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Part Two: The making of a Treasure Island whistleblower

June 21, 2018

by Carol Harvey

Andre Patterson is interviewed by Sergio Quintana on ABC7 on Nov. 13, 2013. The report was headlined “Radioactive waste found on Treasure Island: A new report finds people living on Treasure Island might be at risk of radiation poisoning.”

Andre Patterson: I was born on July 11, 1954. My brother Charles was born on July 17. We’re cancers. We’re tough.

Carol Harvey: Are you the oldest?

AP: He’s older than I am. He’s an Irish twin. We’re the same age for six days.

Felita Sample: Anytime you have a sibling – and the mother has a kid – and the kids is less than a year apart, and they be the same age at the same time at some point in that year, they call that …

AP: … Irish twins. My mom has two sets.

FS: An Irish lady told me about that … The Irish have a lot of kids.

AP: I was born in a Kansas City hospital – County Hospital Number Two – a segregated hospital.

Hospital Number One was for white people.

Hospital Two was for Black people.

Kansas was a border state. They didn’t have slaves, but they didn’t like Black people.

Because of the racism in this country, when French and German doctors came to America, they weren’t allowed to doctor on Black people.

CH: Your name is French.

AP: My mom felt that she wanted to name me after the doctor. She say I was 12 hours coming. He was there holding her hand when my dad wasn’t. He showed her compassion.

My first and middle name is Andre Rene. He was a French doctor. I don’t know his last name.

Fire sale

Andre Patterson: I was born a Patterson.

CH: Has your name always been Patterson?

AP: No. My legal name was Sanders. I’ve had it changed. I got adopted.

When you get adopted, they delete the mom’s and the father’s name out of the birth certificate, put the adoptive parents’ names in. Then, your old birth certificate is destroyed so you can’t go back to the birth mother and ask her why she gave you away.

In 1956, my daddy had left my mom in a very precarious situation in a two-room apartment with five kids.

When she met her new man, first, he went and bought her groceries and moved them into a bigger house. Then he decided to go back to the Navy to give an income to his family. He traveled a lot. He had a good job in the Air Force.

But he didn’t want the previous man’s sons – the excess baggage from a previous man’s relationship.

She had to try to please this new guy because he had went into the Navy. So my mom had to do a fire sale. I’m serious. She started giving kids away like it was lunch.

She got rid of the two youngest. She gave me and my brother Charles away to my great aunt.

The oldest son and oldest sister stayed. My sister – a year younger than me – she stayed.

I don’t know why they weren’t disposed of like I was. I was a 2-year-old kid. It was never explained to me why they weren’t given away.

Then, he [my great-uncle] and his wife asked my mom could they adopt us.

My mom thought it was a pretty good fit. His wife was my great aunt. “My children won’t be out in the street, and they won’t be hungry. They’ll be raised by a husband and wife.” Those things count when you try to raise a child and get some sort of normalcy.

My mom signed the adoption papers to give us away to him, on “a trial basis.”

In 1958, two years later, my aunt and uncle brought us back to Kansas City.

Uncle Henry

CH: Your aunt was abusive. Uncle Henry was a good guy to you?

AP: Oh, really nice!

CH: He was a guy who you trusted. He was the first male figure like that in your life because your other dad took off.

AP: Right. He was good for me.

CH: Then that marriage went South?

AP: Because he had (drinking motions).

CH: He was a chill guy who drank.

AP: That really messed up the relationship.

Actually, it messed his whole career up. He can’t blame nobody else.

He had a high position with a lot of respect. He was the chief air cab mechanic for the KC 135 refueling plane with 40 men working under him. Each plane had four 20,0000-pound engines on it and two in between. He could break the plane down to the last little bolt.

Military brat

Andre Patterson: In 1958, we moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. We stayed there a year.

In 1959, we moved to another military base in Abilene, Texas.

In 1960, when I was 6 years old. I started first grade at a segregated school in Abilene.

Morocco, North Africa

Andre Patterson: Then he got an assignment to Morocco, Africa.

Because they didn’t have housing yet over in Africa for us, we went to a military base in Fairfield, California. But they said, “We don’t want no goddamn niggers staying in Fairfield, in town or on the military base.”

My uncle – who had high rank next to an officer – was astonished.

The commanding officer, who was white, told him he couldn’t stay “with that nigger wife you got there and them two nigger boys.”

Whatever color they are, any time you got a military family, it’s a reflection on you. So they didn’t want us staying on the military base in secure military housing.

My uncle couldn’t find a house in Fairfield. They sent us to Sunnydale where we stayed for about eight months until he could secure housing in Africa.

It also allowed us time to spread out our 18 shots over a six month period, three shots per month – 18 shots going and 20 coming back.

So we went to Africa. My father flew from Sunnydale to Africa to secure our housing for us.

I remember when we first flew to Morocco, Africa, we got on the plane, and we flew on TWA from San Francisco to Miami, Florida. Weather trouble from Miami made us about two or three hours behind our estimated arrival time.

When we landed in the Azores islands off Portugal, the military transport plane had left.

