Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Coin

I thought I had told about this, but after an exhaustive (two minute) search through the archives I can't find the story.

This was in Germany so... way-back machines set nicely. Kirk (remember) was a Russian linguist working intelligence intercepting radio transmissions from the Soviets.

At some point he intercepted a message and, translating it, believed it was really important - not just sort of important, but time sensitive, vitally, politically essential important. He found more messages, translated them, and pushed the whole thing up the chain as hard as he could.

As always, I don't know what the interception was about specifically. What I do know is that it was August 1991 and there was a significant coup attempt in the Soviet Union. I also know that some anonymous person sent us a section of barbed wire, and that seemed significant to Kirk.

The message and the results were important enough that Kirk's immediate commander put him in for a pretty important award. That recommendation went up chain, where the major (who had not even been aware of what was going on until it was all over) downgraded Kirk's suggested award and put himself in for a more important one. The same thing happened again at the next level. In the end, Kirk was given an Army Achievement medal (I think... I'd have to dig through the dusty box of plastic award folders) while the colonel or someone was trying for a Silver Star. It was all very silly, and Kirk was mostly irritated that people who had nothing to do with anything were trying to grab glory for themselves. He certainly never paid attention to the medal he was given, except that he enjoyed wearing it sometimes on his Air Force uniform and watching the other officers try to work out just what that ribbon meant.

However, someone up the command line must have felt a little guilty, because on the day the award was pinned on they also handed him a division coin.

It's a big brass thing, heavy and thick, and on the front is the name and symbol of the 8th Infantry Division enameled in blue and green. It's a bit battered now because Kirk carried it around with him when he was in the Air Force. He had generals tell him that they had never seen division level coins - it was a good conversation piece, and never failed to win the coin game.

In California he had stopped keeping it with him - there was only one friend who would understand the significance anyway - and the coin just sat in a drawer with some other bits and pieces. Then he went to Iraq, and my memory betrays me. For a long time I thought he must have taken it with him, and it had been lost along with all of his other personal belongings. Now I have a faint memory of him asking me to send it out to him, along with a few other things. I think I tried to find it and couldn't. I know I looked again when we were moving, but there was no sign of it that I could see.

So it was a little strange when, along with a Russian watch, a WWI German ring we found in the soil one day, and a few other pieces of memorabilia, the coin turned up in a plastic bin. I had been so sure it was gone, stolen with all of Kirk's other belongings, another thing missing in Iraq.

The other things were dusted off, more carefully protected, and stored again for the unseen time when we'll want them again. But the coin will stay out. It's on the bookshelf now, in incongruous company with a blue glass bottle and a piece of Russian cloisonnes work.

One piece of the past reclaimed.

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