George And The Kopek

He was also a war hero. I knew him 20 years before he even began to talk about it, and even then it was not much. Once we were looking at a huge old tree that a hurricane had uprooted, and he started talking about artillery barrages, and how in a few seconds they could change everything, and I’m sure he was seeing in his mind’s eye something he would much rather not have seen.

After the Korean War, he worked for a government agency whose job was finding out stuff. He mentioned that he worked for them in India, and had occasion to kill a king cobra with a hand grenade. But my favorite story was about the time in Germany when he was ordered to crawl through the no man’s land between East and West Germany, into a tank park, and take photos of the interior of a new Russian tank.

George took his Minox camera, and made his way through the barbed wire and minefields, got into the tank park, into the tank, and took his photos. Just as he was ready to leave, he noticed a Russian coin—a kopek—lying on the floor. On a whim, he stuck it in his pocket and, in its place, he left a quarter.

Then he crept back to the Western side, a smile of pure mischief on his face.