A Talk with Tank aka James
November 2006 Newsletter
as written by Phil Adams (62-64)
Soon after being delivered to the 6th floor operations area at Tempelhof, I was introduced to Jim Connolly (60-63). Jim’s task at that moment was to take a couple of other new linguist arrivals and me around the floor, introduce us to Flight personnel and show us where everything was located. During the time that Jim was with us that day, he would have been attired in the blue-green Air Force fatigues of the era, probably with the shirttail out, as was common with those fatigues. They were the fatigues built to last a thousand years which somehow seems appropriate now. Jim would have appeared to be serious, but the twinkle in his eye was a giveaway when he parlayed one of his tongue-in-cheek comments as he sometimes did in his teasing manner.
6th Floor Tour
“Hi, my name’s Jim, call me Tank. Everyone does. Before you ask, I’m a Dash A. Before you ask again, that means, German Linguist. Let’s start back at the entry door to this floor. Here’s the security box to the door. Remember the code; don’t write it down. The code will change from time-to-time; if you forget it or miss out on a change, you can use the phone located right there near the box and someone inside will come and open the door for you. The only problem with that approach is if they are busy and no one comes along to hear the phone ringing…well, you know how that goes. When that happened to me once, I just reached in there and punched all the buttons with a properly irritated smack. Then some nice Air Policeman came up the elevator and another up the stairs and let me in. They were not pleased. So, I don’t recommend that approach. Remember the code.
The door over to your left there is our Armory. If there is an Alert and your assignment causes you to need to be armed, there’s where you’ll pick up your weapon and any required communication device. Otherwise, you might be assigned to destruction or burning or maybe even trying to figure out what is going on, by means of your regular job.
Back through the main door and to the right are the part of our crew who work in the dark and write with grease pencils. They have fascinating equipment. You could end up working in there. If you don’t, sometime when you and they are not busy, get them to show you the things they can see and do with their equipment. It is indeed fascinating.
Further down the hallway here is the inside-phone I was telling you about. It is a non-secure line. If you hear it ringing, answer it by repeating the phone number and that’s it. Say no more. You might be asked to go get someone here on the floor, do so.
Through this door straight ahead is where you’ll be working at least initially. Over here to the right is the Ditty-Bop position and that fellow there is an Analyst. He can read what the Ditty-Bop types and write what it means backwards.
Directly behind that position is the Search Position. You will be trained to work there as a short-term rotating type task. I’ll likely be the person who shows you how to do that when it comes up. Over there further to the right is the I/A Coordinator’s desk. They don’t relieve when everyone else does and they talk on the intercom. Every now and then they’ll jump up, type up a short teletype tape and send a message off to someone elsewhere.
The room behind them is where you’ll store your headsets and pick up a patch cord from one of the pegs there on the wall. Make sure your Op. Number is on your headsets. Never use someone else’s headset. It’s not healthy and it erases the frequencies the headset is good for (eye twinkle).
You’ll learn how to operate those tape players in that row while holding one of your headset speakers to your ear with your shoulder, making the tape go forward with your foot and backwards with your finger, all the while typing. You’ll get so good at it that you can do it without thinking. But, you do need to be sober.
And, this device is a degausser. It erases tapes. You put the tape on this way, flip this switch, turn the tape in this direction slowly with your finger – Hear that buzzing growl? And, turn your body in this direction. If you don’t do it just like I told you, the machine will sterilize you. You will have no children. You do not decide which tapes are to be degaussed. For example, Del Larson makes that decision for the Dash A’s.
See that wall of audio tapes? If anyone asks you where we should store them, don’t say, “the basement”. We did that one winter. It got so cold down there the oxide fell off the tapes.
Here in the center of the big room is the Mission Supervisor’s desk. His job is to worry. Don’t irritate him. He’s got enough to worry about.
The fellow there wearing the headsets with a mike and is leashed to the thing that looks like a dog-run cable is the V/Controller. He’ll be your immediate boss. He’ll know what you are working on at all times. That’s his job.
You’ll note that there is an air conditioner in every blanked-out window over behind those receiver consoles. In fact they’re all along that wall and into the adjacent rooms. It surely causes the German Nationals who might be out around the hanger to wonder about all those air conditioners running at full-blast in the middle of winter when it’s freezing out. They keep the smoke down in here too. It’s not part of your job to adjust the air conditioners but you will note a number of people working in their tee-shirts.
On the other side of the Ditty-Bop is the door to the Comm. Center. Don’t try to go in there. The people who work there have a different badge. They are trained to glare at you if you try to go in there.
