Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Flashback: 1945--The Man Who Came to Dinner…and What Followed.

[More memories over fifty years of politics for my kids and grandchildren].

Carrying back to the last installment, one day in 1945 when I was a junior in high school, I was told we would have a guest for dinner. A guest in that era of penurious saving of red-stamps for beef and blue-stamps for butter and eggs, was very rare in most households which didn’t patronize the “black market.” Who could it be?

The guest was a serious, dark-haired, calm-voiced, well-dressed, attractive young man in his late `30s who gave his name as Walter Devereux and who said he was Father’s boss. He said he was the special agent-in-charge of the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. His presence was to thank us for—and officially tell me of--Father’s continued service to the Bureau first as a consultant, then as a special agent, which he had provided for several years during the war as a valued expert in German-American affairs—and that his translation and interpretation of domestic German subversive documents pertaining to such pro-Nazi underground operations as the German-American Bund headed by one Fritz Kuhn in New York had made him particularly valuable. His service went far beyond Chicago and extended to analysis of certain decoded material from overseas—material from some American-born subversion agents of the Nazi government that puzzled even Washington.

Devereux continued: When the O. John Rogge investigation started, the Bureau determined that since my father was our agent in-place, he would have to testify along with other Germania Club officers, else his cover would be blown: but, Devereux smiled, the thought that the Germania Club by itself was a hotbed of Nazi intrigue belonged only in the fevered brains of O. John Rogge and his superiors in Washington who wished to make a Chicago connection for political reasons: here he gave a droll wink…the implication being the president who wished to draw a noose around the “Tribune” and such “America First” individuals as could be embarrassed. The embarrassment and opprobrium to my father was, he said, but the way Father bore up under it, all the while going to the FBI office where he worked…which caused some mirth there…was particularly gallant. He included my mother in his praise. I was not told at the outset of my father’s FBI employment because I was believed to be too young; but now it was adjudged that I was not. But under no circumstances was I to reveal the employment until long after the war was concluded…and long after Father left. Well, I think I’ve respected that order because it is now 61-years later.

After Devereux divulged this at dinner, all of us in the family (not Devereux) teared up. I had a heavy burden of guilt because I had not been able to fathom why Father kept receiving German newspapers. It turned out that when there were no newspapers or documents to translate, Father discovered that there was a domestic German-American, pro-Nazi underground in Chicago that was smuggling young draftees out of the country to avoid the law and to make life interesting for him, they engaged him in knocking on the doors of apartments where the draft resisters lived in order to nab them before they fled. Devereux mentioned that in one engagement, someone from the FBI…a new recruit…led the way into an apartment, grabbed the young man, pinning his arms at his sides while at the same time shouting “Throw up your hands!”—the guy struggling to try to obey while at the same time the FBI guy was holding his arms at his sides. When all at the table laughed, I got the unmistakable idea that this was Father’s first episode on the active job for the FBI.

From that time on I wondered—but never asked Father—when his employment with the FBI began. When we went to Europe in 1938, was he involved? The answer seemed to be yes but as a offerer of information not as an employee: our trip was paid by the Hamburg-American Line-North German Lloyd company for ace salesman’s bonus. Long after Father’s death, Lillian’s first cousin took a job with the Chicago FBI. I asked him to pull Father’s records. His service began in 1939 and he received many commendations. Now you fully understand why Father was the first…and probably the most central…male role model in my life.

A postscript concerning O. John Rogge, the assistant U. S. attorney general in charge of the inquisition. He became increasingly vocal after he left Justice as a defender of supposed pro-Communists. He defended David Greenglass, the brother-in-law of Julius Rosenberg and brother of Ethel—the executed Soviet spies in the 1950s. Not content with merely defending alleged Communists, Rogge then dropped the role of legal advocate and became an American delegate to the Soviet-sponsored “World Peace Conference” in Paris in the mid-1950s which was used as propaganda foil by the USSR to condemn this nation as an imperialist war-monger during the Cold War.

In the postwar years, Father returned to his central love: the travel business. He actively discouraged us from mentioning his FBI connection for the reason that he wished the past to be over…much in the same way, I suppose, veterans of World War II who saw heavy combat disliked to talk about it. But there is no doubt that Father was an active combatant in that war. Our tutorials on the Republican party and conservatism continued until I graduated from high school. They were interrupted, of course, when I went to college in Minnesota but were reconnected whenever I would come home. There was some good-natured disagreement with his analyses as I grew older. He was an old-style isolationist Republican of the “Chicago Tribune’ school: no foreign entanglements that could get us into war. I became more of an internationalist because of my later association with Walter Judd’s anti-Communist views. Now it could be said that I am a George W. Bush neo-conservative, embracing things that Father would heartily disapprove of: free trade, the role of America as a preemption mechanism if that is the correct term regarding terrorism (views Lillian most emphatically doesn’t share either on trade or strategy). But Father’s and my differences did not arise to heavy disagreement. We were both Republican, both supporting the GOP throughout.

