Category Archives: Friends and Family

Mitch and Me: The “Contract” is Null and Void

I stood at Mitch’s hospital bedside, my hand in his, praying in silence. The face, the ventilator, the silence in the room, told a grim story. My childhood friend had summoned me to say “Good-bye…”

“Please, Mitch, don’t leave us now – the country needs your voice; Rose and the children need you…and God, alone, knows how much you mean to me…don’t leave, please…”

His cheeks were puffy and red, a stark contrast to rest of his face which was snowy white, so pale. That notable silvery head of hair and bushy handlebar mustache, always meticulously groomed, that gave him the eerie appearance of the notable Armenian author, William Saroyan,  was now tousled in sweat and the only audible sound came from the ventilator which was breathing for him, as his body tried to fight the deadly infection that had invaded him and appeared to be taking command of his lungs and body.

Mitch was battling for his life and all I could do was stand there and pray that he would win…as he had in the past.

I kept saying to myself that my childhood friend would survive. He must survive…

Rose moved close to me and whispered, “Tommy, do you want a chair?” I shook my head silently. I stood there, dazed, not knowing what to do – or say – and my heart hammering as if it would shatter into pieces. The hopelessness of it all. It was excruciating.

And, then it happened. Mitch opened his eyes…I squeezed his hands. “It’s me, Mitch…It’s me…” He smiled, recognizing me, and I went on, “You son-of-a-bitch…you son-of-a-bitch…you’re trying to get out of our contract!”

Image courtesy of Rose Kehetian and Grace Kehetian Kulegian

When The Repatriate was first published and readers were commenting how it should be made into a movie,  I shook my head and said dream on. Disingenuous as one may think I would be if such an offer would be forthcoming, I felt uncomfortable having my life and those whom I respected and loved for all to see, although writing about it had not bothered me at all. I suppose it is the idea of it being right there for all to see, rather than “hidden” between the covers of a book. My result of my research surprised me when I discovered many authors feel the way I do.

I wrote my memoirs in order to offset what had been written about me in the Soviet Union, and the report in Batch 13, of the Investigation Into the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy where my name is among those on the same page of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Mitch, who wrote several promotional and news articles about my book tour, took a different view of promoting the book and, if fortunate, bringing the story to the silver screen.

“We must do it if the opportunity comes,” he said.

I said no.

“But you’re not seeing the big picture.”

“And that is…?”

“The possibilities are endless and we could really tweak the noses of those damn Turks…the genocide…Stalin…the gulags…and the sex. It will make a beautiful movie.”

“And they’ll also want a movie script, and I’m sick of writing.”

He echoed my thoughts.

“So, am I. But, we’ll do it. We will make this thing come alive.”

I knew that whatever Mitch set out to do, he accomplished. And I soon found myself agreeing with him. And then he asked me what I thought of the movie starting off like…”There are these two old men – you and me, sitting in a bar with a glass of beer…”

“No,” I interrupted, “No beer. I hate beer!”

“Okay, bartender, make that a bottle of Five Star, Armenian Cognac.”

“Then, what?”

“Well, after a toast to God and country, we begin arguing, like most elderly Armenians do.”

“Argue about what?” I innocently ask.

“Politics, you idiot, and then about you going to the Soviet Union…about how crazy an idea it is, that you’re leaving the United States for what? For a gulag, that’s what!”

“Mitch, you’re full of s—!”

“But…then you get on that damn Soviet ship….the…”

“The Rossia…”

“And, you’re lonely…you meet Kiva…and …It will be the movie that we’ve all been waiting for. Let’s do it!”

“And, you’ll help write it?”

“We’ll have as much fun writing and selling the script as we had selling ice as kids.”

I was about to extend my hand and shake his hand and say, “It’s a deal!” when I saw in my mind the old men in the bar drinking the cognac and said, “I’m in, but on one condition…”

“And what is that?” Mitch asked.

“That neither of us shall die until we have this project finished,” I said. “If you dare die before we complete this project, I will sue the pants off of you, even if I have to chase you all across the universe, hunt you on each of all of the planets to find you.!”

Mitch laughed and agreed.

The verbal contract was sealed with a toast of cognac and a handshake. And we began working on the manuscript before this sudden illness hit him. It was inevitable, for both of us were living on borrowed time.

Mitchell “Mitch” Kehetian’s services were conducted on February 27, 2020, at St. Sarkis Church in Dearborn, the Rev. Father Hrant Kevorkian officiating. Despite the wintry storm that engulfed the Detroit Metropolitan area, and the arctic winds that accompanied the icy storm, the pews of the church were filled to pay homage to one of the icons of the community.

After the traditional Armenian prayers and services, Father Kevorkian told the mourners that during his solemn visits with Mitch at the hospital he admired what an extraordinary human being Mitch had been, his contributions as a journalist, his love of country and the motherland, and his remarkable drive and energy in raising funds for the rebuilding of Nor Keghi (New Keghi). Keghi was one of several villages in Turkey that had been torched and its unarmed Armenians inhabitants were massacred by Turkey military during and in the aftermath of World War I It was part of a genocide that claimed the lives of more than 1.5 million Christian Armenians who for centuries had lived under the rule of the Ottoman Empire sultans.

During one of his visits with Mitch at the hospital, Father Kevorkian said he asked what Mitch’s thoughts and concerns were. He had been touched and pleasantly surprised at some of his answers.

“….teach your children to be proud Armenians and Americans and, above all, if possible take them to Armenia to feel and touch where their roots began. Make sure they study Armenian history as well as their heritage…we must keep faith in who we are and also all in our beliefs and church.”

Father Kevorkian went on to say, “Mitch also asked me to make sure I pass on his message to the AYA (Armenian Youth Association) for the children, our children are the future of our country.”

In his eulogy, Father Kevorkian also noted, “Mitch Kehetian’s exemplary life is a profile of courage and patriotism. Mitch is one of those rare and remarkable human beings who dedicated his life to helping others and building bridges….we are here today because we are thankful for what he has accomplished and proud of having known him…”

The 200+ mile ride home seemed much longer than usual.

