VIII. LOYALTY PROGRAM FOR PARENTS
BY ALBERT E KAHN
Chapter 8 from THE GAME OF DEATH
Law, in the service of racial and national interests, confides the care of the children, only under certain circumstances, to the parents. Namely: if the children are brought up as the nation and the State decree. . . . Anyone who raises children in such views as are likely to place them in opposition to the racial and national popular unity has failed to fulfil the conditions under which the education of his children has been entrusted to him. . . . such persons will be forbidden to continue the upbringing of their children. The only chance of rectifying this lies in the complete separation of the child from the parents.1. At Home and Abroad
ON JULY 27, 1951, Mrs. Philene Kirkwood, a young woman who lived in Queens, Long Island, sailed from New York City aboard the S.S. Homeland on a trip to visit her mother in Western Germany. With Mrs. Kirkwood was her eight-year old son, a child by a former marriage whose custody had been awarded her by divorce decree.
A few days after Mrs. Kirkwood had embarked, her ex-husband, a night club entertainer named George Kreisler, appeared in the Long Island City Magistrates Court and accused her of violating their custody agreement by taking their son out of this country. Kreisler told the presiding judge that he suspected his erstwhile wife of being a Communist and of planning to take the child "behind the Iron Curtain." He asked the judge to issue a warrant charging Mrs. Kirkwood with kidnapping the boy. The judge issued the warrant.
The moment Mrs. Kirkwood arrived in Cherbourg, France, she was arrested by the French police. They were acting, the police said, on a U.S. State Department request which had been conveyed to them by the American consul at Cherbourg. Mrs. Kirkwood was put in jail, and her son confined in an orphanage, pending extradition proceedings.
For more than a month, while the French authorities deliberated on the State Department demand that Mrs. Kirkwood be handed over to American law officers, the young mother was kept in jail. When her child tried to run away from the orphanage in a frantic attempt to rejoin his mother, he was put in a strait jacket. . .
In the middle of September a French court approved the extradition papers; and two Assistant District Attorneys from Long Island, arrived in France to take Mrs. Kirkwood and her child into custody . . .
The Mrs. Kirkwood who reached New York City on October 4, looked very different from the slight, cheerful young woman who had sailed from the same port nine weeks before. She was haggard from worry and illness, and painfully crippled by sciatica contracted while imprisoned in France. When she had left the United States she had weighed 105 pounds; now she weighed less than ninety.
Waiting at the gangplank when the ship docked were Mrs. Kirkwood's former husband, George Kreisler, and his attorney. They had a court order directing Mrs. Kirkwood to turn Tommy over to his father. . .
Newspapermen interviewed Mrs. Kirkwood aboard the ship. Speaking with deep emotion, she declared she had done nothing wrong. "Why," she passionately demanded, "did they put me in jail and my boy in a strait jacket in an orphan's home at Caen? He was a sick little boy."
A reporter asked Tommy, "With whom do you want to stay?"
"My Mommy," said the child.
Unable to walk because of her sciatica, Mrs. Kirkwood was carried down the gangplank holding her son's hand. As the mother and child reached the dock, Kreisler and his lawyer stepped forward.
"Mommy," screamed the boy, "hold on to me, Mommy, and I'll hold on to you. Don't let them take me from you!"
"They can't take him!" cried Mrs. Kirkwood, clinging desperately to the child. "He's all I've got."
Describing what then happened, a reporter from the NewYork World-Telegram and Sun wrote:
The child's screams filled the air as he was torn from his mother's arms by the father and virtually thrown into a car. . .
"I love you, Mommy, I'll always love you," wailed the boy. "I don't want to leave you."
Those were the last words heard from Tommy . . . as his distraught mother. . . watched him disappear. . . .
Two detectives took her to the W. 47th St. police station where she was booked and fingerprinted.
Six months later, in April 1952, a Queens grand jury refused to return a kidnapping indictment against Mrs. Kirkwood, and this charge against her was dropped.