In this doorway here to the left is where the Reporter works. They look at info the Analyst writes backwards on the other side of that translucent wall so the Reporter can see it forwards. Then the Reporters write little reports and hand them through that window to someone In the Comm. Center for further Comming.
As we keep going through this door, we’ll see where the Flight Commander’s Desk is located. He spends a lot of time in the Reporter’s area when not otherwise commanding.
Beyond that is where the V/Analysts work. They separate 6-ply pads into 1-ply stacks and package up the stacks for the Courier. You might be assigned to this section after a while. Otherwise expect to work a few hours on some mid-shifts helping with the stacking and packing.
Back out to the main room and further back through the door at the end is the Blue Room. These people work in the dark too, but there’s always an eerie light from their gear. I cross-trained back here for a few months when they were running a little short. Great job!
The Burn Room is back here in the corner. Flip that switch on for the exhaust, put a burning paper in there on the hearth, turn that valve …and pray. Don’t blow the place up. Turn it off in the reverse order. My roommate will likely be the one to train you in Burn Bag Burning. He loves to have burn duty because we do that on Mid’s and if you get the hang of it, you can get the job done in a couple hours, tidy up the room, head back for a needed shower – as you do sweat a bit in the burn room - and hit the Strasse. My roommate’s name is Tom Kleifges. We call him Mole. He is clever.
That metal ladder is the way you get to the roof and our gear up there. Maybe I can show you around up there some day.
In this little room is where we store the floor mopping and waxing equipment. Until you get a little rank or some time-in-grade, you’ll become familiar with this equipment when our Flight has Mid’s on a Sunday. You’ll agree that’s a fine looking, heavy duty, mop and mop-wringer bucket. There is no finer mop-wringer bucket. Learn to use it right. Don’t even think about running the buffer until you have been properly trained. A Buffer Operator cannot be banging off our people or our equipment (Twinkle).
That’s it. Now, I’ll turn you back-over to either Sgt. Warren Knight or Sgt. Ray Yarbrough who’ll probably get you some ‘side-saddle’ time with one of the old-timers yet today. Be advised, that in no training anywhere did they prepare you for the massive explosion you are going to hear in your ears here at Tempelhof.”
The above ‘6th Floor Tour’ occurred in early 1962. It is based upon both Tank’s and my own recall. Some of the wording would not have been exactly what Tank said back then, but it could have been. The material that follows is based upon phone discussions with Tank in recent weeks (2006). They are in the genre of War Stories, things that impressed Tank back then about the town, the work, the world changing events of our time. He may have retold these stories over the years. In fact, he may have told me some, if not all of them, 40+ years ago, perhaps on a dreary midnight shift or two - one only has so many stories. If Tank were well he would have written this himself. Because that is not the case, I have attempted to compile his recollections as a tribute to him and to the world we knew.
The Trip to Berlin
Tank was in the last class of German linguists to attend the AF Contract, Foreign Service Institute at Georgetown. Also in that class were members Bill Lieber and Bob Reynolds and another fellow who went to Berlin but was only there for a very short time. They arrived in Berlin in the Fall of 1960, but not without some difficulty just getting there.
The group of 4 were in Frankfurt and couldn’t get to Berlin. Three of the fellows were already at Rhein Main when Tank arrived. They were having trouble getting transportation to Berlin. SSgt Bob Reynolds went to work. In Bob’s words,
“…upon arriving at Rhein Main, the ongoing movement of troops to Berlin & elsewhere was backed up, so we had to hang around Rhein Main & Frankfurt for almost two weeks. We were already past our time to report in to the 12th, so one sunny morning I went to transportation (Security Service had never made the folks at Rhein Main Transportation aware of the restrictions on their troops mode of transportation) and talked to one of the senior NCOs and told him we needed to get to Berlin as soon as possible. (By the way, I wasn't aware of those transportation restrictions myself, until we arrived in Berlin.) He told me that we would probably get out that Friday via C-47 from Rhein Main. Thursday I went back & he told me that the flight had been scrubbed. So, I pleaded with him to help us since some of the guys were running out of money, etc. He then said that if he couldn't arrange anything the next day, Friday, he would send us up via Pan Am on Sunday. That's what happened - an AF van transported us from Rhein Main to the Int'l Airport & away we flew - nice experience. We arrived at TCA and no one knew we were coming. We walked over to Head Building East & tried to sign in, but the CQ said he had to talk to the First Shirt. Our good man "Sleepy Mac" told him to put us in the barracks and that we were to report to his office at 8 AM the next morning. We did and Mac told us that the unit was investigating us and we were to take a three-day pass so that they could evaluate and confirm our story - he immediately thought we were arriving from Frankfurt an der Oder. We lounged around since most of us were broke, but we did go over to Clay Hqs compound where the BX & snack bar were located. At one point, since Mac said that we had arrived in Berlin illegally and that if the Soviets or East Germans found out they could make trouble, he suggested they send up a C-47 from Wiesbaden to fly us down & return us legally to TCA. I thought that was foolish & I told them so. I guess the NCOIC at Rhein Main finally corroborated what I had said, so they finally embraced us as one of theirs. I was the only person working with Rhein Main transportation & went there alone, so the rest weren't aware of what I had negotiated with the NCOIC - I told them, but briefly; however, they were all happy when we boarded that Pan Am flight and flew so comfortably on to TCA.”
