John Collier’s office was in the East End in an old industrial building not far from the Thames River. Modiano Wools, Ltd. was then the largest wool company in the world. Based in Australia, John oversaw their European business dealings.
“I have already taken the liberty of moving your Russian wool down to Southampton.” I had arrived the night before from Amsterdam and we were dining at John’s club. “But it may be a bit before I can get it on a ship to Boston.”
“How should I get you the payment for trans-shipping the wool?” I asked.
“Oh dear, don’t worry about that now,” he replied. “I will send you this bill and you can wire me back the amount to this London bank.”
He handed me the invoice on Modiano stationary and for the first time I actually saw the price I was paying for Nikolai’s wool, US $1.21/ lb. clean FOB Southampton. I was so relieved by Nickolai’s support for the project that I had forgotten to check the price of the wool. Even today, thirty years later I have almost no connection to money, never knowing if I have any in my wallet. Thank God for Marty!
The bill arrived two weeks after my return to Maine. I went to our local bank in Kezar Falls and sent a money transfer for the amount. It was not till I returned home that I realized that there was no charge for the freight from Southampton to Boston. I quickly sent John a Telex requesting a bill for shipping. John’s reply followed the next day.
“Dear Peter, Wool on its way soon. Know you plan subsequent shipments of Type 22. Will handle shipping costs at a later date. My best, John.”
I thought this a bit odd as it made the final pricing of the wool a bit difficult. But we took a guess at the cost and began waiting for the arrival of our one bale. Thanksgiving arrived, then Christmas. Finally came word from Modiano.
“Wool booked on S.S. Wainwright, ETA Boston, 1 February, 1986. Please send contact information of brokering agent. Best, John”.
What was a brokering agent? I called my Uncle Paul who was a lawyer in Boston and he gave me a list of a dozen international freight-forwarding companies. I started working the list. As I did, I thought how wonderful it would have been if I could have made this call to my father instead. He had died suddenly nine years before. He would have enjoyed the irony of his “back to the land” son now looking for the phone number of a commercial broker to handle an overseas shipment from Russia.
I remembered the day we were walking through his factory and came across a stack of birch veneer plywood. He fingered the flawless wood and handed me a sheet. “I use it to finish the insides of the chest of drawers.” As I admired it I turned it over and saw words written in Russian Cyrillic.”
“Dad, where does this come from?”
“Oh, I get it from Morton Waldfogel in East Boston.”
“No, I mean where is this made?”
“It is called Baltic Birch so it must come from the Baltic.”
My dad was not much of a traveler. Except for a family trip to Bermuda I can never remember him ever leaving New England. So I called my brother John who had taken over running the business after my dad’s death, asked him for his Baltic Birch connection and by that very afternoon I was chatting away with Morton.
“Peter, this is very interesting and exciting what you are doing. I never could get your dad to fully appreciate the Soviet connection. He was too absorbed with the great quality of the product to ever wonder about its origin. Baltic Birch comes from the Baltic Republics, probably Latvia or Estonia. I have done very well working with the Soviets. I believe you will too”.
He suggested I contact a Bob Kenny to handle this deal. “Now most brokers today won’t touch stuff from behind the Iron Curtain. But Bob is a good guy to have on your team”.
“How much did you pay for the wool?” was Mr. Kenny’s first question when I called him the following day.
“Christ, that’s a hell of a good price. Sure I can broker this wool. I’ll visit customs when the Wainwright arrives and give you a call.”
Ten days later the call came. “Son’s of bitches, you won’t believe what’s happened!” I thought Mr. Kenny was referring to the Russians.
“No! It’s the U. S. Customs. They want to charge you a tax because the USSR does not enjoy our most favored nation status. That’s outrageous. Do you know how much US grain they buy from us every year. Hell, our farmers would be done for if they lost that market.”
I was about to tell him that yes, I had some first hand information on this subject but instead I asked “Well, what do you think we should so?”
“Well, we sure as hell aren't going to pay the bastards.” I had checked out Bob Kenny before I had made my first call. He was a well-respected member of the Boston Wool Trade, went to my Uncle Fred’s church and was known to be a cautious and conservative financial agent. I tried to match this person to the one I had on the phone.
Bob negotiated with customs unsuccessfully for two days before we agreed to pay the import duty. Then the second shoe hit the floor.
“Hey this is Bob. The longshoremen are refusing to offload the wool. They saw the Russian writing on the bale and they won’t touch it. Ever since the KAL shoot down people here treat Russians like the plague.” Months before a Soviet MIG fighter shot down a Korean Airline’s passenger jet that had strayed over Soviet airspace killing everyone on board. I remembered Marlin Brando in “On the Waterfront” and how he faced off a corrupt longshoreman’s union. What could I steal from his script to get things moving?
I called some friends who ran a small PR firm in the North End and we came up with a plan. They would put out a release to all the wire services and local media announcing a press conference in two days. We chose the Old Post Office Square building in the heart of Boston’s financial district.
On the day of the event I put together three large bags of wool from our Maine sheep and hauled them to the conference site. With a coat and tie and jeans and work boots I stood in front of television and still cameras and asked if trade with the Soviets might not be a way to warm up the cold war. Did the longshoremen want to stand in the way of a small farmer from Maine who wants to set-aside just for the moment the mistakes of the past? Because if he is deprived of this chance to do something, however small, then his children may never know what it feels like to grow up, fall in love and have children of their own.
The only thing missing that day was Nickolai Emelianov in his Italian suit. But he must have been there is spirit because United Press International and the Associated Press sent their stories of the day out across America and not only caused the longshoremen to relent and release the wool the following day but led to subsequent articles in the Wall Street Journal, Dunn and Bradstreet Weekly, People Magazine and appearances on the Today Show and Soviet Television’s ‘International Panorama’ with Vladimir Dounaev.
I now know that this degree of interest did not come primarily from what I was saying but from what the American people wanted to hear. We were tired of the Cold War rhetoric, of mutually assured destruction. We wanted a new day, a ‘novi deen’ in Russian. Peace Fleece gave America knitters a taste of what a moment without fear might look like. Warm Wool from a Cold War.
Bob Kenney admitted to me that he had never met a Russian, that he had never handled a product from a communist country before. He had woken up the day after the press conference wondering if what he had done was really for the greater good. We were coming into some kind of holiday that would close down commerce for a long weekend. I suggested that he write Emelianov a Telex saying that the wool had cleared and to thank him for all his help. That afternoon Bob called back and said that he had sent such a message and would stay late in the office in case a Telex came back. This was before the days of e-mail. Fax’s were just starting to be used.
I looked at my watch and told him that with an eight-hour difference I thought there was little chance of a reply today. But that very night I was awakened by an elated voice. It was midnight. EST, 8 am. Moscow time.
“He just wrote back,” Bob shouted excitedly over the phone. “Listen!”
“Dear Mr. Kenny, Thank you for all your good work in making this importation a success. My company is happy to be a part of the Peace Fleece venture. We look forward to hosting your arrival in Moscow. My best wishes to you and your family. Sincerely, Nikolai Emelianov.
Three years later John Collier once again found me in his office. It was my turn to take him out to lunch. It was the third shipment of Russian wool and still no shipping bill from Modiano. “With all due respect,” I began. “I know where Bradford is. It is up in Yorkshire, just about as far from Southampton as you can get and still be in England. You have trucked this wool to the dock and shipped it across the sea. You have done more that enough. We are a for profit company. We can pay you for your efforts.”
We were sipping a chicken broth at an East End restaurant. John took the napkin from his lap and lightly dried his lips.
“Look Peter,” he said kindly. “I sit in my office all day long, moving millions of dollars worth of wool around the world. And I go home at night to watch the same depressing news on the telly. And I ask myself, what can I do? And I go to sleep feeling quite helpless.”
“So you come along and you bring Nickolai with you and you ask me for help, help in an area I know something about. So now when I go to bed at night, I feel part of something that is doing something. I feel better, I sleep better. Let me do this small bit please.”
We are never alone in this world. If you are on the right path around every corner there is a friend ready to help you meet your goal.
The door was heavy and made of thick, polished birch. I heard a voice on the other side say “da” so I slowly built up my courage and entered. There behind a desk was an attractive woman, maybe ten years younger than me, smiling. I used the only sentence I knew in Russian. “Vwi gavaritye pa angliski?”
“Peter…Peter Hagerty…. from Milton Academy.”
How could this be, the first Russian secretary I meet and she is talking about my boarding school? I smile and nod ‘yes’.
“I danced with you once many years ago at a party in Boston.”
Jesse Nielsen and her husband Steven had moved from Boston to join the Moscow office staff of Chilewich Trading Company, trading farm machinery, vegetable oils, precious gems and thoroughbred racehorses. I stood before Jessica elated.
“So Peter, what are you doing here?” asked Jessica over a steaming cup of morning tea. I had no memory of our past dance together but I quickly explained my idea of meeting a Russian shepherd, buying Soviet wool, blending it with our own wool and making a knitting yarn.
“Is someone expecting to meet with you here?” she asked. “Do you have an appointment?”
“No,” I replied, starting to feel foolish.
“Oh this might be interesting,” Jessica explained, sensing my faltering spirit. “First it is Friday and it is late August. Most businessmen take this day off and join their families at the dacha for a long weekend.” For some reason I suddenly became aware of my dress, old cowboy boots, a pair of stained pants and a non-matching coat and no tie. What was I doing here?
“Second, it is very unusual for a foreign businessman like you to arrive with no appointment. They often make visitors wait days, sometime weeks before they agree to meet them. This generates foreign currency for the hotels. But look, this is a slow day for us. We have good contacts; let me give it a try.”
