Archive for Thursday, August 21, 2008

KU geologist sees history repeat itself in invasions

Daniel Merriam, Lawrence, a retired geologist from the Kansas Geological Survey, reads Wednesday from the letter he mailed to his wife, Annie, about the Warsaw Pact invasion 40 years ago when the Soviet Union and its allies invaded Czechoslovakia. He was in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on that day.

Daniel Merriam, Lawrence, a retired geologist from the Kansas Geological Survey, reads Wednesday from the letter he mailed to his wife, Annie, about the Warsaw Pact invasion 40 years ago when the Soviet Union and its allies invaded Czechoslovakia. He was in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on that day.

August 21, 2008


Letter recounts Soviet invasion

Lawrence resident and retiree from the Kansas Geological Survey Daniel Merriam, 81, reads a portion of the letter he wrote to his wife, Annie Merriam, in 1968, while he was attending a conference in Prague during the Soviet invasion on Aug. 21, 1968, known as the Warsaw Pact Invasion. He also sent her a telegram from Vienna when he safely got out of Czechoslovakia. It was the first word she had heard that he was safe a few days after the invasion. Enlarge video

KU geologist sees history repeat itself in invasions

It's a letter that still brings comfort after four decades. A longtime KU geologist says the current situation between Russia and Georgia mirrors what occurred 40 years ago during the Warsaw Pact Invasion. Enlarge video

"The Soviet allied forces have occupied Prague for thirteen hours. It is a day of decision - it is 21 August 1968."

- Lawrence resident Daniel Merriam, in a letter he wrote during the Warsaw Pact invasion of Prague, Czechoslovakia, 40 years ago

It was only a few words.

But the short telegram Annie Merriam received at her 2523 Ark. home on Aug. 24, 1968, gave her a huge sense of relief.


It was a Western Union message from her husband, Daniel, a Kansas University geologist, who was in Prague, Czechoslovakia, for a conference on Aug. 21, 1968.

"When that came, we were thrilled," said Annie Merriam, who recently celebrated her 62nd anniversary with her husband.

Forty years ago today, the Soviet Union's Warsaw Pact allies rolled into the Eastern European country with tanks and planes to squash the movement known as the "Prague Spring," which sought more political and social freedoms during the Cold War years.

Daniel Merriam, now 81 and retired from the Kansas Geological Survey, escaped the country safely on a train to Austria. He recorded his notes in Prague and mailed them back to Lawrence.

Merriam lived through a tense time when more than 100 people were killed and Czechoslovakia's Communist Party leader, Alexander Dubcek, was arrested. Dubcek didn't return to Prague until 1989.

Just before the invasion, geologists from around the world, including the Soviet Union, were there in August attending a session for the International Geological Congress to form a new organization, the International Association for Mathematical Geology.

British colleagues had driven Merriam and Stanford University geologist John Harbaugh, a KU alumnus, into Prague for the conference. They were at a hotel in the eastern part of the city when at 2 a.m. on Aug. 21, low-flying airplanes suddenly woke Merriam.

"For some reason in my mind, I thought the Russians were coming, but it didn't occur to me that's what was happening," he said.

The invasion also shocked the native Czechs and even the Soviet delegates who attended the geology conference. On the eastern side of the city, Merriam didn't witness much destruction.

'Knots of grim'

His notes from those few days mention an eerie sense of calm in the eastern part of the city, apart from airplanes sweeping in and tanks rolling around. He noted "the tears in the eyes of the waitresses and the little knots of grim" in the neighborhood along with several protests.

Much of their news came from rumors on the street because radio stations had been bombed and the spread of information was spotty.

"There wasn't anything they could do. There wasn't anything we could do, either, but just watch and hope nothing happened," Merriam said.

The U.S. Embassy had advised Merriam and his colleagues to stay in the hotel because transport from the city was impossible. Even though several members fled the city, the geological conference continued to meet for one day after the invasion.

The new group, the International Association for Mathematical Geology, even elected its leadership, including president Andrei B. Vistelius, a geologist from the Soviet Union, while the tanks occupied the city, Merriam said.

"It had nothing to do with it, but it was kind of an interesting coincidence anyway," he said.

Making it home

During that week back in Lawrence, Annie Merriam was on edge. She frequently called Harbaugh's wife, Josephine, to see whether there was any word. But she heard nothing.

Finally, Daniel Merriam and John Harbaugh had a chance to leave Prague on a train. It left the city even with tanks nearby, he said.