This hot mess delayed our trip. The plane only came every three days. So we had a three-day layover.

We missed our uncle at Gibraltar. He flew there, and waited, but the plane didn’t show up.

He went back home.

My auntie had telegraphed from the airstrip to his commanding officer that the plane was late. The plane was all full of dependent children and wives, and everybody was crying.

But they made us very comfortable in some old military officers’ cottages, and we went to the movie theater.

We finally got onto the plane the next morning for Gibraltar. We landed, and everybody was hugging them and glad to see them – all but us.

We sat in the airport for twelve hours.

The officer said we were the only ones where the father wasn’t there. You see, he ain’t got a letter from us. He didn’t know the plane wasn’t going to land that day.

CH: You were a 6-year-old little kid, and you were probably kind of scared.

AP: No, not at all. I was all right, and so was Charles. Before it happened, Uncle Henry explained to us that sometimes – you know – things happen.

CH: So you were emotionally prepared.

AP: Yeah, we were also flying backwards on military transport. It’s part of being in the military. I accepted that the military gonna screw you. You’re two military brats, and you gotta take that. We stayed over there approximately three years.

My uncle left his car in California with his brother when we went overseas. He bought a Ford car so we could get around while we were in Africa.

I liked the traveling. And my uncle is in the Air Force, so we flew in planes.

Morocco is French heritage. I took Arabic, and my brother Charles took French.

I took field trips to Casablanca and Rabat. We didn’t get as far south as the Congo or South Africa.

Because military people tended to mix with civilians, we were border-restricted to certain areas around the base. Anything further than that you couldn’t go.

Traveling while Black

Andre Patterson: Uncle Henry had the car shipped back to North Carolina. So by the time Uncle Henry, and Gladys, and me and Charles got off the plane in Charleston, South Carolina, from Africa, it was unloading the car off the ship at the dock.

The car was dusty from being on the ship so long. We had to clean it out and vacuum it.

Uncle Henry had 160 days of accumulated leave, so we drove across the whole United States.

It was about ‘63 or ‘64. I was about 8 or 9 years old. I wasn’t quite 10.

CH: Was this a touring road trip for fun?

AP: Yes. I took pictures of all the states with my camera all through the whole trip. I got a chance to develop the film (and show) those (photos) at school. That was my summer vacation.

We pulled up to a restaurant, and they said, “We don’t serve goddamn niggers here!” So we had to go to the colored section.

We found a Black restaurant. We messed around the town a bit more, then started driving out of North Carolina.

It got late, maybe one or two o’clock in the morning.

We had to pull over to the side of the freeway and get some sleep.

At about two o’clock in the morning, the highway patrol took a billy club and banged on our window.

“Get up, you goddamn niggers!”

We jumped up out of our sleep.

“What’s up, officer?”

We rolled the window down, and right in our fuckin’ face, he said, “Get your Black ass out of this car, you … This car was reported stolen.”

It was a foreign car with foreign plates.

It was on the freeway with cars going by. They had my mom get out and handcuffed her. They had handcuffs on me and Charles. They threw us on the ground. Mommy was crying.

(The officer said,) “Shut up lest I stomp your goddamn guts out!”

Then a whole bunch of highway patrol came.

My uncle told us, “They are going to kill us.”

CH: You thought they were going to kill you?

AP: He told us, “on the ground!” He gonna kill us tonight. That’s what he said.

They went through the whole fuckin’ car, man saying the car was stolen.

And then he said, “Nigger, where’s your driver’s license?”

Henry had been overseas when his license expired. And, as a military officer, you can drive with a military license here in America for 120 days until you get your new driver’s license.

Then he said, “Nigger, what’s these? That’s military ID. There ain’t no goddamn military.”

And then the officer looked in Uncle Henry’s wallet and found his military ID. He saw all three military cards in his wallet, too.

Then a sergeant came. He said, “Release him off that goddamn ground!”

He told him, “Nigger, you get in that car, and don’t you stop driving until you get out of Arkansas.”

We were in North Carolina.

We got in the car, and Uncle Henry didn’t stop driving until we got to Arkansas.

We were stopping at his friends (who) he was in the military with all the way through the whole United States.

We got to Little Rock, Arkansas. He had a friend on an Air Force base in military housing.

So we visited for a couple days. We were going to go into town. He said, “Don’t go in town. They just killed somebody Black.”

We packed up three days later. Uncle Henry and Gladys both stepped on the gas and kept rolling until we got out of the South.

While living on Treasure Island, Andre Patterson developed two tumors, one on his side and the other on his back. – Photos: Carol Harvey

Andre’s real mom

Andre Patterson: When we finally stopped, we was in California. My mom was stationed on the naval base in San Diego. We stayed at my mom’s house about three days.

CH: Your biological mother?

AP: Yes.

I was telling Felita, “I think Uncle Henry wanted to get rid of us.” I truly do. I don’t know if their marriage wasn’t going good. But because of their relationship, I think he’s trying to get rid of us.

On the move again

Andre Patterson: We went to Anaheim, Disneyland and Los Angeles.