Tank laughingly reflects on their arrival in Berlin and now says, “They thought we were spies!”
Vive la Différence
After getting checked-in, a German employee showed Tank to his room, opened and closed the windows, explained how the thick walls would keep it nice and warm in the winter with the knob on the radiator adjusted just right. Tank put his hand on the radiator and it was not hot. Enquiring about that, the employee said that the heat was on, it was always on. Tank later learned that warm water was circulated, not the steam with which he was more familiar.
He also learned early-on what all the coal was about during the Airlift. Closing his windows and door and cleaning the window sill lasted, in his words, about 5 minutes.
The room overlooked ‘Eagle Square’ and was about as nice as any Airman’s room anywhere. It did have a quirk that was not nearly as amusing then as it is now. Tank’s roommate, Kleifges, had a top-shelf Hi-Fi system. Because of the close proximity of the nearby, big radar antenna sweeping endlessly back and forth, back and forth, their music was interrupted with a healthy buzz every 12 seconds. Tank does have a son, therefore the unsolicited radiation treatments abated over time.
Recalls Tank, “Talk about German efficiency and preciseness…. one night I joined friend Steve Moore on a bus trip out to Tegel to pick-up Steve’s fiancé. While waiting at a bus transfer stop on the way over, the transfer bus blew by with all the interior lights on - empty. The bus was behind schedule. There’d be no stopping for passengers until that time was made up.” Tank remembers that Steve’s fiancé stayed at the Hilton, a very nice place to stop by for a beverage in those days.
One thought leads to another and on the subject of preciseness, Tank recalls a time, in the wee hours of the morning around 4 or 5 AM, while returning to base, a yearning for ham and eggs came on strong. That yearning wasn’t going to be fulfilled on base so he asked a taxi driver if he knew where a proper breakfast could be purchased at that time of day. He sure did, and off they went - east of Tempelhof, perhaps in ‘The East’. The driver took him to a two-story building with a bar at street level and a restaurant above. After enjoying a fine morning repast, Tank discovered that he no longer had Marks in his wallet. He offered to pay with a 20 dollar bill. The proprietor did not know what it was and asked if it was “Army Money”. Tank told him that it was not Script and any bank would give him the current 4.219 Marks per Dollar exchange rate for it. He went on to suggest that the cabbie whom the proprietor had called for him would exchange it for Tank at 4 Marks on the Dollar. “Oh, that wouldn’t do” replied the proprietor. “We’ll want to do it right and give you the money you are due” he added, and proceeded to manually calculate the exact change to give to Tank.
In Search of Fine Food
Thoughts of fine food spark a memory of another time. Tank explains, “While strolling down the Kudamm, I decided to stop in the Haus Wien (Vienna House) for a nice treat of Strawberries and Crème. The Matre’d, dressed in his Tuxedo, inquired if I was going to eat. I heard the soft chamber music, cellos and the like and responded, ‘Jawohl!’ He led me to a large private room with one huge table maybe thirty feet long and enormous chairs. It looked like something out of Nordic times. A bigger room was for families and because I was alone I had the private room to myself. I ordered a filet. A Hungarian wine was suggested and a bottle in lieu of a glass seemed appropriate in this delightful setting. Soon, as many as 5 waiters began arriving with food-warmers and larger-than-life silverware. The Matre’d returned to serve and provided me with all the little niceties like pear jelly and specially prepared horseradish sauce. I finally got to the Strawberries and Crème.” According to Tank, the whole deal was 17-19 Marks, less than $5 dollars then. Tank continues, “But, that’s not all. There was the Zigeuner Keller (Gypsy Cellar) downstairs with a lively Gypsy band where one could buy a proper pitcher of Zigeuner Blut (Gypsy Blood) – a nice Budapest red wine poured into a pitcher ½ way and the remainder topped off with Champagne. Where did that pitcher go? The Haus Wien is no longer there with its marvelous food, exciting cellar and historic décor. Zigeuner Blut lives on.”