So for the next hour Jesse worked the phones like a pro. With perfect Russian pronunciation she called friends and associates to find with whom it was I needed to meet. All at once she looked up from the phone with a smile. We had a name. Nikolai Borisovitch Emelianov, Firm Runo, 33 Architect Vlassova. Jesse called his office and just like that we had a 2 pm appointment that very day. As I rejoiced over a second cup of tea, an impeccably dressed young man entered Jesse’s office.
“Stephen, this is Peter Hagerty. He just arrived this morning from the States and he has an appointment with Nikolai Emelianov today. Strangely Emelianov seemed not surprised at my call, like he was expecting Peter.”
Stephen, Jesse’s husband and co-worker, extended me his hand in congratulations.
‘Look,” he said. “Today I only have a few things to do. I have some reports to file but I have a driver downstairs and Vlassova is a hard place to reach by metro. First we will have lunch and then I would be happy to accompany you to the meeting, if that is ok.” In just one hour everything had come together. I found my contact, met an old acquaintance and was about to go to Stephen’s club for lunch. I began to wonder if there was a higher power at work here.
“Mr.Hagerty, it is such a pleasure to meet you,” he said in perfect English. Dressed in a pin stripe tropical wool suit, Guicci shoes and Italian silk tie, Nikolai entered the door of the conference room and extended a hand in greeting. His attire stood in contrast to the bare, birch paneled walls and the portrait of Lenin by the window. He was not exactly the Russian shepherd standing on the hill with his flock but he was impressive all the same.” Why do I enjoy the honor of your presence today?”
As we had waited in this conference room for our meeting with Mr. Emelianov, the chief director of all fiber flowing in and out of the USSR, a moment of panic had seized me. My sport coat was crumpled and did not match my pants. My cowboy boots were worn and dirty. I felt very out of place and unprepared and shared my anxiety with Stephen. “Just be yourself. Don’t try and be anyone other than who you are and you will be fine.”
“Well sir,” I began “I am a sheep farmer from Maine. I am interested in purchasing a small amount of Soviet wool, perhaps one bale, import it into the US and blend it with the wool of our own sheep and market a knitting yarn called Peace Fleece.” If a smile and a frown can simultaneously coexist, it did so momentarily on Emelianov’s face.
“With all due respect,” Mr. Emelianov replied “this idea of yours will be very difficult We use all the wool we grow to meet the needs of the Soviet people. We have never exported wool to America. Why should I sell wool to you?”
“Because your President Andropov and our President Reagan agree that there should be more trade between our countries…”
“ Look, I know what our presidents say. Maybe I could sell you a container load but only one bale for your project, the paperwork would kill us. You come all this way for a bale of wool. Please tell me, why are you really here?”
I suddenly realized that this conversation was going nowhere. I remembered the woman I sat next to on the plane. “Don’t show your emotion. Be strong.” But disappointment was welling up inside as I realized how unprepared I was for all of this. I sheared sheep and cut wood, I was not an international businessman. I didn’t even have a decent business card much less Guicci suit. And I just assumed that when I met my Russian counterpart he would embrace the idea.
“Please,” Nickolai insisted “talk frankly. I am sincerely interested in your motives.”
I did detect sincerity in his words so I took a deep breath and struggled to gather my thoughts. I began by telling him some of my story, my history of the war and my wife and children in Maine.
“I have a daughter who is nine years old and a son who is five. I believe that if you or I cannot do something today, even in a small way, to bring our countries closer, then the chances that my children will survive this Cold War are lessened. My daughter may never know what it feels like to fall in love, my son may never see the birth of his own child. If you or I can do something in business to better understand who we are, maybe in a small way I will feel more hopeful.”
Emelianov stood up and walked down to the window by Lenin and looked out at the playground, his hands stuffed down into the pockets of his suit pants. Some of the children were playing summer hockey, others kicking a soccer ball into a goal. He stood there for a long time.
“You know, you sound just like my wife,” he finally said with his back to me. “And sometimes they are right ….” He then returned to the desk, picked up his phone and ordered an international call. We waited in an awkward silence for several minutes before the phone rang.
“Hello John, this is Nick. Yes, great. Hot summer here too. I thought it always rains in London. Look I have an American named Peter Hagerty in my office who wants to buy some of our Type 22 that is up in Bradford. Could you break off one bale of that lot and send it to….”
“Boston,” I mouthed.
“Boston. He can come to London next week to sign all the paperwork.” Nikolai nodded to me. I gave him thumbs up. And it was done. Peace Fleece was born.
This was the first of many trips I would make to visit with Nikolai. We became as close to friends as we could during those times. I helped to find his daughter a summer job in the States, he found me more wool when I needed it. I never visited his home and he never visited mine. There was a formality there that was necessary.
Then one day I got a call from him. He was doing some business in wool in Texas and was stopping in Boston on the way home. Could we meet and have a meal? I left Maine early on a beautiful summer afternoon and was soon shaking Nikolai’s hand in the lobby of the Harborside Hotel on Boston’s waterfront. I was regretting that I had not brought Marty or one of the kids to meet this man who had done so much for us. Nikolai invited me up to his room.
It was 1991 and things were very bad in Moscow. There was little food in the shops and it was dangerous to be on the streets, even in the daytime. He asked me if I would not tell anyone that he was staying in this luxurious hotel. He said that the Texans had paid for the trip and had insisted on making all the arrangements. Still, he felt badly enjoying this luxury when things were so rough back home.
Since 1985 when we first met, we had never been in a relaxed setting where we could just talk. Now it was awkward getting conversation going but over dinner we began to loosen up and I remember giving him a big hug when we said good-by. This would be the last time I would see him alive.
I was never sure what happened. Six months later when in Moscow I called his office and asked for him. I was passed from person to person until I reached Igor, his personal assistant. Igor spoke only Russian and after a pause, said sadly, “Peter, Nick oo-mer”. I was alone in Luba’s apartment at the time. I remembered the word as a dark one and thanked Igor in a sober tone for the news. Luba’s dictionary said ‘dead’.
The Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho believes that if one is on the right path, there will be people that will appear out of nowhere to make your journey through life a success. There have been countless numbers of people over the years that have appeared in my life to sweep away the rubble and make clear the way. Nickolai was the first on my journey and he will never be far from my thoughts.
There were roughly forty women with scarves on their heads and brooms in their hands and they slowly moved across Red Square in a long, single line. The warm August morning brought with it a slight breeze that ruffled their skirts as these women swept the paper, cigarette butts and candy wrappings into an ever-growing wind row. I stood there in front of my hotel eager to head out across Moscow but not quite ready to begin. As I marveled at these ladies’ energy, I thought back over the journey that had brought me half way around the world to Moscow, the capitol of the USSR.
My eight year old daughter Cora had come home from school one afternoon in the fall of 1983 and asked me what I was doing that evening. I told her that I was at her disposal. Her teacher told her class that if they wanted to watch an ABC special that evening they should ask a parent to join them. Well, I was intrigued.
“The Day After” began with a graphic depiction of nuclear war as seen through the eyes of farmers, soldiers and students in and around the University of Kansas at Lawrence. This docudrama starring Jason Robards drew the second largest audience in television history. I wondered aloud to my wife if this was appropriate viewing for eight year olds. But we watched the show and I was deeply shaken by the graphic imagery and powerful script.
Shortly after falling asleep that night, I suddenly awoke and saw though the bedroom skylight an airline with blinking lights flying high up in the cold night sky over our farm. The stars shone brightly and there was no moon. All at once a bright light detach itself from the back of the plane and began tumbling towards earth. I shook Marty awake and we both agreed that it looked like it might be heading directly towards our farm. We ran towards our children’s bedrooms but were blown backwards by an explosion that threw us both to the floor. I ran towards Cora’s door and when I opened it, I saw her bedroom wall crumbled below in the driveway. Both of our children lay in the rubble, consumed by a raging fire. I then awoke, drenched with sweat.
All that winter I questioned what I was doing with my life. Logging with horses, nursing chilled lambs by the wood stove, shearing sheep in the spring, cutting hay in the summer, an ideal life by some standards. But what did it all matter if a nuclear bomb could end everything with the mere push of a button? A dark cloud began to consume me over morning coffee and some days I could barely get out of bed.
In late January of that winter, fighter jets from Pease Air Force Base began making low altitude, supersonic flights down our valley every Saturday morning. The planes were on top of us before we could hear them and the horses and sheep would scatter across the field in panic at the sound of their after burners. I found myself slipping deeper into a sense of helplessness. I would visit my next-door neighbor Lester who raised dairy cows and he would offer that the world was in terrible shape.
“Now what can one person do? What are you or I supposed to do? It’s just too big.” He would stand there with a pitch folk in his hand and dare me to differ.
I remembered Lester’s booming voice as I made my way across Red Square. I took his challenge that day on his farm and put it in my pocket and carried it home. That night over supper Marty reminded me of my visit to the Mekong years ago and the four young Vietnamese soldiers I met on the monk’s island. “What if there is somebody in the Soviet Union right now that is just as depressed as you. Maybe that person is a shepherd who spends his days on the hill with his sheep, shears their wool and cuts their hay. If you find this person, perhaps we could do something together.”
By late that spring I decided I would go to Russia and in mid-August I joined a group of Iowa farmers that were headed to Moscow to negotiate their grain contracts. Brad and his wife Emma were in their late 60’s and were corn and soybean farmers from north central Iowa. They explained to me why they were on this trip.
“The Soviet Union has over the years grown dependent on supplies of American wheat, corn and soy beans to supplement their own poor harvests. But last year the US government ordered us to stop shipping grain to the USSR. And this came at a time when American farmers like us were facing an historic economic crisis.”
