Read an Excerpt
April 14, 2010
My quest intensified after an internet search revealed that after fifty years, the code word LUMAR had been declassified. In the months that followed, I spent time each day on Google as I searched for additional information.
My eleven-year-old grandson Jonathan recently helped me set up a Google Alert to automatically inform me when someone posted something new. My search terms included Berlin Tunnel, U.S. Air Force, and, of course, Project LUMAR.
Following my regular routine, after lunch I checked my email account. Startled, I discovered my first alert. When I opened the URL and the subject document, a familiar page jumped out at me from my computer screen. Shocked, I pushed back my chair and sat frozen in place. I finally caught my breath, and shouted, “Well, I’ll be damned!”
Anna rushed from her nearby potting studio, gasping, “Are you okay, leibchen?”
“Come here! Come around so you can see what I’ve found!”
“I thought you were having another heart attack or something.”
“No! No!” I pointed. “Look! Look here! The construction plan I wrote in Berlin almost fifty years ago. It’s on the internet!”
She moved behind me, smoothed an errant tuft of my thinning gray hair into place. She put both hands on my shoulders, bending forward for a better view.
I felt her stiffen. She moved her hands to my throat, pretending to choke me. “So is this what you’ve hidden from me all these years!”
Knowing I’d opened an old wound, I turned to face her. “There was a reason I couldn’t tell you. An important reason.”
“What might that be?”
“I signed a non-disclosure agreement with the American government.” I raised my hands in mock surrender. “I could have gone to prison for thirty years for the unauthorized disclosure of information about Project LUMAR, the program I managed.”
Her face softened. She put her arms around me. “Robbie, if you’d told me about that agreement, I wouldn’t have pressed you so hard for information or been so hurt that you wouldn’t trust me.”
“I was even ordered not to tell anyone about the non-disclosure agreement,” I explained. I felt both relieved and exhilarated that, at last, I could share this secret with Anna, my wife and best friend of almost fifty years.
I’d suppressed thoughts about the Top Secret construction program in Berlin, but the old visceral reaction persisted. Perhaps this once highly classified information could still be used by our former enemies, although they no longer existed. East Germany and their Secret Police, the Stasi, as well as the Soviet Union and its KGB, had passed into the history books many years earlier.
Anna kissed the top of my head. “From the start of our relationship, I knew you were hiding something important, but I trusted you and believed you would tell me one day. I helped you with the charade, didn’t I?”
“Yes, despite everything that happened to you—to both of us, you helped to preserve my cover. I wouldn’t have succeeded without your support every step of the way, Anna.” I stood to give her a heartfelt hug and kiss.
“So now that this information is on the internet, you can tell me everything. I’ve always wanted to know the complete story.”
Anna deserved to know why she’d been the target of Stasi harassment and torture. I positioned her chair next to mine. “Let’s read this report together. Then you’ll finally learn what my construction crew and I were doing in Berlin.” Holding her hand to reassure her, I continued. “See the original classifications on the top and bottom of my plan? TOP SECRET RESTRICTED DISTRIBUTION/US EYES ONLY and the caveat PROJECT LUMAR.”
“All of those lines have been crossed out,” she observed. “What does that mean?”
“First, twenty years ago, the document was reclassified to SECRET. You can see that word was also lined through and dated. Last year, a large rubber stamp was used to declare the document I generated officially UNCLASSIFIED.”
“Early in our relationship, I realized that those communist bastards in the Stasi were making every effort to uncover your secret. My distinct impression was that you, Scott, Mark, and Kurt were dedicated to whatever you were doing. Because I trusted you, I hid my disappointment at being kept in the dark and did my best to help every step of the way.”
“Yes, you did! There was an excellent reason I couldn’t tell you or anyone what I was doing. If one of the thousands of communist spies who entered West Berlin every day, or their myriad operatives at every level of German society, heard just one word, the whole game would have been over. The communists would have enjoyed another major victory.”
“What one word, for heaven's sake?” she asked, clearly intrigued.
“TUNNEL. Upon hearing that one word, the Russians and East Germans would have immediately begun a concerted search on both sides of the border between East and West Berlin. They would have discovered where we were digging and then used every means, including force, to sabotage my project.”
“I knew there was a tunnel!” Anna insisted. “During family reunions, our nieces and nephews still talk about your amazing tunnel. But you always avoid those conversations. You’ve even refused to confirm such a structure existed. Finally, you’ll be able to share the part you played in the building of that tunnel.”
“Yes…Yes, I can!” So many memorable events, I realized. The closing of the Berlin Wall, the Berlin Crisis and the Tunnel. Memories of those fifteen months came rushing back, as if they’d happened only yesterday. Now, I could share it all with Anna.
“Robbie, tell me everything.”
“Where should I start? The day I arrived in Berlin. Let’s see it was October….October 11, 1960….As the aircraft began its descent….”