Category Archives: Military

The Spies Among Us: My Adventure Into Espionage

Spies pic  In the January 1973 issue of Metro Hampton Roads Magazine, as its writer and editor, I prepared to publish the cover story “The Spies Among Us: A Report of Espionage.”  During the previous months I had done a great deal of research on the methods and techniques available to Soviet spies operating in the United States.  Since Hampton Roads, Virginia is one of the largest military complexes in the world as the home port for the US Atlantic Fleet, The Supreme Allied Command Atlantic (part of NATO), Langley Air Force Base (the original home of NASA), Fort Monroe (home of the US Continental Army Command), Little Creek Amphibious Base with its Navy Seals and Marines, and Oceana Naval Air Station (home base for the Navy’s aircraft carrier war planes), it was logical that our area was a hot bed of spy activity.

My target for a possible spy operation, however, was Newport News Shipbuilding where our latest aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines were being constructed. Wouldn’t Soviet intelligence love to photograph those ships under construction?

Newport News Shipyard in 1994

Aerial view of Newport News Shipyard in 1994

In those early years of the magazine, although I was editor-in-chief and supervised both the content and the design of the publication, it was also necessary for me to make advertising sales calls. After calling on potential advertisers in Newport News, I began a reconnaissance of the commercial street that bordered the shipyard while asking myself if any of the buildings there could be used by spies as platforms to photograph the top-secret shipbuilding.

I then found and entered a third-rate four or five-story apartment building and climbed the stairs up to the top floor where I discovered an unlocked equipment room and a locked metal door that led to the roof. The door itself was imposing with its thick metal plate and a large brass padlock that secured it.  But then I noticed that the hinges to the door were exposed on the inside of the door. Retrieving a screwdriver from my car, I re-entered the building, climbed the staircase again, and popped the pins from the hinged door.  Pulling the door open enough to get through, I emerged on the roof and was shocked by the view at the front side of the building.

Nearly centered to my view was the deck and superstructure of the aircraft carrier Nimitz then under construction. Moving across the roof to my right, the construction of a nuclear submarine was also very vulnerable to a telephoto lens. In reflex, I crouched low, fearing that I might be observed by shipyard security. I retraced my steps, restored the pins to the roof access door, and made my way out of the building without ever encountering any of its occupants.

Although I appreciated that I was treading on dangerous ground, I led a team of two photographers to the rooftop a few weeks later to play spies and photograph the two important Navy war ships under construction.  The photo that became the magazine cover photo has my friend and the future publisher of six of my books—Bob Friedman—crouched in the foreground wearing a hard hat and photographing the Nimitz that dominates the page.  We later used other photos of the carrier and the submarine as illustrations within the body of the magazine story.

We had gotten away undetected, and we prematurely celebrated our caper on the way back to Norfolk.  Little could we imagine the chaos that our adventure would set off in our nation’s capital.

Metro Publisher George Crump (L), Editor Monty Joynes conduct business over lunch

Metro Publisher George Crump (L), Editor Monty Joynes conduct business over lunch

When the story and cover were ready for publication, I shared them with my publisher George Crump, who insisted that our attorney Eli Chovitz clear them legally.  Eli checked the law, the Secrets Act, and advised me that I wouldn’t go to federal prison for taking the photographs, but I might be arrested for publishing the photos without high-level government permission. When we submitted the story and photographs to the Navy command in Norfolk, we opened a box of panic that went all the way to the Pentagon and the FBI.  Then, too, my printer deadline was fast approaching. The official government decision did not come until the last possible deadline hour. We were advised to substitute specific photos in the story layout for others of their choice, but otherwise, we were approved for publication.

Metro Magazine Cover

Metro Magazine Cover

When the magazine hit the newsstands, I received an angry telephone call from a Navy Commander who headed the security department at the Newport News Shipyard.  The negative exposure had blindsided him, and he felt compromised by it.  A few months later, he called me back to apologize.  It seems that our magazine feature story had motivated the Navy to greatly increase his budget and to facilitate a higher degree of shipyard security.  Then he asked me if I had noticed the two guys in a small boat who seemed to be fishing almost every day in waters adjacent to the shipyard.  “They are not ours,” he confided.

