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 
by White, William L. 
E. P. Dutton & Co. 1962 1st edition 305pp,8vo. blue hardback with dust jacket.  The title refers to the good luck mascot carried by Major Willard Palm, commander of the RB-47, which was lost with him and the rest of the crew. Courageous story of Captain John R. Mc Kone and Captain Freeman B. Olmstead, the two RB-47 flyers shot down and imprisoned by the Russians. maps on end boards. The routes shown include Russian airfield locations as related to the flight path.  Photographs of crew, plane & more.

You can probably find several copies for about $20 postpaid at http://www.abebooks.com It will be a few bucks well spent if you want to see in print what you thought could not be printed about your work if you were in the USAFSS. And this book was published in 1962. We should have been given a copy to read as part of our training. That would have helped me, I know. 

I have a loaner copy if you are unable to buy or find a copy at a library. This offer is for anyone who served in the military. Send me $3 for postage and the box to send you the book. I'll put it in the mail to you. But you have to pay media mail postage to return it to me. Use the same box. (About $2.26 for Media Mail postage.) Keep the book a couple weeks while you read it.  Then please return it. I'll take a chance with military types. If the book does not come back, then I will not have a loaner.

The shoot down of KAL-007 gives a sample of the sort of traffic we translated. This link will take you to details about the event including a translation of traffic. It is quite similar to what we did in the service. 

The USAF got a lot right and a lot wrong. One thing they got wrong was to end the mission of OPN-AW in Zweibrucken in 1965. Here I was, really good at my job, and the mission was moved to some other location which shall remain nameless. I went on to Paris, France, to throw mail sacks around, to be a currier, and carry registered, classified and certified mail.

VW Bus. The Volkswagen car salesman who parked his window transport van near the church on the base in Zweibrucken asked me if I wanted to talk about a new car. I said I would be interested in a van since I wanted to do quite a bit of traveling while in Europe. The thought was that I could sleep in the van to save hotel bills. He told me about the camping bus that was available. I didn't think I could afford it. And before I knew it, he had filled out the papers and sent them on to some loan organization for approval. When the approval came back, I simply had to come up with the down payment and select colors. The VW turned out to be the best thing I did while there. It allowed me to travel all over Europe during my time there.

Other guys would ride along, paying something for the opportunity. I never had extra money since the bus payment was huge, servicing at the VW garage was expensive and frequent, and gas was expensive after my gas ration was used. Here are photographs of the bus. 

Clocks. One of my favorite activities in Germany was buying, restoring, and selling old German Wall Clocks. I fell in love with these clocks when I saw one in the barracks that another airman had bought.

Roland in Maintz Gonsenheim at Roland Antiquitaten gave me lessons on how to take apart the mechanism, repair springs, put the mechanism back together, set the escapement, and restoration of the wood case. I still have a clock from that period. It is one of my most prized possessions. It hangs in our living room above the TV. Memories. I carried it back at Christmas 1965. I hitch hiked from New York to Illinois where my parents lived at that time, carrying the clock under my arm.

I sold and restored clocks to other airmen, and even had a display of several clocks for sale at the thrift shop in Paris at the Bel Manoir Shopping Center for US Military in Paris, France near Versailles. I also sent many clocks home. Eventually they were all sold except for the one I still have. Who ever bought a clock from me now wishes they had bought more. A twenty dollar investment in a clock back then would now be worth three or four hundred dollars. Here are pictures of some of the clocks I am taking about.

 

Language. Language has always been interesting to me. Here's my addition to the memory of unusual words, acronyms, and unusual definitions, phrases and abbreviations.

2T - Two tour - two consecutive overseas assignments,

bennies  -  benefits

69 OH Worst - 6901st Special Communications Group

grunt  -  ground pounder  -  army guy

grease  -  food in the mess hall

SOS  -  stuff on a shingle  -  delicious white gravy with hamburger mixed in

DIRNSA  -  director of NSA

lifer  - a person who repeatedly enlisted until twenty or thirty years pass.

TPH  -  this place hurts

short  -  not long before a person is to go home or move on

short timer  -   a person who is about to leave to go on home or to another assignment

re-up  -  reenlist

runner  - duty to assist the CQ to deliver messages.

CQ  -  charge of quarters

day lady  -  a person who worked a 8-5 job while in the air force

oh worst  -  6901st

separate rats  -  pay for eating someplace other than the mess hall

hammer  -  girlfriend

rack  -  bed

k's  -  kilometers

clicks  -  kilometers

OJT  -  on the job training

TDY  -  temporary duty

Parkie  -  local beer

qualify  -  pass a test with a pistol or rifle

POV  -  privately owned vehicle

green card  -  insurance verification

WARBI  -  we are ruled by idiots

burn room  -  where all the classified trash was sent until it could be burned

the world  -  back home (aka also known as  the real world)

rotate  -  to go back home

FIGMO  -  forget it,  I got my orders (well not exactly)

wazoo - you know this one  

PFC - Poor F civilian (probably a reference to the Germans who were recovering from the war)

jeep - as in new person to take over a job. Jeep, beep beep.

(send other words to add to the list to dularson@bellsouth.net )

Shift Work. Shift work means working at different times around the clock. Days 7-3 evenings 3-11 midnights 11-7 for example. While working in the teletype communications office, I was on midnights. A guy who lived in the same barracks bay as I did, worked evenings. So when he got up, say 9am, I was just getting to sleep. He insisted on playing two songs on his record player over and over again. These two songs were On Broadway and Hello Stranger. At first I really hated this guy. Eventually I needed the music to get to sleep. Today when I hear either song, I have a flashback to those days. And I remember the music fondly. I even like both tunes, now. Go figure.

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Here is an aerial view from about 1969.

 

Here is a picture album link rack for April 2004 pictures from Zweibrucken by Phil Conrad.

Papa Club Strip Castle City Hall Medical
Stream Rosengarten Rosengarten Rosengarten Rathaus
Church Zwei Bridges Hill Road Road Top Jagerhof
Kaserne Gone OPS Remains Rod & Gun Gone View OPS
OPS        

More pictures. Visit http://www.6901st.org for many more pictures.

Cheers:>)

David U. Larson

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