Spy turned professor

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Author Heather Moore poses with Bob Inama, who she interviewed before his passing. Photo credit: Heather Moore

On Aug. 21, Bob Inama passed away. Inama taught at BYU-Idaho for 51 years and left behind a legacy of perseverance and faithfulness.

Before becoming a professor at BYU-I, Bob Inama was a teacher’s assistant in Berlin, Germany, during the 1960s.

But in Germany, Inama was more than a TA, he was an undercover spy.

Little did the young returned missionary know that during his time in Germany, he would share the light of the gospel while being subjected to torture, interrogation and betrayal.

Professors Trent Rose and Duane Adamson worked alongside Inama in BYU-I’s Political Science Department for nine years.

Inama and Adamson worked in neighboring offices.

“He would occasionally talk about looking across the Berlin wall while he was in the military and the significance of that,” Adamson said. “But the specifics of his service, being a spy, being captured, being tortured in East Germany, being released as part of a prisoner, a spy exchange —none of that came out.”

For most of his life, Inama kept his story a secret from family and friends. But toward the end of his life, he began opening up. The professor started sharing pieces of his story with students before retiring in 2015 after 51 years of teaching.

“He’d always been afraid … that if he told this story, somehow his family would be harmed,” Adamson said.

Author Heather Moore wrote a novel, “The Slow March of Light,” based on events from Bob Inama’s life as well as an article in the Deseret News. It was not until an interview for a book that his family learned what happened in East Germany so many years before.

After being drafted in 1959, an officer informed Inama of a secret mission in East Germany. He would no longer be Bob Inama, but Peter Jones.

“There will be no official record of this assignment, so if it fails, you are on your own,” Officer Taggart said.

While traveling with Professor Schmitt, an economics professor at the University of Berlin, the two passed through a checkpoint while passing from East to West Germany. When East German soldiers stopped their car, Schmitt gave away Inama’s identity as an American soldier. Inama was shocked.

While imprisoned for six months, Inama endured daily beatings and interrogation, starvation and isolation. He stood before a firing squad and his life was barely spared.

Inama remained grateful. He thanked the guards that beat him and that brought him his little food. When he awoke in the mornings after being beaten unconscious, he gave prayers of thanks.

Inama nicknamed one of the guards that escorted him to interrogations and beatings Adolf. He would talk to Adolf about the gospel, even though the guard never responded. But later when he faced a firing squad, Adolf moved him to a pole where he was safe and saved his life.

Finally, in a prisoner exchange, Inama was released.

Then many years later, while living in Idaho, Inama received a letter.

Bob Inama,

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.

Adolf

According to his past colleagues, Inama was kind and gentle.

“I really mean that,” Rose said. “That’s something, you know, we often just say about people, but he really was … a benevolent and kind person.”

He had a sense of humor that, although sometimes dated, added to his sense of charm. Both Adamson and Rose still have Christmas gifts from Inama in their offices — American flags that play music.

Adamson describes Inama as a creature of habit. Reluctant to use the computer, the professor hand-wrote his exams and lamented the end of the mimeograph machine. He liked to teach in the same classroom. Adamson remembers emails from Inama being similar to that of a serial killer. It was a mix of upper and lowercase letters as a result of handpicking the keys.

“In hindsight, some of these things make more sense now,” Adamson said. “(For) someone who had the experiences that he did, someone who had been tortured the way that he did, that rhythm of habit can be really calming and peaceful.”

Along with his quirks, Inama was a knowledgeable professor.

“He knew his stuff,” Adamson said. “But if you slow down and listen, he has a lifetime, literally, of experience and knowledge to pass on.”

Among the lessons learned by those who knew Bob Inama is the lesson to never judge a book by its cover. Although Inama was from an era that may have seemed distant to his students, the professor brought a rich lifetime of experience to Ricks College and BYU-I. Adamson encourages students to withhold judgment and take time to learn different experiences.

“You just don’t know what people have experienced,” Adamson said. “You don’t know where they’re coming from. And sometimes I think we just should slow down and listen a little bit. Some people might have some really interesting things to say.”

For Rose, the story of Bob Inama is an example of selflessness.

“It’s not something he had to do … he volunteered for this special mission,” Rose said. “The Christ-like attitude that he showed throughout … the whole trial, it’s pretty amazing.”

Upon his retirement, the political science faculty dedicated a classroom to Inama. A plaque on the wall honors the late professor and his contributions to the school and its students.