Papa Bear Awards 2015:
"... and our breaking news this morning: recently declassified files in Washington indicate that the controversial World War Two TV-show from the sixties 'Hogan's Heroes' was actually based on a real life espionage unit stationed in the heart of Germany at the time. Stay tuned to the Washington News Network for all the details."
One of those intrusive advertising voices took over, and Meghan buried her head deeper in her pillow. It was beyond her why her friend, cousin and room-mate always turned on the news channel the moment she got up. It was bearable as long as they both had to get up. But on New Year's Day, after a party that lasted into the early hours of morning? Couldn't she for once start the day without knowing what had...
Suddenly the newslady's announcement penetrated her foggy brain and she sat up with a jerk. "Katie!"
"What?" Katie was in the process of making tea.
"What that newswoman said..." Meghan seemed almost dazed.
Katie raised her eyebrows. "Yeah?"
"Didn't you hear?"
"I wasn't really listening, no."
She got an exasperated glare, but Meghan had other things on her mind right now than an accusing, "Then why do you insist on turning it on every morning if you're not listening anyway?" Instead, she gushed, "It's Hogan's Heroes – Grandpa's Heroes! It's true!"
"What?!" Katie's head swivelled towards the TV set, but there was only some silly ad for toiletpaper on. "But... didn't they always say...?"
"Exactly." Meghan put on her robe and plonked down in front of the TV. "So let's find out."
It was still several minutes before the annoying advertising people made way for the regular news programme again – minutes Katie used to provide them both with a fortifying mug of tea. But at last, the deep, euphonious male voice cut into the advertising nonsense with his standard announcement, "The Washington News Network – the Truth, Brought to You." There was a short blast of trumpets, and then the anchorlady of the programme came on screen.
"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and happy 2015," she smiled. "And we start the new year with a remarkable story: a fairy-tale that suddenly turns out to be reality: the sixties' TV-show 'Hogan's Heroes'..."
The screen cut to the boisterous opening tune with its familiar images of barbed wire in the moonlight, stern guards operating a searchlight and prisoners lined up in front of wooden barracks.
"Hogan's Heroes," the lady intoned, "Was the first comedy to be made based on World War Two. It followed the adventures of an international group of prisoners-of-war in a POW-camp in Nazi Germany, where they operated a sabotage and espionage unit right under the nose of their captors, and helped hundreds of shot-down flyers to escape back to England to rejoin the fight. From the start, the show has been rather controversial, with people pointing out that it was in bad taste to portray the Nazis as stupid fools, and make light of such a horrid war.
Seventy years after the war ended, and fifty years after the popular TV-show first aired, the army has now declassified a number of files that surprisingly prove that Colonel Hogan's little band of saboteurs was not the product of some crazy Hollywood producer. No – Colonel Robert E. Hogan and his band of saboteurs were for real!"
Katie and Meghan looked at each other in triumph.
"Told you!" Meghan said.
Meanwhile, the TV was showing some army big shot on a press conference. "The rules state, that information about secret operations in war time need to remain classified for at least seventy years, to avoid any chance of repercussion on the people involved," the man rasped. "Considering that all the protagonists and antagonists involved in this operation have passed away by now, the army has decided to bring the facts about this little undercover unit in the open, so that their families may finally know that their loved ones were not cowed prisoners who never managed a single successful escape – no, instead they were ordered to stay put in that camp, in order to keep a valuable Allied espionage unit alive." The man took a deep breath. "Colonel Robert E. Hogan from Bridgeport, Connecticut, together with Staff Sergeant James I. Kinchloe, Tech Sergeant Andrew J. Carter, Sergeant Richard G. Baker, the British Corporal Peter Newkirk and the French resistance fighter Louis LeBeau formed the core of a highly successful sabotage and espionage unit in the heart of the Third Reich. Posing as prisoners-of-war, they were under direct orders from Allied Headquarters in London, and committed numerous acts of sabotage and espionage right under the nose of their Nazi jailors. Additionally, they ran what they called 'a travellers' aid society', in outfitting escapees and downed flyers with everything they needed to make a successful escape back to England. In order to protect the set-up, they and their fellow POWs in the camp were ordered to stay put and never escape themselves. Due to the highly sensitive nature of their work, this smokescreen had to be kept up even after the war ended, to protect the core group from reprisals. We imagine this has been difficult with their families, but the truth is, that every man who was ever held prisoner in Stalag 13 played a part in this successful unit. We have always been extremely proud of these men, and we hope that finally, their families may feel the same."
