Read this. That’s an order.
Screw it. He’s given permission to reproduce it, so I will:
My name is John and I live in Central Texas. I have served in three different military components totaling 25 years of service and I am recording this story for posterity. All opinions are the author’s and if you disagree with them, that’s really too bad.
Katrina Day 1: Monday, 29 August 2005
Watching the news today was horrific. Hurricane Katrina has devastated an area larger than the United Kingdom. When I heard that Biloxi was savaged, I immediately thought about my best friend Tracy. Tracy was a Master Sergeant with me in the US Air Force and we were stationed together for several years. Friendships formed in the military are far stronger than anything a civilian can experience. They usually last until the grave. I won’t go into the psychology of it, it is just so. You usually bond to one particular individual, and Tracy was it. He was my Best Buddy, and that is spelt with two capital B’s. I know this man well enough to know that he was not going to evacuate, he would tough it out. Now I was worried sick about Tracy and his family. I tried calling him for several hours but gave up realizing that communication would be non-existent.
Katrina Day 2: Tuesday, 30 August 2005
Spent several more hours trying to contact Tracy, to no avail. It just was not going to happen. The body count is increasing. The question now is: what can I do?
I am sitting at home in air-conditioned comfort, watching a disaster of biblical proportions unfold on the idiot box in the corner. I am a man of action, not talk – always have been and always will be. What action could I take? How could I personally make a difference to what was going on? Even inaction is a form of action, but it has never been my choice. Now the news is telling me that getting food and water to the survivors is the number one priority. I rarely agree with television talking heads, mainly because they are so liberal and also so ignorant about the world around them. I had to concede that, for once, they were right.
What do I do? A plan. A plan is a good thing and helps you anticipate difficulties before they become disasters. I would need transport. I personally own an ex-army vehicle called an M35A2, better known as a deuce and a half. It is 30 years old, has ten driven wheels and is still camouflaged in its original paint scheme. All 3 axles are driven and it is one of the best all-wheel drive off road vehicles in existence. It also has a large cargo bed, with a 5 ton load carrying capacity. Perfect for getting large quantities of food and water into remote areas with difficult terrain.
I also realized that there would be many roadblocks manned by civilian law enforcement and by military personnel. How would I get past them? Would they think of me as a fruitcake? Would they turn me back? Would they think I was selling water for ten bucks a bottle? Would they shoot me?
I dusted off my old camouflage uniform. A bit tight around the middle, but acceptable. This should get me through roadblocks. My next fear was that the news was reporting widespread looting and general mayhem. I did not want my truck, food or water hijacked, so what to do? I loaded my .45 caliber H&K semi-automatic pistol, some extra magazines of ammunition, and buckled on a shoulder holster in plain sight. I did not plan on shooting people. I planned on staying alive. I am a firm believer in the old adage that it is better to be judged by twelve people than to be carried by six.
The next several hours were taken up by servicing the truck. You do not just jump in a 30 year old truck and high tail it a couple of thousand miles, you’ll never get there. I had to add several gallons of oil to the various places that were going to leak and burn. I had to load up all of the tools necessary to make roadside repairs, the manual tire changing gear alone weighs a couple of hundred pounds. A good friend, who will remain unnamed, helped me work through the night servicing and tweaking the truck. We loaded my survival supplies, sleeping bag, cot and a hundred other things that make living in the back of a truck a little less painful.
Katrina Day 3: Wednesday, 31 August 2005
Still servicing and loading the truck at 3 a.m. and now realizing that availability of fuel would be difficult or non-existent in a disaster area, we rustled up 20 five-gallon jugs. Off we went to the all night gas station to fill up. All told, it took an hour and $300 to fill everything. My friend shook my hand and wished me luck. He wanted badly to come with me, but his line of work is saving lives and he knew that he would be sent in an official capacity soon enough. Departing now would be madness, I hadn’t slept in 24 hours and I had a grueling trip ahead of me. It’s 100 degrees in Texas in August and a deuce has no air conditioning. There is no insulation between the motor and the driver so the inside cab temperature stays around 140 degrees. The metal surfaces can exceed 200 degrees and I have melted more than one pair of shoes driving in the summer.