My Navy Intelligence contact at the Fifth Naval District for the cover story decision crisis also re-called me.  With a note of humor, he told me that our photographs of the Nimitz were strikingly similar to those taken by our spies of a Soviet aircraft carrier then under construction.  He then acknowledged the Top-Secret security clearance that I had received in the Army and invited me to have lunch at the 12-seat senior officers table at the NATO command.

The big surprise in the aftermath of “The Spies Among Us” publication was a personal letter that I received from the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who praised me for the anti-Communist virtues of my investigative journalism.  His letter made me wonder how high in government and military circles my story had penetrated.

In my career I have personally known two former Central Intelligence Agency agents who have operated clandestinely overseas—one during WWII whose story I published, and another who would never admit his spy status.  Finally in 2010 and 2012, I used my knowledge of spy craft in two novels, The Opera Conspiracy and Portrait of the Artist’s Ghost.  These novels are now in search of a publisher.


Filed under Memoirs, Military, Writing

Bob Hope: The POW Shows

Bob Hope feature image Comedian, movie, and television star Bob Hope will always be remembered as a great patriot for his USO wartime tours to entertain American servicemen. In combat zones covering WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, no one was better known or more appreciated by military service men and women.  Imagine my excitement as a former Army enlisted man when I was asked to meet Bob Hope’s limo at the curb and escort him to the Green Room of the Norfolk Scope Arena where he would host a show honoring just-returned POWs from Vietnam and their families.

Following the Paris Peace Accords of January 1973, in Operation Homecoming, American prisoners of war were released and began to return to the USA during February and April.  On May 24th President Richard Nixon hosted a White House dinner for the POWs, and Bob Hope headlined a gala show that included John Wayne, Sammy Davis Jr., and Les Brown and his band. Suddenly, every major city in the country wanted to honor the POWs and their families, and Bob Hope was expected to host all of these celebratory events.

Bob Hope at the White House

By the time the POW honoring events got to Norfolk, Virginia, one of the major military centers in the nation, the POWs were worn out by the travel, and their attendance was limited. Nevertheless, the Scope Arena was filled with Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines from all the nearby bases, and Bob Hope was there to fulfill his role.

Bob Hope at USO show

I must have gotten my assignment to escort Bob Hope from the street curb to the arena stage because I was well known to the Scope management. I had had a minor role at the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce in bringing the ABA Basketball Virginia Squires to the venue, and then as the editor of Metro Hampton Roads Magazine, I had continued to support Scope at every editorial opportunity.

Norfolk Scope Arena

Norfolk Scope Arena

Bob Hope was yet dapper at age 70 when I greeted him at the curb and announced my role as his temporary aide. Our route into the building to the Green Room was through a wide concourse where more than a dozen photographers followed our progress and took pictures. My head was turned toward Mr. Hope as I informed him of the pre-show arrangements, and although he acknowledged what I was saying, he did not turn to look at me.  Finally, as the photographers persisted, Mr. Hope whispered a word of professional advice to me, “Always keep your eyes on the camera, kid.”

Monty was a 32-year-old working magazine journalist at the time that he met Bob Hope who was then age 70.

Monty was a 32-year-old working magazine journalist at the time that he met Bob Hope who was then age 70.

Throughout my social and professional life ever since, I have never been shy to have my photograph taken because I can still hear Bob Hope whispering to me in my 32nd year, “Always keep your eyes on the camera, kid.”

Bob Hope final image

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Filed under Entertainment, Famous People, Memoirs, Military, Music, Writing

General George Patton: WWII Commander

General Patton wearing his 4-star service cap in 1945.  Photo by U.S. Army

General George Patton wearing his 4-star service cap in 1945.  U.S. Army photo

Our images of General George S. Patton, Jr. as the greatest combat commander of WW II come from either newsreels and documentaries or from the 1970 feature film, Patton, starring George C. Scott that won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.  My personal connection to General Patton, however, is based on my friendship with Peter K. Babalas, who as a 23-year old Military Police Lieutenant was the first on the scene of the accident that ultimately ended the four-star general’s life in December 1945.

General Patton, although famous as a battlefield warrior, was also infamous for what his superiors deemed politically inappropriate remarks to the press. After brilliant victories in North Africa and the invasion of Sicily, Patton continued to lose commands because of his controversial public remarks.  But the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Dwight Eisenhower, was not about to sideline his best field commander for the Normandy invasion of 1944.  He made Patton commander of the Third Army, and ol’ “Blood and Guts” drove the Germans into submission culminating in the famous remarkable dash of his Third Army to relieve Bastogne and win the critical Battle of the Bulge.

