dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author

Larry and JoeI am happy to have a guest post from Larry O’Donnell, my brother-in-law. A retired federal agent — and my go-to resource for writing about weaponry and battle tactics (like how to rescue hostages atop a Mexican pyramid) — Larry has provided many a humorous guest post over the years I’ve been running this blog … and a few sobering ones as well.

Today’s post is in honor of Veteran’s Day, this Wednesday, November 11.


Veteran’s Dream … by Larry O’Donnell


Sometimes, I think of November 7 as I think of my birthday.  It is an important day on my calendar.  And because it’s four days from Veteran’s Day, I am a bit more thoughtful of the holiday. For those who don’t know me, I have been living on borrowed time since November 7, 2003.  I beg the indulgence of those who know this story on behalf of those who don’t.  There’s something I will reveal for the first time.

I was in Mosul, Iraq conducting “other duties, as assigned” for Homeland Security.  I had completed training the fledgling Iraqi border services in northern Iraq.  At 0800 that morning, I was sitting in a UH-60 helicopter and was strapping in for a two hour flight to Baghdad, via Tikrit. It was a routine mission, a flight of two Blackhawks was carrying me, another agent, the Judge Advocate General of the Army, and his entourage.  The Iraqi insurrection was underway in earnest, having downed two US helicopters in the week preceding, and hundreds of IED attacks on Iraqi and American military and security forces.

The General exercised his prerogative to “bump” manifested passengers and had us removed from the aircraft.  There was plenty of room but he had two of his staff moved over to ride in my helicopter and the crew chief apologetically said they would return for us around noon.

I was peeved by the delay but had to grin and bear it.  Mumbling uncharitable things about lawyers, I grabbed my gear and walked off.  Hours later I learned that “my” helicopter had been shot down, killing everyone on board.

On the whim of the Army JAG, I was spared and two of his staff were not.

The bright spot of this event was that I had a son about three years later- a true gift from God.  Deb and I believe that’s why I survived.

Twelve years later, I still often think of that day and, periodically, I have a dilly of a nightmare about it.  Randomly, I dream of that crash.  I feel the missile’s impact and a sharp wrenching of the helicopter.  My legs are on fire. So is everyone around me.  Sometimes, I feel the seat collapse as we hit the ground and I can’t get because the seatbelt is melted to me.

Luckily, I get to wake up and it’s over.  I suspect my wife knows when the dream comes but I haven’t told her, at least not for years.  She thinks the thrashing is Parkinsons, but most times it’s the dream.  I have survivor’s guilt.  Clinically, it’s probably a dash of PTSD, but it is isolated and I am generally doing well.

I relate this story for a reason.  I am not a hero.  Any Marine will tell you the real heroes didn’t come back or came back badly wounded, sometimes horribly.  It’s important to remember our Veterans and the baggage they carry from the war.  Thank them for their service and mean it.  Their dreams might be far worse than mine.


And now the conclusion of Larry’s New Year’s Eve yachting adventure … (You can find Part 1 HERE.)


Fortunately, the boat still had all batteries in working order, and we radioed for assistance.  One of the Blue Thunder interceptors – Warren Parks was the skipper – arrived around midnight and tossed us a line.  I climbed out to the bow and, hanging onto the railing with one arm and both legs, I attached a line to the hauling ring between the deck and the waterline, tying a bowline knot with one hand.  I got dunked a couple times while doing it.

An hour later, I determined that we were making negative progress and our rescuers were going to run out of fuel before we got anywhere.  So I cut the Blue Thunder loose, and Warren told me he would figure something out with the supervisor and get back as soon as possible.

The three of us sat in the cockpit trying to avoid the wind.  Nobody wanted to go below in the pitching boat since many things had broken loose and were flying about the cabin.  We had some brief discussion about the fate of the suspected smugglers.  None of us felt good about their presumed bad outcome.  (My wife doesn’t like my stories where somebody gets killed, and she asks that I refer to it as a bad outcome instead of the K or D words)  There was some speculation as to whether the smugglers met a bad outcome by drowning or got badly outcomed by sharks.  Ultimately my crew decided that we were very lucky.  I remember muttering something like the night wasn’t over yet.

The only nice diversion were some fireworks far off to the west at midnight.  Around 0400 on New Year’s Day, 1988, Supervisor Joe Goulet and Warren Parks arrived in the 63 foot Hatteras yacht from our command center in Cat Cay.  The boat was supposed to stay at the dock but Joe was the kind of boss who didn’t leave his men drifting in the ocean.

I did my one-handed-tie-the-bowline-knot-while-dunking-in-and-out-of-the-shark-infested-ocean trick again. This time we got on board the Hatteras and dried off in the warm cabin.  I took the helm to relieve Warren.  The boat had clearly been rolling hard getting to us.  The furnishings and one large radar repeater had broken loose.  The return was easier, as the seas had laid down considerably.  I thanked Joe for coming to our rescue.

