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This is the history of a man who became his own worst enemy. From adolescence he was in war zones, in exile, in prisons and psychiatric wards. The FBI pursued him over a bizarre hijacking, he possessed a fortune in cash for less than a day, and generally lived as though life was a trampoline.


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                                                   PART 1


                                                             1. OUT OF OAKLAND


BEST 25 Years of ATC History - Pg. 7


Willie Roger Holder first drew breath in 1949 in Norfolk, Virginia. His father was a Navy man.

The family moved around often – as was normal – and in 1959 they relocated to a new naval station in Coos Bay, Oregon. But trouble awaited them.

Coos Bay was vanilla. Seavenes Holder couldn’t rent decent accommodation. All he could find for his family was a dilapidated house. The second problem was nonstop harassment. Roger – never “Willie” – watched white kids beating his brother. When Roger asked his parents about this and the people spitting in his mother’s face, they simply answered that’s the way it is.

There was one bright spot. Walking in the woods before the Navy finally transferred the Holders out, Roger encountered an 8-year-old white girl. Their brief, friendly chat about salamanders resurfaced years later and convinced him the universe had special plans for him.


By 1965 he was a tall, gangling teenager fond of model aircraft. The Holders lived in Oakland, California, whose cops were notorious for their casual brutality and blatant racism. Roger tried to assimilate. The local black kids spurned him as an Oreo because he owned a skateboard.

He cultivated a detached nonchalance. Girls – including white girls – found his mystique attractive. He parlayed this into seduction. In 1966 he impregnated 16-year-old Betty Bullock. That November Roger lied about his age and joined the army.

He did well on the army’s intelligence tests. As the Vietnam War hotted up he received a furlough from his NATO base in Germany, married Betty back in California, met his twin baby daughters, then shipped out to Vietnam. It was October 1967.



On Dec 08, 1969: Los Angeles Police Attack Black Panthers in ...



                                                            2. THE BOOMERANG


Malaria, his best friend’s death and the frustrations of battling a hit-and-run enemy drove Holder to self-medicate with marijuana. Getting high cost only 10 cents. At one point his vehicle hit a landmine and he spent six weeks in hospital.

As his 12-month stint ended he volunteered for another 6-month deployment in Vietnam, entitling him to a furlough back home. His joy vanished when he found Betty in bed with another dude. Holder beat him mercilessly. That ended the marriage. He craved danger, and in late 1968 he became a helicopter door-gunner. · Roger Holder
Vietnam War 1965 | Paratroopers of the 173rd U.S. Airborne B… | Flickr


Helicopters hovering near ground level became sitting ducks for enemy guns. Frequently exposed, choppers landed in “hot zones” dropping off healthy grunts and picking up wounded grunts. Nevertheless, Holder’s mojo never failed under fire.

Of course it helped that Mr. Cool was usually high. He also developed quirks. In a sea of cheap sex Holder stayed high and dry. He called every enlisted man nigger, white guys included.

Halfway through Holder’s third stint in Vietnam (1969) the MPs (military police) caught him openly smoking marijuana during an anti-drug crackdown. He was demoted and sentenced to six months in LBJ.


Long Binh Jail officially held 400 GI prisoners, but by 1969 there were over 1,000. They were overwhelmingly black (and started the DAP handshake there), and were incarcerated for desertion, drugs, growing Afro’s, insubordination, anti-war agitation, Black Power salutes… The all-white MP guards would have felt right at home in the Oakland Police Department.

Dignity and Pride as the AALEAD Family Grows - Asian American LEAD
Dignity And Pride

Holder was released after only a month. The outraged warrior confronted his colonel about his demotion and imprisonment. His profanity-laden tirade convinced the brass that two years of combat had fried Roger Holder’s brain.

They shipped him Stateside in January 1970 to await his discharge in Texas.

But Holder was through. He deserted in Texas and took a bus to San Diego. Uncle Sam could kiss his ass.



                                                                                 3. HERE’S CATHY


Holder’s parents – now raising his daughters – lived there. He lied about an honorable discharge from the army and announced all was well. But it wasn’t. With fake ID (“Linton White”) he financed his frequent LSD trips by petty fraud. And he grew adept at seducing and squeezing money from military wives.

Holder/White’s luck ran out when his scams surfaced in late 1971. His trial was scheduled for March 1972. He turned to astrology for quick answers. The stars proclaimed his trial was nothing. A unique destiny awaited him. Plus his serendipitous meeting with Cathy Kerkow (1951- ?) surely meant something. Omens abounded.


Cathy’s small-town childhood was unexceptional at first. She went to church and enjoyed sports. In high school she rebelled, partying with surfers and becoming an ace shoplifter.

On a whim she attended a Black Panther Party symposium, less enthused about their ideology than their berets and bad-ass leather jackets. Later she moved to San Diego to live with a high school classmate, a marijuana dealer. Cathy dated black guys, defying convention in an era when interracial relationships drew stares and whispers. A massage joint hired her. She assumed massaging men merely involved kneading their tired muscles. She soon learned otherwise.

In January 1972 Cathy’s roommate met an offbeat black dude named Linton. She was standoffish, but he got her address and dropped by one afternoon. Cathy was home alone. She was showering and wore only a bathrobe when she opened the door.


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They clicked. Nature took its course. They became a couple, tickled by the revelation they’d met before: this willowy Libra was that Coos Bay salamander girl.

Roger moved in, much to Cathy’s roommate’s chagrin, and turned his girlfriend on to the teachings of Madame Blavatsky (1831-1891) and astrology. He recounted his brushes with death and detailed his grievances with the army. He became her hero, not just her lover. But he kept wondering what the stars were planning for him.

Cathy quit the massage job to sell marijuana full-time. They smoked most of their stock while Roger contemplated some grand gesture to change their lives and rock America.

The Vietnam War loomed large. But here in California what could he do about that? Then an article about the Angela Davis murder trial suggested possibilities.







                                                              4. OPERATION SISYPHUS


Black History Month: Where to Go to Experience Angela Davis' Oakland

Angela Davis (1944 – ) – an Aquarius – embodied what honky America feared: an outspoken, brainy, defiant black lesbian, an avowed communist with an Afro to rival Kathleen Cleaver’s (see Part 10) plus a Ph.D. in philosophy from an East German university. UCLA had fired her from a teaching position, reinstated her then canned her again.

As Holder sifted ideas for his Grand Gesture, Davis was on trial in Santa Clara County, California. Guns registered in her name were used in the August 1970 takeover of a courthouse where black convicts were on trial for killing a prison guard. Two black defendants, the judge and the 17-year-old hostage taker died in the ensuing gunfight. Davis, who was nowhere near the scene, was charged with aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder.

She went underground. After a nationwide manhunt she spent 16 months in solitary confinement. About 270 committees in over 60 countries campaigned for her release. John Lennon wrote a song about her. She was granted bail and stood trial in 1972.

A voice in Roger’s head insisted Angela’s fate was yoked with his. And, he believed, with Cathy’s.


Angela Davis: A Long Life of Activism and Passion - Open Mic Roc


1. Hijack a plane and demand Angela Davis be released.

2.  Fly her to political asylum in North Vietnam.

3.  With the plane and the airline’s ransom money, fly to the Australian Outback, start a homestead and send for his daughters. Beautiful in its simplicity.

It seems outlandish. But OPERATION SISYPHUS almost made sense in 1972. Despite the FBI’s insistence, U.S. airlines stubbornly avoided the security measures – metal detectors, luggage x-rays – we accept today. Bad for our image, they said. Total compliance was the airlines’ policy. Whatever the hijackers demand, give it. Just get our planes and passengers back safely.

Without telling Cathy, he took several round-trip flights to San Francisco, noting the  cabin designs and laughable security standards. (An ex-lover working for the airline supplied free tickets.)


But his upcoming fraud trial also demanded his attention. The stars told him to:

1. Evade his trial by eradicating all vestiges of Linton White and becoming Roger Holder again.

2. Face the music and sort out his army desertion charge.

3. Invite Cathy into OPERATION SISYPHUS.

Holder suddenly demanded they change addresses. Then he destroyed everything connecting him to Linton White. Next, he gave himself up to the army, which by 1972 was in rough shape. With too many deserters and malcontents to imprison, it started dumping them with undesirable discharge papers. Holder was no exception – he’d be free, but despite his medals he’d remain ineligible for veteran’s benefits.


                                             5. IN ON THE PLAN


Over dinner in late May 1972 Roger broached OPERATION SISYPHUS. Expecting some indecision, he’d prepared his pitch: It’s now or never, Cathy. The stars are aligning just right, baby. Destiny is calling!

Cathy surprised him by saying “Right on!”. She’d also felt things needed shaking up. Her only question was: What should I wear to a hijacking?

“Whatever you like,” Holder replied. He’d already prepared his outfit: army dress uniform augmented with captain’s insignia purchased from an army surplus store. A military officer was the straightest identity he felt confident pulling off. He explained SISYPHUS in detail:

1.  Using a 1966 army manual GUIDE TO SELECTED VIET CONG EQUIPMENT & EXPLOSIVE DEVICES he rigs a briefcase-sized bomb.

2.  They fly to Los Angeles (LAX) and transit to a Honolulu (HNL) flight.

3.  Brandishing his bomb, divert the plane to San Francisco (SFO). There they refuel and release half the passengers in return for Angela Davis plus lots of cash (amount undecided).

4.  With Davis safely aboard they fly SFO-HNL, release the remaining passengers (but not the crew) and refuel.

5. Fly HNL-Hanoi. The pilot radios ahead to have North Vietnamese officials meet them at Hanoi airport and take Angela under their wing.

6. The hijackers donate a hefty sum to North Vietnam then fly to the Australian Outback, buy a homestead and later send for Roger’s twin daughters.

7. Cathy (now code-named Stan, after Holder’s dead buddy in Vietnam) acts as lookout, watching for FBI agents, snipers and signs of trouble.

There was something else. Holder would act like there were multiple hijackers. He’d behave as if he was controlled by the Weathermen, as if members of that terrorist group were actually calling the shots.

Because everybody feared the Weathermen.


Western Airlines, Boeing 727 | Vintage aircraft, Boeing aircraft ...




                          6. THE WEATHERMEN


Students for a Democratic Society · Civil Rights Digital History ...In 1960 some college kids formed a nationwide coalition called Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). With over 300 campus chapters spanning the left-wing spectrum from moderates to Maoists its loosely affiliated constituents had overlapping aims. These included racial equality, nuclear disarmament, an end to poverty and other praiseworthy ideals.

But the Vietnam War brought tensions to the surface, such as how to conduct anti-war activism. SDS’s meetings overheated as hurling insults gave way to hurling chairs. Ravaged by infighting, the coalition was in disarray by late 1969, when Holder was in Long Binh Jail.

The decay was accelerated by SDS’s ultra-radical faction. They scorned peaceful protest. All your placards, petitions, chants and sit-ins won’t save one Vietnamese life, they claimed. All your choruses of Give Peace a Chance won’t shorten the war by a single day. America itself was the culprit. Anti-war activists must turn from protest to revolution. And revolution meant violence.

The ultra-rads’ 1969 strategy paper You Don’t Need a Weatherman To Know Which Way the Wind Blows – a line from a Dylan song – inspired their name. As 1969 ended they took over SDS then pulled the plug. Committed revolutionaries, they’d give America a taste of its own medicine by “bringing the war home” and turning American cities into combat zones. These violent revolutionary acts, their mouthpiece Bernadine Dohrn announced, would foment mass uprisings to topple the national government and abolish capitalism, imperialism and racism.

That autumn the Weathermen planned The Days of Rage. 15,000 student radicals were to descend on Chicago – whose thuggish cops could give their Oakland colleagues a run for their money – and wreak maximum destruction. The North Vietnamese sent messages warning against it. The Black Panthers dismissed it as suicidal. But the Days of Rage went ahead regardless.

Bring the War Home!" Chicago 1969 Days of Rage demonstrations" Art ... Only 400 radicals showed up. Heavily outnumbered by the raring-to-go Chicago PD, they were doomed. As they stormed through the upmarket Gold Coast area, smashing whatever was smashable, they were cornered and clobbered.


Out on bail, they licked their wounds and reexamined their strategy. In their December 1969 “war council (wargasm)” they resolved to go underground – necessary for their survival –  and continue the revolution with bombs. “We’re against everything that’s ‘good and decent’ in honky America,” a Weatherman declared in his speech. “We are the incubation of your mother’s nightmare.” Street battles with the cops were out. Bombs were in.


