Journey to a Closed City

With the

International Executive Service Corps

Russell R. Miller

Journey to a closed City
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Science & Humanities Press

Chesterfield, MO 63006


The Silent Generation *

City of Sorrows *

Senior’s Service *

Russia's Breadbasket *

Karpaty *

The Wise Directors *

The Mysterious Man From AARP *

The Children of Chernobyl *

The Night Director *

St. John’s Day *

Organization Men *

Fellow Travelers *

Going to Galicia *

The Inbound Leg *

The International Executive Service Corps *

About the Author *

Chapter 1

The Silent Generation

As the 747 strained to rise above O'Hare field, the familiar thud of "wheels-up" sent a shudder through the airplane signaling the pilot's confidence that we were truly airborne. For me, the sound served notice another overseas trip had begun. There had been many of these over the last 20 years, but this one promised to be considerably different from the rest.

In the past, my typical stay away from home was two weeks rather than the two months this assignment would require. Before, such a long journey would have been a burden for my family. Now I was retired, the children were grown, and my wife had long ago become accustomed to my frequent absences.

An even greater difference from previous trips, however, was my destination. The Ukrainian town I was traveling to was one of the former closed cities of the Soviet Union. For many years, the residents of Ivano Frankivsk were sealed-off from the rest of the world and could neither come nor go without the express and infrequent permission of their Soviet authorities. The reason for their enforced isolation was concealed in the nearby Carpathian Mountains where the Russians had installed batteries of intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at their enemies in the West, in preparation for a war that never occurred.

When the rusting Iron Curtain finally crumbled, the entire Soviet system splintered into separate independent states. This left the newly established Ukrainian government without its traditional source of financial support, and its struggling defense industry without access to the gigantic Russian military complex that was its only customer.

This economic dislocation was creating considerable hardships for the new government and its inexperienced administrators who were attempting to adopt democratic principles and adapt to free market policies. The process of transformation from the old to a new economy was creating increased unemployment and was resulting in a growing dissatisfaction with the new capitalistic system.

Many of the international development agencies in Europe and the United States were attempting to ease the burden on the new nations by assisting them in their transitioning effort. One of these was the Stamford, Connecticut based organization I was to represent in Ukraine. My role was to advise the management of the Karpaty Amalgamation in converting a part of their operation from the production of highly sensitive guidance and control systems to more commercially acceptable products. The amalgamation’s management knew they could no longer exist as they had in the past but was experiencing considerable difficulty in turning their electronic swords into more mundane but marketable ploughshares.

Although I was traveling in response to a Ukrainian request for an economic adviser, there was something sinister and foreboding about closed cities whenever I read about them in the press. The term "closed" sounded even more ominous as a description of the place where I would live for the next two months.

I wondered what the town would be like, and how its residents would react to a lone representative from a former political enemy. From my own experience, I know change becomes more difficult with age. It is always hard to accept regardless of how it occurs. When it is the result of failure it becomes an even more difficult task. I could only imagine how hard it must be for old-line communist managers, and their "red directors," to reject an economic system they had devoted their entire careers to promote.

This would also be my first time traveling for the senior citizen’s equivalent of the Peace Corps, the International Executive Service Corps (IESC). I had never worked before as an unpaid volunteer with no personal stake in the success or failure of a project. Before I retired as head of international marketing any trip I made could affect the profitability of my department. Without that incentive, and lacking any personal consequences, I wondered if it would be a challenge to perform, and what obstacles I would encounter in the days ahead. My concern about my destination and my assignment eventually gave way to the anticipation that always accompanies a journey to an unfamiliar place.

Long airplane trips provide a fertile opportunity for reflection; sometimes focused on the future, other times centered in the past. On this particular flight my thoughts drifted back to the beginning of my own personal journey and how closely it mirrored the experiences of many in my generation who grew up during the turbulent years of the 1930’s and the 1940s.

As dusk began to fall, I watched the emerging clusters of miniature lights encircle the cities along our route. How different these places were from the small town where I was raised.

