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Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Intel - a Family Business?

I was reading Rantburg a couple of days ago, and responded to a comment about the US breaking the Japanese Naval code during World War II. This item is particularly interesting to me, because my mother was one of the WAVES that worked in Washington, DC, during World War II, decyphering the JN-25 and other naval codes.

Mom joined the Navy in April, 1942, and was assigned to Washington, DC, in October of that year. She remained there throughout the war, and was discharged sometime in November or December, 1945. I was fifteen years old before I knew what she did in the Navy, and the way I learned was a shock!

I had just started corresponding with a penpal in Fukuoka, Japan, a few months before. She sent me a couple of photographs, with information written on the back in Kanji, the everyday idiograms that comprise the Japanese written language. I had no idea what any of that meant, and asked my mother if she thought I could find someone who spoke enough Japanese to tell me what the writing on the back of the photographs meant. You can imagine my surprise when she read it to me flawlessly!

This was in 1961, more than fifteen years after the end of World War II. Even then, Mom wouldn't talk much about what she did, or how she did it. I managed to learn a few things, but most of what I learned I found out on my own, not from Mom. She understood security, and kept a closed mouth. I did pick up a few anecdotes, and filled in a few others later. One in particular I remember well. Mom talked about her brother's ship being sunk by a Japanese submarine. She knew about it a full week before the Navy released the information, because she was the one that decoded the submarine's report of the sinking to Japanese naval headquarters.

Mom also talked about the security surrounding her work - about having to negotiate two separate checkpoints just to get into the compound (I think she said it was Welsley College, but I can't remember now), and another security check before she could enter the actual work area. I had the same kind of security treatment a few times during my military career, so I understand it better than most.

Later, when I joined the Air Force (in 1965) and went into imagery intelligence, I learned even more about the breaking of the Japanese naval code, and how it played such an important role in the US military victory. I also learned about security, and about NOT talking about things.

What's unusual about our family is that so many of us ended up in various intelligence fields. My dad served in the 9th Artillery Regiment, part of the 4th Armored Division under Gen. Patton during World War II. He started out as a tank driver. After losing a number of tanks (and most of the tank crews), he switched to artillery - just in time to be trapped in Bastogne with the 101st. Shortly after that, he volunteered to be an artillery spotter, and served in that capacilty until the unit was returned to the United States in 1945.

Dad talked about his war experiences, especially with his brother John, and with a few fellow veterans around home - not necessarily freely, but enough for me to know that war wasn't glamorous or nice, but nasty, dirty, frequently wet and cold, and dangerous beyond my imagination. One story I do remember, and remember well. Dad was out alone (as he usually was, according to him), and had dug in on the crest of a hill in the area west of the Rhine. It snowed during the night. When the fog lifted the next morning, he could see the German lines etched in white in the valley below him. He rolled over, scooted down below the ridge line and started to report coordinates to his unit. As he looked down into the valley below him, he could see the AMERICAN lines, equally as distinct below him!

I have no experiences like those, but I too served in intelligence as a photo interpreter, mostly in Europe and the United States. There are some amusing incidents to remember, and to commit to paper or electronic storage before I forget them.

Mom and Dad are both dead now, and I miss them! There are still a million questions I'd love to ask them, and hundreds of stories I'd like to hear over again. I'd gladly transcribe some of Dad's war stories onto my blog, if I could, but my memory isn't that reliable. The same is true for the dozens of stories Dad talked about of what life was like for him and his family during the Depression, and some of the things they did back then (and earlier) for fun. For many people like Dad, the Blogosphere and the Internet happened a decade too late. The entire world is poorer because of it.

I plan to write about as much of my past (and theirs) as I can remember, so my grandchildren know the full history of our family.

2 Comments:

Blogger ~rich said...

great post...my grandfathers were in WWII as well, and it's next to impossible to get them to talk about it. same with my father and desert storm. I'm in Iraq now, and I can see why they don't want to talk about it, but I believe that preserving those stories for our children is vitally important.

btw, thanks for the blogroll...I appreciate it!

5:38 AM  
Blogger Chuck said...

Wow, OP, looks like my dad was right there for most of France and Germany with yours. Here's a sample from his unit's history, which I've put up at http://fifthfield.simmins.org
"The Group was to be artillery component of Combat Command B and on the 3rd of August the march with that Combat Command began with bypassing of Rennes. The march, which changed direction periodically, was generally in the direction of Lorient. This was one of the daring armored thrusts behind the enemy’s lines that made the 4th Armored famous. On this operation the cubs were found to be the ideal "eyes" of the Combat Commander, flying at the head of the column, checking routes and enemy dispositions. By noon on the 7th the column had reached the Pont-Scorff-Lorient area where the Combat Command B headquarters was ambushed and suffered heavy losses. It became evident that Lorient was a fortress city that could not be taken by a small armored task force. The Group remained in this area with Combat Command B, out on a limb, reported annihilated by German radio, until relieved by the 6th Armored Division on the 14th. While in this area the enemy in Lorient used his 170mm high velocity gun extensively, augmenting it with his heavy ack-ack guns. The M-7s with their 105’s were no defense or counterbattery weapon against guns emplaced behind reinforced concrete of four to seven meter thickness. Since the enemy had closed in on our rear, supplies and ammunition were brought in by convoy with tank escort."

11:40 AM  

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