Taking Up The Gauntlet

Joe Masin was always reticent about telling his daughters too much about his youth, although he often released small details during bedtime readings. “Growing up,” Barbara Masin relates during a recent lunchtime conversation at CAVA on Coast Village Road, “my father really didn’t talk about what had happened to him after his escape from communist Czechoslovakia at the height of the Cold War in 1953.

“I kind of got the sense,” she says, “that [my father] wanted to bury that part of his past, that he was moving on, so I stopped asking him.

“If he was about to talk about it as a bedtime story,” Barbara continues, “my mother (Eva Masin) would say, ‘Oh, don’t tell them that story; they’ll never get to sleep.’

“She was right,” Barbara laughs.

She and her sister, Sandy, arrived in Montecito from Germany when Barbara was just 13. Joe and Eva arrived in 1977. “They loved it,” Barbara says, “and they brought my sister and me in 1978. It was not a tough sell,” she continues, “coming from Germany, the palm trees, the beach…”

Joe chose the Santa Barbara area after his retirement from his aviation business based in Germany. He had asked people from all over the world that he’d met through his business, “If you had the choice, where would you live?” and, Barbara says, “Santa Barbara came up repeatedly.” The Masins purchased the early-20th-century-era Mira Vista property on Sycamore Canyon Road in 1980 and built a Cliff May-designed ranch home on the venerable property’s former citrus orchard.

After graduating from Yale, Barbara spent a year in Germany before returning to the United States. She accepted a position with Pitney-Bowes in San Francisco where she stayed for about a year before moving back to Montecito; she now works for Joe Masin’s company, Electronic Identification Devices (EID).

Her father always insisted that she should be proud of the Masin name, as her grandfather died fighting the Nazis. All Barbara could ascertain about the murky past was detailed in a couple of yellowed copies of books, written in Czech, with pictures of her grandfather, but she couldn’t read the language at the time.

Increasingly curious about her father’s escapades, Barbara visited libraries and bookstores to try and find more about “the great escape,” but there was little to be found anywhere. She says she could find virtually nothing about Czech resistance to the Nazis until she got to Yale, where a few books written at the college level mentioned her grandfather, Josef Frantisek Masin, by name. He was, it turned out, a genuine Czech military hero, one of the “Three Kings” that had led the resistance to Nazi rule in their Czech homeland.

Barbara was in Germany in 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, and neither she nor her father could believe it happened in his lifetime. “It was unfathomable, for all of us really,” recalls Barbara. When the other governments collapsed, including Czechoslovakia’s, and poet-novelist Vaclav Havel became president, her father, upon hearing the news, was not pleased. “That son of a bitch!” he said.

“My father was not impressed with Havel,” Barbara says. “My father knew him from boarding school, and remembered that he was among the first to wear the shirt of the Communist Youth League after the communists seized power.”

After the fall, however, her father was interviewed by various television talk shows in Eastern Europe and Czechoslovakia because of his role with a group of dissenters made famous, or infamous, through a propaganda television series called “Major Zeman,” a fictitious character that had, according to the program, broken up and arrested the members of Masin’s group.

That made Barbara even more curious.

Doing the research

Barbara told a friend of hers, author Iris Chang (“Rape of Nanking”), the story during a kitchen table conversation. Iris told Barbara, “You need to write this; this is a book.” After that (Ms Chang would later commit suicide), whenever she traveled to places like Berlin, London, or Prague, Barbara would tack on a couple of extra days and visit the archives in those cities. She interviewed her uncle, Radek Masin, the other survivor, Milan Paumer, people that stayed behind, members of the group that did not escape with the Masins, other relatives, people in East Germany that had been eyewitnesses to the manhunt on both sides, and many others.

She also researched the Washington D.C. files to see what the State Department reaction was and what the CIC (precursor to the CIA) thought. She found a couple of CIC people that were in Berlin at the time, and one that had personal contact with her father just after he escaped.

