My Father And International Intrigue – It Continues
Part 2 of 2 of a Story that is Part Truth and Part Fiction
Below continues the story that started on Monday, April 2, the day after April Fools' Day, in this space.
This is a fiction story rooted in fact, considerable fact. If you haven't read the first part of the story, I recommend you do before reading part 2 which follows. Things will make more sense that way.
I was compelled and inspired to write a part 2 after the kind responses, the number of responses, I received on the first installment.
Again, what is truth and what is fiction in this story will be surprising even to those who thought they knew my dad well (for example, not only did my father and West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer meet, but Chancellor Adenauer personally congratulated my father after a race my dad won).
I have started in this space already to idenify fact and invention. I said in my previous column, I would use the comments section to do this, and I haven't yet, but I will, beginning tomorrow.
I do need here though to give credit to John Powers and Arthur C. Kaminsky and their book One Goal: A Chronicle of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. The incidences described below involving the American military following the U.S.-Soviet hockey game at the 1980 Winter Olympics did happen, and I have paraphrased here the way that Powers and Kaminsky presented the events in their book.
So it continues, the story I started here on April 2.
I sort of passed over, just a bit, specifics on the representatives from the Catholic Church who attended the “under the radar” meetings in Hyannisport. Some have asked me if Cardinal Cushing was at any of the meetings. Well, yes he was. I also believe – but am not sure – that James Connolly, bishop of the Diocese of Fall River was at a meeting.
Some powerful Catholic heavies were at the meetings – including emissaries from the Vatican itself.
And my dad, as I would later learn, enjoyed immensely talking with a young bishop from Eastern Europe who had traveled to Hyannisport. The bishop spoke in measured and slightly halting English. My dad learned that the bishop enjoyed skiing, and had been most athletic as a child. He had an intensity around him, this man.
And this bishop understood and appreciated clandestine operations in pursuit of the faith – for during World War II when the German military occupied his land, he studied for the priesthood in a secret underground seminary.
It was 1962, a midsummer evening, actually early in the morning, about 2:30. In a line, three long black town cars with darkened windows headed west on Main Street in North Easton. The cars passed Langwater Pond on their right. Then up another 300 yards. One after another the cars turned right on to Pond Street.
North Easton was so very quiet at this early hour.
The cars kept moving, around the sharp elbow of the street, and then up another 150 yards, where the driver of each car pulled up flush right to the sidewalk next to Shovel Shop Pond. The nose of the first car was parallel to about 30 yards out in the water from the dam at the east end of the pond.
The second and third cars, one after another, pulled in behind the first.
The car engines stopped.
My father was standing by himself, a few feet in from Pond Street, on a path that led to the dam.
This was the night that my dad was stepping away, walking away from the assignment; he was, as they say, “getting out.” And on this night, they were coming to him.
It was very dark – not even any light from streetlights available – for each street light in the area had been purposely broken the day before.
From the first car in line, and the third car in line, tall men with athletic builds, one from the driver’s side, and one from the front seat passenger side, emerged. All were in dark suits. All four men walked toward the middle car.
The man who had gotten out of the passenger side of the third car opened up the rear door of the middle car, and stood back.
Out of the car emerged a trim man, about six feet tall. He was dressed in slacks and dress shirt with a collar, but no jacket.
The two men from the first car walked toward my father. They both shook his hand, and then kept going down the path and into the night.
Then the man, the man for whom the car door had been opened, strode toward the path, toward my father.
My dad was smiling and so was the man he greeted. They shook hands. It had been three years since they had last seen each other – about a year since they had last talked.
He called my father by his nickname – “Muzz.”
They went down the path together. As they did so, the two men from the third car followed, remaining about 20 yards behind.
My father and the man got to the dam. The man had in the front pocket of his shirt two cigars – two fine Cuban cigars – Petit Upmanns. He pulled them out and gave one to my father. He knew my dad liked an occasional cigar and that he would almost never have the opportunity to smoke a cigar of that quality.
My dad put the cigar in his mouth and leaned forward as the man snapped a match into flame from a matchbook and lit the cigar. The man lit the other cigar for himself.
My dad inhaled lightly and savored the essence. He exhaled into the warm night.
“I thought there is an embargo on any products from Cuba,” my dad said.
His companion laughed and replied, “There is – so what of it?”
And the two stood there on the dam overlooking the placid water – and they talked. They talked about the past 10 years and a big project that stretched globally. They talked about the future and big challenges – challenges for the United States and all of humanity.
At one point the man looked over to his right, to the estate of the Ames family.
