This is in recognition of John Hanft’s notable contribution in the development of a tangible record of the role and activities of the 280th USASA Company and its members who served in Berlin during the Cold War Era.

A native of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, John passed away on August 18, 2003, after a brief illness. He was 66 years old. This veterans organization known as the Berliner Kameraden was established in 1959 as a private association of former linguists trained at the Army Language School (ALS) in Monterey, California, and includes other Army Security Agency (ASA) personnel, all of whom served in Berlin during the Cold War. The primary purpose of the group was to enable its members to keep in touch after their  service, thereby maintaining the bonds which for many had developed at Monterey and then reinforced while serving in that “island of freedom” that Berlin represented for decades.

John studied Russian at the ALS, graduating in 1958, and served with the 280th ASA Company in Berlin from August 1958 to December 1959.  John’s important work is predicated on his diligent and persistent research on the whereabouts of former 280th members after his retirement from the military in 1983 as a judge on the U.S. Court of Military Appeals.  He was a trained lawyer, graduating from the University of North Carolina law school in 1964. Prior to  John’s seminal work, the list was a list in name only with no one having the interest or taken the time to locate the some 200 members of the 280th who had for the most part returned to civilian life and were located  throughout the United States.  It might be added that preparation of this list was a passion for John and took up much of his time during his retirement years.  The list was basically completed more than ten years ago.

Using John’s list, and working with him, one of the  former 280th members prepared a short history of the 280th Company.  This list was used to contact all of the former 280th members and solicit information about their Berlin experience, including their training at the ALS.   Without John's list, such a document would not have been a practical consideration.  This document was received by approximately 50 former members of the 280th Company and a copy was sent to the  Library of Congress for their Veterans Experience Program. The first limited  printing was quickly exhausted and a second  edition of the document with supplemental material is planned to address this need.

Secondly, a grand Reunion of 280th members was made possible because of John’s important  compilation of names and addresses. The list was essential in contacting former members to gauge their interest in having a reunion and where.  The reunion was a success with approximately 30 members attending from across the United States. Several others wanted to attend but for reasons of health or financial constraints were unable to do so. The reunion was held in suburban Washington, D.C., in May 2006.  The Reunion consisted of several individual events, including a trip and briefing at the National Security Agency Museum at Fort Meade, Maryland.  There was also  a visit to the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Speakers from the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) and from the National Security Agency (NSA) addressed the group.  INSCOM was the successor to the Army Security Agency. All of these events were in whole or in part video recorded and were included in a DVD package, which can be ordered from the 280th Web site.

Thirdly, John’s list gave rise to a 280th Web site that contains a variety of information on 280th activities. The Web site is accessible at:

                                                         280th-usasa-berlin.com

The main menu consists of Memorabilia, Narratives, Membership List and Biographies, E-Mail Addresses, Reunion 2006, Fallen Kameraden and Obituaries. Included in the Web site is a short history of the ALS included under the Narratives heading. The Web site broadens the reach of the 280th story beyond that of the individual 280th members and their families to a larger public audience. 

It is fair to say that none of the documents and events previously identified would have materialized without John's original work, certainly not in their present form.  And there would be little or no historical record of the young men who received their foreign language training at the ALS and their important military service in Berlin.

John was never fully aware of what his initial list would bring forth, but he knew that the Short History of the 280th Company was underway when he passed away. He was sent a draft copy of the document for comment to his cabin retreat in Minnesota in the spring of 2003, but it was never returned. He was stricken with a cancer-related illness and returned to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he grew up, for treatment.   As previously stated, John passed away on August 18, 2003. 

John’s outstanding military career was filled with an abundance of honors and achievements. Indeed, an exceptional member of the 280th USASA Company. 

Parenthetically, the Berliner Kameraden Group has nominated John Hanft for induction into the DLIFLC Hall of Fame for his important work in bringing the 280th Company members together as a cohesive group and the subsequent activities that resulted from his work. The next selection process was originally scheduled for this fall, but information recently provided by the DLFLC Hall of Fame staff indicated the selection process has now been extended to a three-year period, or to 2011. Assuming the DLIFLC staff is adequately informed, there will be a substantial wait before it is known if John will be selected. A submission with accompanying documents was submitted on John's behalf early on to meet the original July 31st, 2008 deadline. The basis for his nomination is generally outlined in the tribute piece. 

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