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Full House At Yalta
Vodka at breakfast was only one of the minor problems when Russians entertained Americans
June 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 4
In the second building, the first and second floors would be divided to handle all the office and working spaces, supply, sténo pool, a conference area, a dining room, kitchens, and even a barbershop. Counting on the third floor being prepared, we planned to bunk all the junior officers six to twelve to a room, plus the President’s security group and the Soviet security group consisting of Mr. Chuvakin and friends. We simply had to have those third floors.
A few days later when I showed Mr. Chuvakin his room assignment, he informed me that he would occupy one of the rooms next to the President’s bedroom, for security reasons. He was so insistent on this that I was forced to give him a very frank opinion of his audacity. He was told that if he had any further objections to my assignments, I would ask my ambassador to request that Mr. Molotov withdraw him. He quickly changed his plans.
Each morning, I went with General Garlinski for a tour of inspection covering every room in the three buildings. We noted the furniture and equipment on hand, and what more was needed. The general’s secretary listed everything we suggested, and that afternoon trucks with working parties took off to collect what they could from the area. I often wondered what kind of receipts they gave the owners, and how much of the furnishings ever reached home again. By morning the trucks were back, and their contents were distributed in time for our next inspection. It was quite unbelievable.
On Sunday, January 21, I made a quick trip to Sevastopol in order to check up on docks and mooring for the six American ships expected there in three or four days. The cliffhanging road to Sevastopol must be one of the most winding in the world. In the fifty miles, there were said to be over nine hundred sharp turns, and we did not doubt it. At times you could look down on the reverse the badly battered city of Sevastopol.
After lunch with Admiral Bassisty, chief of staff of the Black Sea Fleet, we boarded a speed launch and made a tour of the harbor to have a look at the docks, tugs, and barges available to transport equipment from our ships to Yalta.
We returned to our cottage in Yalta about 6:15, cleaned up for a good dinner, and settled down to a night of decoding messages from Moscow that we had picked up in Sevastopol. We discovered that the size of the U.S. party had arrown to 260—everybody was hopping on the bandwagon. The State Department said it would expect us to provide the administrative staff for the conference, “drawn from our Moscow personnel.” There were only the four of us! An advance party of the President’s liaison and security people would fly in at any time, and no housing or messing facilities were yet ready for them. Ambassador Harriman, his daughter Kathy, and several assistants would arrive about Thursday. Perhaps the Lord would help us!
Monday, January 22, was a very busy day. We still had had no opportunity to enjoy a regular bath, and I announced to Chuvakin that this was getting to be ridiculous as well as uncomfortable and unpleasant. So arrangements were made for us to visit a Red navy officers’ rest home in Yalta for a good hot shower about six that evening. We were in the car and about to depart for our bath when Chuvakin came running out. He had just been informed by telephone that the President’s advance party had left Saki airport earlier that afternoon and was expected in five or ten minutes. We cussed loudly and freely, and returned to wait. General Garlinski was informed, and arrangements were made for the party to proceed direct to Livadia, where, he assured us, he would have bed and board ready for them. Only Mike Reilly, the White House Secret Service chief, and Colonel Lowry, the Joint Chiefs of Staff liaison chief, were to stay the night in the cottage with us. The party arrived at the house quite a bit late, of course, and Chuvakin ushered them directly to my room before I even knew they were there. Seventeen unshaven, weary-looking men! I suggested that we would like to have all except Reilly and Lowry go directly to Livadia, where drinks, food, and bedding were set up and awaiting them.
But my friend Chuvakin spoke up and said No, he had arranged for them to eat here and now! I argued with him that the palace was ready, and that this place was not capable of feeding more than twelve persons at a time.
But Chuvakin insisted all would be ready in fifteen minutes. I asked to phone the palace, but he insisted the phone was out of order. So I told everyone to relax and use my room for a drink and to freshen up as best they could. After ten minutes we were informed that food would not be ready for another half hour. So we sat while I plied Reilly and Lowry with questions about who was coming, how, and when. In forty-five minutes the setting for the first twelve persons was ready, including Chuvakin, of course. Reilly was in an easy mood, but I warned him about Chuvakin and his endless vodka toasts. Halfway through dinner Chuvakin received a phone call from General Garlinski asking where we were and why we were not at the palace. Chuvakin did not tell us this until we were having dessert, when he announced that as soon as we finished we would all go to the palace.