f a c t / f i c t i o n g e o r g e g a r r e t t
The whole of our art is to double our witness and wait.
Ben Bellitt, “Xerox”
. . . . The world began
without us. It can live on any grief.
Louis Coxe, “Revival”
INSERT: BERLIN 1941
EXT. BERLIN DAY
We establish the city scene, busy and prosperous, lively. Except for a scattering of men in uniforms there is no indication that there is a war going on.
EXT. MILITARY STAFF CAR DAY
We follow the progress of a military staff car, weaving its way among light traffic.
The only sound we hear is music. Someone out of frame and off-camera is whistling a tune, a child’s tune or a little folks song.
The sound of the whistling dissolves into a flute playing the same tune, as the car pulls up and parks in a space directly in front of an imposing building (the Reichs Chancellery), well-guarded, flags, including the swastika, flying. A young junior officer jumps out of the front passenger seat and moves quickly to open the right rear door. He clicks his heels and salutes smartly as a medium-sized, middle-aged, high-ranking Naval officer, wearing a heavy, full-length overcoat, steps out of the car, tosses a vaguely casual return salute to the young officer and then moves briskly forward toward the guarded main entrance.
The young officer has to hurry to catch up. Which he does just as the guards at the entrance pop to attention and present arms.
INT. CHANCELLERY: DAY
To the continuing flute music and the quick rhythm of their boot heels, the two men march down a high-ceilinged hallway. They are directed by another junior officer who leaves his desk to point them towards a doorway.
INT. MAPROOM: DAY
They enter the chamber to see a group of uniformed men, men of high rank and importance, wearing dress uniforms, glittering and beribboned. All but one, who is wearing the brown and simple uniform of a common soldier. (Which, after all, is all that he ever was, a corporal, when he was a soldier.) All are gathered in close around the map table, their backs to the door, listening intently to the man in the plain brown uniform, who uses a pointer like a conductor’s baton.
There is also present, close by the legs of the man with the pointer, a small dog, a wire-haired terrier.
The dog reacts and barks once. All turn toward the door.
The music, that lively and cheerful little tune, dies instantly as if cut off by a switch.
CLOSE SHOT: HITLER
Complete silence. Freeze frame except for slight fixed smile of recognition.
Word had come to Admiral Canaris that the Führer wanted to see him right away. Needless to say Canaris dropped whatever it was that he was doing at the time and hurried away to report to his boss immediately.
This would probably have to have been in late December of 1941, Christmastime coming on, after Germany had declared war on the United States, and close to the time when Churchill came over to the United States to try to help Roosevelt persuade a doubtful Congress that we had to fight the Krauts first and then to take care of the Japs later. One at a time. All in due time. Europe first, Asia later.
The Führer had come up with an idea. He wanted to try it out for size on Canaris. Canaris would recruit a dozen or so German-Americans. These men would be trained as saboteurs and then sent over to America on a couple of submarines and secretly landed there. They would then proceed to bomb some factories and buildings and dams and so forth and so on and scare the living shit out of the Americans who may have sincerely believed that three thousand miles of Atlantic Ocean would keep them snug and safe from any real danger. He would show them a thing or two.
Hitler wanted to do this just as soon as possible. He would turn over all the details to Canaris. Acting on a direct order from the Führer, Canaris could then do pretty much anything he wanted to or needed to. Just get it done. Spend a few weeks – a month or so ought to do it – training these clowns in your basic sabotage (for dummies), then stuff them on the U-Boats and dump them out on the beach over there.
What do you think, Admiral?
Canaris knows exactly how to answer that question when it refers to a project that has originated with the Führer, himself. With affirmative enthusiasm, that’s how.
Back then in 1941 Canaris was still riding high in the hierarchy of the Third Reich. He would – probably not to his surprise – rise even higher. Meanwhile, even though he had his share of rivals and enemies, his apparent close and good relationship with the Führer gave him the power and resources to do all kinds of interesting things. Whenever he told somebody, anybody at all, that he was acting on the direct orders of the Führer (which was, in fact, true much of the time), they snapped to attention and shut up.
Thus Canaris replied to the Führer that it sounded like a fine idea, a really swell idea, a neat plan, to him and that he would certainly be able to take care of it right away.
Then get on with it, Hitler told him and waved him on his merry way.
Canaris knew that it wouldn’t work. He knew it was going to be a complete disaster from the get-go. Even assuming that he could find the right German-Americans to fill the Führer’s requirements, then what? Of course he couldn’t and wouldn’t depend on or trust these people; but they wouldn’t learn anything of value, anyway. More to the point, they could not possibly be trained and turned into effective spies or saboteurs. They were all going to die.
And what if these people had sense enough to run off and forget about the whole thing? Or if they turned themselves in to the Americans? So what? Never mind. No harm done.
Still, Canaris thought, in the staff car on the way back to his office, there was definitely a plus side. For one thing, and always a serious consideration, there was an excellent chance that Hitler would now proceed to forget about the whole thing. As was often the case, a brand new and interesting idea would soon pop into his head like a melody and take its place. Chances were good, really, that nothing would ever come out of this one. Canaris would have to cover his ass, to be sure. Well, he would set things in motion and then see what, if anything, came to pass.
Meantime, using the marvelous blank check of a direct order from Hitler, himself, he took over some nice farmland to serve as a special base and training camp, not just for the stumblebums that he would be sending to their certain deaths, but for his own, much more serious intelligencers in the Abwehr. This secret base, with a wealth of equipment and training facilities, could pay off in many other ways.
His people recruited some men who more or less fit the Führer’s requirements and then set to work, in a very casual way, training them for their deadly mission. They all played at being saboteurs during the daytime and partied well into the night. Everybody might as well have some fun while they were at it.
And it could have gone along just like that indefinitely, right up until the end of the war, maybe, if the Führer hadn’t suddenly sent for Canaris and asked how things were coming along on the operation, now officially named Operation Pastorius.
This second conversation about the saboteurs would probably have taken place in early 1942, say a month or so following the earlier one. We know that Hitler was in Berlin during most of January of ‘42. He probably met again with Admiral Canaris before the 30th, because on that day we knew for sure that Hitler was host for a luncheon for a few close friends (not including Canaris) on the ninth anniversary of his succession to power in Germany on 30 January 1933. We even know some of the things he talked about at lunch – rambling anecdotes about his days in prison and some thoughts about his present puppet government in Czechoslovakia. He doesn’t seem to have mentioned or referred to his secret plan to send saboteurs to the United States.
Now then. Please take a minute or two to consider that there were terrible things taking place all over and around the globe, any number of which – the war on the Eastern Front, for example, the back and forth battles in North Africa, the Battle of the Atlantic where German U-Boats were busily sinking hundreds of ships and maybe winning the war – could have claimed the full and undivided attention of both the Führer and the Admiral. It is hard to remember, it requires an act of the imagination and maybe a fact or two, since we, here and now, can’t quite be unaware of the eventual outcome, that things weren’t going all that badly for the Axis or all that well for the Allies in late 1941 and early 1942.
Out in the Pacific our huge fleet (all but the aircraft carriers, thank God) was mostly resting at the bottom of the sea. Everywhere – Malaya, the Philippines, Indo-China, the East Indies, the South Pacific, the Japs were really kicking ass. It looked like nothing in the world could stop them or even slow them down a little.
As a result of the strategic decisions by Roosevelt and Churchill to fight and (if possible) to defeat the Germans first, the Japanese were going to be able to take over enormous amounts of valuable real estate and to kill or capture many thousands of Americans and their allies while they were at it. Consider that, living in a very different world than our own, the American people, democracy or not, were not going to be allowed to participate in that strategic decision or any other. Or, for that matter, even know that such a decision was being made. We would fight, basically, a rearguard action in the Pacific, throwing away our assets piecemeal, holding on as best we could until the war in Europe was over and done with.
Was this the right decision? Who knows? It was probably the only thing we could do at the outset. We did not yet have the means to fight on all fronts. Surrender or a separate peace with the Japs doesn’t seem to have been a serious option. These days somebody might try to cut a deal, but not then.
How about the other side – Hitler’s decision to declare war against the United States? Of course, he had a treaty obligation to join with his ally, Japan. But, like most thoughtful leaders of that era, and of ours as well, he was never wont to let some old treaty stand in the way of what he perceived to be his immediate best interests. Truth is (I think), Hitler knew that sooner or later he was going to have to fight a war against the United States, anyway. Sooner the better, because he was fully aware of our enormous potential; in fact he probably overestimated it. Meantime, like almost everybody then and since then, including the American Government, he greatly underestimated the courage and resolve of the American people, betting the farm that after he finished off the Soviet Union, he could cut a favorable peace deal with Britain and America.
Meanwhile, in late 1941, there is plenty going on, plenty of trouble all around.
In North Africa the war goes back and forth, like a yo-yo, but whether they are advancing or retreating, the Afrika Corps under Rommel are clearly the force to be reckoned with. Sooner or later, they could go all the way to India and line up with the Japs, if the Japs don’t get there first. No kidding. Meanwhile the Mediterranean is nobody’s lake and the Atlantic seems to belong to the German U-boats.
On the Eastern Front the Germans are in the suburbs of Leningrad and Moscow, and deep into Russia everywhere else, by early December; though they are soon to be driven back by some Russian counterattacks. Trouble was, though, for the Russians, anyway, they had already lost something like five million men killed in action (and another three million captured) since the Germans invaded in June. They had also lost many thousands of their tanks and artillery pieces. If there is no real breakthrough by the Russkies, come springtime the Krauts will surely rock and roll again.
Of course, bear in mind always that nobody except the leaders at the very highest levels among the Axis, the Allies or anybody else, certainly not the ordinary people, the informed citizenry, knew anything about any of this. Like ourselves, they were at the mercy of the press. Lest the people should lose heart, it is a time for some bold symbolic gestures, a little good publicity. The Brits are commencing to bomb some of the German cities late at night. No real harm done, but it’s a thought, a beginning. They also make some little commando raids on the Lofoten Islands (in late December) and manage to blow up some local radio stations and a couple or three fish oil factories. Not a whole lot of big help (or much harm either) in the overall, worldwide war effort, but at least it is a little bit of cheery news for the stay-at-homes at the year’s end.
