Growing up Journal

I was born only 16 years after WWII ended, 7 years after Korea and at the beginning of the Vietnam Conflict in 1961. There were lots of veterans from these conflicts in the family and neighborhood all growing up. It just seemed that normal to me that people went in the military and did what military people do...

Early years

Early Years

I was born only 16 years after WWII ended, 7 years after Korea and at the beginning of the Vietnam Conflict in 1961. There were lots of veterans from these conflicts in the family and neighborhood all growing up. It just seemed that normal to me that people went in the military and did what military people do.

The Television had not yet sunk its hooks into our generation and we found our entertainment outdoors with friends. It was not uncommon at the age of 5 to see me with a toy gun in my hand. At the ages of 7 or 8 you would see us dressed in Army surplus gear and rolling around the yard or open lots. One of our favorite past times was to make forts. We made them out of refrigerator boxes (which were at a premium in our neighborhood) or when we got really advanced we would use old lumber and dirt to build up fortifications we could then operate from as we would patrol into the “enemies” camp. These activities would last for the entire summer in between frequent trips to the beach and the camping vacations we went on as a family.

Since Vietnam was going on and emotions were very high it was more socially acceptable to play Cowboys and Indians, Civil War or World War II (WWII). WWII was our favorite because you could use machine guns. While the 1960’s culture discouraged us from playing much Vietnam, we in the mid to late 1960’s would dress up like Green berets and pretend we were John Wayne’s elite soldiers. My next door neighbor was wounded in Vietnam and I vividly remember the day it happened. His best friends were killed in an ambush and he was wounded with shrapnel in the shoulder. He returned physically ok, but you could see the look in his eyes and that he was very different from when he left. This was a significant experience for me because at an early age I saw with my young eyes the cost of a war and the effect it had on someone I knew personally.

Since I was a young boy I thought about being a policeman or a soldier. As is typical for most of us, our dreams may become a reality but often take a form that was not in the original “plan”.

I was raised in the Los Angeles county area in a small town called Lawndale. It borders places like Compton and Manhattan Beach. One side is the peaceful beach and the other is a literal combat zone where gangs mark territory in spray paint and blood.

During my formidable years my father was a Los Angeles Police officer. Because of this I was taught right from wrong and developed a strong sense of good and evil at an early age. It was this upbringing and strong sense of good and evil that would shape all of my future activities and be the stage for a life of not only trying to make a difference, but risking at times life and limb to do it.

As I got older my Father saw my military tendencies and asked me if I wanted to attend the United States Marine Reserve Program called Devil Pups. At 16 years old I took part of my summer off and went to “boot camp”. Our drill instructors were Marine Recon veterans of Vietnam. It was 1977 and we trained at Camp Pendleton in California. The program was only a couple weeks, but for me it was my official introduction into the Military mindset. When I graduated from this program I had a permanent gleam in my eye.

Warrior DNA

From Bunker Hill to Desert Storm, our family has been in the fight. We have not always been the best or the bravest, but we have been in most every conflict.

I am convinced that our ancestors play a part in not only our physical makeup, but also our emotional fabric. With ancestors that have names like RAGNHILDIS, SOMERLED, OLAU, ANGUS, THURLOUGH and ETACH it is no wonder that I have a strong warrior sense of self.

Viking blood and Normandy

My ancestors contain a mix of cultures with the predominant ones being Normans and Celts. The surname BURNELL comes from Normandy around the 10th century. This was at the time when William the conqueror was raiding many lands including what we now know as England. I have been to Normandy many times because of my heritage and of course the Normandy invasion of WWII. In Caen the largest Viking (Norman = Norse Man) castle is still standing. This was the headquarters of King William and the staging area for his raids and conquests. Norman blood would soon be mingled with the English as the Normans would conquer the island beginning is 1066 and the Battle of Hastings.

As walked the land of Normandy it was a very comfortable feeling, a feeling of belonging. In a very spiritual way I felt like this ancient land held some connection to me personally. Through family research I would later find that our name was mingled with Knights and those of “lesser ranks”. We would fight for a Duke in exchange for lands. Noteworthy was the fact that the Burnell crest has a blue boarder signifying they went across the channel to England and were part of the invasion and the eventual conquering of England. These people mixed with other tribes became the England we know today.

