|CPT Gordon Van Arman|
“Hey, Dad, Hi Mom!”
“Hello, Thomas. Come and see my newest Christmas present” Dad replied with a twinkle reminiscent of a Santa Claus.
As we entered the study, I saw the two rather hefty speakers hung on adjacent walls and noticed the VCR under the TV.
“What is this? A deluxe stereo sensurround, all in one entertainment center that will do everything but pop your corn?” I asked.
The hearty chuckle couldn’t repress the resulting excitement Dad betrayed. “Yep. Wait ‘til you hear this” he enthusiastically replied as he fiddled with the controls.
Even to my rather poor hearing, (I wear hearing aids) it was impressive. No effort was required to discern the notes and diction on the TV. It wasn’t even loud to boot. I could even consider buying this setup. So I asked, “Well, Dad, how much did you pay for this?”
“Uh, it was a present.”
“Present? This set up has to cost two thousand dollars. And you say it was a present? Now, there’s a friend indeed. Who is he?”
Dad answered, “Oh, a friend from way back.”
I’m forty years of age and those friends of his I don’t know about I thought didn’t even exist, particularly those giving away expensive presents. True, sons never know their father’s experiences and history before his own time. This had to be Waaaayy back.
“And what kind of friend is that?”
Reticence was betrayed in his voice, “Well, it was back in the War. You know I can hook up my stereo to this and make it a real sensurround effect? Can you believe this?”
Back in the War. Back in the War. This of course, referred to World War II. Only in the past five years did Dad even begin to tell war stories. Those stories were fascinating and well, didn’t involve any blood and guts and War is Hell scenarios but held my complete attention nonetheless. I never understood why he never talked about such things in the past. Many others didn’t talk either but they “Been there, done that” and they actually had a reason not to want to relive the pain of their experiences. My Dad had his moments of uncertainty during the war.
Make no mistake. He was officially in the combat zone the day he left the USA for the European Theater. He knew he could be shot without notice. Or torpedoed, bombed or even get pushed over a cliff. And lived with that fact of life. He was in the US Army as a Signal Corps officer overlooking among other things, radio communications. Hearing accounts of such stories had me thinking Tom Clancy and how technology figured into victory. Had Tom Clancy been born 45 years earlier, my Dad could easily have been the source of his input for his Technothriller stories.
“Loose lips sink ships.”
This was Dad’s phrase he picked up during the war and not only was it hokey and trite but he repeated it so often the meaning escaped me for years. As an officer of an advanced technology, he had to sign a secrecy document not to reveal such secrets or dire consequences would have resulted. They certainly would have for it was a World War and everything was at stake. Civilization, home and apple pie. Dad learned to keep his lips tight. That was probably why he never told war stories. The fifty-year secrecy ban expired at about the time he started telling such stories. He took his duties seriously and there are few I have more respect for. He did his part in the War.
Two months later, I pieced together the story behind this Sensurround Stereo gift. The effect was as if I stepped into another dimension. It went something like this:
Place: Somewhere in the Weimar Republic, Germany.
It was a rather damp and cold morning but the sun was bright and cheerful. The end was near and everyone knew it. The Americans, the British, the Russians and especially the Germans. The horror of the concentration camps had yet to surface in the Allied news services. Despite this, Captain Parker was not letting down his guard because it would have been worse than a tragedy to die from lack of attention and vigilance. Cautious optimism was all prevalent and nobody could help it.
The major push was done in this sector and the Ninth Tactical Air Command was given a respite. This was the time to take inventory and fix things for the final thrust, the one everyone knew would be the last. Colonel Garland summoned Captain Parker to his headquarters:
“Captain, How many radios do you have that need fixing?”
“Why the exact number?”
With mild amusement the Colonel asked, “Is aspirin recommended for spring fever too?”
A bit too much gusto was put into the “especially that, sir!”
Back to business, Colonel Garland reminded himself and stated, “Okay, Parker. This is what I want you to do. Fix those radios. That includes all the German and Russian models we captured along the way. I will authorize any reasonable funds for their repair. You are free to search the populace for the appropriate help. Do not use your personnel for this purpose as I have other plans for them. Repair of the radios is a lower priority than my use of the men but both must be done. Understood?”
“Dismissed,” the Colonel stated with an air of finality.