It also hinted, if it did not demonstrate or prove, that it was at least possible that the Allies might some day or other decide to come ashore again on the European continent. Maybe . . . . Folks at home could take heart. Meanwhile, however, the Krauts were not exactly quaking in their shiny jack boots.
And not to mention the irony, of which Canaris, as chief of German military intelligence, would probably know all about as soon as anybody else did, i.e. in April of 1942, of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo with 16 B-25 bombers. Its purpose was essentially identical to that of Operation Pastorius.
In any case, here the Führer was at it again, still harping on his cockamamie scheme of carrying the war to America, in a symbolic way at least, by means of the saboteurs. Like the Doolittle Raid it would serve chiefly as a little gesture to brighten up folks on the homefront.
When Hitler asked him how things were coming, what do you think Canaris said?
He of course said that everything was coming along fine and dandy, right on schedule, my Führer. Just the way you wanted. Just the way you told me.
Good, said the Führer. I’m very glad to hear that. And now I want you and your people to stop farting around and get this operation underway. Do you understand me, Admiral?
I want the operation to take place immediately. You understand that?
Yes, sir. Like immediately, if not sooner.
(Let me pause here long enough to say the chances are that the Führer did not say “farting around”; because, as you may very well know, Hitler suffered from serious flatulence problems and was more than a little sensitive on the subject. Moreover, I seriously doubt that any of them talked the way I have them doing here. My German, not used since my Army days, is pretty rudimentary. So? As long as we get the gist of it, who cares?)
You understand exactly what I’m saying to you, Admiral?
Yes, my Führer. I fully appreciate and understand and will take care of it at once.
Even though I am the one telling you this tale, it’s really Eddie’s story as he told it to me and as I remember it, a long time ago. Eddie, my old and good friend, is dead and gone now, I’m sorry to say. We miss him. And so, for the time being, you are stuck with me, with my voice and my version of what, once upon a time, he told me, and as it was recorded at the time and has been preserved and maintained in my old man’s fallible and slowly fading memory.
You are warned.
Another thing. As it happens, this is supposed to be a true story. More honestly, it was and is intended to be a true story. Problem is – if, indeed, it really is a problem, an issue – I honestly don’t know for sure what’s true and what isn’t. In the first place, I don’t know the whole or factual truth about a lot of what Eddie told me. Some things have since been confirmed from other and reliable sources, one way or another, over time. But even with the doubtful things, the unconfirmed details, I have to keep always in mind (and I pass this along to you, too, if I may) the fact that Eddie had no good reason of any kind to lie to me or even to exaggerate anything for my benefit. After all, by the time he got around to telling me the story, he was long since finished with it. All over and done with. As far as Eddie was concerned, then, all he was doing at that particular time was talking to me about some of it. He wasn’t writing a story, he was having a private conversation. And, on top of everything else, I can categorically say this much. If Eddie told me any lies whatsoever or if, for whatever reason, he chose to exaggerate and hype this story, it would have been the one and only time he ever did something like that to me. In more than thirty years Eddie was always absolutely straight up with me about everything. No question.
I sincerely wish I could honestly claim the same thing for myself. I have to admit that I have always had an almost irresistible urge to sneak some hard facts into the never-never land of fiction. (As witness this story here and now.) Or vice versa. I have demonstrated a desire to take control and to shape real stories as it pleased me to and all-too-often with no more than a casual fidelity to the original facts. Eddie was fully aware of this bad habit of mine and (I think) he was amused by it. From his point of view it was more like a kind of clowning around than anything else. No serious harm done. A grain of salt was in order.
Which leads me directly to confront another problem in this version of the saboteur story. He talked and I (mostly) listened. Regardless of my ambiguous reliability, I was seriously interested, but not planning, not then or ever after, to “use” this material in a work of fiction or in any other form or for any other purpose whatsoever. I wasn’t even aiming to remember it. So that what we are dealing with here and now, all these years later, is only what I can’t help but remember. Memory plays all kinds of tricks on all of us, as we all know. All the more so when that memory has been stashed away, lying dormant like my old black-and-tan hound dog by the fireplace, snoring away.
You know what Wright Morris is quoted as saying in a lecture at Princeton? He said: “Anything processed by memory is fiction.”
In that sense, this is all fiction. In that sense, a lot of our “real” lives is pure fiction. Even Eddie is a “character” as I imagine him. So? So in honor of the late Eddie Weems and for the sake and memory of our long friendship, I hereby solemnly promise to tell you nothing more or less than what I do truly remember. Except for little things like imaginary dialogue (we already mentioned that they didn’t talk like that.) I plan to stick close to the facts, insofar as I know what they are.
It was bound to happen. After lying dormant for many years, our subject – the Nazi saboteurs who came to America in 1942 – is back in the press. Terrorism and the contemplated and controversial use of military tribunals to deal with contemporary terrorists have made the story briefly pertinent at this writing. Somebody somewhere, out there in the ranks of the altricial media, was bound to remember those Nazi saboteurs of days gone by. And, sure enough, my February 2002 issue of The Atlantic Monthly arrived in the mail, featuring an excellent piece, “The Keystone Kommandos,” by Gary Cohen – thorough and enhanced by photographs of the saboteurs and of the military tribunal that tried them. Not long thereafter (February 17), here came The New York Times checking in with a full page article and several relevant photographs – “Terrorists Among Us (Back in ‘42),” by Andy Newman. Also available at roughly the same time was an article in the Coast Guard magazine, The Reservist (Jan. - Mar. 2002), itself excerpted from a July 1997 “World War II Beach Patrol feature”: “Enemies on the Beach: Sixty Years ago, an alert Coast Guardsman stopped hostile enemies from infiltrating American soil.” These pieces inevitably overlap somewhat, since the writers were using a lot of the same primary materials, including various and sundry government documents now finally and fully available for examination, together with the official trial transcript of the Tribunal. In The Atlantic, the “In This Issue” editorial page and the contributors’ notes tell us: “Gary Cohen (‘The Keystone Kommandos’) recently delved into more than 3000 pages of trial transcripts at the National Archives and the Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York, to unearth the story of their (the Nazis) mission, capture and trial.” And all three of these pieces, though adding some facts and new information of their own, also, as they dutifully acknowledge, owe a very large debt to the basic published book on the subject – THEY CAME TO KILL: THE STORY OF EIGHT NAZI SABOTEURS IN AMERICA (1962), by Eugene Rachlis.
From Rachlis to Cohen and Newman and the U.S. Coast Guard you can’t find fault with any of these guys. They have definitely done their homework and their duty and their delving; and, within the limits and the ambiguous authority (and veracity) of the available official documents, their versions are about as accurate and authentic as can be expected.
To be sure Eddie’s version is a little bit different. You’ll see.
As luck would have it – and luck will have it all, after all, in the literary life as well as real life, I had long since finished this fiction, “A story Goes With It,” and, in fact, already published a short version of it in The Sewanee Review, when there appeared on the scene a new book on the subject. It is called SABOTEURS; THE NAZI RAID ON AMERICA (Knopf, 2004), by Michael Dobbs. Mr. Dobbs, who is a reporter for the Washington Post, has done a wonderful job of assembling the basic facts and digging out the important details. Like Eddie, he went to the places and interviewed the people he could find. He writes: “My travels took me from the grounds of a former Nazi sabotage school in Brandenberg, Germany, to a windswept beach in Amagansett, Long Island; from Hitler’s bunker in the lake district of northeastern Poland to the streets of Chicago, where the saboteurs played cat-and-mouse games with their F.B.I. pursuers.” I learned a great deal from Mr. Dobbs’ book. Some of it, both large and small points, firmly contradicts my own (Eddie’s as best I can recall it) version. Other things are confirmed. It is hard to imagine a better factually correct version of this story than Saboteurs; for all practical purposes it’s likely to be the last word on the subject.
Meanwhile, for mostly impractical purposes, my story is a work of fiction. If I were writing it in Turkish, I would use what is called “the rumor tense,” beginning: “Maybe it happened and maybe it didn’t.”
After finishing some basic training (if you can call it that), at the Abwehr farm, nine men are shipped off to Paris, carrying with them large sums of American money along with a lot of forged identification documents and so on. The plan is for them to go to Paris (then under German occupation), and from thence to a German U-Boat base on the French coast where they can ship out to America.
Plenty happens on the train to Paris. First of all, these guys get all drunk and rowdy and boisterous. They tell other people, employees and fellow passengers, anybody who will bother to listen to them, that they are German spies on a top-secret mission. When they finally get off the train in Paris, they somehow manage to leave behind them the whole kit and kaboodle of American money, I.D. cards, maps and instructions etc. The French Conductor, who sometimes does a little part-time amateur, after hours, spying on the side for the Resistance, picks up this trash and immediately turns it over to his superiors. So the French know all about it from the outset. And, indeed, they take note of this information. But you must always bear in mind that the French are a lot more subtle and nuanced than we are. They will not be fooled by anything that obvious as this. They figure it’s a dumb Kraut trick. So they deep-six the materials and don’t bother to mention it to anyone else at the time or even (especially) later.
As for the saboteurs. They now have to wait around for a little while, maybe a week or ten days, while a whole new package of bogus materials is put together by the Abwehr and then brought to them. They spend most of their time in Paris bar-hopping and sight-seeing and chasing tail. And they continue to tell all kinds of people, in public and private places, that they are highly trained, heavy duty German saboteurs getting ready to go to America and to blow a whole lot of important infrastructure sky high.
Naturally their behavior and their claims came to the attention of the French and even to Allied intelligence. All of whom promptly disregard it as just one more bonehead German trick.
One of the saboteurs manages to get himself a serious dose of clap while screwing around in Paris. Lucky for him, he is scrubbed from the mission.
