When I enlisted into the Army, in 1969, I signed up for three years - which was one year over the military draft’s requirement of two years of service. I voluntarily enlisted for a third year so that I could go to the US Army Photographic Laboratory Technician School at Ft. Monmuoth, NJ.. After graduating from Photo Lab Tech School, I attained the rank of Specialist Fourth Class (E-4 after only ten months of military service, three months inactive - before I had to report to basic training - plus seven months active duty and I made E4 is an awesome accomplishment, which required hard work and dedication to duty). I had become a damned good soldier. Then I was sent to Okinawa.
My assignment to Okinawa was great news to me. Because, during the time that I was in Army basic training and studying at Photo Lab Tech School in Ft. Monmuoth, not one soldier, whom I ever knew of, wanted to be sent to Vietnam. Neither did I.
Besides being trained in a set of professional skills, that I had an interest in, and natural talent at making good use of, the one thing that I wanted most, to get to do while serving my country in the military, was to be sent as far away from the East Coast of the United States as possible. I had lived all of my nineteen years on Earth there, and it was time for a change; I wanted to travel, and see some of the rest of world.
Plus, during the time that I was in Army basic training and studying at Photo Lab Tech School in Ft. Monmuoth, not one soldier, whom I ever knew of, wanted to be sent to Vietnam. Neither did I.
On Okinawa, the Army assigned me to Headquarters Battery 30th Artillery Brigade as ‘Official’ Brigade Photographer.
The 30th Arty Bgde was a missile unit. We had great big Nike Hercules Nuclear Missiles on some of my unit’s thirteen missile sites! And, we had smaller Hawk Missiles on some of our missile sites too.
Our brigade motto was, "Always On Target."
The Island of Okinawa sets way out from Communist China’s coast line, at just exactly the right spot for an alert, fully prepared missile brigade to be able to steadfastly maintain a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year missile defense shield. The 30th Artillery Air Defense Brigade was assigned to be there, on Okinawa, to help defend the free world from Communist Chinese nuclear attack.
I was the first Army trained photographer to be assigned to work as the 30th Arty Brigade’s ‘official photographer’. The 30th Arty had finagled paperwork to get themselves a real photographer. They wanted their-picture-taken as often as possible. The entire situation thoroughly violated countless Army Rules and Regulations. I do not know what I was listed as on the unit roster, or if I was listed at all.
Before I was assigned to the 30th Arty Bgde, their photographers had been soldiers from the brigade who were supposed to be working there as radar techs, company clerks or whatever their original jobs had been in the brigade. But they wanted to be photographers, so they eagerly volunteered to shoot and print photos of the 30th Arty personnel at work and play.
The man whom I was replacing, as brigade photographer, was Spec 5 Swigget (Swiggert? I’m not sure of the spelling). Swigget told me that his mother owned the franchises to three Pepsi Cola bottling plants somewhere in the Mid-West States, and that she used to send him a check every month that equaled half of his Army pay, so that she could declare him as a deduction on her income tax. His mother used to donate tons of Pepsi Cola to political campaigns. She used those political connections to help her son in the Army get away with lots of crap that no one else could. Swigget told me that he had "HAS POLITICAL INFLUENCE" stamped on his Army record folders, so that everyone knew not to mess with him and to outright coddle the guy.
When Swiggett gave me my inaugural tour of the 30th Arty Bgde photo lab, I was stunned by the real crotch kicker in this historic narrative == the brigade's photo lab was not only illegal, it was set up in the nuclear fallout decontamination chamber for an underground nuclear fallout shelter communications bunker called "The Mole Hole." That secretive bunker was hidden in a hillside next to the 30th Artillery Brigade Headquarters office building.
Holy cow chips Batman!!
That photo lab compromised our stated military mission!!!
