Forgotten Fight Oral History Transcript
KG: Kelsey Glander
CG: Calvin Golf
Transcribed by: Su Spina
KG: Okey dokey. So, we’re gonna start with if you could state your name for the recorders and tell me a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, where your family lived growing up.
CG: My name is Calvin Golf. I grew up in Columbus, South Carolina. I’m the sibling of fifteen kids. My mother and father worked very hard, both of them have deceased now. I guess that’s about it.
KG: What brought you to Richmond?
CG: Work brought me here. I’m an iron worker. I do tall buildings. While I was here, I decided to go through the [unintelligible] but the job ended. I ran out of money, so I came here to the homeless shelter. And while I was here, I obtained my general contractors license, and I got my own business now. And it ain’t doing to good right now, it’s all slow — I’m hoping it’ll pick up. I’m on my way out of this house, I’m planning to go to Texas on the job. Probably on the 9th of April I should be leaving here.
KG: So when did you join the military?
CG: I joined the military on October 13, 1976.
KG: How long were you in the service?
CG: About five and a half.
KG: What lead to your decision to join the military?
CG: I just always liked the water, so I joined the Navy. I just wanted to be around water. I loved boats.
KG: Did you enjoy your experience?
CG: I loved it. I love the military, it was really cool.
KG: What did your friends and family think of your decision to join?
CG: They thought it was a good idea to get out of the area I was in. Cause I had gotten into a little trouble as a teenager, a lot of fights, stuff like that.
KG: What was your training like?
CG: I was aboard the USS Tacupsa (?), it’s a SSBN nuclear power submarine. I did eight deterrent patrols. Each time you go out, they have a funeral for you, cause they don’t expect you to come back. Which, the Navy has never lost a nuclear power sub. It was good. Standing on the water for ninety days at a time — I was a young man, I didn’t bother me at all. It just took a little while to get used to it. It was cool. It was a unique service. I first tried out for the UDT, I wanted to be a Seal. But I flunked out of that because of the swimming requirements. And I thought I was an excellent swimmer, but it wasn’t enough compared to a Seal, what a Seal goes through. So when I rang the bell to get out of Seals, they asked if I wanted to go into any other special services and they had submarines on there, so I took submarines. And while I was onboard a sub, my job was to navigate the ship. I did the time — compute the time, compute the tides and currents, pulling in and out of port — I actually drove the ship. Not so much drive, I directed it. Also on deck, to keep our course good to wherever we wanted to go at. It was a good experience. I wish I had stayed in and retired, but I didn’t, so.
KG: What are some of your most memorable moments from being on the submarine?
CG: Just I guess the knowledge you gain cause whatever your job is, you must know — when you get sub qualified, you get S.S. behind your name. that means you qualified on that sub. That means every job on there, even if you were a cook, you must know what the navigator is doing, you must know what the agator (?) is doing, you must know what the propulsion plan is like, what the air conditioner system is like, the plumbing system, the water. You must know the whole operation of the boat. It was all really interesting. When I first got to the my sub, I was a dry dock, so I volunteered to go on the S.S. Henry Clay. That’s the boat I qualified on. They gave me a year to qualify and I qualified in three months. Cause there was just so much knowledge coming at you until you wanted to grasp everything cause I loved it so much.
KG: Can you tell me about your first day on the submarine?
CG: Well my first day on the sub, I got stationed — like I said my sub was in dry dock, so I flew over to Charleston, to get abooad the Henry Clay. So we flew from Charleston over to Holy Loch, Scotland. And subs they always, when you’re overseas, they try to hide em. They put two sub [unintelligible] beside em and have a big blanket so you can’t see the sub. Once I got to Holy Loch, tired from a long trip, long bus ride to the ship, I went down, got checked in on board. I went down and got in my rack and went to sleep. And when I knowed it, the boat had done departed, so I’m out at sea, first time. I had been in assimilating machines, to do all the dive stuff but I never actualy dove. So when the boat started going under, it was a very unique experience. Your eyes and your ears start to, you gotta keep going like this, so you can pop your ears, it’s just like going up in a plane. And then after a while it just settles down, you really don’t know you’re underwater, you’re just in a tube. It’s no windows on board, so right then from where you dive at, ninety days later, you come back up virtually the same spot. It’s just like ninety days sitting in this room. And during the time I was in, it was the Cold War with Russia, a lot of people don’t understand what that was about, I can explain a little bit to you. It was a war when, matter of fact, J.F.K. had stopped Russia from coming to Cuba, cause that’s when they had the Cuban Missile Crisis. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, we got them out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and it was a big thing for the U.S. and Russia cause it was a nuclear thing. It was a highly threat of war. That’s one reason why we had a funeral before you go. You sign over all your stuff. And you get your money before you go and put it in the bank or whatever. And they prep you just in case you don’t come back.
