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 third installment of a four-part series.

(Part 3)


Gary Knighton

(Copyright 2008)

I found out quickly that my MIO training at Keesler had only slightly prepared me for the job in which I was about to engage. Morse Code and its language of “Q” signals was about the only common denominator between school and my new job. Everything else seemed to be foreign to me. I had to learn on the fly and found out that the Morse Code heard at SLK was not the perfect model I had learned at Keesler. Nevertheless, Curtis was a good teacher and I quickly found out that he was one of the better operators on Trick 3. I was fortunate at having drawn him--or maybe the Flight Supervisor knew I would be in good hands. I soon learned that Trick 3 was considered the best flight on the hill, having received numerous commendations for specific activity in advancing the cause of the mission.
Things finally settled into a routine. I was transferred from my temporary barracks over to Barracks #120, which housed Trick 3 personnel. We had a house boy named Chen. Each of the guys in the barracks paid $0.35 cents per month for his services. Chen was available to shine your shoes, make your bed, sweep and mop the barracks floor, clean the latrine, and pick up fresh bed linens on linen exchange day. We affectionately called him papasan He was quite a character and always seemed to be of good cheer. I learned some time after my arrival that he had served in Chiang Kai Shek’s army and had fled to Taiwan from Mainland China with the remnants of Chiang’s forces. He had shown us several bullet wound scars on his legs and shoulders. From that day forward, Chen had my greatest respect, and we became good friends.   Photo: Papasan Chen, Trick 3 houseboy.

Our flight worked a schedule of shift work--three daytime shifts, a day off; three “swings“, a day off; three “mids“, and then three days off. This routine would then be repeated, ad infinitum. The schedule would change from time to time--4-1, 4-1, 4-1, and 4-4, etc. The long break always came after the final mid shift. It would be this regimen that would soon separate me from Mountain and Snarr and we would rarely get to see each other except in passing. On my long break, I would occasionally work a shift for my counterpart on another Flight (the man working my same position) for a fee, and I would get to see and talk with either Snarr or Mountain on those occasions. To be one of approximately 600 men isolated on top of a mountain, it was strange that your circle of friends was, in general terms, limited to your own flight-mates. As I was able to get my legs under me and find out what the mission was about, my mind wandered back to that morning at Travis AFB prior to departure. Was I really thinking that I was about to enter the “real” Air Force? That might have been my thinking then; but after a while at SLK, I determined that, in the USAFSS, I was part of one huge Fraternity, and SLK was the equivalent of a college campus. Yes, we had discipline and work schedules to keep, and a mission to complete. And our Supervisors saw to it that the mission was met. Beyond that, we were pretty much left alone. My Flight Commander, at that time a 1st Lieutenant, would tell me 45 years later that the NCOs in the USAFSS were the crème de la crème of the Air Force and that they actually ran things and kept most of the Officers out of trouble. In fact, it was said that the people in USAFSS were among the top 10% of all Air Force personnel. I believe it. The intellect of our people was second to none as they analyzed the product coming off the line, grappled with, and solved complicated problems 24 hours a day. The end users of our product made daily decisions using the information gathered at SLK and USAFSS units around the globe, that affected the entire world.
Mention of SLK would not be complete without mentioning the chow hall. The Linkou Chow Hall was recognized throughout southeast Asia and the world for having the best chow in the Air Force. It seemed that each year, like clock work, the chow hall was awarded the Hennessey Trophy--the Air Force’s equivalent of the Super Bowl trophy for chow halls. As you might imagine, at the mention of having a barracks house boy, we could also pay an additional monthly fee and be exempt from KP duty. Taiwanese civilians worked in the kitchen and helped with the food service needs. Due to our shift work, performing our mission 24/7, the chow hall was open almost around the clock, serving 4 meals a day. Steak was regular fare each week, roast beef would be sliced on the spot to preferred thickness and quantity as you moved through the chow line. Breakfast would likewise be cooked to order using real eggs, not the powdered stuff my brother endured in the USMC.

