by 80sarcades

Disclaimer: If I actually owned Hogan's Heroes, do you think I would be (a) writing this or (b) sitting on a beach, watching the waves come in?


Marie Hogan was furious.

The socialite widow could put up with a lot of things due to the war. Gas rationing, for one. Helping Juanita figure out the points and coupon system for grocery purchases were another. Even traveling by train -- not to mention getting parts for her car, including the tires -- was an adventure in itself. Like everything else, it was all part of the war effort.

In truth, she didn't really mind the inconveniences. She would do her part just like everyone else, thank you very much. Especially if it brought her son home alive.

However, there were just some things that crossed the line. Censorship was one of them.

On the desk was the latest letter from Robert:

May 20th, 1943

Stalag 13, Germany

Dear Mom:

How are you doing? I received your letter of January 5th yesterday, but half of the letter was cut out due to the censor. It was a shame, too; I really wanted to hear about Aunt Gertrude's trip.

Things are the same here at our good old home away from home. We try to keep the boys interested in games and other activities so they don't get too bored; as you can imagine, it does take some work. At least being the Senior Officer around here keeps life interesting! As usual, I'm doing well, though I wish I could still fly.

I wanted to ask: could you send some spices to me? I promised one of my enlisted men that I would ask for some so he could 'spice up' his cooking. Being a Frenchman, he's a pretty good cook. Also, could you send me several pairs of socks?

Sorry I have to keep this short, but I'll write more soon. I'll be looking for your letters.

All my love,


The spices weren't a problem; there was a whole rack of them in the pantry. She would just have Juanita pack up an assortment and they would just mail them off. God knows, her stomach couldn't take spicy foods anymore, and it wasn't like she was throwing any parties…

What really had her steamed, however, was the part about her letter -- HER letter -- being censored. Again! As if she knew anything of military value! Her regular letter to her son was on her desk; on an impulse, she pulled out another cream-colored piece of stationery and began to write another note. The tone of this one, however, was far different. Satisfied, she put the letter with the other one and headed off to the hairdressers.

The next day, Marie carried a small package containing the socks and spices to the post office and sent it on its way. That night, she began to have second thoughts about sending the letter. What if it got Robert in some kind of trouble?

As it played out, the letter did cause trouble…just not for the recipient.


After being transported cross-country, the package eventually ended up on the desk of a clerk at the Army Processing Center in New York. Despite the name, the center didn't process recruits, but outgoing mail; the clerks, who wanted to be anything other than clerks, censored military overseas mail all day, including Prisoner of War mail.

The corporal checked the package for contraband -- nothing precious was to be mailed, or the Germans might confiscate the package -- and wondered why the hell anyone would send spices through the mail. Finding nothing else interesting, he turned his attention to the envelope. The first letter was completely ordinary, the second…

"Lieutenant!" he called out. The officer -- more bored than the clerks -- came quickly over to his desk.

"Check this out, sir." He handed the letters over. The lieutenant casually looked at the top letter.

"Seems all right to me," he drawled.

"The second letter, sir," the corporal said in exasperation. Were officers always *that* dumb?

"Oh…" He read the second letter and chuckled. "Sounds like the woman has a thing for censors, doesn't it? Nice work, though." He looked at the first letter again, glanced inside the box, and then made a quick decision.

"Pass it through, Corporal," he ordered, handing the letters back. Just then, another voice called out for an officer and he left, leaving the corporal alone with the box. He eyed the man for a moment before returning to the package.

"Yes, sir," the corporal -- somewhat sarcastically -- said to himself in a low voice. Without thinking about it he stuffed the letters back into the envelope, closed it with blue tape, then stamped it and the box 'Passed by Censor'. He sealed the box back up and then put it in the outgoing basket. With that done, he turned to the in basket and sighed as he watched the incoming letters to censor stack up like hotcakes.