The others, eight of them, now re-equipped with the money and papers and maps and plans, are taken down to a submarine base and put aboard two U-Boats there, lone wolves of the new Type 9. At the very last minute, just before the subs slip out and away, here comes a special motorcycle courier, driving wide open and practically airborne, with a special personal message to them from the Führer himself.
This cheerful farewell message advises them that, while they are at it, they should be sure to try to blow up a few Jewish department stores in New York City.
Ends with the Nazi equivalent of “Have a Nice Day!”
The late John Edward Weems (born 1924) was, among other things, a first-rate journalist and writer. Beginning with A Weekend in September, an account of the great Galveston hurricane of 1900, he published, by my informal count, some fourteen books on a variety of subjects. Among them two fine books about Admiral Peary – Race for the Pole (1960) and Peary: THE EXPLORER AND THE MAN (1967); several books of solidly researched and well-written popular history: THE FATE OF THE MAINE(1958), DREAM OF EMPIRE; A HUMAN HISTORY OF THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS (1971), TO CONQUER A PEACE: THE WAR BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO (1974), DEATH SONG: THE LAST OF THE INDIAN WARS (1976); another book or two about stormy weather – THE TORNADO (1984) and IF YOU DON’T LIKE THE WEATHER (1986). One of my favorites is a wonderful book about some early American rascals and scoundrels – MEN WITHOUT COUNTRIES: THREE ADVENTURERS OF THE EARLY SOUTHWEST (1969). These three rogues were spies for Thomas Jefferson – or maybe against him. We’ll never know for sure. Here Eddie introduced me to a character, James Wilkinson, I would love to turn loose in a picaresque novel or a movie or an opera or a comic book, about chicanery and hanky-panky and hocus pocus among the Founding Fathers. Wilkinson was an American general at 21 in the Revolutionary War. Made a quick fortune, married a Biddle, and was, in the words of the book jacket, “an incorrigible double-dealer.” He was also, we soon learn, a spy for Spain even while serving on the southwest frontier as commander of U.S. forces there. Wilkinson was something of a writer in his own right, covering his ass and his tracks in a three volume memoir – MEMOIRS OF MY OWN TIMES (1816). I plan to read it some day if I live long enough.
Meanwhile I have Eddie’s book.
At one time Eddie was also an editor and the associate director of the University of Texas Press. Which is how he happened to be my editor and how I first got to know him. While he was there, Texas published two books of mine – THE SLEEPING GYPSY AND OTHER POEMS(1958) and IN THE BRIAR PATCH; A BOOK OF STORIES (1961). These books were beautifully made – one won a design prize – and I was and remain proud and grateful.
Some years later in 1971, a little magazine called The Mill Mountain Review did a special issue, “In Appreciation of George Garrett,” about my work. And, hey, that was fine and dandy with me. I enjoy appreciation as much as the next guy. It was all very nice and satisfactory, some poets contributed poems, some people submitted stories or essays. Eddie Weems sent along a loosey-goosey sequence of anecdotes (oddly appropriate to this piece I am writing more than thirty years later). Which I now shamelessly quote:
Your recent request for “critical essays, poems, stories, memories, anecdotes and whatever else comes to light, all concerning George Garrett – his career, his work and himself” left me bemused. The request evoked happy memories of years ago – most of them funny, a few even hilarious (which I regard as an intrinsic compliment to George Garrett), but at the same time hardly material for critical essays, poems, or stories. Many of the happenings would, in fact, be better kept in strictest confidence between George and me, rather than be used in any literary tribute to George. An instance of this is the time when, as promotion and advertising director of the University of Texas Press (George was an author of ours), I drove him from Austin to Fort Worth, where he spoke at a writers’ day luncheon at Texas Christian University. That night, while returning to Austin after partaking festively of chocolate milk and Jack Daniels (which does not represent depraved taste, as so many people have believed), we had a flat-just south of Waco. The tire-changing process of fitting those holes in the wheel to the lugs was made even more challenging than usual, and I spent fifteen minutes, in absolute darkness, trying without success to put on the spare, while George stood by wondering what the trouble could be. Finally he struck a match, and we saw our difficulty: I had been trying to put the spare on backwards. Now, as I said, these remembrances would not make any sort of tribute to George, but I suppose this one might: it commemorates his helpfulness. Had he not struck that match I probably would have been there until sunrise trying to put the spare on backwards.
As I said at first, I had not intended to write a tribute to George Garrett from these recollections of years ago, but the more I think about them the more I see that they do illuminate George’s good qualities, after all. There was, for another instance, the time I saw his inherent honesty displayed – at a crowded bar-and-billiard parlor near the beach in Venice, California. I had stopped over in Los Angeles (en route home from a university presses meeting at Stanford University) to visit George, who was then in Hollywood writing the screenplay for “The Young Lovers” for Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. We had sallied forth to the beach during the afternoon – it was one of those days of unusual Southern California heat – and had removed ourselves to the bar-and-billiard parlor for several hours to escape the blistering sun. Leaving, we were already outside the door before realizing we had left change for a ten-dollar bill on our table, and we hurried back to retrieve the pile of money before the waiter thought it was all meant for a tip. Blinking in the now-unaccustomed dark interior and disconcerted anew by the din and general confusion of the place (as well as the mist that seemed to hang over everything), I nevertheless thought I had found the change, still on the table – bills and coins – and had just picked it up when a group of mean-looking pool-shooters rushed toward us with cues and bottles in their fists, shouting, “Look! They’ve come back – and they’re taking our money!” After I had dropped their change and quickly picked up our own money from the correct table George – exhibiting his usual honest appraisal of any situation – said to me (after we had again made our exit), “That was their money. We’re lucky to be alive.”
Not only is George Garrett honest in his appraisals, he is (as further reflection shows me) without pretense or hypocrisy. I recall the time when, many years ago, he spoke at a Protestant church-affiliated school in Texas (a description that should indicate adequately the rules and regulations therein) and was quartered overnight in a plush guest room, one of several apartments maintained by the school in its Bible building. That night he invited several of us to partake of more Jack Daniels (with water this time, considering what we had endured after the chocolate milk) then, later, replaced the empty bottle in the bag and tossed it in a trash basket. Weeks afterward I heard from a relative associated with the school that George had created something of a scandal. The janitor, apparently in his routine inspection of trash, had found the bottle and had reported its presence to the administration – a fact of which I believe George is even now unaware. He had put the empty bottle back in the bag, to save their feelings, but he would not hypocritically or cravenly carry it outside and throw it in a large trash bin some distance away, where its ownership probably would have remained unknown, even to inspecting janitors.
Humility is another characteristic I have observed in George – on one occasion during a visit to his home in Houston, where he was associated some years ago with the Alley Theatre and with Rice University. While I was there the mail came, including the latest issue of the Princeton University alumni magazine. That publication carried a list of books by Princeton authors, and in this issue mentioned George’s book of contemporary poems, ABRAHAM’S KNIFE – listed in a category entitled “Books on the Civil War.” I reflected at the time that it required humility to laugh the way George did, but on the other hand – he had not then been selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club.
Now that I am caught up in these memories I could go on, but – to repeat – these recollections (and some few George might add) would be better kept confidential. Instead, as a tribute, I have dedicated a book to be published later this year by Simon and Schuster to “some men in the world of books who have been encouraging and helpful in past years” – to George Garrett and a few others. This seems much more appropriate, mutually, to our current professional dignities than written recollections of much younger days – or critical essays, poems, and stories based on those memories. The book might sell only 1,018 copies (taking for an estimate the average sales of five previous books), but the dedication to a talented, lively author is no less sincere. (Mill Mountain Review, pp. 174-175)
What has all this got to do with those eight saboteurs bobbing and barfing their way across the wide Atlantic in the cramped and stinking and highly dangerous little world of a submarine?
Well, along about that same time, the late fifties or early sixties, Eddie and his agent cut a deal with a major commercial publisher for a book about the Nazi saboteurs. What happened next was that, even before Eddie had finished up his extensive research, the Rachlis book came out. Out of the blue. And Eddie’s publisher soon decided there really wasn’t enough interest to justify two books on the exact same subject. As Eddie understood it, THEY CAME TO KILL had sold the paperback rights up front for a lordly sum. There was also a movie sale and so forth. Not much left over, slim pickings (if any), for ole Eddie’s book. The publisher surprisingly enough offered him a pretty good deal to just drop the book and the subject. They didn’t have to, but nevertheless they said he could keep all of the large advance. Moreover, to sweeten things even more, they also proposed that they would pay him something more than that, a kind of “kill fee.” In return he would give them, as their property to use or abuse as they saw fit, all his notes and as much of the manuscript as he might have already written. His agent characteristically advised him to take the money and run. It had all been a kind of an assignment, anyway. Eddie was always a pro, first to last. Win a few, lose a few. He needed the money, and he had plenty of other subjects he was interested in working on. So why not?
The downside was all the time and energy and effort he had already spent on it. Eddie went far beyond the version available from the trial transcript and such government documents he could get ahold of at the time. He had traveled over to Germany and France and all across America searching for and interviewing people who were involved in the story one way or another.
As for myself, I had been interested in the story of the Nazi saboteurs for a long time, ever since I was a teenager (1942) living in Florida, and mostly, that year, in an old house, a shack really, set in the sand dunes, facing the Atlantic Ocean near what is now called New Smyrna Beach. It was called Coronado Beach then. We could sit in our rocking chairs on the front porch and watch the Coast Guard patrol the beach every evening. We saw all kinds of wreckage and great gobs of oil and even sometimes dead bodies that washed up on the beach. We witnessed some firefights involving planes, Wildcats from a nearby airport, and German U-Boats as tankers and freighters tried to run safely north or south close along the Florida coast. Jacksonville Beach (Ponte Vedra), where one group of four of the Nazi saboteurs came ashore from a submarine, was north of where we were. But we heard all about it, long before we were ever able to read anything in the papers or in the magazines. We took it to be yet another rumor, only one among many. We saw no reason to doubt it. There were already stories that German sailors, captured or killed, were found to have receipts from grocery stores and even ticket stubs for movie theaters in Daytona, St. Augustine, Cocoa Beach etc., all up and down the east coast.