Tommy was finally returned to the custody of his mother, after she had persuaded a justice of the State Supreme Court that she was not a Communist and had had no intention of taking her son into the eastern zone of Germany. The court order granting Mrs. Kirkwood custody of her son stipulated that in the future she must live within twenty-five miles of New York City.
The Kirkwood case was not the first of its sort to occur during the period of the Cold War. Prior to it, there had been the case of Hampartzoom Cholakian.
An Armenian shoemaker who had resided in the United States since 1913, Cholakian decided to return to his native land in 1947 and made arrangements to do so. At the time, three of his five children were in Roman Catholic welfare institutions in New York. His sons, George, aged twelve, and Albert, aged eleven, were at the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin on Staten Island; and his daughter, Alice, aged seven, was in the New York Foundling Hospital. The children had been placed in these institutions several years before when Cholakian's wife had become mentally ill and he had been unable to care for them.'" When Cholakian now sought to obtain their release so that he might take them with him to Soviet Armenia, the institutions refused to restore his children to him.
Cholakian brought the matter before the New York Supreme Court.
The case did not come before the court until the very day on which Cholakian was scheduled to sail. When the presiding judge, Justice .J. Edward Lumbard, Jr., was informed that the departure of the repatriation vessel was actually being delayed pending the court's decision in the case, he declared he did not want to be "rushed into a precipitous decision." He added that if Cholakian were to sail that day with his wife and other children, it would in no way prejudice Cholakian's position in the case. With this assurance, and in view of the fact that his sick wife and other children were already aboard ship and he had given up his job and apartment, Cholakian decided to sail. Friends undertook to make traveling arrangements for the three children Cholakian was compelled to leave behind, assuming that the court's decision would return these children to him . . .
"Do you think you have a right to bar them from going to Soviet Armenia?" asked Cholakian's attorney.
"As an American citizen," replied the priest, "I believe I have."
"Would you have the same objection if the father wanted to take these children to Spain?"
"We would have to consider what was in the best interests of the children and act accordingly."
"Isn't it a fact that it is a Communist system that you object to?"
"I wouldn't hesitate to answer yes to that," said Monsignor Corrigan.
Cholakian's lawyer declared: "This is not Japan or Nazi Germany where they had thought control. . . . Because we don't like some other system is no reason to prevent the union of a family. It is absurd, it is unnatural, it is contrary to every decent concept and it is essentially irreligious."
Judge Lumbard felt otherwise. In his ruling on the case, he denied Cholakian the custody of his children. "It would not be to the best interests of the children to be taken to Soviet Armenia," he stated, "even though it results in the temporary or even the permanent separation of these children from their parents."
The Court of Appeals upheld Judge Lumbard's ruling. The United States Supreme Court declined to review the case.
A somewhat similar case subsequently occurred in the U.S. zone of occupation in Germany.
In December 1951 a U. S. Court of Appeals in Frankfurt refused to restore a thirteen-year-old girl to her mother in Czechoslovakia on the grounds that it would be against the child's "best interest" to live in that country. In an opinion ruling that the girl should remain with a foster mother in Western Germany, the court stated: "In deciding what will be a happy home for the child, it is clear that the kind of country in which that home is located is relevant. . .. Czechoslovakia is a Communist dictatorship."
One case demonstrates perhaps more vividly than any other the Cold War criteria by which certain American courts have determined the right of parents to keep their children. That is the case of Jean Field.
2. Sins of a Mother
SHORTLY AFTER midnight on May 20, 1940, a slight young man slipped furtively from a house in the town of Chickasha, Oklahoma, tossed some bags in a waiting automobile, and, starting the car as quietly as possible, drove off into the darkness. Watching him, one might have thought he had committed a burglary. His offense, however, was of a different sort. He was deserting his wife and two children, a three-year-old boy and a baby girl born just three weeks before.
The name of the young man was Vernon Field. He left this curt typewritten note for his wife, Jean Field: "I no longer want the responsibility of a wife and two children, so here it is in your lap. Sorry but that's the way it is."
