The Extraordinary Life of Professor Blue
Profilers: Omar Toubat, Richard Leu, and Adrian Rafiee
Mr. Michael X. Davis
Vietnam War Veteran
What were your reasons for volunteering?
It was a very black and white world that I lived in, so they either waved the flag in front of you and you were either Mr. Macho, Mr. USA, Mr. John Wayne: I’m gonna protect America or you were the cowardly hippies who ran to Canada. There was no in between. Few guys tried to take the in between route by going to college, having a kid or two right away: which was actually the smarter of the three decisions. But I chose the navy that’s the way I was brought up. The youngest of seven and having five older brothers, so I was just expected to carry on and join the service like all my other brothers did.
I was born and raised in Texas so you had to do the right thing, the manly thing that was just part of the thing you did. You initially have to be a military prone type family or person that’s just part of what is expected of you. I was 18.
Why did you enlist in the Navy?
Well before that I was in high school and I was ROTC. So I went on some missions. You know they do what the high school kids at that time with our army guys that we don’t really have training with you know we went on missions. We went on all kinds of things. We had mock wars, you know? We really did, we played soldier, believe it or not. Obviously not at school, but you know in the buses you go certain places. And I learned early on that this is not fun were supposed to be having fun and this is not fun, the only thing I liked about it was the drill team. I was on the drill team, so I loved that discipline. You know many of you, flip your flag, catch it. Do all these wonderful, impressive maneuvers on the drill team but that’s the only reason I liked the ROTC. I learned early on that If I’m not having fun in high school doing these little pretend maneuvers it must be a thousand times worst than that in real life for a foot soldier, so I knew that. I may not know exactly what I want per say but I know what I don’t want.
How long was your tour of duty?
I was from 1966 through 1970. I was on the guided missile destroyer: USS Live McCormick and our support services ships only: guarding the Carrier, guarding the Battleship New Jersey, that was over there at that time. Running a perimeter, so there’s no submarines from the enemy that were over there from china or from Russia. But our particular ship along with a couple of others volunteered to go into harm’s way to help rescue the trapped marines and trapper army personnel.
How would you describe your relationship with your fellow servicemen?
It’s a group that’s closer than any of my friends I’ve ever had before or since. All my buddies in high school don’t compare, to my friends in Vietnam. Not even close and I love those guys. Friends since then don’t compare. It’s just, we just feel it. It’s a hidden mob that you have, because you know that, okay, even though that you’re out here you can hit a mine, rocket can come in, somebody on shore has got good radar and is going to lock their sites on you and fire some rounds and hit right in the ship exactly where you are. That was always in our minds, and one of the things that I will say, and all my marine buddies and all my army buddies will say the same thing: that if it came to a point of death, the navy would suffer the worst, and how so? People ask. Well if they hit my ship, I would go down two miles to the bottom; you won’t ever see me again. There’s no grave, no headstone, no grave marker, no flowers, no visit, no parade, no body, no ceremony, nothing. So at least in a small way we were ever so important, at least our fallen comrades from the field hopefully they could be recovered and taken back home and have those honors.
Could you describe a specific memory or event from when your were in Vietnam
Well for instance when you read your history you hear about the Tet Offensives, we were in our own way involved with that because the Tet Offensive was originally designed to come to the south from all areas including the sea, so we had to be the policemen of the sea, of all the ships they’re in and since we already had that reputation we were sent in and we were under fire, and it was actually during the day of all things. Not at night, but during the day. We were taking fire, we were taking what they called basic action, to avoid being hit and we went through that. It was an all day type of thing. They kept getting closer and closer. As a matter of fact, one thing I specifically do remember from that one mission is we were on a straight course and the herald of the ship was under the command of the lieutenant and the captain came on the bridge and he asked for our reading and he said how long we’ve been on this course. They said 7 minutes or whatever it was, he panicked, he said all I had… The minute that he, within seconds of him doing that there was like seven or eight shells that hit exactly where we would have been. Like one after the other, so at least being conservative, three would of hit us, at least three, at least. They were direct hits. There was one instance where another ship was set along to rescue a down pilot. Unfortunately, he was already dead. The other ship was supposed to pick him up but the current was pushing him into their propeller so we cautioned the ship to just stop, stop their engines. And they left the body floating, and this sounds terrible but it’s true, and then we recovered the body. I was the man they sent over, I was expecting to go down there and say: “we got you brother, everything’s okay, your hurt but you’re gonna be better, Navy’s gonna take care of you.” Upon deaf ears, because he couldn’t respond, I’ve gone to funerals before but I’ve actually never held onto a cold dead body whose eyes are open. He can’t hear you. So that was kind of not a really good day. We made arrangements to get him back to a helicopter, to a carrier as soon as possible. That was my little experience that I rather have avoided.
Did you ever witness the use of Napalm?
No, we had heard stories about it but we were still exposed to it because we came so close to shore. And the winds came from the shore, they don’t always go to the sea from the shore, most of the time they do, then you have the currents, wind currents, just like you have ocean currents that go into a circle that come from, they do have winds that came there, from North Vietnam, that continue across the land and back into the ocean. So our ship was exposed but quite candidly not as deeply and as harshly as our friends on shore. But our ship was definitely exposed. Even one soldier put it to me like this, something that kills and destroys like this can’t be good.
How did hearing about the My Lai Massacre affect you as a member of the Navy?
