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    The Incredibly Stupid One

    This was sent to me by an old buddy. This doesn't quantify being placed in the "Humor in Uniform" thread by a long shot, but I'll post it here for your perusal and general discussion. Post your thoughts, as I'm sure it'll make for good conversation.

    THIS story is one of the most incredible stories from the Vietnam conflict
    that I have read. It IS worth your time to read it. If you don't have time
    for reading now, save it and read it later... you will NOT regret it.

    I guess it goes to show that one does NOT have to be trained to have
    courage to possess it !


    by Dick "Beak" Stratton, Captain, USN (Ret.)

    It was a warmer than usual summer day in Clark, South Dakota when a
    rather large and ungainly young man, a recent high school graduate, set
    about finding his way in the world. The salivating Navy recruiter asked
    the youngster what it would take to have him sign up: "why, I'd like to go
    to Australia ." It was as good as done. After all, in 1966, if you were
    lucky enough to ship out on the USS Canberra, more likely than not, during
    the course of your hitch, there will be a port call to the ship's
    namesake- Canberra , Australia .

    This young man came from a solid, patriotic Norwegian Lutheran stock that
    believed when your country called, you answered. You did not go to the bus
    station but to the recruiting station. You did not go to Oxford , you went
    to Vietnam . So Douglas Brent Hegdahl III shipped out to boot camp at San
    Diego, where he slept through the Code of Conduct lectures since he would
    not be fighting in the trenches. Lo and behold, he did get orders to the
    USS Canberra. At that time Canberra with 8-inch guns mounted on the pointy
    end and missiles on the round end was assigned to steam with the Gulf of
    Tonkin Yacht Club in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam. (And,
    yes, She did have Canberra, Australia on her Port of Call list.)

    Doug's battle station was the aft ammunition handling room for the 5-inch
    guns, located aft in the bowels of the ship. One morning he had the 0100
    watch while the Canberra was steaming down the coast of North Vietnam
    firing its 8-inch guns against targets of opportunity (bicycles, water
    buffalo and occasional trucks) on Highway 1. At about 0330 he rolled out
    of the rack. Being a prudent farm boy, he locked all his valuables in his
    locker and then proceeded to go out on deck for a breath of fresh air
    before manning his battle station.

    Now there is a non-repetitive exercise in the surface Navy called "going
    out on deck when big guns are firing." If the concussion does not blow you
    over the side, it will at least blow out your eardrums. But Doug must have
    slept through that safety lecture. He doesn't know what happened. Either
    not being night-adapted, or being without his glasses, or concussion did
    it, he ended up going arse over teakettle into the South China Sea about
    three miles offshore with no life preserver, no identification, no
    nothing. Meanwhile he watched the Love Boat merrily steaming over the
    horizon, firing at the coastline and never missing him for two days.

    There is not much to do in the South China Sea at 0345. He took off his
    boondockers and hung them around his neck in case he needed them when he
    reached shore. He stripped off his dungarees, zipped up the fly, tie off
    the cuffs and popped them over his head, as he was taught, to make a life
    preserver. He reports back to you that it doesn't work. (He missed the
    part about old dungarees, with holes, out of the Lucky Bag would have to
    be kept wet if they were to hold any air at all.) So he put on his
    trousers, socks and shoes. (Sharks? Sea snakes?)

    Somewhere along the line he had heard that drowning was a "nice way to
    die;" so he thought he would try it out. He put his hands over his head
    and down he went-bloop, bloop, bloop. Now both he and I had heard the myth
    that when drowning you would get cuddly, warm, all the nice things in your
    life would flash by in your mind and you would go to your eternal reward
    to the sound of music (harp?). Doug resurfaced and reports back to us that
    it is all malarkey: there are no movies, there is no music and it's colder
    than Hell! As dawn came he started swimming away from the sun, hopefully
    towards shore. He could see the haze of land, but the harder he tried, the
    further back
    it receded. So he just rolled on his back, playing like a whale, humming
    a few tunes and saying a few prayers. Notice he never gave up. How many
    people have we been exposed to in the course of our lives, in a situation
    like that would have just plain given up? About 1800 that same day, a
    Vietnamese fishing boat came by and hauled him out of the water-some
    twelve hours later.

    Even those peasant fishermen could figure out that this moose would never
    fit in the cockpit of an A4 Skylark. They turned him upside down and
    inside out which garnered them absolutely nothing. Remember, he had
    prudently left everything back on the ship in his locker. Picture yourself
    being tortured to admit you were a CIA agent who entered the water in
    Coronado, California to swim ten thousand miles across the Pacific to
    infiltrate their shores!

