Not long ago I was reminded again why my wife and I attend the church to which we currently pledge allegiance. Not only does it offer the serious things like a caring, spiritual leader, a loving, concerned congregation, and a place where one can truly feel a communication with one’s Creator, but it also offers fun stuff to do, even for us…um…Golden Agers.
This event was an opportunity to satisfy that most basic instinct of man, that of the gatherer. You know, the mighty man who goes out and brings in the meat for the grateful family back at the cave. Except in this case it wasn’t a hunt for forest game, but rather game in water. Yes, I am talking about fishing. What the more sporting leaders of the church had done was obtain tickets to go on a charter fishing boat out of Galveston for four hours on Saturday morning. The price was $25.00, which was a bargain, because the boat people offered fishing gear, bait, transportation to the fishing spot, and expert guidance for that small price. The plan was to exit Galveston harbor and sail out to the jetties, then re-enter the bay and sail over to the Bolivar Peninsula, and then wander around the bay as the ship sonar sought out the schools of fish for us to capture. Visions of monster redfish, speckled trout, flounder, even sharks danced in our heads as we looked forward to Saturday morning. Concerns about how big of an icebox do we need to take to insure we get all our fish back home floated around in conversations. All of us experienced fishermen contemplated taking our own gear because we have our own special way to fish. It was all very exciting. The ship was to pull out at 8:00 a.m., so we knew we would need to leave the church by about 6:00 or so to make sure we got there in time to register and board the vessel. All of us (at least I did) excitedly went to bed early Friday night to be sure we got up in time to make the deadline.
I awoke before my alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. to the sound of pitter-patter outside our window. No, it really wasn’t pitter-patter, more like the sound of water gushing off the roof and down the down spout. I went to the door, cracked it open, and saw that it was pouring down rain, and colder than…well, it was chilly. And the wind was blowing. My mouth said, “Boy, the fish ought to be biting in this weather,” but my heart said, “I bet they’re going to cancel the trip.” I checked my super sophisticated Blackberry Curve internet capable cell phone for any emails with fishing news, and there was nothing. So I decided to go to the church and get the bad news there. After having my usual healthy breakfast of Pop-Tarts and milk, I threw on my clothes, found a rain protective hat and a water repellent jacket, hopped in my truck and headed to the church.
The trip gave me a new revelation. I have decided we need to have Sunday Service at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday. Anyone who travels FM 1960 any distance knows it is a frustrating blend of suffocating traffic and constant red lights. This morning I drove the eight miles from my house to the church and never slowed down. Not a stop light and not a single doddering old dude cruising at 25 miles per hour the whole distance. I made it to the church in less than 12 minutes. It was so nice. But at the church, arriving about 20 minutes before we were to leave, I realized there was no one there. Where were the 35 or so brothers that were to make the pilgrimage? It was still raining, by the way, with a damp wind that was chilling. Finally I saw a car over in a corner, but it did not appear to have anyone inside. So it appeared that I was alone, which, without being an alarmist, still makes me nervous anywhere in the Houston area, especially when all my weaponry is at home and not in my truck.
Finally a Hummer rolled in and I realized that Pastor Fauss was there, so I was now safe from harm and danger. As he got out of his vehicle, the other fellow got out of his, and I realized that it was Brother Mike Mabry, so I joined them. Needless to say, the primary focus of conversation was the weather, with the general consensus that it was supposed to be better “down toward Galveston.” In fishermen, hope springs eternal. Shortly later, Brothers Leonard Wiggins, Shawn Everhart, and others trickled in, and as we approached the departure deadline, there arose some concern about where everyone was. But about that time Brother Joe Hargrave cruised up and said that many had decided to drive straight from their homes to Galveston instead of gathering at the church, so we all felt a little better, and, about 6:00 a.m., we loaded up and headed to Galveston. I was privileged to ride with Brothers Mike and Leonard in Brother Mike’s 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe. I mention the Santa Fe only because as a person formerly involved in the car business, I can’t help but check out a vehicle if I’m anywhere near an interesting one. The Hyundai was a very impressive small SUV with good power, a smooth ride, and good finish.
It is always a privilege and a pleasure to travel, associate, or visit with men of like Christian faith. The conversation is always friendly, honest, respectable, and clean….and usually fun. I could tell that Mike and Leonard had known each other for a long time because the banter between the two men was easy, relaxed, and humorous as befits long time friends. I appreciated how they welcomed me into their conversation, and by the time we reached Galveston I felt at ease, as if I had become an instant long time friend. Relationships like this are extremely rare in human interactions, and they cannot be overvalued.
The weather did at least seem to abate a bit as we headed to salt water country. Though the winds and chill remained, the rain reduced to just a slight mist. Galveston, however, was a little depressing. The scars of Hurricane Ike of 2008 were very evident. As we passed the ending of IH45 and cruised along Broadway, scores of empty and damaged homes and business were still evident. Vacant land and lots were every where, and even the marshland prior to the Galveston Bridge that sits to the right of IH45 which usually is covered by tall grass over its watery bed is now mostly just water with all the marsh grass washed away. Turning left on 25th and approaching the Strand, the buildings looked simply older and more weathered and the whole area looked, well, sort of not very salvageable. We turned right on Harbor, rolled down to Pier 19, and there we were with the 70 foot catamaran "Cavalier" sitting expectantly at mooring. Sure enough, there were several men of the church already there and waiting, and by the time we loaded, our total was around 23-24. Considering the weather, not a bad turnout. There were also about 20 or so other people joining us for the cruise, but, since the boat is geared for about 80 fishermen, we had plenty of room. If you’ve never been on a charter fishing boat, they usually are models of efficiency. From amidship on the starboard side, back to the stern, and around to amidship on the port side, there are numbers painted on the railing about two feet apart from zero to 80. Next to each number is a loaded up rod and reel and a bucket of bait, in this case chopped up squid. When you get your ticket, it has a number, and that number is your assigned fishing spot. Mine was 67, so I located spot 67 at the rail and I was ready to go.
We cranked up and headed out of the harbor. The wind was cutting, and the waves very choppy, sending a spray of icy water to those trying to hang over the edge. I was amazed at the number of dolphins playing in the bay waters. There would be five to seven in a pod, and they would beautifully jump out of the water in unison or cruise just below the surface. When they cruised under the surface, their dorsal fins would be visible. If I had seen them at a beach somewhere, I would have headed to the shore because they looked very shark-like. As we left the harbor area and entered the open bay, the waves got higher with foamy whitecaps. The water looked like chocolate, and I was surprised at the amount of debris floating around. Wooden panels, two-by-fours, logs, and bottles floated by and made me glad we weren’t in a sixteen foot skiff trying to motor through all this.
Our first stop was at a sunken concrete freighter that has been in Galveston Bay since World War II. It’s usually a good fishing spot for flounder and whatever (I’ve been there before,) but this time the outbound current was so strong that the boat’s anchors would not hold and we kept breaking free, making it impossible to toss out our lines. After 20 minutes or so, we headed across the bay to athwart the Bolivar Peninsula. Here we dropped anchor, baited our hooks with the tasty bits of squid, and heaved to (cast out our rods.) The current was still frustrating. Casting straight out from the boat would result in your line swinging instantly to the stern of the boat. When you have 45 lines doing that, needless to say, tangled lines were inevitable.
Now I don’t consider myself an expert fisherman, but I do have a little bit of experience. A sensitive hand on a rod can feel the weight sliding along the bottom and you have a sort of sixth sense that tells you when it’s time to reel in and avoid calamity. You learn also when a line bump is a weight bouncing on a rock on the bottom and when a bump is a fish nabbing your bait, and when to jerk your line and when to wait. The fishing gear on most boats like the "Cavalier" is heavy duty, heavier than you need, and to the amateur fisherman is a nightmare to handle. It takes a delicate feel to cast without turning your open face reel into what is called a “bird’s nest” of tangled string. I saw more than one reel that would have tempted a bird to lay an egg.
But with the wind, cold, current, and chocolate water, the fishing was terrible. All that was caught were gafftop and hardheads, and not too many of them. I was able to catch four, but threw them all back. To be honest, we spent most of our time fishing smack in the area of the Houston Ship Channel, and there have been so many reports of all the powerful chemicals awash in the area that I decided I would not eat anything that came out of those waters. If we had been able to go up into East Bay or Trinity Bay, I may have kept a fish, but not there. We were not able to head out to the Galveston jetties, which are two stone and concrete barriers that extend out into the Gulf of Mexico on either side of the entrance to Galveston Bay. They are there to protect the dredged channel of the seaport from being damaged by shifting sand and currents. Along these jetties the fishing is usually pretty good, but today the waves were topping nine feet in height, so we had to cancel our trip there. We were condemned to wander around the mouth of the bay, and at the next point of anchor drop, just off from Sea Wolf Park, we tried it for awhile, but no one caught anything.
