By Michael Raffety
It still seems like yesterday that I went to Antarctica on assignment with the U.S. Navy, but in reality that was 50 years ago. About mid-December I noted on my Facebook page that I spent the fall in Antarctica when I turned 21 “On the Ice” and also spent Christmas at McMurdo Station. This time of year is summer down there. I also spent News Year’s Day there as well. As summer “warmed up” our Quonset hut, called the “Lifer’s Lounge,” hosted a barbecue outside. It was called the Lifer’s Lounge because it housed 2nd class and 1st class petty officers. I made second-class in my four years of active duty. The 1st class petty officers were on at least their second enlistment.
I worked “on the Hill” where the avionics shop was located. That was my workstation. It was as well equipped as the main avionics shop back at Quonset Point, R.I. The Hill was on sold ground. That meant as the sun stayed high all day long snow begin to melt and it became more challenging to get snow to make water.
The only things we needed water for in our hut was to reconstitute the freeze-dried pork shops or cook soup. Each hut had its own supplies of food in case of a storm. And each hut had its own supplies of beer in case of a dart tournament. The folks that really needed water were the photographers and the mess hall cooks. There were no flush toilets.
This past Thanksgiving my wife handed out “Things We Really Want for Christmas.”
The multiple-choice answers are “1. World peace. 2. Muscle tone. 3. Clean laundry. 4. Money trees. 5. Superpowers. 6. Self-acceptance. 7. Toe-curling love. 8. A few do-overs. 9. Tropical vacations. 10. Healthy gums. 11. Weight loss. 12. One of everything. 13. Happy families. 14. Perspective. 15. January. But most people will settle for chocolate.“ That makes me believe chocolate makers created this list.
Another anniversary will come Nov. 24, 2018 – The 55th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I mention this because of a fascinating article in the December issue of American Legion Magazine. I was a senior in high school when Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. I also remember when Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby killed Oswald as he was being transferred from the police station to the jail. The man in the light suit and light Stetson hat was Dallas Police Department Detective Jim Leavelle, who was escorting Oswald out of the station when a photographer caught the moment Oswald was shot by Ruby, the pistol visible, Oswald grimacing and Detective Leavelle leaning slightly backward and looking intently at Ruby.
Leavelle is now 97 and a member of American Legion Post 23 in Garland, Texas. The other big event in Leavelle’s life was being a sailor on the USS Whitney when Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese airplanes.
Being handcuffed to Oswald when Jack Ruby shot Oswald wasn’t “even my closest calls,” Levelle told interviewer John Raughter. Leavelle faced gunfire several times during his 25 years with the Dallas Police Department, but the horrific view from his destroyer a mile and a half from Ford Island is the other big event in his life.
When Ruby pulled the trigger, Leavelle’s partner, L.C. Graves, saved Leavelle’s life by grabbing Ruby’s pistol by the cylinder “and I knew he wasn’t going to let it loose, and I knew that nobody could pull that trigger as long as L.C held that. But he already moved over enough. Ruby was still working his hand on the trigger trying to get off a shot. Had he gotten it off I would have caught it here (the chest). If my partner hadn’t grabbed that cylinder, I wouldn’t be talking to you today.”
Later when they transferred Ruby to jail Ruby asked for a disguise. Levelle told the interviewer he said to Ruby, “Jack, nobody’s going to shoot you. In the first place you ain’t worth killing.”
The Dallas Police Department named its Detective of the Year Award after Jim Leavelle.
What a life –- being a close eyewitness to two momentous event of the 20th century. I’ll bet he chose No. 14. Perspetive.