There is a ship and she sails the sea.
She’s loaded deep, as deep can be.
After I told Phillip what had happened we were both fairly certain our trip to Mexico factored in somehow, but where? Everything appeared to be going so smooth.
On the day of the proceeding I put on my blue uniform and polished my shoes. Phillip walked with me to the end of the dormitory hall and we stood at the door and talked for a few minutes. I turned and started walking to the location where the captain’s mast was being held . . . a full court gymnasium which struck me as an odd place for the mast to be held, but it was only a short walk, about three blocks, from the dormitory so I was grateful it was nearby and not a mile or more away.
I walked inside a few minutes early and the gymnasium was empty except for three officers making conversation behind two 4 X 8 tables set end to end on the far side of the gym. I walked over to them, saluted, was put at ease and told to have a seat in a single folding chair facing the tables about ten feet out. A fourth officer soon enters to join the other three.
They continue to make conversation between themselves and shuffle some papers between them for another 5 minutes or so when one of the officers orders me to stand. He then asks me if I knew what a captain’s mast was and I explained “kind of” and he said something about it being a non-judiciary investigation and that as long as I answered all questions truthfully I probably had nothing to worry about. He then explained the scope of authority to me and it was actually less than I thought.
They could give me as much as 60 days military jail time, reduce my rank by one stripe and take away one half month’s pay.
“However, that is not our purpose in your case”, he explained. “This is an investigation to determine why you didn’t tell the Navy during your recruitment process about your asthma attacks as a child.”
I don’t say a word, but I am thinking “What! This isn’t about Mexico?”
I am told I can sit down and the questioning begins. For the next 30 minutes I answer the same questions just worded differently over and over again.
Each of the officers had a copy of the medical records from the day I befriended the black cat and had the slight allergy attack. The reports showed I was wheezing and the diagnosis was not listed on the medical records as allergy. It had been clearly marked asthma and it had also been noted I had told them I had some problems with asthma as a child.
“We want to know why you did not disclose this before you came into the Navy. You were required to sign documents at least twice stating you had not had asthma in your past.”
I sat silently and said nothing. I really didn’t have a clue what to say.
The officer in charge presses a little harder to get me to say something, but I continue my silence. The entire setting has been designed to intimidate. The extra large building, the solitary folding chair in front of four officers seated in a row . It had certainly intimidated me and I had no intention of talking about anything for fear I would be incriminating myself. I didn’t see the captain’s mast sending me to jail from not reporting asthma as a child on my enlistment forms. Then the other officers began asking the same questions. Finally I made a statement.
“First, because I had a recruiter telling me to sign here and not worry about a thing” I said “and also because I just didn’t think about it.” I was counting on the fact they had nothing more than the records from NTC. I doubted they had researched my medical records from Pampa that might show indications of asthma at older ages.
The officer in charge asked me to stand again.
“Seaman Apprentice Webster. After taking everything into consideration we have decided we are going to offer you two choices.”
“It is our determination you lied to the US Military upon enlistment about your physical condition and we do not want the liability of a seaman aboard ship who could potentially have an asthma attack at sea.”
“If you sign these forms releasing the United States Navy from responsibility for your asthma and forfeit your veterans benefits we will give you an honorable discharge from the United States Navy and you will be home for Christmas.”
“If you refuse then you face a court marshal on charges of fraudulent enlistment.”
Given the extremes in the two choices I didn’t have to give a whole lot of thought to which choice I would make. All I had to consider was “Christmas at home” vs “court marshall”.
It was only after I had already signed the papers I realized I was getting ready to leave Phillip out here by himself with 3.5 years of active duty (and two years of reserve) to face alone. There would be no more buddies. The final abandonment was now certain and only days away.
I was dismissed and started the walk back to the dormitory. I dreaded telling Phillip I was going home. I respected Phillip as a leader in high school, as an athlete, as a lady charmer and all the things he was, and for all the potential he had, but I had gotten to know him really well and inside I could almost guarantee at that moment . . . Phillip would never finish radio school.
By March his attitude toward the military had become so bad he was sent home with an undesirable discharge because as Phillip told me himself “The Navy no longer wanted me.”
Two months later on Pampa High School graduation night 1970 Phillip had just gotten into the front passenger seat of an automobile with some 1970 graduates. Two blocks later the car hit a bump and went airborne striking a tree. Phillip was killed instantly.
I have one more chapter before this work is complete.
I want to share with you the last time I saw Phillip in May 1970 and what he said. There were two other former Harvesters in the car with us that night, LaWanda Frost and I believe Susan Smith (not sure about Susan).
I also want to tell you about conversations I had with Twyla, Phillip’s mother, and the tragedy she endured.
- The Graduate was Hot! KOMA was King!
- In the Navy – We Want You as a New Recruit
- Basic Training – First Abandonment
- To the Girl Who Loved Me
- A Cantina in Mexico – Second Abandonment
- Vanished In Tijuana – Fear and Panic
- Phillip Needs Help – We Can’t Tell the Truth
- Thanksgiving Day – A Time for Healing
- The Captain’s Mast of Seaman Apprentice Webster <- You are Here
- Conclusion – Too Much Living to Do