Why doubt the possibility of some saboteurs?
One of my sisters remembers going to a beach party up at Jacksonville Beach along about the same time that the saboteurs (we later learned) were supposed to have come ashore. On the way back home, they got stopped at several checkpoints. They had to prove their identity and submit to a search of the car. My sister and her friend thought it must be something to do with the abuse of gas rationing. We only had an “A” card, three gallons a week. But the police and soldiers offered no explanation of the checkpoints.
And something else. I knew a woman who was a newspaper reporter. She told me how she had gone up to Jacksonville Beach to see some of the evidence against the saboteurs after the whole thing was known, namely some supplies and explosives that they were supposed to have buried when they first landed. The F.B.I. was there to show off the stuff, to let reporters take some pictures, and to answer any questions. What troubled her a little was the fact that the shallow hole in the sand was obviously very recently dug. Like maybe an hour or so before the reporters arrived. You can tell a thing like that easily in soft beach sand. Moreover the materials were all brand new and some items looked to be American made, not German at all. Surprise, surprise? Well, not really. Everybody knew better than to ask too many questions about anything in those days. Information was carefully rationed, doled out, managed, manipulated (as they say). Like meat and sugar and leather and gasoline. Bear in mind that the first photographs that showed dead American corpses were allowed to be published in 1943 or 1944. The President is said to have asked that some photographs of American dead should begin to be published in the magazines so that the public could get used to the idea before D-day. Remember, too, that we were years finding out the details of exactly what had happened at Pearl Harbor. We were told it was bad, but we had no idea just how bad it had been until much later in the war.
So, sometime in the late 1960s, as I recall, I asked Eddie Weems to tell me something about the Nazi Saboteurs of 1942.
Have I already mentioned that Eddie and I were drinking? Bourbon on the rocks. I’m sorry to say (or am I?). We did a lot of that in those days and I guess I could tell you a thing or two. However I only mention it here because it is one more factor in the veracity of this story. Eddie was telling me his version, not for posterity or publication, but because I had asked him to. Meanwhile I was listening and sipping some good whiskey and enjoying the story for its own sake and nothing else.
Oh, all right, since you asked, a couple of quick bourbon stories.
Like the time I went up to Austin for the publication of IN THE BRIAR PATCH (1961). We had a party at Eddie’s house. All kinds of people, friends of Eddie and Jane showed up. Two were honored and prominent Texas men of letters, men I had admired for most of my adult years, but never imagined getting to meet in person – J. Frank Dobie and Walter Prescott Webb. It was wonderful to meet these men and to talk to them for awhile. It was only years later that I heard (I still don’t know if it’s true, but . . . . ) that Dobie and Webb had quarreled and that they never went to any place socially where the other one was likely to be. Only for Eddie Weems would they turn up together. That says something about Eddie Weems.
We had a fine old time, to be sure; and, on the morning after, hung-over, but still young enough to be cheerful, I dropped by the Press to see Eddie and to make my manners to Frank Wardlaw, director of the Press. He and Eddie were going to drive me out to the airport. I brought along a bottle and we sat in Frank’s office, laughing and scratching, and talking trash and taking some hits until it was time for us to go to the airport. Got there (safe and sound). It was a terrible looking little airport. Parking lot empty. Tall grass growing everywhere. Not much activity that we noticed. We still had some time to kill. So we sat in the car talking and taking some more pulls on that rapidly dwindling bottle.
About that time a man driving a great big grass mower (a bush hog?), came alongside, cutting a swath of tall grass near where we were parked. He cut down a couple of rows of grass and weeds and then pulled up right next to us and cut his engine so we could at least hear each other.
“You boys waiting for an airplane?” He asked.
“Yes, sir. Going to fly out of here to Houston in about fifteen minutes.”
“Well, sir, I don’t reckon you’re going to make that flight and there won’t be another one coming along right away, either.”
“How come? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“Not at all,” he said. “This here airport has been closed up tight for the last five years ever since they built the new one across town. I think you might have better luck if you drove over there and waited.”
It was then that one of us, probably sharp-eyed Eddie, noticed that the roof of the terminal was all caved in and there was a chain and a huge padlock on the front door.
Or, another selected from among many, there is the time Eddie, as a world-class expert on storms of all kinds, was hired by The Houston Post, also in 1961 I think, to go down to Galveston and cover a hurricane that was headed there. He was to go down and weather the worst of the weather, and call in his copy (if he could). On the way down, Eddie swung by my house in Houston, and picked me up to come along with him as company. I was given a camera and some bogus press credentials; and we headed off into the teeth of the storm (as they say).
Eddie wanted to rest his eyes a little and maybe to take a brief nap. So we switched off. I was driving and Eddie was stretched out in the back seat of my old Rambler. He was snoring away like my old hound dog. The road was open and empty (officially closed). The rain was hard and horizontal, the wind was high.
I am peering into it, squinting, leaning up close to the windshield, cocking my head and keeping time with the windshield wipers, driving along at a crawl.
Here comes a Texas State Trooper, blinking and flashing his lights. Pulls me over. Parks and comes around to my window and raps on it. I run it down.
“May I see your license and registration, please sir?” He asks politely. “And if you don’t mind my asking, just what the fuck do you think you are doing here?”
“Going to Galveston, officer.”
“No, you ain’t, sir. This road is closed to civilian traffic.”
“We’re not civilians. We’re from the Houston Post.”
“Got any press credentials?”
“Sure. Only he’s got them all with him.”
Eddie, curled up in the back seat like a bull seal or a walrus, is still snoring away.
“He’s the reporter and I’m the photographer.”
“How would I know that?”
“Well, sir,” I tell him. “Here’s my camera . . . .”
It does indeed say “Property of the Houston Post” on it. I wouldn’t know how to take a picture with it if my life depended on it. Which, thank goodness, it doesn’t.
“Okay, buddy,” the Trooper allows. “What about him?”
I am struck with sudden inspiration. We do, after all, have a copy of Eddie’s book on the great Galveston hurricane, WEEKEND IN SEPTEMBER, sitting on the front seat. It has a nice picture of an unmistakable Eddie Weems on the jacket. I hold it up high so the Trooper can see for himself. He peers at the picture and then at Eddie.
“That is John Edward Weems, officer. He wrote the book on hurricanes.”
Trooper thinks about it, then suddenly waves us on our way.
“If he don’t wake up soon, he ain’t going to write another book today.”
We are off and running, laughing and scratching.
After a while ole Eddie wakes up and stretches.
“Everything okay?” he asks.
“Everything is copacetic, five-by-five.”
Lucky for us it turned out not to be quite so bad as everybody had expected. It was a powerful storm, though. When we finally got to Galveston, the place was pretty much evacuated and abandoned except for (as ever and always) cops and firemen and rescue workers. We looked around. Eddie talked to a policeman or two and took some notes. Then he drove around looking for something familiar, found it, it seemed, and pulled up and parked right in front of an enormous, birthday cake of a Victorian mansion. There were some pale lights, candles probably, from inside.
“We wait right here,” he told me.
So we sat there in the car, pelted by the heavy rain, our car windows fogged over, ourselves passing the bottle back and forth while we waited. For what, I wasn’t sure. The end of the world maybe. Maybe a half hour or forty-five minutes later – not a long time, but long enough for us to get ourselves somewhat inebriated, a couple of police cars came sloshing along through the rising water, together with a bus. They pulled into the driveway of the big house, and a couple of cops in wet and shiny slickers clumped up the stairs and pounded on the front door. We kept busy wiping the windows inside, trying to see.
Shortly the front door opened and here came a line of young women, all of them dressed in bathrobes, running for the bus with the cops, like a brace of sheep-dogs, herding them along.
“I knew it!” Eddie said. “I knew damn well this is exactly how it would be.”
He put on the car lights and got out and stood there in the rain watching. Some of the young women did a kind of double take when they saw Eddie standing in the light and waved at him.
“Hey, Eddie!” Somebody called out. “Hey, Eddie! What are you doing here?”
He neither waved nor answered.
“They’ve got me confused with somebody else,” he said to me.
After the cops and the bus drove away, Eddie got back in the car, wiped off as best he could and took a couple or three major swallows of bourbon, the latter, as he explained to me, so he wouldn’t end up catching a bad cold. As for what we had just witnessed, he had nothing to say except this: “Bastards! Wouldn’t you know they would keep them waiting until the very last minute to be evacuated. It’s a damn shame.”
We drove around until we found a phone booth, one that still worked.
“Wait right here in the car,” Eddie said, taking his notes (already well soaked with rain) and the bottle with him. The light in the booth didn’t work, so he had me to jockey the car around where the car lights could do the job. I watched him putting coins into the phone, then talking to somebody. Talked awhile, then hung up. Took another pull from the bottle and walked slowly back to the car.
“Let’s go home,” he told me. “Back to Houston. It’s all over.”
“What do you mean? What happened?”
“I called in and dictated my story and they took it all down carefully and read it back to me. Then they fired me. Bill Hobby fired me in person.”
“Why did he do that?”
“Beats me,” Eddie said. “It was a hell of a good story, too – how they evacuated the best whorehouse in Galveston in the big middle of a hurricane.”
To the best of my recollection (as witnesses always say in courtroom drama) I have only told Eddie’s version of this saboteur story a couple of times before now. Both times that I told it, different occasions, were at the same place – evening on the front porch of my old (1780) house in York Harbor, Maine, overlooking the York river. In the evening that river, with its moored lobster boats and sailboats and large and small pleasure craft, rising or falling according to the tide, glistens with a ghostly light like a wet blacksnake.