Chicago's Forgotten 'Days of Rage' | WTTW Chicago


The following March – in a Greenwich Village townhouse owned by a member’s parents – three Weathermen secretly assembled a powerful anti-personnel bomb intended for a dance at Fort Dix army base. But their eagerness outpaced their expertise. The dynamite exploded prematurely, killing themselves, obliterating the townhouse and damaging Dustin Hoffman’s house next door. Investigators were digging up body parts for weeks.

After another rethink and a prolonged silence, the Weathermen announced they had no wish to inflict death. Henceforth they would bomb buildings, not people. They kept their word, but to most Americans in 1972 – including the FBI – “the Weathermen” were synonymous with murderous fanatics.

Holder intended to milk this.


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Gas explosion, they said





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The stars were aligned in early June. Roger told his parents he was moving to Australia. Sure, they said. Don’t forget to write. Cathy’s geographical knowledge suggested the Australian Outback resembled Hawaii but with kangaroos. She packed beachwear. Roger packed books, astrological charts, an explosives manual and a briefcase-bomb.

The couple flew to LAX after two pre-flight Bloody Mary’s. Unassigned seating meant “C. Williams” could sit apart from Cathy/Stan, preventing any appearance of collusion.

A snag with their LAX-HNL tickets forced Western Airlines to put them on a Boeing 727 to Seattle with a later connection to HNL. Again they sat separately. Holder told the guy next to him he was a helicopter pilot assigned to Army Intelligence due to his 141 IQ.

When the moment felt right he handed the cabin attendant a rambling, confused note containing some baffling instructions (The co-pilot and flight engineer must sit at the back of the plane … Keep smiling! … Success through Death!). It mentioned “four men, three guns, two bombs”. Then she saw the briefcase with wires sticking out of it. That did it.


She accompanied Holder to the cockpit. He shook the bewildered crew’s hands and said he was Captain Richard Williams, a helicopter pilot with Army Intelligence (IQ 141). He explained the Weathermen had kidnapped his kids. They’d kill them – and him – unless he obeyed.

“Four Weathermen are on this plane now. With a bomb. One’s a girl. She’s the leader. And one’s on LSD!”

What are their demands?

“Land at Coos Bay, Oregon.”

Impossible. The runway’s too short for a 727. But Seattle’s good.

“OK,” Holder said. “The Weathermen also want … er … three million dollars.”

Impossible to get that much at short notice. How about half a million?

“OK,” Holder said. “And they want Angela Davis brought to San Francisco Airport. Tell her to wear white so she’s clearly visible from the cockpit.”

The crew radioed these demands. Holder suddenly remembered the four Weathermen wanted five parachutes. They radioed that. At Seattle they took on fuel to fly to SFO.

San Francisco’s our final destination?

“Negative. When Angela’s aboard we’ll fly to Honolulu and Hanoi.”

After a stunned silence the captain said: Impossible. 727s don’t have the fuel capacity.

Holder hadn’t considered this. They’d have to switch to a long-range plane at SFO. 

The captain added: And we can’t fly to Hanoi. We’re not qualified for trans-oceanic flights. You’ll need a new crew for that.

OPERATION SISYPHUS – so beautifully conceived – was hitting snags. Holder went to First Class and smoked a joint.


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Meanwhile, as the jury started its deliberations, the Marin County courthouse judge asked Angela Davis if she could shed any light on this hijacking. She said it was a complete surprise to her. Accepting this, he asked if she wanted to contact them with a plea to surrender. She declined the offer.

She wanted nothing to do with such lunatics.


                                                          8.  HIGH ON ALERT


Back in the cockpit, Holder smoked another joint, abandoning his army officer masquerade. He suddenly recalled there were supposed to be other hijackers. Then, forgetting the scenario of these fictional Weathermen passengers controlling him, he issued mysterious orders on the PA to Cathy in Economy Class. “Stan! Turn to page 16!”

A passenger discovered Holder’s valise under the seat. It contained:

an Aquarius 1972 book


bell-bottom slacks

Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book

semi-legible handwritten notes and astrological charts

tranquillizer pills

U.S. Army undesirable discharge papers

a map of Indochina.


Steal This Book - WikipediaAt SFO Holder appeared momentarily confused. The captain exploited this with a clever deception. You know, he said, you don’t need Angela Davis anymore. She’s been acquitted. We just heard.

The ruse caught Holder off guard. He bought it. Not even bothering to demand confirmation, he concluded the stars were on Angela’s side.

Then it dawned on him: Hanoi’s role in OPERATION SISYPHUS was suddenly irrelevant. But first things first. Where was the $500,000 (worth $3,000,000 today)? And the replacement aircraft?

“The Weathermen are going to detonate their bomb in 20 minutes!” he shouted.

The tarmac was always the riskiest place for hijackers. In order to minimize their ground time Holder demanded the plane take off, orbit SFO, and land only when the cash was ready. Once the money was theirs they’d release half the passengers.

“Stan!” he yelled over the PA during their second landing. “Watch out for the FBI!”


He’d leave this crew and half the passengers in safety, as promised. Then they’d switch to the long-range plane and foil any FBI snipers by using the remaining passengers as human shields.

The passengers transferred to the waiting jet, huddling around the hijackers and their half-million dollars.

FBI observers figured if the Weathermen were involved in this hijacking they must be among these very passengers. Yet none of them looked the part. Strange.

Holder had another lucid thought: if Angela’s “acquittal” meant Hanoi was out of the equation, so was Honolulu.

The new crew was already on board. Holder shook their hands and introduced himself as Richard. They asked him to confirm their destinations were Honolulu and Hanoi.

“Negative,” he replied. “We’re flying to Algeria!”


Map of North Africa | Download Scientific Diagram



                                   9. JOINING THE CLUB


This added a whole new dimension. Western Airlines only flew west of the Mississippi. It had no trans-Atlantic experience. They told Holder they’d have to refuel in New York and find a navigator qualified to get them to North Africa.

“Do it!” Holder said, and they took off.

Somewhere in Economy Class, Cathy was confused. The $500,000 was on board but Angela Davis wasn’t. And they were flying east, not west. But she was bushed. She curled up and slept.

The crew engaged Holder in conversation, hoping he’d let something useful slip. He merely said his IQ was 141 and he flew army helicopters. They said that was interesting. He replied he’d also spent time in a military prison. They didn’t pursue this topic. Then he went to First Class to drink coffee and smoke marijuana.


Back in San Francisco FBI agents debriefed the released passengers, many of whom were  drunk after their ordeal. But the guy who found Holder’s valise reported seeing army documents for a Willie Roger Holder. The FBI tracked down Seavenes Holder. He responded, “That sounds like something our crazy son would do,” and had little more to add.

The FBI searched Holder’s apartment for evidence of radicalism. They found nothing more radical than a waterbed.

At New York’s JFK airport the FBI attempted to infiltrate an armed agent disguised as a maintenance technician. It was 05:30 local time. Holder was higher than usual and short on sleep, but somehow he sensed something was amiss. He alerted the crew. A gunfight in the cockpit was the last thing they wanted. The captain ordered the technicians not to enter the plane. Just fuel, sandwiches and drinks. Skip the usual safety check.

As promised, Holder released the remaining passengers. Cathy felt tempted to blend in with them and sneak out. This exhausting chain of muddled events wasn’t what she’d expected. Again Holder sensed something and announced on the PA: “Cathy! You stay here!” She stayed.


Over the Atlantic Cathy joined her man in First Class for a well-earned joint. Roger explained the altered plan. Australia was forgotten as they smoked another joint. Algeria had beaches, he assured her. And they could keep that money meant for the North Vietnamese.

Feeling much improved, Cathy reclined their seats and they joined the Mile High Club.



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                                                      PART 2


                                                  10. LEAVE IT TO CLEAVER


BBC - WW2 People's War - Race Relations in Algiers (1943)

Is Roger’s mojo right on or what?

That’s what Cathy must have thought when the captain said a strong tailwind meant they needn’t refuel in Ireland after all.

In Spanish airspace they radioed the Algerian government.

What is your political affiliation?

“Er … I’m black. We request political asylum.”

“We”? How many are you?

“Two. And we have $500,000 in cash.”

Very well. You will both be safe in the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria.

“Right on! And tell Eldridge Cleaver to meet us at the airport.”

The flight crew said nothing, but that name meant only one thing. The Black Panthers!



Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther | Quad Cinema


Eldridge Cleaver (1935 – 1998) was over the moon. An Algerian official phoned to announce two black American hijackers carrying $500,000 were inbound. Cleaver rushed to the airport to embrace the cash and the brothers who brought it.

Cleaver was broke. So was his Black Panther branch in Algeria.

A jailbird since his teens, the Black Panther Party’s Minister of Information was a convicted drug dealer, rapist and attempted murderer. Cleaver’s voracious reading in prison inspired him to write. He published the best-selling memoir/essay collection Soul on Ice

On release in 1966 he joined the fledgling Black Panther Party, excited by its commitment to armed struggle. Cleaver’s imposing physical presence, literary skills and spellbinding speeches propelled him through the Panthers’ ranks. He ran for President of the United States in 1968. In one of his campaign speeches he called California governor Ronald Reagan a punk and threatened to beat him to death with a marshmallow. In late 1968 he jumped bail after a deadly shootout with Oakland cops (who else?) and escaped to Cuba.

Fidel Castro embraced this revolutionary brother, but soon suspected CIA involvement in all this. Luckily, Algeria’s capital, Algiers, was hosting a Pan-African Cultural Festival. Cleaver secured an invitation and fled an increasingly unwelcoming Havana for a chance to establish links with black revolutionaries from the mother continent. Mecca of Revolution: Algeria, Decolonization, and the ... Algeria welcomed him too. After winning a bloody war against French colonial rule, this newly independent nation embraced revolutionary movements worldwide. Friendly to North Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea, the Palestinians and the Soviet-backed independence fighters in Portuguese Africa and Namibia, Algeria was a magnet for the militant left. Cleaver’s fiery rhetoric about Yankee racist imperialism and the necessity of bringing America down impressed his new hosts.

Kathleen Cleaver and other Panthers followed. The government allocated a monthly stipend of $500 (worth $3,600 today) and a mansion in Pointe Pescade, a beachfront area of Algiers, to establish the Black Panther Party International Section (BPPIS).


Fugitive Panthers kept arriving, really stretching the $500 monthly stipend. Nobody spoke Arabic or French or had any marketable skills, so nobody could work. Everybody partook liberally of the excellent local hashish. There was little to do except smoke and discuss grandiose plans.

In 1970 the BPPIS received a surprise guest. The LSD-guru Timothy Leary – imprisoned on marijuana charges – had escaped from a low-security prison. The Brotherhood of Eternal Love (“the Hippie Mafia”) paid the Weathermen $25,000 to spring Leary.

Cleaver received him warmly. He anticipated a Leary-BPPIS union would attract huge donations from white hippies.

But Leary only cared about tripping. He and his wife acquired masses of LSD and would lie naked in the sun, reliving Woodstock every day. Algeria’s president was outraged. Who is this degenerate? Why is he even here?

Cleaver agreed. Leary was a leech. Should they kill him? Too messy. They kicked the couple out, and Dr. and Mrs. Leary became Switzerland’s problem.


Eldridge Cleaver with wife Kathleen in... - We Are Here Movement ...

North Vietnam invited the Cleavers, and Eldridge received thanks for recording messages for Radio Hanoi urging black GIs to “blow away the pigs”  (their officers). They visited North Korea twice: magnificent, even if the oppressive atmosphere made them actually miss the Oakland Police. And China was enlightening. But all that gratitude and  enlightenment couldn’t solve the Black Panther Party International Section’s financial woes.

And by now the Algerians were tiring of their Panther guests. All those unpaid bills. Does Cleaver do anything except smoke hashish and talk big? And demand more money? They froze the BPPIS’s assets. Cleaver started trafficking fake visas and stolen cars under Algerian Intelligence’s increasingly suspicious nose.

As the hijackers would soon learn, they were entering a mess.


                                               11. CASH FROM THE CLOUDS


The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s director, J. Edgar Hoover, hated uppity niggers. And these here Black Panthers were Marxist uppity niggers.

Hoover warned America: the Black Panther Party is our greatest single threat. America couldn’t allow another “Black Messiah” like Martin Luther King or Malcolm X to emerge. He ordered his agents to deceive, discredit and disrupt the Panthers. The BPP became riddled with informers. The Bureau expertly forged letters and documents calculated to sow conflict and suspicion among the Panthers’ leadership.

Hoover particularly hated two Panthers: Cleaver and the charismatic BPP co-founder Huey P. Newton. Much to his satisfaction the two became implacable enemies over fundamental policy differences, partly fueled by misinformation cleverly fed by the FBI.


