When I landed on the tarmac at the Romulus International Airport in July 1960, after spending 13 years in the Soviet Union, I had seven dollars in my pocket – dollars I had kept during the entire period I lived in the USSR. The $100 issued to me and allowed by the Soviet government to take from the country had undoubtedly been taken from my wallet by one of seven Syrian fighter pilots training in the Soviet Union the night before my departure at a drinking fest. The pilots were my guests at the Hotel National in Moscow.
All of my savings, furniture, the Soviet bonds, and the apartment I had – any and all Soviet rubles I had or banked during my Soviet life – everything, and I mean everything, I had accumulated during those thirteen years as a Soviet were confiscated because “they belonged to the people.”
Even though I had nothing, I was thankful to be home in one piece from a so-called “worker’s paradise”. With really nothing in my pockets but hopes and dreams of picking up the pieces of my life in the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” I began my long search for the American Dream.
While I remain grateful to God for allowing me to celebrate the miracle of life and, at times, to question some of my youthful decisions, I shall never apologize for my choices, for I discovered early that with each dawn and with each twilight there is a new adventure, a new challenge, and so much to be thankful for.
That this nation is blessed most of us realize and, although the world may have its problems, the people of these United States have time-and-time again stood ready and willing to discharge humanitarian duties, to eradicate injustice, to defeat evil and bury the “isms” of Nazism and Communism. Where would England and Europe and Asia and, yes, the United States be today, if Americans of all race, color, and creed, had not joined the ranks of the Allies in World War I or World War II?
Nazi Germany is now but a mere page in the history of humankind, and the Berlin Wall and The Iron Curtain have disintegrated because men and women are not born to live in shackles. In Thomas Jefferson’s words, “I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom…”
Americans are not easily duped by those political charlatans who lack common sense, point fingers at the media for their own incompetence, ridicule reporters to disguise their own ignorance and ineptness. They not only dishonor themselves but the country they purportedly say they love. To turn one faction against another is not to serve one’s country, but is an attempt to divide it.
In the many years abroad, I have had no occasion to hate any race, or color or creed.
In fact, I am honored to have had the privilege to live among the brave Russian people who shared their bread and cheese with me, even though they, themselves had little to eat. My 13 year odyssey behind the Iron Curtain was painful, yet seasoned with patience. Showing interest in human beings and their culture taught me life lessons that define me to this day.
I visited the homes of the rambunctious Georgians and the gregarious Azerbaijani invited me to their dinner table for a special meal of “shashlik” and rice. Then, in the mountains of the Transcaucasus, around a camp fire, the irrepressible Chechens talked about freedom and liberty. I have dined and shared a bottle of wine with the Jews of Odessa and learned about my ancestors and met an aunt in Armenia who lost three sons in the Greek Civic War.
I spent many days and nights in Riga, and Vilnius, and Tallinn and Kiev. With vodka flowing as silently as the Don, I talked about life in America with those Soviets who were eager to know the truth about the West. I put my neck on the block when I told them that their newspaper, Pravda (Truth), should be changed to “Ne-pravda”. (No truth) Would you believe they laughed!
I shall never forget the Volga and its ruins and the millions of men, women and children who died in the bloodiest battle, for the city of Stalingrad. The Battle of Stalingrad was Nazi Germany’s first major defeat and turned the tide in favor of the Allies in World War II.
I stood on the steps of the shell of a building where Germany’ military genius, Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus, surrendered the skeleton of his once-considered invincible 350,000 troops to Soviet Marshal Vasili Chuikov. Only 9,000 of the 350,000 Germans returned to their homes and families. During my early days in Soviet Armenia, having nothing more to do, I would visit a park where I sat on a rock and watched for hours as German prisoners of war built a bridge over a river in Yerevan. Ironically, that bridge eventually would collapse because of the faulty design and material used in the construction.
Upon my return home to Detroit, I was picked up by an FBI agent, driven to the Federal Building, then, after an initial interview, asked if I was willing to go to Washington D.C. to discuss my life in the Soviet Union. Having nothing to hide, I agreed to go. The information the FBI and CIA compiled should be as intriguing as a John LeCarre or Dan Brown novel….provided everything has not been redacted.
My hesitation in receiving these files is not without validation. After all, my intention was to journey to Armenia for a few years, not the better part of my youth. I had no concept that once I stepped off The Rossia I would lose all the freedoms I had enjoyed. That I would be watched and followed with severe mistrust.
While the Freedom of Information Act allows individuals to submit requests to see their own CIA and FBI files, who can accurately predict what will come of this inquiry? In today’s severe mistrust of the Middle East, will I re-awaken the government’s interest in my own personal history? Will my wife, children, and grandchildren be safe from their scrutiny?
Last week, I asked readers if I should ask the agency for my dossier. I received many replies, though Facebook, my blog, personal emails, and phone conversations supporting me to submit the request. With unending curiosity and extreme hesitation, I shall make application for the dossier as soon as this is post hits the cloud.
Wish me luck.
Tom 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!