Poland - The Stand-off, by Roy Burnham (1978)

President Carter came to Poland in 1978 to meet the Polish leadership and to present a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Warrior. These were still communist times, and it was regarded in Poland as a very significant event. The visit duly came and went; everything went smoothly, the President flew off on Air Force One.

The following day his entourage, which included three personal security guards, arrived at the airport for their departure. They had flown out with the president on Air Force One and were planning to travel on BEA to London and on BOAC to Washington.

I received a call from security at the airport to say that these gentlemen had checked in for the flight, and while they were going through security they had set off all the alarms. It then transpired that they had they were carrying personal sidearms with them.

The military had allowed them through the various security checks and they were sitting in the departure lounge, waiting to board the BA flight to London. I set off for the airport to meet them, and was confronted by these three extremely hefty and powerful looking security guards.

I asked if they were carrying guns and they said yes, they were. I told them, “I’m sorry, but you can’t carry guns on the flight”. They said, “We have to carry our guns – we are never separated from them. They are personally measured to fit us and we are never parted from them. It’s part of the job we do.” I replied, “Well, in that case you will have stay in Warsaw for a few more days, because you are not going to be allowed to fly on this aircraft carrying them on your person.” Stalemate.

We had a little stand-off, during which the pilot came off the aircraft and confirmed for their benefit that he would not under any circumstances allow them on board the aircraft while they were carrying their personal weapons. Time went by and the scheduled departure time of the aircraft was fast approaching.

Eventually they decided amongst themselves that travelling without the weapons was preferable to staying in Warsaw without any promise of when and how they would be able to leave. They all stood up, took off their jackets in the middle of the departure lounge and piled all their guns in a big heap on the table, to the general amazement and consternation of the other passengers in the lounge. I was left with the three guns in their holsters with leather and metal belts, thinking, “What am I going to do with this lot?”

I asked one of the customer service personnel to find me a big bag; she came back with a spare company mailbag into which I managed to stuff all the guns and holsters and duly delivered them to the aircraft, to be carried safely in the hold. It was a strange feeling, in a country which was, at that time, so dominated by the military, to be seen carrying guns around in the middle of Warsaw airport.

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