Christian Short Stories

Ghosts of Memory
By Web Ruble

Web writes: "Having been once an obituary writer on a metropolitan daily and much before that an American intelligence soldier in Europe, this story sort of struck home to me."

Occupying curmudgeon space on the rim of the metropolitan daily’s copy desk, an obituary crossed to me several years ago about a short-time Portland man in his 80s who originally was from Finland.

It was not the usual obituary, however.

This one -- although not purchased and drafted by the family – had more than the usual in-office-composed bare bones. The obituary writer had let this story hang out a bit.

If I recall, it said that the deceased, Alvar Korhonen, had moved to Portland two or three years earlier to be near his daughter Taimee. He had lived in Chicago before coming west. And before that he came from a place in England.

Ho hum. Another immigrant story. Then it got more interesting.

It seems that Korhonen’s European history may have crossed mine when I was there in Europe with American forces in the late 1950s. I say maybe our stories are linked. Although pieces of his story sort of struck home with me, I could not be sure. It has been a long time. Nevertheless, memories did come flooding back.

The story said that during the Cold War in 1958 Alvar Korhonen, a sort of anti-Soviet secret agent for the West, was living under Soviet noses in Poland when he was compromised. Word, however, got back to the West that Korhonen had learned he was about to be arrested when he escaped to a place near the Czechoslovak-West German border. He needed help getting across the border into free West Germany.

The escaped Finn faced perhaps torture and death if caught.

The story said that the American CIA, supported by clandestine American-British military force, got him out and safely to England. Eventually, Korhonen made it to Chicago.

It dawned on me that I may have been in that rescue force. I remember our headquarters dispatching us at night to get a certain Finnish man out of Czechoslovakia immediately, as he was valuable to Western intelligence. They gave us no name, of course, and if they had, it would have been his cover name. So there is no way to be sure.

But the rest of the information sort of matched memory. The age was right. The circumstances appeared similar.

The reason it resonated beyond the usual was that we seldom breached the treacherous West German-Czech frontier with its forever-changing mine fields and electric fence, armed guards, searchlights and machine gun towers. Another reason was the absolute ingratitude that greeted us when we arrived at the rendezvous spot.

“Where have you guys been? I’ve been waiting for hours,” he said, either not realizing -- or not caring -- that our mission had run into serious trouble from altered mine fields, new searchlights, and tough, diligent Czech border guards and that we were lucky -- or under God’s grace -- to get there at all.

Lousy ingrate. That’s what we were telling each other when we finally got back.

Now on the copy desk, it would seem after 40 years, paths that once crossed now appeared to be re-crossing. If so, ’twas a gift from God, a sort of heart-warming memory reward for a job well done. If it wasn’t the same person and a different incident, it still was a gift from God – a warm memory of interesting tough times gone by.

As God has been known to have said many times, He will not forget us:

“Lo, I am with you always.”

He is, of course. To recognize it, sometimes we have to extend ourselves . . . strain our memories.

(© 2011 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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