“On top of this, Iowa farmers with loans could not make their payments because the market for their crops crashed through the floor due to the huge surpluses piling up at the grain silos. My neighbor Wes Harris shot himself three weeks ago after he lost his fourth generation family farm to a bank auction.”
“We have two choices, give up our way of life or sell our crops across the border into Canada where they will be re-loaded on ships headed to the Soviet Union. I feel like a criminal but our government has left us no choice.”
I doubted if there was a Democrat in the group. And they were proposing to end run an embargo to a communist country. Already this trip was worthwhile.
We all met at JFK Airport in New York for the Moscow flight. The same day my childhood friend Michael who trades natural gas with the Soviets told me of a small American company that had an office in Moscow. Simon Chilewich and Sons had been in Russia for years, bartering soybeans for race horses and precious gems. “Go visit them in New York before you leave,” Michael insisted. “Maybe they can help you find your shepherd.” So I walked into their Wall Street office with no scheduled appointment the very afternoon of my Mosocw flight and Gary Gailes, their overseas director, met me with a smile and a handshake.
“Absolutely,” Gary exclaimed. “Use our office from day one. We have a good reputation over there. We never left when things got bad. We just took our losses and rode it out. It is a tough but very rewarding place. There are wonderful people there.” He gave me the address of their Moscow office and wished me well.
On the flight over I sat next to a middle-aged British woman married to a Russian. She has lived for years in Moscow. She asked me what I was up to and I told her.
“Since we moved to our small farm in Maine my wife and I have been raising sheep. We sell the wool and eat the meat. We once thought that if we left the city and moved to the end of a country road we would feel safe. It turns out that is not the case.”
She fingered the ice in her drink as I continued. “So we came up with the idea of my going to the USSR, meeting a sheep farmer there, buying his or her wool, blending it with our wool and making a yarn that could show that our two counties can co-exist, that there is an alternative to nuclear war”. My companion digested my words and ordered another drink from the stewardess. I reflect on what I have just said and as her silence continued, I began to seriously doubt what I was up to. Back in Maine it sounded like a great idea. My friends admired my courage. Nobody challenged my expectations.
“Look,” she finally said turning to me. “You seem like a nice guy. Well educated, you’ve been around a bit. But Russia is different. I was a young girl in London during the war. My favorite uncle was killed, my school was destroyed. I saw dead people on the street. But it was nothing compared to what Russians went through. They are a very tough people. Yes, they are friendly. Complete strangers will cook you soup in their kitchen. But you must be tough when you are talking business with a Russian. Negotiate from strength, not from weakness. I know. I have been married to one for over 40 years.”
Now I stood in front of the Rossia Hotel on my first morning in Moscow watching the women with their brooms made of birch branches. A machine could have clearly done this job more quickly but I was getting my first taste of what the USSR called “full employment”.
The sun had been up for hours but most of Moscow’s citizens were now out at the country dacha enjoying their traditional August vacation. As I crossed Red Square and headed onto Karl Marx Plochet, I noticed that all the store and street signs were written in Cyrillic and I regretted that I had not taken my language lessons more seriously. I wondered what my Russian counterpart was doing on this warm summer morning. Was he tending his sheep on a high mountain pasture or maybe fishing by a rushing stream with his children? What would he say to my greeting “doctor nobi-po-gee-tov” when we first met?
Somehow I found my way to the Hotel National where Chilewich Corp rented office space. Its roof top sign turned out to be the only one in all of Moscow written in English. Because I was a foreigner in Western attire the doorman welcomed me cordially. As I entered the lobby my instinct told me to keep moving, to look as if you are late for an important meeting.
What would my grandmother Josephine say to me if we were walking side by side right now? It helped to imagine her next to me, a formidable ally by my side with her large form and white hair impressing the front desk. I felt her arm steer me towards the stairway where we quickly climbed to the second floor and took a right down the hallway. “Look at the room numbers on the doors as you pass” her confident voice told me. My cowboy boots made a singing sound as they touched the hotel carpet.
Higher and higher we climbed until an old voice whispered, “There, on the door over there, English writing.”
Under Room 420 was written in polished brass letters:
‘Simon Chilewich and Sons, 120 Wall Street, New York, New York.’
“We made it,” I cheered as I squeezed her arm but I turned to meet an empty hallway. I knocked.
Ed Filming near the DMZ
It was September and night came early in on the Mekong River. The monks finished their evening prayers and began replacing the Christmas tree lights that routinely burned out on the towers high above the pagoda. The evening breeze ruffled their brown robes as they efficiently moved above the ground on tall ladders. “It is necessary to have all the lights working so the bombers can see we are here,” a monk told me as he passed by. I pointed out to him the heavy cloud cover that was promising rain but he shrugged and said that God would protect them.
These monks were Cau Dai Buddhists and their spiritual leader was a small, elf like man named the Dau Uhr or the Coconut Monk. The French had built him this monastery on the south end of a banana shaped island in the Mekong when they ruled Vietnam, then threw him in jail when he supported independence. The Communists in the north and the Americans in the south also invited him to taste their prison food. He said he was proud that he managed to be so honored by every occupying power.
Fall of 1970 found me in South Vietnam. After being “honorably discharged” from the Navy, I had moved back to Cambridge and became embroiled in the GI anti-war movement. Cafes in London, Paris and Toronto were full of American soldiers and civilian draftees who had chosen to “love it and leave it”. Talking with these men was very depressing because they believed that although they were safe from Vietnam they felt that they would never be able to return home again. Some ex-military friends and I decided to open a GI coffee house at a military base near Boston and offer free legal counseling. A friend of mine, Ann Singer, heiress of the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, funded this project.
Ann had been living in the Philippines during the early years of the Vietnam War and was married to an Air Force colonel flying illegal sorties over Cambodia and Laos, something that the State department fervently denied. She was outraged by what she saw and heard from her husband and wanted to fight back. One day she came to me with the idea of opening a law office in Saigon where we would offer to defend soldiers, free of charge, who were facing court martial for acts they had committed in the war. She asked me if I would help. We would use the courtroom as a bully pulpit to expose through the media the true human price we as a country were paying to continue this war.
Ann was now married to Martin Peretz, a Harvard professor and editor of Ramparts Magazine, a radical journal firmly opposed to Washington’s policies. She was friendly with many in the Washington legal community and was able to interest former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark to head up an impressive Board of Directors. We formed a non-profit corporation, The Lawyers Military Defense Committee, and began searching law schools for young and energetic attorneys ready and willing to move to a war zone. While Ann looked for staff, I headed to Vietnam to find office space and begin interviewing defendants.
I arrived at Tan San Ut Air Force Base early in the summer of 1970 accompanied by William Homans, a senior partner in a distinguished Boston law firm and from an even more distinguished old Boston family who had managed to “undistinguish” himself by joining the Chicago Eight defense team several years earlier. Bill was of my father’s generation and a bear of a man physically. Over six feet four at a stoop, his hand would grasp yours and bring tears to the eyes with its enthusiastic grip. Our first defendant was waiting for us 20 miles south in Long Binh Jail, the US Army’s largest prison in Vietnam and affectionately know to its inmates as “LBJ”.
On the day of my discharge from the Navy in Newport one year earlier, I had returned home to a joyful reception. My parents were glad I was not heading to jail myself or to war. One can only imagine their emotions when they learned that I had decided to head into the fray voluntarily. When they asked for an explanation, they exploded in frustration and anger before I could come up with an answer. Who did I think I was that I could play with the feelings of loved ones? Maybe being out of the limelight did not suite my ego needs? The truth was that I had no reasonable answer to why I was heading to Vietnam other than the fact that there were people suffering there and perhaps I could help. And I did have recent experience with military law.
My parents had always told me growing up that there was nothing I could not do with my life if I put my mind to it. They had imbued me with the courage to act on my convictions. They had sent me to the “best” schools where I learned to articulate my beliefs with confidence. Yet now when faced with their criticism, I was paralyzed. They joined me at Logan Airport in Boston to say good-by but as they hugged me their eyes said “how can you do this to us?”
The flight from Guam to Saigon was on a commercial United 727 and all the passengers were wearing civilian clothes. Walking down the stairs to the airbase runway I heard thunder in the distance rumbling in a cloudless tropical sky. My fellow travelers started running for the terminal but seeing no rain I slowed my pace. Then a stewardess jogged by and shot me a hard stare. “Get a move on pal” she said. “That's not thunder. We’re being mortared.”
And for just a moment I faltered, realizing for the first time that I was totally unprepared for a war zone. I had sat on rocks off the shore of Cohasset on cold November morning with a shotgun in my hand but never had ducks flying south for the winter been safer on their journey. Unlike most of my traveling companions, I would be unarmed as I made my way around Vietnam. I forced this realization down into the pit of my stomach and broke into a run.
Tyrone was black, from Alabama, lied about his 17 years of age to get into the Army and was up on charges of first degree murder. He was sitting in a cell by himself as I made my way the 17 miles south of Saigon for an interview. I had been in Vietnam two days.
“You’ve got a couple of ways you can get down there,” an Army sergeant told us at our hotel. “If you go by land, convoys leave twice a day from No Ba Trahn which is a cab ride from here. If you don’t get attacked you might make it in a few hours.”
“You can also take the air shuttle from the airport. That’s a 30 minute chopper ride.” We flipped a coin, Bill got the convoy, I got the chopper. We would compare notes.