The Mole Hole was snuggled into that hillside right next to headquarters, because if America got into a nuclear boxing match with Communist China, the 30th Arty would need a safe, secure nuclear fallout chamber full of radio gear and other equipment that we would need to be able to coordinate offensive and defensive strikes with our missiles, along with the missiles of stateside military units, US Navy submarines and other war ships, US Air Force and US Marine jet planes, etcetteras, against enemy aircraft with nuclear bombs aboard and passing overhead of us on their way to obliterate my family, friends, neighbors, former school teachers and school mates and everyone else in America.
If the area immediately around brigade headquarters and the Mole Hole bunker was not obliterated by a direct hit from an enemy nuclear war head, the area might be contaminated with nuclear fallout snow from war heads that had dropped on other parts of the island. In the case of that scenario, certain, pertinent 30th Arty technicians and command personnel, who were authorized and trained to use secret codes and all that stuff, had to be in the bunker. They had to be able to verify who they were when they contacted outside military commands to inform them of what condition the Okinawan US Military’s Bases were in and to supply any info that the Mole Hole guys had on enemy movements, casualty figures and all that jazz. If any of those pertinent personnel were not in the bunker at the time of the nuclear attack, they would have to hightail it over to the bunker; but before they could be allowed into the bunker, they would have had to have been decontaminated of any nuclear snow that may have fallen on them.
The main door that we used to enter the Mole Hole, to go to work everyday, was a large, thick, steel, bank vault style door that was to be closed, locked and guarded if a nuke attack occurred. About thirty feet from the vault door, there was a regular sized steel door that was the entrance to the decontamination chamber. That second door was never used and was always padlocked inside and out. In the case of a nuclear attack, there would have been armed guards at that door too, after the two padlocks on it - one inside and one outside - were removed.
When the hightailing technicians and command personnel made it to the Mole Hole, they were to identify themselves to the guards, then step through the regular sized door and into an outer chamber, disrobe, and step into a shower to wash off the nuclear snow - so that they did not contaminate the other soldiers who were already in the Mole Hole; then the authorized personnel stepped into an inner chamber to receive some of the clothing that was kept in the bunker in large wooden crates that were full of necessaries and were always kept there for a two week stay underground.
The lab’s photo enlarger and print developing trays were on a tall, heavy metal table that blocked the padlocked door which gave access from the outside into the tiny outer room of the decontamination chamber. There was also a refrigerator in that cramped space for keeping film and photo paper in. Black curtains were hung across both open sides of the decontamination shower, so that we could keep white light (it ruins photo paper) out of the enlarging area of the darkroom. Then, in a small, janitorial closet sized inner chamber, where the decontaminated soldiers were to be given clean clothes, was where the photographers' print washing and drying equipment was located. There was also shelving in there for photo supply storage. There is no doubt that all of that negated any possibility of any quick, efficient use of the nuclear emergency decontamination aspect of the chamber.
Had that decontamination chamber ever been needed in an emergency, it would have been quite a frantic mess when the Mole Hole guys would have had to try disassembling and moving all of those heavy metal photo lab furnishings, the darkroom and other photo equipment plus the photo developing chemical supplies out of their way while dealing with freaked out, semi-nuked soldiers who were trying to get past armed guards and into the relative safety of the underground bunker. Of course, there would have also been all kind'sa unauthorized personnel trying to bust their way in with their wives and kids and all. "JUST TAKE MY BABY; PLEASE LET MY LITTLE BABY IN THERE!!"
Clearly, my photo lab was against Army Rules and Regulations.
Then Swiggett informed me that I could neither order any photo equipment nor any kinds of supplies - at all - to do my Army photo assignments. I had to find some way to scrounge them up somehow. That really took me aback.
In those days, both photo and stereo equipment that was sold on Okinawa usually cost no more than 40% of its stateside prices. Naturally, at those low prices on Okinawa, I intended to buy myself some top notch professional camera equipment anyway, so I ended up using my personal camera gear, and sometimes my money for film, to do all of my Army photo assignments.
