A Story From the Soviet Union

I visited my in-laws yesterday, and my father in-law, Ernst, told a story. I’m recording it here with no commentary.

Many years ago Ernst lived in a town outside Moscow that only employees of the air and space industry were allowed to live in. One of Ernst’s closest friends was an aging fighter pilot turned test pilot. I’m leaving his name out in an effort to preserve some anonymity. The important part is that this friend was considered a national hero — he managed to hit quite a few Nazi airplanes during the war.

At some point a test flight went wrong, the friend crashed and did not survive. When Ernst heard the news, he hurried to his friend’s home. The wife was there, she was blind and was not doing well. The kids were not at home — they all lived outside that town, rather far away. It will be days or even weeks before they’ll make it back.

Soon after Ernst arrived to his friend’s home, officials and media began flooding the place. The friend was, after all, a national hero. Ernst looked quite a bit like his friend, and everyone assumed his was one of the sons. Ernst decided to play along.

First, one of the official asked the family if the body should be buried in the town where they lived, or in an official plot in Moscow, reserved for real heros. The wife wanted him buried in town, since she was blind and could not travel to Moscow to visit the grave if he’s buried there. Ernst thought he should get a hero funeral in Moscow and voiced his opinion. Loudly. His opinion prevailed and the friend is buried in Moscow.

As the “son” of the friend, Ernst was the first to carry flowers in the funeral procession. Standing next to one of the ministers.