Huey Newton.jpg

Around now the Panthers everywhere were in rough shape. The BPPIS – indigent and isolated – could expect no help from Newton’s end. But Cleaver was like a kid at Christmas as he hightailed it to Maison Blanche Airport to meet these brothers with enough “bread” to … Take it easy, he told himself. Wait till the money’s actually ours.

Troops and tanks ringed the plane. Holder, Cathy and the crew were taken to the VIP Lounge and served orange juice and dates. Expecting two black males, the Algerians encountered a red-eyed black man and a dizzy white female. No matter, the money was the thing. May we see the $500,000, please?

Holder had only $495,000. Before disembarking he gave the astonished crew $5,000 for their trouble, explaining most of the remaining money was earmarked for the poor. The Algerians politely but firmly confiscated the cash, promising to return it in due course. They’d issue a receipt once the amount was confirmed.


Meanwhile, Cleaver and a sidekick were frantically pounding the VIP Lounge door, furious at being denied access. When the door finally opened they beheld a tall, skinny brother and a white hippie chick. These were the hijackers?!

Cleaver’s first words were Where’s the bread? Holder sheepishly indicated the Algerians had it.

The Panther protested in his Cleaveresque way, cogency peppered with profanity. But the Algerians shrugged. The VIP Lounge was swarming with cops and troops. Journalists bombarded the couple with questions in whatever English they could muster. The couple gave mumbled replies.

Before they hustled him out, Cleaver slipped Holder his phone number. BPPIS still had a functioning phone. That was one bill it still paid.

Algerian officials obliged the media by opening the briefcase with Holder’s homemade bomb. It contained only an alarm clock, several wires and a copy of Madame Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine.



             12. THE GOLDEN CAGE



Alger en 1970 - Anciennes photos d'Alger

The crew received the president’s assurance of repatriation as soon as their plane was ready. They had nothing to fear.

The hijackers were taken to a luxury hotel where they showered, changed and were wined and dined, compliments of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria. Then they slept.

Back in Coos Bay, Mrs. Kerkow denied her daughter’s involvement, but finally admitted the possibility of brainwashing. Cathy’s old friends were surprised someone “so spacey” could deliver something like that.

And in San Jose, Angela Davis was acquitted on all counts. When Holder eventually heard this, he said he already knew.


Black Panther residence El Biar district Algiers Editorial Stock ...

They woke up the next day – Sunday – and from their balcony took in the exotic sights and sounds of Algiers.

Holder tried Cleavers’s number. Their phone had no outside line.

Government agents stood outside. He inquired about the money. Please wait until the necessary paperwork is complete. Please be patient.

Cleaver got the same response whenever he buttonholed a government official. He released a press statement praising the couple as “true revolutionary heroes whose actions have struck a blow against the big capitalistic companies who extort billions from the people.” He added he was available for interviews about the hijacking at $400 per interview. There were no takers.


Their guards drove them to meet the Presidential Palace. The president greeted Holder – but ignored Cathy – and spoke briefly to an aide in Arabic (no one translated for them). They were ushered out before they could ask about the money.

Intelligence officers interrogated them separately. What are your affiliations? Are you a member of any political group? Holder’s mishmash of astrological jargon, praise for Angela Davis and complaints about American military justice mystified his interrogators. Cathy mystified hers by evincing no coherent political philosophy.

The Algerians decided they were dealing with bozos, not CIA spies. They released them into the Black Panther Party International Section’s custody.


Algiers - Wikipedia

Enter Donald Cox, long-time Panther.

Cox took on the hijackers’ welfare. He shoved aside some people and housed the hijackers at his seaside mansion. They smoked hashish, swam and waited impatiently for the money.

After weeks of stonewalling and requests for patience, the news hit them like a sledgehammer: Algeria was returning the ransom money to Western Airlines.

Algeria’s secret negotiations to sell oil and natural gas to America could not be allowed to fail for the sake of two scruffy hijackers and their increasingly irritating Panther patrons. The desperately needed profits would not only pull Algeria out of poverty but would finance anti-western and anti-imperialist activities. This conformed with Lenin’s prediction that the capitalists would sell the rope with which to hang them.

The president asked his aides: Why are we even hosting these Black Panthers? Are they serious revolutionaries? They seem more like criminals. They reported that Cleaver had just publicly called on more black Americans to hijack planes to Algeria. Wonderful, the president said. More riffraff heading our way.

He ordered the immediate return of the $487,300 (miscellaneous administrative charges accounted for $7,700).


Donald L. Cox - Wikipedia
Upright Cox 

As Cleaver’s fury erupted, it dawned on the hijackers they were penniless and trapped in a strange foreign land with no means of livelihood and no way out.

Donald Cox had a brainwave: they’d sell the hijackers’ story to the highest bidder before the U.S. media forgot about them. A white chick turning radical with her black boyfriend was perfect tabloid fodder. It’s the BPPIS’s idea, he reasoned, so BPPIS should pocket the bread. Fair is fair.

Holder hesitated. He thought Cox was exploiting them. Cox suggested the possibility that Holder was an FBI informant. Who knew? Cleaver gave the idea his official Right on!. But only The Oregonian newspaper bit, after negotiating down Cox’s outrageous asking price.


In their brief telephone interview Holder declared, “We expect to be killed off any day, Catherine and I. They’ve got the guns and they’ve got the money.” They meant the Algerian government.

The Oregonian: Cathy, why did you do it?

Cathy: Living in [San Diego], you find out things fast … I decided I wanted to do something about the mess the word’s in rather than wait … We’re working to finish what we started, working with the Panthers and other groups here and around the world.

The Oregonian: Roger, was Cathy committed 100%?

Holder: She had her eyes wide open. She wasn’t just coming along for the ride because she loves me. That’s life imprisonment, man!

Cathy: That’s right! Look around the country, man. The so-called radicals are getting stomped on and stepped on!


In July Cox evicted them from the mansion. He needed the space. Cleaver got them a vacant apartment and gave Holder a handgun from BPPIS’s ample supply. To show their gratitude they had to attend Cleaver’s yawn-inducing lectures on Marxist-Leninist theory.

Cox made Cathy an offer.

Cox: You used to sell grass back in San Diego, right?

Cathy: Yeah.

Cox: You must know a lot of other dealers. So dig it: you contact those dealers. Say we can supply shitloads of primo quality hash. They pay us in cash and guns. Interested?

Cathy: Right on!

But that idea fizzled.


                                                 13. CHANGING OF THE GUARD



Detroit-area priest urges parishioners to pack heat during worship ...

On July 31st, 1972 five passengers –  inspired by Eldridge Cleaver’s announcement that black hijackers were welcome in Algeria – hijacked a flight from Detroit. With a gun hidden in a bible, they diverted the plane to Algiers and received $1,000,000, plus cigarettes, sandwiches and apples (the latter for their three toddlers).

They were Black Liberation Army members – a Panthers offshoot – and were teetotal vegetarians, although ham was acceptable.


Somebody calls Cleaver. Black hijackers with $1,000,000 are due at noon. He rushes to the airport. Tanks and troops surround the plane. Cleaver’s Panthers can’t enter the VIP Lounge. The Algerians ask about the cash. The hijackers produce $700,000. The Algerians search their clothes. They find $300,000.

The Panthers impatiently wait outside then tail the hijackers on the road to the city. From their Renault 16’s windows they yell, “Don’t give them the bread!” The hijackers’ vehicle stops. Algerian troops get out. An altercation develops. The hijackers are shocked. Where was all the Panther-Algerian amity they’d heard about?


03 | July | 2014 | Mounir Abderrahmani
Monsieur le Président


In splendid defiance, Cleaver drafted an open letter to the Algerian president and read it to an international press conference. He proclaimed:

The $1.5 million rightfully belonged to the Black Panther Party International Section. Algeria’s illegal appropriation of these funds aided and abetted American imperialism by depriving the BPPIS of the means to carry out its international mission.

The letter’s disputatious tone infuriated the president. Who does this armchair revolutionary think he is? He sponges $500 a month from us so he can thumb his nose at Uncle Sam from a safe distance … etc. He ordered temporary house arrest for the BPPIS.

Cleaver accused Algeria of reneging on its obligation to assist the BPPIS in its vital political activities, thereby retarding the worldwide revolution.

The president had enough. He ordered Cleaver’s resignation. Another Panther – Pete O’Neal – was his replacement.

O’Neal didn’t want the gig. Before he left for socialist Tanzania he named his successor. The head of the Black Panther Party International Section was a stunned Roger Holder.


Almost everybody fled. The fuming, muttering Cleavers stayed put. Eldridge occupied himself by studying Chinese cuisine.

Holder, Cathy and the Detroit hijackers moved into Cox’s beach-side mansion, then plundered the BPPIS’s office, selling off cameras, tape recorders and typewriters. Holder could handle this. Everything else about managing this outfit bewildered him.

So? What was there to manage? Like the SDS in late 1969, BPPIS was merely a label on a shell. As 1973 dawned it consisted of seven confused and dispirited Americans.

And as 1973 progressed, Holder’s feverish imagination saw CIA assassins closing in. FBI kidnappers too. They might kidnap his daughters.


In a moment of calm he proposed to Cathy. His timing was far from ideal but his sentiments were genuine. She asked for time to consider. Holder never did get a straight answer.



                             14. BEYOND THE SEA


The Cleavers acquired fake passports and split for France. They promised the BPPIS’s remnants they’d send for them one day. Meanwhile, hang in there!

Hanging in there meant scrabbling to survive where they’d expected to thrive. Only the monthly stipend kept them from absolute penury.

Cathy was despondent. OPERATION SISYPHUS seemed like such a cool idea. But if she’d known she’d wind up in this dump, living hand to mouth, in constant fear of arrest…

In his clearer moments Roger reflected on where OPERATION SISYPHUS had taken them. Was O’Neil’s decision a joke? An acknowledgement of BPPIS’s futility? At least in San Diego Holder could pull some scams. And Vietnam had excitement.

The Detroit hijackers reached Paris in May ’73. The BPPIS was now Holder and Cathy. She called the Cleavers, who were hobnobbing with Parisian high society. (The Panthers may have been down for the count but their cachet was intact.) Eldridge, we have to get out of this place. Roger’s getting all, you know … Please!


What do I wear to a hijacking?'
Out of Algeria

Fast forward to January 1975. Holder’s taking one of his customary long walks in the city where he and Cathy have lived for a year. As a black man in this part of Paris he looks out of place. The police stop him for a routine I.D. check. He has no I.D. They take him in for questioning.

To their astonishment he readily admits he’s an illegal immigrant and gives his real name. And without prompting he confesses he’s wanted by the FBI for hijacking a plane. 

The cops think he’s delusional and tell him to come back later with proper I.D. When he doesn’t, they notify the American Embassy that it might want to check up on a Willie Roger Holder.

The embassy’s FBI guy almost has a stroke. You let him go?!?! What’s his address? When they search his apartment he’s already disappeared, leaving porn magazines, toy trains and helicopters. 


When the couple reached Paris back in January 1974 they looked up a French acquaintance from Algiers. He soon arranged Roger’s admission to a rural psychiatric clinic. Cathy, now more cosmopolitan, wiser in the ways of the world, dated French guys – the richer the better – who manifested radical chic by buying her a drink or a fur coat or a diamond bracelet.

Roger returned in the autumn of 1974 to find Cathy wanted separate beds.

Seeing Holder blow his cover so easily raised concerns over Cathy’s own status. She called Eldridge Cleaver, now safely ensconced in a comfortable apartment and much less of a firebrand. He helped them bounce around France, keeping one step ahead of the law.

But things had to go askew sooner or later. When Roger blew his cover that time it didn’t take them long to track the couple down.

The hijackers lawyered up.


Scales of Justice by ErenMotion_2 | VideoHive



The U.S. government demanded extradition.

Holder forgot his pills and started convulsing in the courtroom. Cathy faced the judge, Roger was tried in absentia.

She charmed the court and the media with her surprisingly fluent French. Their lawyer exploited a loophole specifying “crimes of a political nature” as non-extraditable. He argued Holder suffered the trauma of racial discrimination and combat in Vietnam. Both hijackers were active peace campaigners. They’d sought justice for Angela Davis.

Cathy delivered the coup de grâce during her cross examination with the statement: Roger’s just a black. Like all blacks in the United States, he is oppressed.

They won. But the U.S. government argued the hijacking was an apolitical crime, and it could provide eyewitnesses to that effect. At great expense they flew both aircrews to Paris. But their statements contained contradictions and ambiguities. The French court rejected their testimony.


                                15. IN OUT IN OUT


The couple had to pay a fine for entering France on false passports. They couldn’t leave Paris for a year and had to report to a magistrate twice a month.