I went home and sent an e-mail to my friends on the military vehicle mailing list telling them what I planned and asking for tips and advice on what I was attempting to accomplish. At 9 a.m. after four hours of deep sleep my girlfriend gave me a wake up call. It was time to load food and water. Our local grocery mega-store had enough water to fill up a pallet. When I explained to the manager what I was doing, he said that he was willing to empty the shelves of canned food, but it was not even a quarter of a pallet and most of it required can openers. I asked him if he could give me a break on the price of the water, the worst thing he could do was say no. He said no.
I have a pretty high limit on my credit card, so $250 wasn’t going to kill me. The next stop was Sam’s club which is another mega store which can sell food by the pallet. Unfortunately, this store requires a membership card and does not accept credit cards for payment. My girlfriend’s parents, bless their hearts, wrote a check for a pallet of chunky soup with pop-top openings. Her father even offered to pay half of the thousand dollars that the soup cost.
At noon I departed Central Texas, heading for Biloxi, Mississippi. Due to hurricane damage, I thought the southern route along Interstate 10 may be closed, so I headed North to meet Interstate 20 in Shreveport, Louisiana. I got into Shreveport just after dark and needed fuel. Right away I noticed panic at the gas stations. Lines of cars for blocks and fuel gouging. I thought to myself “what the hell was going on”? This was hundreds of miles from the hurricane.
I committed my first rude action of the trip. I went to the front of the truck line and asked a driver if I could butt in. Instead of the expected rude reaction I anticipated, the trucker seemed happy to see me and even backed up to let me get ahead. Other truckers in line waved to me, and not using just one finger. As I was fueling, a very old grandma came up and gave me a hug. She told me she always hugs servicemen, and she will never forget our sacrifices. Although I am retired, I did serve 25 years, so maybe, just maybe, I deserved that hug. I certainly appreciated it. Back into the truck I crawled and onwards through the night.
Katrina Day 4: Thursday, 1 September 2005
I’m falling asleep, my feet are burning, I’ve got to stop and stretch my legs. I get a cup of coffee and talk to the lady behind the counter. I ask, “Why is your 24 hour restaurant closed”? We have no food, the evacuees have eaten everything. I ask, “Why are your gas pumps closed”? We have no gas, it’s all gone. I look around the store. There are no potato chips, no snacks, and no batteries. Pretty much nothing but knick-knacks is all that remains.
Back into the truck I crawl with only a couple of hundred miles to go. Turning South in Jackson, Mississippi, I start to see storm damage. The further I go, the worse it gets. Gas stations have five-mile lines with armed policemen guarding them. Not just pistols, but shotguns and long guns. People wave and cheer as I pass by. I ask myself “Why”? Then it hit me. I am the only vehicle heading South. There were no military or relief convoys, no nothing heading South. Only streams of families heading North. I suppose the military truck I was driving gave them comfort, the feeling of order amongst chaos.
The damage is increasing as I progress South. There are now no more gas stations, just empty shells with the roofs torn off. All power is out. The trees have fallen across the power and telephone lines many of which are hanging dangerously low. I’m out of fuel so I transfer 30 gallons from cans to the tank.
As the sun comes up, the scenery gets worse. I pass a church. The building has vanished, but the steeple is stuck in the ground completely upside down like an enormous lawn dart. The last few miles were one bizarre scene after another. There’s a man walking his dog with a machine gun on his back. Twenty state troopers pass me, nose to tail, at 100 mph. They all have camping gear in their cars. Helicopters are everywhere. There are no road signs or traffic lights. Cars and trucks are piled like toys tossed in a box. There are big yachts in the forest. Half of the trees are horizontal. I have to start zigzagging around trees and power lines to make headway.
There’s Tracy’s street, which doesn’t look too bad. There’s his house, with only minor damage visible. He lives several miles North of the Gulf of Mexico, North of Interstate 10. Tracy’s wife Kathy opens the door. She seems very happy to see me. Is everyone okay? Where’s Tracy? Everybody survived, we’re all okay, only minor damage. Tracy is out helping friends who live near the water. I told her I brought food, water and fuel. She thought I would come.
She sees me stagger and gives me a pillow. I am fully clothed, stinking and asleep in five seconds. Three hours later I woke up because someone sat on the bed next to me. It is Tracy and his head is hung low. He is crying.
He said, “John, the devastation, the death, it’s just overwhelming. I know you’re tired, but we need you right now”. Tracy, Buddy, that’s why I’m here.
