Several months into serving in West Germany, Bob Inama was called into Major Taggett’s office.
“Sit down, Bob,” Taggett said.
This was the red flag.
Major Taggett, an officer, had addressed Bob by his first name. That never happened.
Bob was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1959. He put his schooling and career plans of attending George Washington University, and becoming a lawyer, on hold. A returned missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a college student at Utah State University, Bob was willing to answer a new call to serve his country.
During basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, he showed an acumen for artillery target coordinating and was shipped off to Hanau, West Germany.
Major Taggett had questions for “Bob.”
“Not only do you have a degree from Utah State, but your degree is in pre-law and economics, yes?”
“That’s correct, Major Taggett,” Bob said.
“We’d like you to register as a college student at the University of Berlin and take an economics class.”
This was the last thing Bob had expected. A reassignment, maybe, but to go back to college?
“Because of your acumen in both mapping, and targeting, and your foundation in the German language, we believe you’ll be a good candidate for an undercover mission. We want you to become a TA to the economics instructor, Professor Schmitt. Through his traveling lectures, you’ll get access to locations in East Germany.”
“As far as your parents, any of your friends, or any acquaintances you know, you are not on this mission. It does not exist.” — Major Taggett
The words stunned Bob and the next question from the major even more so: “Do you have a girlfriend, Inama?”
“No,” Bob said. He had a girlfriend before his mission, but that had ended long ago.
“You now have three girlfriends,” the major announced. “One in Los Angeles, one in Chicago, and one in New York City.” Taggett smiled then.
Bob could only stare.
“In East Germany, you’re going to plot out the ammunition targets for our country, such as government buildings, freight yards, weapon arsenals, communication towers and centers, and underground bunkers. You’ll write down the longitude and latitude of each target as the address on the envelopes you’ll send to your ‘girlfriends.’ Do you understand, Inama?”
What else could Bob do but nod?
“You’ll be issued a fake ID with the name of Peter Jones. If you’re compromised, or if you’re caught, then you will only tell them your fake name. Nothing more. Your unit will be told you’re on special assignment at the Seventh Army headquarters in Frankfurt. We’ll also have someone respond to any letters that you receive from your family. As far as your parents, any of your friends, or any acquaintances you know, you are not on this mission. It does not exist. And if the mission doesn’t exist, then you cannot fail. There will be no official record of this assignment, so if it fails, you are on your own.”
Bob’s specialized training began when he boarded a train that would take him deep into Soviet-controlled East Germany into the divided city of Berlin. The windows on the train were blacked out, and East German guards patrolled the aisles.
While studying German for a solid month, Bob grew out his hair and beard. He learned to cross the checkpoints between West Berlin and East Berlin without attracting attention. And more importantly, he was hired as Professor Schmitt’s TA.
And the spy work began.
“I thought if I was ever caught, Schmitt would help me,” Bob said in a June 2021 interview. “But that wasn’t the case.”
Bob spent long hours with Schmitt as chauffeur and assistant in the presentations. As they drove back to West Berlin one afternoon after visiting an East German city, they reached a roadblock. They weren’t anywhere close to a checkpoint, but Bob thought little of it. He stopped the car. The road was filled with tanks, military trucks, Soviet soldiers and East German soldiers.
“Aus dem Auto steigen,” the guard said. Step out of the car.
Bob tried to show his fake ID proving that he was Peter Jones on a student visa. The guard paid little attention.
Schmitt made no move to do anything, until Bob heard the fatal words from his professor: “Er ist ein amerikanischer Soldat.” He’s an American soldier.
At that moment Bob knew Schmitt had betrayed him.
Was Schmitt a double agent?
Bob would never find out.
Handcuffed and blindfolded, the last words Bob heard Schmitt say to him were, “Auf Wiedersehen, dummkopf.” Good-bye, idiot.
The next six months were spent in an East German prison cell in the basement, alone, with no running water, a bucket lowered from a hole in the ceiling to be used as a latrine, and the only light coming from the small window 15 feet above the ground.
