This Week’s Book Review – Code Name: Lise

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

“Code Name: Lise” reads like a thriller and a romance, yet is solid history

By MARK LARDAS

Apr 9, 2019

“Code Name: Lise, The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy,” by Larry Loftis, Gallery Books, 2019, 385 pages, $27

On July 16, 1940, Winston Churchill began an effort to “set Europe ablaze,” creating the Special Operations Executive to strike at Nazi Germany from within Occupied Europe — the nations conquered by Germany. One of the agents recruited to infiltrate into France was Odette Sampson, a married mother of three.

“Code Name: Lise, The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy,” by Larry Loftis tells her story.

Sampson was born in France, but had moved to Britain between World War I and II after marrying an Englishman. She wanted to do her bit for Britain after France fell in June 1940, and offered her services. She thought she could be useful as a translator. Instead, as Loftis shows, the SOE saw her as a perfect agent to infiltrate into occupied France. They convinced her to do so, leaving her children with relatives in Britain.

Assigned to the SPINDLE network, she served in Southern France, then run by the German-friendly Vichy government. She was a courier, carrying messages, money, and munitions to other agents. Women could move more freely than men.

She proved competent, gaining the trust and admiration of the network’s leader, Peter Churchill. Danger brought the two together. Their relationship passed from admiration to love, although neither acted on their inclinations while active agents.

In turn, the SPINDLE network was being tracked by Hugo Bleicher, a sergeant in the Geheime Feldpolitzei. He proved outstanding at counterespionage, successfully turning one SPINDLE agent and rolling up the network. He captured Sampson and Churchill as they attempted to escape to Switzerland.

When captured, Sampson claimed she was married to Churchill and that he was related to the British Prime Minister. Both claims were false. The Germans believed it, and ultimately it kept the two from being executed due to their “hostage” value. They also were sheltered and fostered by Bleicher, an oddly humane counterspy.

Loftis follows the story from its origins through the end of the lives of the participants, well after the war’s end. “Code Name: Lise” reads like a thriller and a romance, yet is solid history.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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This Week’s Book Review – Seven at Santa Cruz

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

Biography offers intimate look at WWII fighter pilot

By MARK LARDAS

Aug 1, 2018

”Seven at Santa Cruz: The Life of Fighter Ace Stanley ‘Swede’ Vejtasa,” by Ted Edwards, Naval Institute Press, 2018, 304 pages, $29.95

Living World War II veterans are fewer each day. First person accounts or histories written using personal interviews of surviving veterans are shrinking.

“Seven at Santa Cruz: The Life of Fighter Ace Stanley ‘Swede’ Vejtasa,” by Ted Edwards is a new biography of Vejtasa that bucks this trend. Edwards used extended interviews with Vejtasa and other World War II veterans researching it.

Nicknamed “Swede” for reasons comprehensible to only mid-20th century naval aviators, Stanley Vejtasa was of Bohemian and Norwegian stock, the first generation born in the United States after his father came here from what today is the Czech Republic and mother from Norway.

He grew up in rural Montana when most children, including him, were fascinated by all things aircraft. He joined the Navy to learn to fly.

He flew a lot and in combat, graduating from flight school just before the United States entered World War II. He flew dive bombers from the aircraft carrier Yorktown as part of the Atlantic “Neutrality Patrol” before Pearl Harbor. After Dec. 7, 1941, he accompanied Yorktown into the Pacific. There, in the action leading up to and including the Battle of the Coral Sea, he hit a Japanese transport off Tulagi, helped sink the Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho, and shot down three Japanese Zero fighters flying combat air patrol over Yorktown. He shot down the Zeros using a Dauntless dive bomber.

That earned him a Navy Cross and a transfer to fighters. Flying an F4F Wildcat from the carrier Enterprise at the battle of Santa Cruz, he shot down seven Japanese aircraft in one day. He saved the Enterprise and got a Navy Cross for that, too.

Edwards’ book follows these battles, but also looks at the totality of Vejtasa’s life, including life growing up in Montana, through Vejtasa’s later career in the Navy, which reached an apex with command of the aircraft carrier Constellation in 1962-63.

Vejtasa died in 2014, but Edwards interviewed him extensively before his death. “Seven at Santa Cruz” provides an intimate look at a man who played a small yet critical role in the Pacific War.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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TOTD 2018-3-23: Progress?

                 Is it progress if a cannibal is using a knife and fork?

That’s a rip-snorter, isn’t it?

I found this while doing some spring cleaning among my Quotations folders. Amazing things are turning up, and the project has only advanced as far as the Is.

The aphorist is Stanisław Jerzy Lec (1909-1966.) (Lec is pronounced lets.) Apparently he was born in Lwów (Lemberg), a city then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. All through his youth and a good deal of his literary career he was enamored of Soviet society and a defender of Stalin.

During the Second World War Poles formed two different sorts of Armies of the Resistance. One, the Armia Krayowa (AK), affiliate of the Polish Government in Exile, existed to kill German soldiers, kill Russian soldiers, and re-establish the Republic. Their motto was Polska Walcząca (“Poland fights!”); their symbol  the Kotwica (“Anchor”) :

Symbol of the good guys, which do not include Lec.

The other sort were the fronts for the Red Army. They existed to kill German soldiers, either kill, capture, or suborn Polish soldiers, and ultimately establish a Soviet satellite state. Various partisan groups and multiple iterations of formal armed forces eventually became dominated by Ludowe Wojsko Polskie, which translates – you guessed it! – as “People’s Army of Poland,” hence “Polish People’s Army.”

Lec served in Ludowe Wojsko Polskie and did well. After the war the government rewarded him with a diplomatic career, and he even made it out with his family to Israel. At a time when suffering Poles were trying in vain to get out, he abandoned his family and returned to Communist Poland. That is when he began to crank out one-liners like today’s feature, and became famous for them.

That’s all I know about Lec and I certainly don’t understand it. He seems to have taken a deliberate stance, late in his literary career, of covert disillusion with Communism, covert admiration for and use of Judeo-Christian ideas, and professional projection of a sardonic persona.

Whether or not these first impressions pan out on further study, today’s zinger is unavoidably a keeper. It will replay in the old brain every time some horrible story comes up in the news or in the history books. Knives and forks are tools; the people who use them vary in their ethics.

Additionally,  Is it progress if a cannibal is using a knife and fork?  is a reminder of how easy and often people fall into the trap of totemism. Lenin rounded up his serfs and slaves and “Citizens” and had them build a big hydroelectric dam, pretty early on. (Remember the scene at the end of Doctor Zhivago with Lara trudging to work on some construction project in her coveralls and babushka?) Lenin figured that if he did that and had a big dam and power plant, then he would have a modern country.

Totemism is a sign of an idiot mind, one that reverses cause and effect.  So see, a person can be an idiot and at the same time a killer with long-term cunning.

Sorry to wreck everybody’s day! But then I find these thoughts useful as coping mechanisms; may they do so for friends as well.

 

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