A Little Story about a Man versus Bureaucracy
Monday, January 31, 2011
Today I shoveled about a foot of snow off a flat roof of about 500 square feet for dear friend and customer Kate. After I finished, I asked Kate for permission to retell an historical anecdote given me by her husband, Tom, who passed a couple of years ago.
When his WWII service began, Tom Frank was a psychologist. (It was only later that, with the help of the GI Bill, he became an MD and psychiatrist.) Being an intellectual, Tom had some clear insight into what WWII was about; being a Jew, Tom wanted to do his best for the war effort.
Thus, when Tom was assigned to the most ridiculous unit imaginable, he tried to get himself transferred. What unit? Why, that would be the horse cavalry! Yes, because he could ride, Tom the psychologist was placed into the horse cavalry. According to the backward military thinking at the start of the war, it was still a viable force. His captain noticed that Tom's abilities were wasted in the cavalry, and somehow he found himself in a unit of combat engineers.
Since Tom had no engineering experience, he was trained in Morse Code to be a signalman with the unit. Combat engineers were very important to victory. My own father ran across the Rhine on a pontoon bridge, so I can offer family testimony to their importance.
Tom knew, though, that he was still not in the best place to fight Hitler. He wanted to join the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA.) While on leave, he managed to take a particular Army test that quantified leadership abilities. That test helped to determine that he was suited for the OSS. Finally, Tom got himself placed where he could do his utmost to defeat Nazism.
Tom did not want people to think erroneously that he was fearful of fighting at the front; he wanted only to stop the evil. So it was that he told no one outside family until many years later of a detail of how he succeeded in getting himself transferred.
Before the war, while Tom was an honors student at Harvard, he had been part of the team that devised the test that helped get him into the OSS.