KG: What was that like, doing that every time?
CG: Y’know after a while it becomes routine, the first time I sort of, y’know, but I’m nineteen, 20 years old, a young man don’t really compute what’s happening at that point. You just sign it and keep on going. You figure you can handle the world. So it was cool. It felt weird after I got older, to know that I woulda had eight funerals so the ninth won’t matter.
KG: What did your family and parents think of you being on the submarine?
CG: They were very proud. The first time, I went out, there was 150 men on board and I was the only black man on board. So it was culture shock and not really having nobody to really communicate with. I did have friends on board, but having somebody from your same ethnic background, it was sorta weird not seeing another. So it didn’t bother me. Like I said, in the 70s and 80s, it was still just like today, racial tension, but I didn’t never had no problems on board. Everybody treated me like a man. And then once I got qualified so fast, it really boosts my value to the ship cause the more people on board that are qualified, the better the boat operates.
KG: Do you keep in contact with any of the friends that you made?
CG: Oh, I got a couple friends that I keep in contact with, yes. And being from Columbus, I always go back to the old crew, but now they moved it to Kingsby, Georgia. The boat I was on got decommissioned but they still, right now as we speak, they got some 19-20 year old guy out there doing the same job that I did, protecting this great country of ours.
KG: Where were you stationed for your five years? Besides underwater.
CG: My boat, like I said, was dry-docked in Kittering, Maine, Port Smith, New Hampshire. It’s a submarine base there, that’s where all the subs go on the east coast to be repaired. I was actually stationed out of Charleston, South Carolina but the boat was in Kittering, Maine. And then after that I got a shore duty. I was a Navy Absentee Collection Unit Officer. We picked up any deserters in New England states, and upstate New York, and then we would transport them back to where they left from, anywhere in the world. So that was cool. And I wish I had pursued that because I did the same type of job that U.S. Marshals do now today. But I wish I had pursued that, but I got into construction.
KG: Where was your favorite place that you traveled to?
CG: I would have to say– I’ve been to so many. I would have to say San Juan, Puerto Rico was good because and Rose van Rose (?) P.R. was good, Saint Croix, Virgin Isles was good. Cause most every other place I’ve been, there’ve been different oriented people. And when I got to Saint Croix, the people looked just like me, they was black, so it was real cool there. I felt like I went back home. [laughs]
KG: When did you exit the military?
CG: April of, I don’t remember exactly when I got out. But I always remember the day you went in, it was very hard to remember the day you got out. I think it was April of 83.
KG: Why’d you leave?
CG: It’s hard to say. I was searching for something that I still haven’t found yet. Like I said, I wish I had stayed in and did twenty but I started to — on board that submarine it’s all repetition, you just do the same thing over and over again. It got sorta tiresome. And if I had never went on that shore duty billing, I have probably did twenty years. But as soon as I did that shore duty billing, I got a taste of life outside the military although I was still in the military but I was doing a civilian job so that’s all that led me to get out.
KG: How did members of your community — do you feel like they treated you any differently after your military service?
CG: Yes, they treated me a whole lot differently! Because for one thing, they had never known nobody to be on a nuclear power sub, so it was a good feeling. A lot of respect. Anytime when people in the military, when they see you with your dolphins on, they really respect the submarine set because it takes a very special person to be submerged for three months.
KG: What was it like being submerged for three months with the same 50 people, 150 people.
CG: You only see a third of them most of the time, because of sleeping rotation. And your days are shorter, there’s only 18 hour days underwater because you’re in three sections, so it actually takes you 4 days to make 3 days good. And the most people you see, it’s the people who in your watch section and the people that relieve you. So the other ones, you very seldom do them unless you ain’t got to do no calls, which I mean qualifying you could watch movies back then, you just had to bring your own movies. They didn’t have the high tech– I know they’re living a lot better know, with the high tech, cause when I went there weren’t no cell phones out there. So I know with the technology now it’s a lot more comfortable on board. After being on board, after you stand your watch, you qaulfieid, it’s like riding on a luxury ship. It’s nice, temperature stays one thing, and it’s super super clean, super quiet. Until you have a drill or something. Other than that you’re just rocking like a baby in a cradle.