As if to emphasize his indifference to the future welfare of his wife and children, Vernon Field took with him not only his personal belongings but also the family's meagre funds. (2)
That October, Jean Field was granted a divorce. The court awarded her complete custody of her son, Jay, and her daughter, Mary Kaye.
According to the divorce decree, Vernon Field was to pay $30 a month toward the support of his children. But the months went by without his sending a single dollar for the children's care. He was living at the time in Illinois, where he had fled after being charged with signing a fictitious name to a check in Anadarko, Oklahoma. (3) Finally, Jean Field heard from him. He was in an Illinois jail on a forgery charge. He was lonely, he wrote; and would she please write him?
The task of providing for Jay and Mary Kaye fell wholly on their mother . . .
In the winter of 1941 Jean Field received a letter from Vernon Field's draft board in Illinois. The communication stated that Field had filed for exemption from military service on the alleged grounds that he was supporting a wife and two children. The draft board requested verification of his claim. Jean Field wrote stating that not only were she and Vernon Field divorced but, despite the terms of a divorce decree, he had contributed nothing to the support of the children. Vernon Field was drafted. (4)
In 1944, Jean Field moved with her two children to Los Angeles, California.
Occasionally during the ensuing years, Vernon Field's parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. Walker Field, came from Oklahoma to visit their grandchildren in Los Angeles. Vernon Field, however, never came.
Meanwhile as her children grew older, Jean Field was fulfilling new responsibilities in their upbringing. In her own words: "My children, particularly the older child, came to the questioning age. I did all I could not to discourage but to stimulate their questioning. No doors were closed -no questions were taboo. . . . The children's interests began spreading. They began to notice, wonder at and dislike evidence of discrimination. We had discussions on why discrimination exists . . ,".
Above all, Jean Field taught Jay and Mary Kaye that freedom and equality should prevail for all human beings. No matter what discrimination and prejudice might exist, she told her children, Negro Americans should be entitled to enjoy the same rights as all other Americans.
Little did Jean Field realize what tragic consequences these teachings were to have for herself and her children.
In the spring of 1950 Jean Field decided to send Jay and Mary Kaye to Oklahoma City for their summer vacation. Mr. and Mrs. J. Walker Field had often urged that the children be allowed to come for a visit, and Vernon Field had unexpectedly written saying he was eager to see his thirteen-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter. He had married again and, according to his parents, had given up drinking and finally settled down. The time seemed particularly opportune for the children to go, as Jean Field was about to undergo a major operation. It was agreed that Jay and Mary Kaye would be back in time for school in the fall.
The children left Los Angeles by plane on June 18 and arrived that same day in Oklahoma City.
A couple of weeks later Jean Field was talking with her son, Jay, by long distance telephone when the boy brought up the subject of the war which had just broken out in Korea. "What's it all about?" he asked his mother.
Jean Field then wrote her children a lengthy letter in which she said she believed that the U. S. Government was waging an unjust war of intervention in Korea, and that American troops should be withdrawn from that country. "Do not blame the American soldier," she told the children, "he didn't choose the war - he was sent. . ."
The letter did not reach Jay and Mary Kaye. It was intercepted by Vernon Field.
While recuperating from her operation, Jean Field sent her children another letter in which she discussed the Korean war. With it, she enclosed a copy of the World Peace Appeal calling for the outlawing of the atom bomb. She urged Jay and Mary Kaye to sign the Appeal and to "ask all the people around you to sign it too."
Again, Vernon Field intercepted the letter. . .
At the end of the summer, the children did not return to Los Angeles on the agreed-upon date. Instead, Jean Field received a terse letter from a law firm in Oklahoma City which notified her that Vernon Field had instituted legal proceedings in Oklahoma to modify their divorce decree and give him the custody of the children on the grounds that she was not a fit mother. Accompanying the letter was a court order instructing Jean Field to appear at a custody hearing in Oklahoma City on September 29 . . .
Shocked and alarmed, Jean Field tried to reach her ex-husband by telephone. His number had been disconnected. Attempts to contact his parents also proved fruitless.