So much to do…

A little while later, the package was picked up and put into a mail bag with other packages and assorted letters. A week later, that bag -- along with many bags just like it, letters and not -- were put aboard the MS Gripsholm. One ocean voyage later -- and several long train rides -- the mail stopped at its next destination: Switzerland. More specifically, Bern. Due to the usual delays, the bags were held for further shipment; the wait to send the bags on could take a month or more.

The Protecting Power representing the United States -- and, by extension, its Prisoners-of-War -- eventually sent the mail off to Berlin where it was separated by branch of service -- Wehrmacht (Army), Luftwaffe (Air Force), and so on. Naturally, the German armed services had their own censoring teams for incoming prisoner-of-war mail; surprisingly, the majority of these were women who knew at least two or more foreign languages. Their job was to scan for any hidden codes or messages; like their American counterparts, they found the work boring as hell.

At least, until now.

The woman inspecting the package found nothing wrong with the package itself. On the other hand, the second letter in the envelope puzzled her:

To the censor --

I really don't know who you think you are, but do not censor my letter again, you bunch of bleeps. Otherwise, I will have to find you lousy bunch of bleeps and kick you in the bleep. So go bleep off and censor someone else's letter, you bunch of bothersome bleeps.

Sincerely yours,

Marie Hogan

Her officer was equally puzzled when she called him over. "Bleeps…" he muttered. "Some kind of code word, perhaps? What is the destination?" he asked.

The woman checked the package. "Stalag Luft Thirteen, Colonel Robert Hogan," she announced.

The man looked at the message again before he handed it back to the censor. "Red flag it for Section Three," he ordered. Another set of hands delivered the package -- now marked with a strip of red tape -- to a nondescript office just outside the censoring area.

The code breakers, not having had a good message in a while, fell upon the letter like a pack of starving wolves. By the time they admitted defeat, a copy of the letter had been passed around to several senior Generals who then passed it on to the premier code experts at Abwehr, the SS, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, and the Wehrmacht Signals Unit. Despite intense pressure from above, they all failed in their mission.

Samples of both letters were taken and analyzed for special chemical compounds and inks. Hidden messages in the letters were looked for. Each spice was tested and found to be organic in nature. The socks were chemically treated and studied. Even the wrapping paper was studied for clues.

In the end, every effort ended in failure.

By mutual agreement -- after all, the recipient was an Allied airman -- the whole mess was passed along to the Air Force. Unfortunately, that meant that the head of the Luftwaffe's Prison Administration, General Albert Burkhalter, had to deal with it.

He didn't know what he hated more: having to take time out of his busy schedule to deal with a prisoner's package or looking at the three inch thick report on it. Not to mention the colossal waste of time which amounted to over a thousand hours of work if you included all of the services. Of course, he knew the enemy officer in question. Knew him very well.

How is it that Hogan can cause so much trouble and still *not* be involved? he thought in frustration. Hochstetter would have a field day with this one.

After thinking about it for several minutes, he had an inspired idea that allowed him to get rid of the package AND solve the problem at the same time.

The less-than-elegant solution was applied, the box was resealed, and this time it was released for distribution. The report, meanwhile, filled the trashcan.

Some weeks later, the package and other mail were dropped off at Hammelburg by the morning train. Later that afternoon, a detachment from Stalag 13 picked up the mail and returned to camp. It took several days more to sort through, but by the third day Sergeant Schultz -- the camp's senior German NCO -- was the most popular man in camp as he and a few other guards handed out the mail.

Colonel Hogan's package, Schultz decided, was one that he would deliver personally. It didn't take him long to find the American officer; he was standing outside Barracks 2.

"I have a package for you, Colonel Hogan," he announced.

Hogan nodded, taking a long drag on his cigarette. "You can just put it on the table inside, Schultz. I'll look at it later."

"But don't you want to look inside? Perhaps there's something sweet in there?" Schultz pleaded, curious to know what was inside. His stomach growled in agreement.

"Hmmm, let's see…" He took the box from Schultz's hands and looked at the return address before shaking his head. "Nope, it's from my mom. Nothing sweet in there," he declared.