KG: You’re a tall guy, so what was it like sleeping in one of those tiny little racks?
CG: They’re designed for– I had to get a waiver to get on board, because of my height, so I filed a waiver, and they agreed to let me go on board. After you hit your head on that steel door a couple times, you know to duck. And it wasn’t no problem. The beds are 74 inches,, right at 6 ft 2in, and I’m 6’5”. So a little curling in.
KG: Toes hanging off the edge?
CG: No, the walls would slack up. We called them coffins, cause you could zip it, so you don’t have to see anybody walking by, they don’t see what you’re doing, listening to your music. They were designed for a person 6’2” or shorter, but it wasn’t no problem.
KG: Do you think that your experiences in the military changed your worldview?
CG: Yes, it changed me in a lot of ways. It taught me how to get along with other ethnic groups. I don’t care how man looks, or what color he is, just as long as he respects me. Cause I’ma give him respect, and I just demand it back. Race ain’t ever been a problem for me, I wasn’t raised like that. My parents were Christian. I been subjected to it as a young man growing up in the South, had separate water fountains for blacks and whites, but my mother and father never taught us to hate nobody cause of the color of their skin.
KG: What types of challenges have you faced since leaving the military?
CG: Well I’ve always been the type of person that goes– if I set a goal, I’m gonna make sure I meet it. So the challenge was I started to get older and the reason why I’m here now is just to try and get my pension from the VA. Right now I just got diagnosed with PTSD and dementia, so I filed a claim for that recently. So like I said I’m about ready to step back into the work world. I wasn’t working because so many appointments, I started to work one time when I first got here, I was working at Cleveland Construction, they’re doing the big building right now on Broad Street. I was working with them, but with my doctors appointments, because I go to the doctor now, I can’t keep missing three days a week. So right now my only measly income is just my food stamps. My little business ain’t been doing good. So I’m trying to go back to work full time. I got a doctors appointment today at 1:30pm, so after I’m done with you, I’m go upstairs and prepare myself to go meet my doctor. And hope she just give me a clean bill of health. So I can get back in the work force.
KG: So, how did you become homeless?
CG: A lot of ways. I coulda went back to South Carolina and been staying somewhere, but I just don’t like to stay with nobody, so I just stayed in Richmond, let me just go ahead on through this VA program. Cause it’s a long drawn out procedure to get any kind of help. I just been here, knocking around a little bit, I go and get day work, just something to keep some change in your pocket. I guess how I came home, is I just ran out of work, I guess.
KG: Tell me a little about your experience with the VA and other organizations you’ve worked with since becoming homeless.
CG: This organization is one of the best in the nation. Mr. Fletcher does a good job, they’ve got Malika on board. It’s been a real blessing. I’ve done a lot here for Fletcher helping reno, cause I’m very good with my hands. I do a lot of the maintenance work here. I run a lot of his errands. Cause we only had one counselor, now we have two. So he had to juggle 25 people, now he’s got it cut in half, so it’s pretty cool now. I guess I been here the longest. About a year and a half. And Fletcher put up with me cause he know what I’m trying to get done here. So he’s given me the opportunity to get that done. I know if I wouldn’t have come here, I wouldn’t have never have got my medical situation straight. Cause I didn’t know all this PTSD. That’s one thing I’m glad. It’s a long drawn out. You really down on yourself cause you wake up and how’d I get here? I’m a US Navy vet, I got plenty of experience and work, and stuff and how you become homeless? It’s just something that happened, I guess.
KG: How did you get involved here?
CG: When I first got to Richmond I was working, so I was staying in motels, so after the job ended, I stayed there as long as the money lasted. If you just footing out and nothing coming in, it [unintelligible] so it ran empty and I checked in to the homeless program, I forgot what it is, they referred me here, and when I came here I was only– they had just changed over from Freedom House to LFS. [Unintelligible] took over the whole cause they’re about to close the whole thing now. So he stepped up to the plate and got the building and got everything up and running again. For like the first six months, there was only like 10-11 people here. It was good, the smaller the crowd, less aggravations. But you got about a full house and I know it’s about time for me to go. I had a blast here. I miss my family right now. So I’m planning on I get the clean bill of health today, I’m planning on going to Texas, I’m going back to work. So that’s really good. I’m really looking forward to getting back out in the workforce.
KG: So besides here, where else have you stayed since becoming homeless?