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Lt. General Patton in Tunisia, 1945.  Photo by U. S. Army

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Lt. General Patton in Tunisia, 1945. Photo by U. S. Army

In the months after the end of the war in Europe, as an officer overseeing the occupation of Germany, Patton gave former Nazi military officers jobs and stated that the real enemy was the Soviet Union.  Sidelined again, Patton was given command of a phantom army assigned to a historic documentation of the European war. On the day of the accident, December 9th, Patton and his Chief of Staff, Maj. General Hobart Gay, were traveling in their large 1938 Cadillac staff car en route to a pheasant hunt.

Lt. Gen. Patton with Maj. Gen. Walter Robertson pass in review of Third Army Troops in April 1944 prior to the Normandy invasion in June. US Army Photo

Lt. Gen. Patton with Maj. Gen. Walter Robertson pass in review of Third Army Troops in April 1944 prior to the Normandy invasion in June. US Army photo

Near noon, a 2-1/2 ton military truck unexpectedly made a left turn into the front of the staff car. The driver of the truck was a technical sergeant on his way to a quartermaster depot. In the low-speed collision, Patton was thrown against the steel frame of a glass partition that separated the driver from the passengers in the rear seat. The impact of the blow scalped the general’s forehead and caused a compression fracture to his cervical spinal cord.

Army Lt. Peter Babalas as he looked during WWII

Army Lt. Peter Babalas as he looked during WWII

Military Police Lieutenant Peter Babalas, in an Army jeep, came upon the accident moments after it occurred. He ran to the staff car and opened its rear door to render assistance.  General Gay was supporting Patton’s body, and he instructed Babalas to call an ambulance. Patton whispered to Gay, “I think that I’m paralyzed.”  Two medics arrived on the scene, and then an ambulance with two medical officers came.  Realizing that Patton’s injuries were serious, the officers made the decision to transport Patton to the best equipped medical facility in the area—the 130th US Army Station Hospital in Heidelberg, 25 miles away.

All the others involved in the accident were only slightly injured.  Lieutenant Babalas, as the Military Police officer on the scene, thus became its official investigating officer. During his investigation, Babalas discovered Patton’s uniform service cap with its four silver stars wedged in the back of the Cadillac’s displaced rear seat.

I met Peter Babalas in 1967, a few short months after my discharge from the Vietnam War-era US Army where I had served as the Plans and Training NCO of the 91st Evacuation Hospital. I was recommended to Peter as a speechwriter in his campaign for a Virginia General Assembly senate seat.  My father, a tool and dye maker by trade, had been a long-term Democratic precinct committeeman, and the compromise Chairman of the 2nd District Democratic Party, when the party divided violently over war politics. I was thus personally familiar with all the major players in both state and local politics.

Peter Babalas as my friend in 1967.  Photo by Foster Studios

Peter Babalas as my friend in 1967. Photo by Foster Studios

Within weeks of joining the Babalas-for-Senate campaign, I was managing the day-to-day operations of the campaign, and I formed a lasting friendship with Peter and Lillie Babalas.  We unseated a well-entrenched incumbent in the Democratic primary and went on to easily win the general election.  Peter remained in the Virginia Senate until his death in 1987.

Peter had earned a Harvard degree in economics after his WW II military service (1942- 1946), and then went on to earn a University of Virginia law degree in 1950.  He was recalled into the Army for service in the Korean War (1951-52).  When I went to work for Peter, he had a large law firm housed in a downtown office building that he and his partners owned. I both liked and admired Peter.  Later in my career when I became the founder and editor of Metro Hampton Roads Magazine, I asked Peter to tell me, for publication, about his encounter with General Patton.

At the Army hospital in Heidelberg, General Patton was completely paralyzed from the neck down and was having difficulty breathing.  Specialists were summoned from London, but the prognosis was grave.  The general, however, was fully conscious, and he insisted on being told the truth about his condition. “Would he ever again be able to ride a horse?” he asked. “No,” the chief doctor admitted.

