The Two Typewriters That Went AWOL
Twice in my dazzling if circumspect career I have seen the United States Marines in action, and both times the Corps was concerned with typewriters, as I have ever been myself. Both occasions were on foreign soil, and in both instances the typewriters were found. I can, therefore, speak of the United States Marines only with unqualified eloquence and endorsement.
On the first occasion, I was in Germany. This was 1953, and not too long after our US interests in the defeated nation were given to HICOG, which stood for High Commissioner for Germany. The Commissioner at the time was President Conant of Harvard University, and we learned in the press of both countries that he had on his staff a coach who would help him with his German so he could be more felicitously cozy with the German people.
At the time, being dull with international affairs, I wondered why a gentleman already president of such a prestigious institution would, at this late date, need a coach in German. I did not pursue this then. It happened that I dropped in at the HICOG headquarters in the Rhineland village of Mehlem to congratulate Mr. Conant, and to ask if I might use one of his typewriters. I suppose today the United States of America doesn't own a typewriter because it is so difficult to find ribbons, but in 1953 you could get ribbons for 52 cents from Sears, Roebuck.
A charming young lady took care of my request, and explained she was really Charlie Oceles from Vincennes, Ind., and was a specialist in Romanian agriculture in disguise. She found me a cubicle in the east wing of the extensive building, on the corridor of open covenants openly arrived at, where I could work undisturbed on my weekly dispatch to this newspaper, which sometimes takes me five or six minutes of intense application.
I was thus engaged, lost in my own recollection, when my cubicle door burst open and 10 gentlemen disguised as free thinkers from Amsterdam came in to surround me. While two held my arms, a third snatched my copy from the typewriter, looked at it, and said, "Aha!" The others lifted the typewriter and held it upside down to scrutinize the under parts for secret codes. A spokesman for this group saluted me and said, "If you will excuse us, sir, we are the United States Marines and we seek a stolen typewriter."
The matter was instantly resolved, of course, and as soon as I took off my false nose and mustachio, I was recognized and given clearance papers in quintuplicate. This incident was never reported in the press of the US, as I was alert enough to cable Senator Dirksen and he squelched it. It turned out the typewriter I was using was Remington 594,648,972,657,927-AAX12, and belonged in the room upstairs for South Bavarian Affairs Classified.
I was exonerated, of course, and the valorous conduct medal awarded to each marine, I think. My dispatch was forwarded in diplomatic pouch and arrived in Boston 17 minutes before it left Frankfort airport. It has since been in the Smithsonian.
My second encounter with the US Marines was in Paris. My wife and I had found our hotel by going the wrong way on the Metro, and were settled in after a leisurely arrival from the Midi, and she said, "If I can work this parlez-vous telephone, I'll give Fatso a ring." (Fatso is not his name. He was then a young man from our hometown, a marine of the embassy guard, and his mother had asked us to say hello.)
My wife called two people named Passivite by mistake, and also the Paris office of Procktaire et Gomble, before she got the United States Embassy and learned that our young man was off duty. But the next day we were going that way to visit our friend Mme. Gioconda (the Mona Lisa), and being in the neighborhood we stepped into the US embassy to ask for Fatso.
Usually, citizens of the US do not intrude at our embassy unless they have lost their passport or they need to know which is the left or right bank, so we in our odd errand had immediate attention and were told that Fatso was around somewhere and would be paged.
We thought it polite while we were there to ask for our good friend, Arthur Watson, who was at the fleeting moment our ambassador to France. He had told us to be sure and do so, and to notice the statue of Benjamin Franklin in the embassy garden under a tree. He said it was one of the things every US citizen should see in Paris, and it certainly is.
SO we shook hands with the boy from home in Paris, and he was a handsome sight in his full uniform. He said he would be a few minutes and then he would have time to visit. He was looking for a lost typewriter, which he thought had not been stolen, but was rather misplaced somewhere in the architecture. He made it sound as if a good part of his time was spent, not in protecting US interests, but in looking for stray typewriters.
We had a good time with the lad in Paris. It disturbed us to find that it is not the custom of folks in US-government service - military or state - to mingle too much with the folks in countries where duty takes them.
Our young man lived in his US community in Paris, shopped in a US store, and disported with US citizens. We took him to a Paris restaurant off l'Etoile, and he said he'd been meaning to come this way and see the monument. In two more years he'd be going home for a time. Yes, he said, they had found the typewriter. I said, "I'm guessing it was a Remington." He said it was. That's about all I know of our marines.