So about 10:30, we weighed anchor with a total of one fish, a four pound or so gafftop catfish to show for the work of 45 men. As we neared shore, the crew passed a can for tips, into which most of us tossed $5.00 bills, which was probably too much, since the deck hands had a pretty easy go of it, what with no fish to unhook or clean. Oh, well. I have said before that a bad day fishing is better than a good day working, and this was a good example. The weather was lousy and the fishing was worse, but it was still a lot of fun. We who wanted to fish got to do so, and those who did not were able to stay inside and….eat. Inside the boat were a small grill and a deck hand who grilled sandwiches, micro waved nachos and cheese, and sold soft drinks. I heard that there was a certain pastor who had breakfast on the way to Galveston, then had two sandwiches and two plates of nachos on board the boat, and then had lunch on the way home. It’s just a rumor and I haven’t substantiated the report. I can report that Brothers Mike and Leonard and I did stop at Popeye’s Chicken in Texas City. We were hungry, however, because we had spent most of our time on board working on our mission…trying to catch fish. To each his own.
Sure enough, as we left Texas City and headed back to the church, it began to sprinkle again. But now we were in the warm confines of a little Hyundai Santa Fe SUV. Three friends, full of fried chicken, who had just enjoyed a four hour fishing trip. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Any similarities between actual events or persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Airman First Class Link Stevens walked quietly in the darkness along the cobblestone sidewalk of Schonefelder Strasse toward the ugly scar that was the Berlin Wall. “This is not what I signed up for,” he thought to himself as he scanned the shadows looking for a particular spot. Since he had arrived in West Berlin eighteen months ago, in the early spring of 1965, his duty had been pretty routine with occasional moments of high tension. But as a Russian language specialist with training in intelligence procedures, at least even in the moments of tension he had been in places of relative safety with plenty of weaponry nearby. But now he was alone, walking a dark street, armed with only a military issue .45, and not really sure what he was looking for.
Since the Soviets had erected the now-infamous Berlin Wall in August of 1961, the stress and tension of living in West Berlin had ebbed and flowed at the whim of the Soviets and the East Germans. After the 1966 crash of one of Russia’s brand new generation Suhoi ground attack jets into Lake Wansee in West Berlin and the subsequent intelligence coup by the British and Americans who were able to photograph and analyze every square inch of the new aircraft while it was still underwater, the Russians had been very irritable and spoiling for a confrontation. What really irritated them was our mysterious ability to know what they were going to do before they did it and have countermeasures active even before they started. That was due in part to a network of spies and operatives who worked behind the Berlin Wall in East Berlin monitoring the activities of the armies and air forces of both the USSR and the GDR (German Democratic Republic.) Although the GDR boasted a formidable military force, it was under the heavy thumb of the USSR. GDR aircraft pilots were closely monitored to prohibit any temptation by them to defect to the west, and their families were closely watched and used as leverage to insure that the GDR pilots were not tempted to fly west. Much of the information gathered from the East came to the West in the same method as tonight’s package was delivered. Once the intelligence was collected in the East, it was smuggled around, through, under, or over the wall to a predetermined drop spot, at which time it was picked up by the western operative and delivered to the ICC (Intelligence Clearing Center) for processing. Each day, a Pending Espionage and Intelligence Activities Report (PEIAR) was transmitted through secure communications to Frankfort and then to Washington for analysis.
Such was Link’s assignment for this night. Two months earlier, his sergeant had come to him and asked if he would like to do something "a little different for a change." Without thinking Link had jumped at the chance, and now here he was. This would be his fourth assignment he had successfully completed, but it had been stressful, to say the least. As he neared the Wall, the buildings reflected neglect from their uncertain future and violent past. Though it had been twenty years since the end of World War II, many buildings still reflected their heavy damage from Allied bombing, and one walked with a certain amount of caution, since unexploded bombs were still being discovered in the twenty-year-old rubble. Looking further up the sidewalk, Link spotted a rusty park bench. He approached it carefully and sat down. From that position he was to look at the building directly in front of him, count three windows up and two to the left, and look for a small white marker. If it was not there he was to return to his base. It was there.
He entered the empty, bombed out apartment building. The stairs were splintered, but he was able to slowly traverse the stairs with minimum noise. Each level of the building was more destroyed than the one below it, and by the time he reached the third floor, he could see from one side of the building to another through the blown out walls. There, on the ledge of the second window from the left, was a small, leather packet. He listened for at least five minutes for any sound that might betray another visitor, and, hearing none, he picked up the packet, stuffed it into his jacket, and retraced his steps down the stairs. His eyes strained to decipher every shadow as he made his way back to the U-Bahn (subway) station at Rudow Platz. As he walked into the brightly lit station, he breathed a sigh of relief and boarded the train. Twenty five minutes later he was at the entrance to Templehof Central Airport, the home of the 6914th USAF Security Squadron. The 6914th was ostensibly on base to provide security for the airport, but in actuality was the easternmost intelligence gathering arm of the United States and the only group operating behind the Iron Curtain. Following instructions, he went to his room and changed out of his worn civilian clothes and into his uniform, then walked to the 6914th check in station to finish his night’s work. He checked in his .45, which raised the curiosity of the weapons clerk, who wondered out loud how Link had ever gotten authority to carry one. Link then showed his badge to the Air Police, signed his name, and pressed the fingerprint monitor. The AP pressed the switch on the heavy door, which with a click opened and Link entered the secure area. Going up five flights in the elevator, he exited the elevator and entered the gleaming lights of the intelligence command center.
“Well, Link, how did it go?” asked Technical Sergeant Earnest Sotomeyer. “Any trouble?”
“Strictly routine…at least as routine as it can get, anyway,” replied Link.
“Let’s see what we’ve got,” the sergeant ordered, and he and Link went to a nearby table, opened the leather packet, and spread out the contents. On the table were photos of aircraft taking off from a field, and lists of aircraft models and their locations along with the names of the pilots assigned to each aircraft. “Look at this ‘21!’” yelled Sotomeyer. “This is the newest MiG-21F…their latest version with variable frequency radar and heavier artillery! And the Soviets are bringing a whole squadron of the babies to the Forward Area! They’re upping the ante in the arms game, that’s for sure! We’ve got to get this to Washington. By the way, nice job, Link.”
“Thanks, Sarge. Say, would it be possible for me to get out of here a little early? This evening has been a bit of a strain, and it’s only a couple of hours till shift change anyway.” With the sergeants blessing, Link checked out and headed for his room overlooking Columbiadamm (street). He flopped onto his bed trying to wind down a little before showering and going to bed, but the more he tried to relax the more he thought about the events of the evening. If something had gone wrong it could have been very serious indeed. He thought of his wife, Renee, who was expecting their first child and had only a couple of months before left Berlin to go back home. He was counting the days until he could head home himself, and he worried that the baby may come before he got home. It was going to be close.
He decided to go for a cup of coffee to maybe settle his nerves. Just outside the air base, there was a bar called Ristaurante La Gendela operated by an old woman who seemed to feel sorry for soldiers who did not drink or smoke. As a result she had an area in a corner of the bar where the non-imbibers could drink a soft drink, coffee, or tea, have a good steaming bowl of sauerkraut with sausage, and listen to live German folk music.. Link walked in, said hello to the kindly old lady and found his favorite spot in the corner. The waitress brought his customary cup of coffee and a chunk of hard bread and cheese, and Link began to relax. He understood the significance of the intelligence he had delivered today, but at the same time maintained a certain detachment because, being only an Airman First Class, he was a few notches below the upper officers who were able to see the big picture of intelligence operations in Eastern Germany. He was happy he had done his job successfully again, but more happy that nothing had gone wrong.
When the German behind the guitar began to sing “I’m 500 Miles Away From Home” in a heavy German accent, Link decided it was time to head home. It was near and only thirteen hours to the next work shift. Leaving a five mark tip, Link stepped out the door into the chilly air of the darkened street. Walking about ten paces to the left, he passed a narrow alley. There was a flash of movement, and he heard the whistle of air as someone swung a heavy object toward the back of his head. That’s all he remembered.
He awoke to a thundering headache. Without opening his eyes, he gingerly felt the painful lump behind his left ear and decided that at least there was no blood or fractured skull. He lay still and listened. A faint dripping of water and a faraway fan of some sort were the only two sounds discernible. He could see light through his eyelids, so he slowly opened his eyes and moved his head slightly to survey the situation. He was lying on a narrow cot in the corner of a bare room approximately ten feet by ten. In the center of the room standing on the gray concrete floor was a small well-worn wooden table with four chairs. Overhead a single light bulb hung from a crooked wire. A framed mirror was placed in the middle of the opposite wall, and a single door with a small center window was beyond his feet. A small white porcelain sink with a single faucet was hanging in a corner opposite his cot. Interestingly, he thought, there was a large three foot by five foot flag tacked to the wall above his head. It was the flag of the East German government, the German Democratic Republic.