The Captain went about buying what he had temporarily lost. The order of business was to simply find such radio technicians if any were available at all. Three radio stores were in town. The first was abandoned with broken glass to mark the facade. The second was in a back alley that caught fire in a skirmish and burned down to the ground. The last was in a section of town that was not under fire and was open for business. What there was of it. As the Captain entered the store, the proprietor seeing the uniform, gasped in fear.
“Gut Morgen Herr....?”
“What do you want?”
“Ah,” the Major said. “I can speak German if you prefer, Mr. ah.....?”
“What do you want?” The owner would not be mollified.
“Come with me. I have radios that need fixing. I will pay for this but you WILL come.”
“Not really, I’m the owner after all. I just run the shop, not fix radios. But I can certainly recommend my best repairman, Vsevolod Kudrjawzev. I’m quite certain he can do just what you want.”
“Fine. Let’s go get him,” the captain said.
So back to the radio store and then the owner bawled out “Kudry, come here!”
In short order the repairman came to the front of the store and then the owner didn’t even try to hide his chicanery at using him to save his own hide. “Kudry, the captain here will have you work for them.” With that brief statement he fled back into the back of the store never to be heard from again. Like the owner, seeing the uniform of the US Army in front of him, he gasped in fear and had difficulty breathing. After calming down the poor repairman, the captain managed to bring him to the base camp to show him the radios that needed fixing.
The business deal was conducted with Kudry working for the US Army for the next two weeks. In those days, radios were repaired the same way cars were. With duct tape, out of spec parts and Rube Goldberg rigs. And sometimes, a prayer. So it came as a surprise the workmanship of the repair of the radios Kudry effected. It was first rate. No duct tape, no out of spec parts, and the Rube was totally absent. Nearly factory new. On the second day, the captain noticed that Kudry brought back to work half his lunch. On questioning, the captain found out that food was so scarce in the German countryside that Kudry was the only breadwinner for his family and the leftover was his family’s dinner, breakfast and lunch.
The captain said, “Well, Kudry we can’t have that. Let’s go back to the mess hall and I’ll introduce you to my favorite mess sergeant Joe, and see if we can’t work out at least a pair of box lunches for you to take home every night.”
And the deed was done. Alas, the work was finally finished and Kudry and Captain Parker parted company on good terms. They did discuss on how to smuggle Kudry, his wife and son out of Weimar. The agreement among the Powers was that the Russians would take over the Weimar Republic and the Ninth Tactical Air Command of the US Army would move back to the town of Holle in the Allied Zone. The problem was the captain couldn’t declare Kudry a prisoner and take him and his family. Regulations, you know.
Three weeks later:
“Yes, captain,” Colonel Garland asked. “What is it you want to see me about?”
“Remember Kudry,” the captain responded, “The radio repairman from town? He’s in trouble and needs to get out of the Russian Zone. Two years ago he was the head engineer for an underground radio station in Lithuania campaigning against the communist government. Well, the authorities there found out who ran the station and went after his parents and found the names of the others in the station and exterminated the entire extended families of all involved. Kudry and his family are the only survivors of some 50 personnel at that station. His name is on the black list of the communist party and will be summarily executed upon discovery of his identity. Can we take him to the American Sector?”
When the plea was finally done, the silence was absolute. Like Kudry, Garland had a family and understood only too well the problem. Unfortunately, Garland who had the bigger picture to look after said finally, “Look Parker. There’s no way to accommodate the problem. Kudry will just have to fend for himself. I feel like a heel but the exigencies of war won’t permit such acts of human kindness. Business first. Sorry, captain. Dismissed.”
Such a cold response, but so necessary for survival.
“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”
With his hand on the doorknob, the captain was preparing to leave the room. Then Colonel called out, “Almost forgot, captain. There’s a convoy of 13 trucks leaving for the American sector at Oh two hundred. You’re to be in charge of it. The last truck is only partially full. I suggest you get a tarp to cover the contents of that one. There’s room enough for whatever cargo you have to transport. Understood?”
The two grinned. “Yes, SIR!”
The captain got out before any second thoughts could occur.
The two A.M. rendevous went along uneventfully. Mission accomplished. The grateful Kudry gave him what details he could and the captain reciprocated with his address and phone number. Over the years, Kudry made it to the United States via the World Council of Churches and settled in the Bethesda Maryland area. That was where he found a job with the National Institute of Health. Christmas cards were exchanged every year.
This Kudry invented the working mechanism of the Nuclear Magnetic Spectrometer. This may not be known to the public but the spin off from this sure is, otherwise known as the MRI. Magnetic Resonance Imaging.
No wonder Dad got a Christmas gift like that.