Orphan Survival Stories Index |
THE WRONG STUFF
In December of 1989, I was working as a weapons inspector for the Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant located in Riverbank, California. It was my job and responsibility as final inspector, to make sure any and all ammunitions shipped from that facility were safe for our troops to use, should the need arise.
For almost a year, the plant had become very lax in its manufacturing procedures. The quality of the ammunitions being produced and shipped was not the best, though passable, if you closed one eye and were in a dark room.
About this time, Desert Storm became a main concern to the United States. Many of the employees talked on their lunch breaks; what would happen to our service men and woman, if we used this ammunition during wartime? I decided right there and then, that I would tighten up inspection procedures, no matter what the cost. Believe me, the cost was greater than I ever knew.
The M-42, M-46 and M-77 grenades were running down the line and passing me at a rate of 3.5 grenades per second. It became impossible for me to inspect these munitions under those rapid conditions. During one of the 20-minute breaks, I stayed behind and secretly tightened the six-inch belt on the line. Then the grenades would have to slow down, because of the additional pressure placed on the belt. When we resumed, the line was operating slower and the shells began to back up. The grenade line discontinued operations, until management could locate the cause of the slow down.
In about an hour, the adjustments I had made were uncovered, readjusted and the line resumed full operations. About two hours later, the line was running at about 6.2 grenades per second to make up for lost time. The shells coming down the line were then so bad and defective that many had been pressed with the inside of the grenade located on the outside of the shell casing. I ran up and down the inspection line trying to remove the defective shells. However, I could not keep up the fast pace. It became physically impossible for me to remove all the defective shells. As the shells made their way passed my location, they were stamped, crated and marked for shipment by workers located less than 20 feet to my right.
After the next 20-minute break, I continued to do the best I could to remove the defective shells, but there was no way.
Finally, in frustration, I took my arm and laid it across the inspection table, allowing the grenades to fall from the table to the floor. They fell by the thousands. I then started kicking them off the platform where I stood, out onto the main floor deck below. By then everyone was yelling at the top of his and her voice. Each worker screaming louder than the sounds of the massive, two-story stamping machines. Every worker, fighting mad was trying to get the army's attention, as well as plant management. Many employees continued to scream, calling me a "crazy bastard."
The line finally ceased operations again. I was directed to the head office where it was agreed I could resign rather than be fired. That would allow me to draw full unemployment benefits, until I could find another job.
Over the next few months, I gathered as much physical evidence as could be secretly slipped out of the plant by those willing to help me. I taped hundreds of hours of telephone conversations (legal), with certain army officials and employees, whom I thought were my friends. Every company supervisor knew exactly what was happening at that plant.
In December of 1990, it appeared the Gulf War was almost a sure thing. I tried to alert the news media about the defective ammunition, but no one would listen. Finally, I called NBC News about 3:30 am one morning and managed to reach a male office clerk. I begged him to contact someone who could announce that this ammunition was faulty and many of our soldiers might be injured or killed, if these products were used in the conflict.
The next day, I received a call from New York, and was advised that reporter Brian Ross and the news crew would meet me at the airport the following day. Over the next week, I supplied them with 20 or so witnesses and filmed for the television show "Dateline NBC" (Known at that time as "Expose"). Many of the witnesses did not show, as they had been threatened and feared for their lives, as well as their jobs. Even the NBC news crew was threatened and told, "to get the hell out of there and leave things alone.Ē
Well, the television show aired on NBC, February 6, 1991 (wo#008661) and all hell broke loose. I lost almost everything I owned and spent every penny I had ever saved in order to survive. Only five workers out of almost a thousand had the nerve and guts to step forward, and tell the truth. Nevertheless, that was not enough to save the more than 18 Americans who died using this defective ammunition. The war started and when it was over, 22 of our soldiers lay dead, with more than 60 others injured from that defective ammunition. Most of these soldiers were from the Hartford, Connecticut area.
