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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Fog/Mist
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The boat to Vietnam
Museum exhibit brings back memories of oranges, odors and fear
on
Dennis McQuade's photo of<br> <i>the Walker</i>.
Dennis McQuade's photo of
the Walker.

Dennis McQuade remembers seeing the graffiti scrawled on the canvas bunkbeds throughout the ship. He doesn't remember producing any, but who can say for sure? It was 42 years ago, and things like that are easy to forget.

For instance, McQuade, one of 4,000-plus soldiers who made a 23-day voyage to Vietnam aboard the General Nelson M. Walker in the fall of 1966, thought the troopship's bunkbeds were stacked six high. In fact, they were only four high, according to a national touring exhibit that opened last week at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

"Making Time: Voyage to Vietnam" presents graffiti and other artifacts recovered from the Walker in 1997, after it was decommissioned. McQuade, a Madison native who now works as a social worker with Dane County Joining Forces for Families, made the 5,500-mile trek, departing from Washington state.

"It was a huge ship," he says. "It was quite an experience."

McQuade, then 20, remembers feeling "a mixture of great apprehension and excitement." He was traveling abroad for the first time in his life, seeing the vast ocean and leaping dolphins. But he was off to Vietnam, "worried that I wouldn't come back."

Ron Standish, another Madison resident on the same trip, doesn't recall the graffiti at all. But he remembers seeing flying fish and stunning night skies. Oh, and that the food was "terrible."

The toilets were on deck, a few feet apart, without a pretense of privacy. When soldiers flocked to one side to gawk at a passing vessel, they were warned to get back so as not to tip the ship. Much of the time there was nothing to do.

The Walker made one stop along the way, in Okinawa, Japan. "We thought we were all going to get drunk," says McQuade. The Army had other ideas. "They got us in formation and ran us around the island. And then right back on the boat." Standish, now a UW-Madison safety inspector, takes a fonder view: "It felt good [to run] since we were cooped up on the ship."

McQuade contributed some photos and a taped interview to the "Marking Time" exhibit. A placard mentions how he "used an orange to mask the unpleasant aroma" of bodies in close quarters.

As he recalls it, the oranges dispensed daily were one of the voyage's few pleasures. "Everything else tasted so bad." He'd eat his orange real slowly, then rub the peel against his skin so the smell would stay with him.

Both McQuade and Standish served a year in Vietnam, in the Army infantry, before returning via airplane. Both saw combat; McQuade had an ulcer when he came back. Seeing the exhibit now makes him wonder, "How did I ever do that?"

"Marking Time," at the Veterans Museum through Sept. 1, is not a large exhibit. But it packs a punch.

A mimeographed copy of The Walker Report newspaper from Oct. 20, 1967, carries this item: "Madison, Wis. (UPI): Police broke up an anti-war sit-in at the University of Wisconsin Wednesday. Dozens were injured."

Some of the graffiti waxes philosophical: "You're the one who gives his body as a weapon of the war. And without you it can't go on." Some expresses anxiety: "Will I return?" Some is unsophicated: "Take a shower pig!"

Or at least go rub some orange peels on yourself.

Cop got special treatment

Did Madison Police Det. Jeff McPike, now serving a 60-day unpaid suspension for twice driving to work "above the legal limit" for alcohol, get treated differently from other offenders? The short answer is yes.

On Feb. 28, McPike came to work smelling of intoxicants. An internal probe determined that he had driven there "above the legal limit." Lt. Kristen Roman, the MPD's head of internal affairs, says he was given a preliminary breath test and a more sophisticated breath test using an Intoximeter.

As usually happens for enforcement actions involving police, the matter was reviewed by the City Attorney's Office. "So to that extent," concedes City Attorney Mike May, "there is a different process in place."

This is done to ensure that police treat their own without fear or favor. A similar review took place a few months back, when May's office reviewed the MPD's decision to dismiss a citation issued against a police supervisor involved in a traffic accident.

In McPike's case, Assistant City Attorney Steve Brist decided not to bring charges, citing perceived problems with the elements of proof. Specifically, he says, "it was never clear from the report when the driving took place." It may have been long enough to invalidate the test result.

McPike was placed on paid administrative leave but allowed back for light duty on March 13. Once again, the odor of intoxicants was detected, and the two breath tests showed he was above the legal limit. This time he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence. This time, says Brist, the police did not consult him: "They must have felt they had the burden of proof met in that case."

On April 11, McPike was found guilty of the noncriminal offense in Madison Municipal Court, fined $590 and had his license suspended for six months. (The Wisconsin State Journal incorrectly reported that no charges were filed.)

There is another sense in which McPike got special treatment. A 60-day unpaid suspension on top of a fine and license loss represents a far harsher penalty than most Wisconsinites would get for first-offense drunk driving.

Words that define Madison

Wanna take the Beltline out to the Circle of Death? Maybe go hang at the Terrace and later hit the Rat, the Nat or the Dise?

If you're from Madison, you probably know that the Beltline is a highway and the Terrace a cool place on the lake. And you may know that the Rat is the Rathskeller, the Nat the Natatorium and the Dise the Paradise Lounge on West Main. But the Circle of Death?

That, according to a new website called City Dictionary (yep, you guessed it: www.citydictionary.com) is a local nickname for "The road that circumnavigates the parking lot at Madison's West Towne Mall." The word poster, dubbed MadMax, says the lanes "merge together willy-nilly, making accidents as likely as ever."

The website, which went up last month, already contains more than 300 Madison terms, from "Virgin Vault" (the UW's former all-female Elizabeth Waters dormitory) to Picnic Point. The Nitty Gritty is listed three times, as the Nitty, the Gritty and the Nitty Gritty. Other familiar terms on the list: Mayor Dave, Isthmus and hot spicy cheese bread.

Madison has more terms logged than anywhere else, which is not surprising given that it was created here. Local couple Colleen and John Carmona, who run three "niche e-commerce sites" under the business name Wingra Direct, teamed up with John's brother Tom to launch the site. Most of the content will come from users.

"Local language is kind of what differentiates us," says Colleen Carmona. The goal is to collect as many terms as possible - places, businesses, institutions and slang - that "become part of everyday speak" for various places.

So far, amazingly, no one has added "Algae Bloom of Death."

Oh, for Pete's sake, just say where it is!

A story in last week's 77 Square tells readers seeking directions to a patch of Nature Conservancy land called the Spring Green Preserve to "go to www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/wisconsin/preserves/art32.html." That's 81 characters. "Take Hwy. 23 a half-mile north of Hwy. 14, go east on Jones Road for 3/4 mile" is 61.

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