From Los Angeles, we went to Stockton, California, where he had stored his car with another brother.

We drove to Salt Lake City, Utah. They had family that was there, too. We stayed a couple of days.

Then, we drove to Yuma, Arizona. After that, Tucson. Phoenix.

From there to Denver, Colorado, where we stayed about a week with my Aunt Rosie.

We went to Colorado Springs, 70 miles from Denver. We went to the Cave of the Winds. They have stalactites in the cave that are phosphorus, you know, green.

In Colorado, we crossed the suspension bridge over the Rio gorge.

Minot fishing

Andre Patterson: At the end of vacation, we wound up at our next duty station, Minot, North Dakota. Later, we got military housing on the base. We still had about 60 days left of leave. So we went fishing for 30 straight days.

CH: You had fun?

AP: No, I couldn’t stand fishing.

CH: (Breaks out laughing!)

So when you’re saying “30 straight days,” you’re saying, “Oh, my God!”

AP: I’ll tell you. We had to get up at – we’d be at the fishing creek at 8:00 o’clock in the morning and out there until the sun went down. The sun doesn’t go down until about 8:30 in the summertime.

And they made me the official fish cleaner. I couldn’t stand that. I had to gut the fish, and scale them, and skin them. And we’d go home, and we’d fry the chicken, and eat fish and chicken and cole slaw.

The next morning, we’d get up, and she’d make fish sandwiches and scrambled eggs. Then, she’d take fish sandwiches to the damn creek for lunch.

CH: While you were fishing. (Belly-laughing)

AP: Yeah.

Felita Sample: Yeah. Until you were sick of fish.

Wash the Black off

Andre Patterson: There was no military housing federally available in Minot, North Dakota. So we stayed in town. I went to school in Minot in the City. Three or four months after we started school, he got orders to move (into) the military housing on a base in Minot.

CH: They didn’t have a problem with the fact that you were Black.

AP: No, they didn’t. (The town was) totally military. So they rented to us. We moved into a three-bedroom townhouse, a really nice apartment on the base.

And then the first snow came (he shivered).

CH: It was cold.

AP: Yeah, really cold – 40 below zero. From one extreme – from 120 degrees Fahrenheit in Africa to 40 below zero. It was a very culture shock change for us.

We had never seen snow before. So you know, it was fun. The snow just kept falling and falling and falling.

Walking out of our building the whole ground was white.

They hadn’t outfitted us correctly for winter. So they had to go get the rubber boots, snow shoes, parkas, snow pants, thermals, you know, the whole get-up-and-go. We wore three pair of gloves, hand-warmers.

About a month after the first snow, the kids they jumped on me and Charles outside on the playground. They held us down and took turns putting the snow — telling me to wipe the Black off my face. Our face almost froze. The whole school did it.

CH: You mean all the kids?

AP: All the kids.

CH: But the adults didn’t …

AP: They watched it. They didn’t try to pull them off of us.

CH: Did they say they were trying to wipe the Black off your face?

AP: Yes.

CH: Was it an insult, or were they really trying –

AP: They said they’re trying to wipe the Black off our face. Our faces damn near froze off. They was trying to kill me and my brother by freezing us to death with that snow. They held us down. Had our arms pinned and our legs held down and took turns with a handful of snow.

So we got up there fighting to get them kids off of us.

Next day, they came back to school, and they was out for blood for me and my brother. So we had to fight, fight, fight, fight, fight.

CH: Were they all white kids?

AP: Yes. We were the only Black kids in the whole school.

And then, Valentines. That was a day! They gave out valentines. All the kids took black pencils and blacked our valentine faces on our valentines. I couldn’t stand the school anymore.

CH: Was it to show that you were Black or to delete you?

AP: That’s to degrade you – to make fun of you.

So I took them and I threw it in their face, and me and Charles walked out of the school.

The next day, me and Charles went back to school.

They jumped on us again. So we ran home and told Uncle Henry, “We don’t give a damn about going to that school anymore. We done went through a whole lot of shit being with you over in that extreme heat in Africa.

“Over here, it’s cold, and these kids are almost beating us to death.” We said: “We don’t want to live with you any more. So we’re going, because we don’t want to live with you no more. It’s too much being your kid. It’s too much.”

Uncle Henry thought about it and went to his commanding officer. He said, “My sons are getting the shit beat out of them.” So we got military escorts, military police officers in our class. The kids eventually left us alone.

CH: Were they white escorts?

AP: Yes. Air Force military police.

CH: MPs escorted you to that school?

AP: Yes.

CH: Did they stay with you?

AP: Yes, the whole time in the class. They took us home by jeep and brought us to school by jeep.

They left us alone.

CH: What grades were you in then?

AP: Oh, I guess, third, fourth, fifth something like that. We were maybe 10 or 11by that time.

A ‘nice’ family

Andre Patterson: After that incident, my Uncle Henry and Aunt Gladys really started arguing and fighting amongst each other.

(Gladys) kept saying, “Why don’t you…?” I kept hearing arguments about me and Charles – how he didn’t want any of my damn kids, and this and that.