Accepting their relationship was no longer physical, Roger dated a “neurotic young actress” who resembled David Bowie. Later she had a baby she claimed was Holder’s and then committed suicide.

David Bowie Hairstyles
Not the actress

His seizures and panic attacks increased. In 1976, after several hospital admissions, he approached the U.S. Embassy offering to surrender voluntarily in return for a reduced sentence. The Embassy refused: hijackers cannot cut deals.

By now Cathy had her own apartment, paid for by a French movie producer. She visited Roger occasionally. Then her visits became less frequent.



Fast forward to May 1977. Associated Press interviews Holder, who predicts he’ll return to the States on June 14, his birthday. Forgetting the Embassy’s earlier reaction, he predicts he’ll get a reduced sentence by pleading guilty to a lesser charge. With luck he might avoid prison time altogether by offering his services to the Pentagon as a civilian adviser on Third World issues.

Associated Press: “What does Cathy think?” 

Holder has no idea. He hasn’t seen her in months.


Fast forward to 1980. Holder was still in Paris. Cathy wasn’t. Nobody reported her absence until she missed her regularly scheduled magistrate’s appointments six consecutive times. She’d last met Roger during the bitterly cold February of 1977. Expensively dressed, she promised to look in on him when she returned from Switzerland. She said she had a contact there who’d supply foolproof I.D. documents.

Then she left and was never seen again.

Roger worked as a bouncer in a transvestite bar. Then a university hired him as a cleaner. He saw this as a step toward achieving his dream of studying aeronautical engineering.

A French court reviewed Holder’s case and decided to try him for hijacking after all. 20 Holderistes crowded the courtroom. More stood outside holding pro-Holder placards.

There was no doubt he’d committed the hijacking. The question was the attitude behind it. When the judge asked him if he had any remorse, Holder waffled on about his unjust treatment by the army and his wife Betty Bullock’s infidelity and his desire to see Angela Davis walk free in Hanoi.

The judge interrupted: If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Holder replied: “My only regret is that I didn’t smash that plane into the ground!”

He got a five-year suspended sentence. No jail time. But he couldn’t leave France for five years.


An aristocratic sympathizer let him stay at his estate in Normandy. Holder worked on an oyster farm. Life was good, all things considered. Then he met a Yugoslav-French woman 12 years older. Their marriage had ups and downs aplenty. Eligible to leave France in 1985, Holder’s mojo crashed when he was arrested for drug possession. The court ordered intensive psychiatric testing and treatment.

That meant a year of Thorazine and other mind-numbing drugs.


                                    16. HELL HOUND ON HIS TRAIL


The Skies Belong To Us” book review: Skyjacking escapades of 1972 ...
Home at last

After 14 years abroad, Roger Holder set foot on American tarmac in July 1986. Four French policemen delivered him to FBI agents at JFK airport.

The FBI detained him for two years before he could plead guilty to the lesser charge of interfering with a flight crew. During his four-year sentence, he was  released to a halfway house in San Diego, where his daughters Teresa and Torrita lived .

He hadn’t seen them since just before OPERATION SISYPHUS , when he informed his parents he was headed to Australia. The twins agreed to a meeting at the halfway-house.



It went badly. He wasn’t only a stranger but a letdown. They expected a larger-than-life figure, but instead found a shuffling husk of a man. They gave no sign of wanting any further meetings.

On release Holder and his on-again-off-again French wife lived with his alcoholic brother. They survived on social security and menial jobs. Then his mojo crashed again.

He blew his parole by testing positive for marijuana. By now he was beyond caring, but he should have cared: his regular dealer was not only his ex-brother-in-law (Betty’s brother) but also (a) a career criminal with a rap sheet as long as your arm and (b) a police informant.

Bullock’s handlers suggested they’d look kindly on whoever informed them about Holder planning “something interesting.” With ex-Panthers, they said, you never know.

When Holder got high with Bullock he babbled something about hijacking a plane and donating the ransom money to Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress. Bullock told the cops who told the FBI who started an investigation.


It was embarrassingly inept. The FBI used a California Department of Justice undercover agent posing as an explosives dealer from Mexico.

Bullock arranged a discreet meeting. The FBI recorded the agent’s dogged attempts to entice Holder into committing to a purchase.

“No, man, I’m not interested. Anyway, I’m broke,” Holder kept saying.

Look, man, we can negotiate the price. Or you can make a down payment and pay the rest later. ¡No problemo!

“No, man. Seriously.”

(Repeat … Repeat …)

During their meeting the FBI searched Holder’s apartment for weapons, explosives and anything related to terrorism. They found nothing, but arrested him anyway.

The trial collapsed. The judge agreed this was a blatant example of entrapment.


By 1992 Roger Holder was a sick man.

His wife had left him for good this time. His alcoholic brother had moved away. Teresa and Torrita steadfastly kept their distance.

Holder was committing slow suicide by smoking enough Pall Malls to rival Beijing’s smog.

In 2008 Torrita received a 15-month sentence for bank robbery.

He was able to hang in there until February 6th, 2012, when his aneurysm burst.

And it was curtains for Roger Holder.


                             17. HOLDER’S PEOPLE


Eldridge Cleaver found Jesus and became a born again Christian. Then he joined the Unification Church (“the Moonies”). Then he became a Mormon, rejecting the notion that black Mormons were like  Jewish Nazis. And the Panther who’d run for the Presidency of the United States in 1968 for the Peace and Freedom Party and who’d vilified California governor Ronald Reagan became a staunch Reaganite, advocating for more respect for the police.

He also invented “penis pants” (“Cleavers”).

He died aged 62.


Angela Davis ran as the Communist Party USA’s vice-presidential candidate in the 1980 and 1984 U.S. presidential elections. She’s maintained a flourishing academic career.


Algeria’s President Houari Boumédièn died of a rare blood disease in a Moscow hospital in 1978.


Donald Cox (1936 – 2011) died peacefully at home in southern France.


As of August 2020 Pete O’Neal – who handed BPPIS to Holder – still lives in Africa. He co-founded the United African Alliance Community Center in the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha. He features in a television documentary A Panther in Africa.


The FBI has not forgotten Catherine Marie Kerkow.

The Bureau’s profile describes her French as so fluent and natural that she can pass for European. She’s believed to have integrated herself into France or Switzerland. Cathy’s file is still open although the Bureau holds out little hope of apprehending her. She’s in her late sixties but her file maintains she is armed and dangerous.


Une femme dangereuse



                                                                        THE END




(FICTION)                                                        (BACK TO HOME PAGE)





                  THE LATIN LOVER



                                                           COMING ALIVE


Cat was a child of the Swingin’ Sixties, de facto if not in spiritu.

His name was Robert, but he insisted on the nickname Cat. This all arose from his highly unfashionable love of the Latin language, a love he nurtured to his dying day.


He was born in London in 1963. His stockbroker father popped champagne. A bouncing baby boy! Robert’s mother later mentioned that Lesley Gore’s It’s My Party was “reportedly audible” from the nurses’ room radio when he drew his first breath. As adolescent Robert/Cat’s love of Latin tightened its grip, he renamed that song Hic Est Celebratio Mea, but admitted under pressure the English title had more zing.

Robert became Cat at school. Not because of any affinity with felines, but as a tribute to Catullus, the permanently lovesick Roman poet. The febrile quality of Catullus’s poems to his older lover Lesbia (Lesbia!) reverberated in the lad’s hungry young brain  and propelled him through puberty.

Their striking imagery and sexually-charged tone merged with delicate manifestations of transcendent love to make the virginal teenager gape at the page in astonishment. By his 14th birthday Cat was hooked for life.

He made a vow: when Cupid’s arrow struck, wherever that might happen and whoever the lady in question might be, his love would pulsate cum passione. He dismissed the notion that all-or-nothing love was “questionable.” Did not Catullus of old cling (usually) to his capricious, wayward, spectacularly licentious and resolutely married Lesbia, come what may? No, Cat informed whoever would listen to an opinionated teenager’s ideas on amor, all-or-nothing love is the only love worth feeling.

All-or-nothing love, he assured his reflection in the mirror, is love painted on a bigger canvas.


Cat’s classmates loathed Latin’s endless verb declensions and case endings, grammatical minefield and knotty syntax, all designed to torment 20th-century British schoolboys. But its capacity to say so much so concisely (like Aegrescit medendo:“The cure is worse than the disease”) amazed Cat. “This,” he thought as he devoured his first library book of Latin aphorisms, “this is quite a language.”

His Latin teacher, old Farley-Ferguson, was delighted – and more than a little surprised – to encounter such keenness after decades of schoolboy apathy. He declared the lad’s enthusiasm for the venerable ancient language made him “one of a dying breed.” Cat – now firmly established as the school’s undisputed oddball, its “Latin lover” – shrugged and replied, “Lingua Latina me delectat” (I like Latin).


A 21st century guide to boarding school life



As Cat prepared for university, his father thought they should have a word.

“Well, Rob … er … Cat,” he said, “as you’re no doubt aware, I’ve long been of the opinion that after Oxford your wisest option would be a career in business. I know of several perfectly respectable financial institutions who’d welcome a bright …”

“Yes, Dad, you’ve long been of that opinion.”

“Quite.” His father tapped his pipe and searched for his tobacco pouch. “So, you’ll definitely bear that in mind for the future, won’t you?”

“I’ll bear in mind that you’ve long been of that opinion, yes.”

Career options could wait. Cat’s priority was to “seize the day” and explore the Latin classics alongside fellow enthusiasts. And he resolved to keep up his French (Latin’s elegant daughter). It might come in handy one day.


At graduation, Cat’s scholastic accolades couldn’t tempt him into an academic career. Academia involved teaching. He preferred adventure. A fellow graduate boasted of scoring a job teaching English in Milan and recommended he consider something similar. “Hmmm, Milan,” Cat said. “But teaching English? I’d rather swallow a golf ball.”

The Diplomatic Service crossed his radar. He shuddered at the thought. Well, what about the BBC? “With the Beeb, Manchester would be more likely than Milan” was his stock reply. Then he hit upon print journalism. Guaranteed flexibility. The chance to travel. None of the Diplomatic Service’s stultifying mental paralysis. Never having to “think twice before saying nothing.” None of that BBC bureaucracy, either. Yes, he announced, print journalism would do nicely.

perfectly respectable news agency recruited him. In an impressively short time he earned a posting to Geneva. There his French would indeed come in handy.

And there Cat began his descent.




                                                            CONTRARII SE ATTRAHUNT


Geneva was nowhere near as sedate as he’d been warned. And if his colleagues weren’t as dynamic as he’d hoped, they weren’t as bland as he’d expected. His avuncular Bureau Chief – old “Pinky” Pinkerton – liked bow ties, Scottish ballads and the novels of Evelyn Waugh. Cat soon shaped his working life to allow himself time to pursue francophone Switzerland’s ladies, with occasional forays across the French border.

Whether impelled by simple lust or lured by the prospect of another conquest, most of his dalliances were successful. But amor never asserted itself. All Cupid’s arrows whizzed by. Cat’s women were as disposable as they were accessible.

Then it happened.

One evening in early May 1989, he was about to escape from a lifeless cocktail party when the hostess introduced him to the young trophy-wife of a 60-ish, aristocratically surnamed United Nations dignitary. They’d been the last to arrive. She mingled freely but her husband left after one quick drink, grumbling about “a ridiculously early” trans-Atlantic flight the following day.

Their pupils dilated and their throats constricted as their handshake lingered. Electricity filled the air. Then, as if everything had been written in the stars, it all clicked. She made it clear – as her lively but limited English yielded to Cat’s polished French – the attraction was mutual and her marital status was absolutely no impediment. They seduced each other.


He called her Liz, an approximate shortening of her real name. Her husband – Monsieur le secrétaire – was usually either abroad or in Geneva’s Palais des Nations (at meetings/conferences/lunch). And even if he knew of his wife’s adventures he wouldn’t have cared. Her role was to accompany him to public functions and make other men jealous. Her private life was her own business. The lovers exploited this to the hilt, and Cat was tempted to wonder if Eros himself had orchestrated this whole amatory whirlwind.

But she’d cautioned him right away that she was not a free agent. They couldn’t meet every day. Domestic demands and the burden of being “married to the U.N.” constrained her time. Cat said, “D’accord,” swept some hairs from the sheets and resumed exploring her anatomy with his mouth.

They met every couple of days. Usually at his apartment, or an occasional hotel. Liz was prodigious. Every impulse, every variation was to be explored and enjoyed. She became his everything. With every encounter his desire grew more feverish. The deeper he fell, the deeper he wanted to fall, as if he were Catullus. Cat loved her. Cum passione.


