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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]


U.S. military attache recounts role in Hungarian transformation

Ruth and Andy Anderson
Ruth and Andy Anderson work on their memoirs.
Photo: John Snope

By Nancy Covert

One of the latest books to appear on the PLU Bookstore shelves is titled "Barbed Wire For Sale: the Hungarian Transition to Democracy, 1988-1991."

Authored by Ruth (Ellis '65) Anderson and her husband, Andy, the book recounts the years that Ruth, now a retired Air Force colonel, served as the defense and air attache at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, Hungary.

Prepared for a tour of duty in a Communist country, the couple found themselves in the midst of a revolution.
As the only American female who was a principal military attache serving in Europe at the time, Anderson established relations with the Hungarian military and other attaches. While conversing with her Soviet counterpart, she relied on her recollections of college French.

Although she is confident that her pioneering efforts helped pave the way for other military women to take similar roles later, at the time, she says, she wasn't focused on the fact that she was in a groundbreaking role. Nevertheless, the fact that she is a woman worked to the U.S. government's advantage, given the high regard in which Eastern European society holds women in social circles.

Anderson's mission included observing the Soviet forces located in Hungary, a responsibility that intensified when the Soviets agreed to withdraw from the country. As the political landscape rapidly shifted, she and her staff scrambled to ensure their Pentagon superiors understood the situation and how the U.S. could help Hungary peacefully withdraw from its Warsaw Pact commitments.

Her husband, Andy, who had retired from the Air Force to accompany Ruth in her unique role, took on duties traditionally relegated to the wives-shopping for food, preparing dinners and holding receptions for the round of diplomatic entertainment.
Interwoven with their inside glimpses into a turbulent/jubilant period, are the Andersons' unadorned anecdotes, along with photos, that chronicle Hungary's transformation from Communism to democracy.

"Being able to represent the role of a Christian military officer in a democracy was the most blessed experience of my life," Anderson says. She is proud of her PLU education and says that the opportunity to return to the campus for its 1990 centennial celebration reinvigorated her to continue with her military assignment.
She also credits her friendship with PLU economics Professor Mark Reiman '79, who was on sabbatical in Hungary during a portion of this time, as a major factor in the book's production.

Now enjoying retirement, Anderson continues to write: besides freelancing for the local paper and having completed a history of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Tacoma, she is now working on a history of Puyallup, Wash. Andy operates an Internet-based used book business, focusing primarily on local, international and military history, as well as other genres-"but not romance."

The Andersons' book is available at the PLU Bookstore or by emailing poeticlicense@hotplaces.com.

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