When I graduated from college, I returned to Chicago and we resumed the tutorials but more on a healthy sharing of views basis. My mother, a very strong woman, wanted me to take a whack at advertising and to please her I did. I worked at two advertising jobs: one as a copywriter for Simmons & Simmons, a medium-sized agency that represented agricultural and pet-food accounts wherein I was assigned to write copy for Perk Dog Food, inheriting a lamentable slogan the client preferred: “Dogs drool for Perk” with a garish photo of a slobbering hound salivating over the product. I couldn’t take it for long and switched to the A. J. Nystrom Company, makers of maps and globes where I became the assistant advertising manager, preparing small ads in educational publications and layouts for the company’s annual catalog. I couldn’t take that, either. I was employed there when I first met Lillian on a double-date where she was the date of my best friend. We both fancied each other from the start but since she was the date of my best friend, I was hard-put to breach a friendship…until she broke it off with him and we joined forces.

We dated while I tried a number of times to get a newspaper job. But the City News Bureau and city newspapers were obliged to follow veterans’ preference first; then they pursued the course of hiring only journalism grads from Northwestern, the University of Missouri, the University of Minnesota or other highly regarded J-schools. Nothing there for a liberal arts English major. But I was determined to get a newspaper job, so when a former classmate came through Chicago and convinced me that I should try to get a job on a small daily such as The Saint Cloud Times, I decided to do it. This meant interrupting our courtship with Lillian which brought both of us great anguish—but I was a hard-headed German.

Leaving Chicago in 1953…a girl-friend whom I loved dearly and the two parents of this only child…was difficult but I felt I had to do it. First, I was not sufficiently mature enough to get married, even at 25. Second, were Lillian and I to get married, the likelihood of being able to support two…and ultimately more…was dim at best on a small town newspaper reporter’s wages. After moving to better-paying political work, I finally found it possible to ask Lillian to marry me and we did so in Chicago on October 10, 1959 at St. Thomas Aquinas church in the Austin neighborhood. But we left immediately for a honeymoon and then to Washington, D. C. During the entire time we spent in either Washington or Faribault, Minnesota or St. Paul we were both thinking seriously of eventually coming back to Chicago. Her parents and my parents were getting older and our kids really had no contact with their grandparents. So, as previously related, I signed up with Quaker Oats in 1964 and we moved back.

I was very gratified for many reasons—one of which was that we would be able to spend time with our parents and that at least three of the four children we had, had the chance to meet their grandparents. When we came back to Chicago, father was much the same. He was running his small travel business at 109 N. Dearborn with my mother working at his side…he smoking steadily, switching from cigar to pipe and back to cigar…until his death. The two years we had were extraordinarily good times for Father and Mother: getting acquainted with their new daughter-in-law and three grandchildren. But our time together was not long enough.

Two years after we returned, on July 4, 1966, after a quiet family picnic, where he sat in a camp chair seemingly exhausted as our children frolicked, he looked ashen and grey. I became concerned for his health. He was a stubborn German to the end: refusing to go to a doctor, saying he did not want to pay a physician to receive bad news. After that pleasant afternoon, we disbanded…we going home and Father and Mother going to their home just a few miles away. That night, while saying his long litany of self-imposed night prayers…in fact while he was on his knees in his study reciting his rosary…he collapsed. I came over just as the doctor arrived. The ambulance came soon later and it was deduced that he had suffered a major heart attack…so major, the doctor said, that it was problematic as to whether or not he would survive. That was before the era of extensive heart surgery which , much later in 2004, prolonged my life.

From the night of July 4, 1966, he was confined to the hospital where, on August 9, he died with Mother and me at his side, the oxygen tent pulled back since nothing more could be done. He was 68. Lying in the open casket as is the custom with most Catholics to whom death can be seen as a kind of merciful release to a better life as reward for virtue, wearing the inevitable bow-tie, thinner than he had been in many years, the rosary entwined in his fingers, his face looked much younger than my own does now (it should have: he died a full decade younger than I am), his dark hair, un-retouched as always, brushed back with faint traces of its old rust color (which had earned him on the semi-pro baseball and football fields the name “Red Roeser”). His life and selfless service to family, church and country…his acceptance of some temporary public humiliation with the calm resignation of a spiritual offering-up, while few knew of his exemplary service to his country in wartime…has inspired me ever since. And now for the first time, my children and grandchildren will have learned the extended full details of his quiet, modest, courageous life.

If I get to heaven, God-willing from the point of death in an immediate journey straight upward, but if not, after long purgatorial purifying of my faults, I will be looking for the man…to the world, mild-mannered with a flare for telling uproarious stories…to us, a passionate upholder of conservative tradition…to the Judeo-Christian order known to God and to me as a courageous upholder of virtue…whom the German immigrant pastor at St. Alphonsus christened in 1899 as Nicholas Harold because no Saint Harold then existed. But now one does exist: as I have just testified from personal observation.

1 comment:

  1. What a great man!

    "Free trade," eh? Hope you've paid a little attention to this site:

    The principal, Mr. Hawkins, was a Republican policy-wonk in Congress before launching this group.