A senior woman hand with cigarette, female smoker, close up shot ...


The summer of 1989 was calm for Geneva’s newsmen, despite anti-communist protests behind the Iron Curtain threatening to end Europe’s business as usual. Luckily, most of Cat’s auto-pilot assignments gave him the freedom to become a Lizologist exploring the delights of Lizvana and Lizmania.

Yet even though the Consenting Adults Hall of Fame awaited them, there were hiccups. In mid-July Liz mentioned her husband would visit “Malaysia or Manila, one of those countries” for ten days. Cat used this time to add a few above-the-neck elements to their relationship. But the results were disappointing. Taking Liz to an exhibition of 15th-century Flemish art proved unwise. His choice of video (black-and-white, subtitled, Marlon Brando) also flopped. She dozed off.

Even during this husband-free period, Liz was always too “occupée” to meet him on consecutive days. Busy with what? Cat asked his reflection in the mirror. But he graciously accepted her need for alone time, especially since their carnal activities remained blissful beyond compare. The only potentially unsettling element was their misaligned cultural tastes. Could this derail their relationship?

It could not, he concluded after a moment’s analysis. Classical wisdom confirmed this. Contrarii se attrahunt. Opposites attract.




                                                                    MORE NAKED MEN


From mid-August Liz had unavoidable commitments. She owed her mother in Orléans a couple of days, followed by an obligatory two-week vacation at Monsieur le secrétaire’s ancestral chateau in France.

Cat now caught his breath, recharged his batteries and reconnected with friends. He went to a hotel bar on Quai du Mont Blanc for beers with Yves Lambert, a Swiss journalist on a local newspaper. Their conversation soon turned to women.

“We all thought you’d gone underground,” Yves joked. “Nobody’s seen you around in ages. So … who is she? Anybody I know?”

“Yves, you know me. All work and no play.” Cat nodded to the barman for two more Cardinals. “It’s all happening, isn’t it? Big rumblings in Eastern Europe. Old Pinkerton predicts ‘major repercussions.’ Those East German protest marches are mushrooming. And the Hungarians have …”

“I know, I know. And I know you. So who is she? Anyone of my acquaintance?”

Prevarication with a fellow journalist was futile, so he told Yves about Liz. Keeping it general, he let his friend guess the details. But when Cat mentioned her name, Yves almost spilled his beer.


Visit The Palais des Nations near InterContinental Geneve ...



The Venus who’s married to that pompous French fart at the Palais des Nations!” Yves paused. “So,” he continued, “you’re her latest.”

Her latest? What are you talking about?”

Yves paused again. “Seriously? Since the lady’s graced our fair city she’s seen more naked men than an army doctor. Seriously. There was a Swissair guy a couple of months back. And a tennis coach around then, or maybe before. And a diplomat. Plus that Italian fencing team. Anyway, they’re the ones I’ve heard about. Recently.”

Cat was stupefied. Yves was on a roll: “I haven’t had that particular pleasure myself, you understand, but as I said, quite a few have. I mean, seriously, Cat, didn’t you know about her? Word gets around. And Geneva’s not that big. Seriously? This whole time you had no idea?”

Cat could only manage a half-whispered, “No.”

“I was joking about the Italian fencers, by the way. But seriously, I’m amazed you’ve been clueless about her this whole time.” Yves was a good friend, but he wasn’t above twisting the knife. And Cat’s stunned expression was so unmissable the barman had trouble pretending not to notice.


 Yves explained Liz always refused exclusivity with her lovers. She’d make that crystal clear. Yet for three months she’d never mentioned this. He’d always viewed their relationship as straightforward: two lusty creatures – one with an indifferent cuckold for a husband– had fallen for each other in the most passionate way. 

Now this bombshell. Liz had other lovers while letting him think he was her exclusive one. Well, he reflected, in a sense he was one. Just one of several. Like Catullus with his Lesbia.

Liz told all her lovers that sexclusivity – he spontaneously coined the word – was not negotiable. So why had she avoided this subject with him for three months?







Back in his apartment Cat poured himself a cognac. He should have felt tipsy, but Yves’s revelation sobered him up. He needed to order his thoughts. His inner journalist made him write an auto-memo:

FACT: Liz = supremely passionate lover.

FACT: She’s had other men (rivals????whole time!

FACT: Yves wouldn’t lie.

FACT: She’s never mentioned one word about others.

FACT: But insists we can’t meet every day. So has time (makes time) to meet others. Her claims of marital responsibilities &c = a ruse!

QuestionWhy didn’t I suss this? So obvious!!

Question: Maybe Liz never told me about others because I never asked. Was I expected to ask??

FACT: No!!!!!!!! Yves said she always refused sexclusivity. But this info’s WITHHELD!!

FACT: Ergo, this doesn’t apply to me!! That’s why she never mentioned it.

FACTErgo, I’m not like the others. I = permanent lover. Permanent!!!!

Question: But what’s with all those other men if she’s so committed to me??? Why this duplicity????? Why???????


Cat lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He rolled over and inhaled the intoxicating fragrance from Liz’s regular pillow. The night was still warm. The distant hum of late-night traffic drifted through the open window. His mind retreated.

Nulli se dicit mulier mea nubere malle

Quam mihi, non si se Iuppiter ipse petat.

Dicit: sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti,

In vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua.

My love says she desires none but me,

And even Jove could never make her swear.

But what women tell their lovers, you’ll agree,

One writes on running water or on air.

Catullus LXX was the poet’s rueful admission to himself that dishonesty is embedded in the game of love. It was one of the many Catullian verses he’d memorized in both languages. But here the crux was what Liz had not said. 

That was what Cat had to untangle.

He got up and stood before the full-length mirror.

“When she gets back,” he told his reflection, “I’ll uncover the truth.”

And just as he’d imagined Catullus doing whenever his beloved Lesbia inflicted yet another wound, Cat drew himself up, clenched and unclenched his fists, and whispered over and over, Contine te ipsum! Contine te ipsum! 

Get a grip!



Mea culpa: Why I love Latin




                                                                               A WEE CHAT


The days preceding Liz’s return passed in a ferment of apprehension and impatience. He was owed a two-week vacation starting August 26th. But, preoccupied with his impending moment of truth, this completely slipped his mind. When the elderly, underworked secretary tapped the calendar as a caustic reminder, Cat requested an indefinite postponement. The resulting domino effect provoked mutterings. But by now he was beyond caring.


 Just before Liz’s return, “Pinky” Pinkerton, invited Cat to lunch at a nearby bistro. “A wee chat” was in order, he said.

The Chief ordered the menu du jour. Cat hardly touched his chicken salad. Pinkerton noted the younger man was making more inroads into the wine than would be considered seemly with the sun barely over the yardarm. He made a mental note but no comment.

“When you started with us I was immediately impressed,” Pinkerton said after some chit-chat. “You displayed considerable aptitude. Acute journalistic instincts. Your command of French was as advertised. And you understood how to use apostrophes! I took you for one of a dying breed. But …”

Cat felt a jolt. “Did you just say ‘one of a dying breed’?” he asked.

“I did,” his boss answered. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, it’s just something I remember from school. But I’m interrupting …”

“Yes, you manifested some notable qualities, as I was saying. But chiefly, your reportage was concise. Most neophytes take ages to master concision, but you excelled in that regard.”

Right, Cat thought, he’s softened me up with praise. Here comes the punch.

“However, your work’s been deteriorating of late. May one ask the reason?” He eyed Cat’s almost empty wineglass. “Been burning the candle at both ends, have we?”

“Well,” Cat replied, swirling the remnants of his wine and wondering whether ordering another would be pushing it, “er …”

“That’s what it looks like to me,” Pinkerton continued, brushing bread crumbs off the tablecloth. “You’re looking frazzled. Like someone with too much on his mind. If a chap keeps burning the candle at both ends long enough he’s likely to …”

“Run out of candle?”

“I’m serious! Heed the advice of one who’s been down that road. Slow down, my boy. Keep your eye on the big picture.” He adjusted his spectacles. “I mean, if you play your cards right your career needn’t stay anchored in Geneva. No sir. There’s Brussels. There’s Strasbourg.”

Cat surmised this news was intended to perk him up. He nodded vigorously.

The Chief leaned conspiratorially across the table. “Incidentally,” he said, dropping his voice to hush-hush level, “the word from on high is that accelerated promotion to Senior Correspondent is not entirely out of the question for someone of your ilk. And, in the fullness of time, perhaps,” he now called for the bill, scuttling Cat’s hopes of more wine, “maybe even Assistant Bureau Chief. The sky’s the limit!”

Pinkerton then threw concision to the winds and launched into a rambling story from a bygone decade about another up-and-coming newsman who’d parlayed his journalistic contacts into several lucrative business ventures. He meant this to illustrate how the sky really could be Cat’s limit. But his central point was lost in a maze of meandering details.



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During the Chief’s reminiscences the younger man’s thoughts floated back to a bedroom game with Liz one June morning. When she nominated a part of her naked anatomy, he had to announce its Latin name and kiss it cum passione. Any hesitation or admission of ignorance incurred a “penalty”: Liz had to kiss cum passione whatever part of Cat’s body she chose.

As they began, he called the office from his bedside phone to report he’d be late. When the waspish secretary asked him why, he explained in his haughtiest French, “I am currently engaged in an activity of the utmost importance!” and hung up before she could catch Liz’s tinkling laugh.

“Where were we?”

“My right shin!” Liz said.

“Tua tibia dextera” … (kiss).

“My left thigh!”

“Tuum sinistrum femur” … (kiss).

“Between my thighs!”

‘Between your thighs’?”


“Inter femora” … (kiss).

Before Liz announced her next selection, Cat said, “Porro excelsiusque!”

She cocked an eyebrow. Her expression was half-questioning, half-knowing.

“Onward and upward!” he replied, and their game veered off on a tangent.

He smiled at the memory.

But Pinkerton’s discursive tale had just petered out, and he was annoyed to see it had elicited amusement rather than admiration.

“Did I just say something funny?” he asked. “Let me in on the joke, since it’s so amusing.”

“Oh, it’s nothing. Really.”

“Well, it’s gratifying to observe how easily tickled you can be. But now that I have your undivided attention, we’ve not yet resolved your holiday situation. You’re still owed a fortnight’s leave. What are your intentions in that regard?”

Cat scratched his chin and looked wistfully at his empty wineglass.

“Can I get back to you later about that?”

“Still undecided?” Pinkerton asked, pocketing the lunch receipt to claim on hisexpense account. “You could jolly well use a break I’d say. And the sooner the better. All this Iron Curtain business notwithstanding. What do you say?”

“Well, it’s just that there’s a personal situation I need to sort out first.”




                                                                                  90 MINUTES 


Liz returned on August 30th. She phoned the morning after her return. Not tonight, chéri. Pas d’énergie! No, she didn’t want to meet at his apartment. And not at a hotel. She suggested their rendezvous for the next day and named a popular – and bustling – café. This was an unwelcome development. Liz breathlessly added she had some big news, but couldn’t talk now. “See you tomorrow, chéri!


The next morning in the office Cat hacked away at a dull feature article. But concentration eluded him. Accepting defeat, he headed out, telling the secretary he had to follow up a lead.

Lead?” the crone replied. “Sherlock Holmes now, are you?”


 He arrived at the café thirty minutes early and downed a double vodka to help him get a grip. Ignoring the censorious looks from the two Swiss matrons seated nearby – double vodka at 10:30 in the morning! – he took slow, deep breaths. Calmness was required while he untangled his problem with Liz. Then he’d learn where he – they – stood.

Her “big news” preoccupied him. Had Liz messed up her Pill schedule? If she had, he’d now play a new role in her life: not just as her lover, but her child’s father. Her partner in parenthood.

Unless the baby wasn’t his.

Shit!” he groaned audibly in English. The Swiss matrons reacted accordingly.


Liz arrived twenty minutes late. She’d been busy and lost track of the time. Cat buried this ominous sign under the pleasing awareness that her (new?) summer dress flattered her hips and made her breasts look fuller. She’d put on a little weight. Was she pregnant? Or had Château Muillac-d’Aurignon’s wine cellar and food been particularly tempting?

She ordered café Viennois and mixed in three sugars. He chose mineral water, then opened the proceedings.

“Liz, it’s wonderful to see you again. You’re looking super. Super!”


He paused, expecting more. But she gulped her Viennese coffee.

“Really super. Anyway,” he continued, “there’s something important that we need to discuss. It’s …”

Un moment!” she said. “You haven’t heard my big news.”