 

Read the full “Mitch and Me” series:

Mitch and Me: A Posthumous Tribute to a Childhood Friend
Mitch and Me: The Years of the Great Depression
Mitch and Me: Iconic Moments of Friendship
Mitch and Me: Challenges in a New World
Mitch and Me: Explaining the Inexplicable
Mitch and Me: A Divergence
Mitch and Me: The Final Chapter to an Epic Life
Mitch and Me: The “Contract” is Null & Void

 

Mitch and Me: The Final Chapter to an Epic Life

When you write your last chapter, is it written in tears or is it an ode to joy?

Mitch and I are children of the Great Depression and we also survived the 20th Century, one of the bloodiest centuries of human history. Ironically, it was war – World War I – that would bring us together, yet emotionally place us at opposite ends of the political ideological spectrum concerning the two countries we both loved – the United States of America and the Republic of Armenia.

Mitch was a patriot who served the United States in peace and in war and he believed in a free and independent Armenia. He used his organizational skills to help raise funds for the Motherland after the downfall of the Soviet Union. As a member of the United States Military Corps, he used his language skills in the Army Active Reserve Intelligence Division – foreign interrogation. When I asked him how many Soviet Armenians he questioned, Mitch would break out in a smile and answer in Armenian, “That’s classified information.”

On April 24, the day set aside for the commemoration and remembrance of the Armenian Genocide, Mitch would submit an editorial to the Armenian newspapers to remind the nation and the world that the evil that was and still exists must be eradicated.

“Words mean nothing,” he would stress, “unless they are supported by action.” Being an inactive spectator was not in his genes.

Never flamboyant or seeking praise of any kind, Mitch cared only about learning the truth and to seeing justice prevail; he tirelessly worked to uncover and present the facts before putting his thoughts on the page. He recognized and often reminded those in the office that “Reporters report the news; they don’t attend meetings to make news.”

Some of Mitch’s many accomplishments include:

  • The Wayne State University Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition of 52 years as an outstanding leader in journalism, as a reporter and editor
  • The March of Dimes General Alexander Malcolm Citizen of the Year Award in recognition of his support and services for the nonprofit organization
  • Served as president of the Detroit Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists
  • Served as Trustee of Central Michigan University, appointed by Gov. James Blanchard

But, I believe he felt his greatest accomplishment is a legacy in friends and an incredible giving and caring family that will carry on his dreams of justice for all, building bridges not walls, and to those who cannot help themselves, the educational tools and support to do so.

Couples who build a life together and create a family that blossoms and contributes to society are the real builders of nations – and this above all, Rose and Mitch accomplished.

“If you’re looking for financial or any other kinds of awards in what you’re doing,” Mitch would tell me, “it won’t be in journalism or newspapering. Look far beyond the horizon…”

Life may seem that it is corroding all around us at this time, but all times, since the beginning of recorded time, has been challenging. One may believe that he is the master of his own fate but, as the days turn into weeks and years, one realizes the inevitable is waiting and unavoidable.


I was sitting in our living room reading David McCullough’s epic biography of John Adams and thinking of how I would have loved to have been sitting at his dinner table to hear John and Abigail converse about the challenges they and the colonists faced, reflecting, “…and we think we have it hard.”

The ringing of a telephone disrupted my melancholy. I heard my wife, Jan, pick up the phone followed by a series of inaudible words. When she came into the living room I knew something was wrong.

“It was Rose,” she said.

“My sister?” I nervously asked, wondering if something was wrong in the family.

“No, it was Rose Kehetian,” she explained. “She wants to know why you’re going to sue Mitch!”

God, forbid.

Jan continued, “Mitch is in Oakwood Hospital.”

We packed our bags and drove the two-hundred twenty-five miles to Dearborn to see my friend.

…to be continued

Read the full “Mitch and Me” series:

Mitch and Me: A Posthumous Tribute to a Childhood Friend
Mitch and Me: The Years of the Great Depression
Mitch and Me: Iconic Moments of Friendship
Mitch and Me: Challenges in a New World
Mitch and Me: Explaining the Inexplicable
Mitch and Me: A Divergence
Mitch and Me: The Final Chapter to an Epic Life
Mitch and Me: The “Contract” is Null & Void

 

Tom Mooradian at the editorial desk circa 1970

Mitch and Me: A Divergence

After we would put the newspaper to bed and, if I didn’t have a council meeting or a basketball game or a swimming meet to cover, Mitch and I would sit in the newsroom and discuss our favorite subjects – the old times, national and world news, and politics.

And, yes, we were really fortunate on Sundays when Rose, his lovely wife, would stop by around noon with chicken, pilaf, salad, and baklava, and join in the discussion.

Often times on Sundays, an unusual scholar and philosopher from the East, Jack Warren, would also come by.

I got to know Jack under very unusual circumstances. When the newspaper was a weekly, he dropped by the office one Sunday and asked if he could help out by covering the high school wrestling meets for me.

I told him that I would “really appreciate the help” but I didn’t have the authority to hire anyone. I was the sports editor and employment was handled by the publisher and the publisher alone. Jack nodded his head showing he understood, but continued that he wasn’t interested in employment.

“No problem,” Jack said, “I work at the airport. I’m volunteering my time and services to you. I enjoy your columns, and I love wrestling.  He also mentioned that he was an avid Wayne Memorial High school coach and team fan. “I attend all of their meets and tournaments and, if you want, I will cover them and other teams in your newspapers’ circulation area. I know most of the coaches in the area, and they know me and I will give you the results so you can write the stories.”

What sports editor wouldn’t accept such an offer?

So I did. And to show my appreciation I offered to buy him lunch anytime he was available. Our relationship, respect, and friendship grew during the days, month, and years that followed.

