Monday, December 3, 2018

The Orphan and the Kamikaze

The Leonard Blake Story
by Roger Weston


At age 15, the clock was ticking for an orphan named Leonard. He was moving toward a fateful day that would change his life forever.

In 1942, the Japanese and Germans were killing a lot of American sailors. The Germans were doing tremendous damage on the East Coast of the United States—in American waters. In the first six months after the Pearl Harbor attack and the US entrance into the war, German U-boat submarines sank nearly six hundred American ships, which was half of the US merchant ships. Meanwhile, the Japanese were waging a war of their own against merchant ships in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They sank 125 merchant ships in 1942.

They were killing so many sailors that few people wanted to join the US merchant marine. Len, who was 15 at the time, saw a sign that said, “Serve your country. Join the US Maritime Service.” This looked good to him so he went to see the recruiter, who changed his age on the application. At Catalina, Len learned he was also in the Coast Guard.

In a 1945 press release, the deputy administrator for the War Shipping Administration, Captain Macauley stated, "Men are still needed to man merchant ships in excess of these presently available and will be needed for some months to come. The job of the war time Merchant Marine has not been completed. Millions of our armed forces must be brought home and supplies must be carried to the occupation forces throughout the world. Supplies must also be carried for the rehabilitation of devastated areas."

Fifteen year old Len finished his training in Catalina. He was offered a chance to become a trainer, but he said, “No, I want to go to sea.”

His first deployment was on a ship named the SS John Constantine, carrying 2,700 tons of bombs to Calcutta, India. Three ships sailed out of San Pedro harbor en route to Calcutta via the Indian Ocean and Australia, waters patrolled and targeted by the Japanese. Of the three ships, only one survived and completed its mission. Len was fortunate to be on that ship.

But it was not exactly smooth sailing. In the Atlantic, two men from his ship were lost overboard in storms. These men died serving their country by manning the supply lines. Throughout history, such duty has been carried out by soldiers and sailors.

Back in America, the captain and first mate of the SS John Constantine approached Len and said, “We want you to go to officer’s training school in Galveston, Texas.”

Len shook his head. “I want to go back to sea.”

Before that happened, he was thrown off a bus in Georgia for sitting in the back seat. Whites were not allowed in the back. He insisted on sitting where he wanted—and was thrown off. This was before Rosa Parks captured headlines for sitting in the wrong place.

In Los Angeles, Len boarded a new ship, the Marianne Livermore. Len was happy. This was how he wanted to serve. The clock was ticking for the young orphan. He was moving closer to the event that would change his destiny.

On April 12, 1945, President Franklin Roosevelt died. The paperwork was on his desk to make merchant sailors into official veterans, but he had not yet signed it.

On the Marianna Livermore, Len sailed out into the vast Pacific Ocean. He spent twenty days at sea, manning the 3” Fifty Forward gun. He was also trained in survival at sea since they were sailing through hostile waters and expected to engage in anti-aircraft combat if necessary—as well as survival in case their ship was sunken and they were adrift. Other sailors manned a 4-inch gun on the stern. The ship sailed from San Pedro to Hawaii and Okinawa.

Despite the dangers, Len enjoyed his cruise across the Pacific. The mood among the crew was happiness. They were just happy kids doing their duty. In Okinawa Harbor, Kamikazes attacked every day. Some of them dive bombed and hit other ships in the harbor. Gunners on Len’s ship took out three of the Kamikazes.

