Khrushchev in Los Angeles

Several times during my time in the Army Security Agency, I had near brushes with history.

On this day sixty-four years ago, September 19, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was publicly angry when he was denied a visit to Disneyland.

I didn’t know, nor did I learn later if the Army Security Agency had anything operationally to do with Khrushchev’s California visit. However, two of our maintenance team sergeants at Two Rock Ranch Station, near Petaluma, CA, were sent to the Los Angeles area on temporary duty just prior to his arrival.

I didn’t know then, but learned later that we had two monitoring units in the LA area. Even if they were not TDY to one of the stations, I know quite well that the sergeants were very skilled at setting up electronic surveillance. They were my instructors for training sessions in those techniques.

There was no video surveillance, but the some in the intelligence community were well trained in movie and still photography for the same purpose.1One of my electronics school classmates at Ft. Devens transferred to that training and used some of his electronics training for remote camera work.

I had a choice to volunteer. However, not knowing how long the TDY would be, with my wife being five months pregnant, and she not being able to drive, I didn’t take the offer.

Neither sergeant spoke of what they were doing after their return, and fully understanding need-to-know, I didn’t ask.

Just say’n.

  • 1
    One of my electronics school classmates at Ft. Devens transferred to that training and used some of his electronics training for remote camera work.


This message1One handedness is nearly over, so I’m using a variation of a previous post. is for coffee lovers, coffee likers, and those who say they don’t need coffee, but drink it anyway. If you just have tea, substitute the t word wherever you see the c word.

A recent study confirms that coffee is not going to kill us.

Awesome, I say again!

Scientific studies (not the ones that said the opposite) give evidence that the teeny-weeny little parts of coffee that are harmful are so insignificant that we are more apt to die from breathing than from consumption of them.

I remember reading a study that confirmed that cranberries would not kill us. Well, I sort of remember something about one would have to consume a quart a day every day for about twenty or so years for whatever was in the cranberries to do the deed.

Oh no! I’ve had about four or more cups (mugs) of coffee nearly every day for many more than 20 years. Four cups are a quart, so …! But wait, I drank coffee not cranberry juice.

Then there’s water. A few years ago, a study indicated that mercury2 the shiny stuff no longer allowed in thermometers, not the car last produced in January, 2011 in Columbia River water was at a level that death could occur in some users of that water. There is irrefutable evidence that in a sufficient quantity, mercury is known to be toxic to humans.

However, I and many other octogenarians are survivors of mercury in our mouths because it is found in the amalgam dental fillings we had or still have.3Mine, however, have been replaced. Mercury like nearly everything not manmade is a naturally occurring substance, found in air, water, and soil. Isn’t that everything?

I guess I could mention Radon, but nah!

Well, I need to quit before I get into a great controversy I can’t talk my way out of which I cannot talk my way out. Don’t want to end in a preposition which back in the day could poison one’s GPA!

My surgery pinkie4see my August 9 post is feeling the exercise from the few modifications of this post.

But more important, it’s coffee break time.

Just say’n.

  • 1
    One handedness is nearly over, so I’m using a variation of a previous post.
  • 2
    the shiny stuff no longer allowed in thermometers, not the car last produced in January, 2011
  • 3
    Mine, however, have been replaced.
  • 4
    see my August 9 post

Aug 13

Every year I have memories of August 13, 1961.

I’d been in Frankfurt, Germany, less than a month and at my Army Security Agency assignment as a communications center message controller for about three weeks. Routine message routing wasn’t boring, nor was it exciting. Confidential and secret messages were almost routine, and their content gave me little concern for my well-being or for the safety of my family in the United States.

When message traffic indicated that East German and Russian sources, which we monitored in the region, were becoming progressively quieter starting about Aug. 6, I started to feel some stress. I’d been taught that more than one source of intelligence going quiet was a very good indicator that some planned event was about to happen.

A top-secret message came through my workstation saying our Berlin stations would be on covert alert starting the evening of Aug. 11. No specific reason was in the message text. Covert alert meant all normal activities would be overt and routine if observable by the other side, but all would be ready for full duty, ASAP, if a full alert was called.

We weren’t on alert at our Frankfurt unit, but conversations among the more experienced in the secure break room gave me uneasy feelings.