He wondered why anyone in West Berlin would fly the flag of the Communist East Germans so boldly, and decided he must be in some sort of hospital receiving treatment for his head wound. Stiffly, he pulled himself up from the bed and toward the door. The door was locked. Peering through the small window, he saw a narrow hallway which matched the bare décor of his room. No one seemed to be around. He unsuccessfully tried the door again, and then gave it a couple of quick pounds and yelled. Instantly he heard low voices and within a couple of minutes sharp footsteps heading toward him. He sat behind the desk and waited for his visitor. A key rattled, the latch turned, and in walked two guards fully armed with automatic weapons and grim expressions. They stepped in the room, quickly closed the door, sharply came to attention with weapons at the ready, and stared straight ahead. They were wearing the uniforms of the East German infantry soldier.
“Who are you and what is going on?! Where am I?” demanded Link, rising from his chair, but the guards stared straight ahead. He repeated his questions, and one of the guards diverted his eyes to him and quietly said, “Ein moment, bitte.” Just as Link was about to head for the door to attempt to leave, he heard more steps walking his way. He sat back down at the desk, just as the third East German soldier entered the room. He was very tall with muscular shoulders and piercing eyes, though the eyes softened upon seeing Link. He wore the uniform of an officer, Link thought, probably a captain or major.
“Good evening, Link, how is your head? And may I introduce myself. I am Lieutenant Major Reinholtz Kleppinger of the Army of the Free German Democratic Republic.” Link observed that the major spoke in perfect English. “We are sorry for the somewhat unorthodox method of bringing you to us, but you must understand it was best that we be as discreet as possible under the circumstances. The circumstances being that you have been a bit of an embarrassment to our government in that you have been the avenue for some very delicate and sensitive information concerning our Soviet friends and comrades being treasonously forwarded to your capitalist governments in the West, who will no doubt use the information to further threaten the sovereignty and safety of the Free Democratic Republic of Germany, not to mention our loyal Soviet allies."
“I demand, as a member of the armed forces of the United States, to see a representative of the United States government immediately and to be treated in accordance with the international agreement of the Geneva Convention as accepted by both the United States and the GDR."
“Tell me, Link,” said Major Kleppinger quietly, “How do we know you are a soldier? And if you are, why aren’t you in uniform? And don’t you know that a soldier out of uniform carrying out acts of war against another country has no protection from the Geneva Convention and can be instantly shot as a spy?”
Taken aback, Link stuttered, “I have…I have my military Identification Card.”
“Useless,” said the major, “I can go onto any street in West Berlin and buy them by the box for twenty marks apiece.”
“In that case, my name is Link J. Stevens, Airman First Class, United States Air Force, Service Number AF 18684175. That's all I have to say under the rules of the Geneva Convention.”
“Sit down, Airman Stevens,” ordered the major. He opened a small manila folder and began reading from a paper. “Yes, you are Airman Stevens. You have been in West Berlin since March 4, 1965. You were born on May 5, 1943, in Goose Creek, Texas…Is that the real name?? You joined the military on August 4, 1963 and received your indoctrination and language training at Bloomington, Indiana, and San Angelo, Texas. You have been married to your childhood sweetheart for five years, six months, and…let’s see…seven days. She went back to your home two months ago because she is expecting your first child. You hope to be home to see your first child born. Shall I go on??.......oh, yes, by the way, you are now being held by the Free Democratic Republic of Germany to face the charges of spying and espionage, the sentence for which is usually death. And yes, you are a prisoner in the Free Democratic Republic. We are actually rather proud how we were able to spirit you across the border. Your border guards are really quite sloppy in their work. We will, of course, have a very public trial, and an attorney will be appointed to you, but the evidence is quite condemning; I see only one outcome of a trial.”
Link, shocked at the quick turn of events, sat at the desk and stared blankly at the major. This was not what he had signed up for. Just do a little listening and translating for a couple of years and then go home, they had said. Nothing like this. “I still demand to see a representative of the United States government.”
“In due time,” said the major. He stood up and with a quick nod to the guards who then jerked the door open, walked out of the room.
Link awoke to the chill of the damp room. The night had been spent sleeping fitfully after a cold supper of hard bread, cheese, and weak soup. He tried to retrace the events of the last 24 hours but still had no clue as to how he had wound up in the hands of the enemy. Beyond remembering stepping out of the bar, taking a few steps, and then the head blow, he remembered nothing. He searched his pockets and found that his wallet with his military ID was missing. He still had his pocket comb, handkerchief, and twenty seven German marks of currency, but that was it. His two guards were gone, apparently having decided that there wasn’t much chance for his escape. The door was still locked, however, and there seemed to be no activity in the hall. In a few moments he heard footsteps, a click of the door, and then observed a tall, rather elderly man wearing a well-worn double-breasted brown striped suit and carrying the usual German style baggy leather briefcase. His long gray hair lung over his collar, his eyebrows were long and bushy, and he sported a two day old beard and a weary expression. Link thought to himself that this guy looked like he had been awake for two days.
“Guten tag,” said the man with a gravelly voice, “My name is Heinrich Dorfmann, and I am your attorney to represent you in your trial for espionage against the German Democratic Republic. Do you wish to plead guilty for your crimes and hope for leniency from the state?”
Link was stunned at the bluntness of the question. “Of course I do not wish to plead guilty, and I demand to see a representative of the United States! How can you defend me in court if you assume I am guilty?”
“Herr Stevens, I am not going to defend you in court…I am going to represent you in court. There is not a question of your guilt. We have photos of you accepting and delivering classified military secrets of the GDR to our enemies. You did this while not wearing the uniform of your military. Even according to the ridiculous requirements of the Geneva Convention, you are a spy with no protection from your government, and, as such, there is no question of the outcome of a trial. In fact, a trial is not even necessary, but the GDR, in the spirit of fairness, will allow you to explain why you chose to commit these acts of war against our country. Of course, after you explain your motives for these acts of aggression, you will summarily be taken out and shot. I’m afraid things look rather bleak for you. Too bad about your wife and unborn child, but you chose to commit these acts and now must face the consequences.”
Dorfmann continued, “There is one avenue that may be taken which may cause the court to look mercifully upon your fate and may possibly bring an end to this unfortunate event. And that is if you describe to a representative of our government the mission, procedures, and policies of the 6914th Security Squadron. It is no secret to us that the mission of the 6914thSS is not the security of Flughafen Tempelhof, but rather the operation of a massive spy and espionage network against the GDR and its closest ally, the USSR. Nye Pravda li?” ("Isn't that true?") Doefmann spoke the Russian phrase and then said, “Yes, we know that you and your comrades in espionage are fluent in Russian, Polish, and German. Did you spend all those months at Indiana University learning these languages so that you could provide security for a military base? I think not. As your appointed attorney, I strongly suggest that you cooperate with our government in order to insure the greatest leniency on its part and perhaps offer you a chance to someday see your wife and child."
“You do not understand.” replied Link, “My mission at the 6914th is to monitor USAF aircraft communications to insure that our military aircraft are abiding by the flight control agreements governing inbound and outbound flights between Berlin and the Allied countries to the west. Because of the narrow flight corridors and the severe consequences which come from aircraft straying of these flight paths, all air transportation has to be closely monitored to insure the safety of our crews and passengers. Our mission does not include operations against the GDR or USSR.”
Dorfmann stood to his feet and brushed his hair back with his hand. In a resigned voice he said quietly, “I am sorry you have decided to stick with that story. I am afraid it will prove to be a fatal mistake. Good day.” Without shaking Link’s hand, he turned and walked out of the room. As he closed the door and walked down the hall, Link heard him say to someone, “The prisoner will not cooperate; there is nothing I can do.” Strangely, he spoke in English to the unseen person.
Within minutes, he heard multiple footsteps approaching, and upon the door opening, in walked Major Kleppinger with the two armed guards. They did not look happy. The two guards did not stand by the door but walked over and stood next to Link, one on each side. Said the major in a stern, loud voice, “Airman Stevens, are you sure this is the avenue that you wish to take? That you are going to deny spying against the GDR and that the mission of the 6914th is to conduct a war of espionage against the GDR and its loyal ally, the USSR?"
“I only monitor US military aircraft, and I still demand to see…” The blow from the rifle butt came crashing to his right eyebrow like a bolt of thunder, and Link crumpled to the floor, dazed with blood pouring from the gash above his eye. The other guard threw a small towel over Link’s face. Trying to collect his thoughts, Link wiped the blood from his head and slowly stood back up.
