TOP SECRET
(or at least it used to be)

-----------------------

A CIVILIAN G.I. IN 1968 VIETNAM

LONG RANGE RECONNAISSANCE PATROLS, THE HIGHLANDS, AND CAMBODIA


the Wanderling

THE DRAFT NOTICE


(to see the full page in an expandable PDF version click image)


Two years to the day following having been drafted, after having completed my full time active duty as required, I was honorably discharged, or more accurately, separated from under the Army's auspices without incident. As a requisite to that discharge/separation, in that at the time there was a six year obligation to the military, like most two year draftees, to fulfill those remaining four years, I was required to report for duty as an active reserve member to a designated Active Reserve Unit. On the side also, held over your head waiting in the wings if you didn't comply, was the little known St. Louis manpower pool, otherwise known as the Individual Ready Reserve ( IRR). The IRR is/was composed of individuals with previous service experience, who are trained, usually special trained or special skilled, but were not in units. They were available for recall to active duty on an individual basis. At onetime the IRR had over 111,000 soldiers who have left active duty or active reserve service, but still had time left on their obligation. Theoretically, using the resources of the IRR a whole battalion size unit or larger could be assembled by putting together G.I.s from all over the country on an individual one-on-one basis and deploy the unit without ever activating a standing "live" unit or anybody even knowing about it.

In my case it was a designated Active Reserve Unit, the 63rd Infantry Division, at the time headquartered in Los Alamitos, California, with smaller seemingly unrelated within themselves segments of said Division scattered around the state. The smaller segment I was to report to was Hq & Hq Detachment, 163rd Signal Battalion in Torrance, California --- and with both A and B Companies of the same battalion supposedly at the same location I had high expectations.

After a certain passage of time, but before any duly granted grace period fully elapsed, wherein if you didn't report you would be called back in full time, I reported to the reserve unit as requested. Where I reported was a left over onetime, albeit deactivated, former Los Angeles Defense Area Launch Site, otherwise known as a Nike base, that almost all of the reservists referred to as Fort Torrance. People assigned to report didn't arrive in groups, but like me, basically dribbled in one at a time. On arrival, at least in my case, there were no briefings, introductions, tours of the facility, or discussions as to how the division or us now Nike base signal folk fit into the overall scheme of things. Except for a slight to less than minor interest in my MOS and clearances, so they kind of knew I wasn't a cook or something and should bring in donuts for everybody, there was no interest in past or present level of abilities, what I did do, had done, or could do. The only real thing they seem excessively concerned about was that I showed up in the uniform of the the day, meaning the fatigues I was told to keep when discharged, as well as attend the mandatory meetings one night a week, one weekend a month, and two weeks during the summer. I was also told to remove my 1st Infantry Division shoulder patches and replace them with the 63rd as well as remove my 121st Signal Battalion fatigue shirt pocket patches. While I was at it, since rank had a tendency to let you slip by with things a little, at the same time I did the shoulder patch thing I removed the Spec 4 patches on my sleeves and had Sergeant E-5 stripes sewed on in their place with nobody ever questioning it. I had been told just as I was leaving Fort Riley that I had been kicked up to Sergeant E-5, but the official paperwork never caught up with me by the time I was discharged nor did it show up by the time I reported to the 63rd, although my pay stubs reflected it.

Basically as I saw it, at least on the enlisted man side, the outfit was filled with overweight over-the-hill lifers, six month National Guard draft dodger types, and ex-draftees like me stroking the dog putting in time until it was over. Everybody in the place acted like fresh off the cattle truck rout-step 'cruits. I don't think anybody had been school trained and except for a few, ever practiced their craft. None of them had any concept of a STRAC trooper and even I, probably the farthest thing from being a lifer anybody could ever meet, had a tough time adjusting to their sloppy behavior, disrespect for rank, and the inability to perform even the most menial tasks pertaining to commo. For being only one company short of a full fledged signal battalion the 163rd at Fort Torrance was remarkably short on equipment and men, and for sure equipment. What equipment they did have seemed to be in pretty ragged shape, but a number of us did what we could when called upon. There were a couple of old timers, motor pool types, that kept the 3/4 ton AN/GRC-46 trucks running pretty good and another couple of radio equipment guys that were able to do the same with the electronic stuff and radios. All the time I was there it seemed there was never anybody with high enough clearances to do crypto and even then I don't think they had the machines, at least available on a general basis.