“But we really …”

“We’re leaving at the end of September. They approved Jean-Baptiste’s request. Vienna! Can you imagine? The Industrial Development Agency. It’s all so sudden! They only just confirmed it.” She frowned. “Punaise! They speak German in Vienna. Oh well. Anyway, we’ll have to rush with all the packing and arranging all … Chéri, what’s wrong? You look ill.”

He hadn’t eaten in twenty hours. He was still keyed up, despite the vodka currently churning in his bowels. And now this punch to the solar plexus. All thoughts of a heart-to-heart with Liz evaporated. Anyway, this café was no place for that.

Yet Cat’s indisposition had an unforeseen benefit. Liz’s concern for his health made her take him straight back to his apartment.


After Liz’s thunderbolt he saw no point in confronting her about her duplicity. What good would it do?

She wiped the sweat from his face and neck and unbuttoned his shirt. Her sincere concern and gentle solicitude were meant to soothe him. Instead, they aroused him.

“Liz, I love you. More than life itself. I’ve told you countless times.”

“I know.”

“And it’s not just bedroom love. I love you more than life itself!”

“I know.”

“So how can you leave, so suddenly? Like my love means nothing?  Our love?”

Chéri, you know I’m married. You’ve always known.”

“Of course. But all we’ve meant to each other, Liz … how can you just end it so casually?”

“It’s not casual. It’s … We …  Did you think we could just continue like this forever?”

Add a sexclusivity clause and Cat would have absolutely no objection.

He snapped out of it: “Stay! Live with me. Be my love.”

She sat quietly. Her thoughts were tangled.

“Liz, I love you more than life itself!”

A silence descended. Time slowed. She looked up.

A solitary teardrop rolled down her cheek.

“Will you stay, mon amour? Please?”

She appeared not to hear. But then she stood up and kissed him. Her tongue tasted of sweet coffee.

“I cannot,” she whispered. “I cannot.”

He wiped her tear with his hand. The teardrop trickled down his index finger and he put it to his mouth. She kissed him again. Then she undressed him. Then he undressed her.


Afterwards, she lay her head on his heaving chest. “We have only one month, Cat,” she murmured.

She stretched and yawned. “Et puis Vienne.”

‘And then Vienna’ robbed Cat of the power of speech. Was she speaking of the future to push him into the past?

Liz reached across his bare torso for a cigarette. She sat up, lit it, faced him and blew smoke at the ceiling.

“Anyway,” she said, somewhat louder than necessary, “Vienna’s only a 90-minute flight.”


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Through September they met whenever her race against the calendar would allow.

Even in her most suggestible moods – during a post-coital smoke and after a shower – Liz skillfully resisted his appeals. But her irritability surged as Vienna Day loomed. The pressures were piling up. She’d lost track of this, miscalculated that. Monsieur le secrétaire’s constant shuttling between Vienna and Geneva complicated things. She had trouble deciding what to keep and discard. She suspected the servants were pilfering.

Cat resigned himself to becoming her long-distance lover.


Three evenings before the move she arrived at his apartment feeling testy. Always particular about her grooming, she looked – by her usual standards – unkempt.

Her complaints about the tiresome bureaucracy involved in this routine move to a nearby country had themselves become tiresome. But Cat always let her vent. Now she returned to that theme. Tonight, though, his concerns were more immediate. He started massaging her shoulders, pressing his thumbs on the back of her neck the way she liked. He whispered, “I can help you forget all that.”

Liz shook him off. “Are you deaf? You don’t get it, do you? I’m not in the mood! Je suis fatiguée!

“Liz, I only meant …”

“I know what you meant! It’s all you ever mean.”

“What? What are you saying?”

She let fly with a string of condemnations. He didn’t really love her. He just used her body. He ignored her feelings. He didn’t even notice how tired and tense she was. She shouldn’t have come over that evening. At least her husband respected her in his own way. Visiting him that evening was a mistake. This whole thing was a mistake. She didn’t even know why she was there. Leave me alone. Don’t touch me! I said don’t touch me! I’m going home! Don’t call me!


Of course Cat called her. More often than was prudent. Liz told the servants to hang up on him at once.

September 29, 1989 – Vienna Day – came and went with no word from Liz. No au revoir, chéri!  Stoney silence.



Alcohol Abuse, Effects And How One Month Without Booze Helps Your Body



Cat was so drunk that night he called three wrong numbers before he reached Yves. He rushed to Cat’s apartment. 

The door was unlocked. The shambles and his friend’s disordered condition reminded Yves of the opening few minutes of Apocalypse Now.

Mon Dieu, Cat!”

“Huh? Who’s that?”

“Yves! You just called me, remember? Mon Dieu! Where are your clothes?”

He dragged Cat into the shower, turning it on full blast. He found some clothes. Going far beyond the normal requirements of friendship he dried Cat off and somehow got him dressed. Next, Yves made coffee. He tripped over various bottles searching the kitchen in vain for something edible. Then he made him drink water, coffee, and more water.

“Have you eaten today?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care.” Then Cat keeled over as he vomited the water, coffee and a range of unidentifiable fluids. Yves caught him before his head hit the floor. He made Cat lie on his side and called an ambulance.




                                                                 WHAT MUST BE DONE


The hospital pumped out his stomach. The next morning Yves called Cat’s office to report Robert Maddox was sick and couldn’t make it. With obvious annoyance the secretary asked, “Is this notification really necessary, monsieur?  Maddox is currently on holiday and isn’t due back until …” He heard her shuffle some papers “… I have the exact date here somewhere …” Yves mumbled a vague apology, adding he must have misread the calendar. As he hung up, he thought That old cow probably thinks I’m Cat’s boyfriend.

On that jingle-jangle morning Cat went straight home and slept. For the thousandth time he pulled Liz’s regular pillow to his face and breathed her in. Yves called him late that afternoon from his office to urge a meeting. No alcohol, Yves warned. You need food. Something solid. Then you can explain why you seem to be so intent on killing yourself drink by drink.

They met at Yves’s apartment, where he made Cat eat two hefty slices of pizza. Then Cat’s floodgates opened.


He divulged everything. He recounted how Yves’s revelation in the hotel bar that August night was like a dagger in the chest. Yves was tempted to ask forgiveness for revealing the truth so callously. But then he suspected Cat would’ve eventually heard about Liz’s ways somewhere else, and probably in cruder terms.

Cat described how his beloved’s infidelities tore him apart. He recounted how her blithe announcement about leaving had shaken him to the core. He chronicled his efforts to make her stay with him. His love was undying, but she was immovable.

He loved her more than life itself, but she was immovable.

And now, he concluded, she’d left without a single word of farewell. And he was here in Geneva drinking himself into oblivion like an idiot.

He knew now what he must do.

“Okay,” Yves replied. “She tore you apart. Okay. But now you can move on, right? Seriously. Liz never called you back, right? And she refused all your calls. She’s gone, Cat. Gone for good. Her choice. She had her chances, lots of chances, but she’s moved on. What I’m saying makes sense, right?”

Cat looked away and said, “Hmmm. Everything you say is logical …”

“I’m glad you’re finally wising up. You said you know what you must do. What’s that English expression? Grip on it?

Cat half-smiled. “Get a grip.”

“Get a grip?”

Contine te ipsum!”


“Never mind.” Cat was thinking about how Liz was both his disease and the cure. He looked out the window and noticed a late-model Renault parked under a streetlamp. It was the same shade of red as Liz’s bra the night they first met.

“So,” said Yves, “that’s that then. Leave this sorry mess behind and move on.”

Cat stared at the Renault.

Yves now thought it advisable to lighten the mood. He said, “You know, Cat, I speak to you here as a totally straight male, but you’re a good-looking guy. Ha ha. So what are you waiting for? All those great women out there! Seriously. I’ve seen you in action. So forget about Liz. Find someone new. Right?”


“So you’re getting a grip, right? You absolutely know what you have to do, right?”

“Right,” Cat said. He stood erect. “I know what I have to do. I’m quitting the news agency and moving to Vienna.”  



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                                    BOUNCING THROUGH THUNDERBOLTS


Storms delayed Cat’s flight then diverted it to Milan. But winds kept the plane idling on Milan’s runway. A thunderstorm brewed, electrifying the air. The plane took off while it still could, bucking and jolting, pitching and rolling throughout its ascent. Behind him a baby howled like its lungs would burst.

He knew this pursuit of Liz was the biggest gamble of his young life. When he’d requested her Viennese home phone number and address, the U.N. politely but predictably reminded him that its privacy rules forbade such disclosures. His personal contacts at the Palais des Nations couldn’t or wouldn’t help him.

It suddenly dawned on him he should have bribed somebody. Would bribery work in squeaky-clean Switzerland? Unlikely. But in Vienna you never know. Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.



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The plane pitched violently as the chief flight attendant reminded everyone yet again to ensure their seat belts were secure-aaaaaah!-ly fastened.

Cat somehow ignored the brutal turbulence. His mind was on his final conversation back in Yves’s apartment.

“I have to find her,” he’d said after his shock announcement. “I have to see if there’s still a chance for us. I cannot stay in this darkness.”

Yves sat him down.

“Listen,” he said, “her attitude’s been totally consistent, right? You’re sabotaging your career for nothing more than a minuscule chance with this woman. And what will Liz do when you turn up? You see this as un geste magnifique, but I seriously doubt she will. She might even call the cops!”

“No she wouldn’t! Liz …”

“You’ll be throwing away everything you’ve achieved.” (Not entirely true, he knew, but he was low on ammunition.) “And … think about your parents!”

“My parents?”

Such pale arguments, he saw, were futile against Cat’s intransigence. Now all 

Yves could say was: “Get a grip while you still can, Cat. Okay? C’est tout.”

But Cat was way past getting a grip. Reason, he’d decided early in life, had no place in affairs of the heart. As a virginal teenager he’d vowed that when he loved he would love with fierce intensity. He’d have his Lesbia, and he’d love her more than life itself.


Yves decided switching to English might give his arguments more impact. He demanded, “Are you sure you love Liz? Are you?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“Or are you really just in love with being in love?”

“Yves, spare me this cheap psychoanalysis. You can’t understand this darkness.”

“Listen! You’re sacrificing everything for someone who’s finished with you. That’s madness!”

“No,” Cat said. “That’s not madness. That’s love.”

Yves changed tack: “Has Liz ever told you she loved you?”

Cat remained silent. That red car held his gaze.

Has she?”

Cat sat upright. “What can I say?” he replied. “She’s my destiny.”

Then he joined his palms between his thighs, rocked back and forth in his armchair and said, “I have to seek my destiny.”


And two days later here he was, bouncing through thunderbolts over the Italian Alps. Seeking his destiny.

Since adolescence Cat habitually withdrew into the Latin language in times of stress. Once, on a ferry to his annual French-immersion summer camp in Calais, a storm rolled in. He got seasick and calmed himself by retreating into his pet Latin proverbs, reciting them in alphabetical order. 

His turbulent emotions on this turbulent flight, the howling infant and every cascading vision of Liz drove his mind into retreat. I have to seek my destiny. How’s that in Latin?

I have to seek my destiny. He sifted through the possible translations. But he only got as far as fatum meum. In swirling clouds full of savage gusts and lightning the plane smashed into a mountain. The resulting fireball killed everyone.

In the final milliseconds before his brain shut down forever Cat’s thoughts were about how Liz’s teardrop tasted so much like her sweat and about the casually erotic way she held her cigarette and about the tiny scar on the fourth toe of her right foot.




                                                                            THE OTHER END


Allô, Cat! Happy New Year! Comment vas-tu, chéri?

Liz planned to start The Phone Call thus. “Chéri” would be risky after her three-month silence. But it would demonstrate she still had feelings for him. Would Cat reciprocate? Or was he too embittered? If only she knew.


Her cheerless life in Vienna – the isolation and solitude, the bewildering language – forced nostalgia upon her. While other men’s memories disappeared like smoke, only Cat’s image endured. He commandeered her reminiscences, invaded her sleep. Vienna’s decadent pastries could only temporarily deflect her thoughts from the only man in her life whose declarations of love sprang from undying devotion.

Projecting her domestic frustrations onto him was unfair. Slamming the door on him was wrong. Emboldened by wine, she’d sometimes dial his number. But burdened by guilt, her stomach in knots, fearing rejection, unsure of what to say, unsure she even had the right to say anything, she’d never reach the last digit.

Then, during another impenetrable German lesson, an idea was born. She’d seek professional advice.


The psychic’s receptionist squeezed her in on December 5th, instructing her to bring a personal possession or at least a photo of the individual she wished Madame Claire to read. But Liz had nothing. She’d torn up her only photo of Cat that ugly night. On the Paris-bound plane she sought to offset this problem by focusing her psychic energies on Cat.