The major said firmly, “Our government has decided that a trial is not necessary and that execution for your crimes should be immediate.” His voice then unexpectedly softened, “Would you like to talk with your wife before you face your execution?”
“My…my wife? At home? How?” stammered Link, still reeling from the pain in his head.
“We know where your wife is. She is with her parents at their home in Goose Creek, Texas. It is located at 505 Aron Street.. It is a rather large white home with a garage for two cars. Typical American overindulgence. We can dial her number and you will have five minutes to speak with her and say goodby.” At a nod of Major Kleppinger, one of the guards stepped out of the room and returned with a phone attached to a very long cord and set it on the table in from of Link. “You have fifteen minutes of life left…do you wish to talk to her?” Link silently nodded his head, his thoughts racing.
The major picked up the phone and said simply, “Complete the call.” Faintly, Link could hear the clicks of the phone relays as the call made its way across Europe, the Atlantic Ocean, the United States, to his wife’s temporary home. Link heard a faint “hello” and the major spoke in a pleasant voice, “Hello. Is this Mrs. Lisa Stevens?” Link heard his wife reply, and then the major said, “Please hold for your husband, Airman First Class Link Stevens.” Link heard his wife gasp, and the major gave Link the phone.
“Link! Link! Is it really you? Link?” gushed his wife excitedly.
“Hi, Honey, yes, it’s me. I…um…just wanted to see how you were doing.”
“Link! How are you making this call? Isn’t it costing a lot? Is something wrong?”
“Honey, I just want you to know that….” CLICK! The major suddenly slammed his hand on the phone, disconnecting the call. “Why did you do that! You told me I had five minutes!” yelled Link.
Major Kleppinger spoke quietly but firmly, “Shut up and listen. I am going to give you one last chance for your life, or it will end in ten minutes. You do not have to tell us what the mission of the 6914th is because we already know. However there are certain activities carried out on a daily basis the knowledge of which would be very useful to us. We know that a daily summary of pending espionage and intelligence activities against the GDR and USSR is sent to the U.S. regional headquarters in Frankfort, and we also know that you have access to this document. It will be your responsibility to obtain a copy of that document and deliver it to us. Naturally you will receive instructions as to the procedure for delivering this information. In doing so, you will not be endangering the lives of your comrades in the 6914th. Consider it more of an act of leveling the playing field, to use an American football analogy.”
“Before you make a rash decision concerning this matter,” continued the major, “please be aware that the purpose of the phone call was to let you know that we know exactly where your wife, unborn child, and family are at this very moment, and that we have agents in your country, just as you have in ours. Just so you’ll know, your father-in-law bought another car yesterday, a Buick, yet another example of American overindulgence. Any treachery on your part, any refusal to cooperate with the GDR on the matter I described, will result in harm coming to those you love. Believe me, we can reach them in America easier than we can reach someone in West Berlin. Americans do not understand what security means. So I ask again…will you cooperate with us, or do you choose death for yourself and your loved ones?”
Quietly Link spoke, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
“You have made a very wise and practical decision,” said Major Kleppinger. “Of course, you will receive a very satisfactory compensation from our government as you work to blunt the forces of western capitalism. We will work out the details of payment a little later. In the meantime, we will return you to West Berlin to go back to your station. You have been missing for over twenty four hours, and you know what the regulations are in your military for missing personnel who have high level security clearances like yourself. Under their regulations, you are now considered a deserter, so we will need to place you in a circumstance in West Berlin that will seem to justify your failure to report for your duty yesterday.”
“How will you do that? I can’t just dream up a story to tell them. They’ll put me through interrogation and tear my story to shreds,” groaned Link.
“You will not have to create a story; the story will present itself. Remember, your mission is to collect a copy of the PEIAR document (Pending Espionage and Intelligence Activities Report.) You will receive instructions for delivery in 72 hours.” Link saw a fleeting movement behind his right shoulder, and, for the second time in two days, everything went black.
Also for the second time in two days, he awoke to a splitting headache. He slowly opened his eyes and realized upon looking around that it appeared he was in a hospital room. His head was heavily bandaged, as well as his left arm, and he ached from head to foot, as if he were heavily bruised. As he was about to call for help, a woman walked into the room. To Link’s great relief, she was wearing the uniform of a U.S. Army nurse. When she saw that Link was conscious, she turned to him and smiled.
“Well, Airman Stevens,” she said pleasantly, “you are a very lucky person. You could have been killed by that car! Fortunately, the person who found you knew you were military and had the German Polisei call for a military ambulance.
“I…I don’t understand…where…where am I?” Link stammered. He tried to move but the soreness in his body resisted.
The nurse continued, “You are in the United States Military Hospital-Berlin. I am Lieutenant Connie Calas. Apparently when you left Ristaurante La Gendela yesterday morning, you stepped into the path of a car, which knocked you into the alley next to the building. When you came to rest, several wooden crates fell on you, and you lay there unconscious for more than a day. You’re lucky you didn’t experience hypothermia overnight. Anyway, about three hours ago, a passerby heard you groan and found you and called police. Other than a gash on the back of your head, one over your eye, and a pretty good scrape on your left forearm, you’re in pretty good shape. You’ll be out of here in a few hours. You’ll need some aspirin for the soreness, though. And by the way, there are a couple of sergeants waiting outside to talk to you. I’ll send them in.”
As the nurse exited the hospital room, the two sergeants entered, one carrying a folder. Link noticed that both were carrying sidearms, although neither had the insignia of military police.
“Airman Stevens? I’m Master Sergeant Gibbons and this is Technical Sergeant Amos. We are from Investigations, and we just need to ask you a couple of questions about the last couple of nights. We understand you were exiting the Ristaurante La Gendela about 0100 yesterday morning. Do you remember anything after you left the bar?”
Link’s mind raced as he tried to organize his thoughts and control his words, “I stepped out the door and walked to the curb. I was looking down because it was so dark. Suddenly I heard a ‘whoosh!’ and then next thing I knew, I was here in this bed. You say that was yesterday?
“Yep,” said the sergeant, “You must have really slammed into that building to be unconscious for a full day. You’re lucky to be alive. So, you’re saying the last 30 hours or so are pretty much a blank in your memory?”
“Yeah, Sarge, I’m sorry, but that’s about it, replied Link.
“Well, everything seems to check out OK. We have the statement from the citizen who found you, so we’ll turn in our report. I understand you may be released here in a couple of hours, so you’ll be able to go back to your duty tomorrow. I will clear it with your Flight Commander. He already knows you have been found and has canceled the deserter alert, so you won’t get shot.” And he laughed. The two sergeants shook hands with Link and left the room.
Link lay back in his bed somewhat shocked at the turn of events. “Major Kleppinger was right…the Americans DON'T know anything about security! I disappear for 30 hours and they ask me only one question and never question my response. No wonder the Russians know what we’re doing! How did they get me through the Wall and back to La Gendela’s?”
Two hours later, the army nurse returned to change Link’s bandages to his head and arm, gave him a bottle of aspirin for pain, and walked him down to the front door where a U.S. Army personnel bus was waiting to take him back to Tempelhof Central Airport and his room. Link exited the bus at Tempelhof and walked up to his room. Throwing his jacket on the chair, he collapsed onto the bed and drifted into a fitful sleep. He dreamed the same dream over and over. He dreamed he was passing a row of desks. On each one was a stack of papers with a big, red “Top Secret” stamp on the top. He picked up each stack of papers and headed to a closed door. As he opened the door and entered he saw a row of soldiers. Their rifles were drawn and aimed directly at him….a firing squad.
Link awoke from his stupor and forced himself to prepare for his evening’s shift. A hot shower helped awaken him further, and he was surprised to see that his wounds didn’t look quite so bad after a thorough cleaning…not to mention the fact that he felt one hundred percent better. He put on his fatigues, cap, and jacket, and decided he was starving, since it seemed it had been days since he had eaten. He walked down the long barracks hall, jumped on the paternoster, the continuously moving elevator, and went to the lower level to the chow hall. He entered the chow line and ordered breakfast, as many of the evening shift workers did, and marveled again at the cook behind the counter who could crack three eggs in each hand simultaneously and expertly spread them on the griddle and cook them exactly the way you wanted them in two minutes flat. Walking with his tray he headed to a table, he spotted his immediate supervisor, Sergeant Sotomeyer, and started to duck to another table…but, too late.
“Hey, Stevens, come over and have a seat!” yelled Sotomeyer. “How was your vacation? You don’t look too the worse for wear!”
Link sat down and started on his eggs and bacon, “I think I’m going to make it. I actually don’t remember too much about the last two days.”
“Yeah, that’s what the investigator told me…that you had spent most of a day taking a long nap outside of La Gendela’s. You should be well rested!” he laughed. Then he turned serious, “Listen, son, you need to be careful. These German drivers are crazy; you could have been killed.”
