I just published a memoir; well I should say the book was self-published. It was a great experience learning how to design my own book, and since I made lots of revisions it was nice having the total control. But, why post a notice of a book about my life in the Coast Guard on a blog dedicated to the archaeology and culture of Mesoamerica?
Here is the background— In the late 1950s I was a young officer assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Avoyel near Eureka, California. We carried out search-and-rescue missions, and the bringing of crews and supplies to St. George Reef Lighthouse six miles off the coast from Crescent City, California.
St. George Reef Lighthouse, and small boat from Cutter Avoyel. Pic: Desmond 1959
Around 1959, a new officer named Walt Hake arrived for duty, and he andI became good friends. I was single, and it was pretty isolated being on two-hour standby status in a small logging and fishing town six hours north of San Francisco. So Walt and his wife Dorothy, and their four kids more-or-less adopted me. It was great for my morale being an honorary member of their family, and joining them for dinners and other family events.
Coast Guard Cutter Avoyel leaving San Francisco Bay. Pic: Coast Guard. 1959.
This is where archaeology comes in— “One day Walt and I were in the ship’s wardroom doing some paperwork, and Walt mentioned that he’d just gotten a letter from a friend who was going to school in Mexico City. She had written him about the classes in archaeology she was taking at Mexico City College, and for some reason he thought I should read it. I did, and that letter changed the course of my life. Then and there I began to think seriously about studying archaeology. I was in no position to make any changes, but in 1970 I enrolled in the very college Walt’s friend had written about.” (From the Desmond book: Blue Water and Rocky Lights. My life in the U.S. Coast Guard– 1957-1960. Available from Blurb, 2012)
I then wrote Walt’s friend a couple letters and she sent me information on Mexico City College, stories about her courses and adventures, and with that I was hooked on going to school in Mexico. As many of you know, the greats of archaeology taught at Mexico City College in those days. When I began my studies in Mexico in 1970, Mexico City College had morphed into the Universidad de las Américas and moved to Puebla. I attended UDLA for three years and got my MA in anthropology—it was one of best decisions of my life.
However, the story does not end here. During the 1960s I was working in Silicon Valley, and while no longer on active duty I was in the Coast Guard Reserve. In 1966, I heard that the Cutter Gresham’s destination for a two-week training cruise was Mazatlán, so I signed up. Oddly, while I had already decided to go to school in Mexico, I had never been there—well, maybe that is how 20 year olds do things!
Lt Lawrence G. Desmond on watch as CGC Gresham approaches Mazatlán harbor. 1966.
A couple days ashore in Mazatlán: “Since I couldn’t speak much Spanish, I found an English speaking Mexican student who showed me the highlights of the city. I met his family, and he took me to a couple nearby villages where people were making small painted animal figures and pottery for the tourists. I convinced him to drive me to some archaeological ruins located a few miles down the coast. While they turned out to be no more than small mounds, seeing them gave my plans for a career in archaeology a big boost.” (From the Desmond book: Blue Water and Rocky Lights. My life in the U.S. Coast Guard– 1957-1960. Available from Blurb, 2012)
Those few days in Mazatlán also motivated me to take a course in Spanish later that year in Mexico City, and after that I spent a week checking out the archaeology in northern Mexico. I was really motivated, so between jobs in 1967 I flew again to Mexico City, and hitched a ride to Yucatán with a buddy to see the ancient Maya ruins first hand, and the rest is history.
So, who was the woman who had written the life changing letter? Well, a few years ago I began to wonder, but had waited too long. Walt and Dorothy had died. And, while I tracked down their family, they had never heard of any connection their parents had with Mexico, so it will have to remain an unsolved mystery.
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