We unloaded the food and water in his driveway; at least none of his neighbors would be hungry or thirsty. His friend, Joe, lived in a housing subdivision on the Biloxi back bay. His neighborhood was blocked with trashed vehicles and debris, so the residents could not get in or out. Although friends from inland had brought food and water, it was very slow going on foot carrying the supplies a mile through the debris. We fired up the deuce and headed for the coast. Tracy started to sing ‘You ‘aint seen nothing yet’ an old 70’s song. He was right.
The closer we got to the water, the worse the devastation was. Fully 50 percent of the houses were just gone, concrete slabs bare beside the road. Do you remember that old game, pick up sticks? As far as the eye could see, someone had been playing pick up sticks. These sticks were 10 to 20 feet long and stacked 10 to 20 feet tall. Square miles of 2 by 4’s were everywhere. Of course, they were all that remained of thousands of homes.
We got to Joes subdivision and a pickup was upside down right in the middle of a stack of debris. I dropped the transmission into first, engaged low range on the transfer case then air locked the front axle. We played bumper cars for a few minutes, shoving some cars up onto lawns, some of them into the ditches. T he debris clung in clumps to the front of the truck, and we rammed it up onto the concrete slabs. Residents watched from a safe distance and then began to applaud. I was smashing their vehicles beyond recognition and they were clapping?
We passed several houses that appeared whole from a distance, however as we drew alongside, we could see that the ground floors contained no glass, doors or possessions. Sort of an open-plan. Many walls were missing also.
Have you ever seen any of the zombie horror movies like Dawn of the Dead? That’s what these people looked like. They were filthy, standing around in two’s and three’s and I have never seen so much blank confusion in people’s eyes. Still, they thanked us and went about whatever it was they were doing. When we got to the remains of Joe’s house, he was sitting on the ground where his front door had been. He was cradling his dead dog in his arms and weeping. When the ocean began to rise, Joe took his wife and children across the street to the only two story house in the neighborhood. He did not have time to go back and save the dog. Tracy found a shovel amongst the debris and buried the dog in the soggy lawn.
I was trying to untangle some of the two by fours in the street when my back gave up on me. At this point, I had better clarify my medical condition. During one of my many overseas vacations with Uncle Sam, I suffered multiple explosive impact traumas against my spine. T his left me with multiple broken vertebrae and a lifetime of prescription painkillers. After years of poking and prodding by the Veterans Administration, the federal government declared me 100% disabled and I now became an official burden to society. Whatever you say, Doc. Driving, standing and sitting is painful, but walking is agony. Bending and lifting is torture beyond belief. Tracy knows all this and bitched at me until I took double my dose of happy pills. Five minutes later I was unconscious next to the dog’s grave. A couple of hours later, Joe and Tracy had loaded up Joes remaining meager possessions, not very much, and we headed back North.
Driving over the debris, the deuce suffered its first puncture of the trip. Because we only had a few miles to travel at low speed, and the deuce has 8 wheels on the back, we left it flat until we got back to Tracy’s. After putting Joe’s trash, sorry, I meant possessions, in the garage, we changed the flat tire. Coffee, exhaustion, bed.
Katrina Day 5: Friday, 2 September 2005
Daybreak, up and at ’em. Spent most of the day clearing debris in Biloxi and Gulfport. The deuce makes a pretty good plow when you use a compact car turned sideways as a plow blade. As before, local residents cheered when they realized that we were making access for them. One man did ask us if we could help him load his piano onto a truck. We both thought of several rude answers, but his piano was all he had left. We just told him, “No, we’re just a little busy right now”. I left Tracy and headed to Keesler Air Force Base to see if I could get any help with the deuce, which had started to severely overheat. Because of the fear of federal prosecution, and because of future security considerations, I cannot relate that part of the story. I will only say that the military men and women were wonderful to me, and helped me beyond the call of duty.
As I headed towards highway 90, I decided to turn East along the coast to see if East Biloxi needed any streets cleared. The most incredible sight on my left! Biloxi has several floating casinos which appear to be nothing more than two enormous Mississippi river barges welded side to side with six story hotels built on top of them. These are truly stupendous looking structures when they are moored to the piers in the Gulf. They are doubly stupendous when they are sitting on dry land two blocks inland. Beyond description!
Every couple of blocks there are police roadblocks manned by law enforcement officials from all over the country. Seeing an Arizona Sheriff drinking water with an Alabama Parks and Wildlife Officer is not what you expect to see sitting on quads in the middle of a four-lane road.
