Nebraska, Grandpa & the Bulgarian Crown Jewels (as told to Nana in letters)
It all started one weekend in Bulgaria during World War II, when Grandpa was stationed at Army Headquarters in Bulgaria.
November 14, 1944
Three days ago a radio came in from General Eaker’s headquarters in Italy, stating that Trubee (Grandpa’s friend) was there visiting and that a B-25 plane was being sent to bring me to Italy for three days to see him. The weather has been bad until today, so the plane was delayed. However at noon it did arrive, and I was all packed ready to hop in. I am stopping overnight at the halfway mark in southern Italy and will continue on my way early tomorrow morning.
Our General in Bulgaria radioed back that he could only spare me for three days and to be sure and return me, but one never knows in the Army. However I feel sure that I will go back, which is what I want to do, as the work is fascinating and I am happy there. I appreciated the General’s thoughts in his radio message.
November 17, 1944
Well, here I am, back in my office in Italy, after having had a very nice visit with Trubee. I met him at the airport and we spent the afternoon together and then went to an official dinner given by General Eaker that night for all the big shots of the theater. He left for home yesterday.
(and now temporarily back to Bulgaria)
Here is a story for the book and I know you will laugh and say that Mac really does get around even in Bulgaria. As I was waiting at the airport for my plane from Italy, a very attractive Bulgarian Major whom I had known quite well hurried up in a large staff car and ran over to ask me if I could do a great favor for the Bulgarian nation. He then told me that the Queen of Bulgaria (widowed by the assassination of King Boris by the Germans three years ago) had not heard from her mother or father for three years. Her mother and father are the King and Queen of Italy.
I wangled and finagled until the I got to the ear of the Grand High Keeper of the villa where the King and Queen live and yesterday I spent three hours alone with them at the most beautiful spot I have ever seen in my life. How I got to them is a long story and I will tell you later, but the interesting thing is that I had a meeting and the old man, who speaks pretty good English, together with his wife cried and wept and gave me written messages and all sorts of family tidbits and would hardly let me go.
My next problem when I got back to Bulgaria was to break through the tough Russian guard and to personally see the Queen and the little Prince. I almost rocked back on my heels when the Queen came in as she looked so much like my wife Jean’s mother that it was startling. If I can get through to the Queen, I expect I might be able to run for some high position in Bulgaria at the next election.
November 22, 1944
I finished my work in Italy and left at 9 a.m. in a B-25 for Bulgaria once again. We had a beautiful trip and the weather was clear as crystal. We skimmed the Yugo-Slav mountaintops with the peasant shepherds waving to us. I brought in with me the new American Minister, Mr. Barnes who is to represent the U. S. in this country.
November 23, 1944
Thanksgiving: We have just had a typical American Thanksgiving dinner to which we invited a number of our Bulgarian and Russian official friends. We had turkey, stuffing, vegetables and believe it or not—pumpkin pie. We found a cook who had worked in the US and he took a Bulgarian squash to do the trick, much to the surprise of the local townspeople. I gave a speech explaining the significance of Thanksgiving which was translated into Bulgarian and Russian.
November 28, 1944
Meeting the Bulgarian Queen: I came back to Bulgaria laden with presents and letters. My problem then was to get to the Queen here. I first contacted the Foreign Minister to ask permission. He was very agreeable on the surface, and gave his consent, only after the unusual protocol was gone through. Then I waited and waited, and nothing happened. Finally I sent word to the Queen that I would come without the consent of the Bulgarians and Russians if she could get me through. You see she is a virtual prisoner of the new Communist Bulgarian Regime and the Russians.
She sent word to me that she was very anxious to see me and would have everything arranged for the meeting at 8 p.m. at the small summer palace where she and her children are kept. Everything went well and I was ushered into a small but very elegant sitting room where she and her two children were sitting, going over their lessons. She is about 36 years of age, not at all pretty but very sweet and gracious. The little King is a fine, handsome boy of 8, and his sister is 12. She eagerly took the letters to read and the children went for the presents. It was like Christmas for them and I got a great thrill out of it. She speaks English very well, and the children a little.
After the letters she started to talk and went on for an hour covering the following subjects: she had not heard from any member of her family for over 11/2 years until these letters; what a fine man her husband was and if he had lived Bulgaria would have been with the Allies; her only desire was to be left alone, to raise her children safely as civilians and to forget all about royalty. I was very much impressed that the children and by her. She is living on a powder key and any moment she and her fine little boy might be sent to Russia. She cried a little every now and then when she spoke of her mother and father.