Iowa Falls is a Christmas card community along the cliff-lined banks of the Iowa River. The small town, with its 1890 style buildings, provided an almost ideal setting for a young boy growing up in the 1930s. Yet, the setting was in stark contrast to the depressing economic conditions of the time. Children were largely sheltered from the serious concerns of their parents who were fearfully watching the closing of banks and the foreclosure of farms.

My father was in one of the banks required to shut its doors when the owners were unable to support their failing loans with personal funds. I was still too young to sense the fear that accompanies a lost profession and the need to find new ways to support a family. For me, no explanation was necessary when he no longer went through the large marble entrance of the bank, but instead climbed the darkened stairs to a small office on the second floor of a building further up the street. This is where he sold insurance to the few former clients and friends who had enough remaining assets to worry about their possible loss.

Throughout the country, similar circumstances had a searing effect on a generation of fathers who, slightly over a decade before, had fought for their country in the First World War. These difficult economic conditions also left a less tangible but, never the less, indelible impression on the developing consciousness of their children.

The Midwest is an area of extremes, with stifling summers and withering winters. The residents long ago became accustomed to such severe conditions. Some offer the dramatic temperature changes as the reason for their strength of character and independence. My own recollection centers on warm summer days and firefly nights. Fall was pheasant hunts and football games, while winter provided the opportunity for ice skating with equally weak-ankled companions on the nearby river. Spring meant a new beginning for the farmers who worked the rich land that supports a large share of the surrounding population.

After school, my friends and I would hurry home to turn on the radio and tune in the latest adventures of Jack Armstrong the All-American Boy, Captain Midnight, The Lone Ranger, and Little Orphan Annie with her secret decoder ring. My favorite program was Terry and the Pirates. I listened anxiously as young Terry and his friends relentlessly pursued the exotic but unscrupulous Dragon Lady through a series of Far Eastern adventures. The program created an enduring interest in the orient for this avid young listener.

Following supper, my parents would set aside their own concerns while they listened to the unrelenting problems of Lorenzo Jones and His Wife Bell, Easy Aces, and One Man's Family. Later in the evening we would all laugh at the escapades of Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and Fibber McGee and Molly.

Since television was not yet available, my friends and I turned to reading as our major means of recreation. The 1930's were arguably the most productive period for American writers. We progressed up our own literary ladder from comic books and Captain Marvel to the big-little books and pulp magazines featuring the exciting adventures of Doc Savage, Flying Aces, and the diabolically clever Dr. Fu Manchu.

As our reading tastes developed we eventually encountered a new view of the world through the written words of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and other novelists of the time. These writers, with their vivid descriptions of life outside of the Mid-west, provided the beginning of an abiding interest in distant places for me and many other youngsters who were previously exposed to only small town life.

In these communities, families are close to one another, having sometimes lived in the same area for several generations. I played with friends whose parents were playmates of my own father and mother. Some of my teachers, years before had taught my parents when they were young. In such towns, the adults watch out for each other's children as if they were their own. These firm intergenerational ties, along with a strong sense of community, enabled economically troubled Iowa parents to provide an ethical anchor for their children and raise independent and resilient offspring.

Then came the event that forever changed the lives of Americans in the small towns and big cities alike. On December 7, 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the world was never the same again. Brothers of my friends, and sons of our neighbors, suddenly left home, some never to return. Boys that grew-up hunting the cornfields with twenty-two rifles and four-ten shotguns entered the service and quickly became proficient with M1s and bazookas.

The government believed the geographically and philosophically isolated Midwest needed to be involved in the war as quickly as possible. To bring the war closer to home, the 34th Division, with men from Iowa and the surrounding states, was one of the earliest units activated. These young men were briefly trained and quickly sent to fight in the African campaign. Later, the same division was part of the Anzio landing and fought through the hell that was the Italian theater of operations. A gold star in a neighbor's window, signifying the death of a son or husband, became an all too familiar sight in many of our neighbor's homes.

The war immediately became the defining element for all of the country. My family listened nightly for news of previously unheard of places like El Alamein, Bataan, Wake Island, and wondered if any of our friends were serving there.