“I know I was pretty lucky,” replied Link, “but I’m ready to get back to work.”
“Good!” said the sergeant, “Listen, I got to run…see you at the office in a few minutes.”
The “office” was Head Building East, more commonly referred to as HBE, the residence of the 6914th Security Squadron and the nerve center for intelligence activities at Tempelhof. Although it was actually part of the same building as the chow hall and the barracks, it was nearly a half mile walk to get to its entrance. Tempelhof at one time was the second largest building in the world, and would have been the largest if Hitler had been able to complete his dream. Rather than being tall, it was scattered over nearly a mile of real estate surrounding the airstrip. Link decided to walk the exterior perimeter of the building on his way to HBE even though there was a decided snap to the November air with slight snow flurries, and darkness was already settling in for the evening even though it was only 1600 hours () The walk would give him a chance to think. Already the task before him was causing his stomach to twist, and he decided he would have to be extra cautious to avoid appearing nervous. Walking along the stone parapet in front of the building, he noticed that there was a long line of airmen in front of the Columbia Theater across Columbiadamm, and he remembered that it was tonight that Sean Connery’s latest James Bond movie, “Thunderball” was premiering. Because it was a hot new movie, the theater had raised the usual movie ticket price from 35 cents to 50 cents, and Link had earlier decided that no movie was worth that much money. Link arrived at the front entrance to the 6914th, walked through the jail-like steel barred door, picked up his badge at the check in desk, caught the elevator to the fifth floor, and entered the brightly lit command center. The room was humming with dozens of small internal fans cooling the electronic gear while men chatted, yelled, and listened intently, all the while shuffling papers of unknown importance back and forth while attempting to make sense of what was happening out in the darkness far beyond the borders of West Berlin.
Knowing that the PEIAR report was not usually transmitted to Frankfort until zero hours (midnight,) he decided he would have to wander back to Analysis, the department where all intelligence for the day was coordinated, around 2300 (11:00 p.m.) His job assignment was “on the line,” the room that bristled with radio equipment which monitored every radio transmission, be it on land or in the air, within a 200 mile radius of Tempelhof. Because the command center operated 24 hours per day, there were four “flights’” or shifts, of airmen who worked various hours to insure that the center never slept. These shifts were identified as “Able,” “Baker,” “Charlie,” and “Dog” Flights. Link was a member of Able Flight which tonight would be relieving Dog Flight. As Link entered the operations, or “OPS,” area, Buster, one of Dog Flight’s language specialists yelled, “All right! The Able boys are coming in! Link! Come relieve me! Man, it has been wild tonight!” Link sat down, put on the headsets, clicked on the reel to reel recorder, and grabbed a pencil and paper while noticing that Buster had a stack of communications copy to organize and unravel before he could be released. He felt a stab of pain as the earpiece of the headset rubbed the side of his head where he had been clobbered nearly two days before. He decided it was going to be a long night. Perhaps because his mind was still pondering the strategy he would need to execute in getting his hands on the PEIAR report and the accompanying tension of the task, it seemed to Link that every speaker that he listened to through the headsets had marbles in his mouth, and he struggled mightily to understand the language that he had been trained to intercept and translate. He found himself catching only the gist of some communications, and he worried that he may be missing some critical information that would save the world if he could just decipher what that communist idiot was trying to say.
A few hours later, however, the communications traffic has settled down to routine nightly radio checks, and the language boys had gotten a chance to take a breather from the intense earlier activities. Link shut his recorder down, removed his headsets, turned in his paperwork, and decided a cup of coffee was in order. As he left his desk, he imagined that every airman in the room was watching his movements, and though his outward appearance was still calm, he felt a slight tremor in his hands. “I am about to commit treason against my own country!” he screamed to himself in his mind. “But I have no choice…my family….” Walking to the coffee pot in the hall separating the OPS room from Analysis, he helped himself to the strong, black drink, deliberately pouring only half a cup for fear his nervous hands may spill some of it at a most inopportune moment. Looking furtively to the left and right, he entered the Analysis room. There were three airmen in the room, each one with his head down typing furiously on a typewriter. Stacks of paper were strewn everywhere with no appearance of order. The airmen never raised their eyes as Link slowly walked around the room. It was not uncommon for an intercept operator to come into the room and look over his notes and make corrections if he deemed it necessary, so Link attracted no particular attention, but he could feel the beads of sweat forming on his brow even though the room was cool. As he passed the end table, there, it its usual place was the wire “out” basket labeled “PEIAR,” and in the basket neatly stacked and stapled were six copies of today’s Pending Espionage and Intelligence Activities Report. The bright red “Top Secret Codeword” was stamped warningly on each cover. With a quick glance at the airmen in the room to make sure they had not heard the pounding of his heart, Link deftly picked up a copy of the report, folded it rapidly, and stuffed it into his pocket. Quietly he left the Analysis room, went to the bathroom... and threw up.
Throwing water on his pale face, Link stood in front of the mirror and attempted to collect himself before he went back to his work station. The panic in his mind intensified, while the PEIAR document seemed to burn a hole in his pocket. He put his hand in his pocket, felt the condemning paper, and thought of all the consequences, none good, which would befall him and perhaps the intelligence operations in Berlin if he followed through with the assignment given him by the GDR agents. The risk to his wife and family was evident, but his concern primarily was with his sworn military commitment to defend the interests of the United States at any cost. Taking a deep, resigning breath, he attempted to walk calmly back down the hall to the Analysis room where, just as before, the airmen were blazing away on their typewriters lost in their concentration to the task at hand. Controlling his anxieties, Link eased around to where the PEIAR basket sat with the other copies of the report. Stealing a furtive glance at the airmen again, Link quickly removed the document from his pocket and placed it back in the basket. As he slipped out of the room, the communications technician who transmitted the PEIAR to Frankfurt entered the room, picked up the reports, and went to the communications room to transmit the data to Central Command and Washington. Realizing that he had replaced the document just in the nick of time, Link exhaled a sigh of relief and thought to himself, “That was close!”
Sergeant Sotomeyer was at his desk reviewing paperwork when Link sat down. “Hey, Stevens, how are you feeling? You look a little better, anyway.”
“Sarge, I need to talk to you about something really serious. Can we go somewhere more private?” asked Link with a concerned look that the sergeant had not seen before from Link.
Sotomeyer, sensing that Link was indeed worried about something said, “Sure, come on.” The sergeant and Link walked down the hall a short way and turned left into a small briefing room where the department heads sometime met to coordinate activities. “Sit down, Link. What’s on your mind?”
Once Link started talking, it was as if a dam had burst in his mind and the flood of events of the last 48 hours came rushing out. He started with walking out of Restaurante La Gendela and covered every detail until the moment he sat down with the sergeant, covering even the fact that he had taken the PEIAR and returned it to the basket. When he finished, he put his head in his hands on the desk and groaned, “What’s going to happen to me, Sarge?”
“Link, the first thing you need to know is that you’ve done the right thing. You’ve told them nothing and have given them nothing. What I need to do now is notify our flight commander, Lieutenant Drew, along with Investigation and Security. You’ll probably need to tell your story again to them, and then they will decide the course to take. Go back to your desk, and I’ll make some calls. We’ll work this out. This is pretty hot, so I would not be surprised if we did not see all of them before we get off shift.”
The sergeant’s prediction proved accurate. Link was finishing his work at his desk around 0100 hours when an airman approached him and said, “Lieutenant Drew wants you in the briefing room.” Link took a deep breath, stood up, and walked to the small conference room. Therein sat Sergeant Sotomeyer, Lieutenant Drew, the Flight Commander, Colonel Parks, the Squadron Commander, and an unknown major and captain. Link was not accustomed to being around so much brass in a small room. He walked in, stood attention, saluted, and barked, “Sirs, Airman First Class Link J. Stevens reporting as ordered.”
“At ease, Airman Stevens. In fact, why don’t you just have a seat,” said Colonel Parks. Link sat in the chair at the head of the table. “Airman Stevens,” continued the colonel, “Sergeant Sotomeyer has told us of your encounter with the boys on the other side, but we’d like to hear your story again. Please start at the beginning and include every detail you can possibly remember.” Link relived the past two days again for the rapt listeners and tried desperately to remember every tidbit of minutia. The listeners did not interrupt, but took copious notes. When he finished, there was a moment of silence. The unknown major spoke: “Airman Stevens, I am Major John Kiernan of Air Force Counterintelligence. Tell me, knowing that you had sworn allegiance to the United States Air Force and its mission, why did you take the PEIAR from the basket?”
A cold fear raced through Link as he desperately tried to give a plausible reason. “I…I first thought of my wife and family and their safety, but once I picked up the document, I realized that no matter what happened, I could not go through with betraying my sworn duty. I realized then that I had to tell my sergeant what had happened.”
