Bobby Egan is the author of Eating With The Enemy, along with Kurt Pitzer. This is the story of a true, but unlikely, patriot. Bob Egan wasn't the best kid in school, he hung around with some mobsters for a while, and ended up opening his own business, Chubby's BBQ in Hackensack. He was unabashedly worried about American POW/MIA affairs, specifically in Viet Nam, North Korea, and Iraq. No, he was not a veteran himself, but he did function as an "unofficial ambassador" for the country, starting with some Vietnamese diplomats. How you ask? Ah, but that's the story. This is a fascinating book and I highly recommend it.
Not only did Egan work with Vietnamese and North Korean diplomats on the POW/MIA situation, he worked with Iraqi Ambassador Nizar Hamdoun to have Lt. Col. Michael Scott Speicher returned to the U.S. At the time we thought Speicher to still be alive, since we know that he did in fact die. Hamdoun believed Speicher to be dead, but had no evidence available to him at the time.
Imagine Egan spending his spare time taking North Koreans fishing, to Giants ballgames, shopping at bulk stores to
make 'goodie bags' for them to send back to Pyongyang. That is exactly what Bobby Egan did -- and entertain them with fine steaks and ribs at Chubby's BBQ -- all at his own expense.
Egan worked for no official agency, not the CIA, FBI, or anyone. He never received a penny from them because he did what he did out of patriotism for his country and her military who may still be imprisoned in foreign lands.
What Egan did was serious, how he did it will make you smile as you read. On Monday, November 23, 1992, he found himself being deposed in Washington by members of the U.S. Congress. He writes:
The committee was interested in me because I had stuck my nose where a lot of people would say it didn't belong. During the past twelve years, while flipping burgers for a living. I'd befriended a group of Vietnamese diplomats at the United ?Nations, and a few weeks earlier I'd convinced a Foreign Ministry official, Le Quang Khai, to defect from his communist regime. We held a news conference at my restaurant, Chubby's BBQ in Hackensack, New Jersey, where he stated that his government had hidden evidence of American prisoners held after the end of the Vietnam War. He suggested that a few of them might still be alive and in captivity somewhere in Southeast Asia. Not everybody in Washington and Hanoi was happy about this. The two governments were trying to put old ghosts to rest.
The Vietnamese called him some time after that and said, "Some people want to meet
you." Those people turned out to be from the DPRK. Egan didn't know that stood for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
(Image right: Egan and North Koreans on hunting trip)
Talking to one of the North Koreans:
"Our government officials are half jackasses anyway. They're a bunch of drunks and perverts. Look at Ted Kennedy. Guy leaves a girl drowning in a car and he runs away. They're just normal fucking people like you and me. You don't have to be afraid of them."
On the way to a birthday party for the Iraqi Ambassador's daughter, Egan's wife said:
"They're from a bad regime," she protested. "I don't know how much we should expose Andrea to them. She's only seven."
"You get along with Han," I told her. "He comes from a dictatorship."
"That's what I'm saying. Why do all of our friends have to be America's enemies?"
Why indeed? Because real peace comes when individual citizens of nations begin getting along with each other, eating BBQ, going to birthday parties, kids playing together, hunting, fishing, and exchanging 'goody bags'.
I've only shared the first few pages with you out of 387 pages, there's so much more.
Purchase Eating With The Enemy at Amazon.com and give it a read, you won't be sorry. The world needs more folks like Bobby Egan.
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Thanks to Blue Dot Literary for the opportunity to review this book. Below the fold is the publisher's news release on Eating With The Enemy. Flip the page and leave a comment.
The Incredible True Story Of The New Jersey BBQ Joint Owner (From The Wrong Side Of The Tracks) Who Is Repairing Relations Between The US And North Korea!
Bobby Egan grew up in the mean streets of working-class Fairfield, New Jersey where he once mowed the lawn of Bobby Vesco. A high school dropout and rehabbed drug abuser, Egan never could have imagined that one day he would set out on a mission to improve relations between the United States and North Korea. He has accomplished what U.S. diplomats and the State Department would not and could not do: he extended an olive branch to a hostile regime in the dual hopes of seeking out information on POW/MIAs and normalizing relations between hostile countries in the nuclear age. His incredible story is wonderfully told in his memoir, EATING WITH THE ENEMY: How I Waged Peace with North Korea from my BBQ Shack in Hackensack.