On the home front, everyone was involved in the war effort. Adults bought war bonds, and children saved their coins to buy saving stamps. To conserve scarce material, woman's skirts became shorter and less full while men gave up wearing vests, spats, and cuffs on their trousers. The government issued ration books to adults and children alike. Coupons were required to purchase even limited amounts of gasoline, tires, and shoes; as well as necessary foodstuffs such as meat, coffee, sugar, and flour. Each time a person went to the store they took along the required ration stamps with their purse or wallet.

The farms of the region became the defense plants of the Midwest, and provided even more food than before for the country's troops and overseas allies. Because the military badly needed rope, some farmers converted their less productive fields to growing hemp. Processing plants dotted the landscape, and later these abandoned facilities were converted into the dancehalls and roadhouses for post-war Iowa.

In spite of the dedicated efforts of the people, I remember a level of melancholy hanging over America during the early 1940s. The news from the war zones was not encouraging. Although the anxieties of the depression had largely disappeared, new concerns for family members and friends in the service took their place.

But this was also the era of the big bands. The music of Dorsey, Miller, Goodman, and Artie Shaw helped to lift the mood of the men and women at the USO clubs, and the people at home. The orchestras were widely popular in America, and we listened to the swinging strains of In the Mood, String of Pearls, and Dancing at the Savoy. Their vocalists focused on lyrics telling of lost love and loneliness. Songs such as I Walk Alone and Sentimental Journey reflected the emotions of the times.

The "swing" music of the big bands also produced the syncopated rhythms that inspired the young "jitterbugs." As my more rhythmically adept friends spun and dipped their bobby-soxed dates at the school dance, I relied on the more sedate and less demanding steps of a timeless foxtrot.

High school, with its mixture of social life and classes, was much the same as before the war. The weight given to each aspect of school life varied considerably with the individual student. Summer jobs were plentiful because of the absence of older men who were now serving in the military. My friends and I would work in the fields (for fifty cents and hour) when the farmers needed extra hands to harvest the crops.

My principal summer occupation was lifeguard and swimming instructor. First working at the new WPA built city pool, then at Father Foley camp in Minnesota. During the winter, ushering at the theater and selling shoes provided extra spending money for the movies, sodas, and a growing collection of records.

For high school boys, entrance into the service was the inevitable consequence of graduation. This future could have been depressing, but many viewed it with more anticipation than dread. For me, there were two principal goals in high school. One was lettering in football and the other was graduation. Academic achievement was never an important element in my own educational equation, but I did manage to achieve both of my objectives with little notable accomplishment in either.

Suddenly, the war was over with the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was a cause for celebration for the people who were dreading the invasion of Japan. Everyone was acutely aware of the casualties produced at Normandy and they believed the invasion of Japan would result in even grater losses. The abrupt end of the war brought considerable relief, and there was little concern over the devastation produced by the powerful new weapon as people focused on the many lives that were saved.

I graduated from high school the following spring. Both Germany and Japan had surrendered, but the draft continued. Six of my friends and I devised a clever plan to avoid serving in the Army. We enlisted in the Navy. There was one problem, however.

I am quite nearsighted and it seemed unlikely I could meet the physical standards of the Navy. Memorizing the eye chart at the recruiting station proved to be the solution. Like most things in the service, the chart was standard issue and was the same each time it was necessary to recite the wiggly letters to a disinterested Navy corpsman. Looking back, I recall little personal concern for the consequences that might arise from a squinting recruit reciting a totally different combination of letters than those displayed on the corpsman’s chart. For 17 year olds, there is no such thing as consequences.

San Diego boot camp was a kaleidoscope of the cultures that made up the fabric of America during the 1940s. The ethnic and geographic diversity of the recruit training command was a revelation to young men from a small town suddenly thrown together with the different accents and attitudes of the East Coast, South and Southwest.

