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

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 second installment of a four-part series.

 (Part 2)

(Copyright 2008) 


Gary Knighton

That final morning, we arose early at the Snarr household. We had to make the long 50-odd mile drive from Sacramento to Travis AFB, say our goodbyes to family and friends, and check in at the terminal to make the MATS flight to Taiwan.
At Travis, having performed all of the required duties to be sure we would be on the flight, we settled in and waited. One by one, our former classmates at Keesler began arriving from all over the country. We gathered in a corner, almost like family confronted with a strange place, knowing we had security and comfort in a larger group. Gary, as usual, living up to his reputation at Keesler as the “Class Clown”, entertained us with a steady barrage of one-liners, commentary on other people moving through the terminal, and the lady at the snack bar who was calling out customer order numbers as they were ready for pickup.
The clock ticked down to departure time and we realized that we were finally going to make the giant leap from simple “airman-in-training” to the real Air Force. Prior to my arrival at Travis AFB, I had only flown 3 times in my life. Once, aboard a three-tailed Constellation as part of a field trip with the Boys Club in Coral Gables, Florida; once en- route to Lackland AFB for Basic Training; and once, on a Boeing 707 from Miami to Los Angeles with the ultimate destination of Sacramento and Travis AFB. As we walked across the tarmac toward our aircraft, I could see that it was another Constellation--a C-121 “Connie” or “Super Connie” as she was affectionately known. I could not imagine this crate making it all the way across the Pacific in one piece. I mean, we were supposed to be in the Jet Age! I thought prop aircraft would be phased out by now. I could see that many of my buddies were likewise concerned and we made snide, humorous comments to bolster ourselves and conceal our misgivings.
We boarded the aircraft and took our seats--all facing to the rear of the plane. What is this all about?, I thought. I want to see where I’m going, not where I’ve already been. No one would acknowledge my request that they turn my seat around. Everyone else seemed satisfied with the arrangement, so I sat down and kept my mouth shut. We taxied to position, started our roll, and finally lifted off, making a slow turn to the west southwest as we gained altitude. As we climbed, I could feel the engines pull, ease up, and then pull again. Similar, I thought, to a driver of a standard shift automobile clutching and working his way through its gears. It gave me some pause, but no one else seemed concerned about it, least of all, the older, seasoned Air Force people that were also on board--all heading to their appointed duty stations scattered across the Pacific. I settled down and concluded that my fate was beyond my control, so there was no use fretting about it.
Our first re-fueling stop was Hickham Field, Hawaii. Our layover at Hickham was delayed for several hours as the aircraft required some repairs (and, as I imagined, some baling wire, and bubble gum.) The layover was not long enough to warrant leaving the terminal and we were warned not to stray too far. We arrived in the early morning hours, as I recall, and everyone in our group caught a few minutes of shallow sleep as we kept our ears open for our flight call. Next stop was Guam, an uneventful stop in the middle of nowhere. For some reason, my thoughts turned to WW II, as I wondered how many un-repatriated Japanese soldiers were still out there in the jungle hills, refusing to surrender.
We finally arrived at Clark AFB, Philippines, and were able to take an overnight layover and actually sleep in real beds--real? Military bunk beds in the Clark AFB barracks. It felt like luxury after riding backwards for a day and a half. No one felt like leaving the base to sample some of the local fare.
We departed early the next morning for Taiwan, arriving at the Taipei airport in the early afternoon. We were met by an efficient, well-groomed Sergeant, and directed to a blue shuttle bus, identical to the bus we took from the Biloxi train station to Keesler AFB. Could this be the same bus by chance? How many of these things exist in the Air Force?
These thoughts faded as we got underway and navigated through the “whitewater” of Taipei traffic.tai pai street I learned on that initial drive that Taipei drivers use only two pieces of equipment when driving through town--their horn and their accelerator. It was tense, and we got some respite when we arrived at the Linkou Club Annex downtown. We discharged some of our passengers who were headed for other destinations. We stayed on board fearing that once away from the security of the bus, we would disappear from the face of the earth without a trace. As we waited on the bus, the Sergeant would point out certain individuals on the street, Air Force enlisted men, that could speak Chinese and had been able to adapt easily to the culture and relate closely with the Chinese people. This was my first clue as to what our mission might be about. Chinese linguists? What was the need? The nature of the mission we were to complete was never discussed at Keesler. I would soon learn the answer how the linguists would fit into the bigger tapestry of “The Mission.”