He said, “Ah, that is Ames property. A powerful family. They have done a lot of good. And kind of like one family I know well – by hook or crook, huh?”
“Great families are needed to make this country,” my father said. “And the longer I live, the more I think that many rules are only a convenience for others.”
The man drew on his cigar and nodded, and said, “Muzz, you are right – absolutely right.”
My father said, “I think in the end we win. It seems so difficult and so much is against us – but eventually we win. You know it is like sometimes you keep running that off tackle play and in the beginning of the game you are getting two or three yards, and that is it. But you know that in the second half, because you are stronger and better conditioned, and that you are executing properly, that the off tackle is going to start giving you five and six and seven yards. And it is going to open up all sorts of possibility.
“We are stronger and we are better conditioned for the future. And we are right.”
The man with whom my father was talking agreed. He said that it might take decades but that the game plan they had in place and were following would result in victory. He also told my father that from what he heard OA should open up its offense – play less conservative football, pass more.
My father sipped on the stream of smoke from that wonderful cigar, and he said that OA would continue to grind out its offense on the ground, and occasionally throw in a pass, or two, or maybe more another one, just to keep the defense off balance.
Their conversation ended and the two men walked back toward Pond Street and the cars.
As they did, they were led by the two men from the third car, and followed by the two men from the first car.
My dad and the man got back to the street and to the car. They faced each other.
The man said to my father, “Muzz, you did one hell of job. Now you can try to live a normal life. And try to get those Tigers another undefeated season.”
The man took my father’s hand and smiled warmly; he said, “Good night, Muzz.”
My father smiled back and said, “Good night, Mr. President.”
Of course so much of it would take years to understand and for all of it to make sense.
It was June 1979, and I recall how transfixed my dad was as he looked at the TV screen.
My father saw what the men in the Kremlin saw. He saw what Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Union, and his committeemen saw.
The Kremlin knew its society was in trouble. It understood how dangerous this man and the event being broadcast on the TV were to its closed and repressive regime.
My dad grinned and said, “It will take off from here. It can’t be stopped now. It is too big and too powerful and this and love and spirit and hope can’t be held back.”
I asked him what he meant. My dad said that Catholicism would be one of the driving forces that would undo communism.
What I didn’t know at the time – but I would learn is that my dad had met and talked with that man on the screen.
Yes, there broadcast to the world was the image of that bishop from Eastern Europe whom my father had met and with whom he had talked more than 20 years before in a meeting in Hyannisport.
The bishop was in an open car and traveling the streets of his native country – streets that were lined with two million people.
Yes, there was that bishop moving through the Polish countryside, through a sea of hope and humanity.
He was still a bishop.
He was the Bishop of Rome.
Yet he had another title as well.
This man, born Karol Józef Wojtyła, was the successor to St. Peter.
He was His Holiness Pope John Paul II.
It was Saturday, February 23, 1980, the day after the U.S. Olympic hockey team, with Jim Craig, a kid from North Easton in goal, beat the Soviet Union, 4-3, in the Lake Placid Olympic Games, one of the biggest upsets in sports history.
America needed the win, for the Cold War was at its coldest, and the American economy was down, American citizens were held hostage in Iran, and the Soviets had recently invaded Afghanistan.
My dad said to me that the U.S. victory was more than winning a game. He said it was important in the "broader scheme of things."
He told me that the previous night, in the Mediterranean Sea, the U.S. aircraft carrier Nimitz had flashed the news of the big Yank win via signal light to a nearby Soviet military ship.
He also told me about another incident that happened that same night, this one over the Indian Ocean. Russian fighter jets had been intercepted by American fighters, and the Soviet pilots had switched on their radios to a channel with which they could talk to the American pilots, and one of the Soviet pilots said in English, "Congratulations."
At the time, I didn't ask my father what he meant about the U.S. victory being important in the "broader scheme of things."
Neither did I ask him about how he came across such arcane U.S. military knowledge so fast.
Again on the television – events that changed the world and history.
Now, though, my father knew I knew, and I was able to share that special emotion with him, and what had to be for my father a feeling of extraordinary satisfaction to be part of something so epic, so good, so ennobling, so profound.
It was 1989, and civilization was being liberated across Europe. The Iron Curtain was coming down in nation after nation.
Of course, it all started in Poland.
We watched it night after night on the TV at the Muscato home on Summer Street.
And on one of the broadcasts, a commentator, a liberal who had very public and pronounced left-leaning sentiments, said that without a doubt the triad of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II and the Catholic Church was a powerful and indomitable force in hastening the demise of communism.
My dad was standing in front of the television. I was sitting nearby.
He smiled at the TV, then at me, and then he walked toward the front door.
