American POW endured daily beatings for being a spy. Now his story is being told. - East Idaho News

American POW endured daily beatings for being a spy. Now his story is being told.

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Bob Inama was drafted by the U.S. military in 1959 and worked as a secret agent in Germany during the Cold War. He was held captive at an East German prison for six months and severely beaten daily. His story is being told in a new book called, “The Slow March of Light.” Watch him tell it in his own words in the video player above. | Inama photo courtesy Diane Inama

IDAHO FALLS — As Bob Inama walked to his mailbox in December 1959, he was surprised to learn there was a letter for him from the President of the United States.

Inama, an Idaho Falls native, was a student at Utah State University at the time and had just finished an internship with the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C. During a June interview with author Heather Moore, Inama said he initially thought the President was writing to congratulate him.

“I walked back to my apartment, opened the letter and it stated, ‘Greetings from the President of the United States and your friends and neighbors.’ I realized I had just been drafted,” Inama said.

It was the height of the Cold War and political tensions were high between the United States and the former Soviet Union and its allies. Inama had been planning to attend law school at George Washington University in hopes of becoming a lawyer, but that would have to wait now.

In August 1960, a year before the Berlin Wall went up, Inama was assigned to a U.S. military base in Hanau in West Germany. After several months, Inama was called into Major Taggett’s office.

When he walked in, Taggett pulled out Inama’s college transcript and observed that he had graduated in government and economics and spoke some German. Despite the two years of German language courses he’d taken, Inama said he had a hard time speaking it.

As the conversation continued, Inama was shocked to learn he was being assigned a top-secret mission as a spy.

“Bob,” the major said, according to Inama. “We want you to go to the University of Berlin, do well there and become a T.A. to Professor Schmidt.”

Professor Schmidt often traveled into East Germany, which was enemy territory. By becoming acquainted with Schmidt, Inama would be able to travel with him and take pictures of military targets. His job was to locate these military sites and send the coordinates to his superiors disguised as a letter to a girlfriend.

Over the next nine months, Inama became Professor Schmidt’s driver and would accompany him to lectures and presentations in East Germany. One day, Inama and the professor were on their way back to Berlin. A group of people put up a roadblock and ordered Inama out of the car.

“I was blindfolded, handcuffed and told to get into another car,” said Inama. “As I walked by Schmidt, he said, ‘Auf wiedersehen, dummkopf,’ which means, ‘Goodbye, fool.’ I realized then that Professor Schmidt was a double agent.”

‘You’re really good at this’

german prison
Author Heather Moore says Inama didn’t remember the name or location of the prison where he was held, but it may have looked similar to the photo above. This is a long corridor in the former Stasi prison in east Berlin. | Courtesy

From there, Inama was taken to the basement of a prison and locked in a cold cell.

“About once a day, a guard would come and take me upstairs,” Inama recalls. “There were … some very large east German soldiers up there. They started to ask (me) questions and being in the army, you just give your rank, name and serial number. That was it. That didn’t please those guards so they started to beat me.”

Between the fall of 1961 and the spring of 1962, he was severely beaten every day. Inama says he’d typically pass out and he’d wake up on the floor in his cell. It became such a part of the routine and Inama knew there was no way to get out of it, so he just embraced it.

“When they took me upstairs to be questioned and I got beat up, I’d congratulate the guy that was doing the beating. I said, ‘Boy, you’re really good at this,'” Inama said.

Consistent prayer and faith in Christ helped Inama get through this difficult period. He’d pass the time by thinking about his family and the good times that he’d had. He’d sing songs he learned in church to keep his mind active and he’d do pushups and other exercises for something to do.

‘Is this going to hurt?’

After enduring this for six months, Inama remembers a guard telling him to come with him. They walked outside with two other prisoners and some armed guards. It was the first time Inama had been outside in several months and it took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the light.

He remembers seeing a cement wall and in front of it were six-foot-high posts in the ground.

“I realized right then, we’re probably going to be executed. Silly things went through my mind, like, Is this going to hurt?” Inama recalled. “I wondered who would be waiting for me on the other side (when I was dead).”

Guards tied his head and hands to a pole and put a hood over his head. He heard the words, “Ready, aim, fire.” He heard shots, but Inama didn’t feel anything.

“An officer came and took the hoods off of us. I noticed that (the other two prisoners) were dead. I was not shot. I have no knowledge today why that didn’t take place,” Inama says. “He shot the other two in the head to make sure they were dead.”

Inama was eventually rescued by his comrades in the U.S. military. He spent the next month at a hospital in Frankfurt recovering before eventually being discharged from the army. He never made it to law school but he went on to teach Government and law at Ricks College (now Brigham Young University-Idaho). A job that was only supposed to last a year ended up lasting 51 years. He officially retired in 2015 at age 80.

Inama’s parents died without ever knowing about his imprisonment, and until this summer, only his wife and kids knew about it. Inama passed away on Aug. 9 just two months after Moore interviewed him (which you can watch in the video player above) for an upcoming book titled, “The Slow March of Light.” It’s a historical novel that adds some new characters and other details to Inama’s story.

Moore tells Inama’s son pitched this story to Deseret Book last year. Deseret Book just happens to be the publisher Moore is working with and that’s how she heard about it. She’s grateful she was able to meet him and says his story has inspired her during a turbulent time in the world’s history.

“I remember working on this story and interviewing him while the whole world was in this frenzy of the pandemic. There were so many unknowns, so much fear,” Moore says. “I’m studying the Cold War during this time and learning about a man who faced similar types of things, yet he stayed true to his faith and he didn’t forget what the real purpose of life is.”

Moore hopes others will also find his story inspiring. “The Slow March of Light” will be released on Sept. 7. To purchase or learn more, click here.

inama and moore
Bob Inama, left, with Heather Moore following an interview in June. | Courtesy Lowell Oswald