As it approached the Austrian border, the lights went out, and soldiers came to check passports. The train eventually stopped in Vienna, where Merriam sent the telegram to his wife.

He also mailed home his letter, which didn't arrive in Lawrence until after he returned home the next week.

Now 40 years later, Merriam considers the Warsaw Pact invasion identical to the recent strife in the Republic of Georgia because of how quickly the Russians moved in their military.

"There's not much anybody could do. It's not a good situation at all," he said.

When he did return to Lawrence in 1968, it ended a tense chapter for his family.

"Don't you ever go anywhere again," Annie Merriam said about her thoughts upon her husband's return.

But he did continue his travels. He even returned to Prague in 1993 for the IAMG's 25th anniversary. The association started amid an invasion, but it has now flourished into a successful academic group and publisher.


TheYetiSpeaks 9 years, 10 months ago

First- This aggression by Russia is VERY scary. This is Cold War type stuff.Second- logrithmic, way to hijack the thread early and make it about something it is not.

Bobo Fleming 9 years, 10 months ago

The first rule of thumb is" there are no good guys in that neighborhood." Our guy in Georgia has, in the past, jailed reporters, attacked demonstrateors, and closed down tv stations. There are bad guys, and worse guys there. But I have a question, where is Putin? I read the Russian press daily and Putin has disapeared from the news. Exactly who is in charge?

fastwalker 9 years, 10 months ago

connlego, this is another personal story (local propaganda) to reinforce the myth that russia 'invaded' georgia. in fact, russia was invaded, and now they will castrate the georgian (american backed and trained) military. think critically of what you are reading and why it's in the paper for you to read, people.

connleggo 9 years, 10 months ago

I enjoyed reading that. Whatever happened to listening to individuals life experiences? This gentleman had a story to tell and now people are jumping on the band wagon and reading more into the story than what was intended. Grow up people! Not everything that pertains to one's story has a rooted seed in it. Way to go TheYetiSpeaks... you nailed the "second" on the head. People just want to share an experience they've had and should be allowed to without ridicule or judgement.

monkeyspunk 9 years, 10 months ago

Fastwalker:"think critically of what you are reading and why it's in the paper for you to read, people."Really?Like this?"people have already forgotten that russia was invaded:""in fact, russia was invaded"You are so wrong, I am amazed at how someone could be so wrong. Since May of this year, Russian Federation forces have been building up in Abkhazia, which, if you owned a map of the area you would know, is part of the sovereign nation of Georgia. Russian forces shot down a Georgian UAV flying over Abkhazia earlier this year, another direct violation of Georgian sovereignty before the current fighting even started.The Russian Federation was not invaded. Period. You can argue that Georgians should be punished for attacking the S. Ossetian capital and attacking peacekeepers stationed there per a 1990s agreement, but to claim that Russia itself was invaded is just ignorant and that Russia invading and occupying Russia is somehow justified is ignorant.

dweezil222 9 years, 10 months ago

I'd just like to point out the extreme hypocrisy on the part of anyone who supports the Russians on the Georgian fiasco yet criticizes our actions in Iraq. The two are virtually identical -- an unprovoked invasion loosely based (at least in part) on some vague notion of helping encourage national self-determination.

fastwalker 9 years, 10 months ago

american aggression is the scariest of all. people have already forgotten that russia was invaded...not the other way around. guess it depends on what propaganda you are most comfortable prescribing to..

beatrice 9 years, 10 months ago

Good God man, you are having your picture taken for the newspaper -- put a proper shirt on! They call them undershirts for a reason -- they are meant to be "under" another shirt. What is going on with academia in Kansas? First we have the disheveled, shoeless mess of a debate instructor, now grampa showing up in his t-shirt to tell us about history. Is the university system in the state vying to be on one big episode of "What Not to Wear"?Geez!

LogicMan 9 years, 10 months ago

"where is Putin?"He left the Olympics early, to go there to direct the war. He's likely still in Georgia, and is the real person running the show there for Russia. Medvedev, the new Russian President, in Moscow, is probably getting very frustrated with Putin about now, by making Medvedev a repeated-liar in front of the world.

Bobo Fleming 9 years, 10 months ago

I read the Russian press daily and as far as Georgia is concerned Putin is not mentioned. So I asked the question where is Putin. I viewed the Russian coverage of the symphony and Putin was not featured. This is not the way things are done in Russia. Something is happening there. It may be that Putin is laying low. I think that the thing got out of hand while Putin was in China and by the time he got back it was too late to stop it.

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