"Please, Colonel Hogan." Schultz was practically begging, imagining there were candy bars inside. Hogan finally relented.

"Ok, Schultz. Got a knife?" he asked.

Schultz handed him a small pocketknife and watched as the Colonel cut the tape and opened the box. Both of them looked inside to see a envelope, several pairs of socks, and some small wrapped bundles.

"What are those?" the older man asked, curious.

"Well, let's see…" Hogan unwrapped one of the bundles to reveal a small jar. "Spices."

"Spices!" That got Schultz's attention; spices were scarce in wartime Germany. He watched as Hogan unwrapped another jar. "Paprika…mmm, seasoning salt…" Schultz murmured deliciously as he took the knife back and pocketed it.

"Yeah, I asked Mom for some. Guess she came through," Hogan said.

"Your mother is a wonderful woman," Schultz breathed. "Such a darling mother to her son…"

"She's a sweetheart, all right. Isn't LeBeau cooking you a stew later?" Hogan asked. Schultz nodded, almost drooling at the thought. "I'll have him add some seasoning to the mix, just for you." He smiled at the German guard. As usual, Schultz thought of stomach first, country second. In that order.

"You are such a wonderful officer," Schultz declared, smiling. "It's too bad you're not on our side."

"And share quarters with the Iron Eagle?" Hogan joked, referring to Kommandant Klink.

"More like the rusty bald eagle, if you ask me," Schultz said in a low tone even as he glanced around for his commanding officer.

Chuckling, Hogan put down the box and picked up the letter. Glancing at Schultz -- he *was* a nice guy, after all -- he opened the envelope and took out the cream-colored pages. For a brief instant, he had a picture in his mind's eye of his mother sitting at her desk and writing it; just thinking about it made his eyes moisten. Home was so far away, and yet so close…

So why did the paper feel so strange?

After a moment, he understood why; one page -- a separate one -- had all of the words cut out, leaving little square holes in the paper that he could see through. Strangely, the letter that was attached to it was intact. What the hell?

Schultz wagged his finger at the enemy officer in a scolding manner, although he didn't mean it. He looked curiously at the holey letter. "Your mother must have said something naughty, Colonel Hogan. What do you think it was?"

"I wish I knew, Schultz," Hogan said, still staring at the holes. "I wish I knew…"


A/N: As strange as it seems today with 24/7 news, letters were routinely censored for data that could give away a sender's location, military data, or other sensitive information that might help the bad guys. After a while, you knew what you could (usually) say and what wouldn't (usually) pass. Still, people tried; I read of one soldier in Italy who changed the middle initial of his name to an 'I', then the next letter, 'T', and so on to give his location (it backfired; he forgot to date the letters so they could put them in order.)

I really don't know what the exact routing would be to get it to the bad guys, but its probably something similar. The MS Gripsholm was real; it was a neutral ship that exchanged diplomats and other civilians between Japan and the United States (via an exchange point) after the Second World War began; although it was under State Department charter it could (and did) also transport mail. Also, for this story I made General Burkhalter an Air Force, rather than Army, General; I never could understand why the Wehrmacht would be in charge of a Luftwaffe camp unless they were in charge of all the camps (Army, Navy, and so on).

As a side note, the people who packaged Red Cross packages for prisoners (which contained foodstuffs, etc.) were forbidden to wear jewelry of any type when they were packing the boxes. If the Germans or Japanese found any contraband that could help prisoners escape, they could seize the shipment. Later in the war, hidden escape materials were actually put in boxes, such as a map of Germany hidden in a phonograph record, for instance.

It's also worth noting that POW's in German hands could receive mail from home, or Red Cross packages. Some prisoners held by the Japanese rarely received a letter, or none at all, even if they had been held for years. Red Cross packages containing food or medical supplies were stored in buildings near some of the camps and released only ever so often, if at all.

Hope you enjoyed it; reviews, as always, are appreciated.