August 1945. Gen. Patton riding "Favory Africa", which Hitler had personally picked out to be presented to Emperor Hirohito.  The horse formerly belonged to the riding school of Vienna.  It was confiscated by the Germans and later returned by the Americans. US Army Photo

August 1945. General Patton riding “Favory Africa,”which Hitler had personally picked out to be presented to Emperor Hirohito. The horse formerly belonged to the riding school of Vienna. It was confiscated by the Germans and later returned by the Americans. US Army Photo

Patton also wanted to know the outcome of the accident investigation, and thus Lieutenant Babalas was ordered bedside to report to the general.  Babalas found no fault on either driver, and the general concurred.  Then Peter produced the general’s service cap that he had retrieved from the staff car and offered to return it.  Patton instructed Peter to keep the hat as a “souvenir,” and he added, “I won’t be needing it anymore.” This remark has been widely reported as evidence of Patton’s premonition of death. And so it was that within 12 days of the accident, the great General George S. Patton, Jr., age 60, died from pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure.  He would have much preferred to die in combat. Certainly he could not have abided invalidism.

Gravesite of Gen. George Patton at the American Army Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg.  US Army Photo  May 1949.

Gravesite of Gen. George Patton at the American Army Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg. US Army Photo May 1949.

General George Patton was buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg along with other wartime casualties of the Third Army.  It was his personal request “to be buried with my men.”

Peter Babalas safeguarded the last military headgear that General Patton ever wore, and later he offered it to the Patton family for display at the General George Patton Museum of Leadership at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

By this posting, I hereby render my most respectful military salute to General George Patton and to my friend, former Army Lieutenant Peter K. Babalas.


Filed under Famous People, Military, Movies, Writing

An Alliance of Veterans

“First Day at An Khe,” a short story that I wrote 34 years ago, won the fiction prize in a national veterans writing competition sponsored by The Missouri Humanities Council and the Warriors Arts Alliance. The anthology in which the story appears is titled PROUD TO BE: WRITING BY AMERICAN WARRIORS.

Fiction judge William Trent Pancoast introduced my story in this way:

Specialist Four Monty serving with the 91st in 1966.

“First Day at An Khe” is an odyssey of a medic’s first days in Viet Nam: Phil Warren working to exhaustion in triage in the biggest fire fight the base hospital has had to deal with thus far in the war. He was put on duty by the First Sergeant and never logged in, never relieved in triage for over two and a half days because no one even knew he was there.  The story builds tremendous momentum, and in the course of the odyssey, the author compacts the elements of a tour of duty into Phil’s triage experience—battle, religion, life, death, comradeship, service, courage, compassion, anger, duty, humor, and the loss of self.  This is a fine story and I thank the author for the experience of reading it.”

When I was invited to read my prize-winning story at the November book launch in St. Louis, I declined with these words, “Although I have been a platform speaker more than 100 times, I am unable to read “First Day at An Khe” in public or in private without weeping.  Although fiction, the visionary experience of writing the triage scenes made those events real for me.  Perhaps I would also have difficulty reading my poem “Don’t Tell His Mother” (also appearing in the anthology) for the same reason.”

The 91st Evacuation Hospital in the field circa 1966.

“First Day at An Khe” was my second war story to be published within a month.  My story “Jody Got My Girl and Gone” was included in REMEMBRANCES OF WARS PAST: A WAR VETERANS ANTHOLOGY published in October.

War veterans live among us as family members, friends, and neighbors, but seldom do we get insights into the emotional costs of their military service. Yet, we need to know. We need to connect.  And if we are afraid to personally ask about their painful realities, then at least we can read the candid testimonials of warriors like them.  For here lies the gateway to understanding the grounds on which sacrifice stands. Through intimate prose and poetry we have an opportunity to be made whole as a people who recognize deeply the cost of war.


UPDATE:  Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, Volume I, has won the 2013 Stars and Flags Book Award gold medal for an anthology.  A national contest, the Stars and Flags Book Awards program was established six years ago in order to promote books that have a connection to the military and to support veterans.  The judges are historians, educators, and authors, many of whom are veterans themselves.


Filed under Military, Writing

War Stories

American society continues to suffer from an emotional disconnection between its civilians and its veterans of military combat.  Too often, veterans do not have the emotional license to articulate what they have witnessed and felt, and so a painful gap emerges that affects both communication and relationships. Veterans may relate their most intimate war stories to other veterans, but they are reluctant to tell them to people outside the military experience.