And I believe he is the one who saved my job. I will get back to Mitch and Me next week; this week I need to answer those who asked how I lost my job…

It came to pass that Mitch returned to The Macomb Daily, and we would have not only a new managing editor, but a new general manager as well. On one particular stormy and wintry evening, after the paper was put to bed, I was summoned to the office of General Manager…“Voldemort”. He waved his powerful wand and said, “Be gone, Tom.” And off I went, wondering why he hatred my guts. I had devoted more than a decade to this chain of newspapers and I believed I was doing a pretty good job. But, alas, it was what it was and I headed home to try to explain it to my dear wife.

Voldemort not only made me disappear, but also abolished the sports section. According to union contract, although I had more seniority than most of the staff reporters and could easily handle any assignment, because the evil Voldemort had abolished the Sports Section, nothing could be done to reinstate me.

Friday night passed, as did Saturday, then on Sunday, Jack Warren called me at home and said, “Hey, I hope you’re not sick. I was at the newspaper office, knocked on the door, and no answer…Aren’t you coming in? I hope you’re all right.”

“Jack, I’m not with the newspaper – they’ve laid me off.”

“What? What did you say?”

“I said, they laid me off – I’m not with the newspaper.”

“The hell you aren’t!” And the phone went silent.

I spent the rest of the day enjoying time with my family, as I had done so rarely because of my job, which I no longer had.

Monday afternoon, the general manager’s secretary called me at home, “Mr. Mooradian, please return to the office – the managing editor would like to talk to you…”

“I’m sorry, but I have been laid off …”

“Please, Mr. Mooradian, I’ve been asked to tell you that they want you back…”

After returning the phone to its cradle I told my wife about the call. She smiled and said, “Better go and see what they want.”

I opened the office door and glanced at the receptionist. There wasn’t that usual eye-contact or “Hi, Tom, how are Jan and the kids?” The editorial staff also looked at me with a sense of awe. My managing editor quickly smiled from his office.

On my empty desk was an unsigned note, “What the F— did you do?!”

The events of the day were revealed over time. Starting early that morning hundreds of phone calls to the circulation department had started pouring in, demanding subscription cancellations unless I was reinstated immediately. In addition there were threats by businesses that ads would be canceled unless the sports section and Tom Mooradian were returned to the paper.

To this day I do not know for certain who or what the catalyst was that began the telephone barrage, but my suspicion is that Jack Warren hatched the plan and organized the Booster Clubs to take charge. However, he never admitted any involvement.

Ironically, if Voldemort had waited until summer he just may have succeeded in his odious deed. It was obvious that the general manager knew little about newspapering. If he did, he would never have “laid off” any sports’ staff during the late winter when high school basketball teams are preparing for the state playoffs and championships, wrestling districts are underway, and swimming and volleyball games are being staged.

“March Madness” was just a flip of a calendar page away. One Sunday morning I arrived at the newspaper office and didn’t find Jack waiting for me. I went into the office and phoned his apartment. There was no answer. After an hour or two, I phoned again, again no answer.

I jumped in the car, drove to the apartment, and knocked at the door – no answer. I called the local police chief, a close friend of mine, and he immediately dispatched a patrol car. The officers met me at the door then one of them left to find the apartment manager. Together we entered the apartment. Jack was on the floor of his bedroom…he had suffered a fatal heart attack.

Read the full “Mitch and Me” series:

Mitch and Me: A Posthumous Tribute to a Childhood Friend
Mitch and Me: The Years of the Great Depression
Mitch and Me: Iconic Moments of Friendship
Mitch and Me: Challenges in a New World
Mitch and Me: Explaining the Inexplicable
Mitch and Me: A Divergence
Mitch and Me: The Final Chapter to an Epic Life
Mitch and Me: The “Contract” is Null & Void

Mitch and Me: Explaining the Inexplicable

Mitch Kehetian; Image courtesy of Grace Kehetian Kulegian

 

I was desperately looking for some clues to the unfathomable, unreasonable dismissal from a job I loved and dedicated twenty-four hours a day to in the sardonic smile on my childhood friend’s face. Why would a newly-appointed managing editor fire me without a personal interview or evaluation or reevaluation of my job performance?

I knew nothing about Panax Corporation and I was positive they knew little, if anything about me and my past, for certainly the idea to terminate my employment would not have originated with Mitch.

I had been writing all of the stories for the sport pages every week and was responsible for police and court news in the cities of Wayne and Inkster. Mitch wasted little time rolling out his grievances.

“So, you’re married now. Right, Mr. Mooradian?”

Okay, so apparently we were dealing in a business and professional environment and that could be the reason for the “Mr.”.

“Yeah, Mr. Kehetian, I am married.”  So, what was he driving at?

“A blonde with blue-eyes. Beautiful…young lady, right?”

“Yeah…and beautiful and rational. I respect her very much. She was my editor at the Dearborn Guide.” And in my mind I am wondering what’s going on.

He paused and took another look at me, “Oh, by the way, thank you for that wedding invitation.”

O.K., Mitch, I thought, I see where this is all going… “We didn’t have a wedding, the mayor in Dearborn Heights officiated for the exchange of vows. And Jan and I went out to Botsford Inn afterward. Marge and Roy Webster, you know, the publishers of the Dearborn Heights Leader were our witnesses.”

Mitch finally broke into his Wallace Berry smile and I thought that was the end of it.

No, not Mitch…he wasn’t going to allow me any relief; he went for me with a punch right straight to  the heart.

“Hell, for two years that high school gang of ours sat in the sweetshop after every damn football, basketball and baseball game and the talk would eventually turn to you – and for two years after you had left for the Soviet Union I watched a sweet, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, young lady come in and sit where you two usually sat. I would walk over and speak to her and ask her if she had heard from you, and she would shake her head and the tears would fall…you remember, don’t you. You know, of course, who I am talking about – the girl who waited with a ring – the ring that you gave to her with a promise that you’d be back in “a year or two to marry her…” There were plenty of guys, even some of your friends, who wanted to “hit” on her, and I would warn them if they tried they would have to deal with me!”