One day with the Marianna Livermore still in Okinawa Harbor, an airplane was sighted. Gunnery Officer Signorey gave the order not to fire on the plane because he thought it was an American Kingfisher recon plane. By the time the mistake was recognized, it was too late for corrective action. A Japanese Kamikaze plane carrying an armor-piercing bomb flew in and hit the wheelhouse. The captain was cut in half. Ten officers were killed. The armor-piercing bomb went through two decks.
At this moment, Len had been off duty and was catching a catnap in the foc’sle. He was jolted awake when the ship shuttered. He jumped up and ran for the foc’sle door, but shrapnel hit his legs and the detonation blew him through the escape panel in the foc’sle door. He lay in the hall in a pool of blood. His pants had been blown clean off of his legs. He was wounded everywhere. His eye socket was broken. His calf muscles hung outside of his legs; they were moving and twitching. He had lost part of his left foot, and the Achilles tendon was severed on his right foot. The bones in both legs were shattered, and he would later learn that he’d lost 2” of bone in his left leg.

Little did Len know then, but he would be in constant pain for 74 years.

He was taken to a hospital. He was bleeding all over his body, and as the weeks passed, he was confined to hospitals in Okinawa, Guam, and then Hawaii.

Before a scheduled surgery to close persistent bleeding wounds, the doctor wanted to amputate both legs.

“No,” Len said. “Forget about it. I’d rather die. Just roll me over there and let me die.”

“You’ll never walk again,” the doctor said.

“I don’t care. Swear to me you won’t amputate.”

“Alright, alright, I won’t.”

“Swear it.”

“Fine. I swear. We’ll see what we can do, son.”

After the surgery, the doc dropped by to visit Len, whose casts were red.

“We couldn’t close all the wounds,” he said.

The weeks passed slowly in hospitals in Okinawa and Guam. Len was in the hospital for his seventeenth birthday.

After being flown to Hawaii, he had two more surgeries. Nine surgeons all said he’d never walk again. With tears in her eyes, a nurse named Lieutenant Fru told him, “Lenny, you’re not in the armed services. We have to transfer you to a public health service hospital—the Oakland Naval Hospital.”

Len would spend 2 ½ months in that hospital. This was a painful transition for more than one reason. Not only had the armed services just turned their back on him, but in the Navy, they’d given him morphine to deal with the pain. In San Francisco, they prescribed codeine. He was allergic to codeine. 

Even worse, they called him psychotic. Why? Because he had recurring nightmares about his trauma. He dreamed about being blown through the foc’sle door and sitting in a pool of blood. He saw his friend T.J. Garner crawling through the door with 3- and 4-inch holes in his back. T.J. reached out for him and then fell dead. If the nightmares weren’t bad enough, Len could barely sleep because of the constant pain. 

The Navy guys on that ship got purple hearts, but Len and the merchant mariners—who served as back-up gunners—were denied the metal or any recognition or appreciation. Everyone got a Mariner’s medal.

Lenny’s good friend Bob Blake was killed topside on the flying bridge. He was an ordinary seaman and backup gunner for the 20mm gun. Bob was firing his gun when killed. All together, four navy men and seven merchant marines were killed in the attack.

He was discharged by the Armed Services of America of USA. He had always been told that he was in the armed services.

The parents of his friend Bob Blake came to see Lenny in the hospital, and they offered to adopt him.  After they left, Lenny begged the doctors to let him go.

Doc Jones said, “You’ll never walk.”

“Yes, I will.”

“If you can walk on crutches, I’ll let you go.”

“Give me the crutches.”

Lenny practiced on crutches, walking across the room.

The doctor said, “I thought you’d be bed-ridden for life.”

The doctor weighed him before his checkout. Previously, he’d weighed 160 pounds. Now he weighed in at 90 pounds.

The nurse gave him $20 to get to LA. He used canes and crutches to leave the hospital. He would need a cane for the rest of his life.

In Los Angeles, he went to public health where they put him in a gurney. Lenny heard one doctor say to another, “I have no sympathy for these merchant marines. They’re just a bunch of draft dodgers.”
Len fumed inside. Anger filled him with resentment.

One day, he was reading the newspaper and it said, “Vets admitted to Belmont High.” This caught his attention because, as an orphan, he’d left school at age 13 and worked in an iron foundry. So now he went down to the high school, and they told him to come back in a week. They told him this every week for six weeks. Finally, a guy growled at him, “We don’t want your kind here.”

