the Spring of 1972 there was little doubt in my mind there was an organized,
well planned conspiracy between the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon and
my mother. I wanted to be a frogman so
in the last week of basic training in San Diego I filled out all six requests
for billets, (duty stations), and all six were to go and join the little party
LBJ was babysitting over in Southeast Asia, after a short stop over at the Underwater Demolition School in Coronado,
California. When I opened my orders they
said I was going to the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey to learn how
to be a weatherman. Couldn't get much
further away from “The Nam” then Lakehurst New Jersey, or so I thought until I
told the Navy I wasn't gonna be a weather man, I wanted to be a frogman. My next set of orders were to Reykjavik,
suspicions of a conspiracy were confirmed.
There was not a hell of a lot to do during the day in
Lakehurst, New Jersey, much less in your off duty time, so after hours I
started asking around about the Hindenburg disaster and I was eventually
steered towards a guy who was on the airfield the day the famous zeppelin
burned. Human nature dictates that most
people like to talk about their larger-than-life experiences, (which is
probably why some of us write books), and over a period of weeks he put me on
to several other members of this exclusive club, which is no doubt a hell of a
lot more exclusive today, and they were all very congenial about discussing
their experiences that day in May of 1937.
The vividness of their descriptions was riveting. Although witnessed thirty five years prior to
our interview, the emotional fervor of their stories was infectious. In particular, the attention to detail, the
variation of perspectives and the way they seemed to regress to that exact day
and time, was enthralling.
The ability to pass on to another person not just a
story but the emotional intensity and mood of a given event is fascinating and,
although my emotional barometer is sometimes as reliable as a politician giving
sworn testimony, I was hooked. Thereafter
anywhere I’d travel, world-wide for the next 37 years, the immediate priority
became seeking out individuals who had witnessed or participated in some
significant historical event. What
happened around here and who saw it?
It's a strange feeling now that all you have to do is go
to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDU2MWJwJDc, and you can actually
watch it happen.
of the more interesting of these stories was first told to me as a child by my
mother and reiterated to me years later on Mott Street, in Little Italy, while
I was working on a TV shoot with some people who had attended Luciano's
funeral. It was later related to me from
people all along the West Side as well.
It was the story of how, in February of 1942, a German
U-Boat crept into New York Harbor and sank the world famous French luxury liner
Normandie. Later I would find there was
no U-Boat. There was however, a great
story about a ship that sank.
So why write a novel about it? Because, after two and a half years of
investigation of this incident, a dramatic story evolved and, except for a
short documentary, and a short chapter in a biography about Luciano, I have not
been able to find anything else written on the secret military operation which
grew out of this incident.
operation whereby, as incredible as it seems, the United States Government
hired the Unione Siciliano, alias the Commission, (erroneously known as the
Mafia), to work for them to patrol the New York City waterfront. The “Docks”, the very wellspring from which
the syndicate made their illegal livelihood and would eventually blossom
into what would be become to be known as the International Drug Cartel.
the story takes place over a six week period in early 1942 and in order to
appreciate this chain of events it is essential to have a feel for the
atmosphere of the time in which it is set, which is why I offer the short
historical background in the Prologue.
If you lived through these times, I apologize if it is
not related the way you remember it. If
you were not around in 1942, then I apologize for all the characters not
wearing trench coats, Fedoras, living in black and white and leaning at Dutch
Angles. The characters in this story are
representative of the Government, Organized Crime and The People of the times,
the three corners of our narrative triangle.
This story, the story of how the most critical
arm of the U. S. government at the time, Naval Intelligence (whose New York
branch curiously seemed to be comprised largely of lawyers), during war time
gave the highest priority to and actively recruited the man who established organized crime, (a
fact they were likely not sure of but at least strongly suspected), to work for
A man who the left hand of the government,
politics, had just a few years earlier enthusiastically touted as their #1
poster child on crime and incarcerated on questionable testimony for a period
five times in excess of what the law proscribed.
familiar with the upper echelons of U. S. government shouldn't be too surprised
by this I suppose, as any relationship with them is comparable to a bad
marriage. What's mine is mine and what's
yours is mine.
waterfront is essentially a fifth character in the story and was the most
interesting perspective from which to tell it.