Anyway, I told Eddie’s saboteur story (separately) to two old friends – John McPhee and David Slavitt. McPhee seemed to like the story and said so. Slavitt liked it, too, and wondered out loud if he could maybe make a piece of fiction, a novel, out of the subject, creating his own version and not exactly using Eddie’s version or anybody else’s.
I couldn’t think of any good reason why not.
Slavitt, a brilliant and prolific poet, novelist, story-writer, critic and translator (author of more than eighty books at this writing and more are in the pipeline), gave the story of the saboteurs his own inimitable twists and turns. RINGER (Dutton, 1982) tells its own story, based, as he allows in his “acknowledgments,” on Rachlis’s THEY CAME TO KILL (1961), but also clearly and boldly a work of fiction. “I have merely extended the truth into what I hope is a plausible and entertaining story.” He used few of the details from Eddie’s version (as remembered and told by me) but he was wonderfully faithful to the spirit of Eddie’s unwritten story. On the one hand, RINGER is a fast-paced, page-turning, classic thriller deftly plotted and enhanced by the usual required ingredients of sex and violence, murder and mayhem. Just as it is, it would make a swell action movie. In his blurb, Richard Elman called it “a movie in words.” If Eddie’s version calls for the Coen Brothers, RINGER might be perfect for Tony Bill.
On the other hand, there is a gracious plenty of “comic relief,” of slapstick and pratfalls. Ringer is a Shakespearean mix in the way that Eddie’s version is a mix (and if you insist, as mine is here and now. As, alas, real life is.) Slavitt produced a very clever, original, and complex piece of work. Playing fast and loose with many of the facts, he nevertheless managed to follow the true history fairly closely. The biggest change in Slavitt’s version, was to make the mission a double-barreled plot. The saboteurs, all of them hopeless and hapless amateurs, are supposed to blow up Jewish department stores in New York City. That is their one and only suicidal assignment. Among them, however, and unknown to any of them until late in the story, there is the “ringer,” a real professional, a “hit-man” by trade, who has the special assignment of murdering Albert Einstein. This leads up to a wild final sequence in Princeton during the annual Princeton Reunions where, among other things, two men disguised as Princeton Tigers in tiger suits pull each others’ tails and shoot it out on stage in front of a large crowd of drunken alumni.
I have to believe Slavitt put that in as a little thank you tip of the hat to me – I went to Princeton, as did John McPhee, who was a class behind me. Slavitt also has a character who is a Master Sergeant, my old rank, by the name of Garrett, who appears briefly and is celebrated for his “style of invective.” Never mind. We have our little private jokes from time to time.
I have read most of Slavitt’s books, but somehow had not read RINGER until right now, right in the big middle of doing my own version. There probably have been others, too, but so far RINGER is the only work of fiction that I know of about the Nazi Saboteurs of 1942.
You ought to read it sometime.
From here on Eddie’s version of what really happened in the saboteur story differs significantly from the other accounts that I know of. If there is any truth, or even a serious probability in Eddie’s version, then you wouldn’t expect the people who were involved – the Coast Guard, the F.B.I., the President, the Attorney General, the Supreme Court, etc., to confirm it unless they got caught and had to. Otherwise they almost certainly would, as is the habit and wont of all governments, large and small, local and global, have attempted to cover it up as much as possible.
Real people with real names were duly honored with medals and with public praise, J. Edgar Hoover among them, for the bold and efficient way they dealt with the challenge of the Nazi Saboteurs. People have had buildings and streets named after them. Let it be. Let them all rest in peace. From here on, with the exception of some of the dead saboteurs, and maybe a few others, I won’t bad-mouth anybody.
The Jacksonville Beach landing went well, everyone agrees. No problem. The four men who landed there scattered at once, and didn’t get caught until later on.
The other group landed on Long Island.
On the quiet and foggy night of June 13, 1942, near midnight, four saboteurs paddled a rubber boat towards shore. They wore German uniforms so that if they were captured while landing, they would legitimately be taken as prisoners of war, not spies. Army or Navy uniforms? Nobody can agree on that now. I, myself, prefer to imagine them (why not?) in regular Wehrmacht uniforms with those heavy and distinctive German steel helmets. Who knows?
As luck would have it, they paddled right up to a pier that was part of the Amagansett Station of the U.S. Coast Guard. Happens there was a Coast Guard seaman there, too, out on patrol. This seaman was a kind of a discipline problem and was pulling this night patrol duty as a punishment. He saw the four men paddling up to the pier and snubbing a line on a cleat there. He pulled out his .45 pistol and pointed at them. The four men dutifully raised their hands. The sailor stepped over to a field telephone that directly contacted the Duty Officer at the station.
“Sir,” he said. “I got me four guys down here, all dressed up like German soldiers, tying up to our pier. What you want me to do about them?”
“What I want you to do, you little shit, is to hang up that phone and get your ass out on beach patrol immediately. And if you ever call me again with some kind of a crazy story like that, I will personally see to it that you stand a court-martial.”
(Or words to that effect.)
Hangs up the phone. Puts pistol back in its holster. Waves politely to the four men in German uniform who are just standing there trying to make up their minds whether to run for it or give up. Not a word, but waves his friendly hello and goodbye and then hops off the pier and starts walking away along the beach. Just as he was told to do.
The four men pull the rubber boat and their other gear up under the pier and just above the high tide line as marked by seaweed and flotsam and jetsam. They proceed to shed their uniforms and bury them casually in the sand. They settle down and to catch some sleep awhile waiting for dawn.
While I was writing this story, I got in touch with my old friend Allen Wier, a gifted novelist and story-writer. Allen and I had once made a tour of Texas colleges back in 1983 reading from our new books – Allen’s DEPARTING AS AIR and my novel THE SUCCESSION. One of the places we went to was Baylor, where Allen had gone to school. Baylor is in Waco which is where Eddie Weems was living at that time. I think Eddie was working at Baylor. Now I asked Allen for any recollections he might have of our time with Eddie in Waco.
He replied, and I’ll be quoting from his letter to me dated 3 June 2002.
“When we got to Waco, we stayed at Eddie and Jane Weems’ house. Eddie drove us over to Baylor for our reading. After the reading, Eddie piled us into his car . . . . “
Politely Allen avoids the subject of the reading itself. Baylor was and is a very strict and straight-laced place. Good school, but kind of strict. Allen is too polite to remind me that all three of us, he and Eddie and myself, having had a few drinks to prepare for this important occasion. were reeking with the odor of alcohol. People left in good size clumps and crowds even before we had been so much as introduced or read a word out loud. A bad scene . . . .
“After the reading, Eddie piled us into his car, winking and grinning. He wouldn’t tell us where we were headed, just that he had something to show us. We drove all across Waco in the dark and stopped in front of one of those big metal buildings they erect in about a week. This one was blue metal and there was a big neon sign – I think it was “The 500 Club,” something like that – pink neon lighting up a large parking lot full of pickup trucks and Cadillacs and Lincolns. Eddie sat there grinning as if we were parked in front of the Taj Mahal.
“‘Just last week,’ he told us, ‘a fellah rode his horse inside.’
“Remember, George, you and I had to catch a red-eye flight very early the next morning on a ‘Git-along-little-dogie’ airline, en route to Abilene Christian College, I think. And we were already pretty bushed – ten readings in eight days (or was it eight readings in ten days?). Anyway, ole Eddie herded us into that big blue metal building where rock-and-roll and strobe lights pulsed steadily and there were all these nekkid girls everywhere you looked. That place must have had four or five little stages and a stripper or two on every stage.
“Several of the dancers waved and hollered at Eddie as we walked in. Once we were seated at a table, a girl in a French Maid’s outfit came and took our drink orders. Eddie was handing out credit cards and big smiles in all directions. It was as if we were celebrating birthdays or one of us was fixing to get married the next day.
“Eddie paid for ‘table dances’ for both of us, and in my memory he hired two or three girls to dance for each of us at the same time. Our little black cocktail table was crowded with women undressing up close and personal.”
One thing I do remember, Allen, was this. At some point a very good looking young woman, beautifully and expensively dressed, (hat and gloves too as I choose to recall) a creature of “real class,” came in accompanied by a tall, handsome well-dressed man. He looked like a young corporate executive. All the girls crowded around to greet her warmly. Turned out, or so it seemed, she was a former dancer at the Club 500 who had recently married the man she was with. She introduced him all around. And then they sat down at a table. After a little while, one of the naked dancers beckoned to her to come on up to the stage. Laughing, she jumped up from the table and joined the dancers. Danced for a few moments in all her fine new clothes, then suddenly began to shuck off those clothes and become another naked dancer. I remember her wedding ring, a big diamond that she had proudly shown off to her friends, glinting in the light. The expression on her husband’s face was . . . well, ambiguous, uncertain. I couldn’t rightly guess whether he was pleased and proud or utterly dismayed.
Did the dancing wife know Eddie Weems? I don’t know. Why not? She should have. Everybody else did. I think we would have noticed only if she hadn’t known Eddie.
“I remember looking at you and your head was nodding with pure fatigue. I thought we might turn out to be the first men in the history of the Club 500 to fall asleep during a table dance.
“Finally, after Eddie had signed plenty of credit card slips and spread plenty of good will, we convinced him we couldn’t take any more fun that night; and he drove us home where Jane got up and welcomed us back and then, more than good naturedly got up again along about two or three hours later to make us coffee before Eddie drove us off to the airport, clearly sad to see us go.
“I hope that Jane will see this story as a tribute to Eddie even if, as I like to think, those nekkid girls are now angels up in heaven waving and dancing and delivering drinks on the house all around the clouds.”
I am sorry to report that Jane Weems has also died since then. She was always an angel to put up with him and us, too.
I am not going to tell some of the other versions of this story so that you can then compare and contrast them with Eddie’s account. Suffice it to say, they give a picture that, in general and in many details, is much more serious, more dangerous than Eddie’s account.
Since, as indicated, the other versions, though excellent, are uniformly based on official government documents and data, the actions taken (or not taken) by the F.B.I., the Coast Guard, the Justice Department etc. are inevitably shown in a favorable light.