Larry Guest Post 3.2

Rebuilding the carburetors after both were contaminated with salt water during the chase.

He said that I would have done it for him.  He was right, I would have.

Warren mentioned something about coming back to see me do the towline trick again.

The larger vessel’s two big diesels had no problem pulling M-676 back to Cat Cay.  We pulled into the dock at 0700 and made the obligatory joke about how we hadn’t been there since last year.  The supervisor reminded us all that there was no overtime for the day, since our shift had ended at midnight and we had the holiday off.

I spent the next three days putting M-676 back together well enough to get us home, which she did.  I had some paperwork ahead of me.

This is a continuation of Bahamian Yachting, a guest post by my brother-in-law, Larry O’Donnell, a retired federal agent and former Customs officer. He is recounting his adventures on New Year’s Eve, 1987.  For part 1, check out Monday’s post!


Some friends might say I go to extremes sometimes, but I was not trying to outdo the smugglers.  Usually the vessel commander gets to duck the wave because he sees it coming.  Since I was looking at the bad guys, I saw the wave too late.  For those of you who found a 10 story building to try out those jumps and are still looking to get the feel of this yachting experience, go to a hotel with a pool close to the balconies.  Go to the fourth floor (UK friends go to the third) and belly flop into the pool.

Fortunately, my M-676 was designed to meet this situation better than boats with the center console design.  Two thirds of the vessel is decked over.  I only felt like I had been hit in the chest with a pipe while a gorilla tried to rip off my head.  I throttled back, shook off the hit, and took a quick look around my boat.  My Customs crewman, Mike, was on the cockpit deck coughing up sea water. (Never preface your profanity with the word “OHHH” while punching a wave.)

My other crewman, a Bahamian Defence Force NCO was missing.  I heard a shout and realized  he was hanging onto the stern rail, on the wrong side.  Fortunately, I had the boat in neutral, so he got to keep his feet and lower legs. I ran back and, with Mike, pulled him back into the boat.  He told me he would pray for my soul every day for the rest of his life.  Much of this account has been couched in humorous terms but it gets serious here.  I know my soul has been prayed for every day since then.

I got the boat going again.  Somehow, my night vision goggles were still on my head and working.  I motored up a wave and when I got on top, I had no problem finding the smugglers’ boat.  I saw glaring lights several hundred yards away washing out the NVG’s. I grabbed binoculars and took a look.  It took a few seconds to get them in the field of view.  The target appeared to be riding up on a wave, very low in the water.  There was no prop plume or other clue that the boat was still running.  The console was wrecked and the boat appeared to be drifting.  Two men were using flashlights and another appeared to be pulling something off the deck by the console.  My impression was that it was a life jacket that was stuck.  None of them were wearing flotation.

My concentration on the target almost cost us another dunking.  As I tried to maneuver around to head after the disabled smuggler, we nearly broached when we rocked hard on a wave broadside.  As the boat picked up speed, we pulled up on top of a wave and I got another glimpse of the target.

Larry Guest Post 2

Broken Plexiglass screen cover and windscreen

The vessel was now broken in half, and the stern was gone.  The bow section was inverted and two guys were in the water next to the hull, waving flashlights around.  The chase had just turned into a rescue mission.  I tried to move the boat in their direction and got way out on a wave, like a surfboard.  The bow dropped sharply and we punched into the base of a six foot wave.  We all fell down forward and the boat abruptly stopped as if we had rammed something.  My forearm hit the Plexiglas instrument cover and the cover broke.  My arm didn’t break along with it, but it hurt badly.

I managed to throttle back as the props were spinning in the air.  The stern fell and I saw the engine hatches both swing open just as the stern splashed into the water.  I pulled the kill switches, shutting off the engines and it got very quiet.  Someone closed the hatches and I tried to restart the engines.  A couple of kicks and sputters and then nothing.

We bobbed around a bit riding up and down with the waves.  I got one last look back at the smugglers.  One flashlight was moving around rapidly, and then our boat went into a trough.  That was the last I saw of the target vessel or its crew.

Meanwhile, our boat was dead in the water.

To be concluded on Friday!

Many thanks to my brother-in-law, Larry O’Donnell, for taking over my blog this week while I tackle book promotions, Christmas, and other writing/motherly duties. Larry, a retired federal agent, has worked for several of our law enforcement agencies in his career, including Customs. (Larry is my consult for all things military — including the airborne assault of a certain pyramid in The Eighth Day.) This week, he’ll be sharing one of his many experiences protecting the eastern coast of the U.S. in the 80’s — which apparently involves some “adventures in yachting.”