The predominantly Protestant Johnsons, Olsons, Hummels, Simpsons, Morks, Elliotts, and Millers from the Midwest mixed quickly with the Murphys, Imperias, Rubens, and Lopezs' from the rest of the United States. Boot camp lasted for twelve exhausting weeks while the new recruits learned to salute, shoot, and march in endless cadence-called close-order drills, under a searing San Diego summer's sun.

Then it was time for more permanent duty assignments.

Each morning, the new seamen stood stiffly at parade-rest on an asphalt grinder, with new white hats squared, while the Chief Petty Officer barked the day's roster. When your name was called it could be a free ticket to any place in the world where the Navy had a ship or shore station. Every morning I dreamed of a different exotic location only to return dejectedly to the barracks for another day of waiting and nervous anticipation.

When my name was finally called, it was not for some far-off port with a strange sounding name but instead for a specialist school on the other end of the base. I shouldered my seabag and trudged across the grinder to begin 12 weeks studying the Navy's detailed administrative systems and practices.

After graduation, I was assigned to the staff of the Commander of the Naval Air Transport Service in the Pacific (ComNATSPac), headquartered at John Rodgers Field in Honolulu. The Hawaiian Islands are not as exotic now as they were then but, at that time, they had the same romantic attraction that Fiji or Tahiti might provide the young people of today.

The base serviced the four-engine propeller driven Mars flying boats. Their noisy approach would cause the enlisted personnel to rush to the windows each time the huge seaplanes glided to a watery landing on their way to Guam, the Philippines, or Shanghai. Then shortly leaving in their wake visions of even more distant ports of call.

The only sea this sailor saw was between San Diego and Honolulu, but serving in the Navy may well have been the single most influential event of my life. The service provided members of my generation with an increased sense of self-reliance and direction that stayed with them for the remainder of their lives.

Returning home, there was a summer job available as a section hand on the Illinois Central Railroad. Many years before, my grandfather worked on the first train to come to our small town, bringing with him the Irish half of my American heritage. I wondered if he were still alive what he would think of his gandy dancer grandson? If there had been any doubts about going to college they quickly dissolved with the drudgery of the job.

Like many other returning servicemen, the educational benefits offered by the GI Bill were hard to refuse. They included payment for tuition, books, and a living allowance of $73 per month. I attended Ellsworth Junior College in Iowa Falls where my parents had gone many years before.

It was difficult to return to the classroom after a two-year absence, but this time I had a different outlook and knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to work for a large corporation and become The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. According to contemporary magazine articles, a grade point average of at least 3.0 out of a possible 4.0 was the necessary threshold to qualify for consideration by the leading companies. This was considerably higher than the gentleman's C I carried in high school, but if better grades were necessary, then better grades I would get.

Then it was on to the University of Iowa. Attending a post-war university was a singular experience. Most of the male students had been in the military, and were very serious about their education. Their attitude substantially altered the University culture that had existed before the war.

Some of the older veterans had married and were living with their new families in cramped university supplied Quonset huts. Instead of adopting the styles of the time, these khaki clad dads were intent on getting an education and saved their modest living allowance for food and formula.

Several of my fellow Navy enlistees and I lived in rented rooms in an off-campus house. The independence available in this type of housing was preferable for the "old salts" to the enforced regimentation of a college dorm, or the required sociability of a college fraternity.

All of the students wanted to complete their education as quickly as possible and get on with it--whatever the individual "it" might be. They were not as eager as later generations to change the world. Perhaps because many of them already had.

I made the grades demanded by the corporations. It was a period when jobs were plentiful and businesses were expanding to make up for the lost war years. The University had a well-established placement center and many of the county's major corporations made a point of recruiting there. Several offers came my way and I accepted a job--inexplicably with the Clandestine Section of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The desire for adventure obviously overwhelmed good sense. The CIA was making a transition from the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to an organization that would be better equipped to meet the requirements of the newly defined cold war. The Agency's one-year training program consisted principally of parachute jump school and ranger training to prepare their recruits for service behind the Soviet and Chinese borders.