This was painful. Once again he’d been insulted because of the rumors being spread in the media that merchant marines hadn’t served their country with honor. Articles said they didn’t help fight, but he was trained in gunnery and manned the guns at sea. His close friend Bob Blake had died firing at the Kamikaze. Len was discharged from the Navy after four years in the Naval Reserve.

Due to experiences like these, Len never asked the government for any help. He now hated the government with a passion.

The parents of his good friend Bob Blake had visited Len in the hospital and adopted him. Now they spent all their money trying to help him with his medical challenges. They had lost their son on that ship. Now Lenny was their son, and they gave everything they could. However, when Mr. Blake lost his job, they fell on even more hard times.

Len worked a number of hard jobs. He plucked chickens, pumped gas, and drove a truck. All the while he was bitter against the government and the way they’d treated him. He was angry at his father who’d left him as a child. 

He had always walked to work, but now he bought a Harley motorcycle and soon was running the Lagos Gang. One day he was pulled over on Hollywood Blvd. He got off his Harley, faced the two approaching cops, and challenged them to a fight.

The burly cop said, “You won’t beat us. Better join us.”

This caught Len off guard, and he decided to apply for a job in the police department. He ended up getting hired and went to work even though he was still dealing with open wounds from Okinawa. He always worked two jobs. He moonlighted driving an armored car or as a dispatcher for a trucking company or other jobs. He even worked for the district attorney. The PTSD was always with him, and every night he had dreams about the Kamikaze attack in Okinawa.

Meanwhile, news commentators like Walter Winchell and Westbrook Pegler spread rumors that the merchant marines were getting $400 per month in assistance, which was not true. One news reporter named Ernie Pyle was given the Purple Heart, but Len was denied. He was told, “No, your ship was owned by a company.”

What they avoided saying was that the War Shipping Administration was in charge of all shipping. A Coast Guard commander said, “No purple heart.”

Merchant Mariners finally got very-limited veteran status in 1988 after a long court battle.
However, Len had little interest in dealing with the government. His anger against the way that he’d been treated was always painful to think about.

One of his friends insisted that he “Go to the VA and get what’s coming to you!” Finally, Len was persuaded, but was disappointed by the limited assistance.

There was one benefit that gave him hope, however: at age 60, he qualified for the GI Bill and education. First, he had to visit a doctor to qualify. Len wasn’t too worried about this. He’d been in pain all his life and the wounds had never healed. They remained open until 2010.

A government worker asked him, “Were you wounded?”

“Yes, all over. My head was caved in, and my feet were destroyed.”

“Okay, you’ll have to see a doctor to qualify.”

So that’s what Len did.

A man walked into the doctor’s office.

The so-called doctor rudely said, “Let me see your left leg!”

“Want to see my right leg?” Len asked.

“What for?” the man blurted.

“The open wounds.” Len's wounds had remained open almost fifty years.

The doc said, “Those hammer toes and that cut didn’t come from that wound.”

“Maybe you want to hear what happened,” Len said.

The doctor shook his head. “I’m writing. Be quiet.”

Despite his anger, Len was quiet.

“Let me see you walk,” the doctor said.

Len limped across the office.

“Why do you walk like that?” the doctor said. “You’re through.” He left.

To this day, Len doubts that he was even a doctor at all.

Six months later, Len got a letter in the mail. It said, “Your wound doesn’t qualify you for any VA compensation.”

After another six months, he was informed that the government would cover 10%.

“That’s wrong,” his friend, Dr. Frank Rogers insisted. “You have to appeal it!” Rogers was an old field sergeant from World War Two.

Len was reluctant. He wanted nothing to do with the government, but finally agreed. After his appeal, he was awarded 30% assistance.

Doc Rogers was incensed and pushed him further and he got 40%.

When he appealed again, he was told by the VA in Los Angeles, “We gave you 40%. That nullified your appeal.”