There was investigation after investigation, but no wrongdoing was proved. I guess because by then, the shells (the physical evidence) had been spread and warehoused all over the world. Therefore, the only evidence left would have been the word of those who worked at the plant - the people who made the defective shells in the first place.
I will never forget all the men and women who died for me, and for those same individuals who were not man or woman enough to stand up and do what was right. I do not know if it was because of greed or selfish gain. I just do not know.
My family and I, along with thousands of other Americans, stood along the freeways of this great country watching our brave soldiers head down that road to battle. However, I could not find it in my heart to lift or even wave that little American Flag I held tightly in my hand. I could only raise my hand to my forehead, giving a silent salute to those brave men and women I knew were about to die. There were many young, brave Americans who were about to lose their lives for other Americans who were too selfish to warn them of the danger.
Do I wonder what is wrong with America today? No, I do not have to wonder, because in my heart I already know.
NOTE: A letter I received 16 years later
I hope that you will take the time to read this in spite of my last email to you a few years back. I promise you that there is not any anger toward you involved. I do not know how to convince you that this is written sincerely, but I hope that you realize that it is and take the time to read it.
Iíve had a lot of time to think about what all transpired in the past and have come to the conclusion that... well, it wasnít a bad thing. I mean your intentions were not as misguided as I used to think.
Remembering your last email, I am glad that things have worked out for you, that you are as successful with your writing as you have been, and that life turned out OK. I have read many of your online writings and you have a real talent for putting things down in words, thoughts and feelings.
I do not know what caused me to have a change of heart, as far as the way I felt about you. Time maybe? I honestly do not know, maybe it was a series of events over the past 14 years or so that I have finally strung together. Hey, nobody has ever accused me of being even half-assed smart.
Thinking back on things with an open mind, I can really understand why you did what you did and I will be the first (and this is something that I have never denied to anybody) to admit that it took a lot of balls to do it. I mean you not only took on a large corporation, but you took on a shit load of pissed off people AND an entire community. Damn!
The only thing that really bothered me about it and probably was a major source of my anger toward you was that the people that suffered were not the ones that should have. It was the people that we worked with daily. And Iíll admit that a lot of them were partially responsible, myself included, but there were a lot of folks that just punched in every day, sat their ass on a machine, did the very best that they could and then punched out to go home.
Then there were the people that tried to make the machines run to specs (again, Iíll include myself in this group too), fought with the engineers and management Ďtil we were so fucking tired of it, and ended up doing whatever we had to do and hoped for the best. I know you probably didnít see half the bullshit that we had to put up with...bad tooling, parts, rivets and attitudes from management. I cannot begin to tell you all the times I was called back to work after working a 13-hour day, helping the swing shift set-up man fix a problem, going home at midnight and then waking up at 3 a.m. to go back to work. Probably not as often as I like to think, but a lot more than I liked!
The people that SHOULD have suffered did not. I would say 9 per cent of them stayed on after most of us went out the door and many of them are still there to this day. As a matter of fact, the only ones that I can remember getting laid off were L N and F C and Iím not entirely sure they didnít leave on their own accord.
Yes, that was a f#$%ed up place to work. I will admit that in a heartbeat. The conditions were horrendous; the hours were worse, management acted like we were slaves and the drug problems were the worst that Iíve ever seen in any workplace. Bet you never thought youíd hear ME say that, huh? But itís true. The thing is the hours and working conditions drove many of us to it. I mean working 84 hours a week and more would drive damn near anybody to look for a pick-me-up. Some of us just did not know when to quit. Not trying to justify it, you understand - just trying to explain it. I will be the first to say that yes, I got loaded before I started that job, but not to the extent that I did once I started working the hours that I did.
Roger, the past is the past, plain and simple. I remember a letter that you wrote to our crew and the one thing I remember the best about it is where you stated that we shared many hardships. Yes, we did. But there are other things I remember too. I remember the time when that asshole J W brought me and A up on charges when we ran him off the floor that time. However, what I remember the most is how you took the time to go to that Union meeting with us to testify in our behalf. I thanked you for it then and I thank you for it now. I think what all this boils down to is that I do not have anything against you for what happened. I think that most of my anger came from the fact that the people that should have been held responsible were not. However, shit rolls down hill, always have and that sure isnít your fault.