It was where I got my first real job in 1967 and the first place I
actually watched, (from a safe distance), two men out to kill each other. Thus the incident on the loading dock is
true, although reset in '42.
true parts are essentially everything to do with the government characters.
incidents concerning the naval officers are all taken from newspaper accounts,
such as Admiral Adolphus Andrews comments when meeting with the press and
incidents in the briefing room office, and interaction with the New York City
D. A.'s office which is taken from period documents as well as post war
business between the New York City D. A.'s office, the Navy and the prison
system is all factual, although, especially in '45 and '46, the events
surrounding Lucky's release from prison would make an interesting study in
American politics on their own.
of the dialog in the White House is historically accurate, taken from Oval
Office transcripts, although the 'shocking' discovery of Italian frogmen and
mini-submarines, (a notion like jumping out of airplanes with silk sheets
strapped to your back, the U. S military leaders initially rejected out of hand
and then had to play catch-up with when the Nazis jumped into Crete), did not
reach FDR at the same time as Enrico Fermi's telegram announcing that he had
cracked the code of atomic power in Soldier's Field, Chicago. The incidents were more than a year apart but
never the less are accurate.
could find no documented evidence that FDR knew about Operation Underworld;
however, it is hard to imagine that an operation that high up the naval chain
of command occurred without his knowledge or consent particularly when he kept
a Navy captain as his official Adjutant, personal advisor and confidant.
Additionally, much to his
credit, FDR was quick to pick up on unconventional approaches to
operations such as tactics from the departments of 'dirty tricks' of other
nations as evidenced by the response telegram he dictates in Chapter Thirteen,
taken from his personal collection at the National Archives.
initial contact with Socks Lanza by the D. A. is accurate, save the actual
wording of the conversation that night in the park along the Hudson, and is
documented by individuals who had later contact with parties on both sides.
based on real people, Doc, Louie, Nikki and Treasury Agent Johnson, (who, along with the “the little black
book”, connect the reality of the story with the fictional elements), are
fictional. The “Little Black Book”, containing the most
intimate details of the operation actually existed but vanished sometime just
near the end or just after the war when everybody from Truman to a Department
of Corrections' secretary wanted to know who exactly was involved. It was never traced or found.
was never fully briefed about what went on and did chase his tail trying to
find out. However, he had already
established himself as a collector of information to be used to blackmail or
exert leverage on people and so, despite what was said in public, he was never
fully trusted in political circles, particularly by those not given to maniacal
paranoias based on race, color, creed or national origin.
incident concerning a young JFK being secretly taped in a hotel room making
love to Inge Arvad, the Danish journalist, is all true and leaves little doubt
about the bad blood between the Kennedys and J. Edgar. One can only wonder how the little cop felt
when FDR ordered JFK transferred to PT boats in the Pacific and Kennedy returned
home a highly decorated war hero thanks to the PT109 incident.
in conjunction with a second unforeseen event, the death of JFK's older brother
Joseph while on a secret mission to bomb a Nazi U2 base, would put him as the
front runner of the Kennedys to move into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Thus the significance of Hoover's
vindictiveness can possibly be seen as helping Kennedy get elected. Speculation will probably linger for
generations as to whether or not he helped him out of office.
The primary influence for
telling this story is William Manchester, a consummate historian who
understands and has taught me the significance of the inter-relation of
historical facts and therefore nothing stands alone. For example, our fathers were taught and
learned important points in history such as the U.S.S. Maine being blown up by
saboteurs, Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill to win the
battle and the war, about the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and how important it was to get the Communists
out of Hollywood before they brainwashed the country.
U.S.S Maine was not blown up by Spanish or Cuban saboteurs, Teddy never charged up San Juan Hill, there
is recently released documented evidence FDR knew about Pearl Harbor at least
two weeks beforehand, and the Thomas-Rankin and Truman-McCarthy witch hunts and
HUAC were about stopping the Writer's Guild of America from gaining inroads
into screen credit and decent pay and had nothing to do with communists taking
So because these and hundreds if not thousands of other
events are still taught in the American school systems as fact, to some extent
the victor does get to write the history, but sooner or later some nosy,
educated writers like William Manchester and Gore Vidal or journalists like
Woodward and Bernstein will happen along and piss off a bunch of people by
finding out and telling the truth.
It is from the narration of the burning of the
Hindenburg and the story of the Normandie that I came to understand the
significance of knowing about those who came before us. I came to understand that you are what you
are because of Genetics. You are where
you are because of Geo-Politics.
