The Army of South Vietnam (ARVNs) had a reputation for being corrupt and incompetent, and I noticed that the paratroops carried grease guns, along with other World War II‑era weapons. Since I wanted an extra one to send home, I thought I’d make them an offer. I took a walk to the ARVNs’ compound, but when I saw how careless they were about leaving their weapons lying around, a new plan began to take shape. If I tried to buy a grease gun but failed to close the deal, I would only draw attention to myself. Then, if one of the weapons should later go missing, things could get awkward. Better just to steal one.
My lifelong passion for firearms started in Patton Park, behind my Detroit home. That’s where, at 12 years old, I traded a gas-powered wooden model airplane to an older kid for his Winchester Model 58 bolt-action, single-shot .22-caliber rifle. I already had BB guns, bayonets, and knives, but no way was my dad going to let me keep a real rifle. So I carried it home and hid it under our back porch. But it didn’t take more than two days for my dad to find it. To my great surprise, he just smiled and said, “Robert, you can keep it.”
A crater is a typically bowl-shaped depression in the ground caused by a sudden, violent release of energy. And the result of that sudden energetic event is often the loss of lives in the immediate area. More rarely, a crater saves a life. One such crater, in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam, US Army Corps of Engineers grid coordinates 317448, saved five young American soldiers. It also helped advance my understanding and appreciation of physics
I came in first place only once in my life. That was for physical fitness at the Wayne County Sheriff Police Training Academy. It was fall 1971, and I had already been working as an undercover narcotics officer for nearly a year when they sent Gerald Scotti and me from the Narcotics Bureau for training. When we were hired in 1970, there wasn’t a state law requiring academy training. We were young officers of not purely Caucasian ethnic descent, and that’s what the department urgently needed to make narcotic buys in the spiraling drug culture in and around Detroit. The county and feds trained us in two criminal and narcotics investigation courses, and when space came available in the next police academy class, they sent us, with the understanding that we would return to the Bureau upon completing our training.
The U.S. military tradition teaches that the infantry is “the queen of battle.” Like the queen in the game of chess, the infantry is the most powerful and versatile piece on the battlefield, and it is the only force that ultimately takes and holds the ground.
In 1966, I was an 18-year-old paratrooper assigned to the 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized) in Wiesbaden, West Germany. I was a rigger, the soldier who packs personnel and cargo parachutes, rigs vehicles and artillery pieces for aerial delivery, and inspects parachutists before a jump. It’s a lot of responsibility. Lives are at stake, and the riggers’ motto is “I WILL BE SURE ALWAYS!”
Every year, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department’s Patrol and Investigation Division put over a hundred thousand hard miles on each of its cars. It wasn’t uncommon for a car to work nonstop from shift to shift. Exposed to all weather conditions as well as high-speed chases, sudden braking, and roads that varied from frozen dirt ruts to interstate highways, our vehicles served as the ideal test cars for the Motor City’s auto industry. And so each year, along with the many cars and utility vans they sold to the department, the Chrysler Corporation and Ford Motor Company donated dozens of scout cars.
“Bobby, I’ll live through your eyes,” my mother said, holding my hand shortly before she had a stroke in the spring of 1989. She passed away that November, but those words haunted me long afterward. I was always drawn to the edgy side of life, and through it all, my mother struggled to surround me with love and safety. I lived life as a juvenile delinquent, then as a soldier, then as a cop. I raised my family and then, in 1997, completed a PhD in criminology.
I was a cop for fifteen years, but I took my first ride in a scout car long before that, on a beautiful spring day in 1959. I was 10 years old, in fifth grade at Bennett Elementary School in southwest Detroit. Leaning against the tall chain-link fence that enclosed the playground, my two friends Randy McCoy and Jimmy Smith and I were singing Wilbert Harrison’s new hit song “Kansas City”:
“Well, I might take a train, I might take a plane,
but if I have to walk, I’m going just the same.
I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City, here I come . . .”
My first Article 15 happened when I was a 17 year old paratrooper stationed at the Rhine Kaserne, Germany. Bored one weekend I left the kaserne with a friend and took a bus to Weisbaden. We spent our time drinking and ended up late at night crashing a formal convention. We helped ourselves to the ample supply of champagne that was placed on crisp white table cloths as the conventioneers looked at us with disgust.