Continued the major, “Have you ever had any other opportunities in the past to gather intelligence from this operation and pass it to the enemy?”
“Sir,” answered Link, “Every day I come to work I have that opportunity. Information is freely shared within these walls, but we are all sworn to secrecy and the security of all classified documents. I have never been tempted to take any kind of sensitive document out of this area.”
“That,” said the major, “was a good answer. Okay, Airman Stevens, you’re free to go, but when Baker Flight comes in to relieve Able, don't leave. We want to talk to you again. Stay here.” Link stood to attention, snapped off a sharp salute, swung around and left the room.
Link felt an uneasy foreboding creep over himself and wondered if this was prelude to some sort of punishment. Nervously, he poured a cup of coffee while he awaited his judgment to be passed. He contemplated what would happen if he was court martialed, or shipped to a remote site in Pakistan. About 0430 hours, Sergeant Sotomeyer came by and said, “Okay, Link, let’s do it again.” They walked down the hall once more to the briefing room, and there sat all the officers from the first meeting. Link made his approach, salute, and announcement as before and was instructed to again have a seat. Major Kiernan spoke first. “Airman Stevens, we have reviewed your actions over the last 36 hours and have come to the conclusion that you acted in a manner which reflects your professional training. We appreciate your openness concerning your ordeal and compliment you on your handling of a situation which could have had dire consequences to the completion of the mission which has been assigned the 6914th Security Squadron. We would like to give you an additional assignment to complete.”
“Yes, Sir!” snapped Link, so relieved that he could barely keep from jumping out of the chair. “I’ll be honored to follow through with any task you have in mind for me.”
The major continued, “We want you to deliver the PEIAR to the East Germans.”
This time he did jump out of his chair, “You what!?” he yelled, and then catching himself and reverting to military decorum, he sat down and continued, “Excuse me, Sir. I don’t think I understand.”
Major Kiernan repeated, “We want you to deliver the PEIAR to the other side. However the PEIAR you deliver to them will not be exactly…um…accurate. There are daily items in the PEIAR which even you, Airman Stevens with your security clearance, do not see or are aware of simply because you do not have a need to know. We are going to alter the facts of some of these internal memos in order to subtly confuse their intelligence people as much as possible. As I understand the facts, you have not yet been contacted by them for delivery of the document, it that correct?”
“Yes, Sir, they said simply I would be contacted.”
“Very well, continue your work on station and carry out your off duty activities in a normal fashion. When you are contacted, notify your flight commanding officer, Lieutenant Drew, immediately for instructions. You are dismissed.”
Link stood to attention, smartly saluted, turned, and exited the room. He thought to himself that it was easy for them to say “act normal” but a lot harder to do when you get the sensation that every passing person was a GDR operative watching your every move. However, with the work shift at a merciful end, Link headed back to his barracks, stopping briefly at the chow hall for a late supper. Since tonight was his last swing shift to work, he had 24 hours before he had to report to work at Link decided to go back to the scene of the crime, more or less, at Ristaurante La Gendela and sort of hang out and see what would happen. Walking in to the restaurant, he was greeted by the kindly old proprietor who warmly said, “Guten abend, Herr Link! You are better, yes?” She guided him to his usual table in the corner.
“I am better, thank you,” replied Link. He sat and ordered coffee and a sweet roll. Looking around the room, it was as if time had stood still from the last instance he was in the room. The poor German singer was still trying to belt out American country and western songs with his heavy German accent, and the usual clientele seemed to be sitting in their customary places. These were not the party goers and rowdy noise makers. Ristaurante La Gendela seemed to attract a more somber group who seemed to simply want a place to dine, rest, and relax. Consequently, it was not a favorite destination for most military personnel, but that fact was one of the major attractions for Link. He leaned back in his chair and casually read the latest version of “Stars and Stripes” newspaper while trying to digest the events of the last 24 hours.
He gritted his teeth as the singer butchered “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail,” a popular country song at the time, and he watched idly as customers came and went, waitresses hustled back and forth with orders, and an elderly custodian slowly swept the floor while fighting a losing battle against floor grime and debris. The custodian swept around each table in a monotonous ritual and eventually approached Link’s table. As he reached Link’s table, he reached to the floor and picked up a small envelope and placed it on Link’s table. “You drop paper,” he said, and turned and walked quickly way.
“No, I….,” Link started to say, but the old custodian disappeared into a back room. Link looked at the paper. It appeared clean and had not been on the floor long. He opened the envelope and inside was a card with the inscription neatly written, “Breitenbach Platz, Friday, 0900, PEIAR.”
Link looked up quickly from the note to look around the room. Every customer seemed preoccupied with his or her own situation except one figure at the end of the counter near the entrance. It seemed to Link that the stranger with the long gray coat and dark fedora pulled low over his eyes had turned his face rather quickly away as Link had looked up from the note. Link rose to approach the man, but the stranger instantly tossed some money on the counter and disappeared out the door. Link followed suit, but in the seconds it took him to get through the door, the man vanished into the darkness. Link decided it was time to get back to the base. The A12 bus was at that moment making its stop nearby on its way to Tempelhof, so Link hopped aboard.
Safely back at Tempelhof, Link went directly to Sergeant Sotomeyer’s room and tapped on the door. The sergeant answered the knock, and Link said quietly, “I’ve been contacted.”
“Sit down, Link, and let me make a call.” Sotomeyer dialed a number and said, “Lieutenant, this is Sergeant Sotomeyer. Airman Stevens has been contacted…………Yes, sir, right away.”
“Link,” continued the sergeant after hanging up the phone, “We need to go to the briefing room at HBE immediately. Go change into your fatigues and be there in 15 minutes.”
Fourteen minutes later, the same parties to the first briefing meeting, the sergeant, the lieutenant, the colonel and the two counterintelligence officers, plus Link, were sitting around the briefing table on the fifth floor of HBE. Major Kiernan spoke first, “Airman Stevens, please report on what has taken place.” Link described the encounter including the suspicious character that disappeared into the night. He showed them the note and envelope, which the officer perused closely as if trying to read between the lines.
“You did well, Airman Stevens,” said the major, “Here’s what we want you to deliver. It is the PEIARs for the last week with a few items left out and a few items more added. We want to see what effect these tidbits of information will have on our friends on the other side.” He handed Link a package which almost looked gift wrapped, except it was brown with a plain ribbon tied unceremoniously. “Our next goal is to find out how often they wish to see you and exactly how the exchange will take place at Breitenbach Platz. We need to know the EXACT procedure. This will determine our strategy. And, Airman Stevens, be careful, but also be aware that we will have people watching the transaction. You’re not alone in this activity. Also, you are to wear a hat with a wide brim, a coat with a broad collar pulled up around your neck, and a scarf. We’ll explain later.”
“Yes, sir, I’ll do my best,” said Link, and with that, the meeting dismissed.
Link finished his shift about 0700 Friday morning and, after a quick breakfast at the chow hall on the way to his barracks, quickly showered and changed into his civilian clothes, not forgetting his hat, coat, and scarf. He felt like a cheap detective out of a dime novel. He decided for the sake of time to drive his old VW Beetle to Breitenbach Platz rather than take the bus. Though it was after 0800, the sky was still dark this late November morning. As autumn gave way to winter the nights were growing increasingly longer, and the morning chill was beginning to have a much sharper bite. Turning left out of the base gate onto Columbia Damm, he drove defensively as the locals passed him at breakneck speeds. Continuing past Kolonnen Strasse, he turned left onto Haupt Strasse, and after a ten minute drive, he turned right on Massmann Strasse. Driving past the apartment where he and his wife had lived for sixteen months before she returned to the states, he impulsively whipped his VW into his old parking place. He had decided to walk the final two blocks along Kreaznacher Strasse to Breitenbach Platz and the square in the middle of the traffic circle. He remembered there was a walkway that went below ground to the U-Bahn station there. He decided to wait near the stairs for his contact. He nervously fingered the little brown package in his right coat pocket and tried to be as casual as possible as he observed every person who passed him. The minutes passed.
“Herr Stevens, follow me please,” Link jumped as the voice suddenly spoke behind him. He turned, and there were the same gray coat and fedora as in the restaurant. The coat began to walk away as Link attempted to follow. Link tried to get a look at the man, but other than a weathered neck with thin gray hair with rather big ears attached, Link could see nothing. They walked to a nearby park bench, and the man spoke again. “Please sit down.” This time Link was able to see the man’s face under the fedora, though partially hidden by a thick scarf. His face was thin and gaunt, with tired eyes peering though worn, scratched glasses. His nose was hawk-like with a thin moustache underneath, accenting the thin, pale lips drawn back over the yellowed teeth. He lit a German cigarette and took a long draw, then coughed uncontrollably for thirty seconds, and then unfolded a newspaper.