However, you are who you are because of the Genetics of Geo-Politics,
which is History.
I hope you enjoy this story.
“Never ever trust what your government tells you.”
- Bruce Springsteen, Born In The U.S.A. tour,
a scientist and historian it's sometimes hard to reconcile the concept of
fate. To be objective and thus well
rounded you try to see history as a simultaneously occurring series of separate
events, on countless different planes, all unfolding in different places at
various tempos. But when you come across
a single event which took minutes to initiate but would inextricably bind the
U. S. Navy, the FBI and the Mafia and eventually tens of thousands of lives for
the duration of WWII and then some years after, it's hard not to lay down the
pen, close the texts, pour a drink and go down to the beach to watch the
more captivating is that the plethora of historical ironies peppering this
story were brought together by Albert Anastasia, a man who didn't finish
primary school, possessed barely a modicum of intelligence and who's claim to
fame was he murdered over 500 people as C.E.O. of Murder Incorporated.
How did the most critical arm of the U. S. government in
1942, Naval Intelligence, (whose New York branch curiously seemed to be
comprised largely of lawyers), give the highest priority to hiring the man who
established organized crime in America?
A man who the left hand of the government, politics, enthusiastically
touted as their #1 poster child for crime.
For a start and by way of setting the stage for the
story, it should be understood that the period between the two world wars saw
the birth and growth of several organizations in America
the developments of which initiated a dynamic that would spawn a plethora of
major historical events any one of which would not only supply material for a
dozen novels and several films, but are still revealing stories today.
Three of the
most significant of these were the establishment of Organized Crime, the FBI
and Naval Intelligence. They all grew
up, went to school and came of age in the late 1920's as separate entities
however, like predators prowling an ever shrinking savanna,
their collisions were inevitable.
As is the case with most great stories the story of how
and why the U. S. Navy came to hire Lucky Luciano and the Unione Siciliano in
what was known as Operation Underworld unfolds in a great place, New York
City, and involves several central figures aspiring to to greatness but only
one of which sought notoriety, J. Edgar Hoover.
an added attraction the New York City District Attorney's office, headed by the
infamous Thomas E. Dewey, unwittingly acted as catalyst.
In February of 1942 one of the key players was in his
sixth year of what was essentially two and a half life sentences convicted of a
crime for which the law allowed ten. To exacerbate the situation Salvatore Lucania, “Lucky” Luciano had, by
technical legal guidelines, been framed by the testimony of others obtained
under, in some cases, the threat of violence and rather thin circumstantial
real life, dramatic irony extends even further when one considers that the man
who engineered his trial, had him convicted and imprisoned was the very man
whose life Luciano had saved less than a year before, New York District
Attorney Thomas Dewey.
little doubt Luciano was guilty of multiple violations under the White Slavery
Act, (a dramatic term for prostitution), but the entire United States legal
machine were not enough to actually catch him with his hand in the till and so,
in order to not look too stupid, they had to “bend” their own laws.
was a classic American rags-to-riches success story. He was not only co-founder of the Unione
Siciliano or National Crime Syndicate or the Commission, as it was known by its
members, but organized and established what became the International Drug
Cartel, built a casino based empire in Havana and Las Vegas and then, at a
council in Cuba, gave the nod to kill the man who built it for him, Ben 'Bugsy'
Siegal. All of which, with the exception
of organizing the Unione, he did well in prison or in exile. Not
bad for a kid from the slums of a fourth rate town in a third world
if to show he had a sense of humor Dewey made sure Luciano's indictment came at
a time when he truly believed himself sufficiently
insulated from the law to have any worries.
The multiple count indictment was handed down on April Fool's Day.
also came at a time when the position of New York City District Attorney bore
no small legacy. The next step up was
governor after which, if you had A, an adequate popularity quotation and B,
adequate financial backing, (which was virtually guaranteed if you had A), the
salutations on your mail thereafter would read: “Dear Mr. President”. All compliments of the New York City based
Tammany Hall leadership. Such was the
Yellow Brick Road of the times.
There can be little doubt about Thomas Dewey's
politically driven actions against the likes of Waxey Gordon, Louie Lepke
and Dutch Schultz. After all if a man wants to be President of the
United States, essentially the head lawyer of the country, starting out as a
prosecutor is a good place to be.
Starting out in New York in the 1930's is a better place and getting the
big name gangsters, whatever it takes, is a shoe in. Almost.