Back at Than Son Uht Airbase I lined up with a motley crew waiting for a ride. Helicopters would appear like mid-west crop dusters, flying just above ground level at speeds of eighty to 100 miles an hour. They pulled up just short of the terminal building and hovered a few feet above the ground. A short line of soldiers stretched out onto the tarmac waiting to board. I was wearing a civilian shirt and army pants (they had more pockets for my pens, note pads and small camera) and my hair was definitely not regulation.
Standing in line in front of me was a character right out of Woodstock. Big Abbie Hoffman curls, blue jeans and Nixon printed on the back of his shirt. But he had replaced the “x” with a Nazi swastika. Before I got a closer look he picked up his gear and slowly began moving towards a recently arrived helicopter gunship.
A soldier at the door of the chopper wearing dark shades and a dirty green t-shirt held up three fingers. Abbie and I began running and an overweight colonel complete with jowls and a golf bag took up the rear. Abbie rammed his collection of cameras and lenses under his left arm, hopped up on the struts and was pulled aboard by “shades”. I was next and with two free arms climbed through the cabin door. I suddenly felt the chopper lift off the ground and looked back to see “shades” give the sweating colonel with the clubs the finger and slam shut the access door.
Abbie strapped himself into a passenger seat directly behind the pilot. I was just about to join him when the starboard gunner offered me his seat. No sooner had I straddled his 50 mm machine gun than his sweaty hands adjusted a set of headphones over my ears. All went silent except for a high pitched, barely audible whine of the rotors.
We rose up into the air and we were off like a rocket, flying parallel to the ground. No sooner would a grove of tall trees appear than we would gently lift up barely touching the top-most leaves. Then as if on cue my ears filled with the music of a most familiar song:
“You, who are on the road,
Must have a code that you can live by.
And so, become yourself,
Because the past is just a good-bye.
And you of tender years
Can't know the fears
That your elders grew by.
And so please help
Them with your youth
They seek the truth
Before they can die”
David Crosby and Neil Young had joined me for my ride in the starboard gunner’s bubble. Soon the sweet smell of weed drifted down to my outpost and gunner’s hand appeared bearing a gift. I respectfully declined and spent the next 14 minutes of the flight wondering what would happen if I just leaned back and pulled the trigger of the gun that rested calmly between my legs.
Abbie’s real name was Ed Razen and he worked for Dispatch News, a Bay Area wire service that supplied the alternative press with the “truth” about what was happening in Southeast Asia. He had worked as a CBS cameraman during the early days of the war until he parachuted onto a landmine. After a year of rehab at a clinic in New Haven, he returned to Vietnam wearing a different shirt, totally politicized by the anti-war movement he had discovered at Yale. After we arrived in Long Bin and I had interviewed Tyrone, Ed and I had a meal together and became friends. Several weeks later he invited me on a trip up the Mekong River. He was on assignment for French Television to make a film about the Coconut Monk and asked me to come along.
The B-52’s began their run after evening prayers. The bombs shattered the jungle on the distant shore and soon made their way out into the river, marching south like a giant underwater monster towards the monastery’s lighted towers. I watched the monks do some end of day chores and prepare for bed. I myself sat in a lotus position hoping to fool the gods that there were no Western skeptics on the island tonight. A bomb exploded in the mud not a football field away and I felt the floor under me shake. Then all was quiet. After what seemed a lifetime, the explosions skipped the island and continued marching on the river towards the opposite shore.
The night air was heavy and smelled of mud and rotting leaves. Telephone pole sized pilings held the monastery and the huts of the adjoining village over the Mekong as it flowed by underneath. Earlier in the day Ed and I had explored the small banana shaped inland attached to the north where the villagers used all available land to grow vegetables and fruits. “This is what Vietnam was like before the war,” said Ed.
I lay awake for hours on my straw mat, choosing to sleep under the stars and hoping to catch a stray breeze as it made its way down river. I was deeply shaken by the bombing raid and marveled that the island had been spared. I wondered if the pilots would return. A few monks attended to the prayer candles on the monastery’s alter whose centerpiece was a triptych icon depicting Buddha, Jesus and the Virgin all smiling at one another. Fish was cooking over a wood fire in the village and I felt a pang of hunger.
Sometime after midnight I heard a small engine pushing a dugout approach the island. I looked down to see four men in black pajamas stack their AK-47’s on the island’s dock and make their way up the path towards me.
“Bon soir” I said. I knew no Vietnamese and hoped that these guys might have picked up some French from their grandparents. “Bon soir” they replied. “Ou habitez vous?”
“Dans une petite ville pres de Boston”, I replied. “Ah, Boston!” they shouted with glee. “Red Socks, Red Socks”. Then they argued amongst themselves about who was going to win the World Series this year. I screwed up my courage and asked them where they were from.
“From a small town maybe 100 klicks north of Hue,” one of the older guys replied. The left side of my brain was rejoicing that we could share a common language and an interest in baseball when the right side of my brain started screaming that these four young men were North Vietnamese soldiers who I have been trained to fear and to kill in basic training. But before I could reach for the pen knife in my pocket one of the guys asked me if I had a girlfriend back home and did I have any photos. The best I could come up with was the picture of an old car my dad and I had restored. Well, they were ecstatic. They had never seen such a beautiful machine. I might as well have been standing in Tibet and showing a photo of the Dali Lama.
We talked all night and by dawn my new friends were gone. They were on a two-week leave from their platoon on the Laotian border and had chosen to venture into Vietnam to visit their spiritual leader, our host the Coconut Monk. These were the men I had been trainedto kill with my bayonet at close range. When I told them that I had been raised Catholic, they chuckled and confessed that they too had Catholic parents. But there had been a Cau Dai monk who lived in their village who believed in Buddha, Jesus and the Virgin Mary. This monk seemed to be happy every day, no matter what was happening, no matter the degree of suffering he underwent. He had told them about the Coconut Monk and they had risked their lives to spend one hour each for an audience. Though I would never see these men again, our meeting that night set in motion a journey that would consume the remainder of my life.
My father loved designing and sailing boats that moved quickly over the water. Our home was next to the ocean and that was as close as my mother wanted to get to being on the water. So it was a memorable occasion the day my dad coaxed her out for a picnic lunch on our sailboat that he had designed and built. A brisk wind took us to the Boston Lightship five miles out from shore. It was a hot summer day and the sea was as still as a mill pond and by noon every breath of wind had vanished.
“Well, Frannie, now what?” Mom asked. “No problem,” replied my dad. “By the time we finish our picnic the afternoon wind will come to take us home”. I looked overboard and imagined myself with my mask and flippers on, floating on the surface and looking down toward darkness and the bottom 200 feet below. No matter how deep I would dive I would never see the ocean floor, only sunlight disappearing into a void where I knew all the monsters of the deep lived.
Most summer mornings I would get up, throw on an old swim suit and head out to the rocks in front of my house where I would either dive for lobsters which we would eat for lunch or spear flounder which mom would clean for supper. The water was mostly shallow, barely over my head and mom could keep an eye on me from the house as she did her chores. I devoured books by the French diver Jacques Cousteau and my dad and I made a rubber diving suit one summer to keep me warm against the cold currents. Off my house I was always able to see the bottom and felt safe from the larger fish that I imagined swam out in the deeper water.
The lightship was very close now and I waved at a Coast Guard sailor walking on deck. As mom was taking the lunch out of the picnic basket my brother John tapped me on the shoulder. Off the port bow of our sailboat appeared the fin of a fish that we both immediately recognized as belonging to a shark. We both looked at each other with concern. This was the last thing mom needed before lunch. She was dressed in her funny bathing suit and huge sun hat happily eating a tomato sandwich and looking in the opposite direction.
Just as I was about to covertly signal my dad, another fin appeared off the port stern and all at once I realized that it belonged to the same fish, that it was in fact not a fin but part of a tail. This meant that the shark was as long as the boat, 18 feet overall. We were having lunch with a monster from the deep, a hammerhead shark. I tried to think of some clever way to introduce our predicament to my mom who was well known for her ability to overreact.
“Hey guys, look who has dropped by to say hello.” Mom nonchalantly looked over her left shoulder at the front fin, then over her right shoulder at the tail fin and then said with uncharacteristic bravado, “Oh darn, just when I was thinking of taking a dip.”
But today my mother was no longer alive and this morning I would help bury her. I sat in the upper most room of my childhood friend Michael’s home. No one lived up here now. Once it had been the secret domain of one of his children. Built like the upper room of a lighthouse with windows facing the sea, one could see the distant beach and the breaking waves. This morning I was not looking out the windows. My eyes were shut and I was as still as a post as my mind was busy at work feeding me the raw footage of a small child playing by the ocean, a doting mother by his side.
I had awakened early to prepare for the eulogy the oldest son must give. I went over my notes but my words fought with my conscience. Since she arrived in Cohasset as the young bride of my father almost 70 years ago, my mother had been the pinnacle of our community. For days now, many people whom I had not seen in over 50 years had been writing, calling, or stopping me in the street. Their eyes and their voices filled with tears as they shared with me stories of my mother’s kindness, courage and strength.
And I would leave these exchanges asking myself if they were talking about my mother or someone else. As I now sat rigidly in the tower room, the movie house of my mind played and replayed in vivid color the stories I held to be true.
The series of telephone calls to my college dorm room would usually start on Wednesday evenings. My father would be first, asking how things were going this week and did I have any plans for the weekend. I would reply that school was fine, that I might make the second string soccer squad and that I had plans to visit friends on the Cape after Saturday’s game. Mom’s call would follow Thursday night, saying that she had just bought a roast at the Central Market and why don’t I bring my friends home for the weekend. I would tell her patiently that I had plans and wish her well. Dad would end the week with a pleading tone in his voice, saying without a word that I was needed at home.
