Zweibrucken, Germany 6901st Spec Comm Group 1963-1965
Memories of David Ullian Larson
The 6901st Special Communications Group was headquartered at Zweibrucken, German. Click HERE for more links. The details which I relate here are probably of no interest to the majority of humanity. I am taking time to add these details to my autobiography to flesh out what I remember with the though in mind that as time passes I will remember less and less. Further, that if I take the time to put to words these thoughts, I might remember more than if I did not. Kind of like looking through an old file cabinet. You never know what you'll find.
Zweibrucken Germany for me was a long time ago. August 1963 to January 1965. Yet the memories which persist seem clearer for that period than memories which are more recent. So why is that? I read a book recently that suggested memories made during tragic, traumatic, and crucial periods of our lives are more vivid. Well that goes for me and Zweibrucken. The events then did mean more to me. My memory was more receptive. And because of age, perhaps, I was better suited to record those events.
About forty (why is there no u in forty?) years ago I first arrived in Germany. Fresh from Syracuse University Language school, fresh from security school, and fresh from saying good bye for 2 1/2 years to everyone that I knew. Fresh from the world.
Germany for the first few months seemed a million miles away from home. From the world. Many buildings in Germany were still in ruins from the war. People who lived there probably still felt insecure. Clothing of locals was dark or even black. And I showed up with white socks and a bright shiny face, ready for anything.
What I got was the closest to a deep depression that I ever want to be. The place called Kreuzberg Kaserne was anything but picturesque, anything but poster-like. More like scenes reminiscent of a concentration camp. Barbed wire. Drab colors on the buildings. Rain. Mist. Drizzle. Sleet at appropriate times. And alcoholics. And lifers. And the Army. (It was their sub-post, after all.) And the Air Force.
My first barracks was interesting enough. Twenty-four guys per sleeping bay. Double bunk beds on a concrete floor. Somewhere along the way that changed to six man rooms for a while. The improvement was temporary. After staying in the six man room for a while, the barracks was closed and I had to move into a different barracks now with twelve bunks, not doubles.
Because of stand-by inspections on Saturday with a parade to follow, eventually I moved off the base (without permission, illegally) with two other guys and found a cold, small, wretched place above a working dairy farm, to sleep. It was in the near-by town of Overauerback Kries Zweibrucken. Bud Laurent, Mike Davin, and me. The three of us shared the rent. We could not get heating oil because we did not have a ration card for oil so mostly we were cold. I have an out of focus picture of the place, which is how I felt at that time. The family downstairs was very nice.
The work at the 6901st Special Communications Group was jerky. At first, while waiting for a specific Russian Language assignment, I worked in the teletype communications section. There were perhaps ten or twelve teletype machines on either side of a narrow isle. Yellow perforated tape winding through them as bells sounded and messages were sent. Football scores seemed everywhere. Long reports were ripped off, separated into the different colors of paper, and put into bins for who knows what purpose at who knows when. Carbon paper was shoved into burn bags making our hands black.
Kennedy was shot during the period of when I worked there. So I went back to help out. I was in the movie theater ready to watch a movie. See, everyone does remember where they were when he was shot. All hell broke loose that night. Shortledge (sp.) was the airman in charge. He was the first guy I ever saw that had pink eyes. And he was good at his job. We all worked ourselves silly for weeks after that, fearing other events that might be linked to the assassination.
A Master Sergeant David Cambridge recruited my buddy Bud and I to work in SAWD-2. Somewhere along the way it was renamed OPN-AW Operations Advisory Warning or something like that. We took over for two clean cut airmen named Jim Reed and Charlie Thompson. Where ever you guys are, Bud and I really tried hard to hold up the quality of work you left to us. Well, we weren't clean cut. But we tried to do the work as best we could. The shop seemed well run. There were quite a few 202 analysts. A couple sergeants, and an occasional visit by a captain.
Bud was responsible for traffic in the Black and Caspian Seas. I was responsible for the Baltic and Barents Seas. There was an in box, there was an out box, there was carbon paper, there was an MC-88 (is that right?) typewriter that only typed in capital letters. We had maps. We had call signs. We had frequency rotas. We had dictionaries. We had frequency request forms. We had analyst questions. We had sergeants who through we were weird to know Russian.