As soon as the saboteurs were caught, they were given the benefit of a speedy military tribunal, convicted, and six of them were executed soon thereafter. There was no particular value at the time for the U.S. Government to portray them as a bunch of clowns and stumblebums. Best that they should be presented to the general public as extremely dangerous and diabolically clever Nazi agents.
(Here a word or two more may be in order. My friend Richard Dillard, poet and novelist and co-author of the screenplay for Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, tells me that Hitler’s political party was originally called Naso, for National Socialists. The word Nazi was originally used by the opposition and means something like “buffoon” in English. For some reason they began to call themselves Nazis. And it was no joke by 1941; though you would have to admit that a movie/musical like The Producers returns things to their original mint condition.)
Best that the Americans should not be clowns, either. And the relatively quick roundup and capture of the eight saboteurs should not be attributed to dumb luck, but rather to the always alert, dedicated and determined efforts of the Americans, and especially J. Edgar Hoover and his band of merry men over at the F.B.I.
So, four German saboteurs came ashore in uniform near a Coast Guard station on Long Island. They immediately encountered a Coast Guardsman, but nothing came of that encounter. Whatever took place, they were not taken into custody. They rested awhile, smoking German cigarettes (leaving crumpled-up cigarette packages behind) and drank some German schnapps (also leaving the empty bottle behind) and changed back into civilian clothing (leaving the German uniforms behind) and just disappeared. As did the submarine that had brought them there.
Focus now on George John Dasch, the eldest of the saboteurs and the leader of the group that landed on Long Island. When, early on the morning of June 14th, they scattered and made their separate ways, by public transportation, into New York City, Dasch used a public telephone as soon as possible to call the F.B.I. office in New York. The people he talked to there were surprisingly polite. They listened to him, then told him that this news was so vital, so important that he should take it directly, and in person, to the Director of the F.B.I. in Washington, D.C.
Dasch realized that these people thought he was nuts. The only way he could stop the mission cold and before a lot of people got hurt and some infrastructure (as they call it now) was damaged and destroyed, would be if he did exactly what they had suggested and went on down to Washington and tried to see Hoover. If he went in person to the N.Y. office, that person (himself) would probably find himself locked up somewhere. Then – worst case scenario, let us say that the mission succeeded. Would the F.B.I. agents in New York City be happy to learn that Dasch wasn’t crazy after all and that he had been telling them the truth, the real “skinny,” from the beginning? Would they let their future careers in the Bureau be jeopardized? No, siree. What would be jeopardized would be the life of one expendable George Dasch who would find himself on the bottom of the East River or maybe even the Hudson wearing huge concrete shoes.
To allay suspicions, Dasch met with the other saboteurs as had been planned, reconfirmed their immediate future plans, then took a train to Washington. Got there. Found and went to Hoover’s office and asked for an appointment.
“And what is the nature of your problem, Mr. Dasch?”
He explained, briefly, that he had some extremely urgent and sensitive information that he could deliver only to the Director, himself, personally. He then took the chair that the receptionist offered him and began to catch up on his magazine reading. If this were a story of research rather than mere fictive memory, I would probably tell you what he might have been reading in the magazines. People came and went from the inner sanctum. Dasch waited calmly and read those old magazines.
From the beginning, from the day he was recruited by the Abwehr for this mysterious mission – and Dasch was the very first person they picked – Dasch had planned to betray the operation. He was delighted when they accidentally landed at the Coast Guard station. Alarmed but pleased when the sailor drew down on them. Sincerely disappointed when, for some reason, that sailor simply let them go. But Dasch was ever an optimist. Always looking for the silver lining. Thus the response of the New York Office of the F.B.I. to the news that a gang of German saboteurs were in town, while disappointing, was helpful. For one thing it meant his luck was holding. Suppose he had stupidly gone straight to the office and made his declaration then and there. Go figure. Meanwhile their funny – ha-ha – brush off (“This is really important. You must report at once to the Director in person”) told him something about the culture of the F.B.I., itself, namely that these agents had not much respect for their boss. That it popped into their minds so quickly (“This looks like a job for Superman!”) also indicated to Dasch that it was probably the kind of thing Hoover was looking for and would go for. They, the N.Y, guys, were betting the store that a loonie like that would never get into Hoover’s office. And even if he did, it would be a good joke, and one he couldn’t pin on them, at Hoover’s expense.
They were dead wrong on every count.
Dasch did get to see Hoover. (“You got five minutes. I’ll give you five minutes and the clock is already ticking, pal.”) It took two full days of just sitting there reading and being calm, cool, and collected before he had his chance.
But it didn’t take five full minutes to convince J. Edgar that this was really hot stuff. It did take a little longer to convince him that it was all or mostly true.
Dasch suggested that Hoover should call up his agents in New York City and tell them to haul ass out to Long Island and to check directly under the pier of the Coast Guard station for any signs that maybe some Nazis had been camping out there recently. Dasch was taking a chance or two, to be sure. He did not tell Hoover that he had already tried his luck (and failed) with those New York guys. So Hoover would not begin by chewing them out, but instead would issue crisp, loud orders, thus indicating they were at least still on the payroll and more or less in his good graces. There was no percentage in their not finding the evidence. There was every incentive to locate some if they could.
Note that Dasch didn’t suggest calling the Coast Guard. Which might have been quicker and more efficient: “Hey, guys, run on down and take a look underneath your own pier and see if you can find some Nazi stuff from the other night when they landed there, okay?”
The United States Coast Guard had no incentive whatsoever to find any evidence that a bunch of Nazis had been hanging out over at their place. Note that Dasch was also betting that the Coast Guard had not found anything yet, on their own, in the two and a half days since the saboteurs first encountered the sailor. He was betting that they hadn’t found anything because they hadn’t bothered to look yet. He could have been wrong, but, what-the-hell, he couldn’t be in a whole lot more trouble than he was already. Right?
Dasch goes back to his chair and his limp magazines.
Hoover catches up on some paperwork.
And then, after a while, an hour or so, the phone rings and, in a trice (as they say), George Dasch is the man of the hour.
Hoover is so happy he takes Dasch out to dinner at a first class Washington restaurant (Harvey’s?) where they can get a good piece of steak. Hoover already guesses that he is going to have to depend a great deal on the kindness and good will of Dasch to catch and convict the rest of this gang. He has already guessed Dasch’s weakness and so devotes some time to praising the guy as a great American patriot who has done his country service above and beyond the call of duty.
Rolling up the rest of them, except for one case, is no big problem. Thanks to Dasch, the government has complete information on all the others in both groups and on where they are supposed to be and what they are up to.
Everybody but one, Herbert Haupt of Chicago, at twenty-one the youngest of them, is taken into custody. They, the New York F.B.I., have Haupt under close surveillance. He has been making a lot of phone calls from various phone booths and they think maybe he has some contacts that Dasch doesn’t know about or anyway hasn’t yet revealed. Trailing him, several agents follow Haupt to Penn Station where he buys a one-way ticket to Chicago and boards, aptly, the Twentieth Century Limited. So do they.
They don’t tell anybody else what they are doing except the people in the New York office.
In Chicago Haupt hops in a cab and the F.B.I. agents do likewise.
“Follow that cab!”
Haupt’s cab goes directly to his home address where (to their knowledge) his mother lives. He goes in. The F.B.I. guys settle in for a long wait after explaining to the cabbie what rights he doesn’t have and what happens to uncooperative cab drivers in wartime. But they don’t have to wait long, anyway. Here comes young Haupt backing his mother’s old Packard out of the attached garage.
“Follow that car!”
Haupt goes downtown and parks near the Federal Building. They follow him inside. A couple of them ride up with him in the elevator. Elevator stops and opens and Haupt hops out and opens a frosted glass door marked “Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
“Jaysus, and Jay Edgar! What the fuck is going on?”
It looks really weird to our New York boys.
What they don’t know won’t help or hurt them now. Seems that a month or so ago a draft notice for Haupt arrived home in the mail. (“Greetings from the President of the United States!”) Being in Germany at the time, he missed it. Since then a second notice, followed by a stern warning, have come. The warning informed him that unless he checked, by a certain date, with the F.B.I., a warrant for his arrest would be issued. He is already a day or two late. So what happens is that he tells the Chicago F.B.I. people that he has been out of the country, mostly in Mexico, but that he is back for good now and will, of course, report at once to Selective Service. They tell him not to sweat it. “Thanks for coming by.” Leaves, pulling the door to quietly. Smiling. Whistling a happy tune while waiting for the elevator. Maybe it is the same tune we heard back at the beginning.
These New York guys are really confused and baffled now. They phone home for instructions, and their office tells them under no circumstances to deal with or say anything to the Chicago F.B.I. office. Just keep that Nazi kid under tight surveillance and wait for more instructions.
Cut to the end of the chase. What happens is that Haupt goes and checks into a downtown hotel. By then the Chicago F.B.I. people are beginning to be suspicious of something. Anyway while Haupt is soaking in the big bath tub and humming that same little happy tune, the two groups of F.B.I. men, Chicago and New York, unbeknownst to each other, decide to break into Haupt’s hotel room and grab him. Each thinks the other group is a bunch of armed German agents.
And thus, while poor Haupt is cringing in the soapy tub, we witness the only violence of the whole affair as the F.B.I. guys shoot it out with each other. Luckily they are, one and all, lousy shots. They manage to fill the ceiling and the walls with bullet holes, and to scare the shit out of the hotel staff, but nobody gets hurt.
If they ever do a movie of Eddie’s version that could be, in the hands of the right director, a dynamite scene.
Now, fiction or no, alas, it all gets a little bit serious and complicated as things will sometime do. What begins in farce, a few laughs, ends in something like tragedy with a stage littered with corpses. Only six dead bodies in this case (same as in Hamlet, if you care to count Rozencrantz and Guildenstern). And they are all saboteurs.