Most people kept me at bay from crypto machines anyway as I was notorious for setting my own ten key set between me and others on the net so we could send and receive RTT without being monitored. Anybody who didn't have the specific ten key set I assigned would be left out of the loop, the ASA for example. When three of four big shot Regular Army guys came down to see me and the reserve brass caught wind that I was somehow a known commodity as an infamous code sender of some repute, someone decided that it would be a good idea for me to teach a class on Morse code. After screwing around a bit I was able to put together enough equipment and gather a few personnel so interested, and instead of doing other stupid reserves stuff we did stupid code stuff, with some of the guys getting quite good at it with the CO and all bragging up the line how well we were doing.[1]



(please click image. photo r.s. johnson)

In the meantime I was trying to adjust to civilian life, renting a room from my grandmother, enrolled under the G.I. Bill at a California State University, all the while boppin' along in all my naïve glory like the dude in Robert Crumb's iconic 1960's Keep On Truckin' cartoon, only instead of being really hip, a just out-of-the-Army big time civilian come college student --- hearing for the first time from some professors and their books about something called endoplasmic reticulum and even meeting a few ladies. Then, under the premise of once a G.I., always a G.I., the roof caved in.




The roof caved in because during the first few months of my active duty in the real Army the Army Security Agency (ASA), after I was caught goofing-off replicating the fist of a staff sergeant that unbeknownst to me at the time was actually gone from the base on leave, discovered that I, with almost a minuscule amount of practice, had an uncanny ability to accurately duplicate or counterfeit almost any Morse code operator's fist to such a point that what I sent, was totally indistinguishable for virtually anyone to differentiate between messages sent by me and that of any person I was imitating. My fate was sealed and rather than the stockade I was immediately appropriated by higher ups for other duties, I myself becoming top secret. If there were others like me I never learned, but they didn't want anybody to know my skills nor to have my whereabouts tracked.


dancer [ dan-ser, dahn- ]

noun

DANCER: In military jargon a Morse code sender/receiver, i.e., telegrapher, operator, who is extremely light or nimble in their Morse code sending abilities. From the phrase "trip the light fantastic" meaning a dancer whose abilities are graceful and light on their feet, that glides smoothly through a dance routine as though a prima ballerina assoluta. Typically applied to a telegrapher whose skills are almost savant in nature. More specifically, an operator with a rare ability to accurately duplicate or counterfeit almost any Morse code operator's "fist" to such a point that what is sent by the counterfeiter is totally indistinguishable for virtually anyone to differentiate between messages sent and the person being imitated.

THE CIVILIAN G.I, 1968 VIETNAM: Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols, the Highlands, and Cambodia


In a quick, simple schematic of military structure, at least the Army when I was in, runs from squad, to platoon, to company, battalion, brigade, and division. After that it defuses or widens out into being umbrellaed under Army, Corps, Pentagon, etc. and/or sometimes the other way into a specific narrowed down and sometimes something smaller such as an individual or unit under one of the other levels or possibly in a break apart, under a Presidential Mandate.

My first or second summer of active reserve, possibly even the third, following my full time active duty with the Army, and I'm purposely being cryptic or ambiguous here because I don't want to narrow down people, places, times, or events too specifically, or myself either, I was informed by a former Crypto Officer I worked for that operated both outside and above division level, mostly between Army, the Pentagon, and Presidential Mandates, that there was a need for my code abilities within a special trained area of expertise. So said, he told me that during the summer I would, as part of my active reserve, be participating in, albeit as a civilian in civilian clothes and on a temporary U.S. State Department passport, done so he said, as part of the secrecy that surrounded the program. That special training turned out to be a program I never heard of or even knew existed, a highly intensive eight-week field course at the British Jungle Warfare School in Kota Tinggi, Johore, Malaysia, thirty or so jungle miles from Singapore.