Remember, I am in an obvious military vehicle albeit retired from current inventories, in uniform and armed. Over the next couple of days I was waved through more than 100 roadblocks, even those manned by regular Army Military Police. I did not feel guilty of deception because I was not rubbernecking; I was helping those in need. As I traveled further East along highway 90, I began to see more and more large white vehicles with huge satellite dishes on the roofs. Ah, the esteemed members of the press. The vehicles were clumped into groups and formations reminiscent of wagon trains in the wild west movies. What is the correct name for a large number of vultures on a corpse? A flock? A feeding frenzy? That seemed apropos.
There is a large group of men with oversize red hard hats on my left. They are wearing suspenders and baggy pants. Clowns? No, they look like half dressed firemen. The one in the middle is wearing normal clothes, older than the rest. T here were lots of cameras on tripods. A couple of cameramen hear the deuce and swing the cameras towards me. The older man waves. He’s definitely waving at me. I hesitantly wave back. Caramba! It’s George Bush! I really don’t think stopping here would be a good idea. I turn right, around a huge pile of debris, and get out of Dodge. I feel like I just narrowly avoided disaster.
Back onto Highway 90 and head east. There are hundreds of oak trees along the side of the highway. Every single historic residence that was built amongst the oaks has disappeared. The oaks appear to be unscathed. There is something poetic in that. The further East I go, I begin to notice that every second street has been bulldozed clean. This end of town does not need an old fart in a deuce helping them out. They are pretty well organized. So it’s back across the back bay bridge into the residential areas. Got to play bumper cars for a few more hours until dark.
Too dangerous after dark, the citizens are friendly but the water moccasins are lethal. There is a veritable plague of them. Heard the news that the hospitals were completely out of anti-venom, so discretion was the better part of valor.
Back at Tracy’s, all of the neighbors sat around and discussed the current situation. Because there was no electricity, we had no television or radio. The telephone system was inoperative and only a couple of cell phones managed to capture weak signals. Neighbors with generators provided all of our information, mostly skewed towards the negative. Everybody got in a dither because of rumors of armed thugs from New Orleans were headed our way. T here are just so many things wrong with that rumor that I tried to explain. What are they using for transport? What are they using for fuel? Why do you think they would steal from you when every store on the coast has millions in merchandise just lying in the street? My objections fell on deaf ears. The neighborhood blocked the entrance and put out armed patrols. I thought it most likely that a couple of them would shoot each other so it was a good time to go to bed. Wake me up if anyone needs a tourniquet.
Katrina Day 6: Saturday, 3 September 2005
Spent a few hours trying to find out why the deuce was overheating again. Removed the radiator and flushed it. Removed the thermostat. Flushed the block. Put it all back together. Bingo! Now it’s running at 160 instead of 230.
Headed for the back bay to clear debris. At noon, Tracy and I head back down into Biloxi to see if any relief has arrived. Overnight, several tractor trailers of food and water had been parked in the major shopping areas, Wal-Mart, Home Depot etc. These tractor-trailers were guarded by dozens of lawmen, although the public was conspicuously absent. How odd.
We headed back down onto Highway 90, actually searching for a cup of coffee. We stopped at a gaggle of satellite vans because they all had generators. Generators equal electricity and electricity equals coffee. At least that’s been my experience in the military.
We got talking with a CNN reporter called Chris Huntington who appeared not to be too much of a wanker. Although he was most definitely a city boy, there was a glimmer of intelligence in one eye. He soon realized that our truck could get him into the Forbidden Zone just a few miles West of his present position. He asked for a ride along so that he could see first hand the devastated residential neighborhoods that we described to him. We knew that aiding and abetting the enemy is a treasonable offence, however, if CNN could transmit more footage of serious carnage, the likelihood of more monetary donations to the Katrina victims would offset the distaste of actually having to shake a reporters hand. We agreed.
We locked both windshields in the full up position so that Chris could have an unobstructed 180 degree view with his mini-cam. We took him on a tour that he will remember his whole life. He was suitably sympathetic to the residents of Eagle Point, not one of who had escaped the carnage. Nothing shown on any television station had captured what we showed him. The deuce ride scared him to the point that he began to babble. He is a highly educated professional type, the type whose enunciation is great, his grammar perfect. Towards the end of his ride along, every second word began with an F and rhymed with duck. Looks like the scenery affected his speech abilities. Too bad. CNN probably is not going to air this one.
There was one incident with a couple of looters, however, I had decided before coming here that I was going to avoid looters except to protect my own property or well being. People who were stealing food, I did not even consider them to be criminals.
