Chapter VI: The War Years
in New York, Part Two
There was no question about it, the convoys going across the Atlantic, no matter how protected they may have been, were getting pounded by the German submarines operating in wolfpack fashion. Ships were disappearing in large numbers. The brunt of most of these attacks fell on the convoys going to Russia, but the convoys going to England weren't faring much better. The wolfpacks left their mark there, too. One morning I got a call from the Russian consulate. "Mr. Bailey, we would like you to come to our office this morning. We would like to have a talk with you."
I had no idea what this was about. Why would the Russians, of all people, want to see me? I would soon find out. I was cordially greeted and asked to take a seat by a middle-aged, almost bald man. His suit, gray with pencil stripes, did not do anything to perk up his appearance. It was too big in some places and too short in others. The cuffs on his pants almost flopped over his shoes. His bass voice directed me to the chair at his desk. In spite of his poor dress, the man came on friendly, with a smile that made me feel at ease.
In my own fashion I quickly scanned the large office, looking for something familiar. There were pictures everywhere on the four walls. Some faces I recognized and others I didn't. The two most dominant ones were a large oil painting of Stalin, with that wiry smile on his mustached face and there was that large delightful picture of Lenin, with a small cap lying on his head, his shirt collar open and his hands in his pockets, wearing that happy, disarming smile on his face.
Another painting drew my attention. It was that of Maxim Gorky, perhaps Russia's best storyteller. Here he was with a delightful, tousle-haired two-year-old boy sitting on his lap. Both looked into each others' face in a moment of sheer joy.
There were more pictures of people and cities and places I knew nothing about. But the two I searched for were those two rascals who had laid much of the foundation in their writings of what the new society would be like, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. I found them framed and facing each other in a far corner of the rich mahogany-paneled office
The man went to a drawer of a cabinet, pulled out a folder and placed it on the desk in front of me. The folder contained about ten long envelopes all neatly tied together with a rubber band. He said, "Each envelope bears the name of a vessel," and he reached in and pulled out the contents of one envelope. To my amazement, they were checks. "And these are checks made out to each member of the crew. In this case, these checks are for men in your engine room department."
I was even more confused about just what this was all about. What really was I called up here for? What was with these checks?
"I suppose I should have explained to you sooner. Well, my country is very thankful for all the sacrifices the American seamen have been making to get the aid to us to carry on the war against the Nazis. We are an appreciative people. We have decided that a small token of our thanks is in order. The checks here are made out to each crew member of an American vessel that has reached the shores of our motherland. It is a bonus of one month's pay for every brave sailor who risked his life in the cause of peace. I ask that you distribute these checks to your members who you know. Every month we will deliver to you, as well as other union representatives, checks for other ship's crews that reach our shores."
I thanked the consulate in behalf of our union and our members who would be the recipients of the checks, then offered a few words about the ultimate outcome in this united front war against the enemy of all the people, fascism.
My job now was to hunt down the men listed and give them this big hunk of surprise. So far the Russian government was the only one at that stage of history to give a special monetary bonus to foreign seamen. It was indeed a nice thing to do, and when I raised it in my report to the membership at our weekly meeting, the gathering burst into applause.
Copyright © 1993 by Bill Bailey. All Rights Reserved.
The Kid from Hoboken: Book Three