The course was contracted by the U.S. Army through the New Zealand Special Air Service (SAS) to train specially selected individuals to become jungle trackers within a team. In the end there were two five person groups that formed a ten person team, each five person group having a dog handler and special trained dog, a visual tracker, a cover man, a radioman (me), and a team leader, but all, on an individual basis, jungle trackers. Just days before the end of the eight week course, with most if not every bit of the heavy duty jungle stuff behind me, I was pulled out and returned to the states, replaced in the team by a permanent radio operator recruited from another group that as a group never made it.

A few years before I had been in a place about 300 miles northwest up along the Malaysia coast from the jungle training camp called Kota Bharu. In some of my writings I tell about a fellow G.I. I met called a "kicker" who did just that, being a kicker in the cargo hold of a C-123 by "kicking" stuff out of the open cargo bay at low levels. I met him on a flight carrying contraband across the South China Sea to Kota Bharu from Vietnam. Usually when I bring him up, and most especially so in Travels in the Yucatan, it has to do with a solid gold Rolex Presidential watch he wore. He said it was to bargain his way out of tight spots if need be and that I should always carry something of easily known tradable value on my person for the same reason.



Other than that, except for the reserve unit being put on an unofficial quasi-alert during the Watts riots most of the time passed fairly uneventful. Then, early in the year of my last year of my required service, one night just as I was going out the door following the end of one of our weekly nap training seminars, the CO handed me an official looking envelope saying this was the real deal and not to fuck it up. On the way to my car, before I even had a chance to open the envelope, in the dark someone in a car flashed the headlights towards me twice in quick succession. When I stopped two guys in civilian suits got out of the car and walked up to me. Both showed me almost indistinguishable in the dark military ID cards. In that we were all inside the base perimeter I just let it go at that. They had me get into the backseat of their car and told me I wouldn't be going on the regular two weeks summer training that year, but instead, when notified, I would be participating in a special assignment. They said my orders were in the envelope, but briefly I would be reporting to Camp Roberts with further instructions to follow. The assignment they said was top secret so I was not to discuss it with anyone. Any reserve obligations I was to fulfill or meet would be taken care of, in the meantime I was released from any further obligations. Just show up at Roberts when ordered, packing all my military gear the same as I would as if I was going on a regular two weeks training session. Then one of the men handed me a small unopened corrugated cardboard box telling me it was imperative I brought it with me. The box was marked Key, Telegraph KY-116/U. It was then I got my first inkling as to what was going on. A KY-116/U was a leg mounted Morse code hand key.



TOP SECRET, NEED TO KNOW, EYES ONLY

Except for the following few paragraphs, footnotes, and links, to continue past this point in the main text requires password access:

In a footnote to The Code Maker, The Zen Maker sub-titled How I Got There (Part II), as well as a few paragraphs below, I write that after ending up in the far northern reaches of South Vietnam at a location not far from the DMZ I was met by a company spook and a non-com with the Army Security Agency, both implying they were out of an I Corps communication intelligence facility in Phu Bai.

What always seemed to be the case for me in those days, being immersed in a quasi typical need-to-know or eyes-only status situation, since it was just the spook, non-com and me, and we were out in the middle of nowhere I asked what was going on. The spook pulled me aside putting his arm around my shoulder saying it could be a day or two before we pulled out, depending on the weather at this end and the other end. I asked if we going into North Vietnam. He answered, close.