And I always went home. And my mother and I would always end the weekend with a fight. And I would pull my car over every Sunday evening at the same stretch of deserted road two miles from home and wretch my guts out in the ditch. Only then would tears appear in my eyes.
My mom grew up in the Boston suburb of Newton in the roaring 20’s. She was the oldest of five and the apple of her fathers’ eye. She never recovered completely from his sudden death, leaving her when she was only 17 years old. She became a kindergarten teacher and fell in love with my father the day he arrived at her classroom with two newborn baby spring lambs. My dad’s mom Josephine invited them shortly after their marriage to join her on the rocky shores of Cohasset south of Boston and purchased for them a huge Spanish stucco home overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Complete with red tile roof and porches reaching out over the sea, parakeets escaping from a nearby amusement park would routinely mistake our house for the coast of Mexico and make their home for the summer.
My dad was born in the Dorchester section of Boston where thousands of Irish families had settled since the mass immigration of the mid 1800’s, victims of genocide at the hands of the British and the potato famine. His father John was a liquor salesman, a sports guide in the North Woods and could barely write his name. Frannie never talked much about his youth. His father died when my dad was 7, leaving Josephine to raise he and his two brothers, John Jr. and Robert. In spite of his refusal to talk of the past I did learn a few things.
One day Marty and I attended a wedding in Vermont on a beautiful hillside under a green tent. Back in the corner sitting all by himself was a rugged gentleman who looked like someone’s grandpa. I didn’t know anyone at the wedding so I sat down beside him and introduced myself.
“I once knew a John Hagerty,” Norm said. “He was from Boston.”
“Oh, that must be my brother,” I replied.
“This John Hagerty has been dead for a long time,” he said.
I quickly realized that he might be talking about my grandfather.
“He was quite a character. He used to take “sports” hunting in the North Woods and one fall he took my dad and me to Quebec to hunt moose. Two things I remember were that he always wore just a flannel shirt, rarely a jacket, no matter how cold it got. And he could throw a knife.”
“One day we were camped about 200 miles north of Montreal. We were dropped off by the train and had enough grub for one week. He had an Indian for a guide and we made camp on a lake. Well sure enough there we meet another bunch of sports who were fishing and they also had an Indian guide from the same tribe.”
“Well we sort of camped together, had two separate fires. And pretty soon this guy from Colorado comes over and says to John ‘I hear you’re pretty good with a knife.’ John doesn’t say much. ‘My guide says that you can throw a knife through a pack of Lucky Strikes at 50 paces.’ John grunts something and the guy throws down $20 that says he can’t.”
John’s Indian takes out a pack of Lucky Strikes, walks out 50 paces and lays the cigarettes on a tree branch. John then gets up slowly, reaches in his pocket and covers the Colorado guys bet, and without so much as an aim, whips his long knife out of his leather sheath and through the air and splits the pack in two. Later he gave both Indians a $10 bill on the sly.”
This story reminded me of a day in Dorchester looking for an old car with my dad. We were driving down a street when he casually pointed out the house where he was born. I forced him to stop the car and I jumped out and ran up the driveway and knocked on the front door. He was so embarrassed when the owner and his wife invited us in. But they took us down cellar and showed me the beam filled with knife marks. My grandpa had died here from a massive coronary at the young age of 37.
Thought Josephine would mourn his death for the remainder of her life, a bright light of intellectuality and financial acumen accompanied her wherever she went. From her business dealings she amassed enough money to send both Robert and John to Harvard and my dad to MIT. Through her son John she made the acquaintance of the German architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer and the Dutch designer Meis Van Der Rough. These three architects had fled the Bauhaus School of Design as the Nazis took over Germany. Together they agreed to design for Josephine their first residential home in America, complete with Bauhaus furniture. We called the place “the modern house”. Every summer of my childhood I would run down the back stairs of my Spanish “hacienda” and join Josephine in her Bauhaus garden of sunflowers to eat honey she would import from Cuba with large wooden spoons.
My grandmother outweighed my mother by 100 lbs but they quickly became fast friends. They cut quite a path as they made their way down Cohasset’s Main Street towards the Central Market to go shopping. Mary in her summer dress with me riding inside her belly waiting to pop out and huge Josephine dressed in a widow’s black, defying the July heat wave that summer. Men would tip their hats and women would smile as they passed, perhaps slightly intimidated by the confidence Josephine exuded as she made her way through town.
Our neighbors were almost all of old Yankee stock and when my father applied to join the Cohasset Yacht Club he wondered out loud if he had a chance. But by then he was already a talented boat builder and some of the yacht club members had rowed in his sleek racing shells at Harvard so he and my mom were admitted.
“You know Mary,” she said one day “when I graduated from Radcliffe in 1907, I was the first Irish girl ever to do so. But I could not find a job. My name was Curry and everyone knew I was Irish. The newspapers routinely ran ads for help adding ‘Irish need not apply’. But we survived and so will you. These people will learn to love you, you mark my words.”
The first and only time I saw my mother and father cry together was the morning we found Josephine dead in the modern house. Only a few days before I had been visiting after school and found her working with Gropius and Van Der Rough, discussing a rusted window frame. There was an artist there that day painting with pastels on the stairwell walls named Alfonso Ossorio. He believed he was the reincarnation of St. Francis of Assisi. Dressed in monk’s habit, he chewed peyote nuts he carried in the deep pockets of his robes and recited prayers in Mexican Spanish.
It was 4:30 in the afternoon when Cardinal Cushing came on the radio to say the rosary. Everyone knew the drill. Jew, Lutheran, stoned out monk or child, we all stopped our work and either knelt or sat. And under the watchful gaze of our hostess we respectfully submitted to the drone of the Cardinal’s nasal voice. “Glory be to the faatha, son and holy ghost…..” When Josephine died the following day my mother lost a strong ally and friend and she wondered aloud if she could survive without her by her side. Now my mother was gone and it was my task to write her epitaph.
As I sat in the attic room of Michael's room I recalled one story I had recently heard just the day before. It came from a man named Paul, a rough and tumble kind of guy whom I would not normally associate with my mom. Paul and a group of his friends wanted to have a party and campfire on Sandy Beach but the police would not allow it. There was a summer curfew in place. No one was allowed on the beach after 10. Paul told me he had somehow run into my mom downtown and when she learned of his problem, offered our small, private section of Sandy Beach for his friends.
“I was amazed in a way that I felt comfortable even asking her,” Paul told me. “I really didn’t know her all that well. I think I did some landscaping work for your family. In any case she came down to the beach after the party started to ask if we needed anything. She offered the girls to use the bathroom in your house. Everyone was very touched by her kindness. That night we had a pretty rowdy crowd. We drank some but no fights. Somehow everyone stayed very mellow, in respect for your mom and her kindness.”
The day Marty and I were married was a hard one for my mom. Instead of a church, she was sitting on a hay bale in a two hundred year old barn. Instead of "Ave Maria" we were singing folk songs. On the way back to Boston that night she told my brother John that "it would have been better if he had died in Vietnam." But of course she loved Marty, softened over time and would die again if she knew I was aware of what she said. But a son tends to carry something like that around for a while. Paul's comment reminded me that she could on occasion be comfortable and engaging with my friends. For one moment I really could see her on our beach with these young folks, shaking hands with the boys and their dates, some of whose parents worked in Dad’s factory. I saw her for a moment as vulnerable, reaching out not as the queen on the ocean but as the mother of two boys who themselves might someday be looking for a safe place to have a campfire and a beer with some friends. Lifelong judgments suddenly took a back seat and tears fell for the first time since her death.
Mom and Dad
Peter and Brother John in dress whites
"Family Fun Day” the poster read. “Come meet Secretary of the Navy John Chafee. Games for the children, free food.” It was fall, the trees were turning in Rhode Island and someone nearby was burning leaves. The Lloyd Thomas had set sail two weeks before for Vietnam. Lowell had me transferred to a destroyer tender, a huge floating repair vessel. I was ironically assigned to assist the ship’s Chaplain with the spiritual issues of his crew.
To this day I cannot remember saying good-by to any of my shipmates. Another officer on board, Lt. Henry, had taken over command of Deck Division. None of my men were watching as their unconventional leader walked away for the last time. All I can remember was deciding not to throw my hat in the water as I left.
But as the Lloyd Thomas headed for the Pacific, things started coming apart. Lt. Jay and two other division officers on board decided to leave the Navy and all three handed in their commissions on the same day in protest. Several men in my division had caught wind that I was leaving because of some fallout with the Captain. Lowell and I had discussed the risk of informing my men of the dangers they faced going to war on an unfit ship. If any of them went ‘over the hill’ before the ship sailed, I would be open to charges of encouraging desertion in the face of combat. This would undoubtedly complicate Lowell’s defense efforts.
Yet to just leave saying nothing seemed cowardly and irresponsible. So one evening before my final departure, I was standing watch with my 3rd class petty officer, Pomerantz. An affable young man from Boston, he could easily have been a friend in civilian life. Over the year I had spent with my men, I found that they were very uncomfortable with any conversation that strayed from the clearly defined role of officer and enlisted man.
But Pomerantz was different. He had been on deck the day the MP’s came for me. He appreciated the nuances of surviving military life in the late 1960’s. So one night I chose to tell him what was up with the forward gun mount. His combat station was in the powder room that supplied the gun with shells. He would be directly in harm’s way should an accident occur. He listened intently, saying nothing. I learned later that six men on the Lloyd Thomas went missing when the ship sailed from San Diego for the South China Sea.