“Herr Stevens, do not look at me, simply listen. Do you have the merchandise?” asked the man as he stared blankly at the newapaper.
“I do,” replied Link.
“Do you see the refuse collector over there by the large oak tree?
“I do,” replied Link again, noting the white trash can.
“Each Friday,” continued the man with a quavering voice, “you will drop your package with a week’s collection of PEIARs in the collector at exactly 0900 hours and will immediately leave the area. If you stay, your safety may be compromised. You will arrive no earlier than 0858 and be gone by 0902. These times must be followed. Do you understand?”
Link decided to be combative, “Where’s my money? They said there would be money!”
“You must first prove your reliability, and then the rewards will come. We do not pay for promises. Now, stand up, look at your watch, walk over to the collector, drop in the package, and leave. Link did as he was told and continued walking back down Kreaznacher Strasse toward his car. Reaching his car in front of the Lebensmittel neighborhood grocery store, he took another wistful glance at the ground floor apartment he and his wife has so recently inhabited. He wondered if his German neighbors, Josef and Helga, were home, but decided now was not the time to visit. He breathed a sigh of relief as his old VW cranked to life, and he drove the busy streets back to Tempelhof. The sun was beginning to brighten the day, and he could tell that today the sky was going to be the vivid blue that made a clear, cloudless day in Berlin special. Nonetheless, he could not help but fret over these activities he had been forced into, and he wished that somehow this recurring nightmare might go away.
As he drove through the gates of the base, the Air Police guard waved him to a stop. The guard was a friend of Link’s. “Hey, Link!” said the AP, “your lieutenant wants you at HBE ASAP! Man, you must be in deep trouble!”
Link waved, smiled, and drove to his parking spot. Making his way to his barracks, he changed into uniform and walked to HBE, checked in, and went to the now-familiar fifth floor briefing room. Sure enough, all the brass was there, impatiently awaiting his arrival. Link gave a detailed account of the description of the messenger and what he had said concerning instructions for future delivery. He even mentioned his question about the money. Major Kiernan smiled and began to speak.
“Airman Stevens, let me pass on to you, just for your classified information, that you are not the first airman who has be subjected to this experience. The other side is constantly attempting to bribe, threaten, or coerce our soldiers and airmen into surrendering classified information about our mission and activities here in Berlin. It is a rare instance, but unfortunately, there have been occurrences when a misguided airman or soldier is attracted by a promise of money and is of the opinion that what he knows about our mission is not important. But his greed coupled with his ignorance of the gravity of our situation here inevitably ends on a rather sour note with the soldier behind bars for an extended period with no money to show for it. I can tell you for a fact that in my experience, the GDR has never actually paid anyone for anything. They would much rather have you perform your clandestine duties under the threat of harm to yourself or family. In their minds, it makes their victim much more “dependable.” We have not forgotten that you did at the start pick up the PEIARs in the analysis room and put them in your pocket. What saved your bacon from prosecution was that you quickly came to your senses and alerted your superiors before any harm could be done. And you have carried out your duties so far in this situation very well. Your report of this morning’s events corresponds with what our men who observed you and the agent had to report. The procedures which have been assigned to you are ideal for our strategies, and, in fact, will give you an avenue of escape. I know these kinds of activities are not exactly what you were trained for.”
“Yes, sir,” agreed Link, “that is very true. I do not like these cloak and dagger activities. So what is the plan, sir?”
“Well, for one thing,” said the major, “you are being reassigned immediately to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.”
“What!” yelled Link, and for the second time in the briefing room, he had to recapture his composure and sit back down.
The major continued, “I understand you are from Texas, so this is probably good news. As far as our plans here are concerned, let it suffice to say that you will continue to deliver PEIAR’s to your contact every Friday. It’s just that it will not be you; it will be someone who appears to be you. The fact that you were not going to be contacting someone face to face, but rather dropping the package in a drop container, makes it easier to run in a decoy for you with the same general appearance. And as luck would have it, we have an agent who would pass for you with proper clothing and adjustments. He is trained in these activities and knows what to do if a transaction goes south.
“We will have people in Texas who will monitor you and your family and provide very hands off security for a few months. However, I will tell you, in the light of experience, that if they become aware that you have left Berlin, their interest in you will vanish. It is not in their best interests to carry out vendettas against airmen or family members once the possibility of gaining intelligence has disappeared. After all, they are keenly aware that the shoe can be very easily placed on the other foot with our agents against their people if they decide to raise the stakes.”
The major concluded, “So your assignment is as follows: You are to go back to your barracks and pack your gear. Your orders have already been written for reassignment. At 1400 this afternoon a military police representative will arrive at your room and escort you to a waiting Jeep where you will be taken to the flight line and board a transport to Frankfort. Further instructions await you in Frankfort, but there you will board the weekly dependent flight stateside to Charleston, South Carolina. From there you will fly commercial to San Antonio. Any questions?”
Link was stunned at suddenness of the events but giddy about going home. “Kelly AFB!” he thought to himself. “That’s four hours from home!” Then he replied, “No questions, sir.”
“One last thing,” said the major. “You know that Kelly AFB is a recipient of much of the intelligence we gather in Europe. There, much of it is analyzed more in depth before being disseminated to various governmental agencies. You will still be using your security clearance. As a result, keep your eyes open, and you may see reports concerning activities here which reflect the effects of our dummy PEIARs. We are hoping to really mess with the minds of the boys across the wall.” Major Kiernan closed with a friendly statement, “You’ve done a good job, Airman First Class Link Stevens. We thank you.”
Four months later, Link was sitting at an analyst’s desk in the inner confines of the intelligence building at Kelly Air Force Base. He was now spending his days reading an endless stream of intelligence reports gathered from a world wide network of sources. His wife and two month old infant son were safely tucked away in a small, comfortable home not far from the base. His major problem now was boredom; reading reports of activities was not nearly as exciting as being part of the activity. Occasionally, the information would involve Berlin, and Link’s attention would spike accordingly, but most of the reports were fairly routine and predictable.
On this day, however, a headline to an intel briefing caught his eye. “GDR Agent Found Dead.” The story continued: “Suspected GDR agent Helmut Zimmerman was found dead today from undisclosed reasons near Breitenbach Platz in the American Sector of West Berlin. Long considered to be an important conduit for the GDR of intelligence gathered by East German agents in the West, he had come under considerable pressure from his superiors in the last few weeks after delivering information that was of questionable value. The East German government denied any complicity and claimed that Zimmerman was a low level diplomat who had been murdered by the West Berlin police. The GDR demanded an apology from West Berlin mayor Willy Brandt and a full investigation into the ‘criminal activities’ of the West Berlin police.” Link remembered the tired eyes and haggard face of the agent he had met that day in Breitenbach Platz. He definitely had not projected the arrogant swagger portrayed by the glamorous agent James Bond. To Link, he was convinced that a more accurate portrayal of the standard issue intelligence agent was the movie “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” with Richard Burton starring as a man who had lost all zeal for life after years of devious activities. The little taste of intrigue that Link had experienced in Berlin had convinced him that his future would not involve shadowy figures in trench coats.
That evening he drove home from work along Military Drive. He observed the bright summer sun setting in the fiery western sky. The roar of a USAF C-141 Starlifter screamed overhead as it approached touchdown on the long stretch of runway. The heat of the day was beginning to give way to the cool of the evening, and with the windows rolled down in his 1964 Ford Fairlane, he enjoyed the fresh air in his face. Driving into his driveway and shutting off the car’s engine, he could smell supper cooking even as he closed the car’s door and walked to the entrance of his home. Entering, he walked to the small crib in their bedroom as his wife called from the kitchen, “Hi. Honey! It’s almost ready!” Picking up his beautiful new son who immediately grabbed his glasses, he gently hugged the little package and, turning, received the gentle arms of his wife as she greeted him with “Welcome home, Darling!”
It is clear to anyone who reads a newspaper or magazine or, for that matter, bothers to walk down the street (or go to Schlitterbahn) and observe humanity, that the United States has a new disease du jour…obesity. Heart problems, cancer, muscular dystrophy…all these life-threatening diseases pale in comparison to obesity when we observe how the various professional medical associations react when they observe a…um…weight-challenged individual lumbering into McDonalds.I must confess, I am one of those poor creatures who has for the major portion of my life struggled with a weight problem.With the hysteria generated by the obesity issue, we are seeing society being divided into two camps: the politically correct, medically acceptable, weight optimum, happy person and the out-of-touch, health hazard, gross-weight-maxed-out porker. I say this with all the gentleness and delicacy I can muster, since I, too, occasionally fit into the second category. I have argued for years, however, that I am not overweight; I am just really dense. No, no, not that kind of dense…I mean, like you can have a block of Styrofoam and an equal sized block of steel, and the steel will be much heavier than the Styrofoam because its matter (particles, molecules) is much more compressed (dense.) That’s my situation…I am just very firmly packed together. Anyhow, that's my story and I'm sticking with it. Not many people are like my beloved daughter-in-law’s father, who was around six foot five and about as fat as a toothpick. Eddie could eat like a starved horse and never gain an ounce, whereas I can smell a cake baking in the oven and I start to gain a few ounces in anticipation. I can’t help but feel self-conscious and a little guilty when I’m around the Eddies of the world.