Once back at the CNN truck, Chris paid us with a Gatorade each and got back into his air-conditioned command post. Another reporter asked us if we had seen any dead bodies. Yeah, I told him, there are three in the back of our truck. He ran away salivating to find his camera crew. When he came back I told him that it turns out they weren’t quite as dead as they appeared. They didn’t want to be filmed and had gone for a swim. He threw a hissy-fit, however I was close to three times his size and armed. I could only laugh at the miserable bastard.
It was starting to get dark so we headed back home for, would you believe it? Spare ribs! I have died and gone to heaven. One neighbor who knew that I was penniless and out of fuel, drained his motor home and filled my diesel tank and canisters.
It’s dark now, but the Eastern horizon has a strange yellow glow. We were discussing this odd phenomenon when the air conditioning unit let out a groan and began to whine loudly. Good Lord! Power is restored! Screams of joy erupted from the entire neighborhood. If someone told me that power would be restored within four weeks, I would have bet against him or her. Seven thousand linemen from all over the USA and Canada had restored power to Northern Biloxi in under six days.
Before going to bed, I told Tracy that my work here was finished, everything I came to accomplish was done. I did not tell him that I was headed for New Orleans because I knew we would get in a shouting match about it.
Katrina Day 7: Sunday, 4 September 2005
Up at dawn, coffee in belly, fire up the deuce, wave goodbye. Turn off the deuce, stagger in house, first time I sat on the throne in 7 days. Lots of blood, that’s probably not a good thing. Can you say Too Much Information! Pop some more painkillers, fire up the deuce, wave goodbye, hit the road – Round 2.
I knew New Orleans would be bad, but honestly, I had no idea. The roadblocks were no problem, just waved on through. Although the damage in New Orleans was enormous, it was very different than Mississippi, completely flooded, but most buildings were standing.
I had a plan on what to do after observing the food distribution in Biloxi. Imagine if the closest food and water to you was four miles away in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Fire up the car and go get it? Wait a second. Our car is under 12 feet of water. A lot of big city residents don’t even own cars and the bus schedule in New Orleans was probably not very accurate this week. My plan was to find a food distribution center, load up as much food and water as I could scrounge, head into the residential areas and get the food and water to people whom, for whatever reason, refused to evacuate the city.
The police loaded my truck at the first center, stuffed in as much as would fit, even filled up the passenger side of the cab. T hey pointed me South and warned me that some residents were hostile, but no one volunteered to ride shotgun.
Now I had to weave to avoid trash. No, not trash. A large corpse lies right in the center of my lane. The stench was overpowering. Mixed in with it was a strange brew, similar to the stink of a paper mill. It smelt like flammable chemicals and sewage. Another body and another were present. A very unworthy thought hit me. These corpses were very well fed. I had seen bodies in war zones, and they were always pathetically skinny. At least here there was no charred pork smell.
The plan fell apart as soon as I stopped. I opened the tailgate and was mobbed. People began snatching cases of MRE’s and water with not a lot of restraint. No problem, go right ahead. This way, I didn’t even have to lift a single box. Some of the stronger young men actually got up into the truck and helped unload. As I was closing the tailgate, I noticed that one of my mobility bags was unzipped. I climbed in and checked it. All of my prescription drugs were missing! That really, really sucks. Within 36 hours, my blood pressure would skyrocket and I’d have no way to reduce it. I could stroke out in two days. Without my painkillers I would become a zombie basket case within 12 hours. I’m trying to help and this is the thanks? The two young men were long gone.
Mission, John, think of the mission. No way I’m going to get the meds I need in New Orleans. No way I’m going to become a burden to the rescuers. I would have to leave before dark, and risk seizures on the way home.
Back to the food distribution center, I load up and head southwest. Same story as the first run, except this time I watch over my personal belongings. This time when I closed the tailgate, I looked down and to my right and there was a large black doll under a bush. It sure looks oddly big for a doll. I look closer, then double over in pain. It’s a baby girl, just a few months old, eyes closed, hair in cornrows. Her skin is tight, no wrinkles. She is absolutely angelic. I turn and projectile vomit.