Now at Family Fun Day I had a chance to see the Secretary of the Navy in person, up close. The event was held in a large aircraft hangar. Tables of food lined the sides and proud sailors dressed in their finest uniforms paraded their families about till they found a seat. First some marching bands warmed up the crowd. Like church, no one sat in the front row so I made my way there and sat down. Before anyone noticed, a tall, distinguished man with grey hair and dressed in civilian clothing came ambling out a side door and started greeting the sailors, their wives and their children. People began flocking to him like a trout to a fly. He hunkered down to chat with four year olds, taking up to several minutes listening to these kids. I remembered that he had once been a popular Rhode Island Senator and had been considered a political moderate. Finally he made his way to the microphone and began to speak.
Short of an opening welcome, I remember nothing of the specifics of his talk. It was not long, maybe ten minutes. What I will never forget is how his talk ended.
“I have come here today to hear from you about your concerns. We live in the same state and we have all chosen to serve our country in its time of need. So we are literally one family here today. I have asked that microphones be placed throughout the hall. Please raise your hand and someone from my staff will accompany you to a podium from which we may speak to one another”.
I was stunned. Here was the man who needed to hear my story and today he had unknowingly made that conversation possible. All I had to do was raise my hand.
It took a while for the room to quiet down. Someone had said there were 4000 people there yet no hands were raised. The room grew silent. Rather than start talking again, John Chafee smiled and remained quiet. He would wait because he knew that this part of his family was not used to standing up and saying what was on their minds.
Finally one sailor raised his hand. His question was followed by one from a Navy wife. I watched my right hand lay on my leg, frozen, unable to move. My mind listed all the reasons why I should not take action. Here was our leader, a compassionate man trying to make the lives of these families a bit lighter if for only a moment. Many of these men were on their way to war. Some had just come back. This was the real world. What right did I have to interject my own personal drama into these proceedings?
I watched as a drum and bugle corps assembled off stage preparing to say good-by to the Secretary. Chafee was reaching for his closing notes. Before I could stop myself, I was on my feet. “Sir”, I cried too loudly. “Do you have time for one last question?”
Chafee put his papers aside, adjusted his spectacles and looked down at the first row. What he saw was a young officer in summer whites, white shoes, white socks, white pants, white shirt holding a white hat in his trembling hands.
“Please,” said Chafee, pointing me to a nearby microphone. I can only imagine a Marine Corps colonel somewhere in the room stop chewing his overcooked hamburger and slowly turning his face towards the front of the hall. “Take your time. This is your day,” Chaffee said
“Mr. Secretary,” I began, “thank you for coming to Newport today and offering us an opportunity to speak to the difficult issues that face us as members of the United States Armed Forces. Thank you in advance for addressing my question. If a member of your Navy finds something wrong that could result in the injury or death of a fellow crew member and he reports this finding to his superior officer and this superior not only fails to acknowledge the problem but in fact punishes this sailor, what would you do, if anything, in response?”
Time now stood still. For better or worse I had said my piece. Where others had sat down after delivering their question I remained standing. Chafee looked at me and understood that what hung between us now was not a question but a statement. A statement given with respect but one with implications that reached far beyond the walls of this hanger.
“Thank you for your thoughtful question Mr….”
“Hagerty, Ensin Hagerty; U.S. Naval Reserve 0105-289-70524”.
“Thank you Mr. Hagerty, I will have my staff look into the specifics of your question immediately after this meeting. But in practice the Navy will not tolerate information being withheld for whatever reason if it endangers the life or well-being of its members”.
“Thank you, sir,” I said and without thinking I turned, left the microphone and walked out of the hanger. There was already a crowd in the parking lot heading home so I jogged for my car and left the scene as quickly as possible Three days later Lowell called with the news. I had been honorably discharged from the US Navy, effective immediately. The following day I was a civilian.
Mornings on the LLoyd Thomas were the worst. I would wake up and remember what was going on and I would put the pillow on my head and refuse to rise. Several times Lowell would call early just to make sure I was up and would make the officers’ morning staff meeting. “We can get through this,” he would say in his boyish, mid-west optimism. Lowell was Lutheran and he had faith.
One Saturday in late summer he called and in a soft voice asked, “Can you get down here? I think that I have found our man.” When I arrived we were the only folks at the JAG office but even so Lowell closed the door behind me after I entered.
“I hired a local civilian lawyer friend of mine to do some snooping. Sometimes they can open drawers we can’t. Well my friend tells me that there is a Marine Corps colonel in the Secretary of the Navy’s office who has it in for you. This is too bad because John Chafee, who is the Secretary, is a pretty decent guy and might side with us on this. But this Marine has put your file in a very dark place where it will not see the light of day. Our colonel is banking on you cracking, doing something drastic like leaving the country.
I smiled at the memory of my last overseas trip. It was Easter past, I’d been slipping in the ‘faith’ department and took two weeks leave that I had coming. It was completely illegal for an active duty military person to leave the continental US without permission but I just boarded a flight in civilian clothes from Boston to London and moved into a friend’s flat in Cadogan Square. I had been an exchange student here in the early 60’s and wanted to see if I could live in exile in my old stomping grounds.
I visited pubs and coffeehouses where American GI’s who were now deserters enjoyed celebrity status from the Beattles generation. Men with pony tails and women with nipples popping through their blouses would buy these American GI’s pints of lager beer, praising them for their courage but expecting graphic depictions of the blood, carnage and rape in return. Where these Brits saw courage, I saw fear. I had planned to sit and talk with these soldiers but in the end I could not.
On Good Friday I went to Westminster Cathedral and sat in the front row, the very seat I had occupied just seven years before when I was at a school down the road. For the first time I began to appreciate the sacrifice that Jesus made. He believed in something and was willing to die for it. In my mind, Easter Sunday paled in comparison. As I made my way through the streets of London that night, I realized with certainty that my battle would be fought at home, not in some far off British pub or Parisian coffeehouse.
Lowell politely cleared his throat. “So Pete, you need to live a squeaky clean life now. Stay close to here. No speeding tickets, no bar fights. Don’t provide them with an excuse. We need to find a way to get your file back out in the open. We need some time.”
I was now living with another officer from our ship in a small apartment in Newport. It was the summer of Woodstock, of Joan Baez marrying David Harris and it seemed that revolution was in the air. One night I felt this overwhelming need to see my parents. They lived two hours away and were having some problems of their own and I needed to check in.
Cohasset’s postmaster, Gerard Keating, had lost his son in Vietnam. Word had finally reached home of my provocative actions in the Navy and now people were avoiding my parents in public. Gerard and my father had worked side- by- side posting my families’ business mail every day for over 20 years and now Gerard refused to look at dad in the face. My mother was in the Central Market when a longtime friend refused to talk to her. I learned all this from my brother John. They were not about to burden me with their own issues.
So failing to heed Lowell’s advice, I headed off the base, changed at the apartment into civilian clothes, and watched in the rear view mirror for an escort as I traveled the back roads into Massachusetts. It was a gorgeous late summer sunset that greeted my arrival home and after saying hello to my surprised folks I went for a swim. Mom cooked up some fish and we sat on the porch, catching up with our respective news. It had been months since I had seen them. Dad said that he had watched the Lloyd Thomas sail by Minot’s Light on its way south to Newport. We were staying away from all the difficult stuff when the phone rang and dad went to answer it.
“Hello, is this the Hagerty residence?”
“Yes,” replied my father.
“Mr. Hagerty, my name in Hines, John Hines and I am a Military Police officer stationed at the Naval Base here in Boston. If you are Francis, then perhaps I was a neighbor of yours growing up on Hillside Ave. in Dorchester. “
“Yes, I remember your older sister Joan,” replies my father.
“Mr. Hagerty, we have reason to believe that your son is visiting you there this evening. Is that true?”
“Yes, we are just finishing supper”.
“Well, I am afraid to report that there are two MP’s coming down there to arrest your son.”
“The charge is that he is Absent Without Leave from his base in Newport.”
“But my son is off tonight and chose to come here to have supper with my wife and me and will return to the base by morning. Officer Hines, why are you calling me and telling me all this?”
“I recognized the name and as a courtesy I am giving you a heads up.”
“Well, Officer Hines, my son has done nothing wrong. And if your associates are coming here to arrest him, you tell them to be sure to bring two sets of handcuffs”. My father then hung up the phone and stood looking at the floor.
Both my parents were Republicans. My father used to joke that if they were Democrats then the fire department might not come if his factory caught on fire. I had never seen my parents stand up against authority. Tonight my dad said that he was going to jail with me.
My mother began chattering, then screaming, then moaning. She walked the hallways of our house cursing me. My dad excused himself, went up and lay down on his bed and began having mild chest pains.
Mom took some Valium and I went to sit on my dad’s bed. I wanted to tell him how proud I was of what he had done. He had come to my rescue like I had always hoped he might. Instead I asked him for a story.
As a child, every night he would treat me to the adventures of Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest. So this night, as we awaited our jailers, he transported me back to a forest clearing where Friar Tuck was battling the Sheriff of Nottingham with a large pole while Robin Hood once again escaped to be with Maid Marion. As the words rolled out his breathing eased and when the story ended, he fell into a deep sleep.
Sitting by his side I felt totally responsible for my parent’s trauma. When will I be able to make decisions in my life and not feel the weight of responsibility for others? Where does their life end and mine begin? I would not come close to answering this question until the day I had my own family.
I waited until 2 am but the MP’s never came. I never knew if it was a bluff or whether the Navy was not prepared for the arrest of a 42-year-old father of two. I have always preferred the latter. Years later at my Harvard 25th reunion I told this story of my father’s courage to 800 of my returning classmates and it brought the house down. It seems that many in the room had desperately wanted this kind of support from their own parents but it was not to be. That summer night I had seen my father face fear head on and not turn and run. For this I would love him forever.