You can see it all for yourself. Headlines, a fair and speedy Military Tribunal, followed by a speedy appeal that is lost in the Supreme Court, followed by a fair and speedy execution by means of the electric chair in the D.C. Jail on August 8, 1942, a little less than two months after they landed. Justice moved swiftly in those days. Read the versions based on the tribunal transcript. Get the facts there. Eddie’s version of the end game doesn’t differ much from the official one except that in the latter our brilliant and steadfast F.B.I. guys are shown to be right on top of things from the get-go. They saved the nation.
And the lesson to all Americans from the President and all our fearless leaders on down is that we are safely in good hands. Everybody (except the six saboteurs) gets something good out of it besides the praise of a thankful public. Hoover gets a special medal.
The two saboteurs who weren’t electrocuted didn’t make out quite as well as they might have. Dasch was under the understanding that, having betrayed the operation and been a fully cooperative government witness he would be acquitted or, anyway, given “a slap on the wrist.” He was told to expect a Presidential pardon. What he got instead was thirty years in the slammer, effective immediately. He was cuffed and carried away from the Tribunal. Clearly Hoover didn’t want anybody running around free as the breeze who knew the whole truth about the sequence of what was called a SNAFU in that war (Situation Normal: All Fucked Up). Dasch covered for them in his testimony, somewhat to his own disadvantage. But one day he might well change his mind and tell another story. Hoover might, wisely, have preferred to execute him with the others. He could have. But he had at least some sense of loyalty. How much harm could Dasch do to him or national security from deep in bowels of a Federal penitentiary?
Because they needed to have two witnesses for the sake of the tribunal and appearances, the government also used another man, one whom Dasch “turned” for them – Ernest Burger, an American citizen who had served in the National Guard once upon a time. In a busy life, he had also been a Stormtrooper in the Nazi party in Germany and a private in the Wehrmacht. On top of all that he logged more than a year as a political prisoner in a concentration camp, for bad mouthing the Gestapo.
Burger got thirty years, too. His understanding was that later on, and as soon as possible, he would quietly be set free.
In his excellent and informative Atlantic piece Gary Cohen writes: “Dasch and Burger spent some six years in U.S. Prisons and then were deported to Germany in April of 1948.” Dasch told Eddie, in an interview, that there was no kind of new hearing or anything; no warning either. Just suddenly in the middle of the night some F.B.I. guys came to his cell, gave him a set of civilian clothes and put him on a plane for Germany. He was widely known and hated in Germany as the Judas among the saboteurs. According to Gary Cohen, Dasch had a hard time of it, but lived on until 1992. He adds this fascinating sentence: “Late in his life Dasch befriended Charlie Chaplin, who was living in nearby Switzerland, and the two men compared notes on how J. Edgar Hoover had ruined their lives.”
Eddie didn’t know whatever became of the other one – Burger.
I have on my desk in front of me right now a book about espionage during World War II – THE SHADOW WAR (Time-Life Books 1991). Okay, so I did do a little reading and research, but not all that much. It lies open to page 57 where there is a black and white photograph of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. He is in uniform, though most of his uniform is concealed within a large, dark, heavy foot-length overcoat with shiny little epaulets on the shoulders. And he is wearing what we would call a visored garrison cap, replete with “scrambled eggs” on the visor. He is walking along, hands behind his back, looking across at the camera. There are two other men, one on each side, walking with him, wearing Wehrmacht uniforms – no overcoats, riding britches, high, and highly polished riding boots. They are identified in the caption as “two key aides” – General Erwin Lahousen head of sabotage and Colonel Hans Pickenbrock, chief of espionage. Canaris looks to be very serious, more so in the context of the caption which tells us that “a grim Wilhelm Canaris trudges to Adolf Hitler’s office on June 30 to explain the collapse of Operation Pastorius.” Trudges, that’s a nice associative touch. Sets the tone. Only in truth the three men just seem to be walking slowly along. Trudges is a pure judgment call. “Grim” is also. Serious, as already said, yes indeed, but poker-faced, really. They don’t look specially sad or troubled. Maybe if we could only see his eyes, which are in the shadow of his visor, we would know better . . . .
There are other photos of Canaris in THE SHADOW WAR. In a full page portrait, from a certain angle (again he has just turned towards the camera), Canaris, with his garrison cap on, but now set well above the large, heavy-lidded eyes, looks quite a bit like Eric von Stroheim. Remember him? Without a cap on he looks quite different – silky silver hair and heavy silver eyebrows, a good looking man of early middle age, handsome, yes, yet somehow also nondescript. In photographs with others – Himmler, Goebbels, his long time rival Reinhard Heydrich – Canaris is a trim man of medium height and, always, that pleasant poker face. THE SHADOW WAR describes him as more than a little eccentric (p. 4): “A pill-popping hypochondriac who wore heavy winter clothing year round (that, if true, may explain the heavy overcoat he wore on June 30), Canaris harbored an irrational dislike of tall people and those with small ears.” This sounds more like some kind of a joke originating from the bored Time-Life editors, who had to put this book together, than confirmed fact. Those guys, the editors, try to make something out of “his rumpled uniform, eccentric mannerisms, and lisping voice” and point out that he “fretted obsessively over the health of his pets.” They also quote him as saying: “My dachshund is discreet and will never betray me. I cannot say that of any human being.” Who knows? Maybe he and Hitler, a couple of certified dog lovers, had that to talk about. In any case a lot of people who know enough to have a legitimate opinion regard Canaris as the great spymaster of World War II.
I have also on my desk – MASTER SPY (1952), by Ian Colvin, who argues that Canaris, while not actually working for or with the British, was a kind of secret ally of theirs, strongly favoring them over the Russians and, towards the end, even the Führer, and, from time to time, giving the British some information, serious aid and comfort whenever he could get away with it. Colvin makes a strong, if, finally, inconclusive case.
Some people speculate that Canaris cooperated with the Brits to help set up the assassination, in May 1942, of his rival and competition Reinhard Heydrich, who, among other things was SS Deputy Protector of Bohemia-Moravia. It is entirely possible, but there are no confirming documents. Very few documents concerning Canaris survive.
I am perfectly willing to write off that heavy overcoat in the big middle of June, on the assumption that the comment on Canaris’s sumptuary eccentricity is factually correct – that he wore winter clothing all year round. I have to admit that I haven’t yet found any other evidence of that except for this photograph. But let it be.
I do have a couple of other minor problems with the June 30 photograph and its caption.
The saboteurs, all but Dasch who was free until early July, were finally caught and in custody by June 25. Thanks to the eager (if supremely self-serving) efforts of J. Edgar Hoover, the news about the saboteurs and their capture was in all the American and allied newspapers beginning June 27. Certainly Canaris, the old master spy, himself, would have been fully aware of that much. Whether or not Hitler, who was busy concentrating on the Eastern Front that summer of ‘42, would have known (or cared) much about it, one way or the other, on or before June 30, I wonder . . . . I’m thinking that Canaris was bringing him the news in person on June 30. That’s what was happening. Which would have been the right (smart) thing to do. And whatever may or may not have happened at that meeting, if it, in fact, ever took place, we don’t know. In any case, we don’t hear from any other sources (and they are plentiful) that the Führer was particularly upset at that particular time or angry at Canaris. Canaris came and went (if he in fact came and went) without getting into any big trouble with Hitler, at least at that time. His troubles were yet to come.
Don’t fail to consider this – that the events, just as they had been played out, actually served both sides. Hoover was out to prove that we could defend ourselves from any kind of sneak attack. Not counting Pearl Harbor. The Germans, on the other hand, had succeeded in planting the idea, at least back home, that they could come ashore whenever and wherever they chose to. Meantime the U-Boats were still sinking American ships by the dozens, lots of them within sight of the lights of New York City.
It is entirely possible that Hitler congratulated Canaris, in June of ‘42, for mounting Operation Pastorius even though it had failed.
A small airfield amid pine woods of East Prussia
Long shot as light airplane, a Storch, lands and taxis towards a camouflaged building. A staff car appears and picks up a single passenger from the airplane. Car drives off quickly on a dirt road into the surrounding forest.
CLOSE SHOT: ADMIRAL CANARIS.
He is sitting in the back seat, holding a well-stuffed briefcase in his lap.
He removes his cap and pats his sweaty forehead with a handkerchief. He looks genuinely anxious.
TITLE: “JANUARY 31, 1943”
Admiral Canaris is being driven in a staff car from the airfield to meet with and report as ordered to the Führer at the Führer’s headquarters – the Wolfsschanze. He hasn’t got the slightest idea why the Führer wants to see him today. It could be any number of things. So many these days. Things seem to be falling apart bit by bit in North Africa and more so on the Eastern Front. The bad news of that particular day is the loss of Stalingrad and the surrender, by newly promoted Field Marshal Paulus, of the German Sixth Army there, more than 90,000 men, (of which only about 5000 will live to return home many years later). The worst single defeat in German military history.
Canaris is not looking forward to talking with the Führer. Canaris, an intelligencer after all, will already know something about how the Führer is
holding up these days. Not very well. He will know what the great tank general Guderian will soon discover and report later. Of course, both men will be and were shocked because they had not, in fact and flesh, seen Hitler or talked with him in a while. Here’s how Guderian would describe him: “His left hand trembled, his back was bent, his gaze was fixed, his eyes protruded but lacked their former luster, his cheeks were flecked with red. He was more excitable, easily lost his composure and was prone to angry outbursts and ill-considered decisions.”
Canaris arrives and is ushered in at once to the Führer’s office. To the surprise of the Admiral it is very calm and quiet there. No glittering generals. Not a lot of the usual yelling and screaming going on. No phones ringing off the hook and no clerks and messengers coming and going. Hitler’s dog, the Alsatian Blondie, is there, but does not bark at the Admiral. It is quiet enough so that Canaris can hear someone nearby, out of sight, idly pecking away at a typewriter. Maybe writing a poem.