My dad had to be somewhere.
It was during 1992 and most of 1993, and I had been motivated and diligent, and a pest, bothering all sorts of government offices and staff of various politicians.
I wanted to know all about the operation involving the government, the Catholic Church, and my dad.
I had been stonewalled all over. I was told what I was looking for didn't exist because none of it ever happened.
I was frustrated.
So this brings me to early September 1993, an afternoon. I was out for a walk along a path and over to a place that I found peaceful, which was conducive to reflection and a certain calming and placidness of my soul.
I liked to stand looking across the pond at Borderland, in front of the stone cottage a drop down from the mansion. This place was revamped and reconstituted a bit for a scene in the movie, Shutter Island – but no doubt when you watch the film you recognize Borderland and the bank of the pond, and the pond beyond.
So, yes, I stood there, on that day, like other days. I watched over the pond. I knew that someone had walked on to the bank; this person was alongside me, maybe 40 yards to my right.
So I looked over and it was a woman; she was probably in her mid 30s. She was of African heritage, mahogany complected, trim, pretty, with angular face – high cheekbones. Her hair was tightly drawn back and gathered into a ponytail.
She stared straightforward on to the water.
“Very nice here, isn’t it, Mr. Muscato?” she said from nowhere.
Surprised, thoroughly, I turned to her and said, “I’m sorry – do I know you?”
“No, you don’t,” she replied. “But I have something that you have been looking for.”
I was kind of off my game with this conversation.
“What do you have that I have been looking for?” I asked.
She had what looked to be a big computer bag with a long strap over her shoulder. She walked toward me. She pulled the bag of her shoulder and then holding it in front of her with both hands she undid a zipper in it and took from the bag a big white envelope.
“This is for you,” she said, extending the envelope to me.
I took it from her and asked, “What is this?”
“It is the information you have been looking for – what you have been calling and writing to people about," she said. "And while I won't give you my name, I will tell you this, that I don't really care if I am discovered. I have recently left, let's just say, a government program that was kept something under wraps. I leave the country tonight, and I will return, but not for many years.”
So someone was helping me out.
And as for my emotions – shocked is not the word.
I took the package from her, and unsteadily said, “Thank you.”
And then she said, “Have a good day, Mr. Muscato,” and she turned and walked toward the path that leads back to the mansion.
I was looking at the package, and I was looking at her, and back and forth quickly.
She was only 20 or so yards away, her back to me, and I felt compelled to ask. I called out, “Was there a code word?”
She turned around. I blurted out, “You know, was it called ‘Operation Something Or Other'? Did the entire thing have a secret phrase or code word?”
She seemed bemused, and she smiled beautifully, and said in a soft tone, just loud enough for me to hear, “Code word? Secret Phrase? Oh, Mr. Muscato, you have been reading too many spy novels.”
And she turned around again and kept walking.
I felt silly. I faced the water and looked down at the package in my hands.
I spun back to where she had been. Now she was about 50 yards away, alongside the woods next to the cabin.
“What?” I shouted.
She yelled, “Yes, there was a code word. It all had a name.”
So I wasn’t so silly after all.
“Well, what was it?”
She pointed at me with her finger; she was still 50 yards away – and she said, “It is in there; it is in what I gave you. God bless you.”
And then she walked away.
I know why I didn’t rip open the package right there.
I felt there was a special place, just the right place where I should open it.
I got into my car and I drove to the grotto at Stonehill College.
This grotto celebrates and reveres Mary, the Mother of God. It is beautiful, a place of peace; it resembles closely the grotto at Stonehill’s sister school, the University of Notre Dame.
I parked my car in front of the grotto, and I got out.
Facing the grotto at Stonehill, you can see off to the left, to the northwest, the brick walls of the Holy Cross Fathers Cemetery, the final resting place of those who have served as priests for the Congregation of the Holy Cross, including Father Patrick Peyton.
I sat on a bench in front of the grotto. And I opened the envelope that the woman had given me.
I pulled out photos and papers. One photo, very interesting, attached here, shows my father in Germany being congratulated by what looks to be a West German military official following a race my dad won.
There was a photo of my father with Konrad Adenauer, chancellor of West Germany.
All of the papers, all of the photos, interesting … very interesting.
And there it was – yes, there was a code word – it was on a big card, sort of an oversized post card – it was business card stock.
On the card it was clearly detailed that this was the code word by which the operation which covered about four decades was known.
It was perfect – the word for the operation to support global liberation.
And it was perfect place to learn it – the grotto, at Stonehill College, in a place of the Congregation of the Holy Cross.
One word – and there it was: