Granville asked the waiter to bring us more coffee. Then said “I have two questions, no three questions, to ask you about that. First, why did you want to delay your entry into the army just to finish your sophomore year? Why not swing for the fences and get a complete educational deferment? Second, what made you think that telling your draft board, a bunch of small-town USA yokels, about an obscure Hungarian relic would get you are the deferment you were looking for? Finally, what the hell did you tell them? I not only want the details because they are important for what we are going to be doing but how. You must have told a helluva story to get these guys to “pass it up the line.”
I paused before answering him. Obviously, I knew the answers, but I had never met Granville before. I did not know how much I could trust him with the total honesty he requested. At the same time, he was my commanding officer and someone who would have to learn to trust me. If he caught me in a half truth, an omission or a lie any trust we would have developed would be replaced by suspicion and distrust. I decided to come clean.
“Sir, do I have your permission to speak freely.”
Granville eyed me with the same look he must have used in countless interrogations. The type of look that let the person being glared at know that they could see through any crap that might be thrown their way and said “Sure…and call me George…when we are alone.”
I took a deep breath. “George, I wanted to serve my country. After the Anschluss, and even before, I was beaten, harassed and stab. One Hitler Youth kid even through a spear at me that hit me in the head. I still have that scar. My father was arrested on Kristallnacht, tortured and would probably be dead now except for his service in the first world war. I watched my mother being humiliated on the streets. Do you have any idea how difficult it is for a boy to see his mother forced to clean a sidewalk with a toothbrush while people spit on her and laugh? They arrested and most likely killed my best friend” I took a breath.
“From the time I was 11 years old all I ever thought about was getting back at Hitler and the Nazi’s.”
“The United States gave me everything. When I saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time it was the first time I had felt safe in my life. It gave me shelter. It allowed me to become something other than a locksmith. I could live my dreams.”
“ I wanted to serve….the country had given me my dream and I wanted to live as much of it as I could before heading off to war…”
“There was a bit of calculation on my part. The Vienna street kid coming out in me where you learn pretty fast that surviving today allows you to fight tomorrow. When I went before the draft board I knew, hell everyone knew, that the next step in defeating the Nazis was an invasion of Europe. The papers talked about it constantly. It was going to take a lot of troops and it was going to be hard fighting. Fighting like we had never seen. It would be a meat grinder. And fresh troops were going to be the meat. I thought if I could delay my entry into the Army for a few months then perhaps there would be less of a chance me getting caught up in the meat grinder.” I paused. “I am not proud of my….my…analysis…but it meant that by the time I finished Basic in January of ’45 the big battles had been fought and won.”
“But I also feel guilty. I figured out a way to delay my service. A lot of people were not so lucky…But this is all mixed in with I really did want to finish my sophomore year. I had worked so hard to get to college. 3.5 years before I started at Syracuse, I spoke virtually no English. I had to scrimp every penny, working every awful job imaginable, including shoveling snow off train tracks in the middle of an upstate New York winter, and survive my father’s stream of abuse about going to school to get there. I didn’t want that to be for nothing.”
“In other words, I had a lot of motivation to convince my Draft Board to give me the deferment. But I didn’t think I had any reason to give them other than I wanted to finish my sophomore year. And I didn’t think that was going to fly with them. I had a high draft number and they were giving deferments for no reason. I felt like if I really wanted to have my deferment granted I needed something to grease the skids. I had to give them something that would not only get their attention but also that of the Army.”
“Which is when you decided to talk to them about the Crown of St. Stephen?”
“Right! But I had two things I needed to overcome. The first, was my own conscience. When I was told about the Crown, the person who gave me the information, swore me to secrecy. I took the promise seriously when I told him I would keep the secret. But I eventually concluded that promise did not cover this situation. I mean he told a 13-year-old Jewish boy at a time when the Nazi’s had conquered of claim most of Europe. Who was he really going to tell? More importantly, the nature of the promise had implied in it the safety of the crown. I was not going to be putting the Crown in danger by telling my draft board and there was a strong possibility that I would be doing something to save it.”