We got defensive because any good, decent soldier, much less American will say that’s not us, that’s not how the army, or the marines, or the navy, or the air force, or Americans or a citizen on the street does that. That was just a ragtag rebel, very non-American group out of control. And no one was strong enough at that time to feel like they could stop it. A couple guys, if I remember my history correctly, said they wanted to stop it but they felt the only way they could do it was to gun down all the American soldiers. If they would’ve done that then they would have been, of course, imprisoned. No doubt about it, their lives would’ve been over. One time is too many, one is too much. At that time, the army got everybody, if you got drafted you were in for two years. I believe you had to complete a minimum of 12-13 months in Vietnam. If you lived then you got to come back, maybe there was a year and a half that you ran all together. So a year and a half, maybe two years at the most, it’s not bad, but you have to take the chance your saying “I’m gonna live, are you?”
How were you received when you came back to the United States?
The Navy, they know how to bring their people home. When the ship came back, they got the whole city involved. Your wife would come or your girlfriend, she’d bring the kids, your mom and dad, your best friends, everybody comes, and then a few people there you don’t even know that are from the city. The whole pier was lined with people, a very festive and at that time a very happy occasion. A big deal, the news cameras are there. My friends that were marines and in the army, they didn’t get that and we just assumed they did. We assumed they go on a discharge, 200 guys from the army, they are gonna put them on a plane, fly them back, there gonna land at Douglas Air force base or whatever it is. There gonna have the big party, woohoo, it was stupid and naïve of me but I assumed that, that was true for all the services. I didn’t find out until later, much later that didn’t happen. Only the Navy got that privilege.
Have you ever visited the Vietnam Memorial?
How was that experience for you?
Strangely enough, I have a common name, Michael Davis. I was in Japan and so we had a contest aboard the ship which we did at every port. Whoever has the cleanest compartment gets to have special liberty. I was in charge of that, we won probably 3 out of 5 times. We won special liberty. Which means the others guys could go to the small cities and come back. We got to travel, over night, to Tokyo. I met a guy in another branch of service; he was a major, guess what his name was? Michael Davis. So we hit it off, and immediately, drinkin, talkin, became real good friends. Only one of the Michael Davis’s came back, probably the least deserving came back. But I went to the wall and as he would’ve put it I stenciled our name on paper. And it could’ve been me. But I finally had to get rid of it, just couldn’t look at it anymore. But that was my experience at the wall.
How do you feel about our involvement in Vietnam?
I believe that we as citizens thought that we were, but I think the politics, and the politicians at the time knew better. There’s no way, it’d be like another country coming here and telling us how to run a civil war. It was their country, and there battle to win or lose. As far as training them and helping them and supporting them, that’s fine, but not one man should’ve harmed themselves and took the battlefield.
Do you have any humorous or positive memories from your time in Vietnam?
I remember once feeling like I was in a movie, there’s one port I always wanted to go too. That was Hong Kong. So we get there, finally. Were right in the middle of the bay and were anchored out to a buoy. On our port side, we got beautiful Hong Kong, at night, mesmerizing, beautiful, intriguing, mysterious, it’s just calling my name, calling my name, and I’m looking “Wow, look at all these lights.” And all night long, I had the mid-watch which is midnight-4am. And I’m hazing like a cat, not because I’m diligent of duty but because tomorrow, I get to go there. I get to go to this magic land that I’ve heard so much about. I get to see the people, I get to talk with them, I get to go into building, I get to walk the streets, take the cabs, taste the food, get out of my way: I couldn’t wait, I couldn’t wait. An amazing experience just to be there, and I couldn’t wait till the next day and it surpassed all my expectations.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
My complete nickname is Professor Blue. Now professor is the positive side, the blue is the bad side. The professor was because I always been a detailed conscious person and for a short period of time I was a teacher’s assistant in the school district before they put the hiring freeze on. So I always had that intellectual curiosity about me, I always wanted to teach in Junior College. That’s where the professor part came in. The blue came in because of the tragedies I faced in my life. Mostly before I joined the service and during the service. I suffered from PTSD, Bipolar, I’ve got the at-rest tremor thing, and I’ve got what they call SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) because you have extreme highs and extremely harmful lows. I gotta be on Broadway so to speak or I’m in that cave. I’m fighting those daemons. I go through all this stuff forty years before I reached out for help, so all I’m trying to say to the people out there if you think you may have something wrong inside your heart, or your head, or your spirit wherever you are. Don’t do what the symptoms tell you to do, because the symptoms tell you to hide out, don’t talk to anybody, they’re not gonna understand. There gonna think your weird, you’re a dumb motherfucker. Your weird, that’s retin-a not normal, that’s not good, there’s something wrong with you, you’re bad, you’re defective and that’s what goes through my head. I need somebody to say, it’s okay Blue, its okay. They maybe go for a walk with you or sit somewhere and listen to nice music, something calming, look at something that calms you down: the ocean waves or talking to the trees, you know whatever it is. Looking at something that soothes you, makes you happy, old pictures maybe. Or think about something you did when you were a teenager or stupid that you’re glad you did because when you talk about it you laugh. You know things like that. The thing for people like me to do is to not give up on ourselves. Its hell, if I hated you, if I hated you, I wouldn’t give it to you, if I could. Sometimes I ask myself “Where’s Michael? Where is he? I sure miss him. I really do.” Sometimes he comes back for just a short time and that’s okay, that’s okay.