    When the authorities got him ashore, they showed Doug piles of materials
    allegedly written by Yankee Air Pirates who had been captured before him.
    (95% of those captured in North Vietnam had been tortured, were not
    offered the option of death, and were made to give more than Name, Rank,
    Serial Number and Date of Birth sequence permitted by the Military Code of
    Conduct and required by International Law.) Doug recognized that something
    was amiss, but, as he said later, "Geeze, they're officers, they must know
    what they are doing." So he decided his best ploy was to pretend to be

    He got them off target by comparing farms in North Vietnam and South
    Dakota. He didn't realize that even then the Communists were categorizing
    him to gauge his usefulness to their cause. His dad had about ten motel
    units, numberless vehicles and all kinds of land-but no water buffalo. No
    water buffalo meant in Vietnamese parlance that he was a "poor peasant."
    This is just as well, as Communists had murdered over 20 million "rich
    peasants" in their various revolutions, because those folks are
    unreconstructed capitalists. A little miffed at first, Doug caught on
    right away-he is a quick study-it was to his advantage to play out the
    poor peasant act to the bitter end.

    Tired of the verbal jousting the Communist cadres told him that he would
    have to write and anti-war statement for them. He joyously agreed. The
    interrogators were dumbfounded. This was the first Yankee to agree to do
    anything without being tortured first. They brought out the paper, ink and
    pens. He admired them all and then stated: "But one small thing. I can't
    read or write. I'm a poor peasant." This was quite credible to the
    Vietnamese since their poor peasants could neither read nor write. So they
    assigned a Vietnamese to teach him penmanship, spelling, grammar and
    sentence structure. Immediately his learning curve went flat. Eventually,
    the interrogators gave up in disgust; writing a confession for him and
    having him sign it in an illegible scrawl. He admitted to the war crime of
    shelling the presidential birthplace of Ho Chi Minh and signed it as
    Seaman Apprentice Douglas Brent Hegdahl III, United States Navy Reserve,
    Commanding Officer, USS Canberra. No one has ever seen this piece of

    Doug was shuffled around from pillar to post, since his captors didn't
    know where he would fit into their propaganda plans. One mistake they made
    was to put him in for a while with Joe Crecca, an Air Force officer who
    had developed a method of creating the most organized memory bank we
    possessed to record the names of pilots shot down and imprisoned in
    Vietnam . Joe took this young Seaman and, recognizing the potential,
    painstakingly taught Doug not only 256 names, but also, the method of
    memorizing, cross-referencing and retrieving those names. It was no easy
    task that Joe set for himself for it was not intuitively obvious to Doug
    the value of such mental gymnastics.

    It was a hot summer day when I first met Doug. I was in solitary
    confinement again. The Communists did not care for me, which was OK
    because I didn't like them either. My cell door opened and here was this
    big moose standing in his skivvie shorts (prison uniform of the day). "My
    name is Seaman Douglas Brent Hegdahl, Sir. What's yours?" It is awful hard
    to look dignified when you are standing in your underwear, knock-kneed,
    ding-toed, pot-bellied, unwashed and unshaven for 100 days. I
    automatically recited, Dick Stratton, Lieutenant Commander, USS
    Ticonderoga ." Immediately I saw that I probably made a mistake as his
    eyes rolled back in his head and you could see what he was thinking:
    "Cripes, another officer!" But notice that instinctively he asked the
    critical and most important question for survival: "Who is your senior?"
    The rule we lived by was: "If I am senior, I will take charge; if junior,
    I will obey."

    The Communists took a siesta for two hours every afternoon which was a
    good deal for us as we were free from torture and harassment. I was laying
    on the floor on my bed board and Doug was skipping, yes, skipping around
    the room. I asked: "Doug, what are you doing?" He paused for a moment,
    looked me in the eye and cryptically said: "Skipping, Sir" and continued
    to skip. A stupid question, a stupid answer. After a moment, I again
    queried: "What ya doin' that for?" This stopped him for a moment. He
    paused and cocked his head thoughtfully, smiled and replied: "You got
    anything better to do, Sir?" I didn't. He continued skipping. I guess he
    did learn one thing from boot camp. You can say anything you want to an
    officer as long as you smile and say "sir."

    One siesta period he said: Hey, Beak, you went to college and studied
    government; do you know the Gettysburg Address?" We got a brick (no paper
    or pencils for the criminals) and started to write it out on the tile
    floor until we got it correct. Then he stopped me with the question: "Can
    you say it backwards?" Well, who would want to say the Gettysburg Address
    backwards? Certainly not the Jesuits at Georgetown and especially not me.
    Doug could say it backwards, verbatim, rapidly. I know because I could
    track him from the written version we had on the floor.