The Great Escape

Barbara’s father, uncle, and several of their friends – teenagers when the communists seized power in1948 – had decided they would fight the communists rather than submit to them. Their inspiration was drawn from Joe’s father who, before he died in a Nazi prison, wrote a letter on a small piece of toilet paper and slipped it into a crack of the prison wall. The family didn’t know what had happened to him for four years, but Josef’s last written words came to light in 1946, passed to the family by an official at the prison. In it, Barbara’s grandfather had written to his children: “I do not wish for you to live as slaves in the future, rather, you should live as liberated and free citizens. Remember that the first obligation of every conscious Czech is to defend the freedom of the nation. You too must in future proceed in this way.”

“Now, this is a heavy-duty testament to his young son,” Barbara says, “written by a man who later became an iconic hero of the Czechoslovak resistance during the Second World War.”

The communist takeover, her father and his group concluded, was exactly analogous to the Nazi regime, so they decided they had been called on to do something about it.

In 1951, Radio Free Europe began broadcasting and reassured the East Europeans that they had not been forgotten, that they would be liberated. Inspired, Joe and his group began preparing for what they thought was an imminent war by attacking several police stations to acquire weapons.

Stymied, however, by increasingly restrictive legislation that reduced mobility for most citizens, the group decided they needed some real training in partisan techniques, and that they would have to get it from the Americans; for that, they needed to go west.

Their first attempt, in 1951, failed and led to prison terms for the trio, but in 1953, they tried again. At that point, the borders were closed and it was no longer possible to go directly to Germany or Austria. The only way was the 180 miles through East Germany to Berlin.

“They figured it would take three or four days walking and hitching rides on trains,” Barbara says. “That was the plan. It turned into thirty-one days, and they had to shoot their way out of encirclement six times.” Before it was over, up to twenty thousand Soviet and East German troops were in active pursuit of her father and his four companions.

“In June 1953,” she explains, “there had been an uprising in East Germany and the regime came within a hair of being toppled; the only thing that kept them in power was the Soviet tanks. When in October of the same year, five foreigners showed up at a train station and shot their way out against a superior force, they figured it was their nightmare come true, that these were foreign agents coming to instigate an uprising.”

Of the five young men, three made it to West Berlin and two were caught: one was seriously wounded and the other became separated and apprehended.

Within a year, her father learned what a high price the family had paid for their bold departure. Over 100 people were arrested; a show trial ensued and people were sentenced to death, others received 20- and 25-year jail terms. Their mother died in prison two years later.

Joe has never been back to Czechoslovakia because, according to Barbara, “the same people are in charge; they never really cleaned house and the people that committed those crimes against humanity never had to face the consequences in a court of law.” Also, of course, there is the possibility of his being arrested.

“Each year,” Barbara explains, “a motion is put forward in the Czech congress, to award the Masin brothers a medal; since the communists still control 30% of the votes, it never passes. But, both medals and promotions have been awarded to my father’s father, who has reached, posthumously, the rank of Major General (as of last year).” Josef Masin was a Lieutenant Colonel when he died in a Nazi prison.

Barbara wrote “Gauntlet” nights and weekends over the course of four years (she learned to speak and read Czech in pursuit of her father’s story), and says the finished product is a “cliffhanger in the vein of Blackhawk Down or Saving Private Ryan.” The book is published by Naval Institute Press (which published Tom Clancy’s “Hunt For Red October”).

Barbara Masin will probably be busy conducting a nationwide book-signing tour upon the book’s release, but we here at Montecito Journal eagerly await a gala book-signing at Tecolote BookShop upon her return to Montecito.

Day at the Day Fire

As our two-car convoy headed south down 101, we passed La Conchita, where a two-alarm fire was being called in on a large dark brown structure that was pouring smoke and in flames as we passed. We headed east on 126 at Ventura and up I-5 to the Castaic Lake exit, where the enormous “Day Fire City” of the bulk of some 3,400-plus firefighters are headquartered.