After I accepted their offer, I wondered what might cause this usually sensible person to trade his pinstripe suit for a parachute. I never found out. Before graduation, the Agency called to say they were cutting their budget and there would be no new hires. (A year later the CIA re-contacted me in Chicago but, by then, I had lost any taste for a cloak and dagger career.)

By the time the CIA retracted its offer, all of the major corporations had filled their staffing requirements. Miss Barnes, the implacable head of Iowa's placement service took the Agency's abrupt reversal as a personal affront and immediately went into action. She was one of the first of many people who, through the years, went out of their way to provide a helping hand when it was badly needed.

The result of her effort was a job with the Long Lines Division of AT&T beginning at $78 a week. If I wanted to be part of a large corporation, AT&T certainly met that criterion. This began an occupational odyssey through corporate America lasting over forty years, which included seven companies and nine different cities.

With an offer in hand and future presumably plotted, my wife and I were married shortly after AT&T's management training program began. Our marriage fit the generational pattern of the time. Elsie was a 21-year-old elementary school teacher I met while we were in college. I was a 24-year-old graduate with a new job and no money. This began our life-long partnership, or perhaps more accurately our joint venture, with Elsie taking care of the home while I provided the income.

The Long Lines Division was converting its basic technology from open wire stretched between tall wooden telephone poles to the more reliable coaxial cable buried underground. At the same time, in other areas of the country, the company was installing new microwave transmission towers to facilitate high-density communications that would alter the business architecture of America during the coming years.

AT&T's management training program was based on the Navy's personnel policies and practices that relied on continuous reassignment and relocations. After four years with four different assignments in four different cities, a friend who had previously left AT&T helped me find a job with a company I had never heard of, making a product that I never really understood. The company was the newly formed Univac (now Unisys), and the product was the revolutionary electronic digital computer.

Univac was a descendent of the legendary ENIAC computer, fathered by the pioneering efforts of John William Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert. Sperry Rand purchased their small Pennsylvania company, and married it to Electronic Research Associates, a developer of large-scale computers in St Paul, Minnesota. The resulting offspring were room sized binary coded behemoths, fed by thousands of heat generating vacuum tubes. Their data processing speed was in milliseconds, and their memory capacity was less than is now found in the average hand-held computer.

New technology was rapidly becoming the engine driving economic and societal change throughout the country. As technology advanced, management concepts attempted to keep pace. The result was constant change as companies attempted to adapt their philosophies to the swiftly shifting demands of an expanding technology driven global economy.

One of the more profound of these changes was the traditional attitude toward lifetime employment. Before the depression and the Second World War, it was typical for a worker to join a company and remain until retirement or death. This attitude changed considerably in the new economy.

As the computing business grew, a management cycle began to emerge that remains in many high-tech industries today. In the beginning there were the founding technocrats who were well grounded in the sciences, but had little business management experience. When the desire to expand the business increased, marketing people replaced the wizards. This usually resulted in the desired expansion, but often at the expense of operating profits. Increased sales and declining profits ultimately paved the way for the rise of financial experts who attempted to inject greater fiscal constraints into the corporate operating culture.

The revolving organizational structure created a new class of corporate condottiere who, like their mercenary predecessors, drifted faultlessly from one corporate patron to another. The new management style placed considerable strain on traditional family ties and the entire social structure of the country by eliminating the sense of community cohesiveness that had existed during previous generations.

Dramatic changes were also taking place in corporate culture. In the post-war period, executives who had survived the depression and the war possessed the maturity, integrity, and experience required to succeed. Their management approach was patterned on their service experience where a leaders first responsibility was to the "troops." With the passage of time, these men were gradually being replaced with younger managers whose priorities, learned in the classroom, placed a more singular emphasis on the profitability of the bottom line, and whose sense of responsibility was more self-centered.

Our family was swept along on the tide of change. After Univac, I worked for the General Electric Computer Department in Phoenix, during GE's brief foray into large scale computing systems.

Then back to Univac, this time in New York, where the retired General Douglas MacArthur and the rest of the Sperry Rand Board were attempting to alter the management structure to better compete with IBM and the other main frame giants dominating a fast growing industry. A major business magazine of the day described Univac as a company with the unfailing ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The company seemed determined to live up to its reputation.