We had barracks chiefs who thought we were there to do nothing but clean the barracks. We had cooks that were really in the army and mostly didn't like the idea. We had weather. We had a rod and gun club. We had a laundramat which worked with old 1 Franc pieces at 100 for 20 cents. We had German girls giving hair cuts for about 35 cents. We had a large breasted older Germany woman who cleaned our teeth by pinning us in the chair with her fifty-fours. We had a PX. We had a cafeteria. We had a bowling alley with great hot dogs. We had a snack shop in the Operations Building. We had badges. We had inspections. We had a first sergeant that was going to be turned into a green frog by a nutty E-1. Since the first sergeant looked like Burl Ives, this didn't seem such an impossibility. We had a Commander who insisted that greater damage could have been wrought if only there had been a chamber in the round when speaking of an incident in the enlisted men's club when an army guy brought a pistol to happy hour. We had an officer in charge of OPN-AW, Captain Coltman, that was very interested in flying airplanes. He flew and he flew until shot down in Laos in 1978. Memorial. How can anyone not like a war hero. A jet jockey. Bio.
So we had a lot. Did I mention we also had a sergeant that insisted we get weekly haircuts? A colonel that insisted that we participate in OJT for some higher level job when we reenlisted, which we never would do in a million years? We had KP or we paid not to have KP. We had to walk past army guys in formation who had just arrived from the states and drove large army trucks at rank Spec5. That's an E-5 pay grade. And they got this after being in the service for only 90 days. Me with Russian Language School to beat my way through, and a job that was nervousness on a desk for several hours every day. Me an E-2. No money left after laundry and a few hot dogs. Them with money out the wazoo. Funny how my memory isn't clear about sequence but is on that point.
Bud and I settled into the OPN-AW section for the year 1964. Translations, reports, tapes some times, transliterations some times, and carbon paper packets to send reports of many pages on their way to several different places. DIRNSA got everything. My all time favorite. Even now when I am asked who needs a copy, I have a flash back and mutter DIRNSA. Some habits never go away. Sometimes the reports seemed like books. The analysts did their thing, we did ours. Everything came together and we sent all off to who knows where for who knows what. Need to know had the meaning to me of not ever knowing anything. Boy could I do that job much better today. Try as I do, I can not be sure in my mind of any specific thing that I did. I have a commendation letter for something that we did in our shop. It is precisely vague enough to have the meaning of anything. Oh, I remember some of the air fields I followed fighters from and back to. And the geography is still fresh since I sat under a map of the places all day for that time. But the specifics? I probably had a brain download at discharge and needed the memory for other stuff.
I wonder if what we all did in Zweibrucken ever mattered as much to other people as it seemed to matter to us. I hope our work was useful/helpful somehow. The need-to-know concept kept me from ever knowing if any of the work we did was of any consequence.
We were in COMINT Communications Intelligence branch of the USAFSS Security Service. Translations of fighter intercept radio traffic was our assignment. And that's what we did. Click HERE for Russian COMINT Click HERE for a search engine in the Russian Language.
So what analysis could hint at our usefulness? Let's see. Shoot downs on our watch in our areas of responsibility? There were none. Commendations for a job well done? Yep. There was one of those. Click HERE for the full text. The text gives no specifics about the task. I believe the commendation was for a comprehensive report with traffic, Russian PVO radar tracking, and analysis that focused on a single event. But my memory fails me on the details. NSA National Security Agency was the black hole where every drop of our work was sent, among other places. DIRNSA. When in doubt, everything was sent to DIRNSA.
I had just started my job in SAWD-2 when there was a shoot down. On January 24, 1964, a USAF T-39, based in Wiesbaden, West Germany, was shot down by a Soviet fighter over Thuringia, about 60 miles inside East Germany while on a training flight. The crew of three were killed. So immediately upon taking my position, I was aware that this was serious business. I fell right into the swing of things, ready for anything.
I do remember being involved in the March 10,1964, traffic for the shoot down of a plane based at Toul-Rosieres, France. The USAF RB-66 from the 10 TRW, was shot down near Gardelegen, after straying out of one of the Berlin air corridors. The three crew members parachuted to safety and were released several days later. I can only guess that the fighter pilots were Russian otherwise why would I be involved and remember anything about it.
I also had a few calls late at night to look over traffic of a sensitive nature on a real time basis. Captain Kincade called me in. That was infrequent. Probably I was asked to lend a hand when no one else was around. The Walter Mitty in me can think I actually helped to save a crew that night. I was always ready. I had learned my stuff quite well. Even though I wasn't head of my class at Syracuse, the traffic wasn't brain surgery. Their planes flew near ours, and we had to determine if we should leave or not. Listen to what was said. Determine if the fighter pilot was a threat. Yes or no. Cat and mouse.
The book The Little Toy Dog gives a very real description of what the Air
Force was doing in 1962. It details a shoot down and subsequent events; Details
about the book: The Little Toy Dog, The Story of the Two RB-47 Flyers
|Papa Club||Strip||Castle||City Hall||Medical|
|Church||Zwei Bridges||Hill Road||Road Top||Jagerhof|
|Kaserne Gone||OPS Remains||Rod & Gun Gone||View||OPS|
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