My aunt and uncle couldn’t have any kids. They had a ruse for everybody that me and Charles was their kids.

(People in that community) had never seen us before, so they thought that me and Charles were their sons. Even though we were not biologically tied to them – But the same last names.

Felita Sample: It was military families.

AP: They thought they had a good family, you know. He had a high rank. He has a wife, and he has children going to school. It makes him look good. When it came time for promotion, Mr. Military, Family Man.

FS: A nice family.

AP: Nice family.

When it came time, he got up in rank, he got another stripe. It all depends on how you get along with your fellow cohorts in the community. This all counts when you get your promotion, your stripes.

He started drinking more.

He got a bill at the NCO Club where you can charge alcohol during the month. So he charged $300 a month on his bill. That’s a LOT of alcohol back in the ‘60s.

FS: An overdose.

AP: That was an overdose.

Then he started taking his alcohol to work. Dead drunk.

They didn’t take his stripes. He got reprimanded for coming to work drunk. So he’s sitting home without pay for two weeks.

He and my Aunt Gladys got to arguing. Gladys pulled out a gun. She told me and Charles to go into the basement.

She held Uncle Henry hostage about 14 hours upstairs with that pistol. Every hour, she’d fire a shot at him.

Me and Charles commenced crying. We were scared.

We kept hearing a shot every hour. POW!

Finally, we heard one more shot. The door got kicked in upstairs – military police officers.

They kicked us off the base.

The struggle

Felita Sample: The struggle began.

AP: We lived in town. We could hardly pay any rent. Uncle Henry’s alcohol was really taking him over. He fell asleep on the flight-line – the runway where the planes land.

It was 20 feet of snow on the ground. If he hadn’t had alcohol, he would have froze to death. They took two stripes.

He got caught again. So they took three stripes.

He started drinking more and more. They kicked us off the base. He moved from town back to the barracks and lived on the base. It’s free for him.

He had control of all the money – every dime.

Aunt Gladys got her a job as a maid at this motel called Rush In.

When me and Charles got out of school, we helped her. They paid us about $50. That’s how we made it.

Then, Aunt Gladys said, “I don’t like that damn town, either way.”

Back to California

Andre Patterson: She started squirreling money away until we got our train fare to get from North Dakota to Oakland, California. That’s where my mom was staying.

So we came. My mom was, “Hello. Surprised to see you show up.” She got her hands around us. The first thing she do, my mom asked Aunt Gladys could she have us back.

Aunt Gladys said, “Nope!”

One day, we were asleep. All of a sudden the door knocked, and it was Uncle Henry.

CH: Did they try to reconcile?

AP: They did. That’s why he came and got her.

CH: He missed her.

AP: He missed US. All of us.

CH: How come Gladys didn’t get into any trouble for firing that pistol every hour on the hour?

AP: She stabbed him one time, and they didn’t do anything about that, either.

CH: Nothing happened to her for shooting him –

AP: – or stabbing him, either. She stabbed him one time in his neck and his shoulder with a steak knife, and he didn’t say a word about it.

CH: Was she scary?

AP: She was a pistol-packin’ woman.

CH: Was that why the military didn’t get after her?

AP: I don’t know.

Then, again, he probably told them, “Don’t do anything to her.” He’s in love with her.

You don’t want your wife to get prosecuted, you know, like that, even though …

Poor in Stockton

Andre Patterson: We stayed the next couple of days, and we moved to Stockton.

FS: (Laughing) It’s crazy.

CH: It’s interesting.

AP: Uncle Henry, he was a skilled aircraft mechanic. So he moved to Stockton. There were about five or six airlines at the airport. He applied to every one of them. They didn’t hire him.

My Uncle wound up with a high-skilled job picking tomatoes in the fields of Stockton.

CH: He was a farm worker.

AP: And, because we were kids, he made us work, too. I worked picking crops –

CH: – for free?

AP: – for free. They took all our money. Once he left the house, Aunt Gladys and him got divorced.

Aunt Gladys worked in the fields, too. And she took all our money, too.

We worked from March until December in the fields.

We’re talking about ‘64, ‘65, ‘66, ‘67, ‘68. I think about five or six years.

CH: Was this tomato fields?

AP: Yeah, the first crops. The first thing you do in the field is in March. You wind-row the onions, and they dry out. You take onions out of the dirt, lay them on top of the bed in long rows.

And then April. Your first crop is strawberries. And then May you got cherries. You got your apricots. You got your nectarines. You got your almonds.

CH: So you’re also picking stuff out of trees.

AP: – out of trees. Those are called orchards.

CH: I know.

AP: Then, in June, we start picking green tomatoes. Those are the ones they freeze and take to the hot house that ripen during the year. And also they make relish out of it, and cha-cha out of green tomatoes.

You pick your carrots at that time, too. And you’re picking onions.

CH: So that’s pulling from the ground, hour after hour.

AP: Yeah. Then, we’re picking cucumbers, boysenberries.

CH: That’s above-ground.

AP: Then, in July, we’re still picking onions. And then, in August, still onions, I think.