Dewey's political ambitions were assured if he could convict Schultz and
just as he was about to pounce the Dutchman decided enough was enough and set
up a hit on D. A. Dewey the “Gang
Unfortunately for Shultz Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky,
founders of the Siciliano Unione, were adamant about the 'keeping a low
profile' clause in their corporate agreement.
So, a day before Dutch gave the okay to kill Dewey,
Lucky gave the okay to kill Dutch.
Schultz was hit in a New York chop house, eating a steak, and it is
widely held that this is where the myth of a condemned man's last meal,
commonly steak, originated.
So, in 1936 New York City D. A. Dewey decided Luciano,
despite having been arrested about twenty-five times and only jailed twice for
short periods, was going down regardless of what was required to do it. Bear in mind that Luciano was a hoodlum, but
also bear in mind that his statement, “We never killed no one that didn't
deserve it.” is, so far as anyone can determine, true. This includes not only ordering the death of
Dutch Schultz but sanctioning the assassination of one of his most ardently
loyal followers and supporters, Albert Anastasia after he needlessly ordered
the death of a an innocent bakery apprentice for insulting him.
Like the Unione, Naval Intelligence had recently been
dealt its' worse blow since its' inception, namely Pearl Harbor. It had been only two months since the bombing
and, in a long laundry list of parallels with the Twin Towers attack, politicians were asking,
“How did we not know this was coming?”, and flinging such helpful suggestions
as, “Somebody has to swing!”
in 2004 documents were released to the news agencies by some historians in
Britain showing that as a result of efforts by the British intelligence
agencies, code breakers who had cracked the JN code were able to inform
Churchill about plans for the attack as early as November of '41, over a month
before it happened. In turn, it was
reported Churchill waited two weeks before informing
FDR who, American historical documents adequately testify
to, never informed the two commanders of the full extent of the probability of
the attack. In all likelihood, some
speculate, motivated by America's failed economy being mired down for over a
decade in the Great Depression.
second central player, Lt. Cmdr Haffenden, (coincidentally carrying the same
first name as Luciano), appears to have fallen into the Operation Underworld
scenario by being in the right place at the right time. As the officer in charge of the ports of New
York he wasn't really privy to D.C.'s decisions but by all accounts was
certainly the right man for the job.
With an outstanding record of
past intelligence exploits, a good sense of command and a “Can Do”
attitude he threw himself into an operation which had little chance of any real
success from the start, that is catching German spies. To his credit, he so impressed and maintained
the respect of Meyer Lansky, that Lansky not only kept his son away from
racketeering but sent him to West Point.
Although we are not sure of the extent of Haffenden's influence, Lansky
himself went straight not long after the war.
than the serious game of spy counter spy originally envisioned with the
inception of Operation Underworld, it turned into more of an expensive
game of cops and robbers, mostly without the robbers.
war records clearly indicate that generals had no intention of launching any
serious attempts at espionage or sabotage in the Continental U. S. and pretty
much viewed it as a waste of resources.
Records also indicate that the group of twelve German operatives sent
over and landed by submarine on the shores of Long Island, were a write off and
seen to be an experiment, forgive the pun, to test the waters.
In contrast, it wasn't as bad a time for J. Edgar
Hoover's FBI. Finally they would be given
a chance to show what they could do, as long as it wasn't going toe to toe with
the Commission, which according to them didn't exist. Their resource allocation was drastically
increased, as was their jurisdictional guidelines, and they were going to be
allowed to catch spies. Problem was they
had a lot of catching up to do themselves and Hoover fantasized that it fell to
him alone to see it done.
Much like Luciano, Hoover was able to exploit the
emergency situation the war created to his advantage, however he did it by
greatly increasing his public persona while Lucky did it by further receding
into the shadows of secrecy. Commander
Haffenden saw it strictly as a matter of duty.
Interestingly, all three utilized government agencies, large amounts of
cash and lots and lots of unwitting civilians.
Keep in mind this is only one small part of the
historical picture of the time, but it's a damn interesting one by any
standard. There were other organizations
with other spheres of influence, and Luciano’s direct influence in America was
only from 1931 to 1946. Although he was
imprisoned in 1936 this merely caused him to restructure the way he did
business. Lt. Cmdr Haffenden was
directly involved less than year and Hoover was never really allowed to be involved.