On my second or third day at the 30th Arty Bgde, Swigget informed me that I could not advance in rank while I was there.
I was assigned to that unit for eighteen months, and, at that time, in the US Army, anyone who was posted overseas for a year or more usually got a promotion in rank if they did just a half-decent job at their MOS (Military Occupation Specialty -official job). So, I asked him why I could never advance in rank at the 30th Arty.
He told me that his MOS was not photography, but that he was being paid, by the Army, to work in an office in the 30th Arty Bgde’s headquarters office building. Then it sure enough shocked me, when the next thing that he informed me of was the hard, cold fact that there was no slot for a photographer anywhere in the 30th Arty Bgde. Consequently, when promotion opportunities came down from above, I could not apply for one.
Swiggert told me that when opportunities for promotion came down they would be distributed amongst the various army units something like this: three soldiers in a unit get to go from E2 up to E3, one soldier gets to go from E3 up to E4, and so on. The individual soldiers in each unit then had to compete for the promotions by proving that they were most worthy for them through their personal conduct and efficiency ratings, their MOS evaluations, maybe recommendations from their sergeants and officers. I don’t recall all of the exact terms or requirements that he cited, but it was by achieving requirements like that that a soldier had to show that they were worthy of the prize of a promotion in rank. Swiggert informed me that it was the fact that I could never receive an evaluation of my MOS that prevented me from getting a promotion, because my MOS was not authorized to be in the 30th Brigade.
I received my discharge from the Army while in the 30th Arty, and I can show you on my discharge records this official statement: “Soldier has no record of evaluation in his MOS.”
There were two guys working as photographers for the 30th, when I was first assigned to work there. One was Swiggert and the other was named Medley (not sure of the spelling). They were about as lackadaisical, nonproductive and sloppy about their photography as could be. Medley turned in 8×10 photos printed backwards and with white, photo chemical thumb prints all over them. Medley was off photographing, then in the lab developing and printing, his own stuff more than the 30th Arty’s; because he had a contract with a travel magazine that had paid him to do travel photos of Okinawa. It infuriated me. Swiggert just didn’t give a damn. Them two individuals had reputations for taking three months to get photos printed after they had shot an Army assignment. But when I took over the lab, it averaged me three days from assignment to handing in a full set of prints.
I asked Swiggert how he got away with being the way he was in the Army. He replied, while pointing his finger over at the 30th Brigade Headquarters office building, “I’ve got too much on too many of them for them to do anything about it.” My immediate guess at the time was that he meant the ins and outs of our illegal photo lab situation.
I later figured out it had as much to do with his mother and her political connections as anything else. But I have heard that he had been selling Army photo supplies to certain officers - including medical officers who would write him fake medical excuses, so he could get out of being a real soldier.
Those two clerks/jerks masquerading as official photographers had been in the Army, and assigned to the 30th Arty, for long enough times for them to acquire the army know-how and contacts to scrounge up photo supplies. Unfortunately for me, they never took the time and made the effort to introduce me to the right supply clerks or photographers in other units who could help me to get into a photo equipment and supply scrounging and swapping circuit. Those two Army jerks didn’t mind using their own camera equipment to do the job, because to them it was much better than working at a desk tap-tap-tapping their days away on an Army issue typewriter, or whatever their official jobs were.
I have natural abilities and compulsions to work hard at photography, and I did that for the 30th Arty, despite my film stock running low, then running out at times. I had to buy some film with my own money now and then, and then my film stock would be replenished with any old stuff that my 30th Artillery Brigade Headquarters Battery Public Information Office bosses (non-coms and commissioned officers) could scrounge up for me. I had no choice on the black and white film types that I had to use, and most of it was past its expiration date. No professional photographer wants to have to go shoot a sunny, outdoor job using high speed film that is designed for low light conditions, or visa versa. Nor do we want to use any expired film at all to do a job, unless we want some hazy, muddy looking negatives to print artistic, special effects photographs from.