Then cucumbers.

And then September, it’s tomato season, red tomatoes.

Then, October, it’s grape season. You cut grapes for a month.

November is your walnuts.

CH: It’s trees.

AP: Yes. It’s rows. Orchards. Or fruit, and groves of nuts.

Then it starts raining. In December, January and February, we didn’t work in the fields.

But I had paper routes.

CH: Were you keeping any of this money during that time?

AP: Not a dime. She was taking all the money.

CH: She didn’t put it away in an account for you for later?

AP: No. She had it in an old piano, an upright. She opened it up. She’d take all our money from our paper routes. She kept the money in Mason jars. She’d count the money out. She’d put tape around it. When we went into it, she would know.

She was saving it for a house. She said it was for all of us.

CH: Supposedly, it was for a house for all of you?

AP: No. No. Not at all. The whole thing was, she said, “It’s MY money.”

CH: OK. It was a house for her.

AP: It was a house for her. She took it. We didn’t get nothing. We were dumb kids. I didn’t know any different. I thought it was supposed to get done like that.

CH: You thought she was supposed to take your money –

AP: And beat us.

CH: And beat you.

AP: And deprive us.

CH: And deprive you.

AP: As if we weren’t worth nothing. Our mom didn’t want us. Our father didn’t want us. And “I don’t want you now, but I’m stuck with you.”

CH: So you were her slaves.

AP: Sure.

CH: Essentially.

AP: Essentially.

CH: And at that time, she was separated from her husband.

Dad circling the drain on alcohol

Andre Patterson: Yeah. ‘Cause I seen him. One Father’s Day, I went to go find him. I found him in downtown Stockton. He looked real bad.

CH: Yeah.

AP: I went and took him a plate. I started crying all the way home. I didn’t think alcohol would take him down that far. He looked real bad.

CH: He was not in the military any more?

AP: No.

CH: Was he homeless?

AP: Yes. He was living on Skid Row in Stockton.

CH: Here was this guy who was good to you and a role model. What a painful thing.

AP: Yeah. Everything I know right now he taught me.

He taught me and Charles to be good citizens. He taught us our ABCs, our multiplication, our divisions. He taught me how to fix a car, how to cook.

I mean, he was an all-around guy!

Him and Gladys were on a softball team together, a husband and wife team over in Morocco, Africa. I think they were in love with one another, and everybody knew it.

They were good players, too. They played real good softball together.

Uncle Sam will take care of you

Carol Harvey: Let me ask you something. Do you think you went into the military and became a marine, partly because of his example, partly because you knew about the military life from having lived with him, and, you know, just being around it?

AP: Well, that too. But the main thing: He said if you go into the military, Uncle Sam will take care of you.

CH: So did Charles go into the military?

AP: No, not at all.

CH: I have to ask you … You probably went into the Marines because you soaked that up as a lifestyle, and you loved him (Uncle Henry). And he was a model for you.

AP: M-hm.

CH: You’re a very forceful person. You were in the military. This way you have of speaking, your assertiveness, your grasp of these laws. You have this all organized, and your organization is very military.

AP: Yes, it is.

CH: Did you learn that from him?

AP: He was that way. That’s what I liked about him. When he organized things, everything went smoothly. I liked the organization of war. I like that – actively today.

CH: Why did you pick the Marines?

AP: That’s a good question.

My oldest brother, Samuel – he wasn’t raised with us. But he and I had a party one night, and we got drunk.

As we were cleaning the house after the party, I was watching this movie on TV of this helicopter in a snowstorm. OK? And this air control operator, he talked that man down, and I said, WOW!

I said, “I’m putting my shoes on TODAY, this morning, and I’m going down to the recruiting station. I’m going to go join the Army!”

(Felita laughing)

CH: How old were you?

AP: 18.

Sam was 21, and he said, “Well, goddamn, I’m going, too.” So we put our shoes on, and we went down to the Army recruiting station.

It was a building with four different branches, the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. The Marines were upstairs with the Navy. The Army and the Air Force were downstairs on the first floor. So we knocked on the door, and no one answered.

The Marine guy says: “Be right there. Come up here to the Big Boys squad.” So we went up there. “I’m going to be in the Marine Corps. I’m going to be in the Big Boys squad.”

He said, “OK, let’s see how serious you are.”

I said, “I’m serious as hell.”

FS: He said, ‘Well, let’s see how serious you are because he smelled alcohol.’

AP: Now, we hadn’t been to sleep all night, me and Sam. We had a big old party at our house. We had alcohol on our breath and everything.

So he pulled the contract out. So me and Sam we signed a Buddy Contract, which means I go to boot camp with him and all our duty stations would be together for the whole time of the contract.

CH: Did you like that?

AP: Yeah. He was my oldest brother.

So we go down to the armed forces examination and entrance station where you take your test.

CH: That same night?

AP: About two hours after. We were both hung over.

So they took me down there and they gave us the test, and I passed it like shit. My stupid brother, Sam, flunked.

CH: (Gasping) So they didn’t let you go on the Buddy program?

