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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
At the palace we ate regularly at the junior mess. The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that there was always vodka on the tables at breakfast . The Russians liked it that way. After a congenial conference with General Garlinski and the two restaurant chefs, we ordained that never, but never, would they serve carafes of vodka at breakfast. For lunch, wine was approved. For dinner, vodka, wine, and liqueurs were acceptable. The order was taken very seriously. Later, on the morning of the final departure of the conferees from Yalta, we found one of our senior officers in the kitchen arguing with the waiter and the chef. He was demanding vodka with his breakfast, but he didn’t get it.
On Thursday, the first of February, two days before the main arrivals, Captain Alien came to me with word that my friend Chuvakin had pushed the panic button. We hurried to General Garlinski’s office, where Chuvakin was insisting that all of us and all the very important people expected to arrive must be supplied with special Soviet passes, instead of the ones issued by our own government. I thought he had gone crazy and refused to submit to his demands. I told him that only the U.S. and British staffs would determine who could be part of their staffs, and that he, Chuvakin, had no say in the matter whatsoever. General Garlinski sat smiling and enjoyed the entire tirade. When I introduced Mr. Molotov’s name into the heated argument, Chuvakin again grudgingly conceded. When he left, General Garlinski shook my hand, took me by the elbow, and said, “Come! Let’s have a drink to that!” I suspect that not many people really like a commissar.
On Friday, February 2, General Garlinski, Captain Alien, and I inspected the entire setup and agreed it was the best we could do. Various planes bearing subordinate staff members were now arriving at Saki. And the principals were due to arrive on Saturday, the third.
President Roosevelt’s party arrived at the palace much impressed by the drive from the airport; Soviet soldiers had been stationed every few hundred yards along the entire route. Many of them were young girls.
A few military personnel, not knowing what to expect, arrived with sleeping bags and knapsacks filled with field rations. By evening, everyone was oriented and ready for the Sunday conference to begin.
At ten o’clock Sunday morning the Joint Chiefs of Staff met in preliminary conference. Mr. Stalin called on President Roosevelt at 4 P.M. And at 5 P.M. the First Plenary Session was begun.
For the next eight days there were at least four meetings a day, including special luncheon meetings for top-level groups preceding the daily plenary session in the afternoon.
Only one hitch occurred during the eight days of meetings. On the third day, about 2 P.M. , Captain Alien and a Soviet secret-service officer came to me to say that General Ivanov wanted a certain American Air Force major removed from the conference within the hour. It seems that the major was of czarist Russian descent, spoke the language fluently, and had been circulating and talking to various Russian officers. The Soviet secret-service man would not discuss what had been talked about, but said that if the major was not removed within the hour, he would be taken into custody. Our senior Air Force officer was General Laurence S. Kuter, but he was in conference and would remain there for hours. I took it upon myself to order Captain Alien to put the major in a car immediately and send him to Saki airport, where he was to board the first plane out for his own safety. The American officer did not remonstrate. But I never succeeded in convincing General Kuter that I had the authority to order one of his staff out.
The following Sunday, the eighth and last of the plenary sessions was held at noon and preparations were made for the departures on Monday. President Roosevelt desired to spend the last night on board the Catoctin at Sevastopol so as to have a shorter drive to the airport next morning. As soon as we had everyone on their way Monday, I proceeded to Saki with Ambassador Harriman and General Deane to witness the impressive departure ceremonies for the President and Mr. Churchill. Mr. Harriman and General Deane flew on to Moscow, while I returned to Livadia with Alien and Chase for two days of closing up.
The Catoctin crew cleaned out all of their equipment in a hurry, except for 240 cases of beer that I had purchased from the supply officer to be shipped to Moscow. Russian beer, at a dollar a bottle, was a heavy, malt-tasting brew. I knew the good American beer would be eagerly received by the Moscow staff.