Mitch’s depressing depiction of past events churned my stomach and my face probably reflected my feelings. I knew I had done wrong – and felt guilty that I had paid a high price for my mistakes. But those were my mistakes. How could I ease the pain of the inflicted – the one who is in pain and suffered for my errant ways?

Fortunately, Mitch would leave this line of questioning for another day. As if he got something off his chest that had bothered him for years, he broke his silence with a deep sigh for what appeared to be a request, “How’s the coffee around here?”

“Not bad,” I answered quickly, happy to get away from the previous topic. “But, if you really want some excellent coffee, we’ll have to go across the street. There’s a Greek restaurant and they not only have the best coffee, but they make a gyro sandwich to die for.”

“And I’ll bet the owner’s name is Nick,’ Mitch said, amused at the quickness with which I got up from the chair and was ready to get out of his office.

As we left the newspaper offices and paused at the curb to cross Michigan Avenue, I asked Mitch about our families getting together for dinner, adding that I would like to meet his wife and the kids. “I really would like to meet your wife,” I said.

He paused, glanced at the oncoming traffic, then turned to me with an enigmatic grin, immediately putting me on the defense with, “But, Tommy, you have already met her.”

“When…and where?”

“Well, it seems that you and I were attending some large political rally and the host introduced you to her as Tom Greene. She told me she had met this good-looking odar (non-Armenian) and she was very impressed by this Mr. Greene because he spoke pretty-good Armenian.”

“Crap!” was the only word that I could think of – but, if shit happens – there is more…

After ordering breakfast at the restaurant with Mitch enjoying his coffee, he turned to me and asked, “Does management know that you’re working at another newspaper, and holding down this job.”

“I don’t think so…”

He paused, then asked, “Do they know that you are the Tom Eaton who also covers council meetings for the Royal Oak Tribune?”

“Mitch…”

“Don’t Mitch me…”

“Let me explain.”

“It better be good…”

And I so I began…

“As married life went along and we had two kids and a mortgage, I approached the co-publisher of The Associated Newspapers and asked for a raise. He said that he would gladly raise my salary, but then I would be getting more than the Managing Editor. He said that he knew Marge and Roy Webster, publishers of The Leader, and they were looking for someone to handle the police beat and off I went to talk to them. They immediately put me on their payroll. Then, I got a call from The Royal Oak Tribune, asking if I was interested in some free lancing, and I grabbed it…”

Mitch atypically interrupted me and asked,  “When the hell do you sleep?

“I don’t. Hey, all I’m trying to do is make sure that all the bills are paid and catch up for those lost thirteen years.”

He replied amicably and understandingly with, “Well, welcome to the rat race.”

We looked at each other and I asked, “Then, I’m not fired?”

“Aaah…you know I would never fire you.” Then, in a tone that turned serious and somewhat odious asked, “What do you know about the Panax Corporation?”

“Nothing really, nothing.”

“How many on staff know about your past – your life in the Soviet Union?”

“I don’t think anyone knows anything – we’re too busy putting out a newspaper.”

“That’s fine – Panax is a very conservative group, and I don’t think you’d last very long if they knew that you had spent thirteen years in the USSR, living with the Communists.”

Mitch, I would learn later, was at Associated to help in the reorganization of the staff, and shortly after he returned to resume his work on The Macomb Daily, I was fired by the new administration.

This time, my job wasn’t saved by my long-time friend, rather the support of the community who rallied around me. But that’s a story for a later time.

Read the full “Mitch and Me” series:

Mitch and Me: A Posthumous Tribute to a Childhood Friend
Mitch and Me: The Years of the Great Depression
Mitch and Me: Iconic Moments of Friendship
Mitch and Me: Challenges in a New World
Mitch and Me: Explaining the Inexplicable
Mitch and Me: A Divergence
Mitch and Me: The Final Chapter to an Epic Life
Mitch and Me: The “Contract” is Null & Void

Mitch and Me: Challenges in a New World

In the final two months of the year nineteen hundred and sixty, Mitch faced a life-changing challenge, and I learned that I was a “person of interest”.  The FBI wanted to learn more about me and my life in the USSR, and I was invited to go to Washington D.C. to meet with the bureau and their Soviet experts.

My employment portfolio was tainted, and no one apparently was interested in hiring an American who had spent thirteen years in the USSR; Mitch discovered that William Randolph Hearst was not interested in the metropolitan Detroit market and, after lengthy negotiations sold The Detroit Times to The Detroit News.

Like the one-thousand five hundred employees who were receiving their weekly paychecks from the Times, Mitch received a telegram late Sunday, November 6, that stated, in part “…It is not necessary for you to report to work on Monday November 7, 1960…your paycheck will be available on your usual payday in The Detroit Times’ lobby…”

Although hundreds of Times’ employees showed up the next day to collect their belongings, empty their desks, pick up personal items, and bid their colleagues a farewell, none were permitted into the building, which was locked for the first time since Hearst had purchased the property in 1900.

This was not a merger of two great Detroit newspapers and some of the best journalistic talent in the industry left Detroit to find employment in various markets. Mitch and some of his colleagues combined their talents for a while and published a weekly newspaper.

When he was offered a position in Ohio, Mitch and his wife, Rose, who were raising three children, one that was only fourteen months old, had some serious decisions to make. Should they pack up the family and go to Ohio, leaving behind most of Mitch’s family, including his mother, father, and brothers, or stay in Detroit? The weekly venture was not turning a profit; the community could not/would not support the publication.

Eventually Mitch accepted the position in Ohio. Rose stayed in Detroit with the children and found a part-time position with the Melvindale-North Allen Park schools. The school system soon discovered that it had someone special in this energetic and intelligent young woman and eventually offered her a full-time position. I have been reminded more times that I can recall by Rose of the ancient Armenian saying, that my grandmother had always told me, “It is the woman of the house who maintains it and keeps the man standing.”

