Thanks for the ‘heads up’ from Ted Vestal (PC Staff /Ethiopia 1964-66)
Herm writes —
I thought readers might be interested in who I am and something about why I write.
Much of my working life was with the US Government spending time in Germany with the Army in the ’50s, when Cold War tension was at its peak. I was one of the many young college graduates unable to find a job and chose to enlist for two years. It was a fortunate choice that gave enlistees a view of the world outside America, and believe it or not, $100 a month “spending money” that was more than most of us ever had. As to Cold War tension, it was easily dispelled by 5 cent bottles of Beck’s beer at the PX, and nights out in Butzbach, where we were stationed. We had a chance to travel all over Europe, and the inconveniences of “army life” were overrated, particularly for the farm boys like myself. Toughest to take for me was the “yes sir, no sir” culture administered by people who seemed just like me except for the stripes and bars they wore.
The military life today with real volunteers is a different one, although I suspect that volunteering today is much like the volunteering in my day, where there are few choices for the farm boys and others looking for a future.
After serving in Europe, I worked at various jobs in the Government, and one outside of it over the next twenty-five years. Looking back, the highlight of my career after the military was service with the Peace Corps staff during its early years, first in Washington then in Ethiopia. The Peace Corps Volunteers, as many know, were to be agents of change. It was, but more for the volunteers than for the countries in which they served. That is, of course, an oversimplification but there is no doubt that thousands of men and women were changed, and I think for the better.
I need to clarify something about my Peace Corps service. I was not a volunteer, I left that to far more noble persons than I. In Washington, I was the Executive Officer of the Peace Corps Medical Program, and in Ethiopia I was the guy who managed the money and did all the administrative things the almost 600 volunteers in over a hundred remote areas needed. It was a great job.
About the novel The Black Lion and the Crocodile
The three thousand year dynasty is in its death throes. Haile Selassie, King of Kings, Lion of Judah’s five decade reign is over. In his place, restless and ambitious officers of the Ethiopian army. They call themselves the Derg.
Age old enmities between tribes and between princes and peasants burst to the surface and civil war rocks the country. The family of Tekle Melikot, part of the royalty that has served Ethiopia’s emperors for four generations is in danger.
Caught as well in the chaos are Peace Corps Volunteers, among them a dairy farmer from Wisconsin, Wolfgang Steinbach — Ethiopians and Volunteers alike call him Wolfie. A decorated veteran of the Korean War, Wolfie is determined to steer clear of the civil war. When one of his students is killed by the Nebalbah, he knows he cannot.
Determined to find one final scoop, Baltimore Sun reporter Solomon Clausen travels to Ethiopia to find Wolfgang Steinbach, fighting with rebel Tigrays against the Derg. Clausen, Ethiopian by birth, was adopted by journalist Tom Clausen as a boy when his family was killed. In poor health, without the support of his paper, he travels by horseback into the mountains to find Wolfie Steinbach and his story.