Ultimately, $250 per month is not adequate for a man whose medical expenses have been far higher and have lasted for seven decades. At age sixteen, he served his country in the merchant marines and suffered terrible injuries. He could never run again. He is still in pain at age 90.

Every night, Leonard Blake dreams of the day when he watched his friend T.J. Garner die in front of him, the day when Bob Blake died firing the 20mm gun. Not a day passes when Len does not think of his old shipmates who gave their lives Okinawa. Every day, he says good morning to them.


POST SCRIPT
Len’s ship, the Marianna Livermore, was the last merchant ship hit by a Kamikaze in World War Two.



Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Doomed Steamship Lexington by Roger Weston


The Doomed Steamship Lexington
By Roger Weston




On the evening of January 13, 1840, the paddle wheels of the steamship Lexington thrashed the icy waters of Long Island sound. Originally commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt, the ship was carrying approximately 147 passengers and a cargo of baled cotton, which was stacked on deck. Running a route between New York and Stonington, Connecticut, she was one of the most luxurious steamers of her time. 

Midway through the ship's voyage, the casing around the ship's smokestack caught fire, igniting nearly 150 bales of cotton that were stored nearby. Crewmen reacted by rushing below decks to try and stop her engine. This failed mission gave the flames time to spread. Next, the crew made every effort to extinguish the flames. The neck muscles of crewmen bulged like ropes as they heaved buckets of water upon the flames. Unfortunately, the freezing wind fanned the blaze, and the crew fought a losing battle. 

With the paddle-wheeler still underway, panic and anxiety increased among the unfortunates onboard who were seeing their joyful cruise turn into a nightmare. Passengers piled into lifeboats, promptly overloading them. The crew then lowered the boats too fast, and worse yet, the lowering ropes were improperly cut so that the boats hit the moving water at a tilt, turning them into the equivalent of big spoons dipped into a punch bowl. The lifeboats promptly filled with frothing ice water, and clutches of frigid death took hold. Immersed in the freezing drink, the poor souls fought off hypothermia as long as they could, but they lost the fight and sank into the cold depths of the January sea.

The remaining desperate passengers realized that death was closing in on them too. They began heaving furniture and cotton bales into the water. These would have to do as makeshift rafts no matter how perilous the option. 

At 8:00 p.m., Passenger and experienced sea captain, a man called Captain Hillard, threw ten bales of cotton overboard and then jumped onto one of them. One of the ship’s firemen, a Mr. Cox, also gained hold on the same bale. Together these two men floated in the open waters on their substitute life raft. With a wind chill factor running below zero, they floated in the choppy sea as they valiantly tried to fight off the effects of hypothermia. The bale rose and fell in the pulsating waters of the dark night. Stinging cold waves continually splashed them, keeping their body temperatures at dangerously low levels. Around 4:00 a.m., Cox, overcome by hypothermia, slipped into the water and drowned. Hillard, also weakened, nonetheless, held on tight. At 11:00 a.m., a sloop named Merchant swung up alongside and rescued Hillard. The man they dragged out of the sea was insensible. He was clinging to life by a thread, but clinging fiercely. 

At midnight, Stephen Manchester, the ship’s pilot, and several other passengers were driven off the Lexington by the terrifying approach of intense heat and flames. Manchester and the others put to sea on a makeshift raft but the overloaded craft sunk beneath them. Driven by knifing cold and the desperation that ran through his blood, Manchester, clawed at a bale of cotton and dragged himself out of the water like a wet dog. He and a passenger named Peter McKenna held on for dear life, but after a grueling three hours, McKenna gave up the ghost. Despite having death for company, death beckoning him to give up the fight, death taunting him with her torments,

Manchester held on. He clung to life for hours beyond what mortal man could hope for. He was rescued by the sloop Merchant at noon.