Bahamian Yachting, New Years Eve, 1987 by Larry O’Donnell

On New Year’s Eve 1987, at about 1600 hours, three Customs interceptor vessels departed Cat Cay, Bahamas, pursuant to information that there would be several airdrops of cocaine in Bahamian waters.  The boats split up, and I took my interceptor, M-676, north from Cat Cay to Bimini threading my way between rocks, wrecks, and random sandbars.  There was a heavy chop on the Grand Bahama Bank, where the depths ran between 8 and 12 feet deep. The bank’s western boundary was marked by a string of coral, rocks, and islands, among which was Bimini.

Larry Guest Post 1

Photo taken at the beginning of this operation — a few hours before “all heck broke loose.”

As darkness fell, I moved to a position just west of Bimini. My crew of two and I anchored in the lee of the island, sheltered from the high winds and heavy seas.  Sometime after 2100 hours, we saw a few small red flares go into the air.  Moments later, we heard an aircraft, which turned on its navigation lights and started circling to the west of us.  Then, a vessel that was less than a mile west of us started using a spotlight to locate and pick up items floating in the water.  I started the engines, and we pulled in the anchor.

The smugglers took off at full throttle shortly after I started the engines. Two 500 HP Chevy 454’s with open pipes didn’t leave us much opportunity for stealth!  The smugglers, less than a mile away, downwind, had to have heard them.  My hook was up, and the chase was on: Two boats running, blacked out, east toward Miami.  Through night vision goggles I could see the smuggling vessel, an ocean racer with a center console, 4 or 5 outboard engines, about 37 feet long.  The boat was throwing cascades of foaming water to either side as it banged through the waves.

A few miles west of Bimini, the seas were running 3-5 feet and the winds were blowing 20 knots steady with gusts over 30.  We were closing on the target.   It was an extremely violent ride in the beginning and as we raced west, away from the islands, the seas increased to 5 to 7 feet and the waves opened up.  The ride got worse, and I was busy working the throttle and wheel, using the night vision to judge wave jumps.

Those of you who have not done something this crazy should not try it.  But if you must experience how this ride felt, find a 10 story building and get into a stairwell on the 10th floor.  Jump down four or five steps at a time as fast as you can, and at each landing, land on your face or knees.  Every two floors, try to land on your elbows and knees at the same time.  Repeat until you have had enough fun.

With each mile, I was gaining on them, but the seas were building.  We radioed the Blue Lightning Operations and Command Center (BLOCC) and advised them of our situation.  BLOCC called a general lookout and locked down all inlets from Key Largo to Lake Worth inlet.

The target was about a quarter mile away, and I was thinking about how to board her in such rough water.  I throttled back to 30 knots due to the sea state, about 7 to 9 feet.  A few minutes later, I saw the smugglers punch a wave. (One punches a wave when one spears through the wave rather than going over it.)  The smugglers’ boat really took a hit.  A huge amount of water poured into the vessel and the console was torn from the deck.  The boat struggled out of the wave still making some forward motion and dipped into another wave, with less damage but coming nearly to a halt.  With no helm or throttle controls, I knew the chase was over.

 I yelled out to my crew that the target was stopped and badly damaged.  I told them to be ready to board the vessel or bring the smugglers on board.  I was working out the best way to approach as I turned in the corkscrewing sea.  I looked to my right to check their status.

Then, I punched a wave.

To be continued on Wednesday …

In response to my post describing my distaste for Black Friday, my brother-in-law Larry O’Donnell has contributed a guest post about the extreme other end of the continuum. Evestering.  I’ll let him take it from here …

EVESTERING by Larry O’Donnell
There is a holiday shopping alternative to Black Friday, which we’ll call Evestering.  Evesters are cut from the same bolt of cloth as pantsters: adventuresome, creative, and solving difficulties on the fly.  Evesters are ordinarily men.  I’ve heard stories, but I’ve never seen a woman Evester.  They must exist but are rarely seen.  You just don’t find many women with really bad shopping sense.

Evesters are extreme shopping procrastinators.  I was part of the movement until lately, having wound down considerably since I married Deb.  I still feel the urge sometimes but Deb has gotten very good at hiding the car keys, shutting off the internet, and disabling my cell phone.

Evesters don’t worry about waiting in lines nor do they have crowd concerns.  There is camaraderie among Evesters, with high fives all around when one gets the last floor model of some hot item.  Of course, it is a bit shopworn but what the heck, the season is about giving, not sticky controls, scratches, dents, missing parts, and no instructions.

Evesters will climb a three story rack system to grab that last circular saw at Lowes and will gladly toss down Dremel Tool kits, cordless drills, orbital sanders, and routers to kindred souls below.  It’s a lot like looting, only you pay for the stuff you find.

No problem with traffic or parking spots.  No mugger in his right mind is going to get in the way of a man who has to buy gifts for a wife, four children, four parents, and six friends in two or three hours. 

