Bergdoll--The Fighting Slacker
NEA Service Writer
     Grover Cleveland Bergdoll had a country once. But when it needed him he ran away. Now he can never return to it except in handcuffs.
     Instead he lives in the little town of Weinsberg, Germany, not far from old Heidelberg. His mother lives in the Bergdoll family home in Philadelphia. If he should come back to the United Stares, he could still be arrested as a deserter. And a blot of the contempt in which the government holds him is conveyed in the fact that the regular reward of $30 for apprehension of a deserter still applies to him.
     Bergdoll has made his life parallel very closely that of Philip Nolan in the story of "The Man Without a Country." You remember how Nolan, a soldier on trial before a court-martial, cried impetuously, "Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!" That was the court's sentence, and Nolan was kept on shipboard without a word from home for fifty years. Then he died.
     Bergdoll condemned himself to a fate almost as bitter. He was a Philadelphia youth in 1917, son of a wealthy family of German descent. His father had made money in brewing, and the family had also built a motor car, the Bergdoll. Both the sons, Grover and Erwin, were expert mechanics. Grover registered for the draft June 5, 1917. But when the draft board called him for physical examination, he did not respond. When he learned the authorities were after him, Bergdoll drew a large sum of money from a bank, and fled. He dropped behind him a series of insulting and defiant postcards to the authorities. He was

Grover Cleveland Bergdoll
  still dodging around the country when the armistice was signed and for a year after that.
His $150,000 Hoax
     But the authorities had not forgotten. They were watching the Bergdoll home in Philadelphia, feeling certain Grover would yield to a desire to see the home and the aging mother he had left behind. He did, and Jan. 7, 1920, Bergdoll was nailed on a visit to that home.
     He was taken to Governor's Island, N. Y., court-martialed, and sentenced to five years in prison. They set him to peeling potatoes at Fort Jay, but in May, Bergdoll came out with a strange story of $150,000 in gold buried in the mountains in Virginia. He wanted to get it before beginning to serve his sentence. That seemed fair enough, and Bergdoll was sent to his home in Philadelphia under guard of two sergeants to dig up the mystic treasure.
     There were rumors, never proved, that the money was to go to certain army officers to obtain his release -- bribery, in other words. But apparently it was all a hoax. For Bergdoll, sneaked out of the house and into a waiting automobile.
     Then his second flight began. WIth Eugene Stecher, his chauffer, Bergdoll drove west to Indiana, and then swears he went east to Washington and got large sums of treasury notes cashed into gold at theTreasury istelf. With a tin can full of gold in the tonneau, Bergdoll related they toured west to Minnesota and crossed into Canada. Easily obtaining fake passports, the two sailed for Germany and took up residence in Eberbach
."The Fighting Slacker"
     There Bergdoll attained a certain popularity, mostly by throwing money around freely among the inhabitants. But he was homesick, hunted, and went armed at all times. Eberbach is not far from the Rhineland, where American troops were still quartered with little to do, and there was resentment against the slacker Bergdoll living on the fat of the land nearby.
     Two ex-sergeants, Carl Naef and Frank Zimmer, planned to capture Bergdoll themselves. They went to Eberbach, held Bergdoll up at pistol point as he sat at the wheel of his car as host to a wedding party. But Bergdoll, a big, powerful man, earned the name of the "fighting slacker."
     Bergdoll knocked the pistol from Naef's hand with a quick blow and sped away in the car. A shot fired after him slightly wounded the bride, and the two Americans were caught and nearly mobbed by the crowd which gathered. The were given short prison sentences, but were speedily released.
     A second attempt to kidnap Bergdoll was more serious. It came in 1923, and the alleged leader was former Lieut. Corli Hooven Griffs, Eugene Neilson, Roger Sperber, Karl Schmidt, Swiss, and Prince Gargarin, Russian. Schmidt and Sperber concealed themselves in Bergdolls room; the others waited below, a car ready to rush the kidnapped man two hours' ride away over the French occupation lines.
     Schmidt and Sperber jumped Bergdoll as he entered his room and there was a terrific fight in the dark. Bergdoll bit off the end of Sperber's thumb and then managed to draw his gun and fire blindly. The shot killed Schmidt.
     The remaining conspirators were captured and given jail sentences.

In Constant Fear
     Bergdoll, who was shot at several times in addition to those adventures, lived in constant dread of plots, and homesickness for the country he had deserted grew stronger within him. Appeals to his aging mother in Philadelphia for his return were always answereed hopefully, but he did not come.
     In 1927 he applied for an American passport at Stuttgart, but the American officials calmly informed him that he didn't need a passport to return to America, and that he coudn't have one to go anywhere else.
     He was once reported to have gone to Switzerland, and later changed his residence to Weissberg.
     There, he married a German girl, Berta Frank, and despite his constant fear of attack, is reported to be living happily with her. Stecher returned to America a year or so ago, and there have been many rumors that Bergdoll might return also. It is certain that he has several times tried to obtain promises that the charges against him be dropped. if he would would return. But the government's only word has been that his stains remains that of an escaped prisoner who would be returned to prison to serve out the rest of his sentence if caught.
     Thus lives Grover Cleveland Bergdoll, fighting slacker and fugitive, a man without a country whose flight from home a homeland has occupied nearly fifteen years. A hunted man, trusting nobody, his thoughts always turning towards the home he spurned, and from whose call he ran away.
Wright Brothers Field
Wright Brothers Field
Newsclipping courtesy of Karen Bush, 4-25-06

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