So  the children  – Grace, who was six at the time, Janet, 4, and Karen, fourteen months – would have the love and care of their mother and grandparents, but see their father only on weekends. Mitch had accepted a position on the editorial staff of the prestigious Citizens Journal in Columbus, Ohio, and loved the job, but not being away from his “girls”. The separation from family eventually persuaded Mitch to return to Michigan and the family where he belonged and would eventually join the staff of The Macomb Daily.

With all Mitch’s problems, I did not want to bother him with mine.

And I had problems…in Washington. After years of living in the shadows of Soviet agents and informers, I again needed to prove who I was, this time to my native land. Tired to the point that I failed to cooperate, one FBI agent during a session asked, “But, Mr. Mooradian, I thought you said you love your country!”

“Yes,” I replied, “I do. But, after all of this s— I wonder if my country loves me!”

My week in December had started off with a lie detector test and continued with daily meetings with those who wanted to be sure I was who I said I was; find out what I did in the USSR and where I had traveled in the USSR. It ended in a darkened room and an encounter with a Russian-speaking shadow that I firmly believe was a former officer of the KGB. The meeting would have ended in a physical confrontation, if not for the quick intervention by my FBI handler.

As Mitch built a career on his bedrock of his integrity, becoming the managing editor of The Macomb Daily, I enrolled at Wayne State University to re-Americanize myself. I graduated with a major in journalism, certainly not the direction that I thought I would take when I had left high school.

My first job was at The Dearborn Press, covering high school sports, and then I moved over to The Dearborn Guide to add city council and the police/court beat. Eventually I was contacted by Ray Clift, who had followed my high school basketball career and was a partner in a chain of weekly newspapers in western Wayne County. He offered me a position at their main office in Wayne, Michigan. Media mogul John McGoff, seeking to add and extent his political influence, purchased the paper and turned it into a daily, renaming it The Daily Eagle.

One day I walked into the newsroom and glanced over at the Managing Editor’s Office. I thought I saw a familiar face. I made a move to get a closer look. The door opened and Mitch walked out. Surprised and happy to see him, I greeted him with a smile.

He said simply, “Mr. Mooradian, please step into my office.”

I wondered what the hell was going on. He told me to sit down.

“I’m your boss, now,” he said.

I didn’t say a word. But I was stunned.

And then my boss said, “You’re fired!”

Read the full “Mitch and Me” series:

Mitch and Me: A Posthumous Tribute to a Childhood Friend
Mitch and Me: The Years of the Great Depression
Mitch and Me: Iconic Moments of Friendship
Mitch and Me: Challenges in a New World
Mitch and Me: Explaining the Inexplicable
Mitch and Me: A Divergence
Mitch and Me: The Final Chapter to an Epic Life
Mitch and Me: The “Contract” is Null & Void

 

Mitch and Me: Iconic Moments of Friendship

I was sitting alone in a booth at a sweetshop on Fort Street waiting for Mitch. We would usually end up there after all of our home basketball games. I’d been in that place more times that I can remember with teammates, fans and their high school girlfriends, chatting about the game, drinking Coke or Pepsi, having fun, but that afternoon, waiting for someone whom I had not seen for thirteen years, made me feel strange. I had felt alone and out of place; nervous to the point I had wanted to leave.

After all, only forty-eight hours before I had been at the National Hotel in Moscow, checking out for the last time, waiting for a cab to take me and my one piece of luggage to the Sheremetyevo International Airport where I would be flown to Copenhagen and to freedom.

Unquestionably I was home, this was not a dream. I remember hearing my heart pounding in my ears as I glanced around the restaurant, listening to the jukebox playing songs I have never heard before. Young couples were sitting, chatting, eating and laughing. I held back my tears of joy.

Before I had left for the USSR Mitch had always been that “divine voice” of wisdom, praising me when praise was needed, and chastising me – yes, when I was way off the track. That is what friends are for, right? I was so anxious to talk, to share my adventures…and my pain. But could I? One could not wipe clean a slate of despair and fear of that “midnight knock at the door!” that had be written over thirteen years in one night.

Where was Mitch? He had been adamantly opposed to the Armenian Americans repatriating to Soviet Union. “Don’t go,” he had told me. “You’ll regret it,” Mitch had warned. “You’ll never come back – believe me.” His words had chilled my blood then, and they do whenever I recall them.

My heart warmed as Mitch walked through the front door and directly over to the booth where I was, as it does whenever I think about my friend Mitch.

“Damn it, you look good!” I had said, slipping out of the booth to greet him

“You sonofabitch!”  he had said.

His words stopped me in my tracks.

He tossed a newspaper on the table and said, “This damn newspaper scooped us. Do you know what that means? We had to rewrite this crap from the AP wire services. When I told my boss that I grew up with the idiot, he blew his stack – he wanted to know why I haven’t got an exclusive.”

I didn’t understand what he was talking about and it must have shown on my face. He stepped back and looked at me, noting that I had acquired a strange accent and was shaking. Mitch realized that I really didn’t understand. He grabbed me and kissed me on both cheeks as most Armenians do to show their affections when they meet, and said, “You sonofabitch…we all believed you were dead.”

“They almost got me, Mitch…they almost did…”

“You’re home. You’re safe. And damn it – that’s all that counts.”

We sat, he ordered Coke – or was it Pepsi – took out a cigarette, offered me one and I rejected it.

“You mean those Soviets didn’t get you to smoke?”

“Nope…but I can drink Vodka with the best of them.”

Mitch laughed and then shoved the newspaper he had brought with him to my side of the table. The front page had my high school photo, with a story about my return home. “Self-exiled to the Soviet Union for 13 years, a 32-year-old American was secreted in his Detroit home today…”

I continued to read, “…Mooradian’s father, Paul, barred visitors from the home ….”

