Albert Robert “Bob” Inama was a returned missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a college student at Utah State University. In 1959, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, which meant that he had to put his schooling and career plans of attending George Washington University and becoming a lawyer on hold.
He attended basic training at Fort Skill, Oklahoma, where he showed an intellectual acuity for artillery target coordinating. While still in basic training, he was shipped off to Hanau, West Germany.
Given a Special Assignment
Several months after arriving in West Germany, Bob was called into Major Taggett’s office. After inviting him to have a seat, Major Taggett began with a series of questions. He first asked Bob if his degree from Utah State was in pre-law and economics. Confirming that the Major was correct, the Major then said to Bob, “We’d like you to register as a college student at the University of Berlin and take an economics class.” Bob had expected that he would be reassigned, so going back to college was the furthest thing from his mind.
Major Taggett continued, “Because of your acumen in both mapping, and targeting, and your foundation in the German language, we believe you’ll be a good candidate for an undercover mission. We want you to become a Teaching Assistant (TA) to the economics instructor, Professor Schmitt. Through his traveling lectures, you’ll get access to locations in East Germany.”
As if receiving such an assignment was not a big enough surprise, Major Taggett’s next question as to whether Bob had a girlfriend really shocked him. Bob had a girlfriend before he left on his mission, but the relationship had ended. The Major then told him, “You now have three girlfriends. One in Los Angeles, one in Chicago, and one in New York City.”
Continuing, the Major then said, “In East Germany, you’re going to plot out the ammunition targets for our country, such as government buildings, freight yards, weapon arsenals, communication towers and centers, and underground bunkers. You’ll write down the longitude and latitude of each target as the address on the envelopes you’ll send to your ‘girlfriends.’ Do you understand, Inama?”
He then gave Bob further instructions. He said:
You’ll be issued a fake ID with the name of Peter Jones. If you’re compromised, or if you’re caught, then you will only tell them your fake name. Nothing more. Your unit will be told you’re on special assignment at the Seventh Army headquarters in Frankfurt. We’ll also have someone respond to any letters that you receive from your family. As far as your parents, any of your friends, or any acquaintances you know, you are not on this mission. It does not exist. And if the mission doesn’t exist, then you cannot fail. There will be no official record of this assignment, so if it fails, you are on your own.
The Specialized Training Begins
Next, Bob boarded a train with blacked out windows and East German guards patrolling the aisles. The train would take him deep into Soviet controlled East Germany into the divided city of Berlin. His specialized training as a spy for the United States Army was begun.
He studied German for an entire month. All the while, he grew out his hair and beard. He also learned how to cross the checkpoints between West Berlin and East Berlin without attracting attention. Most importantly, he was hired as Professor Schmidt’s TA.
Betrayed by Professor Schmitt
In a June 2021 interview, Bob said, “I thought if I was ever caught, Schmitt would help me. But that wasn’t the case.”
He spent long hours with Schmitt as chauffeur and assistant in the presentations. One afternoon as they were driving back to West Berlin after visiting an East German city, they encountered a roadblock, which was not anywhere close to a checkpoint. The road was filled with tanks, military trucks, Soviet soldiers, and East German soldiers. Thinking nothing of it, Bob stopped the car. The next words that he heard were a guard saying, “Aus dem Auto steigen” (Step out of the car). He attempted to show his fake ID to the guard to prove that he was Peter Jones on a student Visa, however the guard paid little attention.
Professor Schmidt did nothing to assist Bob. In fact, he betrayed him by telling the guard, “Er ist ein amerikanischer Soldat” (He’s an American soldier). At that moment, Bob wondered if Schmidt was indeed a double agent, but he would never find out. He was handcuffed and blindfolded and the last words that he heard Schmidt say to him were, “Auf Wiedersehen, dummkopf” (Good-bye, idiot).
A Prisoner in East Germany
Bob Inama spent the next six months alone in the basement of an East German prison cell, with no running water, a bucket lowered from a hole in the ceiling to be used as a latrine, and the only light coming from the small window 15 feet above the ground.
He was given a meal once a day, which consisted of a mush or stew, and a cup of coffee. He refused the coffee and requested water instead, which was delivered through a slot at the bottom of the door.
Each day, without fail, he was taken out of the cell, up the cement stairs, and into an interrogation room. Soviet officers questioned him, asking him why he was in East Germany and asking him to state his name. He refused to answer their questions and only gave them the fake name assigned to him by Major Taggett — Peter Jones. Each day he was beat by his interrogators, but the only words that he uttered were, “My name is Peter Jones.”
Finding the Good in Everything
Having been beaten unconscious, Bob found himself most days waking up on the cold floor of his cell. He did not know if he would ever leave the East German prison, see his parents, sister, or army friends again. He began to wonder if he were destined to never see anything other than the inside of his dismal prison cell or the interrogation room.