Evesters often get great bargains.  A Christmas tree that cost $40.00 on Black Friday goes for about $6.00 at 8:00 Christmas Eve.  The tree guy will even throw in a stand and give you a cup of coffee.

There are some challenges.  Some stores’ merchandise has been picked over and the shelves look like nuclear Armageddon happened last Tuesday.  Evesters start to think that the wife would love a new set of pillowcases that don’t match anything at home or in the store.  Then they snap out of it and head for the penultimate source, the all-night pharmacy.  These places expect Evesters and always have gift items for sale on hand late Christmas Eve.  Of course, the merchandise is not always mainstream but you can get a Pony VHS player, a Samasonic alarm clock with digital display and built in cassette deck, or a Falcon keyboard with forty pre-recorded show tunes.

Then there is the ultimate source, the Evester’s last resort, a jewelry store.  It is here that the Evester finds the perfect gift for his wife.  There is no haggling, and generally the Evester gets to learn exactly what his credit cards limits are.  It is not a problem since the jeweler has a telephone number the Evester can call to get another $2500.00 added to the limit of each card.  So, the bass boat goes up on Ebay on December 28th, no big deal.

The Evester gets home around 11:15 pm., puts up the tree and rapidly distributes his treasures underneath it.  The wife’s glare is softened somewhat by a very little box placed in a prominent position on her pile.

Of course, there’s another kind of shopper — the kind I am. The sort-of anti-shopper who doesn’t like to set foot in an actual store on Black Friday, Christmas Eve, or any day in between. The Internet Shopper. But I’ll have to tackle that subject on another day … if I’m willing to confess my sins.

Today I have a guest post from my brother-in-law, Larry O’Donnell about re-writing history.  Larry tells me he started this post during last year’s controversial revisions to Huck Finn and finished it in response to the NCAA sanctions against Penn State.

Re-Writing History by Larry O’Donnell

Recent developments in the Penn State scandal remind me of how callous some folks are of history.  Removing Paterno’s statue and “unwinning” hundreds of football games along with other similar punishments, strikes me as trying to expunge facts from the record.  Several of these sanctions were more vindictive than punitive.  The Sandusky crimes were horrific and any persons who prevented their timely discovery were likewise wrong.  These persons, once proven guilty should be held accountable.  Creating an alternative history is not justice.  Claiming that Navy beat Penn State for the last fourteen years provides no compensation for the victims.

I disapprove of re-writing history to make it palatable.  History is how we maintain knowledge, learn, and measure the progress of humanity.  It should be kept as factual as possible.  A while back, New South Books, citing political correctness, expunged the odious n-word from Samuel Clemens’ classic novel, Huckleberry Finn.  The revisionists claimed they wanted to protect young persons from the ugly word.  Falling sales and controversies over the presence of the book in school probably had an economic influence on the decision.  To me, “disappearing” the word postulates that persons of African descent were always referred to with dignity.  The revised book calls the protagonist Slave Jim.  Jim’s escape from slavery and fierce determination to be free is the message of the book.  Calling him a slave was probably far more demeaning to Jim than any other term.  Making this book less offensive diminishes it as a social commentary of the era.  It erases the negative history of the nation.  

Circa 1959,the Stratemeyer Syndicate overhauled its serial children’s books, published by Grosset and Dunlap, to reflect modern times. This effort was not driven by political correctness, but the flagging sales of the books.  The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew stories, as originally written, were not relevant to contemporary youth.  Besides getting rid of racial stereotypes and slurs, terms as “roadster”, “luncheon”, “frock”, and stilted dialog were replaced with modern expressions.  This overhaul differed significantly from that of Huck Finn.  First, Stratemeyer owned all rights of authorship of the books. If Mark Twain was still living and decided to write a modern edition because sales of his book were down, that would be his right.  Secondly, Stratemeyer didn’t change history, they just moved their characters into modern times.  Huck Finn wouldn’t have any relevancy in a modern setting.  Jim wouldn’t worry about being returned to slavery.  Clemens would lose his nom de plume, since fathometers eliminated the exchange between the sounder and captain.

I think Paterno’s wins should stand.  That’s what happened.  If he and other Penn State administrators played a part in shielding Sandusky, write it into the history of Penn State and the biography of Joe Paterno.
Dianne’s two cents: I agree the wins should stand.  We should be able to look at those wins and note: For THIS, Paterno and Penn State officials sacrificed the well-being of innocent boys. IT WASN’T WORTH IT. Maybe we’d finally gain some perspective on the importance of football vs. life. However, I’m glad they took that man’s statue down. Erasing unpalatable history and pretending it didn’t happen is not the same as removing an honor from someone who was not honorable.

I blogged about my own thoughts on the Huck Finn issue HERE.