I looked up at Mitch. In a calmer voice he explained, ”My editor was pretty pissed off when I told him I knew you, that we grew up together and went to the same high school. His immediate response was, ‘Why the F—don’t we have this story?!’ I told him your father barred all the reporters from talking to you.”

I tried to apologize that he didn’t get a story, but Mitch brushed it aside. He didn’t seem to be irritated.

“O.K. What’s the story – how did you get out?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

I explained that a year before I had been in Moscow with a team I coached and after a game a stranger, who I later discovered was a high-ranking KGB officer, approached me and told me that “they” had decided that I was going to be allowed to return home, to the United States….And here I am.”

“You’re kidding me, aren’t you?!”

“Mitch, believe me, you know I would not lie to you…that’s what happened, and the irony is I had given up believing that I would ever come back.”

Mitch gave me a strange look, “What happened to the others?”

“The elderly – they didn’t last a year. Most couldn’t survive – the bread lines, the lack of almost everything we take for granted – there was no soap, or sugar, or running water or electricity in the apartments.  Everything your father has told you and what you read in the papers, was true; my father didn’t have a clue about what was going on behind that Iron Curtain.” I started to share some of my experiences.

But as we continued alarms were going off in my mind, memories of the many interrogations I had withstood in the Soviet Union, signals that warned me I needed to be on guard. But, I had argued with myself, this is Mitch! I was so hungry to keep this deep friendship. Mitch and I had shared so much in our early years. I naively asked, “I hope you’re not going to write all what I told you.”

“If what you are telling me is the truth, why wouldn’t you want this story to get out?”

“Mitch, I came of age in a country where everybody is suspicious of everybody else. They’re vicious – they’re killers – “

“Who are you talking about?”

“The KGB!”

He looked puzzled.

“That was over there, and you’re here now. You’re safe at home.”

I told him that the agent who handled my case warned me that if ever I became a tool of the capitalists and spread “lies” about the USSR, they would find me because they have friends everywhere.

Mitch repeated that I would be safe here and that our counter-intelligence agencies were considered among the best in the world.

I don’t remember the exact words I used, but I did remind Mitch that the Cheka and Premier Stalin  didn’t stop looking for Leon Trotsky after he escaped from Alma Ata, and they eventually caught up with him in Mexico City.

I trusted my friend, I wanted so desperately to believe him.

Read the full “Mitch and Me” series:

Mitch and Me: A Posthumous Tribute to a Childhood Friend
Mitch and Me: The Years of the Great Depression
Mitch and Me: Iconic Moments of Friendship
Mitch and Me: Challenges in a New World
Mitch and Me: Explaining the Inexplicable
Mitch and Me: A Divergence
Mitch and Me: The Final Chapter to an Epic Life
Mitch and Me: The “Contract” is Null & Void

 

Mitch and Me: The Years of the Great Depression

Mitch and I were children of the Great Depression.

We were also children whose fathers were born in the Ottoman Empire, in the same mountainous village of Keghi; my father, Boghos, a shepherd in his youth and Mitch’s dad, Kaspar, an intellect whose love of books at an early age would be passed on to the children.

The Mooradians and the Kehetians’ lives were miraculously spared during a series of genocidal massacres Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s reign perpetrated in the late 19th Century, claiming the lives of more than 600,000 Christian Armenians. Our grandparents knew that there would be subsequent assaults upon the Armenian Christians and decided to ship their eldest sons off to friends and relatives in North America.

Boghos, my dad, wound up with an uncle in Guelph, Canada; Kaspar, at sixteen, traveled to Detroit and was greeted at the station by a cousin.

Ironically, our mothers were raised and lived in Erezum, where they witnessed the horrific extermination of their family, friends and neighbors by the nationalist Young Turks, who declared that they would solve “The Armenian Question” by wiping the Armenians off the face of the earth.

My mother Dzovinar, (Sophie) was orphaned and somehow managed to get to Marseilles, France, eventually immigrating to Canada, while Mitch’s mother, Arousiag, reached the same port and eventually made her way to the United States and to Detroit.

Apparently suffering from “survivor’s guilt”, most Armenian genocide survivors would not talk about their experiences during what historians would call the First Genocide of the 20th Century.  “I am blessed with four beautiful children and a good husband and a roof above our heads,” my mother would tell us when asked about her past.  “What has happened, has happened and no one, not even God can change.”  When anyone in need, pain or hunger, came to our doorstep, they were greeted, invited in, and provided with shelter and food.

More than one hundred years after the genocide, the Armenians still seek justice. Although Blaise Pascal put forth, “Time heals pain and quarrels.” I agree with Rose Kennedy’s understanding, “It has been said that time heals all wounds. I don’t agree. The wounds remain.” And most Armenians would stand with her.

The Kehetians and the Mooradians were neighbors. We rented homes on Cottrell Street.

Eight days before I was born – July 31, 1928 – a presidential candidate, Herbert Hoover, in accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for the candidacy to become the 31st President of the United States noted, “We in American today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever in the history of the nation.” Not a bad time to make a landing in the United States, I would say.

But Mitch had a crash landing on the day of his birth.

On October 20, 1930, he arrived in the midst of the Great Depression, with millions of Americans joining millions of Europeans looking for work. About a year previously (October 24, 1929) the world’s economy had shut down. Wall Street crumbled, then crashed and 2.6 billion dollars in stocks were traded, the euphoria of buying ended and selling became impossible. As one reporter’s account of the panic noted, “It is hard to quantify the losses but they are estimated to be in the billions of dollars…frightened investors ordered their brokers to sell at whatever the price, and the stock market crashed….this is a day that will go down in history as Black Thursday.”

With Hoover at the helm, some doubted that capitalism would survive and many joined those in the increasing bread lines who believed that communism offered a solution to solving their problems. The conflict between the two philosophic theories of economy and governance would dominate and divide the world into the 21st Century.