The same way that the spook couldn't clarify in those days, I still can't clarify in these days. What I am getting at is, even though I am revealing the military had a very special need for my talents duplicating and sending Morse code totally indistinguishable for virtually anyone to differentiate between messages sent by me and that of any person I was imitating, I am still not at liberty to tell for what use that talent was so needed or any implementation thereof. Without breaking any tenets on my part, the paragraphs that follow were written by the highly distinguished and well received author and researcher Alfred McCoy, and found in his book The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (1972) and are being presented for you to infer what you wish:


"From Nam Yu the teams were flown fifty-five miles due north and dropped off on the Laotian bank of the Mekong River. After inflating their rubber rafts, the teams paddled across the Mekong and hiked three miles through the Burmese jungle until they reached the joint Nationalist Chinese CIA base near Mong Hkan. It was originally established by a KMT intelligence force, the First Independent Unit, to serve as a base for its own cross-border forays into Yunnan, and as a radio post for transmitting information on the availability of opium to KMT military caravans based at Mae Salong in northern Thailand. When the CIA began sending its reconnaissance patrols into Yunnan, the First Independent Unit agreed to share the base.

"From Mong Hkan, the CIA teams hiked north for several days to one of two forward bases only a few miles from the border --- a joint CIA-KMT radio post at Mong He and a CIA station at Mong Mom.

"Using light-weight, four-pound radios with a broadcast radius of four hundred miles, the teams transmitted their top priority data directly to a powerful receiver at Nam Yu or to specially equipped Air America planes that flew back and forth along the Laotian Chinese border. Once these messages were translated at Nam Yu, they were forwarded to Vientiane for analysis and possible transmission to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The radio messages also served to pinpoint every team's position, all carefully recorded on a huge relief map of Yunnan Province mounted in a restricted operations room at Nam YU."

ALFRED McCOY: The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia


NAM YU: CIA LIMA SITE 118-A


The quote and paragraph below is an example of what shows up in the password protected section. Although the quote can be found elsewhere in my works here and there on the internet, most notably IN AS A BOY, OUT AS A MAN: The Draft, Active Duty, Active Reserve, linked below, it is usually in an abbreviated or condensed format, out of context, or having missing before or after content. It's not that way in the password access section:


"He told me not to worry, he figured my life was getting dull and just wanted to spice it up a little. Not much to it he said, just a quick trip into Cambodia and Laos for a few days. I told him I was a civilian now, nobody knew my past, I was in college, serious with a lady, and couldn't take the chance. He said he needed me, trusted me, and even though he couldn't tell me the nature of the job I was the only one who could do it. Besides, he said, 'They didn't send you to learn all that tracker shit for nothin'.' When I asked what would happen if I refused he put his hand on my shoulder and told me it was River Styx stuff, only the Boatman knew and I had to do it. I closed my eyes and shook my head in a slow motion fuck me fashion. Then he said, 'See you in Phu Bai.'"

IN AS A BOY, OUT AS A MAN: The Draft, Active Duty, Active Reserve


Thirty-six hours, several plane flights and a helicopter later, just as promised, I was landing in Phu Bai. There I was issued a slant pocket type fatigue shirt along with a pair of matching side pocket fatigue pants with no patches, names or identifying marks, topped off by a near new but semi-worn tiger stripe boonie hat said to be a lucky hat. I was told the guy it belonged to left it for the next guy after he finished his tour and went home without mishap. I was also told the fatigues were new and they looked it too, but before I ever broke starch, to loosen up the stiffness and help make them breath better --- and so I wouldn't look so FNG or have to walk like some 1950's toy tin robot --- I had them washed a few times.

Another example from the password protected section, as seen below, found it's way onto The Dancer page where the Dancer definition is found, although the quote again, is in a brief out of context status. The quote deals with a then top secret wire tapping excursion into Cambodia in 1968 with the conversation event taking place in Dak To, about 50 miles north of Pleiku:


"Towards the end of the day five bush types accompanied by several Montagnards came into camp. The Caucasians were all armed with AK-47's and looked more like the jungle they came out of than G.I.s. None wore any rank or unit designation. The camp CO called all of us together, all the while as they looked us over. One, apparently the leader and probably an officer, looked at me specifically, then as though pointing with his nose without saying anything, flicked his head towards me as to ask who's that pale-ass prick. The CO said I was the 'Dancer,' had been into China, had Site 118-A clearance, and although no longer an active member of a jungle tracker team, had completed the SAS tracker school. With that, after a few glances between themselves, they seemed to relax and the tension evaporated."