To bridge the gap of disconnection between civilians and warriors, thankfully there are veterans who have the literary skills necessary to document their war experiences in non-fiction accounts, fictions based on real events, and poetry. These forms as collected into an anthology provide authentic voices that connect to the deeply held personal experiences of war.  In many ways, these artistic efforts are pleas for understanding.

Remembrances of Wars Past:  A War Veterans Anthology edited by psychologist Henry F. Tonn, a man with his own literary credentials, is a bridge that connects us vividly to the men and women that we sent to war.  My own story in this collection, Jody Got My Girl and Gone, lay dormant for 46 years.  It was written while I was still in the Vietnam-era Army, and there seemed no market for it in the backlash of public resentment for that war.

Back cover of Remembrances of Wars Past

There must be millions of artistic efforts in prose and poetry that go unpublished as our society has habitually turned its attention away from the realities and the consequences of war. I say “millions” because wars have been a consequence of American politics since our founding revolution.  We seem always at war somewhere, and the casualties of those wars are always with us and among us while we generally have no appreciation for how they are different from us in the most profound ways.

If lack of understanding for the war veterans’ condition is the disease, then the vicarious experience of walking-in-their-boots via books like Remembrances of Wars Past is the cure. In reading these stories and poems I am struck by the power of these writers to bring us into their reality. The context may be grim or tragic, or lighthearted and humorous, but each creative expression resonates to the core of human endurance, and we may become awestruck on the reading of it.

I now bring myself to stand at attention and honor the editor and contributors of Remembrances of Wars Past with my most respectful military salute. Well done. You are a credit to the Armed Services and to the silent comrades in arms whom you represent.


Filed under Military, Writing

Chance Encounter with a War Memorial

Scene from Book Cliffs View by Rob Kurtzman

During our May 2012 vacation to the Colorado Rockies, my wife Pat and I made an overnight stopover in Fruita, Colorado, a town near Grand Junction on I-70.  We had just completed a day in the awesome Colorado National Monument landscape and needed a rest.

Our motel was within walking distance of the Colorado Welcome Center, and any observer could not miss seeing a UH-1H Huey helicopter suspended in static display over a nearby landscaped granite walled plaza.  I recognized the Huey from my days in the Vietnam War era Army, so I went to investigate.

The Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial Park is dedicated to the men and women who served in all branches of the armed forces during the Vietnam War circa 1959 to 1975.  The granite wall that surrounds the helicopter pad is etched with the names of veterans who served during that era, and a Walk of Honor has bricks identifying the donors who made the memorial possible.  Many flags fly at the site, and in 2007 three bronze statues of a mother and father welcoming home their son from Vietnam by sculptor Richard Arnold, himself a vet, were added.

The founding initiator of the memorial park is Jim Doody.  Jim and his fellow vets began their efforts to construct the memorial in 2001.  In the process, they secured the site, got the City of Fruita to undertake the maintenance and liability of the park, got the Associated Builders and Contractors of America to make the construction of the park their 2003 Community Project and contribute $400,000 in materials and labor, and secured other funds and support from across the region to make their purpose a reality.  The ground breaking was in March 2002, and the dedication, attended by thousands, was on the 4th of July, 2003.  Jim later served on the Grand Junction City Council and became its mayor.

For me, walking through the memorial park, there was a sobering reminder of the sacrifices that men and women of courage had made in honoring the call of their country to military service.  Passing though airports on this trip, I saw young people in military uniforms that reminded me that I had worn the uniform and walked in the same harm’s way about 48 years earlier.  My feeling was pride mixed with sadness.

On any given day, a visitor to The Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial Park, a Vietnam era vet, or a family member, will encounter others like themselves with stories to tell and comrades to remember.  The lingering with compassionate strangers is comforting, and even healing, to a degree that remembering pain can be activated by a shared experience.  When the stranger says, “I know what you mean,” or “I know how that feels,” the bell of truth rings clear in the desert mountain air.

Then there are sincere handshakes with direct eye contact and perhaps a parting raised-hand military salute to indicate both respect and honor.  These are the untold legacies of the commitment by a single small community to remember the military service of its sons and daughters during a bitter time of a divided nation.

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