There was continuing tension between authorities and military on both sides, East and West. But Saturday, Aug. 12, was like any other summer weekend for most Berliners and Frankfurters going about their daily routines. British, French, and American soldiers were still “doing the town,” if not on duty. My morning was busy with personal things. I picked up my laundry at the post exchange and checked the reader board for approved apartments. My wife and two boys were scheduled to join me in two weeks.

Swing shift that Saturday started at 4 p.m. and I was told to expect an overlap to graveyard or a double shift. The graveyard-shift communications controller was in sick bay and the day-shift controller had been flown to Berlin that morning to strengthen that station’s staff. Another controller had been ordered for temporary duty at Frankfurt but would not arrive for several days.

Our observers communicated that Soviet and East German troops, usually out and about in limited numbers, were all restricted to barracks that night.

It was a little over an hour into my extended shift when I responded to a CRITIC message alarm on the teletype — a critical communication that must be relayed to higher authority within 10 minutes. The paper shot out the top: CRITIC – CODE-CODE-CODE – CRITIC. (I remember the code words meaning border closing, but I believe it prudent to not tell them.) It was my first real CRITIC. My gut wound tight as I read the follow-up text from our observers in West Berlin. Routine check points between the Soviet sector and the West were now fully armed guard stations with armored vehicle backup.

Simultaneously, our news monitoring section picked up a Reuters News Service dispatch from Berlin correspondent Adam Kellett-Long. His message alerted news agency teletypes around the world: “The East-West border was closed early today!”

We did a well-practiced routine and relayed the critical message from our Berlin station to the White House, the Pentagon and other vital national security entities. Several follow-up critical messages, including notification that Reuters had already published the border closing story worldwide, arrived within minutes. Communications got more intense as Army Security Agency units and others went to full alert. I’d been on full alert before, but not with a long series of top-secret messages flying out of a teletype machine in front of me.

Frankfurt wasn’t too far from the border, where I imagined Russian tanks might be lining up as they were in Berlin. I had been at the Pentagon in 1956, when Russian radio communications went silent just before they drove tanks into Hungary to quell the student uprising. But the distance made it like reading about the situation in the newspapers.

This was different. The East German border was about forty-five miles away from Frankfurt.

Training and mission-focused adrenalin didn’t completely remove initial thoughts about my wife and boys, scheduled to arrive in September. They were still safe at home, and the immediate intensity of the work drove those thoughts into the background.

My relief arrived at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16, and I went to the barracks. I was exhausted after 104 waking hours, ninety-six of those on duty. But sleep didn’t come immediately. Acid stomach from gallons of coffee and mentally reviewing the messages I’d been passing on kept me awake until after dark. It seems odd, even to this day, that I slept only about eight hours after my multi-shifts and didn’t have to be awakened by my alarm to go to a debriefing and my next regular shift.

With a full complement of controllers and related personnel in place, my physical tension from fatigue was relaxed. But there were still underlying “what if” issues. I considered having my wife and children’s travel to Germany canceled but didn’t.

But divulging any detail of top-secret military work was forbidden, and it was extremely frustrating to not be able to share my workday with my wife. Not being able to just talk with her caused angst I’d not felt before. It was many years before I could share any of my role in those events of mid-August 1961.

I’m thankful that Aug. 13 is only an annual reminder of the intensity of Cold War, not the start of another hot war in Europe.

However, there is another hot war in Europe, and I wonder how many in our intelligence community are having sleepless nights.

PS: this post was prepared before my surgery told of in my previous post.

One Hand

Dupuytren contracture is a painless1in most cases, but not recently in my case condition that causes one or more fingers to bend toward the palm of the hand.

Facing surgery2August 10 for correction of the syndrome on my left little finger, I anticipate trying to keyboard with one hand. I’ve been practicing not using my it and the one interior to it for a few weeks.

Awkward to say the least!

I’m sure I’ll not be at the keyboard for at least a week when the dressing comes off and my left index finger can substitute for five-fingers. I’ve been assured of the full function of the little finger after physical therapy–about six weeks.

We’ll see!

Just say’n my next post will be when I can click the keys with all ten.

  • 1
    in most cases, but not recently in my case
  • 2
    August 10

Honor Them

August 7 is Purple Heart Day
Not all veterans saw combat
Not all combat veterans were wounded
Not all wounded veterans died from their wounds
Honor those who were wounded or died in combat
And remember: any veteran could have been one of them