My father lost everything – three coffee houses he owned on Solvay. Mitch’s father, who had enlisted in the United States Army in hopes of being sent to fight the Turks, had returned home as a veteran. They would be at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

My father chose Lenin and communism as savior and the road to salvation for the working class. Mitch’s father supported the Democratic Republic of Armenia and Armenian Military Commander Andranik Ozanian, supporting an independent Armenia.

I was ordered into the living room one day and told by my father that I was never, ever again to speak or play with Mitch Kehetian or associate in any way with that family.

As an obedient son, I nodded my head.

Mitch became my closest friend from that day forward. I left for Soviet Armenia in November of 1947 and during that time, we did not talk or write for thirteen years.

On August 5, 1960, reporters were standing among a crowd of curious spectators, awaiting my arrival from the Soviet Union. My father barred anyone from going into the house on Crawford Street as I rushed up the front steps to reunite with my family.

My brother Robert apparently was interviewed by a reporter, from the Detroit News and, the following day, the News’ headline streamed across the front page: “Detroiter Ends 13-Year `Lark’ in the Soviet Union.”

That afternoon I had a phone call from a reporter at The Detroit Times. I did not recognize the voice and told the caller, who asked if he could come over to talk to me about my experiences in the Soviet Union, that I was sorry, but I was tired and wasn’t available.

“The Tom Mooradian I grew up with was never too tried to do anything…’

“Who is this?” I asked.

“It’s Mitch, you idiot…you can talk to The News and not me – are you an imposter?”

“Mitch…Mitch…Mitch…I missed you. Is the Sweet Shoppe still there?”

“Yes. See you there within the hour.”

Read the full “Mitch and Me” series:

Mitch and Me: A Posthumous Tribute to a Childhood Friend
Mitch and Me: The Years of the Great Depression
Mitch and Me: Iconic Moments of Friendship
Mitch and Me: Challenges in a New World
Mitch and Me: Explaining the Inexplicable
Mitch and Me: A Divergence
Mitch and Me: The Final Chapter to an Epic Life
Mitch and Me: The “Contract” is Null & Void

 

***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

Mitch and Me: A Posthumous Tribute to a Childhood Friend

Mitch Kehetian and me in 2017; Image courtesy of Grace Kehetian Kulegian

 

There are so, so many stories that I can tell about “Mitch and Me”.  Most would be, I believe as interesting as those creative tales told by the prolific 19th Century American writer-adventurer, Mark Twain, whose mind and pen introduced the world to the life and times of the unforgettable fictional characters on the pages of the “Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.”

As picturesque as fiction is, I prefer the down-to-earth literary genre of autobiographies and biographies: life stories, the manna and the misery of our lives, what makes us tick, including looking at what someone contributed, or chose not to contribute, to build a better life or destroy others.

Mitchell “Mitch” Kehetian passed on February 22, 2020, at the Beaumont-Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn. He was 89. His lovely wife of sixty-seven years, Rose, and their three daughters – Grace, Janet and Karen were at his bedside.

Born in Detroit and raised in the cosmopolitan neighborhood of Delray, Mitch  lived to write, and wrote to live, beginning as a hustling copy boy at the William Randolph Hearst owned Detroit Times, en route to the prestigious positions of Managing Editor at the Macomb Daily and the Associated Newspapers. During his fifty-plus years as a writer, he also served on staff at the Citizen -Journal in Columbus, Ohio, and East Side Newspapers in Detroit.

Unpretentious and laconic, in his later years Mitch was blessed with distinguished white hair and a walrus mustache, lily-white skin and sky-blue eyes, atypical of dark-skinned Armenians. Mitch Kehetian was William Saroyan’s physical double. To my knowledge the two writers never met, but with one glance at photos of both of them, one would not know who was who. Saroyan, a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright-novelist, author of The Human Comedy and My Name is Aram was one of the most prominent literary figures in the 20th Century.

Throughout his life, Mitch’s demeanor generally put one at ease immediately, especially those whom he interviewed or approached him for advice. But never – and I mean never – should one have invaded his space at deadline, the hour when the newspaper was “put to bed”! A prudent writer, whose engaging personality became a magnet for young and inquisitive journalist, was my “boss” when I was a sports writer for a western Wayne County daily newspaper.

Like most who grew up and were schooled in Detroit during the Great Depression, we looked to the auto industry for employment. Mitch and I appeared destined to follow in the footsteps of our older brothers, but when we came to the crossroads after high school graduation, I took an incredulous and dangerous road and Mitch started his journalistic adventure.

Neal Shine (former Detroit Free Press managing editor and publisher) told the story in one of his columns: Mitch Kehetian’s news instincts were sharpened in the early 1950’s at a very basic level. The Detroit Times paid him a dollar every time he called in a news tip that Times editors deemed newsy….” One story that caught the Time’s news desk’s attention was Mitch’s report that he saw a guy on a stretcher  “….being carried out of the First and Last Stop Bar covered with a sheet. The bar came by its name as a result of its proximity to Woodmere Cemetery (in Southwest Detroit).The editor loved the story so much that he encouraged Kehetian to pursue a career in journalism.

Shine’s column continued: When Kehetian found out later that the man he assumed was dead had merely passed out he was crestfallen.” After he learned that he had conveyed incomplete information about the incident, Mitch called the Times back the next day to correct the story. The editor was impressed by Mitch’s honesty and complimented him for his actions. “You should still be a reporter,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of reporters here who would never have called me and admitted they were wrong.”

As a journalist, truth and facts would be the driving forces of Mitch’s  lifelong work. What appeared in and on the pages that he was responsible for was based on facts and he inspired those who surrounded him to seek the same in their pursuit of a story. His legacy will live on and inspire those who seek truth and will work to build bridges rather than walls between us and our neighbors; between nations.

To his last breath, he was a fighter using the pen to seek justice for the downtrodden, pursuing the eradication of racial discrimination from the hearts of all of us. In his soft-spoken voice he offered hope and give confidence to those who retreated to the sidelines, in depression and in doubt that good would triumph over evil.

