Thursday, November 4, 2021

My Crime Beat Column: A Sailor Busted In Disneyland

I sent Joseph Wambaugh the vignette I recently wrote about the time I visited the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood while serving in the Navy in 1970. 

Wambaugh, a Marine veteran and former Los Angeles Detective Sergeant, is the best-selling author of classic police novels, such as The New Centurions and The Choirboys, and true crime books like The Onion Field and Fire Lover. 

I’ve reviewed many of his fine books for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Washington Times and I’ve interviewed him several times. 

(The most recent was my Counterterrorism magazine Q&A with him, which can be read here:  Paul Davis On Crime: My Q&A With Former LAPD Detective Sergeant And Best-Selling Author Joseph Wambaugh). 

I’ve also kept up an email correspondence with him over the years.  

Wambaugh read my piece on the Sunset Strip and replied that he liked it. 

When I worked Juvenile Division in 1965, we would often be sent to the Strip on weekends to patrol for underage shenanigans,” Wambaugh wrote back. “Because I became a Marine at age 17, I never busted a drunken and rowdy sailor, Marine, or any member of the military. I never forgot how it was for me back then and I always let them go with a warning...which they probably ignored as soon as we were out of sight.” 

When I was a teenage half-a-hoodlum growing up in South Philly, I ran with a street corner gang. While riding around South Philly and other parts of the city, we were often pulled over by the police. We put the police officers in two categories: “cool cop” and “prick cop.”  

The cool cops were casual and lenient. The prick cops were aggressive and abusive. 

Joe Wambaugh was a cool cop. 

I was fortunate to have encountered another cool cop in Anaheim, California back in 1970 when I was an 18-year-old sailor. 

I was stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in San Diego prior to our sailing for “Yankee Station” off the coast of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. I often traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, Los Angeles and other places in Southern California on free weekends. I often visited Disneyland in Anaheim. 

On one visit to Disneyland with a Kitty Hawk shipmate, whom I’ll call Charlie Houston, we smoked marijuana boldly (and stupidly) in the amusement park. 

On the Haunted Mansion ride we shared a joint in our continuously moving vehicle. At one point, the vehicle pivoted before a mirror, and through Disney’s technological magic, a ghost appeared in the mirror between Charlie and me and wrapped his arms around us.

Looking at the image between us in the mirror, I passed the joint to the ghost. 

I thought this was funny, and Charlie thought it was hilarious. 

The security guards monitoring the ride through the mirror were not nearly as amused. 

At the end of the ride, two security guards dressed as Western Sheriffs, stopped our vehicle and ordered us to get out. 

“Are you part of the amusement ride?” I asked in jest. 

Charlie thought that too was hilarious.             

The guards remained unamused.   

The guards held us in a building until the Anaheim police arrived and took us into custody. 

We were handcuffed and taken to the Anaheim police station. We were placed in separate rooms. I was searched by an Anaheim police officer, whose name I don’t recall. He took the knife I was carrying. 

I was worried about prison and about getting kicked out of the Navy. Thankfully, the officer took pity on me and told me he was cutting me loose. He said he been a Marine when he was a young guy, and he also did dumb things then. He told me to take off. 

I asked about Huston and the officer told me to “Get while the getting is good.”  

I left the station and took a bus back to San Diego. 

Charlie Huston later told me that he was held because he was holding more than an ounce of marijuana in his pocket. He was held over the weekend and appeared before a judge on Monday morning. Huston pled guilty, was fined, and then released. 

The Kitty Hawk shoved off on Monday morning and went to sea while Huston stood before the judge.  

Houston missed "ship's movement," which was and is a serious offense. Upon his return to the carrier, he went before a Captain’s Mass and lost a stripe and a month’s pay. 

I felt guilty that I “skated” through the incident, but Houston told me not to worry about it. 

He left the Navy a short time later.  

I was lucky the cop let me go. The Anaheim officer, like Joseph Wambaugh, was a cool cop.

Note: You can read my other sea stories, vignettes, short stories, and humor pieces about the Navy via the below link:

Paul Davis On Crime: Sea Stories: Vignettes, Short Stories And Humor Pieces About My Time In The U.S. Navy 

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