All the finer things in life were not off-base. Take Midnight Chow, for instance. Tank reports it to have been “absolutely fabulous – the SOS was the best and those Bakelite cups of fresh milk, wow!” He says, “4 eggs, 10-12 pieces of bacon - I ate like a horse but didn’t gain weight. I miss the SOS all the time now and when I do, I remember the night one of the fellows decided to turn his plate into a pillow. Yes, someone fell asleep in his SOS.”
The fabulous Wiener Schnitzel at the Club makes for another continuing fond memory. Says Tank, “Their Schnitzel Dinner would be good right now.” A glance at Jerry Loiselle’s Club Silver Wings menu (posted on our web site) shows a price of $.75 for the Wiener Schnitzel dinner including choice of potatoes, rolls and butter.
When men of goodwill shake hands, good things happen. Such it was when some of our people traded a supply of delectable C-Rations for a freezer full of t-bone and sirloin steaks. Explains Tank, “Supplies of WWII Rations were pre-positioned at the various military installations in Berlin. Tempelhof had their cache too, much of which was stored in the basement of HBE, say 6 months worth for 1000 troops. Said cache was one source of our barter. The makings of a grand party were in the works. Everyone was invited. Tickets were required to manage the event and Tank recalls Voice Controller, SSgt Warren Knight (59-63) standing there with a smile on his face, a tall glass of refreshing beverage in his hand, a massive roll of tickets over his arm and the end of the roll trailing around his neck as he distributed the tickets. Everything was free.” Says Tank, “I ate three dinners that night.”
Tank recalls with amusement that friend Walt Mercer left one of the Flight’s annual party-boat outings minus one shoe. Fortunately, he was not in uniform and therefore not out of it, so to speak. Mentioning Walt causes Tank to recall that because of previous experience at breaking into his own room when the door appeared locked and no key was available, Walt inquired as to just how one did that in order that he too might return to his room. Tank explains, “The door handle must be held in the down position and the door hit with all available shoulder force. If the door does not at least wiggle upon impact, there is no chance - one can bang on it all day to no avail. Otherwise, you’re in, as they say.”
A Flight party that roommate Kleifges went to but Tank didn’t resulted in Kleifges returning to the room rolling a half-full Löwenbräu Bier keg through the door. He declared, ‘I’m going to make a lamp stand out of it.’ It was there for awhile but eventually someone, maybe Sgt. Knight, said he had to return it because we were going to be charged for it. It was hard to find a decent lamp stand.
Roomie Kleifges traveled the city far and wide in search of whatever it was that we were always in search of. On one of his sojourns he discovered a quaint, friendly bar at the end of the line for Streetcar #13. To this spot, he once took Tank. It was a place where the door banged into the Wall when opened. Tank recalls the windows being freshly boarded-up and when asked why that was done, the proprietor replied, “Someone sprayed the windows with machine gun fire yesterday.”
It was ‘the people’ who created the happy remembrances for Tank.