Jean Field drove the 1,500 miles from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City.
Her arrival had been anticipated. When she managed to reach Vernon Field at his office, he told her that Jay and Mary Kaye had been taken out of the city by his parents. "If you want to see the children," he said, "you'll have to see them in court."
Clinging to their mother, the children begged her to take them home . . .
At the request of the attorney Jean Field had managed to secure in Oklahoma City, the presiding magistrate, Judge Clarence Mills, adjourned the case to a later date. The judge stipulated that the mother should be allowed to visit with her children in the interim.
Following these proceedings, Jean Field was told by her ex-husband that if she were wise she would drop the case and leave town quietly. Judge Mills, he said, was a friend of his father's and had been so incensed when shown her letters about Korea that he himself had drafted the original motion for a change of custody. "I'm warning you," Field added, "you haven't got a chance here" . . .
When Jean Field visited her children at Vernon Field's house that same day, she learned something of the conditions under which they were living in Oklahoma City. In a dirty, untidy two-bedroom house were crowded Jay and Mary Kaye, their father, his new wife and her three children by a former marriage.
The next day Jean Field took her children out for breakfast. "It was not a very happy breakfast," she recalls. "Tears were running down their faces as they repeatedly asked not to go back to 'that house.' They couldn't understand why we couldn't just go home. I tried to explain but how can one explain a situation so terribly wrong?"
When she picked up the children to take them for a drive the following afternoon and asked them where they would like to go, they said they would like to keep on driving until they got home.
"All right, kids," Jean Field said, "we are going home."
They drove on out of Oklahoma City immediately. Three days later they arrived home in Santa Monica, California.
On October 20, in the absence of Jean Field and the children, Judge Mills heard Vernon Field's motion for custody of Jay and Mary Kaye.
Judge Mills declared that by removing her children from Oklahoma Jean Field had clearly established her unfitness as a mother. "She has taken advantage of kindness," said the judge. He ruled that the custody of Jay and Mary Kaye should be forfeited to Vernon Field.
A warrant was issued for Jean Field's arrest on the charge of "child-stealing."
A few days later, Jean Field was arrested in Santa Monica on the charge of kidnapping. She was taken to jail, finger printed, photographed, searched for concealed weapons and held on $1500 bail. She was released when she arranged with a bond agency to post bail.
Two days after that, Jay and Mary Kaye were arrested at school by police officers on a warrant secured by Vernon Field, who had come to Los Angeles with an Oklahoma deputy. Jean Field was told the children were being held at the Los Angeles Juvenile Hall. She was instructed that she could visit them only once a week for one hour each time. Commenting on these visits, she later wrote:
I will not go into the details of the terribly destructive effect this being in "jail" (this is what the children called it) was having on the boy and girl. The little girl was in the infirmary several times; they both had difficulty keeping food on their stomachs. Their pathetic eagerness to see me when I was allowed to visit them was almost unbearable; their touching attempts to keep me from knowing when anything went wrong with them kept me alternating between deep pride in the courage they were showing when they were down, and deep anger that any human being, any court, and especially any parent with any real regard for welfare of children could deliberately put them in this sort of place and insist that they be kept there.
A hearing on the temporary custody of Jay and Mary Kaye began on December 9 before Judge Harold W. Schweitzer in the Los Angeles Superior Court.
It was one of the most remarkable court proceedings in the annals of American jurisprudence.
The evidence of Jean Field's alleged unfitness as a mother consisted solely of the two letters she had written about the Korean war, the fact that the Oklahoma court had held her in contempt for leaving the state without its permission, and two affidavits from Mr. and Mrs. J. Walker Field concerning the attitude of their grandchildren toward Negroes.
The affidavit of Mr. J. Walker Field read in part:
He (Jay) spoke very critically of the laws of Oklahoma regarding the segregation of white and colored persons in their attendance in theaters and other places of amusement, and in railroad trains, streetcars and in schools. In that connection, he said the Negro race was as good as the whites and entitled to the same privileges. . . On one occasion, he . . . stated that some of his best friends at school were colored boys.