Charles Smith, the ship’s fireman, had every intention of outwitting the fire and saving his life. He and four other people clung to the Manchester’s rudder where they had safe distance from the raging fires above them. Finally, as the ship began to sink into her watery grave, Smith and his fellow passengers climbed onto a piece of the paddle-wheel, which was rising and falling in the choppy ice water. Death climbed onto the paddle-wheel with them, and during the night she claimed souls one-at-a-time. Only Smith held out against her temptations. She offered an end to his suffering, but Smith had a purpose. Something drove him to endure the misery and share the night with hypothermia’s oppressive company. The next day at 2:00 p.m., the sloop Merchant eased up by the paddle-wheel and fished the half-dead fireman off his floating debris. 

Another man who spit in Death’s face was second mate David Crowley. On a bale of cotton, he drifted for 43 hours, pulling off the impossible, enduring beyond the accepted limits of human endurance, proving beyond all doubt that with grit and determination, man can accomplish far more than he realizes. Crowley also made a couple of key moves. He burrowed into his bale of hay and stuffed his clothes with cotton. After an amazing adventure, Crowley drifted ashore, 50 miles east, at Baiting Hollow, Long Island. Despite all weakness, despite the fragility of life, he’d hung on until Providence smiled on him. The torments of dehydration had failed to finish him off. Hypothermia had not finished her work. David Crowley crawled up the beach. Then he managed to stand on shaking joints. Breathing in gasps, he staggered down the beach for over a mile, collapsing several times along the way. At the home of Matthias and Mary Hutchinson, he knocked on the door and then fell against it, sinking to the porch floor, where he balled up and shook feverishly. The door was opened. The doctor was called.

In an ironic twist, it was reported that the celebrated poet Professor Henry Longfellow likely perished on the Lexington. Longfellow’s works included "Paul Revere's Ride." While his name was listed on the manifest, he in fact had backed out of the trip at the last minute to discuss a poem with his publisher, a poem about a shipwreck. 

According to one report, the Lexington had been condemned several months before the fateful cruise, but the owners ignored this bad news and kept her in service. In fact, she’d had a fire on her last run, but that one had been put out. Interestingly, the captain of that cruise had called in sick for this trip, a move that most likely saved his life. That captain was the brother of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the man who had originally commissioned the Lexington. 

The Lexington had small fortune in silver below her decks, some of which was later recovered. While those salvagers had reason to smile, the families of the over 140 lost souls carried the memories of their loss for a lifetime. 

Authors note: If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy









Thursday, June 28, 2018

New Release: THE DOORMAN: A Chuck Brandt Thriller





                             The CIA created him. Now they can’t control him.

Chuck Brandt is hunting for an old nemesis in Washington DC—a ruthless killer who’d slipped his grasp. But Chuck lands in the middle of a shameful conspiracy. Betrayal, deception, blackmail—the capital is a garden of lies and murder, but with Brandt in town, the traitors are no longer above the law. Aided by an unlikely—and unusual insider—Chuck Brandt brings his unique form of smash-mouth justice to the nation’s capital. Those who are betraying the public trust are about to find out that there is a new law in town—Brandt’s law.

After uncovering an international conspiracy centered in Washington DC, Chuck Brandt receives orders from above: “This is Washington D.C. Be diplomatic. Do not push too hard or act in uncivil ways.”

That’s not exactly how Chuck operates. He’s focused on results. As he shakes the tiger’s cage, he uncovers a DC plot that makes the blood of any American boil. From one end of DC to another, Chuck Brandt is using savage tactics to de-mask DC frauds and international criminals and make them run for darkness. Assisting him is the most unusual insider Washington has seen in years. 