I hope that you can forgive me for my attitude toward you. As I said earlier, I have never been accused of being even half-assed smart.
Okay. If you are interested, I can tell you about what I know about the folks that worked out there. Some of this you might already know, it has been many years and I cannot remember if any of this happened before you left.
A W- Died of a heart attack while cutting wood up in Calaveras County while he still worked out there.
L M- Retired a few years back.
D M- (Lís son) Convicted of long term sexual abuse of his daughter and sentenced to 12 years. He got out a couple of months ago.
J A- The plant manager retired last month.
R F- Retired
D T- Personnel manager
E J- The engineer for the stud machine, remember him? He died of a heart attack a couple of years ago.
J F - Retired
R W is still there
That asshole J M- Retired last year with a golden handshake and a pat on the back, believe it or not.
J W- Still draws a paycheck from Norris for doing nothing at all. Some things never change.
G M- medically retired
C L- Works for Frito Lay
L P- Frito Lay
R H- Frito Lay, maintenance department
S E- Frito Lay
D B- Was a full-time bookie for several years, until he found God. I am not sure where he is at or what he is doing now.
J R- Works for Safewayís NorCal Warehouse in Tracy as a forklift operator
S H- He was a process operator, remember him? Works for Safeway as a forklift operator too.
D C- married and divorced Max Butcher, works as a nurse for Doctorís Hospital here in Modesto, God help us all.
M B- Lost everything to Debbie, ended up homeless and strung out like a mad dog.
K M- I do not know, probably boning another plant manager somewhere.
G M- Libby Owens Glass Plant in Tracy
S- Libby Owens also
L M- The burnout in the steel mill, remember? Died of Hepatitis about 10 years ago.
My dad- medically retired last month
F- Moved to Mendicino County 6 1/2 miles down a dirt road between Ft. Bragg and Willits where he takes care of several hundred acres of timberland for an absentee landlord. Clean and sober, heís a hermit that pops up every couple of years. Even though I talk to him 3-4 times a month, I havenít seen him in 3 years now. He keeps claiming to stop in IF he ever makes it down here again.........
Me- I work for XXXXX too, loading trucks. I went from Norris to XXXXX with 2 weeks off in between the two jobs and I have been there 14 years. I got married in 91, have two stepsons and more grandkids than I care to think about. I quit drinking and doing drugs in 1990 and have been straight as an arrow ever since.
My wife XXXX has been involved helping the homeless here in Modesto for several years on her own and now runs the shelter for the XXXX XXXX. I helped her out with her homeless outreach for several years (that probably helped keep me away from drugs more than anything else, seeing all those wrecked lives) until I got overwhelmed with it and my job combined.
I was involved in a labor strike back in 2000 and damn near lost everything. I went to D T, asked for a job and was told to take a hike. A month later, (after the strike was settled) she called and asked if I would PLEASE come back and run the stud machine for a contract that they were trying to land. This time it was my turn to tell her to take a hike. She called back a week later and asked if I would reconsider. I thought about the long hours, 7-day workweeks, $11.00 and hour that she was offering and all the bullshit for a minute. Then I thought about my four 10-hour days that I work, my $20.87 an hour wage and every weekend off. I hung up on her. Later, I found out that J R and S H did the same thing.
I am sure I left some folks out. If there is anybody else you are wondering about, let me know and I will try to find out about him or her.
Well, I hope that things are working out for you as well as I think they are. I have to say I sure envy you, if you are still in Brunswick. It is beautiful country there. I spent a few years in the western part of the state near Columbus when I was a young adult and loved it. Do not know why I ever moved out here.
If you care to write back Iíd welcome your email, but regardless I do hope that we can put things behind us.