The cold, June sky was a cobalt blue and steam shot from the horses’ nostrils as they moved across the chest high field of hay. It was our first summer in Maine and Barney and Nicker were pulling a #9 McCormick Dearing High gear horse drawn mowing machine that Bob and I had found and fixed up. Other than the early morning birds the only sound was the cutter bar as it neatly clipped the tall timothy and orchard grass and laid it in long neat rows behind the mower. Our friend Wayne whose farm we were haying walked along nearby giving us pointers.
Coming to Maine in the early 70’s Marty and I were part of a “back to the land” movement where suburban young adults tired of the lives their parents were living and weary of the Vietnam War voted with their feet and left their college diplomas for the organic gardens and simpler lifestyle of rural America. The small farm Marty and I found was built somewhere around 1840 and had provided six generations of families with a subsistence existence. These folks would plant a garden in the spring, cut hay in the summer, harvest crops and spread manure in the fall, log in the winter and start all over again in the spring. When we moved in, our farm had a stall for two big horses and tie up for three cows, one for milk and two for meat. Sometime in the 40’s our barn had been converted to accommodate large numbers of chickens on the second floor.
Down the road from our house is a small graveyard where Marty and I plan to be buried. The headstones tell the stories of our deceased neighbors. Men lived only till their 50’s, women died earlier, often in childbirth and large families provided the labor force. On Memorial Day small flags fly from those neighbors who served in combat, some in the Civil War but most in far off places. For many of them, it was their only chance to see the world.
In the summer I walk past this graveyard several times a day on the way to our pastures. Occasionally I will pass by and see my friend Gary digging a grave. On learning that the deceased served in the Armed Forces, I will return later in dress up clothes and quietly stand behind the family. And tears will run down my face as I remember, as I relive all the reasons why I left behind my prior life and came to this small valley at the foot of the Burnt Meadow Mountains. I will look at my horses grazing in the field across from the grave yard, dried sweat from the day’s haying still on their backs. I will squeeze my hands together and wonder why I am still alive when so many died and a brew of guilt and gratitude will course through my veins.
Sunday in Moscow 1972
Photo by Valeri Krupsky
“I had never been in a submarine and knew almost nothing about them. But many years after leaving the Navy I received a telephone call from Peter Huchthauen, a new friend from an adjoining town here in Maine. He had heard I was on my way to Moscow and he asked me to do him a favor.
“Peter”, he began “during the Cold War I became aware of an accident between a Soviet and an American submarine. I am writing a book about it now that the incident has been de-classified. I was wondering if you mind taking the first draft of the book over to a Russian friend of mine who will proof read it for accuracy.”
I readily agreed and Peter dropped off a small package a few days later. I was in a rush to get everything together for the trip and did not think much more about his book till I was going thru my stuff in Moscow a few days later. I called the phone number on the envelope and talked with a Mr. Ivan Borisavitch who gave me instructions to an apartment complex on the outskirts of the city.
I am normally unable to tell the difference between an upscale neighborhood and a sketchy one in Russia but something told me that the building I was entering was different from its neighbors. There was not that worn out look from years of neglect. In fact there was a French feel to the architecture coupled with the smell of exotic cooking.
I rang Ivan’s bell and a short stocky man with bright blue eyes greeted me with a happy “hello, welcome to Russia” in perfect English. His wife behind him pointed me to a table set for a delicious lunch.
“I am so happy and grateful that you have brought Peter’s book to us. It will provide an important milestone in US-Soviet history. Have you heard the news about the Kurtst?”
I had heard on the news on the way over that a Russian submarine based in Murmansk had recently sunk in the White Sea and an international effort was underway to save the crew at the bottom of the ocean. “Come and sit down and we can talk. But first we must eat some of Masha’s wonderful cooking.”
“Have you read Peter’s book?” Ivan asked as we made our way to the dining room. I confessed that I had not. “Well, it tells an amazing story. You know Peter worked for your government here in Moscow during the ‘difficult times’ and he had heard of rumors of an accident where one of your subs crashed with one of ours. But it was in the interest of both sides to keep this quiet for years. Then one of these days along comes perestroika and Gorbachev and things between our countries begin to improve.”
Masha placed a delicious soup on the table and motioned for us to eat as we talked.
“Well, Peter and his wife were at a resort in New Hampshire one winter and during supper Peter heard a conversation at a nearby table that would change his life. A man who had been an officer on an American submarine was describing to his dinner partner an accident with his ship and a Russian sub.”
“Peter could not believe his ears. He was overhearing the whole story first hand, the name of the ship, the date, the place, even the name of the Russian sub. He waited until this man had finished his supper, then he slowly approached him on the stairs to the rooms above. Well, you can imagine Peter’s excitement when the man agreed to extend his evening and tell him the whole story. And now I will tell you the story that the stranger told Peter.” Ivan took a spoonful of the soup and now told me the story the hotel guest had told Peter.
“I was the engineering officer on the nuclear powered submarine the USS Augusta in the summer of 1985. We were off the New England coast searching for Soviet subs when we located the K-219 in about 1000 feet of water. We could identify her exactly by the sound her propellers made in the water.”
“At the time we had several submerged subs stationed off the coast of Murmansk where the K-219 was based. We had Russians spying for the US on shore who would see the name of a sub as it left the harbor and we would record their prop noises. Each sub had a unique fingerprint and soon we knew not only which sub was which but we knew the names of each of their captains and their specific history.
“So on this day we began to close in on the K-219 but with a special technique that prevented us from being detected. This meant that we knew she was there but she had no idea that we were there.”
“So these were games that everyone played, maybe crazy games and it was just a matter of time before someone got hurt. We were both in international waters so K-219 had as much right to be there as we did. But try and tell that to our captain. He wanted to see how close he could get, then scare the pants off his rival and send him back to Murmansk with his tail between his legs.”
As engineering officer, I had to slow down our atomic reactors as part of our disguise which meant we had little forward motion. We were basically coasting, two nuclear atomic reactor systems moving dangerously close to each other like two sharks circling for the kill. Except one was blind. All at once there was a crash and I went lurching forward. We had rammed the side of the K-219. Our damage control people reported that we had water coming into the forward part of the ship but there were no people in that compartment and we were in no danger of sinking. The captain broke silence, started up our engines and ordered that we surface immediately to render aid to the Russian sub if needed.”
“To our knowledge there was no precedent for aiding the Russians at sea. We knew that we were not to break radio silence and that the higher ups would decide how to politically handle this. But we also knew that these Russians were human beings and but for the grace of God we could be the ones in trouble. So the captain decided that we would render immediate assistance the minute they surfaced, if in fact they ever surfaced.”
“I was one of the few on deck to lower a life raft. It was as flat as a country pond that day. We had a man on the conning tower with a rifle looking for sharks. Several of our crew were fluent in Russian and they were on deck with me. It was very quiet, not a person spoke once everything was in place.”
“As the ship’s engineer and also a graduate of atomic engineering school, a horrible scenario was slowly playing out in my mind. If the K-219, also a nuke, was so badly damaged that she should sink before her crew could shut down her nuclear power plant, when she hit the bottom her reactors would overheat and explode like a nuclear bomb under us. We would all die, our ship would add to the radioactive cloud and we would make atomic history.”
“But no one spoke of leaving. And very soon the Soviet sub surfaced not three hundred yards away. Our raft was lowered into the water but before it made its way half the distance, a Russian flag signalman appeared on the deck and asked us to please call our rescue boat back. They told us that they had radioed a Russian freighter who was about 2 hours away to come to their rescue. Our captain replied that we had a doctor on board who spoke Russian but apparently there was no need for his services.”
“As far as I was concerned that was our cue to depart the scene and head for New London to attend to our damages but the old man would hear nothing of leaving. We stayed there for 7 hours before the freighter came along side. We could see that the subs pumps were working overtime to empty water from the seriously damaged hull. Then when we thought the last of the crew was safely on board, the freighter departed and suddenly the sub began to sink. Our captain immediately ordered everyone below and ordered our ship to submerge, in spite of our injury. Because we had such a much faster submersed speed, he was willing to take the risk. We made it to our base at New London in nine hours, arrived intentionally after dark and were escorted to a special dock where we were examined for nuclear contamination and told to never speak of the accident.”
Ivan paused for a moment and his wife went to make coffee. Then he began to tell his part in the story.
“The man had come to the end of his tale for the night and would not speak of it again. Peter could not sleep as he was sure that the man had more to tell. Luckily Peter met me several years later when a group of retired Russian and American submariners got together in Florida. You see I too was a sub captain and I knew the rest of the story. And now thanks to changes in both our countries I was at liberty to inform him of the truth.”
“The Russian captain knew almost immediately that his ship was in dire straits. He had trouble cooling his reactors down. It was a choice of running the pumps to save his crew until the freighter arrived or cooling his reactors so as to avoid a meltdown. When the crew was safely aboard the freighter, he and the engineering officer and two other crew members volunteered to stay on board while the ship sank. This way they were able to control the speed at which the sub fell, slowly so that the reactors had time to cool. But at some point, no one knows for sure when, the K-219 broke apart under the huge pressure of the deep ocean and all four men perished.
The courage of these four men prevented a nuclear accident of epic proportions off your coast. They received the highest award that the Soviet Union can present posthumously. They were heroes but nobody will know this until Peter’s book is published and released here in Russia. The book will be quite controversial and timely considering that today we have once again submariners trapped at the bottom of the sea. I am very happy that the book is safely here”.
