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Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014
How do you rate your personal freedom?Posted Thursday, October 4, 2007, at 9:50 PM
How do you rate your personal freedoms today as compared to 10 years ago?
We're monitored in so many ways, both by our government and as we go about our daily lives. How many times a week do you imagine a camera is there somewhere to monitor your actions?
I have no problem with cameras scanning stores and parking areas or even in some cases as we drive about Shelbyville.
Do you feel truly secure talking on your telephone or using your computer?
At what point does necessary become elevated to too much?
How much will we be spied upon in 10 years if this present trend continues?
Actually I had an extreme dose of this in the 1950s while serving in the Navy. Would you believe I spent some time in the Mojave Desert? China Lake was the name of it and there certainly was no lake there. Many maps show it and it is listed China Lake (dry).
That was the site of what was then known as Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS). You can look it up today and find all kinds of information, some true, some false and some falling into the maybe department.
The main station was very nice with many conveniences necessary to keep the big civilian population happy and relatively comfortable for military personnel. Good housing for all, many big secret laboratories, a very nice post exchange, first run movies, a bowling alley and a nice restaurant were located there.
The big thing taking place in all of that really large area was development of heat seeking missiles. We were encouraged to wear civilian clothes when we left the base and constantly reminded to talk to no one and report anyone asking questions.
I had very high clearance after being assigned to the test range, located off the main base about 22 miles or so as I recall. That high clearance was not because of what I knew about missiles, but probably because I was expendable.
When I was cleared for that job by the FBI and maybe Naval Intelligence there had been an extensive background check. They told me things I had forgotten, such as the time I was fined 50 cents in city court for parking my car in front of a no parking sign…that had been placed there by city workers after I had parked and walked up to the square. I can't speak for everyone there but I was often asked about something I had done, such as dating a Canadian girl who lived in a nearby town. A couple of times a new guy suddenly appeared in the military barracks on the main base and would ask questions about what went on out where I was assigned. My usual reply was that I had no idea since I was only a corpsman.
Part of this time I was stationed there I was assigned to a place called Randsburg Wash. My job there looked important since I had a Jeep and four-wheel drive field ambulance at my disposal but the Jeep was to go off the main base onto public roads and then turn onto a very nice concrete highway marked Restricted Use Only and Strictly Enforced leading to the test area.
This was where the actual test firings took place. It consisted of a few buildings with high fences running all around and in between them, a barracks building for military personnel with mess hall for military and civilians, a small medical area and many smaller roads leading out to the firing ranges. We shared this area with occasional sandstorms, coyotes and sidewinders.
Security was extremely heavy. Cameras from the mountain ranges around the area were trained on us 24/7 as they should have been.
At least 99 percent of the time I had no idea what was going on and thank goodness I knew enough not to ask questions. I generally knew whether solid or liquid propellants were being tested that day, either on large missiles and very small test missiles to test propellants before being used on a larger scale.
Some days old unmanned World War II planes (often B-17s) were flown over the ranges and missiles with smoke puff warheads were fired at them. When hit this almost always resulted in an immediate crash or else the mother plane would guide out into a remote area of the desert and crash them.
Believe me when I say those missiles didn't always go where they were supposed to go.
Sometimes planes from China Lake's own small military field known as Armitage Field, Edwards Air Force Base or other bases conducted tests and firings over our ranges. I saw some unusual aircraft flying over those ranges.
A Marine guard I may have been drinking coffee with five minutes earlier and had known for months would stop me, check my security badge and look me over completely before I was allowed to walk from one building to another.
The drive from the main base to Randsburg Wash, as I recall, was about 22 miles or so and you were watched every mile of the way on that restricted highway.
Those experiences at China Lake should have made me more tolerant of Big Brother. It was totally necessary then. I believe I'd like to see the American people at least have rights to complain and BE HEARD if we have any additional and unnecessary loss of our personal freedoms as we know our freedoms today.
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Bo Melson is a retired sports and police beat editor of the Times-Gazette. He passed away November 15, 2014, at age 81.