I am here to announce, however, that I have found a solution to the problem that all of us normal weight-challenged people face. And I want to thank my new hero, none other than Former President Barack Obama, for helping me come up with the answer to our unfortunate circumstances. Actually, it was his inspiration along with a news article I read this recently that gave me, like a revelation from on high, the road I need to take to assuage my dilemma. The article referred to a Texas court case of a few years ago that won millions (maybe billions, I can’t remember) of dollars from the tobacco companies because of all the pain and suffering they had caused to all those poor, innocent people who insisted, even after constant warnings, on smoking cigarettes to their dying days.The inspiration from the president came from a speech I heard him give during his presidency. He discussed the plight of various poor, unfortunate groups, some of whom had not held a steady job in four generationsand comforted them with the pronouncement that "it wasn't their fault, but rather a failure of society." Can you imagine a son telling his dad he wants to get a job, and his dad saying, “Don’t do that, kid, they’ll reduce my welfare!” Anyway, in his infinite wisdom, our beloved former president revealed to me that the answer to my own personal tragic situation is…. "It’s not my fault!!" Yes, friends, society in its meanness has made me the weight-challenged (but proud of my heritage) person I am today.
But it’s time for payback!! Today I am announcing the beginning of a class-action suit against anyone who produces anything good to eat. Using the tobacco settlement as a precedent, it will be a slam dunk court case, and we’ll get millions. Because we all know, if it’s good to eat, it’s NOT good to eat (obesity-wise.) I am inviting all my friends and relatives to jump on the bandwagon in order to share the piles of money that will be dumped on us when we win our case. Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, Dunkin Donuts, KFC, Outback Steakhouse, Wendys, McDonald's, you name it, we’ll go after them all. Other people, of course, who contribute to our sad situations will be prosecuted on an individual basis. EXCEPT wives...after all, we have to live with our wives…I mean, get real. Peace in the family is worth a few million, and besides, have you ever tried to get money from a wife or mother?
The millions we receive, just like in the tobacco settlement, will go toward educating us about what to eat and to compensate us for being forced to eat all those German chocolate cakes, double meat, double-cheese hamburgers with extra grease, and gooey donuts. Those perpetrators of these unspeakable crimes cannot go unpunished! We can only hope, through education and our examples, that our children will be protected from these culinary predators. Personally, when I get my millions, I going to talk the talk and walk the walk. “If it tastes good, don’t eat it” will be my mantra, and in just a very short time I’ll be able to walk down the street and hear little kids say to their dads, “Daddy, why aren’t you healthy and slim like that man?” In fact, I could get started right now eating healthy things, but at this time of year? Are you serious? Think about it…summertime on the way...picnics...steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs, and ice cream...or is it the one with turkey, dressing, potatoes, rolls, cranberries, cakes, and pies? No, wait, that's in the fall. Regardless, I will soon be the poster boy for good health and anti-obesity…. starting...um...next month.
Retired after 19 years of teaching science and math in Pasadena ISD, Texas. Still teaching High School Equivalency Test Preparation on a part time basis for local county agency. Before that, I did a little of everything: grocery clerk, roofer, six years military (USAF Intelligence, Russian language specialist), retail management (Sears), businessman (taxicabs, gas station, employment service), life insurance salesman (for one week!), real estate broker, new car sales manager.
This blog is a narrative of my experiences over the last six decades, peppered occasionally with observations and opinions of no particular merit, except that they will be from my perspective with no intent to change, offend, nor harm anyone.
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Blog Index by Subject Matter:
Too Much, Too Soon, Too Little, Too Late...
The Tragedy of President Donald Trump (Feb21)
Election 2020 (Dec20)
Fortress America (Feb18) Memorial Day...2016 (May16) No Matter Who Won...We Lost (Nov 16) Principles and Politics (Jul13) September 26, 1983...15 Minutes from Apocalypse(Apr13) Guns, the CHL, and the Second Amendment (Mar13) Men of a Certain Age. (Aug11) Inevitably Dependent (Jan11) Strength from Experience(Apr10) In Memory of September 11, 2001(Sep09) Utopian Democracy (Jan12)
Fiction Return to Berlin (May 20) Finally, A Peaceful Sleep(Oct 09) Assignment: Berlin (Nov09)
Education: GED...A Second Chance (Jan13) Back in the Saddle (Sep10) A Day in the Life of Student 555-272-0894 in 2029 (Sept 09) The Benefits (?) of Ungraded Schools (Aug 09) The Plight of Education (Aug 09)
In Memory: A Letter to Mom (Mar15) Don Spell...In Memory(May12) In Memory of Pastor V.A. Guidroz (Jul10) George Creel...Eight Years Later (Aug10) Don Eddleman 1934-2010 (Mar10) James Lemuel Creel 1920-1989 (Oct 09) In Memory of September 11, 2001 (Sept 09) Another Broken Link, In Memory of Bonnie Downing(Aug 09) Robert L. Downing, 1917-1990 (Aug 09) A Tribute to Ethel Downing (Aug 09)
The Vanishing Pastor (Jun20)
HDH...What? (Oct18) More Than Friends (Aug19) Men’s Conference 2019 Swan Song (May19) A Voice from the Past…Rev. V.A.Guidroz. (Jan19) More God? No, Thanks! (Jan16) Can We Be Perfect? (Nov15) Disappointed...in God? (Oct15) And They Spake with Tongues (Jun15) Men's Conference (May15) Spiderman and...the Church?(Sep14) An Unusual Church Service (Feb14) The Rise and Fall of Christian Music (Oct13) The Concert (May13) Build an Ark (Aug12) Unexpected Gifts (Jun12) Is Healing Overrated? (Nov11) Chernobyl, Wormwood, and Prophecy (Aug 11) The Big Picture (Jul11) America...and Pentecost...in Decline? (Jun11) Old Time Religion, Revisited (Oct10) A Christmas Tradition (Dec10) Verizon...Clueless (Sep10) The Epiphany (Sept 09) Praise...or Worship? (May10) A Church Birthday (Apr10) Watch Night (Jan10) Charles Darwin....Minister of the Gospel?(Oct11) The Ideal Church (Aug 09) Lonely, But Not Alone (Aug 09) A Promise...Sort Of (Aug 09) Destiny Determined (Aug 09)
Memories and Experiences:
Return to the Bahamas (Oct21) Mickeyland 2018 (Dec18) Cruise 2017 (Sep 17) Peace...in Missouri (Jun16) Cruising to the Bahamas (May15) Into the Batter's Box...Again (Dec14) The Heart of the Matter (May14) The Iron Lady (Mar14) The Life and Memories of Coya Creel Eddleman (Mar14) A Tale of Nails (Aug13) The Day Kennedy Died (Nov13) September 26, 1983..Fifteen Minutes from Apocalypse(Apr13) Confessions of a Car Junkie (Jun13) Christmas Memories (Dec12) The 1954 Mercury(Feb13) Ronny and Jerry (Oct12) The Downing Boat (Sep12) Downing Roofing Company 1939-1985 (Mar12) Return to Paradise (Dec11) The Visit (Sept 09) A Day on the Farm (Jun11) Wistful Wyoming (May11) The Shootdown of Flight 60528 (Apr11) Alamo Elementaty, 1949-54(May10) Downings 1938-49 (Apr10) 206 Hafer St., 1949-1954 (May10) The End Justifies the Means (May10) "Jaws" Revisited (Jun10) The Bear Facts (Jun10) Family Reunion (Jun10) The Catch (Jun10) Animal Farm 1954-60(Jul10) Get Motivated (Feb10) Wonder Woman (Feb10) A Pleasant Day on Galveston Bay (Nov09 Paradise Revisited...Noel, Missouri (Dec 09) Hunting in a Jeep (Aug 09) Artists...And Other Odd Creatures (Jan10) The Nomadic Lives of Bob and Shirley Downing (Jan10) Magic Moments (Aug 09) Caribbean Holiday (Aug 09) Photo Tour of St. John (Aug 09)
Poetry: A New Year Through The Eyes of a Senior Citizen (Jan18) Reflections on a New Decade (May13) The Dash (Sept 09) Birthdays (Aug 09)
Humorous: The Lost Art of Making a Bed (Aug 09) It's Not My Fault! (Nov09) Internet Scam (Sept 09) Nip/Tuck (Oct 09)