Should you bumped into Frank Meehan strolling alongside the banks of the Clyde estuary close to his dwelling in Helensburgh, you would not discover a lot that was outstanding about him. He seems to be like another pensioner having fun with a peaceable retirement.
However, now in his 10th decade, Frank can look again on a life spent on the coronary heart of a number of the most dramatic moments within the 40-year nuclear stand-off between the Soviet Union and the West.
Frank grew up in Clydebank, a city about eight miles west of Glasgow, well-known for shipbuilding.
However he spent 4 a long time as a US diplomat dwelling, nearly completely, behind the Iron Curtain in Communist Jap Europe.
As a young person he survived the Clydebank Blitz, an aerial bombardment by the Luftwaffe throughout World Conflict Two, which killed 500 and destroyed hundreds of properties.
“There was a foul assault on the shipyards in March 1941,” he instructed me.
“I used to be 17. We had been in a shelter and the bombing began fairly far-off however you may hear them getting nearer. The home subsequent door bought incendiary bombed and was destroyed.
“I labored clearing the rubble of homes that had been burned. I carried a bricklayer’s hod. I used to be not a lot good at that. Possibly that is what made me consider the Overseas Service”.
The occasion that modified the course of his life was his call-up.
Frank had been born, in 1924, in america, throughout a short interval when his Scottish mother and father had been dwelling there.
This made him a US citizen, and in 1945 he was drafted for navy service. As a younger GI he was posted to occupied Germany.
Frank had a level from Glasgow College and was already a fluent German speaker.
On a whim, he utilized to hitch the US State Division as a diplomat – and bought in. He turned fascinated by Russia.
“I feel when you get the Russia bug you by no means lose it,” he stated.
“It is the unknown that lures you whenever you’re younger, ?
“I simply thought ‘what is that this world?’
“‘Who’re these individuals who had nearly collapsed underneath German assault after which fought their manner from Stalingrad to Berlin?’ I needed to know.”
So Frank discovered Russian too – and it turned a lifelong ardour.
He was based mostly on the Moscow embassy in 1960 when Soviet forces shot down a high secret US spy aircraft and captured its pilot Gary Powers.
The US formally denied the existence of the so-called U2 spy programme. However the Soviets now had the proof.
Powers was placed on trial and given a protracted jail sentence. The wreck of his aircraft was placed on public show.
Frank was despatched by the US ambassador to go and have a look.
“I used to be fairly tense,” he stated.
“I believed there could be some type of manufactured incident. However I went to the pinnacle of the lengthy line of individuals ready to view it and the Russian guard checked out my move and grinned and stated, in Russian, ‘Be my visitor! It is your aircraft in spite of everything!'”
Two years later, Frank was again in Berlin.
Moscow had provided to swap Gary Powers for a Soviet agent known as Rudolf Abel, who’d been caught spying in Brooklyn.
They requested for the discharge of a younger American pupil known as Frederic Pryor as a part of the deal.
Pryor had been finding out in East Germany and had been arrested by the Communist regime there and accused of espionage. Pryor now turned Frank’s duty.
That is the incident that was dramatised by Steven Spielberg within the 2015 movie Bridge of Spies, starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, as Abel.
“The swap [of Powers and Abel] was to happen on Glienicke Bridge,” stated Frank.
Frederic Pryor could be handed over at Checkpoint Charlie within the centre of Berlin.
“There have been tense moments clearly,” Frank stated.
“After I was strolling over [into East Berlin], I did not know the way the child, Frederic Pryor, could be.
“He’d been in jail. I did not know whether or not he’d be nicely, whether or not we might get him out, whether or not I might be capable to get out myself.”
Frank discovered Pryor sitting in a automobile with an East German intelligence agent known as Wolfgang Vogel, whom Frank knew. The 2 would grow to be lifelong buddies.
Frank remembers: “Vogel stated ‘Frank we’re not prepared. Get within the automobile and wait’.
“He was ready for phrase from the bridge that the Powers-Abel swap had taken place.
“We had been within the automobile ready. I used to be getting an increasing number of nervous.
“The automobile was surrounded by a gaggle of East German goons, safety individuals.
“Ultimately one in every of them came visiting to me and stated ‘It is OK’. And Vogel stated ‘Frank – you possibly can go’.”
Frank walked Frederic Pryor the few dozen yards that separated east from west Berlin – and from captivity to freedom.
Had he seen the movie, Bridge of Spies?, I requested.
“Oh sure it is superb. As you’d anticipate.”
Is it correct? A wry diplomatic smile. “Oh sure. Principally.”
Frank turned US ambassador in Czechoslovakia after which, in 1980, in Poland.
His arrival in Warsaw coincided with the beginning of Solidarity, the democracy motion that had emerged from protests and strikes by employees on the Gdansk shipyard.
The motion’s chief, a shipyard electrician known as Lech Walesa would grow to be one of many nice figures of 20th Century European historical past. Within the early 80s he was a dinner visitor at Frank Meehan’s desk.
Frank stated: “Walesa was very good. Politically very intelligent. Average, too, and cautious.
“He needed to cope with militants in his personal motion and he needed to attempt to management them in order that they did not push issues too far too shortly. He was superb at that. I used to be impressed.”
Luck wasn’t on Frank’s aspect. He was on a working go to to Washington DC when, within the winter of 1981, the Polish Military declared martial legislation and seized energy.
Frank’s bosses on the State Division needed him again in Warsaw instantly. However the coup leaders had sealed the borders.
He laughs about it now however on the time it was no laughing matter.
“If there’s going to be a revolution in Jap Europe and you are the ambassador, you’d higher be within the nation,” he stated.
“I used to be instructed to get again in shortly.
“I flew to Berlin and travelled overland to the East German-Polish border. The embassy despatched a van for me. Travelling again [after the coup] was unhappy. All the things had modified.”
We glance again now and see that second as the start of the tip for Communism in Europe. However it did not appear so to those that, like Frank, lived by way of it.
He stated: “It is one of many nice mysteries as I look again on it and alone work.
“I nonetheless have problem understanding precisely what occurred to the Russians – why they determined to pack in and depart Jap Europe. It is to me an inexplicable choice”.
However it’s a choice that also shapes our world.
Frank Meehan is as engaged now with world affairs as he ever was. He has by no means shaken off his Russia bug.
“What strikes me about Russia immediately is the large sense of loss they’ve – of energy and place,” he stated.
“That explains Putin’s maintain over them. However Putin cannot final ceaselessly. The extra I have a look at Russia immediately the extra I am reminded of the final days of the Czars, Russia between 1900 and 1917.”
And I requested him about his uncommon twin id.
Does he really feel Scottish or American?
“Oh no I am an American. I like Scotland and I got here again to retire right here as a result of it is what my spouse needed.”
His spouse Margaret died two years in the past.
He instructed me: “Once we got here right here, we labored out that this was our 23rd dwelling since we had been married.
“Whenever you’ve dragged your spouse round Jap Europe for all that point, you owe her one thing.
“However I miss America. I might like to be in Washington now watching what is going on on there up shut.”
Scotland’s Chilly Warrior will likely be proven on BBC One Scotland on Monday three April at 19:30.