This site is dedicated to ALL those who served in usafss, the united states air force SECURITY service, on the nsa comint intelligence team, during the cold-war years
VIVA USAFSS!
HeadsetHeadset

The headset is probably the most representative icon of our work--after all, we did a lot of listening. The photo on left was provided by Al Lorentzen (USAFSS 1956-1962). He wore this set while stationed on Shemya Island and later in Scotland. One can only estimate what intelligence came through this one set but, believe me, it was substantial. Then multiply that by the thousands that were in use 24 hours a day around the globe and you may get an idea as to the magnitude of the USAFSS MIssion.    


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Administrator Note:  This piece was presented by Gary Knighton in response to a request for former USAFSS folks to share their experiences with others. This is the first installment of a four-part series.




THE MAKING OF ONE SMALL GEAR IN THE USAFSS MACHINE

(Part 1)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE

(Copyright 2008)

By

 Gary Knighton

 

My first look at Keesler AFB was through the windows of the blue Air Force bus transporting a group of us from the Biloxi train station through the front gate on West Howard Avenue. We made the long and, what was at that time, confusing trip across the base to the “Triangle” and the 3382nd School Squadron, which would be our home for the next 6 months.

We supposed that we were the few lucky ones out of our basic training flight at Lackland AFB. We only had to spend 6 weeks of our 12 week basic training at Lackland and then shipped out to “Tech School” where we would complete our final 6 weeks. Basic Training at Keesler consisted of a week of KP, then morning sessions of Basic Trainingt followed by afternoon Morse Intercept Operator (MIO) classes. The requisite KP duty was assigned and we settled into our routines.

We were assigned to our “barracks”, which in no way resembled the WW II wooden buildings we had endured at Lackland. Dormitories, I would call them. Modern, concrete construction, two and three story structures with 3-man rooms, showers and latrines down the hall. Wow! I had arrived!. This was a world removed from what my brother in the Marine Corps described when he was serving at Parris Island, and it was a far cry from what my other brother told me who had enlisted in the Air Force 18 months before me.

I was assigned a room with two “upper classmen” who had already gone through what I was about to experience. Their names were Glen Kibler and Patrick Kindlin. They would soon graduate and ship out to Germany. They were no more than 6 to 8 months older than me but they treated me like a younger brother, looking out for me as I made the transition from the regimented life of Lackland to the relative “laid-back” style of Tech School. Their departure would allow me to take in two new roommates, Merle Mountain and Fred Neubauer. Merle had been in my flight at Lackland and we were already good friends. Fred was older than Merle and I. In fact, Fred returned home during our mid-term break, got married, and returned to Keesler with his car. This opened up a whole new list of possibilities for off-duty adventures.

KP was good duty, although it did cause me some problems with my Basic Training Instructor. Kibler and Kindlin, had told me when I moved into their room that the best KP duty was working the Garbage Rack behind the Chow Hall. It was outside work, you could smoke while working, and the Mess Sergeant very rarely came out on the back loading dock. Good duty, no hassle from the Sergeant, and able to smoke. I volunteered for the duty and it worked out just as my roomies had told me. Except……being a little fellow, it was difficult to heft those empty garbage barrels to get them over the high-pressure water jet to clean them out. It became necessary to rest the barrels across my thighs in order to support the weight. Unbeknownst to me, every bit of grease and grime on the outside of the barrels, quickly transferred to my fatigue trousers. You can imagine what my trousers looked like, even after laundering. During an inspection , my TI excoriated me for being a “raunch”. Oh no! I had been labeled a raunch. How could I possibly survive the stigma. The TI made me stand out for a special inspection to make sure that my “raunchiness” had been eliminated by the following week. I could not replace my trousers--as I recall I had several pairs in my uniform issue, and no money to buy a new pair. Thanks to KP duty, every one of them were ruined.

Thanks be to my roommate, Merle Mountain. We were about the same size, and he loaned me a pair of his trousers and a pair of his freshly-shined shoes. The inspection came off without a hitch. Not only were Merle and I were in the same basic flight at Lackland, Keesler, and the same Tech School class, but we were assigned together to the 6987th RSM, in Taiwan.

Everyone who has been through the MIO Course at Keesler knows how dull and interesting it can be at the same time--interesting, especially as you become more proficient at copying the code. I went on to become Honor Student, having “mastered” 35 wpm, the fastest speed available at that time. Thankfully, the Morse tapes with which we trained were perfect in every way from signal strength to cadence, and no static. Nothing like what I was to encounter on the line at Shu Linkou Air Station. Out of our class, we had 9 guys (including myself) that were assigned to Shu Linkou and the 6987th RSM. Gary Snarr and I had become fast friends over the course of our studies and when Fred Neubauer was “set back” two weeks, he moved to another room and Gary came in as a new roommate.

I remember as I was copying the 35 wpm tape attempting to master it, Gary, who sat next to me in class, started voicing Morse code characters to me loud enough for me to hear him and it destroyed my concentration. I glared at him as I lost track and he later told me that he had never been so afraid in his life because my look told him he was a dead man. I got over it though, and mastered the speed on the next try. Gary probably did me a favor as it enabled me to focus on the signal I was copying well in advance of going on line at the 6987th.