"General," came a question from the audience. "If this operation was so hush-hush, why didn't you stop it when they wanted to make TV-show out of it?"
"Good question," the big shot nodded. "The fact is, that one of the people behind the TV-show had a personal connection with Stalag 13. So he was sworn to secrecy as much as anyone else. When they came to us to ask permission to produce this show based on the goings-on in a prison camp – an idea that originally had been born without any reference to Stalag 13 – we granted them that permission on one condition: that the show would be so over the top that no one would believe it to be true. And considering that no one indeed took the show seriously, they have done that admirably indeed."
"But why did you give them that permission, when the people involved with the real Stalag 13 were still not allowed to talk about their experiences?" the journalist insisted.
"Humanity," the general admitted. "These guys had sacrificed so much – over the top or not, the show was meant to recognize their contribution, even if we could not say so out loud."
The image went back to the newsroom. "With me here," the newslady said, "Is Mr. Robert J. Hogan – son of the illustrious commander of this secret unit. Mr. Hogan, what was your reaction when you first heard the news?"
"That's uncle Rob!" Katie shouted, and moved a bit closer to the TV.
"Well, I can't say I was surprised," the grey-haired man on TV said with a bit of a smirk. "Whenever we kids asked about the prison camp, he was always regaling us with stories how they tricked the guards and the Kommandant. But anyone knowing my father could have known that this was just the top of the iceberg."
"So your father talked openly about his experiences in the camp?"
"That's how it seemed," Uncle Rob pointed out. "But hearing all this, he must have held back an awful lot. They probably thought that would be the easiest strategy to keep their sworn secrecy."
The newslady raised an eyebrow. "They?"
"Yes, my father and the men working with him at the time - these guys the general mentioned. They remained close friends all their lives, and tried to meet up at least every few years. We never really thought much of it – they were just Dad's buddies from the prison camp. But looking back, there were hints indeed that they were more than just casual buddies. More like people who'd been through a lot together."
"Do you look at your father differently now that you know what he did in the war?"
Uncle Rob seemed to consider that, but shook his head. "No. Not really. He's done an awful lot in his life that would get anyone's admiration. This news is just a bonus package on top of everything else. And I wouldn't be surprised if the family of his friends feel just the same."
"Thank you, Mr. Hogan." The newslady turned back to her audience. "One thing is for sure," she said. "People will be watching the TV-show Hogan's Heroes with completely new eyes. If, as the general says, it shows us just an over-the-top version of what really happened, then what was it that really happened? Stay tuned for a thorough analysis of one of the episodes by a renowned military specialist."
"So!" Meghan declared. "Are we going to sit here and watch that, or are we going to do our own research?"
"What research?" Katie asked.
Meghan rolled her eyes. "You heard the man – it was all for real! And it's been declassified! Aren't you the least bit curious what our greatgrandfathers were up to at the time? Let's find out!"
"By doing what we should have done ages ago when we first read about it." Meghan got up and started to get dressed. "We're going to the National Museum and find that file with all the documents that they had in the Mary Sue Experiments."
Katie frowned. "I don't think I want to be whisked back in time by that magic device."
"Neither do I. But that doesn't mean we can't look at the other things in that file. Besides – the last we heard, the device was safely elsewhere. So are you coming or not? We can grab some breakfast on the way."
"Okay." Katie sighed. "For the honour of our greatgrandfathers then..."
Author's note: Stay tuned – the nomination round for the 2015 Papa Bear Awards election is likely to kick off within 24 hours!