AP: Nope. He went after I went. I felt DISAPPOINTED!

I wanted my brother to be in there with me. He gets in the Marine Corps, and he washes out. A washout means he cried to get out of the Marine Corps. I was highly disappointed in my oldest brother.

But my mom raised him. I guess her caliber of raising kids was lower than my aunt’s.

CH: Well, you were abused all over the place.

AP: Yeah, But I mean –

CH: You were kept ship shape …

AP: Yeah, I was.

After Sam washed out, I went into the Marine Corps and went to Viet Nam, all them spots, and came back.

Viet Nam door gunner

This is a door gunner on a CH-46 Marine helicopter, the job Andre Patterson had for 18 months in Viet Nam.

Carol Harvey: You went to Viet Nam.

AP: Yeah. I went to San Diego first, then Viet Nam, then Memphis, Tennessee, and then Santa Ana, California. Those were my four duty stations.

CH: How much time did you spend in Viet Nam?

AP: About 18 months.

CH: So you’re a Viet Nam veteran.

AP: Yeah.

FS: He got a purple heart.

AP: I was wounded in action. I got shot in my foot.

You need to be wounded to get a Purple Heart.

CH: Was it all land duty?

AP: Yeah. There was no ship duty. I was in a helicopter squadron.

CH: Did you get all that tough training that everybody says Marines get? You know, that hard core thing.

Killing machine

Marines enter the CH-46 helicopter through the back loading door. This helicopter was a staple for the Marine Corps from 1961 to its retirement in 2013.

Andre Patterson: Yes. A Marine is a killing machine.

CH: Are you a killing machine?

AP: Right now today.

(To Felita) Did I back up that dude there with the umbrella? The man weighed 450 pounds.

FS: A Muni bus driver.

AP: A Muni bus driver tried to jump on me.

FS: It was during the first week of the Superbowl party. It was bus number 38.

CH: The Geary bus.

FS: It was at the end of O’Farrell on Market where O’Farrell runs into Market.

AP: Me and Felita got on the bus at Hyde and O’Farrell going inbound.

And the dude gets on the bus. The dude is driving, all right?

Get to the Transbay Terminal in time for bus 25 (to Treasure Island.) So we had about 15 minutes before the bus left.

He gets to the end of the line and says, “All right, get your ass off. I ain’t going no further. End of the line.”

They had that protest.

CH: OH! (Suddenly understanding.) I was down there that day.

AP: OK. The traffic was backed up.

CH: I had to make five transfers to get where I was going.

AP: Yeah. Yeah. It was bad.

FS: Well, they were mad about Planned Parenthood, huh.

CH: Well, there was some guy that got killed in New York that they were angry about.

AP: Yeah, there were two protests at one time. The main protest was about the abortions.

FS: Yeah. That’s what we seen coming down the street.

AP: Market Street.

FS: You know. It was them. Boy, it was nothing like … the people … remember when they got mad at the guy that killed the Black guy in New York – Ferguson – or, wherever it was …

AP: That was New York. That was Eric Garner.

FS: Eric Garner. That’s how it looked on Market Street.

CH: How did you face that guy off?

AP: Let me finish telling you about the guy with the umbrella.

I said (to the bus driver), “Man, you should have told me this is as far as you were going, man.”

He said, “I’ll kick your goddamn ass!”

FS: He pulled his shirt off.

AP: So I started walking down the street just to avoid the trouble. And he’s right behind me. This is a man who’s 6-5, 450 pounds.

FS: Where is your umbrella, Andre?

CH: Yeah, I want a show-and-tell on this.

FS: Andre is not taught to fight. He’s taught to kill.

AP: … to kill.

CH: By the Marines?

AP: Yeah.

That umbrella … I went through 240 hours of Tae Kwon Do in the Marines as close combat. That’s called hand-to-hand defense. I went through over 80 hours of bayonet training.

So when he was facing that umbrella … (laughing)

FS: And he has enough strength to push it through him.

AP: I could have shoved through the handle on him and then pull it out and let him hemorrhage to death. He’d have bled out in two minutes.

CH: Did he understand this?

AP: Yes, he did.

I said: “You’re a big fat Black belly. I’m trained to kill. I see a belly like that, I’m going to kill somebody. I see a big difference, brah.”

He just asked, “You trying to Black my eye?”

I said, “I’m trying to put your eye OUT!”

He say, “You’re not going to knock my teeth out.”

(I say,) “I’m trying to break your jaw.”

CH: Did you actually say that to him?

AP: Nah. Nah. This is what a Marine does.

He’s gonna kick me. I’m trying to give you a compound fracture. See these are the things you break a man down with when they fight you back.

You can do some pretty serious damage if you know what you’re doing to someone’s ass.

AND I had two weeks on the rifle range. I can shoot from 100, 200 and 300 meters away and blow your brains out. A Marine is an expert rifleman. If you don’t qualify with that rifle, you can’t become a Marine.

I shot a “Marksman” with my 45 caliber pistol and my 60 caliber machine gun.

“Marksman” is a badge you get.

I shot a gang of people to death.

CH: You shot who to death?