Hour after hour, Jean Field was aggressively interrogated by Vernon Field's lawyer, William Gilbert, concerning her personal beliefs and the social and political views she had expressed to her children. Typical of the questions she was asked were these:
How about the Mundt-Ferguson and Nixon bills?
Had you or your children discussed the word or phrase, "conservative press"?
Did you teach your children anything about the different classes or class struggle in progress in this country or in the world?
That peace petition . . . when you sent that petition to your children in Oklahoma, you asked them to sign it, didn't you?
Gilbert told the judge that letters Jean Field had written condemning U.S. participation in the Korean war were in themselves grounds enough for depriving her of her children. He declared:
I assert to your Honor, that what this lady has taught these children is . . . traitorous. I assert that your Honor will not permit such a thing to continue in this country in the condition that the world is in today . . . The time has come to consider loyalty oaths as a condition of parenthood.
On December 14 Judge Schweitzer handed down his decision. Granting that "the children would be considerably upset" and would probably "cry a lot" if taken from their mother and given to their father, Judge Schweitzer upheld the Oklahoma decree and ruled that the children should remain in the custody of Vernon Field.
Jay and Mary Kaye, who had been brought into the courtroom at the judge's instruction, were overwhelmed by the verdict. The girl burst into tears and buried her head in her mother's lap. The boy clasped his face in his hands, moaning, "Oh no, no, no . . ."
Jean Field's lawyer requested a stay of forty-eight or twenty-four hours, in order that the decision might be appealed to the California Supreme Court. Judge Schweitzer peremptorily denied the request. He ordered that the children be immediately given to their father.
Clutching the children, with tears streaming down her face, Jean Field said to the judge, "I've cared for and supported these children for ten years all by myself. I've gone without food for their sake. Can I have them now alone for ten minutes?"
Judge Schweitzer said, "I am sorry, Mrs. Field. You had your day in court in Oklahoma."
The two sobbing children were separated from their mother and forcibly handed over to their father.
As her children were led away, Jean Field cried to them, "Never forget your mother. Never forget what I've taught you of what is right." (5)
"Where did you get your facts about the case?" he asked. "From the transcripts of the hearings," I said, "from material issued by the Jean Field Committee and-" He interrupted me. "Of course the material from the committee is distorted."
"In what way?" I asked.
He replied, "It only gives the human side of the case."
I asked what other side there was.
"The legal side," he said with a tolerant smile. "You see, Mr. Kahn, I had to respect the ruling of a sister state."
"Did the war in Korea or other political factors have anything to do with your decision?" I asked.
"Not in the slightest," he assured me.
"And still you turned her children over to a man with a police record who deserted her ten years ago?"
"I had no choice."
"And you wouldn't grant her lawyer twenty-four hours delay to appeal your decision?"
"I was afraid she might skip off with the children to another state."
When I reminded him that the children were being held in custody at the time, he reddened and made no reply.
"And why," I asked, "didn't you allow the mother ten minutes to say good-bye to her children?"
"Does the material from the Jean Field Committee claim that?" he demanded.
I said it did.
"Hell," exclaimed Judge Schweitzer, "that's a lot of crap'' (6)
That same day I met Jean Field.
Almost a whole year had passed since the slender dark-haired young woman had last seen her son and daughter.
"It is dreadful," she said, "not to know anything about the children - not to know what they're doing or whether they're well or ill. I'm not allowed even to speak to them on the telephone, and my letters never reach them,"
Even a letter she had sent the children on the previous Christmas had been kept from them. Vernon Field's lawyer had written saying he had advised his client not to transmit "that type of correspondence" to the children as it was "in the same objectionable vein as the letters introduced at the trial." She showed me a copy of the letter. It read in part:
This is Christmas time - a time at which we pay special homage to the birth of Jesus, who later became known as the "Prince of Peace"; a man who carried always in his heart a great and abiding love for all mankind, who taught that goodness, justice, love, peace, responsibility for one's fellow men transcended any man-made laws which were contrary to these principles. Because he lived, practiced and taught these ideas he was crucified on a cross.