Some years ago he was asked to lend his voice to bring home the remains of Private Eddie Slovik, the only American soldier to be court-martialed and executed for desertion in World War II.Mitch did not hesitate to act and waged a successful battle to achieve what the cynics believed unachievable. Mitch argued that while more than twenty thousand American soldiers were arrested for desertion in World War II, all, but one, were given a wide range of sentences, that Private Slovik’s death sentence was a travesty of justice – carried out, surely to thwart those who waivered in battle. Inevitably, Mitch rallied support and the case was won: the twenty-four year old soldier’s body was eventually brought home from France for burial in Detroit southwest Woodmere Cemetery.

Death has haunted Mitch and me as long as I can remember, but we managed to somehow survive. Our first encounter, at the age of eight or nine, was on the railroad tracks near Detroit Produce Terminal where we attempted to harvest fallen ice chunks from conveyors. The plan, during the time of ice boxes, was to resell the ice to residents on our street. To salvage the icy jewels we had to crawl beneath the boxcars. One day our world almost came to an end because the train began to move its load as we were “harvesting”. As we crawled to safety the ice was crushed on the tracks…but, blessings, not our bodies.

In our thirties, Mitch would survive a plane crash, while my life would be be spared by KGB agents who at the height of the Cold War were convinced I was an FBI agent.

I feel alone now.

We had made a pack and he opted out.

I miss him.

Read the full “Mitch and Me” series:

Mitch and Me: A Posthumous Tribute to a Childhood Friend
Mitch and Me: The Years of the Great Depression
Mitch and Me: Iconic Moments of Friendship
Mitch and Me: Challenges in a New World
Mitch and Me: Explaining the Inexplicable
Mitch and Me: A Divergence
Mitch and Me: The Final Chapter to an Epic Life
Mitch and Me: The “Contract” is Null & Void

 

***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

In remembrance of my big brother… Popkin (Robert) Mooradian

Robert (Popkin) Mooradian

My brother was a big brother in the truest sense. My first real memory of him was when I was between 5 and 7 years old, walking down Solvay Street in the multi-cultural section of Detroit called Delray to the Delray Presbyterian Church. We would go to the second floor gymnasium. He would seat me on one of the benches, and I would watch him, my brother George, Bill Chunko, Frank Sabo, Suren Sabrian, and others play basketball.

One day he said it was time for me to learn how to play. He enrolled me in a practice program every Saturday morning at 9 am. I would pack my satchel with a jersey and shorts and gym shoes and sweatsocks and go with him to the church basket ball court. Chunko was my coach. Chunko went on to be an all-state basketball, football, baseball player and went from there to coach the University of Georgia football team.

Over the summer I practiced every Saturday with a group of kids my age, and at the end of the session, my coach gave each of us an evaluation card. I will never forget what my card said, “Tommy, you will never become a basketball player. Try ping-pong, or chess.” With the card in one hand and satchel in the other, I went home crying to my big brother. I showed him the coach’s appraisal. Robert responded, “Don’t let other tell you who you are. Go prove him wrong.” I believe I did.

The second life lesson that my brother taught me was when he was training to become a US Naval pilot in the early days of WWII. He was stationed at Grosse Ile. One weekend he was on furlough. He came home and he brought his whites with him. He went out with the gang in his Zoot Suit to dance the night away. While I was picking up my room, I saw the dress uniform. Since I knew I was going to be in the Navy someday, since I knew I would be following in my brother’s footsteps, I tried it on. I looked handsome. I thought my girlfriend should see me in “my” Navy uniform. I was 14/15 years old. Because both my brothers were serving in the Navy, and my father couldn’t drive, I had been issued a temporary driver’s permit.

I jumped into our car, drove over to Clark Street and went to my girlfriend’s home. She came to the door, looked at me, and broke down in tears, thinking that I joined the Navy. I quickly explained that this was how I would look when I joined. Relieved, she smiled and gave me a kiss. I turned around, got in the car with my ego inflated, and went home to take off the uniform. Unfortunately, on the corner of Clark and Lafayette, there was a red traffic light that I hadn’t noticed because I was riding high. I turned onto Lafayette and didn’t even realize that there was a law enforcement vehicle behind me. He pulled me over and got out of his car. I rolled down the window and the officer saw me in Bob’s naval uniform. “Oh, you’re in the service.” I didn’t answer. He said, “I have to look at your license, please.” I handed him my temporary license. He saw that I was only 15 and told me to get out of the car. Off I went to Fort-Green Police Station.

I was tossed into a cell. I tried explaining to him that it was my brother’s uniform and I was going to go into the navy when I graduated and I wanted to show my girlfriend what I would look like in Navy Whites. Hours later Robert showed up, talked to the officer in charge and somehow or other he got me out of that jam, apologizing for my ignorance. As we walked out of the building Robert paused and as I continued walking he kicked me in my ass, so hard that I can still feel it. He said, “Never try to be something or someone you’re not.”

Finally, in the pivotal year of my life (1947) shortly after graduating from high school, I decided to go to the Soviet Union. Big brother felt the need to intervene. He took me out to lunch, sat me down, and said, “You have all of these athletic scholarships. You’re in Lawrence Institute of Technology now. Finish your schooling and you can go wherever you want.” My answer to him was, “You had your adventure, and so did George, and the Soviet Union is our friend. They fought side by side with us…I want to go.” He said, “Don’t. They only fought with us because if they didn’t, their country would have lost. Do not go.” I didn’t listen to him and that is probably the only time in my life that I didn’t listen to wise advice.

In his eulogy the priest pointed out that usually when one reaches his 90’s, there are only few to gather and mourn the deceased. But in Robert’s case, there was an overwhelming number. The room was so crowded that the funeral home rushed to find more chairs for the mourners. People who knew my big brother, knew him as caring, loving, and committed to do anything to lift their status in life. He has touched so many that he will never die; he lives in the hearts of those who have known him. What we need in today’s world is more people like him…more decent, honorable people.

 

***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!