International customers get your copy here:

252 pages

Thursday, April 19, 2018

New Release: AMERICAN OP: A Chuck Brandt Thriller (The Brandt Series Book 5)

        
BRANDT IS BACK!
  American Op
A Chuck Brandt Thriller (Brandt Series Book 5)



Chuck Brandt is living a quiet, peaceful life of service in a soup kitchen in Seattle when he gets a phone call from Maria Lazar. She tells a harrowing tale. A Black Cobra assassin almost killed her and Chuck’s old pal Jeff. Before he died the assassin reveals a plot against the USA. From Washington D.C. to Antarctica, Chuck Brandt is on the case. What he discovers is far worse than he expected, and his chance of either success or survival are slim.

Download here:





Looking for a non-stop action-packed thrill ride?
Read The Brandt Series

What others are saying about The Brandt Series:

By Amazon Customeron March 21, 2017
It was a fast paced book adrenalin pumping. It is like a cross between Mitch (Vince Flynn) and Dewey (Ben Coes). Mr Weston kept it exciting and intriguing with a good story line.

By jd on March 26, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Superb story. Action adventure writer that keep readers longing for the next book.
Thank you Mr Weston !

By John H. Kuhl, CPCM on July 30, 2016
Every novel I have read by this author seems to be more exciting and enjoyable. If you are a reader that really enjoys an action thriller, you have to get the Rogue Op.

By Sandra Y. Smithon April 24, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Anytime you come across a Roger Weston book, buy it. He is a great writer and the Rogue Op books are thrilling.  Really hard to put down. So looking forward to the next one.


Saturday, January 6, 2018


BRANDT IS BACK!





Chuck Brandt is #1 on the FBI’s most wanted list, but he has even bigger problems. His photo has gone viral. A shadowy lawyer has put a million-dollar bounty on his head—but that’s just for starters. Chuck’s legal problems are like none he could have ever imagined. And when he sees a mysterious girl approaching his crab fishing boat, she does the last thing he ever expected.

SHADOW LAWYER
A CHUCK BRANDT THRILLER
(The Brandt Series Book 8) 
is now available
99c for a limited time

Download here:



For readers outside of the US, click here to purchase your copy of Shadow Lawyer: 


Sunday, September 17, 2017

New Release: Vulcan Eye: A Chuck Brandt Novella






Navy SEAL Sebastian Lewis made a terrible mistake with tragic consequences. Now, hundreds of people are going to die. Desperate for redemption, abandoned and court marshaled by his brothers in the Navy, Sebastian turns to a legendary black ops warrior for help.

Chuck Brandt is an independent operator—a lone coyote with carte blanche powers to circumvent the normal chain of command. He’s a law unto himself, unrestrained by politics—unofficial, deniable, and expendable.

Now Brandt has thirty-six hours to stop a lunatic villain and his ruthless army of killers from using a terrible new weapon. Will Chuck succeed? Find out in Vulcan Eye.


International customers click here: 
Vulcan Eye: A Chuck Brandt Novella

110 pages 

Monday, September 4, 2017

THE GOLDEN CATCH

The Golden Catch was selected as the Action/Adventure Aficionados September/October 2017 group read.





Join in on the conversation at:

The Golden Catch discussion

The Golden Catch Q & A


I'll look forward to seeing you on Goodreads. Thanks to everyone who voted!




Saturday, August 26, 2017

Vote for The Golden Catch



The Golden Catch was selected as a nomination for the Action/Adventure Aficionados September/October 2017 group read.




I wrote The Golden Catch after I worked on a ship in Alaska and lived in South Korea. I learned so many fascinating little known facts through those experiences that I was inspired to write The Golden Catch. It was the book that started my writing journey and I would enjoy discussing it. Join Action/Adventure Aficionados and vote to make The Golden Catch #1.

Here's the link to the poll: https://www.goodreads.com/poll/show/160469-what-book-would-you-like-to-read-for-the-september-october-2017-featured

If you would like a free review copy of The Golden Catch leave a comment below or email me at RogerWeston7@gmail.com

If The Golden Catch is selected I'll look forward to chatting with you on Goodreads soon!


Poll
What book would you like to read for the September/October 2017 Featured Member-Author Group Read?