This piece was originally published in USA Today Magazine, May 2015.
The Lodge Act Soldiers:
The Mural and the Portrait
Sometimes, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. There are many times when, at best, the enemy of my enemy is a useful but dangerous tool: geopolitics on a razor’s edge, perhaps. This often is the case at the macro level. At other times, perhaps more often on a micro level, the enemy of my enemy is indeed a loyal friend.
In 1945, when World War II ended, it was expected that peace would prevail: in the US, the “boys” came home. In Europe, the prison camps were flung open, British children were sent home to London (if homes and parents were still there), and the Marshall Plan was implemented to show mercy and bring the vanquished back from the medieval stage to which they’d been bombed. There was not, however, then as in the oh-so-recent past, to be “peace in our time.” Russia had succeeded in encroaching far into Europe and was in no hurry to surrender those advances. Far from peace, there was instead a very apparent intention to pick up where Hitler had failed, spreading a mantle of totalitarian slavery wherever feasible.
March, 1946: Sir Winston Churchill spoke unapologetically about the dire threat to peace and liberty that was the Soviet Union, unsheathing a previously rarely-used phrase – the Iron Curtain – to summarize its implacable, impenetrable seal against freedom. Nations that ostensibly had freedom were punished for daring to reject communism. A striking example of this, just two years after Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech, was the punishment of West Berlin by the Soviets known as the Berlin Blockade. In this case, the US and Great Britain responded in force, first via small efforts – Operation Plainfare and Operation Little Vittals, and then with a months-long show of force and generosity via an airlift that was, as General Tunner had intended, “…on a beat as constant as a jungle drum.” The relentless rhythm came at a price of military and civilian lives, but ended in a rare and predictably graceless Soviet backtracking…for the time being. Communist states accept rejection with all the irrational fury of a woman scorned, and with a sociopath’s capacity to wait, endlessly, for the opportunity for revenge.
It was clear to anyone paying attention that the worldwide vision of communism held by the Russians was as malignant as the state-based socialism of Nazi Germany, and the urgency to fight the toxic tentacles on one hand drew up in sharp contrast to war-weariness and distrust of anything associated with the enemy on the other. Something needed to be done, despite the desperate drive to maintain a buoyant mood at home and the desire to put war and its ugliness far behind us.
August, 2014: a slim, short obituary appears in the local papers, with a small photo, apparently cut from a larger one, of a soldier’s face: all planes and angles, alert, but with the slightest pull of humor in the mouth. This is MSgt. Jan Janosik of the US Army special forces, and he passed away at home, at age 82, following a long military career (22 years), and a subsequent career with the Hillsborough County (FL) Sheriff’s department and then with the Florida Department of Corrections. He entered the US Army via the Lodge Act. Except for a listing of a few of his medals, and his wife, children and grandchildren, there is nothing else mentioned.
If Janosik had been killed while driving drunk the wrong way on an interstate, we would have known more about him; if he had been notorious for some dastardly deed, or perhaps a gold-hearted local philanthropist, a reporter would have given him a half-page write-up. As it was, and is, someone who merits the big write-up would have been uncomfortable with the spotlight, and an individual deserving of our regard and reflection appears in a tiny notice. Real soldiers are not attention-seekers, and Special Forces members are reserved about their work. They do not do what they do for applause. They seek to serve. In the case of a Lodge Act soldier, the desire to serve is for a love of freedom that surpasses anything else, and transmits itself into sacrifice for a country that is not one’s own.
June 1950: A much-neglected aspect of 20th century American history is the Lodge-Philbin Act, most often referred to simply as the Lodge Act, passed in June 1950. The Lodge Act permitted the recruitment of Eastern European nationals into a specialized fighting force, under the jurisdiction of the US Armed Forces, to fight the spread of communism during the Cold War. Although the Russians had been, ostensibly, an ally during WWII it was only due to a shared animus towards Germany, not actual shared values. Indeed, it did not take long to figure out that Russia was not happy returning to its own borders and to peace; instead, the mission to achieve worldwide socialism, rather than the nationalistic socialism of Hitler’s Germany, went into overdrive. Communism doesn’t tend to work out very well for the little person…and it does not work out well, as it turns out, for great people, either.
In 1951, 19-years-old Slovak Jan Janosik was working as a border guard on the Czechoslovakian/German border. He desperately wished to leave the control of the Communist state, but the price to his family for his defection would be grave. Yet they gave their blessing to his plan, and he and a friend were able to escape. In punishment for Jan’s defection, his family members were dispossessed of their property and sent into prison camps. A death sentence was placed on young Jan. Meanwhile, the two young friends were on the way to West Germany and freedom.
The strangulating grasp of Communism does not release easily, whether on a nation or on the individual. One day, having finally reached Berlin, they stood on a sidewalk, waiting to cross the street. A car pulled up, a window rolled partway down. The muzzle of a gun appeared, bullets flew, and the car sped off. When it was over in mere seconds, Jan was alive; his friend was not. Jan’s determination to achieve freedom, and to fight communism, was even more deeply etched.
The Lodge Act, with its offer of freedom and US citizenship, sounded like a dream: switch teams, spend five years and earn your freedom. It was not as easy as it sounds. The Act allowed only for a relatively small fighting force; Eisenhower was not in favor of “mercenaries,” recalling how poorly the integration of mercenaries had worked for the Roman Empire. The US Army could afford to be, and needed to be, very selective. The young men admitted under the Lodge Act were expected to be able to work within the enemy’s territory, to blend in and help bring down Communism from within its own cage. Someone with Janosik’s abilities (he spoke four languages; English became the fifth) and capacity to work and learn, was highly valued. The next challenge would be to learn English and become an American soldier.