CG: This is about the only place. I stayed a week, after getting homeless in Richmond, I forgot where I was at.
CG: No, it wasn’t overflow. Right down here across from the new jail.
KG: Oh, I know what you’re talking about but I don’t know what it’s called.
CG: I don’t know. The CAD something. So I checked into there and I think for the first five days, I was moved from church to church. In a different church responsibility. So the bus come pick us up at a designated meeting place, I did that for about a week. I was really tired of that. I was really about ready to say just going back home. They had an opening here, so I came here and I been here ever since.
KG: What’s the hardest part about not having your own home or apartment?
CG: You don’t have the freedom to come and go as you want. You gotta be in here at a certain time, you don’t have to leave during the day. I guess that’s about it. You just can’t come and go when you want, you have to abide by other people’s rules and regulations
KG: Do you have a person here that you talk to everyday?
CG: Yes, a lot of them I talk to every day, a lot of them I mess with everyday.
KG: Close friend?
CG: Well I can’t say a close friend, we just have a mutual bond. So yes, there’s a couple of people I mess with everyday. I try to speak with everybody, I try to get along with everybody– well I do get along with everybody, I don’t have no problems with anybody here. I hope nobody has no problems with me. Cause I’m a big guy and I talk real loud and I don’t mean to be no threat to nobody or nothing. I’m basically a gentle giant. If I can help you, I’ll help you. I will do nothing to hurt you. As long as you respect me you have 100% of my respect.
KG: Is it easy to make friends in your current situation?
CG: Well, it’s always been easy for me to make friends. I don’t have no problems of meeting people. I don’t have no problems of talking to anybody. I don’t care what ethnic group you’re from, racial background, there’s always the common ground in everybody. I don’t have no problem in that.
KG: Do you ever feel lonely?
CG: Yes, I miss a whole lot. Like I said, you can’t come and go when you want, you can’t do what you wanna do, you gotta abide by rules and regulations. So that’s why I’m looking so forward to leaving Richmond. It’s been cool though.
KG: So what’s your daily life like now, what do you do every day?
CG: My daily life is like I get up, I usually have a game plan, I get up and go do…
KG: Execute the plan. What might be part of that plan?
CG: Mainly making sure you make all your VA appointments, job searching, finding– I don’ t wanna do nothing else, I mean for a new career. Cause a lot of guys get here and they wanna drive trucks and stuff. But I know what I wanna do and I been pursuing it. I always look online and see where the type of work I wanna do is real lucrative, pays good money.
KG: What kind of work?
CG: Iron work. Skyscrapers. Mostly nuclear power plants, mostly power plant jobs.
KG: What types of barriers do you feel like you face in your current situation?
CG: The only barrier I got is me stopping myself. Ain’t nothing gone stop me, that’s just the way I am. If you tell me no, another door open down the street. That’s how I feel. I think the only barrier is yourself. If you got the ambition to get up and do it, ain’t nothing gonna stop you. You know that. How did you feel when you first got to college, but if that’s something you really wanna do, you gon do it. I think more people say you know, the color of your skin, your tattoos, your hairstyle, but you made them barriers yourself. So if you don’t make no bread, you don’t have none. All barriers are meant to be broken down.
KG: I like that.
CG: You know what I’m saying? Matter of fact, I like challenges. If it’s not a challenge, I’m not gonna be hold my attention. If it’s too easy I’m not gonna want to do it.
KG: How do you feel that your status is a homeless veteran? What shapes the way that society thinks about you?
CG: Like I said, they talk about Jesus Christ, I’m nowhere near as good as that man. I can’t even touch the ground he walk on. You don’t never worry about what nobody say about you. No problem about that. I don’t care.
KG: What do you think civilians particularly don’t know about the experience of vets?
CG: Most civilians don’t know the sacrifices that most vets made. Like you said, most kids go in at 18-19 years old, took on the responsibility of defending this country. Yes, a lot of us have paid for it with their life. And then a lot of us have paid for it with the medical problems that come with it, broken limb, amputated limb, mental. Like right now it would never go out of my head, being under that water. Being woke up at night thinking, oh it’s time for us to shoot this thing right now. It’s time for us to destroy the world. That would never leave my memory. Sometimes I know right now I know I talk in my sleep. I been woke up and talking. That kind of stuff you would never get over that kind of stuff. It’s just a part of life I guess. Dealing with it.
KG: Keep on moving on. Why do you think vets in general become homeless?
