only taller.

“What's ya got in the package?” he asked. “Cookies?”

“If we're in luck,” I said. “Come with me to my berthing compartment and we'll see.”

I took out a pair of scissors and cut open the brown paper bag wrapping and string. I pulled out the letter that was on top, and set it aside.

“What's in there? I wanna see,” said Matty.

“Hold on to your horses. Wow! A bag of homemade tortillas and venison jerky.”

I pulled out the jerky and read the note. It said that my grandfather had gone hunting and he made some jerky. My fingers became uncoordinated with excitement as I struggled to remove the clear cellophane wrapping. I lifted out a piece of jerky. When its odor hit my nose, I said, “Oh shit!”

“Oh shit what?” Matty asked.

“The venison has mold on it. Hand me the letter. I want to see when my parents sent this to me.” The date on the letter was three weeks ago. My heart sank. I felt cheated. “Damn humidity and damn this war. Well, so much for the jerky.”

“Gee, that's too dad, Mushroom. What about those tortillas? They look thicker than what I usually see.”

I took one of the tortillas out of the plastic bag and sniffed it. It didn't smell moldy. But when I took a bite, the sour taste made me spit it out. My eyes drooped and I hung my head down low. I wanted to cry.

“Isn't there anything else?” Matty pleaded. He looked as dejected as I did.

I pulled out some photographs. Under the photographs I felt cardboard, the bottom of my package, or so I thought at first. “We're in luck!” I exclaimed, pulling out a yellow and brown box. “Ginger snap cookies! My favorite. Here have one while I read my letter.”

“I didn't get a letter,” he said, his shoulders slumped. He took a bite out of the cookie and smiled. “Can you read yours to me?”

Hola Hijo. Cómo estás?

“Ah sucks,” Matty said as his smile flattened. “I didn't think that your letter would be in Mexican.”

“It's not in Mexican. Mexicans don't speak Mexican any more than Americans speak American. I'm just teasing, you Matty. It's written in English. There is not much too it. Here, you can read it.

It just says that they hope the food is still good when I get it and a couple of notes about my son.

While Matty read my letter, I looked at the photographs in the box. When I pulled out the third photo of my son, I slapped my thigh and said, “Hey, look at this photo of Jeremy, he's covered in flour. They wrote on the back that he wanted to help make tortillas for me.”

Matty took a look at the photo and grinned. He said, “My mom has a photo of me covered in flour too. I was helping her make my birthday cake when I was about 3, like your son. What's the other letter say?” ...

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Saturday, June 8, 2019

Being Vulnerable

Excerpt from Chapter 15, Viet Nam Body Count:
[ Life give us opportunities to practice being strong, to practice standing up for ourselves. Often they come when we feel vulnerable. This was one of those opportunities.]

I turned off the shower and rubbed off the excess water from my arms and legs. Pulling the curtain open, I stepped out to get my towel from the sink across the room. Before I finished my first step, Chief Jaffe and two other chiefs came into the shower room and blocked my path.

I felt very uncomfortable standing naked, in front of the three chiefs.

“What drugs are you taking?” Chief Shea asked.

“The only drugs I take are those malaria pills that give the whole ship diarrhea.”

He continued asking questions, often repeating the same questions worded only slightly different from the first.

Feeling the air around my exposed genitals as the water began to evaporate made me want to jump back behind the shower curtain. I didn't want to be naked in front of the three chiefs. As I tried to make my way around them to get my towel, Jaffe jumped in front of me.

“Where do you think you're going?” he asked, clenching his fist. “We aren't through talking to you.”

“I'm getting my towel. Do you mind?”

Chief Shea and Chief Garfield smiled sheepishly as they moved out of the way, while Jaffe's bald head regained its familiar fiery red hue.

“What are you trying to pull?” Jaffe yelled as I reached for my towel.

By now I was mad. No longer afraid of Jaffe, I yelled back, “What are you trying to pull?”  I wrapped my towel around my waist. “Why did you bring two chiefs with you to yell at me while I was taking a shower?”

“You're doing drugs!” he growled.

“You're lying and you know it,” I shot back.

“Only someone who's crazy on drugs would run around the smokestack screaming every fucking night.”

“Killing innocent people is driving me crazy. I have to scream.”

“That's fucking bullshit. You're doing drugs.”

I stuck my neck out and looked Jaffe right in the eyes. “When we had the last locker inspection, did you find any drugs?”

“No. You must be hiding them somewhere else.”

“You didn't find drugs because I don't have any. I'm not stupid. You're the one who is trying to pull something.”

Jaffe's neck muscles pushed out the tendons as his whole face became the color of rage. “You aren't doing your job!”

“I came in here to take a shower so that I could do my job, like I always do,” I said.

Chief Garfield's lips contorted into a forced smile as he put his hand on Jaffe's shoulder telling him that his cause was lost.

If there had been no witnesses, I am sure that Jaffe's anger would have unleashed his fists and I would have had wounds that needed bandaging.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Nerve Gas Protection Training

In Damage Control school (Treasure Island, across from San Francisco) we were taught how to protect the ship and how to protect ourselves. We were taught about nerve gas and other biological war agents. In the event of a real nerve gas attack, we were taught to inject atropine into our thighs first and then inject the rest of the crew. Since I was the class leader, I was the first person to stand in front of my classmates and take a tube of fake atropine with a syringe needle that looked like the size of a 16d nail. (OK it really wasn't THAT big) and stab myself in the thigh. And then I had to squeeze out the tube of fake atropine (saline water) before I removed it. This was not a fun activity.