Although you will read this at a different time, I am writing it on Thanksgiving Day, a day when you and I are focused on things we are thankful for. That made me think today. For more than 30 years now I’ve been thinking about two men who had very little to be thankful for.
On Thanksgiving week in 1980 or 1981 I picked up a library book titled “They Came to Kill.” I read it, but had very strong doubts about parts of it because they made no sense, and so I went to a nearby university library and dug up the shocking truth.
The two men are George John Dasch and Ernest Peter Burger.
Dasch was born in Speyer, Germany, on Feb. 7, 1903. A quiet, serious boy with a strong interest in religion, he entered a Roman Catholic seminary when he was just 13 to study for the priesthood, but for some reason he didn’t make the cut the second year, and so found himself back on the street again.
World War I was raging. Dasch, at loose ends after losing his chance to serve a higher calling, lied about his age, enlisted in the German Army, and served in Belgium. WWI ended. He received an honorable discharge, but found himself out of work in the postwar German depression.
Unable to find a job, Dasch stowed away on a ship bound for America and ended up in New York City. There he drifted from one menial job to another until he got a bright idea and tried the U. S. Army Air Corps. But military life, it seemed, was not for him; he purchased his way out the Army, collected another honorable discharge, and found a civilian job.
In 1930, Dasch fell in love and married Rose Marie Guille. Now eligible to become an American, he applied for and was granted American citizenship in 1933. However, their marriage fell apart after just eight years, so single again and thinking it was safe to visit his homeland since he was a citizen of neutral America, he traveled to Germany.
Wrong! As far as German law was concerned Dasch was a German citizen, so he now had a very large problem — not just how to get back to America, but how to stay alive in Nazu Germany. The only way he could do it, he decided, was to pretend to be a Nazi. And it worked. Because he spoke fluent English and was familiar with America, he even managed to bluff his way into a German espionage school.
Given just three weeks of training, Dasch, Burger and six other Germans who had lived in the United States were hustled aboard submarines and landed on the eastern seaboard. Dasch was put in charge of his four-man group, all the while planning to defect when he reached American soil.
When Dasch’s team was spotted on the beach by a Coast Guard beach patrolman, Dasch, who was armed, let the man go. This was contrary to his orders to capture and send out to the submarine anyone he encountered.
Meanwhile Burger was assigned the task of burying explosives and incendiary devices intended to be used on American bridges, factories and transportation. He slipped away from the others, and while ostensibly getting the boxes of explosives and a heavy sea bag of incendiary devices buried, he dragged the heavy sea bag along the beach to leave an obvious track to the spot where they dug the hole. Into the sand at the end of the track went boxes, sea bag, and German navy caps they had worn on the way ashore from the submarine.
He might as well have put up a sign saying, PLEASE DIG HERE FOR GERMAN SABOTAGE EQUIPMENT! SEE YOU SOON, PETE BURGER.
And yes, it was found.
After they reached New York, Dasch and Burger, who had become fairly good friends, began to talk, very cautiously at first, and then more openly. When Dasch admitted that the only reason he was there was to defect and turn in the others, Burger actually broke down and cried, telling how he had deliberately done things to draw attention to the buried explosives.
Burger then stayed with the other two men of their four-man group while Dasch took a train to Manhattan, went to a pay telephone booth, and called the FBI. He told them who he was and why the two sabotage teams had been landed, offering to give himself up and aid with the capture of the others, including the second group, which had been landed in Florida.
Guess what, Johnny?
They didn’t believe him!
And that’s only part of the story.
Next week: A promise made but never kept.