AP: I shot a gang of Vietnamese people to death.

That’s what my job was. I come over with a helicopter. I was a door gunner.

CH: You mean you shot from a helicopter.

AP: Yeah. I was a door gunner on a 46 helicopter. Those are the ones have two rotors on it. It has a back door that falls down. You can load 40 men on it, or you could load a tank on it.

So our job was to do extractions of military personnel that was trapped by the Viet Cong.

So the helicopter comes in. They will throw a smoker grenade down. That’s the LZ – the landing zone. That’s where we are going to land the helicopter.

The Vietnamese speak English very well. Some of them went to Cal Berkeley. See? They can understand your radio jargon.

We get there. They are waiting for us.

So we overfly – we up in the sky. And they see the Marines riding like fools to the LZ – to the Landing Zone where the marker is.

And so my job – Ts-Ts-Ts-Ts-TS. (Makes machine gun sounds). And the border Vietnamese are back behind their ass – be right on their ass taking them.

So my job is to give cover fire to the snipers hiding in the trees. And to also give cover fire for the guys that’s on the ground. As soon as the helicopter takes off, they start unloading on them like this (machine-gun fire noise.)

Got to shoot ‘em down. Then I gotta rout ‘em out of there.

I was scared of surface to air missiles, bringing ‘em down. If they hit you with surface to air missiles, that’ll blow the helicopter into pieces that small.

So our job was to get their men out of there.

By the time I get back to the base, the helicopter’s full of bullet holes from taking shots at us, man.

Yeah, the guys in the trees were taking shots in the fuckin’ pilot’s face.

My job was to see ‘em and shoot ‘em out of the trees.

CH: Can I ask you something. You said something about Cal Berkeley. They could understand you on the radio.

AP: A lot of the Vietnamese people over there lived in America and went back to Vietnam.

CH: So you’re saying they literally went to Cal Berkeley.

AP: Yes! A lot of the officers that got caught, they were Cal Berkeley graduates. They could understand English. They could understand the radio jargon.

Even though we be talking in code, they’re still picking it up.

CH: Understood.

AP: So then I gets transferred to Memphis, Tennessee, and went to Aviation Supply School there.

I was in my barracks one night. I got really drunk. I woke up. I see this white guy going around the barracks and laying these cards on people’s beds. Someone came back and put one on my bed.

I picked it up. It said, ‘Look, Nigger, you’ve been patronized by the Ku Klux Klan. Get your Black ass out of Memphis, Tennessee.’

CH: Whoa!

AP: And this was some redneck Marine that was staying in the platoon with us.

But see, he had never been overseas. I had. I had killed. He hadn’t. So I told him, “That’s a move you get your brains blowed out right here in America, ‘cause we all bleed blood. We don’t bleed motherfuckin’ white blood. We’re supposed to be your blood brothers in the Marine Corps and shit.”

So, because I said something about it, they kicked me out of Memphis, Tennessee, and sent me down to Santa Ana, California, where I finished my tour. That’s out in Orange County. It wasn’t quite as prejudiced.

CH: Then you left.

AP: Yeah, I left in 1975.

CH: How old were you then?

AP: Ah-h-h – 20, 21. I got out when I was 21. So in 1975, I was discharged from the Marines.

CH: You were honorably discharged.

AP: Yes. So I went to stay with my mom, and for three years I sort of like bummed around.

CH: I’m going to ask you a question I’ve speculated about.

PTSD

Felita and Andre send Thanksgiving greetings from Treasure Island in 2017.

Carol Harvey: I’m looking at both of you. Neither of you look disabled to me in any way.

You say that you’re both mentally disabled. I’m asking myself, Well, why is that? What kind of disability is that? And I’m speculating about this. Maybe this was something that happened to you as part of being a Marine. That you maybe had post-traumatic stress from that.

AP: YES!

CH: Am I right then?

AP: No.

CH: You don’t have like a closed head injury?

AP: No, well — I had a head injury before I went into the military. I fractured my skull. That’s why I get that HUD voucher. It’s for head injury veterans.

CH: But it didn’t happen while you were in the service.

AP: … the military. No.

CH: But you do have post-traumatic stress disorder from your Marine service.

AP: Yes. But also from when I was a child. I have PTSD from there, too. I never got counseling as a child.

CH: So you don’t have any problem with thinking. It’s emotional. Am I right about that? You seem smarter than most people to me.

AP: Sure.

CH: You’re more intelligent. It’s an emotional disability. It’s shock. It’s stress from the past. That’s what it’s based on.

AP: The diagnosis is psychosis.

FS: Psychosis.

CH: But psychosis means that you’re out of touch with reality.

AP: Yes.

CH: But you seem very well oriented in time and space to me.

AP: All depends on what the situation is.

CH: So in certain circumstances you can have a psychotic episode where you lose touch with reality?

AP: Sure, like I did with that guy with that umbrella. I lost touch with reality. That’s how we flip.

CH: In other words, you had to have a kind of an implement that didn’t look like a gun because if any police had been around, you would have been immediately in trouble.

AP: Sure.