We finally got underway from the downtown area, and continued on our fast-paced, frenetic drive through Taipei. We finally cleared the long bridge over the Tanshui River, to the outskirts of town. The vehicular traffic had abated somewhat, but the bicycle traffic was a thick as ever; and the horns, the ubiquitous horns, sounded their warning to the pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles alike. We made the last right-hand turn traversing a long section of flat straight road, flanked by rice paddies, and finally began the ascent to Shu Linkou Air Station situated up the mountain. The road wound its way, back and forth, up the side of the mountain, traveling through small villages along the way. (See photo below) shulinkou roadThis was a rare treat for a south Florida kid, having known nothing but the “flat table” terrain of Miami. We arrived at the 6987th RSM, and our home. Shu Linkou (shortened to Linkou or SLK for those that lived there) was a small, neat little station. In an earlier life it had been a WWII Japanese airfield. Traces of the old runway could still be seen. There were contingents of Army ASA and Navy NSG personnel also assigned to the station executing similar missions as we were. Most of the buildings were constructed of corrugated metal, the streets were paved asphalt, and the sidewalks were reminiscent of the old “corduroy roads” of the early days of the U. S. Republic, only narrower-- short, wooden-planks, laid in a line, designed to keep ones feet from bogging down in the red mud that appeared during the rainy season. A great theory, but it reality it did not always work. The mud was seemingly bottomless and the planks would sink into the mud under the weight of anyone brave enough to walk on them. These corduroy walkways would be replaced with concrete sidewalks before I departed 30 months later.
We were processed in, billeted in regular barracks with men that had already trained at Keesler and other Air Force Technical Schools specifically in their Air Force Specialty. Many of them were Morse Intercept Operators and I felt we had a bond with most of them. Nevertheless, they would not talk about the jobs they did or the work in which we would soon be engaged. I found out later that while we were away from work, nothing was to be discussed, even casually, lest a security breach of some kind were to occur. In addition, some individuals in our group had not yet received their Security Clearance.
During our school days at Keesler, one of our instructors shared a story about a young airman he knew in Crete who was on the Air Force boxing team. The boxer’s name was Kaiser. This instructor proceeded to tell all kinds of stories about Kaiser and how he was always able to get out of duty because he traveled the European theater with the boxing team to perform in tournaments and matches. Well, you guessed it. Kaiser had transferred from Crete to Taiwan and was living in the very barracks to which we had been billeted. A good guy after all. I saw none of the characteristics about which our old instructor had derided him. Kaiser shipped out shortly after we arrived and I never had the opportunity to talk with him at length about his days in Crete.
On our second day on station, we returned to the Administration Building to complete our processing and receive our “Flight” assignments. Out of our group of nine men, Dennis Reynolds and I were assigned to Trick 3 (or Charlie Flight). Mountain was assigned to Baker Flight, Snarr, Powell and Adams were assigned to Able Flight. Ortiz and Espinosa made it on to Delta Flight. Larry Back did not make it onto the line as his security clearance never arrived. He was re-assigned to clerical duties at the Administration Building and after a week to ten days was re-assigned to a duty station back in the States. My flight-mate, Dennis Reynolds never made it to the line either. He had a proficiency in mechanical drafting and was pulled out and re-assigned to the Civil Engineer’s office. Walter Adams was also returned to the States for an undisclosed reason. I have often wondered at the wasted expense of the loss of Reynolds, Adams, and Back. Their training was expensive (and Back was very good student at Keesler, pressing me for the Honor Student award), the cost of a security investigation, the cost to transport them to a remote destination and back home, the cost to train two other individuals with the same collateral expenses, to take their place.
I took my place on the line and learned my job via OJT, from Curtis Wallace from Fresno, CA. Curtis would be able to transfer back to the States, having ended his tour of duty, once I was trained.

Article Submitted By: Gary N. Knighton

P. O. Box 909,

Indian Trail, NC 28079-0909

E-Mail Address:

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.