I remember a couple of other incidents at Keesler that stand out in my mind. One Saturday each month, we had to fall out in formation for a parade along the flight line. It soon became apparent that I was simply not cut out for this type of “grandstanding” for the benefit of our Commander. On those certain Saturdays, our formation would gather outside the barracks and, not inconveniently, adjacent to the bus stop for the base shuttle. Without exception, we would muster, call roll, and be ordered to “rest” as we awaited orders to march. With the precision of a train time-table, the shuttle bus would round the corner, as if on cue, headed for its appointed stop. I learned to simply fall out of ranks when the bus arrived, board it, and take it to the opposite side of the base, and view the parade as a spectator. I became so brazen about this that I even took my camera with me to formation, then took photos of the guys later as they marched by. I only marched in one parade or review at Keesler and no one ever questioned my absence. I could tell I was going to like the USAF.

One of the most inconvenient things about Tech School was having to attend class on the’B’Shift. This meant that we went to class after lunch, stayed until 5 p. m., and then had to march back across the flight line, break ranks, and go eat. By the time we got to the chow hall the lines were backed up outside, down the sidewalk, and to the street. A full 15 to 20 minute wait in line. I complained about this to a friend (Ramsey was his name as I recall) in our dormitory and he proposed a solution. He said this same solution had been told to him by another, long since departed airman and it worked. Now, he was passing it on to me. Since he was shipping out soon, he had no further need to keep it to himself. He cautioned me not to divulge it to a soul, which I didn’t.

His solution was, when formation broke after we marched back from class, rather than run with 40 other guys to get in line, simply walk to the rear of the chow hall, pick up a mop from the rack outside, walk through the kitchen carrying the mop, and then lean it up in a corner and walk out into the dining area and get in line. WOW!! How simple can it be? I  tried it the first time and it worked. Just as most of my classmates were entering the dining room front door, I was carrying my dirty tray and dishes to the window where they would be put through the “clipper”. This was my routine from that point forward. The Mess Sergeant stopped me only once to mop up a milk spill, but he never recognized me as I went through the kitchen each evening. I was in possession of sacred information. I could not allow anyone to know what I was doing. It seems that the Air Force was justified in soon conferring a “Top Secret” security clearance upon me because I knew how to keep a secret. Three months later, when I shipped out, I passed this baton to another airman and, I assume, when he left he passed it on to another. There may have been other airmen that possessed this same secret, but I want to believe that to this very day, somewhere in the United States Air Force, there is an airman sneaking through the back door of a chow hall, mop in hand, to avoid waiting in line to eat. A rich legacy indeed. My roommates at Keesler could never figure out how I was able to make it back to the room ahead of them. I just couldn’t divulge the secret.

Graduation day finally arrived. I received orders for Taiwan and it was off to home for leave. Gary Snarr, Merle Mountain, and I were still roommates when we graduated. All three of us were sent to the 6987th. Gary invited me out to his home in Sacramento to spend a few days prior to taking the MATS flight from Travis AFB, across the Pacific.  What a great family he had and what great adventures awaited us in Taiwan.

Keesler

 Nine students were assigned to the 6987th out of this class. Those assigned to the 6987th, names are shown in bold-face type.

First Row (L to R): Daniel Salzwimmer, Stewart Sarris, Harry R. Moon, J. Ortiz, James B. Cowan, Nathaniel Wingfield, ? Powell

Second Row (L to R) Charles Peterson, Merle D. Frank, Larry Back, Gilbert Espinosa, Gary N. Snarr (my roommate), Gary Knighton

Third Row (L to R): Eurial Davis, Jr., Merle H. Mountain, (my roommate), Sgt Tillman (Instructor), A1C Buchanan (Instructor), A1C Denham (Instructor), Sgt Dickens (Instructor), Richard A. Wise, James B. Gulledge.

Fourth Row (L to R): Walter E. Adams, Ernest N. Johnson, Pete Humphrey, Jr., Ralph W. Morgan, Dennis B. Reynolds, Gerald D. Crawford, John Morocco.

 

 

 

Article Submitted By: Gary N. Knighton

P. O. Box 909,

Indian Trail, NC 28079-0909

E-Mail Address: yogi6987th@yahoo.com

USAF History: Enlisted in June, 1960, Miami, Florida. Basic Training at Lackland AFB, 6/1960 to 7/1960. Completed Basic Training and MIO School, Keesler AFB, 7/1960 to 2/1961. Assigned to USAFSS and the 6987th R. S. M. (later designated R. G. M.) from 2/1961 to 7/1963, (two tours). Transferred to SAC in 7/1963, and based at Eglin AFB, Florida. Discharged from active duty in 4/1964, under President Johnson’s reduction in manpower initiative. Currently retired from a civilian career in Commercial and Mortgage lending and residing in North Carolina.