I love Russian cooking but I can honestly say that I did not taste a bit of Masha’s meal that day. My mind went to the crew of the Kursk who were now sitting at the bottom of the White Sea as Russian politicians were arguing over whether to accept America’s aid in the rescue. And there was also a rumor that an American sub was seen entering a Norwegian port with a damaged bow. How would Peter’s book taste to the higher ups on both side of the Atlantic?
Masha and Ivan and I finished our coffee and I rose to depart. As my host shook my hand he held it for one long moment.
“Peter, I need to ask you for one more favor. Peter’s father was a great hero to the Russian people during World War II. He was an American colonel and a tank commander. His division fought alongside Soviet soldiers against overwhelming odds. But even though many died, at the end of the day the Germans retreated.” Ivan then reached inside his pocket and handed me a small box.
“He was awarded the Soviet Union’s highest medal of honor but for a number of political reasons it was never given to him publically. Would you now take it to his son?”
I had now been to Russia over 20 times and knew how difficult it was to take historic mementos out of the country. Ivan understood my reluctance.
“Look,” he said, “Peter and I understand the risks. Someday we may have an open society here. I think we are on the road. But I would like Peter to have his father’s medal before he too is gone.” So I took the small box and said I would do my best.
Ten days later at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport a customs official found the box hidden in a compartment in my carry on luggage. He called me aside.
“It is illegal for anyone to take historic artifacts out of Russia”, he reminded me. I pleaded with him, asked him to read the inscription, to have a moment of compassion for a war hero.
“ What do I care? How do I benefit from this man’s heroism? Do you think for a moment that my life is better? Can I go over to that duty free shop and buy a quart of single malt whiskey? No, but you can.”
What was he suggesting, here in the middle of a crowded waiting room with other customs officials busily at work? I could not believe my ears.
“Don’t worry, I will watch your bags. And you have plenty of time. I will make sure the plane will wait,” he smiled pleasantly.
One hour later a Lufthansa jet lifted off from Russian soil carrying with it a medal for a hero while one petty customs official was heading home to enjoy a bottle of Bushmill’s Single Malt. In the end, everybody got what he wanted. But it was my first straight up bribe and I felt a bit dirty.
The LLoyd Thomas refueling at sea
The night is bitter cold. We are fighting a nor’easter and the seas are building to 20 feet. Both port and starboard watches on the Lloyd Thomas are strapped to the hull with safety lines and the ship is rolling and pitching.
“Change heading to 045 degrees and reduce speed to 15 knots” says Lt. Jay, the officer of the deck for the midnight to 4 o’clock watch. I am the junior officer.
“Aye aye, sir. Change heading to 045 degrees and reduce speed to 15 knots,” the helmsman replies and the quartermaster notes the change in the ship’s log.
“Mr. Hagerty,” says Lt. Jay, “Send down some of your crew to assess ice on the main deck. We don’t want to freeze up and roll over. Make sure they are all wearing safety harnesses.”
I head below to wake some of my men and when I return to the bridge, Jay says, “I am sure glad the old man is out cold. I hope he stays that way.”
We are somewhere off the Grand Banks and we are getting a dose of typical November weather. We passed the New Bedford fishing fleet around 2300 hours and their crews were all out on deck, sliding around with no safety harnesses. We could not fathom how those guys could keep from falling overboard. Their ships were maybe 150 feet in length and ours was over 400.
All at once the sonar man comes on the line.
“Sir, we have contact with a submarine, bearing 094 degrees with a subsurface speed of 22 knots.”
“Quartermaster,” replied Lt. Jay, “ give me the coordinates of our present position.”
“Sir, estimated coordinates are 42.5 degrees north, 61.5 degrees West”
“Does that put us in International Waters?” asks Lt Jay.
“Yes sir, we are approximately 300 miles off the US coast and 240 miles off the Canadian coastline”.
“Thank God,” Jay whispers under his breath. “The old man is no fan of subs, no matter where they are from.”
“Sonar to bridge, we have confirmed contact with a submarine, probable nationality Soviet, Probable Class Akula, 10,000 tons with a top speed of 52 knots submerged.”
The Lloyd Thomas had begun anti-submarine drills with the Brunswick, Maine Naval Air Station four days before. No Russian submarine had been detected in the Gulf of Maine in the last 60 days. We were now ready to go home and the last thing anyone wanted was a full blown drill, especially in the face of this northeast storm.
“Sonar, get me the heading and speed of this bogy and ask the Communications Officer to come to the bridge”.
“Before you could say World War Three, Lt. Tom was standing next to us.
“Tom, do we know who this is?” asks Lt. Jay.
“Yes, Jay,” says Tom “ we’re pretty sure it’s the Rostov. Captain’s name is Melnikov, 42 years of age. Left Murmansk 22 day ago. And by the way, the Rostov is nuclear!”
“You mean you don’t know Melnikov’s wife’s name or his shirt size?” Jay replied.
“We are working on it. Give us 10 minutes.” Tom laughed and disappeared below deck to the communications center.
“Shit, standing orders are to wake the old man if we find a Ruskie out here. Pete, will you go down and wake the Captain?”
“Mr. Hagerty leaves the bridge to wake the Captain,” the quartermaster repeats out loud, then writes it verbatim in the log.
“Quartermaster, from now on, I want you to record every command given tonight here on the bridge.”
“Aye, sir. That is what I am doing.”
“I know that. This is not a reflection of your work. I have just got to make sure you can handle this. It could get very busy here in a few minutes.”
“Thank you sir, I will get some support”.
Just then the old man appeared, barely awake and in pajamas, wrapped in a Naval Academy blanket.
“What’s up Lt.?” he asks.
“Sir, we have a Russian boomer, heading east north east at an approximate speed of 22 knots. We made contact nine minutes ago and just confirmed its name and relevant specs.”
“ Lt., change course to 094 degrees. Increase speed to 22 knots. Let’s see what this son of a bitch is up to.”
This new course set us directly into the path of the oncoming waves. The effect was immediate. As the ship plowed thru the now oncoming sea, we would crest through one wave and crash down into the valley of the next. Spray towered over the hull and began immediately freezing to everything. I suddenly remembered my men working to chip ice off the deck. I made my way down three floors to the main deck and ordered them all inside. As we stood soaked and shivering in the passageway I began to feel the full effects of the ocean on the ship. Everything that was not tied down fell to the floor. The Engineering Officer came thru the bulkhead door and said that they had burst one high- pressure steam hose on the starboard engine.
I made my way back to the bridge and reported to Lt.Jay on the conditions below deck. I watched the quartermaster writing furiously everything that I was saying verbatim. Jay was still in command of the ship until the Captain ordered differently.
“Lt., what is the state of the HEDGEHOG rockets?” asked the captain. I knew that we had anti-submarine rockets mounted on the forward section of the ship, but they were closely guarded and rarely talked about.
“Sir, HEDGEHOG is at stage 3, covered and locked.” Jay’s first job on the ship was the Weapons Officer so he was quick to respond.
“Lt Depew, take the HEDGEHOG to Stage 2.”
“Sir, with all due respect, Stage 2 is called for only if we are provoked. This sub is in international waters and moving away from us.”
“Bull shit, this Russian captain is no fool. Look what he is doing to us. He knows who we are, why we are out here and he knows the sea conditions and our top speed. He is trying to sink us by dragging us through this storm till our engines fall apart or we roll over. I know his game.”
“Sir, we are in international waters. He has every right to be here as we do.”
“Lt., I am going below to get dressed. When I come back I want to see HEDGEHOG at Level 2. If we are still getting beat to shit, then I am prepared to go to Level 1. Am I clear?”
“Captain has left the bridge, Lt. Jay still Officer of the Deck,” chimed the quartermaster. Jay’s face looked pale in the red light of the ship’s night controls but he was composed.
“Peter,” Jay whispered as he took me out aside. “I want you to go find the Chief Bosunmate. He is the Sergeant at Arms for the ship. He has a side arm and handcuffs. I want you to tell him to come immediately to the bridge. If the Captain insists on going to Level One, I am going to arrest him and relieve him of his command. I will make this clear to the Chief. Just tell him to hurry.”
Jay was a graduate of the Naval Academy. He had wanted to be an Annapolis graduate since he was a small boy. He and his wife had opened up their family to me and were willing to respect my position on Vietnam. I had the highest admiration for him both as a leader of men and as a husband and friend. I knew I was now seeing the beginning of the end of his Naval Career.
“The Captain has returned to the bridge,” announced the quartermaster.
“Sir, do you want the con?” asks Jay.
“I will let you know if and when I will take control,” replied the captain.
“Engine room reports damage to # 2 superheated steam lines,” came a voice from the radio.
“Lt., what is our present position relative to the bogie?” asks the old man.
“Sir, we are approximately 3000 yards and slowly closing.”
“Let me know when we are within 2000 yards and take HEDGEHOG to Stage 1 now” replies the captain.
Everything now slows to a crawl in my mind. Lt. Jay motions to the Chief Bosunmate who has arrived on the bridge. They begin a conversation over on the port side of the bridge out of the captain’s hearing range. I see the Chief look at Jay like he has misunderstood what the Lt. has told him. I see the Chief unclip his handcuffs, I see Jay make his way across the bridge and then I hear Lt. Tom’s voice on the squawk box saying,
“Comm. Center to bridge, bogie increased speed to 48 knots, we have lost contact with the Rostov.”
The Chief takes a step backwards, steadies himself on the hand railing while Lt. Jay gives new orders to the helmsman steering the ship.
“Change heading to 240 degrees, change speed to 12 knots”. The captain stands there silent, alone in his thoughts. He turns and without a sound, leaves the bridge.
“Captain has left the bridge. Come to new heading and speed. Lt. Jay has the conn.”