On the way to the food center, a filthy soaking wet teenage girl shouts and runs up to the truck. “My Grandma! my Grandma! Please h’ep”. I put her in the passenger seat and she is crying and giving me directions. I cannot understand a word she is saying, as her accent is so thick. I follow her hand signals for a few blocks and we come to a large depression that looks to be way too deep for the deuce. It’s up to the roofs of the cars in the street. Why the hell was I too lazy last winter to install the deep water fording kit? I figure if the water stays below my fenders and I go slow enough to not make a bow wave, I’ll give it a shot. Several hundred yards further the water gets shallower. There is one house with the water only about a foot deep around it. Standing in the yard are at least 60 people. There was a whole lot of “Praise Jesus!” going on. Then I realized, here were Grandma and all of her kin. My second realization was that they thought I was their knight in shining armor.
They all spoke at once, and I understood not a word. I almost blundered and asked if anyone spoke English. A Blackhawk had dropped food a couple of days earlier, but since then nothing. The water had gone down far enough for the young girl to swim for help. She walked/swam through half a mile of sewage, chemicals, dead bodies, snakes and rats to find me. If there is a hero in this story, she was this bedraggled little girl. We loaded up, put the teenagers on the hood, roof and fenders, Granny and the kids up in the cab.
Can you fit 60 people in and on a deuce? Yes sir, you can. It rides low and slow, but it still moves. As soon as I got to dry ground, I had to unload, I was afraid of damaging the deuce. I told them to sit tight for one hour and I’d be back. Two of the teenage boys came with me to the food center. They helped the Police load up to the roof again and back we went. When we got back to Grandma and the family, there was a crowd of over 200. They began to sing a gospel song. I couldn’t understand the words, but I understood they were thanking their Lord for sending an angel. I’m sure they meant the little girl.
We offloaded everything right there in the middle of the street. Before the last case came off, some of the children were on their second MRE.
Back to the food center. I did not know it, but this was to be my last load. It had been several hours since I last took my painkillers, and I could no longer walk properly upright. This time guardsmen loaded me up. I headed further Southwest into what looked like a beat up industrial area with a lot of smaller poorer houses. I honked the horn again and dropped the tailgate. As at all the other stops, people starting to come up to me. Something did not feel right this time, just a bit creepy. These people were not friendly, but I had no idea why. I realize that some people hate you just because of the color of your skin. I have no control over the color of my skin, nor do I have control over other people’s stupid bigotry. I decided to hurry up and off load quickly, this felt ugly.
Wheeeee, an angry bee went by followed by a loud deep boom. Wheeee, boom again. CRAP! I’ve heard that before. Some son-of-a-bitch was shooting at us. I dropped and looked right. There were two men standing waist high behind a pile of scrap metal about 75 yards away. One had his arms up and was pointing at me. Everything went slo-mo and someone behind began to scream. My .45 was out and I was squeezing the first shot. I jerked and the weapon bucked. Idiot! Slow down! T he next 11 rounds were gone in seconds. The magazine was empty and I was ejecting and running behind the left side of the deuce. I got the second magazine in and released the slide with my thumb. I looked back at the people who were taking the food and they were gone! Every single one!
I came around the front of the deuce slowly below the bumper. There they were, two heads popping up and down. They looked comical, were they crackheads? Two more booms. I knew what they were using, nothing in the world sounds like a .44 Magnum.
Twelve more rounds at ½ second intervals, a whole lot of screaming from that direction. Eject, reload. Only 12 rounds left. The screaming is faint, I think my eardrums are damaged as I’ve never fired this thing without ear protection. The two of them pop up together and take off at high speed in the direction away from me. Should I? They are running in a straight line directly away. Should I? They are around a building and gone. Release the hammer, holster, get in the deuce. Fire it up and go directly the opposite direction of those two. You don’t want to know what I am thinking about New Orleans at this point. About two miles down the road I stopped and closed the tailgate. I think its probably time to head back to Texas.
As I head up Interstate 10 towards Baton Rouge, I see literally hundreds of Army vehicles convoying in to the city. I stop to change a ladies flat tire. She is 5 feet tall and 500 pounds. She needs my help. My painkillers have worn off, I’m in agony, less than 500 miles till home.
Katrina Day 8: Monday, 5 September 2005 (Labor Day)
It’s almost midnight and I’ve just crossed the border into Texas. One more odd thing happened on the way home. A Ford Crown Victoria was tailgating me on the Interstate. After a couple of minutes he pulled up next to me and hailed me on the loudspeaker. The only two words I could make out were “left tire”. Arm out my window, wave thanks, took the exit not 50 yards away. At the top of the ramp, there was a well-lighted gas station. I went in to ask the owner if he minded me changing my tire under his lights. He had no problem with that, would I like a fresh pot of coffee? Yes sir, I would.