CG: Because most of them have lost – because in the military you constantly around, you always have a support system. And reason why most of ‘em become homeless because they lost their way. I don’t think that’s the same problem I have, I just wanted to make sure I was alright because my people said you have to yourself checked out. You talk loud, you sure you can hear? And I said, that is a possibility. Cause I do talk really loud, because of my hearing. And I got a knee problem, I didn’t know I have acid reflux. So the VA has really opened up opportunities, and let me know what’s going on inside my body. And my PTSD, I usually go to bed here 8:30-10 I got back about 11, 2am I’m up and go back. Can’t sleep a long period of time because it’s always something egging at me. And most times I don’t think I can stand to hear the water running cause I was trained to hear no water in the boat cause if you hear water you gon sink. Just keen, I can almost, if I see water I start shaking, you got to stop this leak. What brings most vets to be homeless is they lose their way. They lost comradery. A lot of drugs and alcohol problems. It’s not only in the vet community, but I guess it stands out more when you see a vet standing there with a sign. You been serving this country, so you should be getting some kind of help, but everybody don’t get help. Everybody don’t seek help.
KG: Why do you think they don’t seek help?
CG: People get into a comfort zone. Everybody don’t wanna drive a Mercedes, everybody don’t want a big mansion. So if you get into that comfort zone, that’s what you want. You can’t look on nobody because he riding the scooter and you’re driving a Mercedes. Who’s happier? Who’s to say what’s right and wrong? I’m standing up on the hill, and you’re standing down there. That’s maybe where he wants to be at. So who is most successful? Money and houses and material stuff don’t make you successful, you gotta have peace in your heart and peace with God. I think that’s what success is about. It’s not all about the money and material things you have because God gives it all to you. You get it one day and one day it could be gone. I know there’s this young man, I just always [unintelligible] nice looking car. Nice, I still like to keep myself clean, but I don’t need to go buy some $500 sneakers. That’s ludicrous. Why? I don’t need that. As long as I keep my hygiene up, and my clothes clean, it could be cold as a devil, as long as I’m clean and ain’t stinkin’, I’m cool. I don’t need no great big mansion. I never did. I got a younger brother, he’s a preacher, he drives a big old Mercedes, a big old house, him and his son. And man, why you got all this space? You don’t need it! It’s waste! You do waste a lot, like you see people. I was raised up where you don’t throw nothing off your plate, pass it down to your siblings, maybe they want some. I think I got off the subject.
KG: No, that’s perfectly fine because I think it goes to my next question. How do you feel about charity?
CG: It’s hard to say. You get mixed emotions. Let’s look at the Wounded Warrior program. That guy had collected almost $350 million and he was spending it like it was his own. It’s good to help people, but it must come just from your heart. Like most of the guys you see on the streets, holding them signs, I don’t really get the method. Because I figure if I go out and get it, you can go out and get it too. If you really want something, you go out and get it. That’s how I was raised. Now yes, some of the people out there do need the little change you give them. But there’s other ways. I don’t know how to answer that.
KG: Are there any specific examples you can give, that might help? Or instances? When you say the word charity, do you have any memories that come to mind?
CG: Like I said most charity…that’s a hard one for me.
KG: Like receiving charity, has anyone ever offered?
CG: Like, I consider that this is part of charity. It’s a lot of people doing stuff, like the people that come and feed us in the afternoon. They don’t need to do that. That’s just from the goodness of their heart and the grace of God. It’s not– I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
KG: Do you ever feel the need to give back?
CG: Yes. That’s why I do what I do right here. I tell you [unintelligible], I do a whole lot of stuff.
KG: Is there anything in your life that you regret?
CG: Not staying in the Navy. Not having more kids. [laughs]
KG: What are you most proud of?
CG: As I speak now, I guess my two grandbabies.
KG: How old are they?
CG: 2 and 4.
KG: Do you get to see them often?
CG: Yes, pretty often.
KG: They’re up here?
CG: Yes, they’re up here.
KG: What are your goals for the future?
CG: Going back and getting this job. And I ain’t gon never retire,a s long as I can get up and move, I’m gonna go and do something. I don’t like to sit down. Matter of fact, I’ve been sitting in this chair too long. [laughs]
KG: Well, this is my last question here. Is there anything else you would like to say about your experience that we didn’t talk about?
CG: No, I don’t think so.
KG: Okay. Sounds good. That’s all I have for you.
CG: Thank you.
KG: Thank you, Have a good day, sir!