|Commander’s Calls, for example, became a delight when First Shirt Ed McCrossin, who was famous for getting his words bassackwards, would say something endearing like, “If the wear fits, shoe it.”|
|A German barber named Fricke did very good scissor cuts even on flattops, Tank’s preference at the time.|
|It still amuses him to recall friend Bob (Animal) Thomas in the shower area using 2 or 3 razor blades and taking ½ hour to shave only to still need a shave.|
|A person he will always hold in high regard is the BIA member who rotated back to CONUS with an AWOL bag containing a load of full cognac bottles.|
|He recalls how in later years that his close friend and former roommate Tom Kleifges, after making CMSgt, said smilingly, “I like being called Chief.”|
|It was former classmate Bill Lieber who decided that the young James Connolly would be called Tank. It was in the 6th floor Bowling Alley where Bill exclaimed that James’ ball sounded like a tank as it rolled down the alley hitting the finger holes at just the same tempo as a tank on tarmac.|
|The team to represent the 12th at Garmisch for the first European Theater bowling tournament included Joe Covern, Joe Fox, Shel Sherwin, Lou Sonsalla and Tank. He recalls that they didn’t have enough money to buy food on that trip and consequently Tank decided to forego the invitation the following year no matter how good the candy bars were.|
|It didn’t take Tank long to learn that you didn’t want to lift the shoulder-high positioned barbell in the gym area without first checking the total bar weight. Tank did the lift without checking. He got it up but couldn’t get it down. A call for help resulted in ribald laughter from his nearby friends. He dropped the bar on the mat and hoped it didn’t crack the floor. Tank says, “A tally revealed 317 lbs.” Wonder who the last person working that bar was.|
One evening upon reentering the living quarters area of the building, Tank observed what appeared to be a fancy flickering light reflecting through a window into the transient officers area on the erste obergeshoss. After opening the door to be sure there was nothing amiss, he saw that a fire was already raging. Rushing to the nearby fire alarm, he soon discovered there was no hammer. Tank surmised it would be just his luck to have a fire and no hammer. He took out his hanky, wrapped it around his hand, broke the glass and worked the switch. There was no sound. No hammer, no sound. By placing his head next to the alarm switch, he could hear a buzzing. “Finally the alarm went off over the entire Tempelhof building – that is …all of the building, just as Jerry (Mouse) Loiselle stepped out of the shower and saw me with my ear to the alarm button. Surely that alarm is sending a signal to those who would respond. And, respond they did, after first going to the civilian side of the airport in error, oops!” Jerry humorously reports that he doesn’t recall that particular episode but does recall all other episodes.
The continuous elevator, the so-called Paternoster, was down for about a year in 1961 because of the fire and Tank spent 16-18 hours operating the large service elevator helping to relocate the lads who lived on the 5th and 6th floor to the 2nd and 3rd.
Numerous little things pop into Tank’s mind as he reminisces about his Berlin years. Some will be remembered by those who were there about that time.
|Juice would freeze on the window sill if left out there too long.|
|The small BX had any hand soap you wanted as long as it was Lifeboy or Ivory. He stuck with Ivory and alternated between the Colgate and Pepsodent toothpaste.|
|Two or three panes were broken in the shower room in his area. It was cold in the winter and snow could occasionally be seen entering. The room could be warmed by turning on 2 or 3 shower heads (1 for each broken pane) to build up a little steam.|
|Barbed wire on top of base fencing was turned to keep us in - rather than to keep someone else out. It was most noticeable in the arcade area separating our shops from Eagle Square.|
Recalls Tank, “An Airman named Kaczmarek lived nearby and listened to music in his room a lot. One Sunday night at about 2 in the morning, he came over to our room, woke us up and declared that something was going on and there was no music. The stations were off the air. U.S. Army tanks were rumbling down the street. The Wall was going up! Kleifges stayed up and searched the radio for awhile. I eventually rolled over and went back to sleep thinking, ‘It does not matter, there was always the wall of machine guns.’” Somehow it was heartening when the Army took a Jeep with a loudspeaker and appropriately played the song, “Don’t Fence Me In”.
Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above,
Don't fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don't fence me in… ♫
What Freq is That?
During my time as an operator, it was clear that on our Flight no other operator knew as much about our voice equipment as Tank did. There’s good reason for that. In the 1940’s his Dad took training in radio repair, tube testing and the like. Therefore, Tank was involved in radio, TV and antenna tuning starting when he was 8 years old. His interest continued in Berlin. He studied everything he could find regarding the transceivers, receivers and antennae with which we were involved. One day I was selected to be the recipient of some of that info while he was still on-board.
Like a year earlier, Tank took me on a tour. It was a working tour. It started on the roof. He said, “Follow me. Let’s go up and take a look at the antennas. Recall that steel ladder affixed to the wall in the Burn Room. We are going to go up there. Keep in mind that in order to do this I had to arrange with the Flight Commander to get the key to the roof door and to give him time to alert the Air Policemen that we were going to go up there today. The AP’s get very excited when that door opens and they get an alarm.
Okay, besides the magnificent view from up here, these are ours and that is the Army’s. You need to understand what we have up here in order to understand what we’re going to do back down below…”
The biggest difference between this tour and the one earlier is that there were no eye-twinkling witticisms. This time Tank was talkin’ bizness.
Some of the fine men mentioned in this “Talk with Tank” are no longer with us. Chief Tom (Mole) Kleifges, Walt Mercer and Bob (Animal) Thomas have passed on. While here, they did good.
The box (roof front) was the Army’s. The dark pipe (far left roof) is the vent for the Burn Room.
Photo by Dale Olson (58-60).
© 2006, The Berlin Island Association