Under the reception area’s CASH ONLY (IN ADVANCE) sign, Liz completed the mandatory questionnaire. Entering the consultation room, she noticed the psychic’s sunglasses (“to block psychic interferences, Madame”).

Madame Claire’s trained eye scanned her client: 30-ish, well groomed, designer handbag, big-budget wedding ring. Older husband deficiencies. Or problems with a lover her own age.  She suspected the latter.

L: Madame, my situation concerns an affair of the heart. It is of a particularly delicate nature.

P: Such is generally the case, Madame. Rest assured, confidentialité totale is guaranteed. Your beloved is not your husband.

L: How did you …?

P: Come, Madame, we are not children. And I am Madame Claire. Now, have you brought his possession? Or a photograph?

L: I’m afraid not. You see, I was angry after we argued, and I …

P: That is not uncommon. This must therefore be a less-than-definitive reading. Cold readings are tricky, Madame. Anyway …

(After some incisive – but cunningly disguised – questions concerning “the gentleman”): 

… Now, concentrate on your beloved. Remember him. Remember his voice. His touch. Focus, Madame. Give me your hands while I absorb the psychic vibrations.

(Deciding on a cliché-laden reply, blaming cold readings’ notorious ambiguity):

P: You may remove your hands, Madame. I regret your vibrations – for reasons which must be obvious – were less clear than one would wish.

L: But you detected something?

P: Despite such feeble vibrations, oui.

L: Then there’s still hope, Madame?

P: Listen! Your beloved dwells in darkness. Darkness! I cannot say why. The vibrations were faint. It follows that you must act, Madame. During this estrangement you must take the initiative. Make the first move!

L: “Dwells in darkness”?

P: Cold readings produce few details, Madame. I repeat: you must take the initiative. Contact him! But timing is crucialApply your knowledge and experience. Select the optimum time with the utmost care!

I can say no more, Madame.


24 Hours at 24HR PSYCHIC



Back in Vienna, Liz’s knowledge and experience directed her to January 3rd’s auspicious Mercury-Jupiter conjunction and waxing moon. And New Year – the time of renewal – would be a natural opportunity to rekindle amour.


 To help while away the dreary days until The Call she compiled La Liste:


(1) Says I’m The Cat Magnet.

(2) Is a Gemini.

(3) Says he’ll love me forever!!!!!!

(4) Likes to get up really early.

(5) Watches me when he thinks I’m asleep.

(6) Says I’m a human aphrodisiac!!!

(7) Scratches his chin when he concentrates.

(8) Never snores.

(9) Has magic fingers!!!


 January 3rd, 1990 crawled in. During that cold, restless pre-dawn she listened to her Walkman, augmenting La Liste:

… (58) Likes R & B.

(59) Says he wants to teach me backgammon.

(60) Says left-handers (like him!) lead shorter lives.

After Monsieur le secrétaire left for another of his ridiculously early flights, Liz read French magazines. She made The Call when she intuited the moment was optimum. But no one answered. She tried again. Nothing. Was Cat away? Had he changed addresses? Or left Geneva? 

Luckily, she’d neglected to erase Cat’s office phone number from her address book, since it was under A for agence de presse. Her hand trembled slightly. A young woman answered.

L:  … Lisette Muillac-d’Aurignol. I’m trying to reach Robert Maddox. He’s still working there?

S: Excusez-moi, Madame … you said ‘Robert Maddox’?

LOui, your “star” journalist!

S: Er … Madame … Er … Robert Maddox is … er … deceased! …Allô?   Allô? … Would you like the Bureau Chief to call …  Allô?

L: I … we … I … Deceased? How?

S: It was before my time, Madame. I only started here in November. An aircraft accident, they said. In early October. Shall I ask Monsieur Pinkerton to call you back as soon …

L: Was Cat flying to England?

S: “Cat?”

L: Robert! Where was he flying to?

S: Oh … er … V? It started with V.

L: V?!

SOui … er … Venice, maybe? No! Vienna! Oui. Vienna. Shall I ask the Bureau Chief to …

L: Vienna?!

SOui, Madame. They said he was en vacances. That’s all I … Allô … Allô?


Autumn 1991: Lisette was living quietly with her mother in Orléans. An annuity from her late husband meant she didn’t have to work – merci! – but Business Class and servants moved out of reach. She spent endless hours with lawyers, wrestling with litigation from a recently divorced illegitimate stepdaughter her own age – whom she’d never met – demanding half of dear, dear papa’s assets.

Lisette took up backgammon, displaying a surprising – to herself above all – aptitude. She doted on Robertus, her British Shorthair cat. She continued La Liste, although the entries dwindled:

… (74) Preferred black socks …

… (78) Got his cleverest ideas while shaving.

(79) Claimed he’d make a good detective.


The lawsuit grudgingly settled to her advantage, 1995 found Lisette living in Brussels with her Belgian fiancé, a radio journalist. He inspired little passion, and their partnership wasn’t a love for the ages, but it was stable. At this point in her life, stable was good.

His feline-fur-allergy meant Robertus stayed in Orléans, along with La Liste.

Before setting the wedding date, Lisette consulted Madame Claire, who’d so miraculously sensed Cat was dwelling in darkness. It was just that his darkness was permanent.

“Your intended works in broadcasting, Madame?” the psychic asked after some expertly camouflaged questioning.

Oui!” Lisette replied, again hugely impressed. “And here’s his t-shirt. Excuse the smell, Madame. It’s unwashed.”


The psychic’s reading foresaw a successful marriage. “Fortune smiles on you, Madame,” she declared. “You are indeed a survivor. You always land on your feet. Like a cat.”

She noted Lisette’s ironic smile.

“I said something amusingMadame?”

“Oh,” Lisette said. “It’s nothing. Really.”


Cat continued to pop into Lisette’s mind. But as year followed year the pops became more sporadic. The details grew dim.

One night when Radioman was away on assignment, her drowsy thoughts drifted back to Geneva ’89. When she woke up she had to accept that the face and the voice and the touch of the man who drank her teardrop and who died for loving her had become a mist.

This troubled Lisette.

Then it troubled her that it hadn’t troubled her more.


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Neuf       εννέα      Neun      九      Nueve       девять       Nio        नौ       Nove        নয়        Tisa   


Behold the mystery of 9, the largest single-digit number. It has unique properties. Let us begin.

If you multiply 9 by 1, you of course get 9. But if you multiply 9 by 2 you get 18, whose digits (1 and 8) also add up to 9.

Multiplying 9 x 3  gives you 27, and 2 +7 = 9.

9 x 4 = 36, and we see 3 + 6 = 9.  And 9 x 44 is 396, and 3 + 9 + 6 = 18 and then 1 + 8 = 9. And so on.

Choose any number, no matter how big, and multiply it by 9. Its constituent digits will always reduce to 9.

For example: 867,412,155 multiplied by 9 is 7,806,709, 395.

7 + 8 + 0 + 6 + 7 + 0 + 9 + 3 + 9 + 5 = 54, and 5 + 4 = 9.


But we’ve barely scratched the surface.

Add up all the digits from 1 to 9 and they come to 45. Needless to say, 4 + 5 =9.

Then there’s this:

If you line up all the single-digit numbers (1 to 9) and multiply them by 9, you wind up with 123,456,789 x 9 = 1,111,111,101. That number’s digits add up to 9.

If you line up 123,456,789 and multiply that number by 18 (whose digits add up to 9) you get 2,222,222,202. All those 2’s add add up to 18 which reduces to 9. If you take that same line-up from 1 to 9 and multiply the result by 45 (whose digits also add up to 9) you end up with 5,555,555,505. And all those 5’s add up to 45, which reduces to 9.

And so on.

You can also take any number whose digits add up to 9 and then subtract 9. Let’s say the original number is 441 (4 + 4 + 1 = 9). Now watch this:

441 – 9 = 432. Then 4 + 3 + 2 = 9.


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Here’s a neat observation:

Take any 2-digit number, let’s say 64, and divide it by the 2-digit number 99 and see what happens.

64 ÷ 99 is 0.6464646464. Notice how the two-digits on either side (64/99) result in a repeating decimal which also consists of two digits?

The same would work for any 7-digit number divided by the 7-digit number 9,999,999. Let’s say 8,865,931 ÷ 9,999,999. The result is 0.88659318865931…(a 7-digit repeating decimal).


Let’s dig deeper.

The internet tells us Chuck Norris can count to infinity (∞). (They say he can do that twice, in fact). For our purposes the irrational number pi (3.141592653….. ), which stretches to ∞, will suffice. If we use a shortened (non-infinite) version of pi and multiply it by 9:

Pi x 9 = 28.274333877.

Add up all those digits from 28 to 77 and the answer is 54. And of course 5 + 4 =9.

Even if we use a much shorter version of pi, we still can’t escape the pattern. 3.1416 x 9 = 28.2744, whose digits add up to 27, which reduces to you-know-what.


Image result for nine in chineseImage result for nine in chinese


Hindu mystics think the world of 9. So do Buddhists. Their prayer beads (similar to Catholic rosary beads) contain 108 beads. At New Year Japanese Buddhists toll the bell 108 times. And Buddha had 9 virtues.

Indian astrology has 9 influencers (called navagraha): the sun, moon and planets.

Indian mysticism holds that there are 9 elements: earth, water, air, fire, ether, time, space, soul and mind.


9 also looms large in Chinese and Sinitic culture. The word for 9 (jiu) sounds like the word for long-lasting (something akin to immortality, perhaps). And in Chinese tradition the dragon, which represents power and magic, has 9 forms, 9 attributes and 9 children. It has 117 scales, of which 81 are yang (masculine) and 36 are yin (feminine).

The ancient Greeks had 9 Muses (goddesses of creativity). Christian tradition holds there are 9 choirs of angels in heaven. The Vikings of old divided the cosmos into 9 worlds. Both the Aztec and Maya underworlds consisted of 9 levels, as did the Christian hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to after sunset, is the 9th month. The list goes on and on.


In more modern times 9 has held special significance. Westeros, in The Game of Thrones has 9 regions. The U.S. Supreme Court has 9 justices. A baseball game has 9 innings and 9 players take the field for the pitching team. 9 strikes is enough to retire the side. Beethoven, Bruckner, Dvorák and Mahler all died after composing their 9th Symphonies.

The NATO radio alphabet makes 9  the only number to be pronounced in an irregular way – niner – to differentiate it from the similar sounding five.

Some countries AM radio stations’ frequencies are assigned by making sure the kHz add up to 9, for example 1530 kHz.  This is to space them out more effectively and prevent them interfering with other stations’ signals.

The worst movie ever made – believe it or not even worse than The Room – was Plan 9 From Outer Space, directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Not Plan 8 or Plan 10, you’ll notice. And – I know this is a stretch – it was made in 1959.

And our mothers carried us around as ever-growing internal residents for about 9 months.

So remember to show 9 a little respect.



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It’s possible they played The Room on a loop at Guantanamo Bay














   Pitted against the enemy of his former enemy’s enemy.


Here we go again


Twists of fate lead to other twists of fate.

Here is the story of a man who experienced some big ones. A pawn in a giant game whose rules he barely understood, he wound up serving in three armies and two wars in two continents. And was a prisoner of war (POW) in three countries.



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It seemed like a great idea at the time

Yang Kyoungjong (surname: Yang) was born in Korea in 1920, about 10 years after Japan incorporated Korea into its Empire. So he was a Japanese national. Ethnic Koreans like him were denied all the privileges of Japanese nationals from Japan while incurring all the obligations of Japanese nationals. He was drafted into Japan’s permanent military garrison in northeastern China (“The Kwangtung Army”).


In 1938 Japan had grandiose plans for enlarging its empire by seizing Mongolia and a big chunk of Siberia. This would be straightforward for two reasons:

Manchuria – officially the independent nation of Manchukuo – was Tokyo’s obedient puppet state in northeastern China. It provided The Kwangtung Army with the perfect launching pad for a war of conquest.

Secondly, despite the Soviet Armed Forces (the Red Army) and its obedient puppet state – Mongolia – looming large, the Red Army was reportedly in tatters. The Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s paranoia about traitors in every closet and foreign spies under every bed resulted in scores of top Red Army generals arrested, tortured then executed.

Japanese intelligence officers noted with satisfaction that the Soviets’ leading tank warfare specialist was among the first to disappear. The Red Army’s morale, they reported to Tokyo, couldn’t be lower.

Smashing the Red Army would be a cinch.


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“…are hereby sentenced to death…” 


Not so fast! said the Navy. The admirals saw the acquisition of sub-arctic tundra as a monumental waste of manpower and resources. Not to mention this was all the Army’s idea, thereby depriving the Navy of glory. But the generals had the Emperor’s ear, and he approved the idea.