Today it is especially fitting that we again renew our faith and defense of these principles for which he died; to make his teachings a living reality.
It was shortly after eight o'clock in the morning a few days later when I arrived at Vernon Field's house in Oklahoma City. A slight balding round-shouldered man in a bathrobe, whose face was covered with a stubble of beard, answered the front door. It was Vernon Field. I introduced myself and said I wanted to speak with him about the Jean Field case.
"There's no reason in your coming to see me," Field told me. "Everything I have to say is in the court record." He gave the impression of repeating something he had been told to say. Field's second wife, a lean-faced young woman, watched us in silence.
"You think that publicity about this case is a bad thing?" I asked.
"This case shouldn't be tried by the public but in the courts."
"Would you mind telling me," I asked, "just what your feelings are toward Jay and Mary Kaye?"
"It's all in the record," he said.
"Perhaps you'd tell me why after ten years of showing no interest in the children you suddenly decided to take them from their mother?"
"You can look in the record," he said doggedly.
"Are the children happy?"
"Sure, they're happy," he said. "They never had any real family life before . . ." He lit a cigarette. His hands were shaking perceptibly.
His wife broke into the discussion. "Why all this interest in the case anyway?" she asked. "After all, it's just another battle in the war against communism."
"You mean that's the reason for taking the children from Jean Field?"
"Of course," she answered.
As I was about to leave, I said, "While I'm in Oklahoma City, I'd like to speak with Jay and Mary Kaye."
"I don't want that," Vernon Field told me.
"It would upset them," he said.
He paused, then blurted out, "Look - there's been enough publicity - everybody knows they want to go back to their mother."
As this book goes to press, Jay and Mary Kaye Field are still being forcibly kept from their mother. "You see," one of the lawyers who has sought to have the children restored to Jean Field bitterly told me, "the children and Jean Field must be doubly punished because her offense is doubly grievous. It's hard to determine which of her crimes is considered worst - teaching her children to be against the slaughter of human beings in Korea or teaching them that Negroes should have equality in the United States."
(1) Cholakian had wanted to have his sons placed in a Protestant institution so that they might be brought up in the Armenian Orthodox faith; but the New York Department of Welfare had said at the time that it was possible only to place the children in a Catholic institution.
(2) Vernon Field's desertion of his family was by no means out of character. A moody weakling who was employed as an investigator by an insurance company, he had for some time been given to extensive periods of drunkenness during which he would stay away from home, sleeping in bars and poolrooms, squandering the family's savings and cashing worthless checks. "He would come home, cry about it and say he couldn't seem to help it," Jean Field later related. "When he started drinking, he couldn't seem to stop and when he started gambling he couldn't stop. He would say, that is just the way I am, I can't help it."
(3) Vernon Field had been previously arrested in Madill, Oklahoma, on a bad check charge.
(4) Once in the service, Field refrained from filing for an Army allotment for his dependent children, Instead, he applied for one for his parents, in the obvious hope that this money would be saved by them for him until he got out of the service. Not until Jean Field wrote that she would appeal to his commanding officer did he finally acknowledge the dependency of his two children and request an allotment for them. Jean Field then received Army allotment checks for the duration of the war.
In 1945 when Vernon Field was discharged from the service he entered law school in Oklahoma and applied, under the G.I. Bill of Rights, for $90 a month, claiming that he had two children to support. Granted this allotment, he sent none of the money to Jean Field for the children.
(5) Five months after the proceedings before Judge Schweitzer, the permanent custody hearing took place before Judge Walter R. Evans of the Los Angeles Superior Court. The judge upheld the Oklahoma decree awarding permanent custody of Jay and Mary Kaye to Vernon Field.
(6) Either Judge Schweitzer's memory was extremely poor or he was deliberately lying. Not only the material issued by the Jean Field Committee but also the court transcript of the hearing before Judge Schweitzer records the fact that he denied Jean Field's request to have her children alone for ten minutes before they were taken from her.
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