We are looking at what our guide, Santa Barbara County Fire Captain and Public Information Officer Keith Cullom, PIO at the Day Fire, says is a “camp in a box.” Santa Barbara City Fire Department Captain Pat McElroy explains that “contracts are pre-existing.

“You just make one phone call,” he says, “and they know what to do. They bring in the power, the Internet connections, water, food, toilet facilities, sleeping quarters, pretty much everything.”

The “El Dorado Water & Shower” company is from Placerville and offers a 24-hour-service laundry and showers. The food contractor bases meals on the firefighter working the line and contains as much as 8,000 calories a day. Lunch, for example, is a sandwich, a burrito, a bagel, juice, candy bar, granola bar, more juice, etc. Michelle’s AAA Equipment Rental Copy Shop rolls into camp in a fully equipped 18-wheeler and turns out a 60-plus-page “Day Incident” action plans twice a day, along with updated maps, phone numbers, equipment, personnel changes, weather reports, objectives, assignment lists, and other critical information. They pump out over 18,000 pages a day. Air-conditioned dorms also arrive on the back of 18-wheelers.

The nearest comparison to such a fire-base camp would be a military headquarters.

“A lot of the stuff in the fire service is stolen from other applications,” says McElroy. “We’re pulling stuff all the time,” he notes, “from the mining industry. A lot of time you’re working in polluted air and confined spaces and you’ve got to be able to function in those environments. We learn what works best in those fields and adapt it to our use.”

Just outside, off the premises, “Day Fire” tee shirts are available, created and put up for sale by entrepreneurial camp followers.

Oil pipelines in the fire perimeter, it turns out, are crucial resources that need protection. Due to slides in the area (the pipelines run along I-5) some of those pipes, which would normally be underground, are exposed and above ground.

What’s unique about this fire – that has consumed over 200 square miles so far – is that it is a major wilderness fire burning next to one of the largest urban populations on earth. “We have guys out there running into mountain lions and bears, condors, and all that,” McElroy says.

Captain Cullom arranged this guided tour, which took place on Thursday, September 21, for members of the Santa Barbara County Firefighters Alliance, which had recently purchased 20 sleeping tents for firefighting personnel.

Deputy Chief Carlton Joseph says they are preparing for Santa Ana winds expected to blow at up to 70 miles per hour during upcoming weekend. “Wind-driven fire events dictate that you fall back and put yourself in a safe position and fight it from the flanks. Anchor it and work towards the head,” he explains.

Hand-line crews go to work ahead of the event to rob the fire of its fuel by cutting brush and scraping the ground. “Air attack alone generally does not stop fires,” Captain Joseph says, adding that, “generally, you need to have people on the ground to put the fire out.”

And, that’s where Santa Barbara County firefighters, including some from Montecito, come in.

The CASA Golf Tourney

The 11th Annual CASA Golf Tournament, sponsored by Cox Business Services and Wine Cask, and held at Sandpiper on Monday, September 18, was among the most pleasurable and organized events I’ve ever attended or been party to. Sign-ins went swiftly and smoothly; the “Happy Gilmore” putting contest (with a plastic hockey stick) was a hoot; there were plenty of free offerings on a multitude of holes, “manned” by long-legged, short-skirted, smiling volunteers. Those offerings included everything from massages and flavored vodka to proxy drivers and sample Callaway golf balls. A hole in one at the 18th was good for $10,000 and a brand-new automobile (nobody won that); at other par-3s prizes were offered for closest to the pin and for holes in one.

The format was a no-pressure Texas Scramble; all players hit from the position of the previous best shot. Birdies were abundant; eagles on the par-5s possible. Organizers promised that “everyone’s a winner at the CASA golf tournament,” and they were right. The tournament began at 1 pm in perfect golf weather: temperature hovered around the mid-70s and a slight breeze vanquished what little perspiration arose.