The second problem was how do I explain why what I was telling them was important. I had learned in the short time I was living in America that their knowledge of Europe and its history was minimal and mostly had to do with England. I mean the average American could not tell you the difference between a Magyar and a Romani let alone anything about the Hapsburgs? How do you convince of local businesspeople, many of them without college education, the significance of a crown of minor central European kingdom?”
I paused to see if Granville had any questions and perhaps a little bit for effect. Instead of responding, he just nodded, which I took as an invitation to continue my story.
“My birthday was drawn high when the held the draft lottery. . I knew that if I wanted that deferment, I would need to appeal to my draft board. So, I wrote the them a letter asking them for a deferment. In it, I tried to explain the history of the Crown, its importance to the people of Hungary, and as a consequence to the region. I knew it was a little bit like explaining color to a blind person. American’s, as a whole don’t understand kingdoms, as a consequence what crowns means. Most American’s don’t really understand European History, let alone the history of Hungry, Austria, The Hapsburgs.”
“ I tired to keep it simple. In my letter to them, I explained that the Holy Crown of Hungary was like the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Flag, The Presidency and the Ark of the Covenant all rolled into the one. That for more than 1000 years, since the Pope had given to King (later St. Stephen) that it has crowned every Hungarian King. That the crown can only be possessed by someone who is worthy of it. Not the other way around. That whoever controls the Crown controls the Hungarian people.”
“I explained that while I was a boy living in Vienna I had been told of plans to smuggle the Crown out of Hungary should the Nazi’s try to seize it as a means to controlling Hungary. That, I was sure that the same plan was in effect should the Soviets do the same.”
“Then I explained the plan, as I remembered it. And told them, that I was providing the information to them not because I was seeking deferment of my draft because I felt it was my obligation to give it to them as I was about to enter the service for the United States. But I hoped that they would consider my deferment.”
“When I appeared before the board, there were a few questions about the Crown but really nothing more than acknowledging my letter. Then they granted me my deferment until September 1944.”
“I went back to Syracuse and forgot completely about the Crown. I was too busy trying to pass Organic Chemistry and Physics and earn enough money to live on to think about many other things”
“Then one afternoon in February, as I was leaving my ROTC class I was approached by two men in dark suits. They identified themselves as Sergeants from Army Counter-Intelligence. I think their names were Magrath and English. They asked if they could speak with me about what I had written to my draft board. I was a bit nervous and asked if I was in trouble of some kind? I could not imagine what that would be, but we were at war and land mines were everywhere. They assured me I was not in trouble. That they were here for routine follow up. The Chairman of the Danbury Draft board had, as a matter of routine, forwarded my letter to the Army. The Army not knowing what to do with it sent to CIC, etc etc. Not a big deal . We would talk. They would file a report that would sit in a file. So we went down to the Rathskeller and I spent the next couple of hours going through what I had been told by Colonel Skoda and The Holy Crown. At the end, they shook my hand and wished me well.
“And” Granville asked.
“Completely, forgot about it. Finished my sophomore year in August. Got inducted into the Army. Did basic training at Ft. Wolters, Texas. Became a US Citizen. Applied for and got Officer Candidate School at Ft Sill and I was two weeks away from graduation when the CIC chief on the base called me to his office. I thought they were going to wash me out for something. Instead, he hands me a set of orders from Ft. Devins, Maryland breveting me to Lieutenant and telling me to report to Major Kubala at 7th Army Intelligence in Ausburg, Germany. Two hours later I was on a plane. 6 hours after that I was on a B17-E flying the southern route to Europe. I got to Major Kubala 36 hours later. And he sent me to you and frankly George I am confused as hell. Why the hell do you need me here? Everything I knew about the Crown was in that report.
Granville, pulled out a pack of Chesterfields and tapped out a smoke. Blowing out a billow of smoke he said “What you meant to ask. Why did the Army fly a pissant almost Lt. halfway around the world when reading a report would have sufficed?”
“That is exactly what I mean.”
“Then I guess I need to bring you up to date.”