Bob was fed once a day, a mush or stew, and a cup of coffee. He turned down the coffee and requested water, which came delivered through a slot at the bottom of the door.
Each day, without fail, Bob was taken out of the cell, up the cement stairs and into an interrogation room. Soviet officers questioned him, asking him why he was in East Germany and asking him to state his name.
Bob refused to answer their questions, but instead only gave him the fake name assigned by Taggett. “My name is Peter Jones,” Bob told them.
The first blow struck his face.
The beatings continued, every day. Bob’s only words: “My name is Peter Jones.”
Most days he’d wake up on his cold cell floor, having been beaten unconscious.
Bob didn’t see any way out. He didn’t know if he’d ever leave the East German prison. Would he see his parents again? His sister? His army friends? Would he ever see anything other than the insides of his dim, dank cell or the interrogation room?
What if this was his life now until the day he died? So, Bob began to look for the good in everything. He thanked the officers who beat him. He complimented them on their job well done. They might have been confused at first, or even laughed, but Bob persisted. He thanked Adolf for the mush that barely kept him alive. He thanked God when he woke up from his daily beatings to breathe another day.
Bob prayed constantly. He sang hymns to himself. But mostly he pondered.
He had no idea the days of the week, but finally he dared ask the guard who delivered his food and took him to his beatings. “Adolf,” he said — the nickname he’d given the guard out of humor — “What day of the week is it?” When he figured out which day was fast Sunday, Bob told Adolf that he was fasting that day, and returned the bowl of mush uneaten.
Even though Adolf wasn’t supposed to communicate with the prisoners, during their short walks to the interrogation room Bob told the man about his beliefs, his church and his life before coming to Germany. Adolf never responded, and Bob wasn’t even sure if the East German guard was listening.
One day, instead of being escorted to the interrogation room, Bob was taken outside into a courtyard. It had been months since he’d been outside, and once he adjusted to the bright light, he saw three poles in the center of the dirt yard. Guards were lined up, guns in hand.
Bob had been delivered to a firing squad.
Adolf led him to the third pole in the line and tied him to it. Two other prisoners were brought into the courtyard, as thin as Bob. Before the other two men were tied up, Adolf relocated Bob and tied him to the first pole instead.
Then bags were pulled over their heads.
Bob thought of his family — sorry that he’d never see them again in this life. He’d miss his parents, his sister, his friends at Utah State, his friends he’d met in basic training at Fort Sill, in Hanau, and in Frankfurt where he’d attended church. He thought of his Grandfather Johnson, who had died years before. Perhaps he’d be the one to greet Bob on the other side. His last thoughts before the shooting began were, I wish I could have said goodbye to my family. ... How much will this hurt?
The guns fired. There was no pain. Nothing hurt.
Then the bag was lifted off his head, and he realized he hadn’t been shot, but the other two men were dead.
Confused, and numb, Bob was led back to his cell. As he curled up on his cot, he grasped that Adolf had saved his life. By moving him to the first pole, Bob hadn’t been killed. He didn’t understand why Adolf would do such a thing, or why he’d been spared.
His last thoughts before the shooting began were, <em>I wish I could have said goodbye to my family. ... How much will this hurt?</em>
The next day, the beatings continued. Still the same questions, still the same beatings and still Bob thanked the officers.
The weeks and months passed, and the cell grew frigid with the depths of winter. Bob decided there would be no end unless something changed. Finally, beaten down and delirious, he confessed to the officers: “My name is Bob Inama. My rank is Specialist Fourth Class. My ID is 10423570.”
Six months into Bob’s imprisonment, Adolf unlocked his cell and took him to a bathroom with a shower. He was told to shower and change into the clothing stacked on the counter. He hadn’t showered in six months, and Bob felt sure this was a death sentence. Maybe they wanted him to clean up before going to the firing range again?
Instead, he was blindfolded and handcuffed, loaded into a truck, then driven to an unknown location.
In Bob’s series of interviews when asked about the location of the East German prison, he reiterated, “There are just some things I had to forget.”