Egan got involved in the issue of POW/MIAs from the Vietnam War era back in the early 1990s. His work caught the eye of government officials who continued to advise and monitor his activities. Our own government was impressed, but so was his Vietnamese contact, Le Quang Khai. While this occurred at a time when the Vietnam government was trying to normalize relations with the U.S., what transpired next involving North Korea was truly unprecedented, given the hostilities between the two countries. Khai talked to the North Korean consulate about this good guy they should get to know and before long, Bobby was meeting North Korean Han consul Song Ryol. The amazing friendship they forged over more than a decade is truly inspirational. Throughout this period, more was accomplished by Bobby Egan than most diplomats including such events as:· Taking North Korean diplomats to New York Giants and New Jersey Nets games
· Taking Han on fishing and hunting trips while US officials warned Bobby not to put a gun in Han’s hands
· Bobby and NY Giants chaplain, Dave Bratton being invited to North Korea to meet officials of the DPRK
· Bobby subjecting himself to sedation by North Korean officials while in Pyongyang in order to further win their trust
· Helping to secure the release of a US helicopter pilot shot down over North Korea
· Arranging to have his father – a Korean War vet and no fan of the Koreans – to chaperone the North Korean delegate to the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics
· Bobby enlists the help of Ross Perot to begin dialogue with the North Koreans about possibility of there still being POW/MIAs long after that war had ended
· On his next trip to Pyongyang, Bobby brings along US Senator Stewart Greenleaf and other officials to aid in talks about POW/MIAs
· Through his connections with Han Bobby soon befriends Nizar Hamdoun of the Iraq consulate in NYC and, like Han, soon they become good friends
· Bobby and Han work together to get the North Korean women’s soccer team to the US in 2003 for the women’s soccer world cup
· In one of his wildest adventures yet with the North Koreans, Bobby tried to negotiate to have North Korean return the captured US Naval ship Pueblo, taken in 1968
· Bobby’s efforts to bring the US and North Korea together to discuss dealing with nuclear weapons is a case of true frustration for all sides
Throughout all his years of friendship with Han, Bobby continued to give information to the FBI, annoy the White House and State Department, and generally do what no diplomat could get done: bridge, to some extent, the gap between these two old enemies, all the while running a top-notch BBQ shack in New Jersey. Egan’s unorthodox but patriotic efforts demonstrate what one “average-Joe citizen” can do with the best of intentions and desire. More than just a story of political intrigue, Eating with the Enemy is also a story of tremendous friendship forged from the cultural and political gaps between the two nations by two men who believe in their goodness of their countries and especially the goodness of a true friendship. Bobby Egan is available for interviews. I look forward to your coverage.
Praise for EATING WITH THE ENEMY
“Bobby Egan is an extraordinary man, who turned his openness and naivete into strengths. He is also one of the most unlikely persons anyone could imagine trying to bring warring nations to a détente table. This very special book is the life story of a patriot. And though some of his methods and capers may sound outlandish, even hilarious, they’re just like Bobby.” -Sydney H. Schanberg, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Death and Life of Dith Pran (the basis for the film The Killing Fields)
“Egan and Pitzer offer a stunning account of how a New Jersey restaurateur “penetrated” the North Korean diplomatic cadre in ways that eluded U.S. intelligence and diplomats.” -David Albright, President of the Institute for Science and Security
“This rollicking tale proves that the global can be personal, if you have the right guy – the right regular guy off the street – in the middle of it.” -Roy Blount, Jr.
“If Rocky Balboa has decided not to become a boxer but go into international diplomacy – on his own – this would be his story. Robert Egan recounts in an enjoyable way his sometimes quite scary adventures trying to make peace with various murderous regimes. It’s the rich seam of black comedy the book taps into which makes it worth reading. Next to his praiseworthy efforts to forge human ties with the North Koreans who come to America – eating ribs and steaks, going hunting and fishing – are his trips to the demented world of the Kim’s.” -Jasper Becker, journalist and author of Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea