I had just wrapped up the course: AFSC 2031 “Intelligence
Communications Officer” at Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo, Texas. That was a real
eye opener for a guy who had never been in the Security
Service. It opened up a whole new world for me. I had
taken the one-year Russian language course at Syracuse and
had majored in German at Wichita University. When I
learned that my assignment was to be in Berlin I was amazed,
but convinced that the Air Force personnel people really
knew what they were doing. I was ready. How can a guy
be that lucky?
In May 1959,
Loretta, who was 5 months pregnant, and
I were packed and headed for Berlin,
Germany. I was assigned to
Detachment One of the 6910th Radio Group, Mobile; later to
become the 6912th Radio Squadron, Mobile. Not knowing better,
we and our 2 small girls took the duty train from
Frankfurt to Berlin just at the time that
the Soviets had issued an ultimatum that they were going to
stop the duty train. Nothing happened, but the people
in Berlin were amazed to see us arrive by train thru the
Soviet zone of Germany during the threat of Soviet
harassment. For the first few weeks we lived in an apartment
in the Columbia House on Tempelhof. Then we found an
apartment “on the economy”. In short order our older
daughter was playing with the German children and speaking
German freely. We found Berlin to be a very exciting
city. The Wannsee and the Grunewald!. The
Kurfurstendamm! The Funkturm!. We loved to eat
at the Pavilion du Lac in the French sector. The
cheeses at the French commissary! We enjoyed wild boar
and bear meat dishes at some of the Jaeger-type restaurants.
Bratwurst and Baerenbier at the Schnellimbiss! Loretta
loved to shop at the KaDeWe and stroll the Ku’damm.. I
could not believe that you could get freshly baked Broetchen
and Loewenbrau delivered to the doorstep every morning for a
few cents. The dollar would buy DM 4.20 at that time.
Our son, Paul Jr. was born in the Berlin Army Hospital on September 25,
1959. The doctor who delivered him was a big hulking
Berliner civilian with a huge dueling scar diagonally across
his face. I pictured him doing experiments on
concentration camp inmates during Nazi times, but Loretta
said he was a great doctor.
As the fourth
and most junior officer assigned, I became the assistant
operations officer. My position was not yet
authorized. The first thing I was told about my job was that
I had to get my slot authorized if I wanted to stay in
Berlin. The operations section of the 6912th RSM
consisted of over 300 young, very bright enlisted
Airmen - linguists and otherwise.
Initially, each of the four operational flights was
commanded by an NCO Flight Commander, Tech and Master
Sergeants. Later, after the changes to the unit master
plan and manning document that I
had a part in were accepted, lieutenants and captains
that ranked me were assigned as Flight Commander.
Imagine my pride as Capt
Perez kept me on as Asst Ops
I think the
main reason most of us are proud of our service in Berlin is
that we know we had the greatest job in the Air Force.
We were in a place that was important to the world; a place
that was surrounded by forces hostile to our way of life.
It was literally an island of freedom in a sea of
oppression. Our mission was located 360 degrees around us.
Also, we had the best people you'd hope to find anywhere.
We knew we were doing our job right. Everybody had a
part to play. Everything came together in
virtual real-time. We knew who was doing what exactly where,
when and how well at all times - 24/7. We also knew
that if it came to that, we could make a seamless transition
to support the war fighting effort. We were a force
multiplier in the true sense of the term.
Now for some recollections
from this time over forty years ago.
are still told
about the disasters and near disasters on the "pater
noster", the continuously running, small cabin elevator that
you had to jump into and out of on the go in Head Building
Mitte. Does it flop over horizontally as it goes over
the top? Or does it stay upright all the way?
Some people even lived to find out. Furniture pieces,
oversized packages and sometimes body extremities were said
to have been caught between the cabin and the doorway and
shaft. It was reportedly
used at times as a means of transporting unauthorized
beverage, a bowling ball target, a place to inadvertently
catch a nap after a long night on the ‘Strasse’.
I’m sure you have many
more tales to tell about adventures with the rattling
endless chain elevator.
Some have heard or
maybe even personally experienced the
horror stories about the stripe-ripping courts martial under
one of our erstwhile,
more notorious commanders, Major Woodrow Gentry whose
preamble with a smile on his face was; "bring the guilty
bastard in here and we'll give him a fair trial". He
was jesting, of course? God rest his immortal soul.-- and
his compassionate marriage counseling that began with:
"What?! You want to marry that whore?" He was
not joking here. Ask Paul Boyette. He'd reassign
and ship the guy out of Berlin before the marriage could be
consummated when he could. When he assigned
this junior officer to conduct a summary court martial for
some infraction of military discipline and the punishment I
brought didn't suit his sense of justice, I was convinced
that I was in danger of being court martialled myself.
Talk about an atmosphere of fear! What a sigh of
relief we all breathed when Major McCall came on
board as commander!
A couple things I learned from Hugh McCall served me well
the rest of my Air Force career. The first thing was:
”Make sure that everyone that is helping the unit to be
outstanding is recognized and rewarded for his contribution.
Go all the way, don’t hold back”. The second thing
was: “ If a man screws up, don’t try to kill him the first
time. Give him another chance. If he really is
no good, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate
that. There will always be time to take corrective
Some of you
may recall the rather sudden departure of four guys from the
"pit". It turned out that, unbeknownst to anyone at
the time, these four guys had evidently had a different
sexual preference and had become a little too amorous with
each other. You have to remember this was the early
sixties and before the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the
Service. Ops lost some hard to replace talent here.
This is when Major McCall decided it was time to
indoctrinate "Brownie", our local OSI agent, to give him full access to our mission and to
the Ops area.
You may also remember when a troubled soul who worked one of
our most sensitive positions beat it across to the East
armed with loads of highly classified information. We
learned later that with this irrational act, he was
attempting to punish an alcoholic mother who was living with
him and who had embarrassed him severely in front of his
friends on numerous occasions. He left a note to that
effect. With the potential damage his defection could
cause, the whole spook network in Berlin was alerted and
immediately sprung into action. Our guy, we learned
later, went to an East German reception center in East
Berlin bag in hand to turn himself in. As luck would
have it, the office was closed for some reason. So he
checks his "goodies" bag in a locker in a bus or U-bahn
station and calls his best friend in West Berlin - one of
our guys. The good guys had already briefed this
friend who was able to talk him into coming back across to
the West to talk over what he was doing. Needless to
say, on coming back across, he was grabbed by the good guys.
The spooks, miraculously, were also able to retrieve the
goodies bag from the locker in East Berlin before any of the Ostie henchmen knew what had happened. This was
before the wall. A disaster had been averted.
The poor guy, however, was given a general court martial and
received 20-30 years. Our unit was actually commended
by higher headquarters for the way things were handled.
In August 1961,
when the Berlin wall was erected by the East Germans and
Soviets, things became very tense. Confrontations
between US Military Police patrols and East German Vopos
(Volkspolizei) threatened to
erupt into shoot-outs. Open hostilities seemed
very likely. The three Western powers, US, British and
French, acted very resolutely. The British Black Watch
Guards pitched their tents right at the wall just inside the
East-West Berlin border.
They were very impressive in their black garb.
US Army tanks moved up to Check Point Charlie muzzle
to muzzle with East German tanks on the other side of the
crossing. Soviet tanks stayed back a little to give
the appearance that it was an East German show.
Everybody expected that orders
would be given for our tanks to run over the barbed wire and
smash down the wall under construction. That didn't
It was around this time that an Army unit came up the
Autobahn into Berlin and set up camp on
Tempelhof. All at once there were a lot of green suits on
the airfield. I recall that they set up big mortars
aimed at the bridges between East and West Berlin in case
the whistle blew. Sure made us feel safe,
ahem. Some of our
troopers getting off mids hit the Strasse just in time to
run into these "heros in green". Some of our guys
giving vent to some of their pent up tension had to be
bailed out of the slammer for getting into it with these
guys. Then, when a US Army MP patrol was stopped in
East Berlin by some East German Army or Vopo border unit, we had a "Mexican
stand-off" with weapons drawn.
An uncontrollable shoot-out was very likely. It
was at this time that all military units in
Berlin were put on the
highest DEFCON. That meant hostilities were imminent.
In Ops we knew about what the military situation around
Berlin was. Not very comforting. But, not to
worry. We had a good ground defense plan. All
off duty personnel were recalled to Head Building East and
issued M1 carbines and our few
45 calibre “grease guns”. Every last bit of
ammunition was doled out to each of our defenders who were
assigned to pre-determined positions around and on top of
HBE with orders to shoot any unauthorized person approaching
the building. At this time we also dusted off our
destruction plan. Under this plan, when given the
order by the commander, the 6th floor was to be flooded with
Diesel fuel from the reserve 55 gallon drums for the
emergency generator. Then thermite grenades were to be
detonated on the commo gear and each position rack. I
think that plan might have worked. Now, our escape and
evasion plan was something else. Once having destroyed
everything of interest on the 6th floor,
the joke went that we
would each lose our uniform and get into a local
Berliner street cleaner's uniform, grab a push broom and
sweep our way down the Autobahn towards Helmstedt or
Frankfurt. In other words, there was no plan that had any
chance of working. Luckily we did not have to
the destruction plan and nobody got shot. You can
clearly see why military
personnel who served in
this time were awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.
The tension contributed to several incidents, which resulted
in the immediate transfer of some very highly experienced
people from the 6912th. The personnel shortages
resulting further created additional stress for the
remaining people. New people had to be trained on an
accelerated basis. Routinely the bright young Airmen
of the 6912th found many ways to get into trouble.
After an exhausting 8-hour trick on the job, which ended for
some at 2300 hours (11 PM), Berlin presented all kinds of
attractions for the release of tension. An OSI
briefing at the time reported that the East German
intelligence service had sent over some 2000 young female
operatives to engage our young troops in activities which
would make them less able to function well on the job and to
learn what they could about their work. Could our nanny,
Giesela, have been one of these girls? Or was this
just a story cooked up to scare our young troopers away from
the Fraeulines? If so, it didn’t work. We did
know that there were a lot of East German agents at work in
West Berlin, but most of them were not pretty females.
President Kennedy came to Berlin around this time and
declared "Ich bin ein Berliner!". The English language radio
broadcasts from East Berlin tried to make the dependents
nervous with all sorts of scare tactics and played "Don’t
fence me in" as their theme song. A lot of wives
suddenly had sick parents back home that they had to visit
and didn’t come back. Some of
our people found themselves being quickly packed up
and put on the "Gooney Bird" courier flight to the "Zone"
often without knowing why. One guy was shipped
out with no notice just
because his Schatzie was part of a "spook" operation and he
was in the way. Our incident rate went way up. We lost
a lot of good people. Our commander gave us pep talks
that we had to set an example for the troops. Needless to
say, it was an interesting period
for this LT.
It was also
during this time that Gary Powers was shot down over Russia
in a U-2 high altitude reconnaissance airplane. Many earlier
unsuccessful attempts had been made to shoot down U-2s over
Russia. Khrushchev banged his shoe on the rostrum at
the UN to make the point that he did not like that.
time two West German F-84s got lost in heavy weather and
strayed over East Germany. Soviet fighters were up
trying to shoot them down, but couldn’t find them in the
weather. An Air Traffic Controller at the 1946th
AC&W Sq was able to pick them up and vector them to a safe
landing at Tegel in the French sector. The runways at
Tempelhof were not long enough. The aircraft had to be
disassembled and were shipped to West Germany by train.
The Soviets would not let them fly out.
there would be flights of several aircraft from the West
noted heading east toward the East-West border. There
would be all kinds of reaction to these flights. All
at once everything was turned on. Somebody referred to
these flights as “exciter flights”. That they
certainly were alright.
I also recall
that when we saw chaff drops over Berlin we could walk out
onto the roof from the 6th floor of HBE and pick
up samples of the real thing. They were hollow, hair-thin
metallic-coated fiberglass filaments. Where else
could you do something like that?
As part of
the pressure the Soviets were putting on Berlin and the
Western Allies, corridor flights were being harassed by
Soviet fighters. Some of the fighter passes made at
the airliners were dangerously close. The Soviets
accused the Allies of straying out of the corridors and of
violating the altitude restrictions placed on corridor
flights. To deal with this threat, new, high-powered
navigational aids were installed at Tempelhof. The
idea was to give the air traffic controllers the capability
to more accurately keep the corridor flights on track.
The side effect of these high output radars and
communications equipment, however, was to essentially blank
out huge portions of the RF spectrum all over Tempelhof.
This became a critical problem for the 6912th
Radio Squadron, Mobile. In an attempt to resolve this
problem, Captain Perez took the word “mobile” in our unit’s name literally. Without
approval or permission from anyone he and I checked out a ¾
ton truck, got a couple of receivers from Maintenance, took
a couple of ”dash ones” off flight and headed out to see
where we might go to get out of the RF noise cone. The
rubble heap in the British sector called Teufelsberg by the
Berliners was one place, another rubble heap south of
Tempelhof at the
Berlin suburb called Marienfelde was the other. When
results of these tests were included with our normal
reporting, the people up the chain went ballistic and wanted
to know how we did this. Once they learned the facts a
political/military bruhaha ensued that almost ended Captain
Perez’s career. However, once Major
McCall weighed in with a trip to Wing, vans were flown in from Sembach and the
rest, as they say, is history.
was the most interesting and challenging of my whole career.
Some of my additional duties included: summary court officer
for security violations, mortuary officer, summary court for
the settlement of the estate of Sergeant Lockwood who
fell to his death in Mallorca, summary court for a line of
duty determination in a shooting for a 1946th guy
who shot himself in the foot playing with his weapon, an
Article 32 investigation into a rape charge (no one was
charged here), Top Secret Control officer, cryptographic
materials custodian, ground defense team commander, unit
master plan and manning document (UMD) change officer,
briefing officer and unit basketball team manager. I was
also on the Officers Club board of directors and pulled
Officer of the Day (OD) duty for the host
Tempelhof unit, the 7350th.
As manager of the basketball
team, The 6912th Jets, my main
contribution was to arrange time off for the players for
practice and trips to the various tournaments in the “Zone”.
For the guys who made the team, it was a great opportunity
to have fun and get to travel out of
Berlin. It was a real
break for me too. We did quite well among the teams on
Tempelhof and won some trophies and enjoyed meeting some of
the guys from Wing, Group and the other RSMs.
definitely in the world
news limelight and every official that could find a reason
to come to Berlin did. I guess it was kind of a ticket
punch item for career enhancement. This meant that we
in Ops were deluged with "visiting firemen". We didn't mind
the ones who had a good reason to be there. To sort
out the workers from the players,
an operating plan wherein he and I would take them out for a
long night on the town,
then see which ones showed up
the next day for work. This cut the visitor load down
considerably and we could get on with our jobs.
Near the end
of my three-year tour in
Berlin, I was informed that my
next assignment would be to the Headquarters of the National
Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Mead, Maryland. Learning that
that was no place for a lieutenant, I volunteered to extend
my overseas tour for assignment to a new Security Service
unit in West Germany at Hof near the Czech border.
However, I had applied for instructor duty at the Air Force
Academy earlier (it was a long shot and I didn’t expect to
get it) but I was accepted before my tour was up.
For our return trip, I had requested surface travel instead
of air and we were booked on the SS America from Bremerhaven
to New York in May of 1962.
Some of the people I can recall with whom I served in
the 6912th were: Maj. Woodrow Gentry, Maj Hugh
McCall, Capt Merle Woodside,
Capt John D. Davis, Capt Al McEwen, Lt Art Mussman, Capt Mario Perez, Lt
Wayne Meadows, Lt Trudeau, Jerry “Whitie” White, Tony
Angiletta, Sgt Roncari, Sgt Stacewicz, Chief “Maz”
Mazikowski, Felix Cormier, Charlie Swanson, Gil Apaka, Paul
Bieger, Ray Ammerman, Charlie Covern, Sid Davis, Dan
Dawidowicz, Don Hanchey, Warren
Knight, Maurice Evans, Jerry “Mouse” Loiselle, James
Munsie, Roy Leddy, Jim
Coats, John Ferris, Hal Linton, Charlie
Brown, Vic Keithley, Jim
Santone, Lloyd Epperson, Harry
Smith, James Warchol, the late
Chief “Mole” Kleifges, Ray Yarbrough, Ira Richter, Bob Herr,
Don “Rocky” Graziano, Bill
Grieshop, Hugh Horton, Steve
Piecuch, Joe Ector, Harry Sheldon, Joe
Kinel , Walt Mercer, Paul Boyette and many others,
some of whom I knew only from
sports activities. Many are members of the BIA.