Tuesday, October 16, 2007

October 16, 2007 Bonus Blog
This might seem too obvious to even mention, but I have always been fascinated by gunfights, and not just Old West gunfights. When I was eight or nine I would go up to my grandmother's house in Kingman and while she told me stories about outlaws she knew, or we were related to, I would draw pictures on her dining room table (well, actually on paper on her dining room table) of guys shooting it out. For some reason, the idea of illustrating where gunfighters stood and where they fired and what they hit, has always fascinated me (see Classic Gunfights, Volume I, Volume II and Volume III).

So, last Saturday night I went with my lovely wife to a party in Mesa. After a fine catered dinner in the back yard we retired to the carport for a Casino Nite deal, with three dealers. Kathy and I sat at the Texas Hold'em table and the dealer, a silver-haired, gregarious guy who looked to be in his mid-sixties, taught us the game and entertained us with his stories. I'm not much of a card player but I really started paying attention when he said he was a sniper for the LAPD in a former life. I immediately asked, "We're you in the SLA shootout?"

He laughed and told me they were so outgunned in that fight they were lucky to have survived. Ever since I read about that fight in the newspapers I have always wondered what actually went down. Here are the basic perameters of the fight, which I Googled:

May 17, 1974: Six heavily armed members of the SLA, including leader Donald DeFreeze, die in a shootout and fire that consumes their Los Angeles hideout. [Patty] Hearst and Bill and Emily Harris escape because they had been stopped at a store for shoplifting. The Harrises eventually serve eight years in prison for the Hearst kidnapping.

After the card games broke up, I approached him and asked him for his card.

I called him this afternoon and this is what he told me (he requested that his name not be used): he was part of a ten-man police unit in Los Angeles. He was armed with a 308 Remington bolt-action rifle. When they got the call that the Symbionese Liberation Army (the radicals who kidnapped Patty Hearst), were holed up in a house in LA, every unit in the entire region sped to the area. There was only one problem: they were two blocks away at the wrong house (no Google Earth). In the meantime a TV reporter (Christie Lund?) walked up to the right house and asked if she could interview the inhabitants, so Donald DeFreeze, Charlie Wolfe, and seven other fighters had time to get ready to rumble. They were all armed with fully automatic weapons (while serving time in prison Wolfe learned how to bypass the M-1 mechanism and make it fully automatic).

So many bullets were sprayed in the ensuing firefight that houses three blocks away had bullet holes in them. The police were totally outgunned and my guy says the SLA could have come out of the house at any time and nobody could have stopped them.

Instead, they were hunkered down for the Last Stand. They had been using the house as a safe haven for several weeks, and they threw up plywood sheets inside the main walls and poured dirt in between, which absorbed most of the firepower from the outside. My guy said the only thing they could do was "shoot off their fingers when they stuck their guns out of the portholes." I think he said he shot three fingers off one of the shooters.

Ever since I read the news reports in 1974 I always pictured the snipers trying to find a clear shot from 150 yards and through the trees, etc. but when I asked him where he was he said "Twenty feet behind the rear door—and out of bullets." They had never been involved in this kind of fight and had only brought two boxes of shells each.

Someone went to the property division where impounded guns and stuff are stored, and when they came back, he got a MP-30, one of those German WWII machine guns with the wire stock. As the fight resumed, SLA member Nancy Ling Perry appeared at the back door and he cut her in half. She fell to a sitting position, in two parts.

When I asked him what it felt like, he said, "it all kicks into slow motion action and you think you've fired two shots and you've fired ten or fifteen times, and they're going so fast, and you feel like you're going so slow. You can actually go into shock. You feel lethargic, you're coherant to a certain degree. And when people ask you if you're okay, you say you're fine and they say, 'Then why are you talking so slow?'"

"Give peace a chance."
—John Lennon

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