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Untold War Stories: My Family’s Secret Agent

What would you do if the FBI handed you a gun?

by
Susan L.M. Goldberg

Bio

May 26, 2014 - 9:00 am
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John Phillip Sousa on 33 1/3 blasts from the Hi-Fi — yes, you heard right, “Hi-Fi” —  conducted by my flag-waving Grandfather, proudly standing at attention at 8 o’clock in the morning in the doorway of his open garage, wondering why it took us so long to get there. We may have been at the shore, but Memorial Day was not about a barbecue on the beach.

My grandparents lived down the street from my Great Uncle and Aunt. My Grandfather idolized my Great Uncle (his brother), naming his only son after his brother who had spent World War II as a gunner on a Navy ship in the Pacific. Having broken his back before the war, my Grandfather wasn’t able to get into the military during the conflict. Instead, he busied himself crafting knives to send to his buddies overseas (yes, they censored letters, but allowed knives to be carried through V-Mail) with the instructions “leave them in the enemy’s guts and I’ll make you a new one when you get home.”

My grandfather also played a key role in the war effort, one that goes overlooked when we take the time to honor the troops on Memorial Day. Recruited by the FBI in 1940, my grandfather and his father played a key role in the creation of the Iowa Ordinance Plant, the largest shell and bomb loading facility in operation during the war.

In the autumn of 1940, when a fairly isolationist population still dismissed the idea of entering into Europe’s conflict, my grandfather was pulled out of his job as a tool and die maker by two fairly typical FBI mugs. They strapped secret plans for a military facility, designed by Day & Zimmermann, Co., to his body and handed him a train ticket and a gun with the instructions, “Don’t be afraid to use it.” At the age of 23, my grandfather was the perfect cover: “If anyone asks, you’re on your way out west to go to college.” His job was simple: Escort his father, recruited by the government for his skills as a tool and die maker, to San Francisco to convene with a number of highly skilled Americans engaged to prepare America for war.

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The author mentions one of the dangers of an ordinance plant in wartime. But that was one that anyone in an industrial plant of the time risked (somewhat more under wartime pressure, of course).

The ever-present, unique danger of an ordinance plant job was that your entire production line could literally blow up, giving you plenty of company at the memorial service. That no production line (so far as I know) did go up is a testament to the extreme professionalism and care of people like her grandfather, under extreme pressure for ever higher production.

(I do know that a very few ordinance lines did blow up for a fact. But those that I know of were "test" lines, where they were working out the last production kinks for new loads, or fuses, etc. - not production lines.)
24 weeks ago
24 weeks ago Link To Comment
About Patriotism.  Germane here, I think.

An excerpt from Robert Heinlein's commencement speech to the graduating class of the U.S. Naval Academy on April 5th, 1973...

*****

Very well, as individuals we all die. This brings us to the second half of the question: Does homo sapiens AS A BREED have to die? The answer is: No, it is NOT unavoidable.

We have two situations, mutually exclusive: Mankind surviving, and mankind extinct. With respect to morality, the second situation is a null class. An extinct breed has NO behavior, moral or otherwise.
Since survival is the sine qua non, I now define “moral behavior” as “behavior that tends toward survival.” I won’t argue with philosophers or theologians who choose to use the word “moral” to mean something else, but I do not think anyone can define “behavior that tends toward extinction” as being “moral” without stretching the word “moral” all out of shape.

We are now ready to observe the hierarchy of moral behavior from its lowest level to its highest.

The simplest form of moral behavior occurs when a man or other animal fights for his own survival. Do not belittle such behavior as being merely selfish. Of course it is selfish. . .but selfishness is the bedrock on which all moral behavior starts and it can be immoral only when it conflicts with a higher moral imperative. An animal so poor in spirit that he won’t even fight on his own behalf is already an evolutionary dead end; the best he can do for his breed is to crawl off and die, and not pass on his defective genes.

The next higher level is to work, fight, and sometimes die for your own immediate family. This is the level at which six pounds of mother cat can be so fierce that she’ll drive off a police dog. It is the level at which a father takes a moonlighting job to keep his kids in college — and the level at which a mother or father dives into a flood to save a drowning child. . .and it is still moral behavior even when it fails.

The next higher level is to work, fight, and sometimes die for a group larger that the unit family — an extended family, a herd, a tribe — and take another look at that baboon on watch; he’s at that moral level. I don’t think baboon language is complex enough to permit them to discuss such abstract notions as “morality” or “duty” or “loyalty” — but it is evident that baboons DO operate morally and DO exhibit the traits of duty and loyalty; we see them in action. Call it “instinct” if you like — but remember that assigning a name to a phenomenon does not explain it.
But that baboon behavior can be explained in evolutionary terms. 

Evolution is a process that never stops. Baboons who fail to exhibit moral behavior do not survive; they wind up as meat for leopards. Every baboon generation has to pass this examination in moral behavior; those who bilge it don’t have progeny. Perhaps the old bull of the tribe gives lessons. . .but the leopard decides who graduates — and there is no appeal from his decision. We don’t have to understand the details to observe the outcome; Baboons behave morally — for baboons.
The next level in moral behavior higher than that exhibited by the baboon is that in which duty and loyalty are shown toward a group of your kind too large for an individual to know all of them. We have a name for that. It is called “patriotism.”

Behaving on a still higher moral level were the astronauts who went to the Moon, for their actions tend toward the survival of the entire race of mankind. The door they opened leads to hope that h. sapiens will survive indefinitely long, even longer than this solid planet on which we stand tonight. As a direct result of what they did, it is now possible that the human race will NEVER die.

Many short-sighted fools think that going to the Moon was just a stunt. But that astronauts knew the meaning of what they were doing, as is shown by Neil Armstrong’s first words in stepping down onto the soil of Luna: “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I must pause to brush off those parlor pacifists I mentioned earlier. . .for they contend that THEIR actions are on this highest moral level. They want to put a stop to war; they say so. Their purpose is to save the human race from killing itself off; they say that too. Anyone who disagrees with them must be a bloodthirsty scoundrel — and they’ll tell you that to your face.

I won’t waste time trying to judge their motives; my criticism is of their mental processes: Their heads aren’t screwed on tight. They live in a world of fantasy.

Let me stipulate that, if the human race managed its affairs sensibly, we could do without war.

Yes — and if pigs had wings, they could fly.

I don’t know what planet those pious pacifists are talking about but it can’t be the third one out from the Sun. Anyone who has seen the Far East — or Africa — or the Middle East — knows are certainly should know that there is NO chance of abolishing war in the foreseeable future. In the past few years I h
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
For those interested in the full excerpt (regarding patriotism) it is available at www.freerepublic.com.

For the entire address - well, other than in Academy records, the only place I know to get it is by buying the "Expanded Universe" collection, if you don't already have it. (There are many other gems in there, so it is worth the price.)
24 weeks ago
24 weeks ago Link To Comment
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