Even though SLK boasted a very nice library, pool, theater, bowling alley, and Serviceman’s Club (USO), the center of our on-base social life was the Enlisted Men’s Club. There, after payment of monthly dues, you could be treated to ten cent beer, fifteen cent mixed drinks, pin ball machines, slot machines, and a great hamburger, fries, and coke for just thirty-five cents. Regular live-band floor shows were also on tap each week. It seemed to be a little bit of Heaven on Earth for a young, eighteen year old airman and a great place of stress relief after putting in the tough hours at work. Downtown Taipei, on the other hand, was the ultimate stress reliever.
My first trip to Taipei was relatively sedate. I caught the bus for the trip downtown with a group of other guys. The trip down the mountain was a little more exciting than coming up, for no other reason than the constant brake work and shifting the driver had to do to navigate the “S” curves. It was on this same road on several different occasions that some of the SLK men, in their own vehicles, did not make some of those curves and went over the edge to their death.
The bus always discharged its passengers at the walk-up entrance to the Linkou Club Annex downtown. It was situated adjacent to the Military Aid and Assistance Group (MAAG) compound. The compound housed a Base Exchange, theater, ball fields, as well as connected military support facilities. For me, the first order of business after arriving in town was to walk into the Linkou Club Annex at which point the long break from work would begin with a few (or more than a few) adult libations, discussion with others about where to go and what to do.Pedi cab Most of the GI’s had their favorite hangouts, the San Francisco Bar, and the Black Cat, to name two--all within walking distance from the Annex. For activities a little further removed from the immediate area, a short pedicab ride would get you there in relative comfort, and for places further away or for shopping among the natives, a taxicab ride would suffice. Prices were very, very reasonable, and many of us purchased tailor-made shirts, trousers, and suits for civilian wear, since military dress was not required when off duty. There were several people that flew to Hong Kong on shopping and sightseeing excursions. We even had a few guys take flying lessons and scuba lessons, ultimately diving waters around the Pescadores in the Taiwan Straits.
For the married guys, time spent downtown usually revolved around tourist-type activities and finding out more about the culture and the people. To this very day I still have admiration for those guys, being able to resist the allures of a wide-open city, begging for the GI’s money. Marriage was an invisible line of demarcation between us. The married guys were more into sightseeing activities. There were many times that I would join them on bicycle excursions to visit local attractions and take photos. The single guys, on the other hand, spent a lot of their time making the rounds of the different bars, possibly some female companionship, and anything else that struck their fancy.
Occasionally, those “anything else” moments found us, intoxicated, and challenging one another to some ridiculous feat of courage or physical prowess. In those days, Taipei had benjo ditches. They were used for drainage and occasionally to relieve oneself rather than spend a long time looking for an indoor bathroom. I remember one night, after “bar hopping”, a group of us were walking back to the Linkou Club Annex to catch the shuttle back to the “hill”. We came across a local citizen riding his bicycle. Not waiting for one of us to issue the obligatory challenge, Daffy Duck decided that he wanted to ride the bicycle and attempted to unseat the rider. The cyclist turned the tables on him and made a sharp turn down a side street just as the alley came to a dead end. At the dead end a benjo ditch ran parallel to the side street. Daffy was tossed from the bike into the muck in the ditch. We all rushed to his aid but because he was covered in all manner of unmentionable residue, we could not get a firm grip on his arm. We would grab, and our grip would slip. He might as well have been covered with Vaseline petroleum jelly. After we had laughed and made him the butt of many jokes and comments, we finally suggested that he move to an area where the ditch wall was not quite so steep and he managed to crawl out as we pulled him up by his belt at the back of his waist. Someone suggested we take him to the apartment of one of our married flight-mates who lived off base with his wife. There, they surmised, we could get Daffy cleaned up and let him sleep it off. Needless to say, the man’s wife was not pleased to see us show up at their door that night. Daffy returned to the hill the next morning, squeaky clean. Prior to this incident he had already earned the nickname of Daffy. This was the night that he proved the appropriateness of the sobriquet
Of course we never mentioned the incident again. Wrong!! The story circulated throughout Trick 3 and became that of which legends are made. Here 45 years later, it brings a smile to my face just thinking about it. For those just reading of it now, I’ll just say, “you had to be there.”
Nicknames were given depending on your physical appearance, your habits, or the crazy things that you did. Nicknames seemed to be a mark of acceptance to your flight-mates. On Trick 3, we had myself, (Yogi), there was Daffy Duck, Pogo Possum, Reb, Tex, Bo, Dub, Angel, Ichabod Crane, Moose, Bra, Yank, Chev, Le Duc, and Basil. (Basil was so nicknamed for the Frank Gorshin character in the movie Where the Boys Are, because of his thick eye-glasses.)
I remember the Enlisted Men’s Club changing out their older slot machines for new ones. They had nickel, dime, twenty-five cents, and half-dollar slots. I had spent a portion of my time there playing the slots ever since my arrival. On the evening the new machines were installed, I began playing and hit jackpots on three of them. I walked out of the club with almost $300.00 in cash (a tidy sum in those days.) As you might imagine, the long breaks between the last mid shift and the first day shift would generally deplete an airman’s funds. As a result of my slot machine windfall, I began making payday loans to some of the guys and soon became the “lender of choice” for those in need. During all of that time, not a single airmen failed to repay a loan. Who knew then that after my separation from the Air Force, I would spend my civilian career in the lending industry.

Peitou party

Trick 3 Party at Peitou

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.