Once the truck stopped, Bob was pulled out of the back, and the blindfold and handcuffs were removed. He stood in a field, and across the way idled a U.S. Army ambulance truck. Walking toward him were two other men — it was a prisoner exchange.
Bob couldn’t believe he was being released. He turned to Adolf, the East German guard who had saved his life, possibly more than once. “I love you, my brother,” Bob whispered to the man. There was no response, but Adolf had heard him.
Because of Bob’s daily beatings and resulting brain damage, he was told by doctors in Frankfurt that he’d never have the acumen to become a lawyer. Once again, Bob would have to reroute his life.
When Bob first arrived in West Germany, before Major Taggett’s assignment forever changed his life, Bob traveled by train during his first leave to a small village in the Italian Alps. There, he met relatives from his Inama side of the family for the first time. He took photos and planned to show them to his Grandfather Inama once he returned to Idaho. His grandfather in Idaho had never been close to Bob because he was upset when Bob’s father had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“If I knew the end results as I know now, I’d do it again. I really would.” — Bob Inama
Whenever Bob was around, his grandfather mostly spoke Italian and showed little affection toward his grandchildren, deliberately keeping them at a distance.
Upon returning to Idaho, Bob sought out his Grandfather Inama and showed him the pictures he’d taken in the Italian village. With tears in his eyes, Grandfather Inama embraced Bob and thanked him. This was the first time Bob had ever been hugged by his grandfather. Healing between the generations began.
Bob Inama never told his family about his experiences undercover as a spy plotting nuclear targets. He never told them about his arrest or imprisonment. Since the Cold War still raged for decades, Bob kept his undercover mission, as Taggett had advised, as if it had never happened.
But it did happen, and Bob carried the weight of it throughout the rest of his life. He agreed to a one-year teaching assignment at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, now BYU-Idaho, and soon discovered that the small-town life, the quiet living and the good people surrounding him calmed the battles inside of his head and softened the memory of the abuse and trauma suffered all those months inside cold prison walls. Bob ended up teaching political science at BYU-Idaho for more than 50 years.
In a video interview with Bob on June 30, 2021, he said, “If I knew the end results as I know now, I’d do it again. I really would.”
The outcome? A deeper compassion. A gratitude for life. A rejoicing in each and every mercy. “Come what may, and love it,” was a phrase that Bob heard from a speech by the late-Latter-day Saint Apostle Joseph B. Wirthlin. Bob realized this truly embodied how he’d tried to live his life.
Bob never learned Adolf’s real name. He never saw or spoke to the man again after that cool spring morning of the prisoner swap. But 15 years after Bob had been in Idaho, he said he received an envelope forwarded to him from the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Inside was another envelope addressed to him. No return address or name. The postage mark was from Germany.
When Bob opened the letter, tears filled his eyes.
I don’t know if this letter will reach you, but I thought I’d write to let you know that I have never forgotten you, or the man you were. I have just returned from the Swiss temple with my wife and children. We were sealed together for time and eternity.
On Aug. 9, 2021, at the age of 86, Bob Inama peacefully passed away, surrounded by his wife Diane and his loving family. When Bob agreed to be interviewed for a book about his experiences in East Germany, his family finally learned the entirety of a story he’d kept silent for 60 years.
There might have been some things that Bob Inama had to forget. Yet there were many things he didn’t forget. He didn’t forget how to make the best of a horrible experience. He didn’t forget how to pray, how to fast, how to sing, how to love his enemy and treat his fellow man with Christ-like love, whether he or she was East German, Soviet or Stasi. Bob loved with his whole heart. And he accepted many calls during his life to serve others — no matter the cost.
Editor’s note: This account, based on the life of Bob Inama, is the inspiration for the author’s forthcoming novel, “The Slow March of Light.” Names, dates, events and dialogue in this article were detailed by Bob Inama to the best of his recollections during extensive interviews with the author.
Heather B. Moore is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of more than 70 publications, including “The Paper Daughters of Chinatown.”