There are 42 CASA branches (Court Appointed Special Advocates) across the state of California. The organization was founded in 1973 by a Juvenile Court judge who saw that children were often becoming lost in the system. “By having somebody there that was just there for them,” Santa Barbara CASA Executive Director Maria Long explains, “could really help turn a corner in that child’s life. The judge knows the rules,” she says, “the social worker knows the family, and the CASA knows the child. That’s why CASA is such an important aspect of foster children’s lives,” she concludes.

Don and Barbara Margerum (their son, Doug Margerum, owner of Wine Cask and Intermezzo, was among the golfers that turned out today) were honored by CASA at the dinner that followed. Emcee Matt McAllister of KTYD honored the Margerums and Christopher Kelly for his dedication in organizing this annual event.

Maria Long credits Barbara Margerum for finally bringing CASA to Santa Barbara. “It was really her brainstorm to begin CASA in Santa Barbara,” Maria says, adding that “her entire family rallied around her and made CASA a reality.”

Barbara recalls that when they first began they operated under the umbrella of Klein Bottle Social Advocates for Youth, thanks to David Edelman. “He took us under his wing,” she says, “until we became an organization on our own.”

There had been an effort to get a CASA started in Santa Barbara County for a number of years but, according to Barbara, “We could never get a Juvenile Court judge to sign on until Judge Tom Adams, who said ‘Yes, we do need a CASA in our juvenile court system.’ He was a hero for doing that,” she says.

“I was interested in children, obviously,” says Barbara when asked what the impetus was that got her involved. “I knew that foster children had the most unrecognized needs in the whole community. People did not know that these children – even though they were in court – were guiltless children that needed someone to advocate one-on-one for them.”

Barbara says too that “CASA is unique among organizations in that the bulk of the work is really done by trained volunteers.”

Honoree Christopher Kelly was a longtime bartender with the Wine Cask (he no longer works there). “He made the best Manhattans in the world,” Barbara boasts. Chris has been and remains a principal organizer of this annual golf tournament. “He deserves a lot of credit,” suggests Don Margerum.

Barbara says her son, Doug, also deserves much credit, as he’s “made this a success year after year and has contributed a great deal of money to the organization.”

More than 120 golfers signed up for the $250-per-person event, for which Maria says she “just learned what a ‘Mulligan’ is two months ago.”

To learn more, call CASA at 805-879-1730 or e-mail: mj@sbcasa.org.

The Fred Couples Connection

If you are a golfer, here is one upcoming golf tournament you may want to participate in. It’s scheduled for Monday October 9, also at Sandpiper, and this fifth annual event is being held to raise money for two separate causes: St. Vincent’s PATHS (Program for Affordable Transitional Housing & Services), which treats single women with children moving from welfare to work or from low-paying jobs to careers. Most of the women are working and taking care of their children at the same time. The other program is St. Vincent’s Casa Alegria Children’s Center, the child-care program that is open to both women from PATHS and the general public (the center is licensed for 46 children from infants to pre-school).

The highlight of the tournament is its host, Masters champ Fred Couples, who has been an integral part of it since its inception four years ago. The price is steep ($750 per person), but it is nearly sold out, although Sister Paul of St. Vincent’s says they may have room for “one or two more foursomes or corporate sponsors.”

“We are so blessed to have him,” says Sister Paul of Fred Couples during a short telephone conversation. “He just comes and has a great time,” she says. Couples will conduct a golf clinic beginning at 10 am; the shotgun start is 11:30 am. The great thing about him, says Sister Paul, is that he is completely committed to the tournament and stays the entire day and gives out the awards at the dinner. “Usually,” Sister Paul adds, “people pay extra to play with him, but this year, he will stay on the par-three eleventh hole.” She wasn’t sure whether he would be hitting a ball for any players (for an extra donation?) or will simply greet all the golfers, but promised that Couples would be an intimate part of the entire proceedings.

Individuals and/or potential corporate sponsors should call 805-683-6381 ext. 107 or 127.