The Army had trained me for fifteen good weeks, five days a week for seven-eight hours a day to be a photographer. It was top notch training, no doubt about it. I loved that training.
But, when I enlisted and signed up for the United States Army Photographic Laboratory Technician School, my recruiter informed me that the Army only guaranteed that I be trained as a photographer, not that I would work as one. The Army could have assigned me to do any job that they needed me in. The 30th Arty Bgde could have made me work for them as a clerk, a cook, a missile crewman, garbage can scrubber or anything else where they had a slot to fill, but there was no slot for a photographer there. I would have accepted working at any MOS they needed me in, as long as it was legal, there was a slot for me there and they supplied the equipment and supplies.
Despite all of that illegality and immorality, I kept up my good photography work until those gross infractions of rules and regulations caused me too many unnecessary and insurmountable problems.
When a person is in the military, they are government property. If I had taken any kind of legal military action against the 30th Arty for stealing me, in order to make me their personal photographer, or if I had contacted my Congressman about it, or had done anything like that back then, it would have meant the probability of retaliation from the personnel at 30th Arty who were guilty of stealing me as government property. I knew that if they could finagle the paperwork to get me there when it was against Army Rules and Regulations, then they would most likely pull a fast one and send me to the worst duty station possible, or something, before I could do anything about it.
Despite all of that illegality and immorality of my assignment to the 30th Artillery Brigade HHB on Okinawa, I worked hard at being the best photographer that I could be for the 30th Artillery Brigade Air Defense Hawk and Nike Hercules missile unit on Okinawa, during 1970-71. The 30th Arty Brigade personnel were thrilled by my printed photographs due to the way that my photos of them at work and play turned out real nice.
I had to print photos for publication in our brigade monthly magazine and other army publications, plus for display on our brigade’s bulletin boards. Also, I was always ordered to print extra copies of my photos that were to be given to the troops who were pictured in them. That made me feel quite complete inside, because I knew that my work would be important to those comrades of mine and their families for years and decades to come.
The 30th Arty’s photo lab had been set up, several years before I got there, by a guy named Jim Whitcomb of Houston, Texas. I found Jim through Internet searches using – ”30th Artillery Brigade” + photographer – as a search term. Jim is a successful photographer, and he had been featured in an issue of the American Society of Media Photographer’s magazine, which was on the Internet.
I spoke to Jim on the phone about a year or so ago; we talked for over an hour about how he had scrounged photo equipment and supplies through contacts that he already had had in the military and about the lab being set up illegally in the decontamination chamber, etc.. Not only had Jim been in the 30th Arty Bgde for awhile before he set up the lab, his father was a career soldier. I didn't ask what rank his dad had held, but Jim was an enlisted man who hung out after work on Okinawa with officers, not the enlisted men in the 30th Arty Headquarters Battery, where he had a private room in the barracks. When Jim could not get a promotion in rank, because there was no slot for a photographer in the 30th, an Army General - who was a drinking buddy of Jim's, personally saw that Jim received a promotion.
You can contact Jim at:
Studio Houston Digital Photography
5401 Mitchelldale Suite B2
Phone 713 682 0067
Fax 713 682 0067
I believe that there is government evidence to prove that there was no authorization for the 30th Arty to have any photographers. The evidence is in the morning reports and unit rosters for the 30th Arty Bgde that are on file at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO.. The evidence could possibly be the lack of any entries that state a person with a photography MOS was assigned to the 30th Arty.
Something that can help me must be there. I tried to get all of the 30th Arty Bgde HHB morning reports and unit rosters, but I cannot afford to pay for the research, copying and shipping of them.
I did manage to order an official list of the number of clerks, cooks, etc. that my army unit was composed of, I have a copy of the Table Of Organization and Equipment dated 31 July 1967 for Headquarters and Headquarters Battery Air Defense Artillery Brigade, and there is no slot for a photographer on it.
David Robert Crews
30th Artillery Brigade