These are but a few of the primary elements contributing
to the atmosphere in early February of 1942 and after the 1945 Armistice, each
player left the table, cashed in his chips and went looking for the next
game. It's another story as to who won,
who lost or who drew, but for that brief period in the Spring of '42, the
path's of all concerned were unexpectedly and inextricably interwoven to form
‘When we are dealing with the Caucasian race, we have methods that will
determine loyalty. But when we deal with the Japanese, we are in an entirely
California State Attorney General, Earl Warren in 1942, commenting on the
imprisonment of 150,000 Japanese-American citizens.
‘Now they have created a Frank-in-steen monster and the chickens have
come home to roost all over the country!’
Presidential candidate Governor George Wallace, 1968, commenting on the
‘Doodle Doodle Dee, Wubba Wubba Wubba.’
MTV’s Downtown Julie Brown, commenting on the current state of politics
The New York
City waterfront is an interesting place.
Anything can happen at most any time and in late January of 1942,
despite its two and a half centuries of violent history, relative peace and
calm prevailed, while half a world away free China was lost, the Battle of
Britain had been fought, and Hitler was dining in Paris.
of men have always and will always allow themselves to be caught up in world
events larger than themselves, and hopelessly swim against the tide while
praying to their respective gods for a favorable outcome. However, a select few have the
where-with-fore to keep their heads and turn such events to their advantage.
One such man
was in his sixth year of a fifty year sentence, without parole, convicted on
contrived evidence and told he would eventually be deported to a nation whose
leader had already issued a death warrant against him.
Penitentiary, Dannemora, New York. Groundhog Day, 1942
olive complexion of the visitor's face made him look older than his
mid-forties. Other than the guard, who
now stood sentry against the wall in front of him, he was alone in the under
lit, painted brick room.
patiently at the far end of the long wooden table, hands on top in full view as
the large, baked-enamel sign on the wall dictated, he was fitted in a dark
blue, handmade suit complete with silk tie.
He glanced at the stone-faced guard who stared back with his best tough
guy face. After a fifteen minute wait,
the rattling of locks on the dark green, steel doors progressively echoed
louder and louder throughout the adjoining chambers, until the door leading
into the visitors room creaked open, and two more men entered.
pock-marked faced prisoner with dark hair and drooping right eyelid were the
first to enter and the prisoner was escorted to a seat on the opposite side of
the table by a second, older guard. The
visitor reached over the twelve inch high partition which bisected the thick
oak top to shake hands with the dungaree clad man on the opposite side.
hands away from the prisoner!” Tough Guy
guard yelled. The visitor was unfazed
and proceeded with his inquiry in a tone of genuine concern.
“How ya doin’,
“Ah . . .” Charlie shrugged. “It’s Dannemora, you know. Fuckin’ Siberia.”
anything?” Both men were visibly
“Yeah. Get me
on it, Charlie. Anything else?”
goin’ down town?” He changed to a near
whisper, and immediately both guards drifted closer to the table. The men looked up from their seated
positions, and then at each other. With
feigned disregard they resumed their conversation, only now in Italian. The guards didn’t back away.
lookin’ so good. Especially with these
two assholes standin’ here.”
maybe they’re queer for each other?”
Neither of the men laughed at the comment, but the younger of the two
guards became visibly annoyed, and started towards Lucky. The elder guard raised an arm to stop him and
the men once again resumed their conversation, however this time in an obscure
dialect of Sicilian.
“Why? What’s goin’ on?” The guards drifted back towards the wall as
Tough Guy grew increasingly irritated.
are gettin’ more independent, we’re losin’ more of Jersey. Siegel says if they don’t let him send
somebody over there to put a hit on Goering and Goebbles, he’s gonna do it
Jew bastard! Always with the gun! What’s the story on working with the Navy
people?” A downward glance introduced
What’s our guys in D. C. say?”
Charlie was surprised.
politically risky. They don’t want no
part of it.”
“Shit! Did you remind them . . . ?”
countin’ on that deal ta solidify our operations fer after the war.”
“Maybe get you
down state while we’re at it.”
“Maybe.” Luciano looked down at the table top. “Maybe they can be persuaded.” Charlie suggested. The young guard could stand it no
longer. The senior sentry nodded at his
younger colleague and both started towards the men.
up! Let’s go!” Halfway through the door, Lucky called back
over his shoulder.
A. up here next.”