The Scottish Highlands

My Mothers side of the family holds the surname MacDonald. Our family is from the highlands where the feuding between clans was in full swing. I have been to the highlands and walked the lands of my forefathers. As I walked the mountainous landscape I was impressed by the shear strength the people had to possess to not only survive in the climate and terrain, but dominate. One legend is told where the Viking invaded the highlands with 400 ships. After the MacDonald’s had finished with them there were only a beaten and discouraged boat load left.

Tombstone and Wyatt Earp

My great grandfather is named Fred Newton Scofield. In 1880 at the age of 22 years old he moved to Tombstone, Arizona. He was active in politics in the days when a public figure had to be “quick on the draw”. He was a friend of Wyatt Earp and went into business with him on several mining ventures. He was the best man at Wyatt Earps wedding to Josie. He was very wealthy in his later years. He was active in the National Guard which is where he got his nickname was Captain Scofield. He is an influential character in our family and set the pace for three generations to follow. Also my brother looks just like him in his photos.

The Horse Soldier and Pancho Villa

His son (my grandfather Fred Eugene Burnell) became a horse soldier at the turn on the century and chased Poncho Villa on the boarder of Mexico under the command of General Pershing. Later Pershing would become the commander of American forces in Europe during World War I (WWI). Prior to WWI my grandfather would be injured while riding a motorcycle as a dispatch rider. This would prevent him from going to France.

He would visit us when I was a boy and always pay such devoted attention to me. One time he brought me a replica Calvary canteen and said;”This is like the one we used when I was in the Calvary”. I played with that canteen for years. He was and is still a legend to me.

Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) - METRO

His son and my Father Robert Burnell would enlist in the National Guard during Korea and rise to the rank of Master Sergeant within 7 years. He would later join the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and graduate near my birthday in 1961.

As a 24 year veteran of LAPD he was a plank owner of METRO, the elite no bull division where SWAT would be formed. He was involved with SWAT, the Watts riots, VICE, Narcotics, Warrants, Homicides, and many other key events and duties. One major highlight of his distinguished career was when he and his partner caught the number one bad guy. He was captured by my dad, a shotgun and tenacity. For this action he was awarded a bottle of Champaign. Since we did not drink alcohol, that bottle sat proudly on our bookshelf all growing up.

My Dad has always exemplified the warrior. I had the incredible opportunity to take him back to the land of his fore fathers in Normandy. Outside the Viking castle at Caen I asked my Dad “what is it like for you to be standing next to a place that has your DNA tied to it?” he reflected and didn’t say much, but I could tell that the realization was taking shape of who he was at a whole new level. He was literally from a warrior culture. One so powerful it shaped the continent we were now standing on.

We visited WWII and WWI sites and bathed in rich and ancient history. He was touched by the beaches of Normandy, the Battle of Bastogne, the concentration camp at Dachau, Berlin, East Germany, Poland and many other places, people and events. I got to watch my Warrior Father who had served under extreme stress for nearly three decades in uniform pay homage to other warriors under many flags and from other times.

To me it is ironic that true warriors rarely call attention to their deeds, but respect, study and emulate the deeds of others from a different time and place as if they had done something incomprehensible.

It was with my Father on this trip that I realized he is just like the men he honors. There are no differences other than time, location and opportunity. Just as he looks at others and their amazing feats and deeds, we look at him in that very light and with the same respect and awe.

Warriors do not always choose their battles, enemies or causes, but when there are real threats and safety needs to be preserved, it is that person willing to step forward from any generation and protect the weak and secure the borders that defines weather they are a true warrior. They harness fear and do the deeds that are hard. While DNA may contribute, the character, heart and values of a man or women are what ultimately compel them to step forward into the unknown fray of battle.