The next move was from New York to Los Angeles with Ampex Corporation. From there, after four years, it was North to Seattle to join the Boeing Company as Manager of Business Planning for the Commercial Airplane Group.

One cloudy Seattle morning I recall watching the excitement among Boeing employees as the huge 747 strained to become airborne on it first flight. Their achievement marked a new era in air transportation that would significantly contribute to America’s position in an expanding global economy. Yet, within a few months many of these same enthusiastic people would be searching for a new employer as Boeing laid off 70,000 people in the next year and a half.

It was at this time some Washington wit erected a billboard on the outskirts of Seattle displaying a glowing light bulb with a dangling pull-chain. The caption read "Will the last person leaving Seattle please turn off the lights." I made sure I was not that person.

Fortune smiled again in the form of an old friend offering a job at Zenith Electronics in Chicago. After a year and a half I became Vice President of International Marketing. The companies I dealt with ranged in size from tiny outlets in Bermuda and Jamaica to massive organizations owned by the politically powerful Riady family in Indonesia, the Bicardis' of Puerto Rico, and Jardine Matheson the storied "Noble House" of Hong Kong. The work involved traveling to over 100 countries, meeting interesting people, and learning about diverse cultures. It was a fascinating experience for someone who grew up in a small Midwestern town.

But, the wheel continues to turn, seasons change, a young man grows old, and after 20 years it was time to leave. During my career, along with other members of my generation, I had the opportunity of working in the communications, computing, commercial aircraft, and consumer electronics industries. All of these were technologies that had a significant impact on the daily lives of most Americans, and transformed the way the country conducted business.

It was also a period of profound cultural transformation. During the 1960s and 1970s, old values were abandoned and few values took their place. I left my first job to find greater stability for my family and unwittingly entered a world of constant and continuing change.

During this turbulent period, Elsie and I raised and educated three children. I once heard "the two most important things parents can give their offspring are roots and wings." I believe we unwittingly accomplished this. Our roots grew deep within our own family rather than in a particular location. While none of us learned to embrace change, we all learned to cope. As a result, our children eventually became independent, resilient, and productive adults.

Years ago, "Time Magazine" editorially christened our generation the silent generation (1925-1942). So designated, presumably, because of our lack of a cause and our search for security. Time's youthful writers may not have understood that arising from the depression and WWII our focus was on stability and the desire to establish a career that would protect our families from the economic consequences of a depression and the hardships of another war. In attempting to achieve this, I believe we did contribute to considerable social, technological, and economic change that substantially benefited this country, and helped advance its position in the world.

Retirement is never easy. The rapid transition from intense work to extreme leisure is radical and traumatic, and requires considerable adjustment. Perhaps the most dramatic changes in a person's life come through graduation from college, marriage, first-time parenthood, and eventual retirement. When I retired, I joined other members of my generation who were searching for a way to remain productive while still enjoying the luxury of leisure.

Many of them were devoting more time to their investment portfolio and improving their golf game. Some had taken up hobbies or returned to the classroom. Still others were contributing their expertise to charitable and educational institutions with the singular purpose of "paying back" or "doing good." I was interested in finding a way I could use the skills I had acquired from a lifetime in business, while still enjoying the benefits of retirement.

The Cold War was over. The Soviet Union had collapsed. Left in the rubble was the broken promises of an advanced egalitarian society. In its place was the reality of a bankrupt government that had relied on massive militarization to control a once awesome empire. Its individual countries were now attempting to make a troubled transformation from a Soviet style central planning system to a free market, competitive economy.

Competition was something with which I was very familiar. Like many others, I volunteered my services to the International Executive Service Corps as a means of using my experience and occupying my time while learning to adapt to a new type of life. Now I found myself on a night flight to Europe in route to Ukraine.

As a splinter of first light penetrated the dark horizon I was able to finally doze thinking about the wife I left behind, and wondering what might lie ahead.

Chapter 2

City of Sorrows

Ukraine Web Ring

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