THE CIVILIAN G.I, 1968 VIETNAM: Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols, the Highlands, and Cambodia


For those who may be so interested, in conjunction with the quote and paragraph about Phu Bai and me being issued slant pocket type fatigue shirt along with a pair of matching side pocket fatigue pants the pages also have two nearly full page black and white, head-to-toe, front and back full face photographs of me wearing that same set of issued fatigues. There is also an in-depth exploration along with a lot of data as to who, when and where the photographs were taken, identified as being sometime, and if not pushing into it, the summer following the Tet offensive in the city of Hue, a city located in central Vietnam that was considered a northern city in South Vietnam during the war, located about half way between Da Nang and the DMZ.


"Then one of the men handed me a small unopened corrugated cardboard box telling me it was imperative I brought it with me. The box was marked Key, Telegraph KY-116/U. It was then I got my first inkling as to what was going on. A KY-116/U was a leg mounted Morse code hand key."



(please click image)


Take a look at the beautiful machine work that went into making the KY-116/U, an item, like the formidable four wheel drive jeep, that was made in the time of war for war. Both in their own ways masterpieces each built for a different function but to serve the same purpose --- defeat the enemy. Wartime jeeps and telegraph hand keys like the KY116/U were turned out by the thousands and thrown into extremes as far ranging as the Arctic, the sweltering wind blown desert sands of North Africa and the steaming jungles of the the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, and expected to win the the war with all possibilities of being destroyed any second doing it --- along with their human operators and caregivers. Even so, made for war or not, or to last seconds or forever, there probably isn't a more beautiful piece of machined metal than the KY116/U below. Well there may be one thing: SEE


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(for larger size please click image)----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


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"Real Masters never charge for their services, nor do they accept payment in any form
nor in any sort of material benefits for their instructions. This is a universal law among
Masters, and yet amazingly, it is a fact that thousands of eager seekers in America and
elsewhere, go on paying large amounts of money for "spiritual instruction." Masters are
always self-sustaining and are never supported by their students or by public charity."

---Julian P. Johnson, The Path of the Masters (1939)





As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
















FOOTNOTE [1]



The following comments regarding myself and two year draftees attending and completing AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at the U.S. Army Signal Corps School in Fort Gordon, Georgia after going through basic at Fort Ord, California is found at the source so cited. The author writes he attended the Signal Corps School as well. Same place, same experience, seemingly the same MOS, albeit a year or two after I did. Even so, reading his piece, for me it seemed as though nothing had changed --- again same place, same experience. What the author says about security clearances, below, pretty much sums up the issue, at least as it was during the days I was dealing with it. However, again, in that I already had a confidential clearance, meaning a substantial portion of the investigative leg work was done, the Army did, in my case, rethink options:


"Of those who found the training a breeze only a few were able to go on for more complex training in other areas. A variety of reasons prevented those who didn't, or couldn't, continue.

"One reason was time. The Army required that a GI have at least 2 years service remaining after completing extensive and expensive training. Most draftees were adamantly opposed to adding more time to their '2-year sentences.'