While birthright and nobility do not always equal positive action, they can once we comprehend our historical context on earth propel us into the fray with a sense of belonging and a complete understanding that might, while it does not always make right – is the catalyst of freedom and safety. If our forefathers saw this and took action, then certainly it is appropriate for us.

In my case I did not become acutely aware of my ancestors and their exploits until I had already tasted the sting of trauma. I was then interested in their lives and in search mode for perhaps a validation of the things I had seen and done.

From my experiences growing up in the Los Angeles area I came to understand that everyone had a gun or a knife but me. Later when I went in the military I was extremely grateful for the fact Uncle Sam not only gave me a weapon but my friends too! I was conditioned in my youth to manage fear and physical threats. Sometimes that meant running away, others it meant trying to fight my way to safety.

"Red” the cop killer

I recall many occasions where my life was threatened because of my skin color or my Fathers occupation. There was one man who lived on an adjacent block and was in my path as I walked to school every day when I was in grade school and very young. His name was “red” because of his hair. He was a member of a local Latino gang even though he was a white kid with red hair. Red was in his 20's and would sit in his front yard and as I would walk to school. He would tell me taht he was going to kill my daddy becasue he was a cop. He would call me piglet every day he saw me and repeat this message. I would keep my head down and walk fast without running so I could control my fear and desire to run. I was genuinely afraid of him.

It was in my teen years that Red got in a gunfight with a Motorcycle cop from Torrance Police a block from my home in Lawndale, California. He killed the Torrance Police Officer and the officer shot and killed him during a failed robbery at the hardwar store we would go to oftern. I was extremely sad about the police officer, but ever glad that red was gone. I wondered if that was wring that I was glad he was gone for good.

I realized at a young age that good guys have to accept the fact that bad guys never take time off and that good guys like the Police are really never off duty either. Since my dad was a police officer, I also realized he was always at great risk for injury or death. It made me appreciate what my dad did.

Later on in high school after knocking a kid down who was waving the American flag during a fire drill and yelling “let’s use this for toilet paper” I was counseled by the school leaders that I cannot survive by solving problems with my hands. The “bad kids” are AWAYS ready and I am not I was told. After that I said to myself, “well then I WILL always be ready” and continuted learning everything I could to win a fight. This would be the foundation for many of the things I would participate in later in life.

Red was dead, I was later put on notice for fighting, but I was going to always be ready should the fight come...

Robbed at the drive trough dairy

While in high school I took a job at the local drive through dairy. What I did not learn until the day before I started was that my friend who had just quit was shot at and robbed about four times the previous month. I began working and soon found out that the kids that worked at the dairy were the whipping post for the local gangs. One night while working, a car full of low riders came in and grabbed a case of beer. With weapons and heavy posturing they looked at us and the drove away threatening to do bad things to us if we called the police. We called the police anyway and filed a report.

On another night they came back and put a knife to my friend’s throat and told him to empty the till for them. He did, and nearly quite the next day.

One of the final episodes in this city drama was that one night I walked out from the back room to the drive through area only to see someone with a black beanie over his head, and his hands in his pockets robbing the place. My co-worker was putting all the cash in a paper bag when I saw them. I immediately walked back into the inside office and picked up the phone to call the police. The whole time I am dialing I am thinking this guy is going to come in a shoot me. He didn’t. After calling the police I walked back outside. The bad guy was just turning to leave when something inside of me snapped. I grabbed our “pipe” under the counter and began to chase him down. I was a runner and pole vaulter in school and in pretty good shape. After chasing him for a block or so I realized two things. First, bad guys can run faster than good guys because they are more motivated. Second, what do I do if he stops? He could have had a gun or a knife under his coat. After having that realization and in frusteration I threw the pipe at him in a final fit of defiance and walked back to my friend who was hyperventilating at the dairy.

This experience helped me realize there is a time to fight, a time to run and a time to pretend you do not even exist or fade into the tree line. Each response has a reward or penalty associated with it. If you run, they may prey on you because you are a coward. If you fight you may get killed or maimed. How you determine what to do depends upon your internal analysis and how you process threats and information. I was determined to find the correct answers to these questions...

