“What is teamwork? Do you want to know what teamwork is?” the sergeant in command asked his class of cadets at the Albany, New York State police training facility in 1976. “Learn from error after error until you achieve valor!” he answered his own question laughing boisterously.
None of his students’ faces indicated they understood the irony of what they just heard.
The sergeant sighed at their lack of reaction and moved on with the curriculum.
Though, like the rest of his class, Lee never reacted to the sergeant’s axioms, they became his mantra: “Learn from error after error until you achieve valor.”
The day Oscar Hermann was to receive his platoon leader nomination had arrived at last. It was the thirtieth of May 1953, at the Army’s Espionage and Counterintelligence Division at Titu-Village near Bucharest, Romania. The award ceremony had concluded during the first half of the day, when the cadets received their medals and certificates. Now they were scheduled for the program’s closing remarks from three-star General Mitu along with the Commandant of the Training School, Captain Georg, and Lieutenant Afimi.
“Why do you think I’ve called you here?” asked General Mitu, a thin, nervous little man with a dry screechy voice, staring at the platoon lined up in formation before him.
No one answered. Some shot glances at Captain Georg to see what his face might reveal. While they all knew they were there to graduate, would he praise or scold them was another matter.
Captain Georg had watched over them through training to encourage and give them hints on how to pass certain physical, mental and team tests. He picked them one-by-one like flowers for a bouquet. They were chosen for specialized training. He often reminded them, “I care for you. Don’t forget the money the nation has put into you!”
“Congratulations,” General Mitu said officially. “I have studied each of your files, which contain details of your life even you may not remember. You’re one of our best graduating platoons in the past ten years. We are damn proud of you. You will serve your country and the Romanian people well.”
General Mitu stared intensely at each of them, as he walked up and down the platoon.
“I have a joke for you,” he suddenly smiled. “Itzig, the Israeli spy, Sam, the American spy, and Yon, the Romanian spy meet at the Frankfurt International Airport. They arrive from three different Russian locations and exchange greetings.”
“‘Hello, how are you?’ Itzig asks the two spies.” The normally stiff Commandant mimicked the accents, poorly.
“‘Good!’ answers Sam, the American spy.”
“‘Bene!’ says Yon, the Romanian spy.”
“‘Tov!’ echoes Itzig, the Israeli spy.”
“‘Did you go after the new weapon the Russians came up with?’ Sam asks.”
“‘Ken!’ answers Itzig, which means yes in Hebrew.”
“‘Dah!’ replies Yon, meaning yes.”
“Surely enough, Sam pulls out several small rolls of film with pictures of the new weapon from his pocket. ‘Look what I have,’ he shows off. ‘You can see exactly what it looks like.”’
“‘That’s nothing,’ Itzig challenges him, and he pulls out detailed schematics of the new weapon. ‘You can reconstruct the weapon to the last bolt with these plans.’”
“At that, Yon pulls the weapon out of his carry-on and asks, ‘Is this what you guys are talking about?’”
When the officers and General Mitu started laughing, the graduates respectfully followed suit.
“Dismissed!” General Mitu cried out. Leaving, he stopped at the door and turned back to the platoon. “Keep this in mind: Removing a weapon of mass destruction from the enemy is better than destroying it. Theft! Diversion! Misinformation! These are the tools of our craft. Maybe one of you will apply these axioms and make heroes of us all!”