CH: Because people have been shot at for cell phones. But if you had an umbrella they are less likely to go after you.

AP: Yeah.

FS: Nobody would figure an umbrella.

AP: But see, a 450-pound man is stopped by a 5-pound umbrella.

I’m saying I stopped him. He was hitting the brakes so fast, he was kicking up concrete trying to keep from getting impaled by that umbrella.

The Marine Corps says right here is where your rib cage stops. This is called your solar plexus. And I’d fight him, too, and (push it) like that right into him. There’d be a hole this big. Pull it out, and he’ll bleed out just like that. That man would be dead in two minutes.

I learned how to injure the body spots. The only time to use hand-to-hand combat is with your live bullets. Because my thing is to blow your brains away. I don’t want to see where you fall. I don’t want to watch your brains blown out. I don’t want to see your face hit the ground. I don’t want to have that nightmare.

CH: So that is a nightmare for you, seeing these people die.

AP: Sure.

CH: Is that part of your PTSD?

AP: Not that part. Because I went into the Marine Corps to do that. See, everybody who goes into the Marine Corps, they go in for body count.

CH: So you accepted that.

AP: I accepted that.

CH: Like it was a video game.

AP: Like it was part of my job. That was my discretionary duties.

That everybody that goes into the Marine Corps, they don’t suffer from killing people. The only way we suffer when we come back here is when people fuck with us like that Muni bus driver.

That’s when the PTSD kicks in. We’re not in the military no more.

I told Felita, I said, “I’ll kill him. Call 911.”

CH: (Sharp intake of breath) Were you out of touch with…

AP: I was out of touch. It took about two days for me to get my brain back.

CH: So what you’re playing out for me, dramatizing for me, was really hard on you.

AP: Yeah.

CH: So a situation like that can throw you back into a kind of a flashback –

AP: A flashback. Because, you know why?

CH: Were you are being paid to do this?

AP: Yes. And when I got mad – Here’s where my suffering happened right there. I didn’t kill him. My job was to kill him, and I didn’t.

CH: At that time, you were supposed to do that. You were thrown back, then, to that time, and you didn’t complete the mission.

AP: I didn’t complete the mission. I didn’t kill him.

CH: You had to bring yourself back from that in two days.

AP: Yeah. It took me two days – two days.

CH: Wow!

AP: I didn’t kill him. Because I had set myself to kill him, and he didn’t come forward. The reason why I didn’t kill him was he didn’t come forward. I didn’t move.

CH: God!

AP: I took that umbrella, and I was going to kill him.

CH: Oh, my God, that would have been so bad for all of you.

AP: No, I wouldn’t have done a day in jail. He weighed 450 pounds, and was 6-feet-5-inches.”

CH: So you were protected.

AP: Yes. I was going to put a homicide on him. I wouldn’t have done a day in jail.

CH: Can we round out your personal history by you telling me about your brother. Because your brother was a caretaker in your home when you were at Striped Bass.

AP: Yes, he was.

CH: And I have to understand. Your brother is a little more mild-mannered than you? But he’s still tough.

AP: Yeah.

CH: How many years older?

AP: A year. Not that kind of year: 359 days.

CH: (Breaks out laughing)

FS: They are the same age for a week.

AP: Yeah, six days, 359 days. Charles Patterson.

CH: He lived on Striped Bass Street?

AP: Yes. He is a postmaster now.

CH: So he is not disabled?

AP: No. Not at all.

CH: Because he was your caretaker.

AP: He is my care provider. Also, he is my fiduciary.

CH: So he is your conservator?

AP: Yes. My living trust. I have a living trust through the VA.

CH: So he gets to decide where your money goes if something happens to you.

AP: Yes. Well, he decides what happens to the money now.

CH: You need that because of your disability.

AP: Yes.

CH: OK, so you trust your brother. He’s not going to …

AP: … steal my money? He makes over $80,000 a year. He don’t need my paltry money.

FS: M-hm.

CH: He trusts you. You trust him.

AP: Because he’s still my care provider for my everyday action of me.

Fighting for what I lost: A live-in care provider

Carol Harvey: OK, but you don’t have a live-in care provider.

AP: Not any more. They took it from me by taking my unit from me.

But the thing about it is, though, is that I could have went with him (when Charles left the Striped Bass address). But I told him: “I’m going to fight, man. I’m fighting for what I lost.”

Let me tell you something right now. The reason why me and Felita are getting leaned on hard – we’re the only two. If everybody stood up, they can’t evict everybody.

If you look at that interview that I did with Channel 7, after that interview, me and Felita called Southwest Command, OK?

CH: After the Quintana interview.

AP: We called about a week straight, and we finally got a chance to talk to the media officer, which is a lieutenant. He said, “Yeah, man, you guys complaining? There’s no more radiation than you get on a subway.”

Anytime you put someone in a situation where they could die and you do not tell them, this is wartime tactics.

They are doing statistics. That’s the only reason why they would do this.

We could bring them up on war crimes through Geneva. We should contact the Geneva conventions.

Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at carolharvey1111@gmail.com.

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