Jumped by a gang

One night a freshmen track buddy of mine and I walked to a basketball game at a local rival school. After the game as we were walking home, two Latino gang members walked up behind us and were shortly joined by two more from across the street. I saw this movement and began to put on my cold weather gloves to protect my hands in case we got jumped. Immediately one of the gang members grabbed my buddy and hit him in the face and said “I don’t like that hard looks you’ve been giving me”. My friend immediately apologized… error I thought to myself. The last thing you want to do is feed the dominating predators on the street with fear. At that moment my friend turned and ran away. Two of the gang members followed him and the other two stood in front of me. One of them spoke and said “what are you going to do about it?” I replied “nothing” and turn and ran the two miles home without touching the ground.

Later that night my friend showed up to my house safe and sound. The senior football players heard about it and were on the hunt for the gang members as well. Trouble seemed at times to come from the strangest angles with at times no warning at all. Feeling a sense of safety in that type of environment is not an easy thing. To lower your guard for a moment and “not be ready” can be fatal. Having said that, even with your guard up as my buddy who got shot through the mouth at a bus stop would learn the next year, was not a guarantee you would not be harmed.

How do you cope with this world of uncertainty? You learn quickly to observe your surroundings, assess threat levels and make sure you have avenues of escape where possible. If all that fails, you think of how you can take out the dude the quickest way possible and exit the scene.

.357 magnum in my face

Click to listen to the podcast of this experience

Out of all the principles that I have become familiar with over the years posturing has the best anti-conflict potential than any other. However, when it ceases to work direct action must be used in order to solve the problem.

Example: When I was engaged to my wife, my mother needed some help with the laundry. We did not have a washer and dryer but did have a laundry across the street from our house. We used this laundry for over 20 years. To prevent my Mother from having to go across the street in a not so nice area I decided to take the laundry over myself. My fiancée was with me.

As we walked across the street from my house I could see a bunch of Arab men pounding another person on the ground. I told my future wife to go to the laundry mat and pretend she did not know me (she got use to this over the years). I ran over and pulled the men off this teen and asked “what was going on”. The Latino teen had apparently been denied use of the gas station restroom because he did not buy any gas. The Arab owners told him to leave. Instead, the Latino kid went to the side of the gas station and began to pee on the wall. This of course made the owners angry and they began to beat him to death in the middle of a public parking lot. That’s when I showed up.

I asked the folks in the fray “what was going on?” in an attempted to arbitrate the fight. At once one of the Arab men left. In order to quail the dispute I had to physically restrain the Latino kid. Suddenly the missing Arab man reappeared with a .357 stainless steel revolver. He came right up to the kid I was holding and put the gun in his face and yelled “you are going to die”. The young Arab had blue eyes and was crazy looking. I yelled at him “put that gun away”. He then turned the muzzle of the pistol within an inch of my nose and said “you are going to die”. I could see the large caliber bullets in the rotary chamber of that pistol, and the motion he made with his thumb as he cocked the hammer back while screaming at me.

These are the moments that define our lives, or culminate in our untimely death. I got very angry and told the man with the gun to “put that gun down, before someone gets killed”. He just looked at me with those crazy blue eyes, while keeping the pistol in my face. I then picked up the Latino teen and dragged him to the street I had just crossed to get to the laundry mat. The whole time I am dragging this kid I am thinking about catching a round in the back. My thought was to remove the threat from these men (the latino kid) and perhaps things might settle down a bit.

Here I am with my future wife watching and a pistol in my face. I can’t imagine what she was thinking. She grew up in a nice upper middle neighborhood in the San Diego area.

Well, when I got the kid to the street he postured up on me and said “I am going back over there and finish this, they hurt my Latino pride”. I said “you go back there and your Latino pride is going to be all over the street”. He did not go back.

From this experience I learned that action under duress does not always mean fight. Many times it will mean that we fade into the tree line and fight another day. I called the police and filled a complaint against the men with the gun.

Knives, more guns, and endless other events would take place in this concrete combat zone and would ultimately contribute to my ability to handle extremely stressful situations and perform complex tasks.