    "So what?" you might say. The so what is that when they threw him out of
    Vietnam, and throw him out they did, he came out with 256 names that Joe
    Crecca had taught him memorized by service, by rank and alphabetically;
    next to each name he had a dog's name, kid's name or social security
    number to verify the quality of the name which we had picked up by tap
    code, deaf spelling code or secret notes. He still has those names
    memorized today and sings them to the tune of "Old MacDonald Has a Farm."
    One of our intelligence officers asked him if he could slow the recitation
    down to make for easier copying. Doug replied "No" that it was like riding
    a bike, you had to keep moving or you would fall off. If it weren't for
    Joe Crecca, Doug and our government would not have had those names until
    the end of war five years later.

    In trying to get people to accept early propaganda releases, the
    Communists would have some "good cop" interrogator like the ones we called
    the "Soft Soap Fairy" talk to the prospect and sound him out for
    pliability. They got Doug one day and asked what we eventually learned to
    be the lead question: "What do you want more than anything else in the
    world?" The answer of the weak and willing was : "To go home to my
    family." Doug thought for a long time, then cocked his head with a smile
    and said> "Why, I'd like a pillow, Sir." This was not an unreasonable
    response since we had no pillows on our cement pads or bed boards.
    However, the response sure confounded the enemy.
    They eventually came up with a name for Doug amongst the guards and
    interrogators: "The Incredibly Stupid One." His original resistance ploy
    had paid off.

    Because they thought him stupid, they would let him go out in the cell
    block courtyard during the siesta to sweep up the grounds period monitored
    by only one sleepy, peasant guard. I thought that was great since it kept
    him from skipping and I could get some rest. However, curiosity got the
    better of me and I started to watch him through a peephole we had bored in
    the cell door. He'd go sweeping and humming until the guard was lulled to
    sleep. Then Doug would back up to a truck, spin the gas cap off the
    standpipe, stoop down and put a small amount ("Small, because it's going
    to be a long war, Sir.") of dirt in the gas tank and replace the cap. I
    watched him over a period of time do this to five trucks.

    Now, I'm a liberal arts major who shot himself down, so all I can do is
    report what I saw. There were five trucks working in the prison; I saw
    Doug work on five trucks; I saw five trucks towed disabled out of the
    prison camp. Doug Hegdahl, a high school graduate from the mess decks fell
    off a ship and has five enemy trucks to his credit. I am a World Famous
    Golden Dragon (VA 192) with two college degrees, 2000 jet hours, 300
    carrier landings and 22 combat missions. How many enemy trucks do I have
    to my credit? Zero. Zip. Nada. De Rien. 0. Who's the better man? Douglas
    Brent Hegdahl, one of two men I know of who destroyed enemy military
    equipment while a prisoner of war.

    Later on, Doug, having left his eyeglasses on board Canberra , discovered
    that he had difficulty linking up isolated cell blocks throughout the
    prison compound with his defective distance vision. So he went to the
    authorities and asked if he could read some of their propaganda. They were
    delighted. Here was a prisoner, without being tortured, volunteering to
    read their swill.

    But then Doug cautioned them with his: "Small thing [They never learn]; I
    cannot read without glasses." So they trolled out a dime store clerk who
    fitted him with glasses by trying one on after the other until Doug said
    he could see. His near vision was OK. Unbeknownst to the clerk, he was
    fitting Doug for distance vision, Now, in between sweeps and gas tanks he
    was able to link up cell blocks not only by sweeping in code but now also
    using the deaf spelling code.

    The Vietnamese were big on token propaganda releases of prisoners to make
    various peace groups look good and our government look impotent. They
    would try to pick people who had not been tortured or in jail long enough
    to look emaciated. Usually they were volunteers, violators of direct
    orders from their Seniors and traitors to our cause of resistance. These
    releases always were of three at a time. The magic of the number three was
    always a mystery to us. As our leaders exercised greater internal
    communications and controls, it became harder for the Communists to make
    up a propaganda release party. Seeking to round out the number they
    finally turned to "The Incredibly Stupid One" who, although not
    volunteering, was certainly too dumb to do them any harm.