Some months later the generals were casting around for someone else to blame. The campaign was a disaster. Stalin’s Red Army inflicted a stinging defeat. The Navy said We told you so, and submitted its plan for capturing American, British and Dutch territories in the Asia-Pacific region, starting with an attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Not that any of this meant anything to Yang. He – along with about 3,000 Japanese and Manchurian POWs – was transported across Siberia to an uncertain fate.



Back home, Yang’s family received notification he’d been killed in action. Japanese tradition required its troops to commit suicide rather than fall into captivity. To spare their loved ones the shame of having a POW in the family, Yang and the others were declared dead, case closed. (For the Army they were as good as dead anyway.)

He languished in the Soviet Union, learning the debased, obscenity-laden Russian vocabulary of the prison camps, never knowing if he’d see another day, never knowing what fate had in store for him. Then history intervened.

In June 1941 Hitler and his Axis allies (Croatia, Hungary, Italy and Romania) invaded the Soviet Union.



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They caught the Soviets with their pants down, taking hundreds of thousands of prisoners. Only the U.S.S.R.’s vast distances and the brutal winter of 1941-42 saved Moscow itself from capture.

The Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin, ordered all Red Army units Hold firm! Fight to the last man! Not one step back! Surrender was forbidden. But hopelessly cornered Red Army troops facing certain death surrendered in droves.

The Soviet manpower situation became critical. Stalin now looked to the prison camps (the gulag) in Siberia and Arctic Russia. In 1942 he released most political prisoners plus the POWs from Manchuria. The idea was: put a little meat on their bones, give them rudimentary training and pitch them straight into battle. That should buy us some time, Stalin thought.

It bought Yang about a year. But in early 1943 the Wehrmacht captured him at Kharkov. He was now in a German prison camp.


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Will trade rag for potato

Prison camp was a generous term. Stalin’s regime spurned all international agreements on the treatment of POWs, so Germany had no legal obligation to provide its Soviet captives with adequate food, shelter or medical care. Most of them huddled in barbed wire enclosures, left to freeze and starve, sleeping in piss puddles, surrounded by putrefaction and despair.

Some were used in ghoulish medical experiments. Some wound up as slave workers as far away as Norway and the Channel Islands. And a surprising number were either forced into the Wehrmacht (the German armed forces) or enthusiastically volunteered to fight against Stalin.

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Join us and fight for a brighter Europe!

Nazi ideology permitted the concept of Honorary Aryan: “racially acceptable” non-Europeans, like the Japanese and northern Indians.  There’d be no objection to them serving in German uniforms (whether they wished to or not). Nazi racial experts toured the camps, selecting Soviet POWs to replenish the Wehrmacht‘s numbers after its heavy losses.

The coerced ones joined the eager volunteers trudging out of the piss puddles, stepping over the corpses, getting deloused, receiving actual food and putting on German uniforms. They joined Ost-bataillone (Eastern battalions): Wehrmacht units under German command but comprising troops from the Soviet Union’s non-Slavic populations. (Later, as we’ll see, the Slavs’ official sub-human status was conveniently forgotten and any Russian/Slavic POW or defector wanting to fight Stalin could join in.)

The keen Estonians and Latvians were high up the racial totem pole, and the Caucasians (Armenians, Georgians and so on) were also good to go. So were the Central Asians (Kazakhs, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen…).


Yang made the cut as an Honorary Aryan. We’ll never know whether some racial expert simply liked the look of him or whether Yang somehow managed to convey to his captors that he was Japanese (his Korean ethnicity being irrelevant here). Whatever the case, in 1943 Yang Kyoungjong, formerly of the Imperial Japanese Army and the Red Army, became a private in the Wehrmacht‘s 709th Infantrie-Division. That was a static division – it had precious few motor vehicles and many of its troops were of inferior quality.

Next stop, France.


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We’re racially acceptable


What went through the Korean’s mind as he was shunted across Europe to Normandy to  be pitted against the enemy of his former enemy’s enemy?

At least Yang was still alive and in one piece, despite all those chances to become neither. One spring day in 1944 he climbed off a horse-drawn wagon at the opposite end of the Eurasian landmass from where he’d started. The salty tang of the breeze from the English Channel filled his nostrils as he joined his new Wehrmacht buddies in a division tasked with repelling the expected Anglo-American invasion.

The 709th Division had its fair share of ex-Red Army soldiers: mainly Slavs and Georgians. Their combat effectiveness wasn’t expected to be high and their willingness to lay down their lives for Hitler was minimal. So, when the invasion came, the U.S. paratroopers assigned to that area easily overwhelmed Yang’s unit.

We don’t know exactly how Yang’s third capture happened, but we know he was luckier than some. Many of his fellow soldiers met a grizzly end, as the movie Saving Private Ryan depicted. In an early scene the Americans take heavy casualties on the beach then fight their way a little inland, encountering a German bunker complex. Two Wehrmacht guys emerge with their hands in the air, shouting something the Americans can’t understand. Czech? Russian? With the noise of battle and the fog of war they might as well have spoken Tamil. The Americans shoot them anyway.


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Wir sind Russen! Russen!


The G.I.’s guarding Yang and his fellow-prisoners saw four East-Asian-looking men among them and discovered one of them was “Japanese” (Yaponskiy). They immediately assumed all four were Japanese. The guards sent word to their superiors who sent word to their superiors who sent word to Washington D.C. There are Japanese troops fighting for Hitler in France! We have the proof right here!

Questions immediately arose. How was this even possible? They couldn’t just cross the Japan Sea to the U.S.S.R. and travel overland to France. Did they somehow make it across the Pacific, traverse South America and cross the Atlantic to Europe? But why go to such trouble? And are there enough Japanese troops in Europe to tip the balance?

Even in 1944 the Anglo-Americans had little idea that the Wehrmacht included hundreds of thousands of ex-Soviets of many ethnicities. When the Western Allies encountered almond-shaped eyes and high cheekbones they immediately saw “Japanese”. Only later, as Germany collapsed and masses of prisoners fell into Allied hands, did the reality hit. But the NKVD (the KGB’s predecessor) already knew about all this.


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Cossacks for Hitler

The practice of POWs switching sides was hardly new. During the American Civil War some 5,000 Confederate prisoners joined the Union Army and about 1,600 Union POWs switched to the Confederate Army. And thousands of Czech and Slovak prisoners defected from the Austro-Hungarian Army to the Russians in World War One.

The scale here was massive. As early as 1942 NKVD officers saw ample evidence of Soviet troops defecting en masse to the Germans. They learned not only of POWs voluntarily switching sides, but soldiers on active duty. Whole units defected without even waiting to be captured. Not only troops from ethnic minorities, but actual sons of Russia. Not only ordinary Russian soldiers but officers too. Military academy graduates! Not only academy graduates – and this made the sweat trickle down the investigators’ backs – but actual Communist Party members. The Soviet elite! Holy Mother of God! the NKVD officers whispered under their breath as they two-finger-typed their reports to Moscow.

Comrades, let’s not kid ourselves, these reports said (although in more conventional language). We can understand – but never ever forgive! – Ukrainians acting on anti-Soviet impulses after the harsh treatment – harsh but totally justified, comrades! – they received during the agricultural collectivization campaigns before the war. And we can understand – but never ever forgive! – the Central Asians’ resentment at the Soviet government’s completely justified suppression of their anti-revolutionary Islamic practices.

As for the Armenians and Chechens, well, comrades, who could ever trust those people?

And so on. The revelation that Homo Sovieticus would so eagerly betray both the motherland and communism shocked Stalin. Never one for half-measures, he ordered 25-year Siberian prison camp sentences for every Soviet POW returning to the U.S.S.R. – whether he’d actually joined the German war effort or not.

But it got worse.


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He would liberate Russia

General A. A. Vlasov survived Stalin’s mass arrests in 1938. By 1942 he was a highly decorated hero, the Soviet medias golden boy. But that summer Vlasov’s forces – undermanned and undersupplied, unable to advance but forbidden to withdraw – were hung out to dry. He was captured on July 12, readily betrayed to the Germans by a local farmer.

Vlasov later claimed this senseless waste of lives turned him against Stalin and the Soviet system. In the prison camp he approached the Germans with a seemingly outlandish offer: he wished to recruit POWs of Russian ethnicity and train them as an army to fight side-by-side with the Germans against the Red Army.

Russians will fight with passion against the Communist beast, he told anyone who’d listen. And I, Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov, will lead them in this crusade.

At first this idea of an army of Russian prisoners helping to liberate Russia fizzled. But later, as the Germans’ manpower situation worsened, their thinking evolved. Among Berlin’s elite the conversations went thus:

These creatures in their barbed wire enclosures must be miserable.


Living in their own filth, waiting to shrivel up and die.


Is it true there’s cannibalism in those camps?

In all probability.

Apparently many of them hate Stalin and everything he stands for.

It stands to reason.

This Vlasov fellow seems rational enough, though.


He’s not Jewish, is he?

No. We checked.

So what have we got to lose?



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 Russian Liberation Army

It took ages to get the ball rolling, by which time most ex-Red Army Russians were already ensconced in Ost-bataillone. Vlasov’s Russian Liberation Army was too little too late. By then Yang was in his third POW camp.

The Americans shipped most of their Wehrmacht prisoners to the States. But Yang wound up in Britain. As victory in Europe drew closer Stalin demanded the Anglo-Americans  hand over all captured ex-Red Army men in German uniforms to Soviet authorities. This meant Yang.

But Yang was also ex-Japanese Imperial Army, and strictly speaking he’d never been a Soviet citizen. So the British weren’t obliged to return him to the NKVD’s loving arms.


Let’s review what’s happened so far:

A Korean teenager with Japanese nationality is drafted into the Japanese Army. He’s captured by the Red Army during Japan’s attempt to seize territory from the U.S.S.R. and Mongolia. He’s imprisoned in the Soviet Union until 1942, by which time the desperate Soviets turn political prisoners and POWs from into cannon fodder.

He’s thrown into the Red Army. The Germans capture him in 1943. They shove him into their army, assigning him to France just before the Anglo-American invasion. He’s captured again, this time by the Americans, and shipped to a POW camp in Britain.

Germany surrendered in May 1945.

Yang posed an administrative problem. He wasn’t a German so couldn’t be repatriated to post-war Germany. The Soviets weren’t legally entitled to him. He was technically Japanese but Japan was a world away and remained the enemy until September. Then, with Japan’s defeat, that country could no longer claim him, since Korea’s ties with Japan were severed, meaning Yang was a Korean, not Japanese. So what to do?


The details are murky, but Yang eventually emigrated to the United States in 1947. What transpired between May 1945 and 1947 remains unexplained.

Perhaps he was a Christian, like some other ethnic Koreans. That would have helped his application to move to America. Who knows?

We do know three things:

Yang settled in Illinois – at last! a place he could pronounce! – married and had kids.

He never spoke about his experiences, even to his children. He gave no interviews and resisted the temptation to write his memoirs.

He died in 1992.

So how did the Yang narrative emerge?


Fragments of the saga surfaced over the decades. Other stories circulated about similar discoveries. Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 best-seller about the Normandy invasion – The Longest Day – mentioned Americans capturing “a Tibetan shepherd” in a Wehrmacht uniform. Ryan reported that months later, when they finally found someone to translate, the shepherd explained he’d been kidnapped by Soviets who’d illegally crossed the border to kidnap men for the Red Army. Later, like Yang, the Germans captured him, put him in their army and shipped him to France.

But Ryan’s geography was way off. He should have seen that Tibet is a long way from the Soviet Union. It’s more likely this POW was from China’s Xinjiang Province, whose Uighur people share ethnic and linguistic roots with some Soviet Central Asians. And Xinjiang’s long, porous border with the Soviet Union allowed Red Army “press gangs” easy access.


Some analysts contend that not everything in the Yang story happened to Yang. He may have come from the Soviet Far East’s ethnic Korean population, served in the Red Army as a regular conscript, was captured and forced into the Wehrmacht, then was captured by the Americans. That’s plausible.

Others argue Yang’s a composite character: the stories of two or more East Asian soldiers have been muddled, combined and conflated into one figure. That’s also possible.

Only Yang knew for sure. But he remained stubbornly silent.

In 2011 a South Korean film studio made a highly fictionalized film about Yang (played by a handsome hunk with guaranteed box-office appeal to the ladies). My Way had its Wehrmacht Korean escaping from Normandy and nonsensically making it back to Korea (!). It was a critical and commercial flop. Don’t bother.

Because Yang never gave us his version of these events we can never be certain if we have the truth. He took his story to the grave. And unless something pops up to confirm or refute it, in the grave it will remain.


My Way (2011 film).jpg

Don’t bother with this one