November 28, 1944
The Queen and Grampa Short Snort with the Prince and Princess! You know the ‘Short Snorter’ fad in the Air Corps. (American pilots were well known for their pleasure in signing paper bills, dollars, sort of like a ritual as a way of conveying good luck to the money’s recipient.) I am enclosing a Bulgarian paper $2 ½ dollar bill with the little King’s picture on it. He signed above his picture in Bulgarian “Semaon II”, the Queen in the lower right “Yoana” and the Princess “Marie Louis”. They all laugher when I explained the “Short Snorter” idea and went for it in a big way.
Tea with the Queen, and a Secret Mission: Since then I have seen the queen on the average of twice a week for afternoon tea. She likes visitors and the Americans were allowed to go through the Russian guards at any time, which is not true of many other people.
Two days before I left, she asked me to come to see her. This time she gave me a royal blue patent-leather case about two feet long, one and a half feet wide and six inches deep. It was very heavy and I lifted it with a little difficulty. She told me that she had to trust someone, and that she thought she could trust me and that the contents belonged to her husband, the dead King, and herself. She asked me to deliver this personally to her brother, Prince Umberto, who is the Regent holding the power for the people in this country today.
At the airport, the Russians looked at all our baggage, but I was able to get by with this little case and brought it safely here. I then sent word to the Prince that I had a package for him; within a few days, I received a message to come to Rome. I arrived at the Palace and was met by three aides and was ushered up through the Palace, passing a large group of distinguished looking Italian officials who were waiting to see HRH. I was taken right in and had a very pleasant visit. He first asked about the Queen’s personal safety, then her happiness, and then about the children. We talked for a half hour and I gave him the leather case. He was surprised and opened it there before me. In it was all her beautiful jewelry, consisting of necklaces, rings, pins, a gold toilet set with emeralds and other things. This was a fortune that I had been carrying around with me for two weeks. I then had lunch with him and left the palace about two o’clock with his many thanks and an invitation to always visit him if I came to Rome.
The next day I took the picturesque and beautiful drive along the seacoast from Sorrento through Amalfi, to Salerno to see the King and Queen. This was a repetition of the visit to the Prince. I spent two hours alone with them, giving them all the information I could about their daughter.
The weather has turned very cold but I am comfortable in my little room with my gasoline stove. The Red Cross hut is only a block away and I spend most of my evenings there, at the movies, reading and talking.
February 28, 1945
This was a big week for Lt. Col. H. H. Baldrige and here is the story. They lined up the troops with a band, parade and all the trimmings and pinned the Bronze Star on my chest. The citation read “for meritorious achievement in the performance of his duties in Bulgaria. His determination and enthusiasm earned the respect of all and reflected great credit upon himself and the Army Air Force” This decoration is given for heroic or meritorious achievement in action or support of action and is a junior type of the Legion of Honor.
Next day came a decoration from the Bulgarian Government in shape of a beautiful medallion worn on the right breast pocket. It is silver and red enamel about 2 and 1/2 “ long and 1” wide and oval shaped. It is the Royal Order of Aviation for Bulgarians and the citation reads “for outstanding service to the Bulgarian Government in difficult liaison work with the Russian Army.”
Next day I was called to Rome and at 11 o’clock AM at the Royal Fellow, his nibs, H.R.H. Prince Umberto pinned a beautiful Italian decoration on my chest “for valuable help to the Italian Government in a secret confidential mission in the Balkans.” My chest now looks like a plate of fruit salad. All through these ceremonies I felt a little ashamed because both the boys (sons Mac and Bob who had also enlisted in the Army) have more in their little finger than I do in my entire 220 lbs to deserve any decorations.
I am leaving tomorrow for Paris and will try to get up to see (son) Bob. The 9th is on the move but I will get thru some way, somehow. What a reunion it should be.
This is the last of the Royalty story and besides there “ain’t gonna be no more Kings or Queens.” In my opinion, the Baldrige family is much more interesting. It was an interesting experience that I enjoyed, however.
Naples, February 12th, 1945
Letter to the Italian government (giving Grandpa permission to see the King of Italy).
Illustrious and dear Excellence,
In confirming my telephone call of this afternoon, I have the honour of introducing Lt. Col. Howard M. Baldrige, who is coming to you to be received in audience by H.R.H. the Lieutenant Generale of the Realm, to whom as I have hinted, he must deliver letters and other things which are of interest to HRH.
I have informed him that the audience has been fixed for noon on Wednesday, the 14th instant.
I hope that you have received my precious letter to which I expect your kind reply.
With most cordial salutations, trusting to see you soon again.
His Excellence the Lt .Gen Adolfo Infante
First Aide de Camp General to H.R.H.
The Lieutenant General of the Kingdom
Quirinal e Palce