    As part of this conditioning they had both Doug and I examined by "the
    Doctor." This was a female soldier we saw through a peephole we had in the
    door get briefed up and then dolled up like a physician. The physician
    made a grand entrance worthy of a world-famous brain surgeon. The effect
    was somewhat spoiled by the face mask protecting her chin rather than
    covering her mouth; she really had no ideas what the face mask was for.
    The exam, after looking in all the holes in your head and listening your
    heart, consisted of "feeling you up" under the guise of palpitating your
    internal organs while the translator asked, "The Doctor wants to know if
    you miss your wife (girlfriend)? Wouldn't you like to be with her now?"

    Then they would pull Doug out for interrogations sounding him out for an
    early release. They told him not to tell me as I was an officer who did
    not care about his welfare like they did. They informed him: "Stratton
    would never even speak to you if you were in America ." Doug would come
    back from each go around and immediately tell me everything that was said.
    One time he plaintively asked: "Beak, you'd speak to me if we're home now,
    wouldn't you?"

    They started to try to fatten us up with large bowls of potatoes laced
    with canned meat. No one else in the prison was getting it. As a result I
    told Doug we couldn't take it. We could either not touch it and turn it
    back in; in which case the guards would eat it. Or we could dump it in the
    slop bucket so that no one could eat it without getting sick. Doug thought
    this was a bit on the scrupulous side, but went along with it. I told the
    Camp Commander that under no condition would I accept an early release
    even if offered and if they threw me out I'd have to be dragged feet first
    all the way from Hanoi to Hawaii screaming bloody murder all the way. It
    was time to cut to the chase. Doug would have to go.

    Doug did not want to go. We finally told Doug that as long as he did not
    have to commit treason, he was to permit himself to be thrown out of the
    country. He was the most junior. He had the names. He knew firsthand the
    torture stories behind many of the propaganda pictures and news releases.
    He knew the locations of many of the prisons. It was a direct order; he
    had no choice. I know, because I personally relayed that order to him as
    immediate senior in the chain of command.

    Well throw him out they did. The 256 names he had memorized contained many
    names that our government did not have. He ended up being sent to Paris by
    Ross Perot to confront the North Vietnamese Peace Talk Delegation about
    the fate of the Missing in Action. He entered the Civil Service and is
    today a Survival School instructor for the U.S. Navy and the James B.
    Stockdale Survival, Evasion, Resistance, And Escape Center (SERE), naval
    Air Station, North Island, Coronado, California. And yes, he can still
    recite those names! You can watch him do it on the Discovery Channel
    special on Vietnam POWs-Stories of Survival.

    A while after Doug had been released, I was called over to an
    interrogation. It was to be a Soft Soap Fairy kind of gig since there were
    quality cigarettes, sugared tea in china cups, cookies and candy laid out
    on the interrogation table. A dapper, handsome Vietnamese, dressed in an
    expensive, tailored suit and wearing real, spit-shined wingtip shoes, came
    into the room with a serious look on his face-all business. "Do you know
    Douglas Hegdahl?"... "You know I do.".... "Hegdahl says that you were
    "This is true.".... "You lie."..... Rolling up the sleeves to my striped
    pajamas (prison mess dress uniform), I pointed to the scars on my wrists
    and elbows and challenged: "Ask your people how these marks got on my
    body; they certainly are neither birth defects or the result of an
    aircraft accident." He examined the scars closely, sat back, stared and
    stated: "You are indeed the most unfortunate of the unfortunate." With
    that he left the interrogation leaving me with all the goodies. Upon
    release I compared notes with Doug and we determined that time frame was
    the same time he accused the Vietnamese in Paris of murdering me [I had
    not written home once writing became voluntary] for embarrassing them in a
    Life magazine bowing picture. Thanks to Doug, despite the scars on my
    body, the Communists had to produce me alive at the end of the war.

    "The Incredibly Stupid One," my personal hero, is the archetype of the
    innovative, resourceful and courageous American Sailor. These sailors are
    the products of the neighborhoods, churches, schools and families working
    together to produce individuals blessed with a sense of humor and the gift
    of freedom who can overcome any kind of odds. These sailors are
    tremendously loyal and devoted to their units and their leaders in their
    own private and personal ways. As long as we have the Doug's of this
    world, our country will retain its freedoms.

    Indecision may or may not be my problem.

  2. #2
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2010

    Re: The Incredibly Stupid One

    Love it.

    "Skipping, Sir" ROFLMAO

  3. #3
    USMG Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Pittsburgh, PA

    Re: The Incredibly Stupid One

    Cool story, written very wierd though..kind of some first person/third person hybrid... they talk about how un-intelligent he is, then he pretends to be stupid, but he turns out to be smart... ?

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