Rather than accentuate the negatives, Bob began to look for the good in everything. He thanked the officers who beat him and complimented them on the job they were doing. He even thanked “Adolf” for feeding him the mush that barely kept him alive. Most importantly, he thanked God for waking him up each morning and allowing him to see another day. He prayed constantly, sang hymns to himself, and pondered.
Not knowing the days of the week, he finally mustered the courage to ask “Adolf” (the nickname he’d given the guard out of humor), the guard who delivered his food and took him to his beatings, what day it was. When he figured out which day was fast Sunday, he told “Adolf” that he was fasting that day and returned the bowl of mush uneaten.
Even though “Adolf” was not supposed to communicate with Bob as he took him to the interrogation room, Bob used those opportunities to tell him about his beliefs, the Church, and his life before coming to East Germany. However, “Adolf” never responded. In fact, Bob was unsure if he was even listening to what he was telling him.
Delivered to a Firing Squad
It had been months since Bob had been outside. One day, instead of being escorted to the interrogation room, Bob was taken outside into a courtyard. Once his eyes adjusted to the bright light, he saw three poles in the center of the dirt yard. Guards were lined up, guns in hand.
“Adolf” led him to the third pole and tied him to it. Two other prisoners were then brought into the courtyard. Before they were each tied to the two remaining poles, “Adolf” relocated Bob and tied him to the first pole instead. Once the prisoners had been tied to the poles, bags were then pulled over their heads.
A myriad of thoughts raced through Bob’s mind. He even thought of his Grandfather Johnson, who had died years before, and that perhaps he would be the one to greet him on the other side. His final thoughts before the shooting began were, I wish I could have said goodbye to my family. … How much will this hurt? The guns were fired. Bob did not feel any pain. He was not hurt. The bag was then lifted from his head. It was then that he realized that he had not been shot, however the other two prisoners lay dead on the ground. Confused and numb, Bob was led back to his cell. The next day, the beatings continued, and Bob remained resolute and continued to thank the guards.
The weeks and months passed, and the cell grew frigid with the depths of winter. Bob decided there would be no end unless something changed. Finally, beaten down and delirious, he confessed to the officers: “My name is Bob Inama. My rank is Specialist Fourth Class. My ID is 10423570.”
The Prisoner is Finally Set Free
Six months into his imprisonment, “Adolf” unlocked his cell and took him to a bathroom with a shower. He was told to shower and change into the clothing stacked on the counter. He hadn’t showered in six months and felt sure this was a death sentence and that he was headed to the firing range again. Instead, he was blindfolded and handcuffed, loaded into a truck, then driven to an unknown location.
Once the truck stopped, Bob was pulled out of the back, and the blindfold and handcuffs were removed. He stood in a field, and across the way idled a U.S. Army ambulance truck. Walking toward him were two other men — it was a prisoner exchange. For him. Bob turned to “Adolf” and whispered, “I love you, my brother.” There was no response, but Bob was certain that “Adolf” heard him.
Life After Being Imprisoned
In a series of interviews when asked about the location of the East German prison, Bob reiterated, “There are just some things I had to forget.” His daily beatings had resulted in massive brain damage, and the doctors in Frankfurt told him that he would never have the acumen to become a lawyer.
Bob Inama never told his family about his experiences undercover as a spy plotting nuclear targets. He never told them about his arrest or imprisonment. Since the Cold War still raged for decades, Bob kept his undercover mission, as Taggett had advised, as if it had never happened.
Bob agreed to a one-year teaching assignment at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, now BYU-Idaho, and soon discovered that the small-town life, the quiet living, and the good people surrounding him calmed the battles inside of his head and softened the memory of the abuse and trauma suffered all those months inside cold prison walls. He ended up teaching political science at BYU-Idaho for more than 50 years.
In a video interview, on 30 June 2021, Bob said, “If I knew the end results as I know now, I’d do it again. I really would.” His mantra became “Come what may, and love it,” a phrase from a general conference talk given by the late Latter-day Saint Apostle, Joseph B. Wirthlin.
Bob never learned “Adolf”’s real name. He never saw or spoke to him again after that cool spring morning of the prisoner swap. However, 15 years after Bob had been in Idaho, he received an envelope forwarded to him from the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. Inside was another envelope addressed to him. There was no return address or name on the envelope. The postage mark was from Germany. His eyes filled with tears when he opened and read the letter inside. The letter read:
I don’t know if this letter will reach you, but I thought I’d write to let you know that I have never forgotten you, or the man you were. I have just returned from the Swiss temple with my wife and children. We were sealed together for time and eternity.
Bob Inama passed away peacefully, surrounded by his wife Diane and his loving family, on 9 August 2021, at the age of 86. When he agreed to be interviewed for a book by USA Today bestselling and award-winning author, Heather B. Moore, about his experiences in East Germany, his family finally learned the entirety of a story he’d kept silent for 60 years. The book is titled The Slow March of Light.