A few years later, in the early ‘50s, while I was a soldier stationed at Linz, Austria, I witnessed the return of some of these men, those who had somehow or other survived, from the infamous Soviet Gulag. Still later, maybe a decade after, I wrote a story based on the experience – “Whistling in the Dark.” It includes, as its final scene, the moment when two men, American soldiers, a sergeant (myself) and a corporal are pulling duty as Courtesy Patrol. After lunch in a country gasthaus they drive a Jeep into town and park at the railroad station.
Now then, full of good food and beer and full of goodwill toward humankind, one and all, our two soldiers have driven into town, parked their Jeep in a reserved space, and are taking a stroll around the Bahnhof. They will check the papers of a few GIs who are arriving and departing. They will caution a soldier or two to button up a shirt pocket or tighten up a necktie. And they will watch the trains come and go. The weather is really fine and dandy, couldn’t be better. Nice and warm and getting warmer with the afternoon. The air is scented with springtime. Or is it the little bouquets of flowers so many people seem to be carrying? The girls are in their light dresses already. Splendid, if a little pale from winter. Sap stirs in the limbs of the sergeant and the corporal.
Unusually crowded today. They are separated by the crowds. No matter. They will meet up sooner or later on one of the platforms or back at the Jeep.
Alone, I stroll, not strut, out of the great barn of a building (most GIs call it the Barnhof) into the sunlight on a platform. People, crowds of them, smiling and jabbering, waiting for a train. Even if my German were good enough to understand more than a few rudimentary phrases, I could not hear what they are saying. Somewhere nearby, though I can’t yet see it, a brass band is playing cheerful oompah music. Deafening and delightful.
Must be a local holiday of some kind. Now I am closer to the band. I see the middle-aged musicians, their cheeks chipmunking as they play. I am standing close by the huge bass drum. Which keeps a steady rhythm.
This band is of an age that would allow them to have played all through the war. I wonder if they did that.
Now, even as I hear the shrill scream of the whistle, I see all the faces in the crowd turn toward the track where the train is coming slowly, with sighs of steam, easing into the station. To my amazement I see their faces, all of them, change entirely in a wink of time. A moment ago they were animated, smiling. Now each mask of flesh is anxious and searching. And, as if at an order, they all begin to cry. I have never been among a huge crowd of weeping people before. Sobs and tears all around me. Stunned and lost, I feel; out of empathy (and perhaps out of a military reflex), tears well up in my own eyes. I am one of them, I am one with them, though I do not know why.
Now many in the crowd are holding up enlarged photographs, placards with names printed large on them. Like some kind of grotesque parody of a political rally.
The doors open, and out of the train, helped by porters, many of them with crude canes and crutches, here come, one after another, a ragged company of dazed, shabby, skinny scarecrows. They are weeping also, some of them. Others study the crowd, searching with hard looks and dry eyes for familiar faces. The band is deafening. Next to me the bass drum pounds and pounds in tune and in time with my heart.
In time, very soon, in fact, I will learn that they are the latest contingent of Austrian veterans from the Eastern Front, returning home from Siberia. The Russians are moving slowly, in their own inexorable, patient, glacial fashion, toward a treaty here in Austria (as I will learn much later), if not a war first. Part of that movement is to let some of the scarecrows who have somehow managed to survive until now come home.
But here and now I know nothing of that and care less. I see a homecoming of the defeated and the wounded. Some greeted with great joy, with flowers and embracing. Some, as always, alone now even at home – though I see schoolchildren have been assigned the duty of making sure that everyone gets a greeting and some flowers.
I stand there knowing one thing for certain – that I am seeing our century, our time, close and truly. Here it is and, even among strangers, I am among them, sharing the moment of truth whether I want to or not.
An American sergeant stands in the swirling crowd with tears rolling down his cheeks. He will be gone from here soon, first miles, then years and years away. But he will not, because he cannot, forget this moment or himself in it, his share of this world’s woe and joy, the lament and celebration of all living things.
Hitler paces up and down, back and forth. He is mumbling something. Canaris listens very closely and what he thinks he hears is: “Twelve loyal Germans . . . twelve loyal Germans . . . . “
Canaris doesn’t have a clue.
“Very sad,” he says, finally. “It’s a very sad thing, my Führer.”
“Sad? It is a fucking disaster, a complete and utter disaster, and it will never ever happen again. You and I must make certain that it can never happen again.”
“Absolutely, sir. We won’t allow that.”
Just then Admiral Canaris figures out what’s going on around here, what the Führer is talking about. And it ain’t Stalingrad or the war in Tunisia. It’s those saboteurs again. Canaris had by now forgotten all about them. After all, six of the eight were executed by the Americans way back in August of 1942. Maybe that fact was really slow in getting to and arousing the Führer’s distracted attention.
Canaris has to be mildly pleased with himself for figuring it out. After all, there weren’t actually twelve of them, only nine if you count in that lucky guy who caught the clap in Paris. And, as far as Canaris knows, they were all of them Americans, not Germans, loyal or not.
“Never again,” Hitler repeats for emphasis.
“No, sir. Absolutely not. Never again.”
“Admiral, I want you to prepare and to send out many more missions to America. I want waves of saboteurs landed on their shores. Use Jews and criminals only from now on. This is my direct order to you. Do whatever is necessary to accomplish this goal.”
“I have complete trust and faith in you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Canaris salutes and exits quickly and smartly.
He isn’t happy, not exactly overjoyed by this latest assignment. Still . . . It’s another vague and on-going project, again all under the protective angelic wings of a direct order from the Führer. Canaris ought to be able to use that for all kinds of interesting purposes. Meantime. Meantime, my friends, he can do exactly what he, in fact, does. He obeys Hitler’s instructions (more or less) to the letter. And no, he doesn’t send any more teams to America and the Führer never mentions that crazy idea again. But Canaris does manage to round up a large number of prominent Jews, culled from concentration camps and thus saved from almost certain death. The reader is reminded that in January of 1942, one year earlier, it was Canaris’s enemy, Heydrich who proposed the Endlösung (Final Solution) at the famous Wannsee meeting. Canaris begins and maintains the serious charade of training these people at his secret base. And nothing changes when Canaris, himself, is dead and gone. The endless and pointless training program for his once and future Jewish and criminal saboteurs goes on and is still in progress in April of 1945 when the Russians arrive and capture the base.
EXT. STAFF CAR DAY
The car follows the twisty road through the forest.
INT. STAFF CAR DAY
CLOSE SHOT: ADMIRAL CANARIS
He seems comfortable and quite alone in the back seat. Straightens his cap. Allows himself a little smile. Suddenly begins to whistle the tune we heard in the beginning and when Herbert Haupt was taking a bath in the hotel in Chicago.
EXT. STAFF CAR DAY
The tune continues, grows louder as the car arrives at the airfield . . . .
A good place, give or take, to end the movie of it. Fading or even irising out on a full close shot of the silver haired Admiral sitting there whistling away like a delighted child.
If this were a movie, the Admiral wouldn’t have anyone to tell that this is a melody that he hasn’t heard or even thought of since childhood.
No! That’s not true.
He now remembers that he has more than once heard Hitler whistling the selfsame happy tune on more than one occasion, back in better times.
Did you know that Hitler was a wonderful whistler?*
Only it does not, in fact, all end there. Ends not so nicely. The whole world knows that the Admiral was implicated and involved in the plot to kill Hitler in 1944. He could have fled to safety, but did not. And the British did not come to his rescue in his hour of need. He was arrested, tortured and then held until early 1945 when he was secretly tried before an SS court-martial. Just before the end of the war, he was suddenly stripped naked in his cell (there are witnesses to that), put in chains and dragged away from his cell to a homemade gallows. Where, with the aid of an iron collar which slowed down the effects of strangulation, he was hanged until he was dead. The process took a little more than half an hour.
Eddie Weems was a great big guy, huge really. Did I mention that? No, and I didn’t mention that he had served in the U.S. Navy, either. He was a handsome man, at least six-and-a-half feet tall, probably more, and as big and wide as any pro football player. He had once been a serious jock in his own right back when he was in college. His father was a coach. And Eddie always tried to keep in some kind of shape, and to keep his weight down, regularly jogging before that became such a trendy thing to do with your spare time. While he was working at the Press in Austin, he would often skip lunch and go over to the track, which was inside the football stadium. He would put on his sweat clothes, drive over there and park, then lumber, steady and slow (and, as indicated, very large) around and around the track until he had worked up a good sweat and racked up a couple or three miles.
One day he was jogging around the track, all alone that day . . . well, not quite. They were working on the stadium, making some repairs and replacing some seats and so forth. Very noisy. Nobody else running on the track, though. All by himself. Eddie took his sweet time, ran his couple or three miles and then started for home to shower and change. He heard the sound of a lot of sirens, fairly close by on the Texas campus. Thought it must be a big fire or something. Switched on his car radio to see if there might be any news.
There was some news all right. Very excited news. Somebody was up on the tall tower in the middle of the campus shooting people. Killing and wounding a good many.
What dawned on Eddie, well before he reached the safety of home and his own driveway, was that he had just spent the last half hour or so, a huge, heavy guy slowly running round and around the track, as an absolutely perfect moving target for the shooter up on the tower. A couple of people on the other side, well beyond the far side of the stadium, had been hit. He would learn that later in the next day’s morning paper. From the tower, through a telescopic sight, Eddie would have been very much like a large tin duck in a carnival shooting gallery. Surely that man on the tower – Whitman was his name, wasn’t it? – who proved himself to be a hell of a good shot if nothing else, must have sighted in on Eddie, focused on him, followed him as he jogged along, and then never fired a shot at him. Why? Who knows? Maybe it was just too easy. No sport in it. Maybe the sight of that big old guy thumping his way around the track pleased or amused the shooter.
Eddie had no answer at the time.
I don’t, either, here and now.
* “Hitler was a beautiful whistler. While I played he’d recline and whistle the melody, tremolo. How he enjoyed those Pudding Club scores!” Ernst (“Putzi”) Hanfstaengel, quoted in the Harvard Magazine, July-August, 1974
©George Garrett, 2004.
A version of this story is published as a chapbook by