A great many Lodge Act recruits were sent to Fort Devens, MA, for Army basic training as well as training in English and American culture. It was a combination boot camp and rapid acculturation into their newly chosen country. The USO helped out in many ways, including hosting the dances that were part of the introduction to American culture. It was at such a dance that young Janosik met Josie, a petite, bright-eyed Sicilian-American girl who came to the dance with a group of girlfriends. The girls regularly went to dances as a group; there was safety in numbers and it was good, wholesome fun. This dance was different: Jan and Josie each went home convinced they’d met their soulmates (her mother was skeptical). Jan and Josie married a year later.
“We didn’t really speak much of the same language when we met but we managed,” she says now, smiling. “When you want to, you make it work,” and her expressive, Sicilian shrug and graceful hand gestures underscore her words. The dancing that began at that USO event went on for years: jitterbug, waltz, polka – all types of dancing, all types of music. The passionate and playful dancing seems to contradict the no-nonsense, serious soldier and father, but the playful side slipped out again, as so often is the case, with his beloved grandchildren.
The next stage of life took them both away from Massachusetts. Janosik was assigned to Airborne training and volunteered for Special Forces training at Fort Bragg, NC. This fit the circumstances: the point of the Lodge Act was to recruit fit, bright, skilled young men who would be able to function within unconventional warfare. There were to be no routine duties once basic training and basic acculturation were completed.
So, the young newlyweds rented a small trailer off-base at the then-exorbitant price of $35/month and each coped with the culture shock of finding themselves in an environment markedly different from where they’d been. There were not a lot of Catholic girls from Massachusetts; there were not many Slovakian immigrants. Nevertheless, they made friends: the fiercely loyal friendships of military family life. Many significant events soon followed: Jan’s successfully passing the citizenship test, the birth of three children, and ongoing training and assignments to Special Forces teams. Josie Janosik recalls today the closeness of the families and their mutual support, as well as the obligation of the wives to be appropriately vague about their husbands’ work, of which they knew appropriately very little. As it is today, the military spouse who attempted to gain sympathy and attention via borrowing a glint of glamour from the husband’s dangerous work received the disapprobation of her peers. Even so, they were all in it together, and, at least for Josie and their children, Jan always came home. Not everyone was so fortunate, and in those sad cases, the close community gathered to provide care.
Recall that the Lodge Act required five years of service. By 1957, young Janosik had met the requirement. He continued to serve, finally ending his career after 22 years – a full 17 years beyond his required commitment. Almost half of Janosik’s service was performed as overseas assignments. He was not alone: other Lodge Act soldiers, notably Larry Thorne (born Lauri Torni in Finland) also served through the Viet Nam War.
The Lodge Act soldiers have had counterparts throughout history, but in the US wars from the mid-20th century through the current day, what was is sometimes mislabeled (or libeled?) as “irregular” warfare includes the imperative to involve the local population. At risk are not merely small territorial spats but world-changing battles between ideologies. Thus, for example, American soldiers in Laos and in Viet Nam were involved in close collaboration with local personnel, and it was through such a relationship that Janosik earned his treasured “Tiger Tooth” award from his Cambodian troops. Modern efforts during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom similarly engaged local populations in the effort.
It is undoubtedly a great challenge to sort out who, in the local population, may and may not be trusted and to what degree. On the home front, meanwhile, it has become increasingly difficult to enlist sufficient volunteers who are healthy and fit for service among US citizens. It is also difficult to find families that are encouraging of military service. The general resistance to either a military draft or mandatory national service in some other capacity was underscored by the repetitive proposals by Rep. Charles Rangel (Dem, NY) commencing in 2003 to reinstate such a draft or mandatory service – which he, and almost everyone else in Congress, regularly refused to support with an “aye” vote. It might hardly have mattered: some studies indicate as many as 75% of age-eligible young men in the US are not able to meet the standards. At least 29% are obese; many others have criminal records, psychiatric records (including the ubiquitous medications for that bugaboo of American boyhood, ADHD), large visible tattoos, and drug use histories and/or cannot score adequately on the basic entrance test, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). A WWII draft panel would have been stymied by an effort in which 75% of those called up were 4-F. Of course, as the size of the military shrinks, recruiting efforts can become more discriminating. The selectivity of the military in regards to the Lodge Act soldiers has a modern parallel in the MAVNI recruits (Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest), in which highly educated (29% with masters’ degree or higher) and skilled US-resident foreign nationals are recruited into the US military.
The US Army was in a position to be discriminating when recruiting men under the Lodge Act. The efforts made by most applicants simply to present themselves as candidates were a test of intelligence, will, stamina and survival skills. Some journeyed hundreds of miles, on foot, while being pursued, and endured beatings, being jailed, and physical deprivations of various sorts just trying to apply. They were determined, earnest, and deadly serious. Yet any one of them could have been merely an agent for the Soviets, who had, after all, been indoctrinating their children to despise the West and its evil, abusive capitalist system from their earliest years. Perhaps some were, in fact, spies in the making, like sleeper-jihadists working alongside our military in present-day war zones.
Others were entirely sincere in their love of freedom, and these include M.Sgt. Jan Janosik, recipient of the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Air Medal, Purple Heart…and the Cambodian “Tiger Tooth.”