Because I was back in Texas, I had placed my weapon and holster in the glove box of the truck. I had also locked the passenger door so that no one could steal the weapon while I was in the gas station. I went to the back of the truck to get the many tools required to change my flat tire. As I was dragging the tools out, I heard voices next to the truck. I looked down the drivers’ side towards the front. There stood three ‘gangsta’s’. All 3 were black and naked from the waist up. They were very heavily tattooed, all kinds of symbols and stylized block writing. They were young and wiry muscular and very fit looking. Their pants hung very low and several inches of underpants were showing. My gun was beyond reach, I had a ¾ inch ratchet in my hands, but I thought this is it John, you are dead meat.
The tallest oldest one looked at me and smiled. “Sir”, he said, “we know what you done been doing”. I didn’t know what he meant. He told me he meant he knew I had come from New Orleans. How did he know? “You stink like the dead, man”. Ahhh, I hadn’t noticed. He wanted to shake my hand and thank me. Of course, grabbing a man’s hand is the perfect set-up for punching him in the head. I had no choice. I grasped my 18″ Craftsman tighter, and then I shook his hand. They asked what was I doing here. Flat tire. He asked why was I moving so bent over. I told him, I’m in a lot of pain.
He swore at me, then told his two brothers to get my tools off of the truck. I asked him what the hell was he doing? “We is changing your tire, old man, you go sit over there and watch. My Ol’ Daddy would whup us all upside the head if he saw us watch an old man change a tire without helping”.
What they lacked in experience, they sure made up with enthusiasm. All three were dripping with sweat within a couple of minutes, swinging that six foot cheater bar. T hirty minutes later they are almost finished, the spare is being hoisted back up the winch. The oldest one turned to me, “Sir”, he said, “I know that you will now offer us money, but my Ol’ Daddy would whup us all if we took it from you”. I turned and walked back in to the gas station. I came out with another cup of coffee and three tall cold beers. I can’t drink these beers. I’ll just have to set them down here. They sat with me. I shook their hands and thanked them. “No sir”, said the oldest, “we thank you”.
Several hours later, I am back at my house. It takes 15 minutes for me to get down from the truck. Another five minutes to get in the house. I sit down and take a double dose of painkillers. What is wrong with my eyes? I’m crying. I just can’t stop crying..
I could have done so much more.
Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, blah, blah, blah. That is what is known as a legal disclaimer. That being said, I do not know how many laws I broke, nor do I care. While others sat, I moved. Although I am not proud of everything I did in those seven days, I did directly affect the lives of thousands. I made access to hundreds of homes. I fed and gave water to thousands. I ferried dozens of people to safety. I gave comfort when comfort was all I had to give. The entire trip cost me between four and five thousand dollars.
It was the best spent money in my entire life.
EDIT TO ADD: Friday, 9 September, 2005
I’m in a lot of pain still and probably will be for a few more days, so I will be a bit hard to get a hold of.
I am overwhelmed at the number of positive comments by strangers. As far as the skeptics are concerned, oh well, whatever. I did not take a camera with me, simply because I thought it insensitive to take pictures of my truck amongst the ruins of people’s lives. I am no longer concerned about privacy, if you want to post my e-mail account on the web page, the best account is probably [email protected]
Also I freely give my permission to anyone who requests it to reproduce, reprint or copy or use for whatever purpose they wish. I really don’t give a damn.
And one very important note. I am not a hero, I am just a person who believes you sometimes have to do what you feel is right.
EDIT TO ADD: Friday, 9 September, 2005
I just looked at our website. Whereas I really appreciate your concern about my monetary situation, I am afraid that there are people who may misconstrue the intent of telling my story. As I stated, the money is gone and it was well spent. I shall recover from the loss within a few months. Some of the people I met are never going to recover from this. Could you remove the donation information and print this apology on the website? Any money already received through the website will be immediately donated to Katrina relief through an aid organization. Anybody wishing to donate money to ‘Sarge’, please choose any Katrina relief fund you wish and send the money to them. It will reach the victims faster than if you send it to me. In the words of the older Gangsta, “My Daddy would whup me upside the head” if I took payment for doing what needed to be done. P.S. I don’t know what heroes look like, but I just look and feel like a tired old man.
It is an honor, sir, to share the planet with you. John (on the left) and his Deuce-and-a-half.
Thanks, Kim. I needed that.