"Another reason was security. Top Secret clearances were not as 'generally defined' as Secret clearances. Not being approved for one meant being restricted to your present level of training. Anyone holding a Secret clearance could view anything stamped 'Secret.' However, Top Secret clearances were amended with the sub-classification 'Need To Know.' Meaning, having a Top Secret clearance did not entitle the holder to view all Top Secret information. He was only allowed to view material he had a 'need to know' about. Even a General holding a Top Secret clearance was sometimes not allowed the privilege of knowing all matters under his own command, even though a lower ranking communications or intelligence officer was allowed to. The reason for limiting access was not to restrict individuals as much as it was to restrict numbers. The more people knowing about a secret, the greater the chances it might be leaked."(source)


Although not specifically applicable to security clearances per se' the following from the same source, shows how the training at Fort Gordon was applicable to the mission I was eventually assigned to. Most people have a tendency to place military communication training into Army Lite, when in reality being school trained is not necessarily a free ride:


"To graduate, a student had to fulfill several prerequisites. He had to be able to send and receive 90 Morse code characters words per minute. He had to be able to fire up a radio ensemble, send and receive 3 messages within 5 minutes, pass Phase 2, and be able to handle the control of a self-contained RTT rig, all on his own.

"We were told that some secret operations might require a rig be set up on top of a mountain, hidden in the middle of a village, or buried underground. Although 90 characters per minute was considered extremely fast, some veteran RTT jocks could handle 200 while drinking coffee.

"While the communications specialists of other MOS's were trained to work in large, fixed, multi-personnel stations well away from combat lines, the RTT graduate was trained to operate solely on his own as a primary or backup source of communications support for any level of command operations.

"Because of the occasional tactical necessity to 'bury a rig in the boonies,' far from technical support or spare parts, the single-most important factor emphasized in RTT training was that each student develop an instinctive ability to get his rig back up to full operation if anything went wrong. and being alone in a rig surrounded by fragile technology, anything and everything was expected to go wrong, most of the time.

"Personal resourcefulness and improvisation were stressed as the 2 qualities absolutely necessary to make it as a successful RTT man. The unofficial RTT motto was, 'Improvise, or Die.'"


I get emails all the time from people who say, "I was drafted and I got a security clearance, etc., etc." While some special circumstances draftees did indeed receive security clearances, like myself for example, most didn't --- especially Top Secret. Although not a set-in-stone steadfast rule, it almost always fell back onto what is found in the short paragraph above that reads:


"One reason was time. The Army required that a GI have at least 2 years service remaining after completing extensive and expensive training. Most draftees were adamantly opposed to adding more time to their '2-year sentences.'"



AN/GRC-26 RADIO RIG MOUNTED ON GMC TRUCK. MY HOME DURING CUBA CRISIS, KEY WEST 1962
AND ATTENDING THE U.S. ARMY SOUTHEAST SIGNAL CORPS SCHOOL, FORT GORDON, GA, IN 1963

HOWARD JOHNSON'S FEEDS THE 121st SIGNAL BATTALION

THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS AND THE MOB



















MILITARY LEG KEYS

KY-116/U Leg Key Winslow Electronics - Contractor
J-45 Leg Key - unknown Contractor

The keys shown are a different type of "Leg Key" - one that actually clamps to your leg and allows you to send CW without the benefit of a table. These keys would have been used by the military and were necessary for portable operation in the field where that operation might be from a Jeep or other type of vehicle. Generally, these "Leg Keys" were provided if it was necessary to use CW. The U.S. Army's primary mode of communications was usually Voice however, CW provided better communications accuracy in poor conditions such as heavy static or weak signals, so the option to run CW was always available. These types of keys were in use from WWII up through the 1970s (and probably later.) In fact, the J-45 was in its original box with wrappings and is dated 9/79.

The KY-116/U was built by Winslow Electronics and uses a standard J-37 key mounted on a hinged base with leg clamps. The J-45 is identical but the contractor is not known. Both types of keys have the hinged base that allows the key to be turned upright to set on a desk, if available.  The keys are shown in the "down" position for mounting on the operator's leg. Actually, operating the key in this manner is pretty comfortable and good CW can be sent with the key clamped to your leg. The method was not for long-term operation and was intended for portable use where a table or desk wasn't practical.

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I'M IN LOVE!

MARIA, THE FEMBOT FROM FRITZ LANGS 1927 MOVIE METROPOLIS

IN LOVE? BEWARE OF WHAT YOU WISH FOR
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ROBOT WOMAN