G. DALE CARMICHAEL
Simpsonville, South Carolina
Russian Linguist
July 1957 - March 1959

THE EARLY YEARS

I was born in 1932 on a rural western Oklahoma farm.  The worsening economic depression was aggravated by the extended drought known as he Dust Bowl which made farming impossible.  I was a true product of the Dust Bowl.  Even though my family was forced to leave the farm when I was six years old, I still remember days turning to night and visibility being restricted to a few yards by the horrendous dust storms of the period.  Our farm home had been built by my father and grandfather and of course did not have the tight fit of today’s modern structures.  Dust seeped in and covered everything.  When I was six, my family moved to the near-by town of Sayre, with a population of about 2,700 residents.  My mother and father worked in retail establishments to earn a living.  I went through my entire pre-college education in the Sayre school system.

 

I don’t remember much about World War II except that, of course, most young men went into the military service while we on the home front purchased war bonds, saved tin foil, grease and other items, planted  “victory gardens” and did many other things in support of the war.  We elementary school kids were proud of the fact that we bought enough War Stamps to purchase a small training plane.  And there was food and gasoline rationing.  I remember one of our elementary school teachers had a son in the Army Air Corps and he was learning to fly at an Oklahoma training base.  Periodically, he would buzz the town in a B-25.  The windows of the homes of service men displayed a small banner with a blue or gold star.  A Blue star for serving armed service members, gold for those killed in the war.

 

THE SCHOOL YEARS

 

Upon graduating from high school, I enrolled in Oklahoma A&M College (now known as Oklahoma State University) pursuing a degree in Accounting.  OAMC was a “land grant college”, therefore all male students were required to participate in ROTC for a minimum of two years.  Having been absolutely enamored by seeing war-time airplanes, I joined the Air Force ROTC hoping to become a pilot.

 

 My best friend from Sayre and I participated in the ROTC program for three years and went to summer Air Force summer camps between our Sophamore and Junior year.  We participated in the various scheduled activities and took the pilot’s physical exam while there.  A few weeks into my Junior year, I was summoned to the college infirmary.  I had a very slender build and as it turns out was slightly below pilot weight requirements.  The infirmary crew informed me that the Airforce medical staff had given me until the date of our meeting to reach the minimum weight requirement.  Unfortunately, the Air Force people failed to inform me of this fact so of course nothing had changed.  Thus I was disqualified from pilot consideration.  Being quite piqued by the whole affair, I dropped out of ROTC.

Just to show that our desires are perhaps not always the best thing for us, my best friend went on to become a fighter pilot.  He flew in the Vietnam War, was shot down and  imprisoned for many months as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton.  As an aside, after returning to the states from Berlin, I did get my private pilot license and enjoyed flying for a number of years until the financial requirements of a growing family and other issues caused me to pursue alternative interests.

 

THE MILITARY YEARS - STATESIDE

 

After graduating from OAMC, I acquired a job as a Cost Accountant with Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corporation in their Kansas City plant which manufactured home insulation.   After a few months, the grapevine indicated that my draft call up was imminent as the Korean War was in full swing.  As all young men were expected to serve in the military, I investigated a three-year enlistment in the army, with the possibility of qualifying for the Army Security Agency. 

 

Following my induction in April 1956, I went through basic training at Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas.  The army does have a knack for locating its basic training facilities in uncomfortable locals. I did make it into the ASA and was assigned to the Monterey Army Language School, studying the Russian language.  As best I can recall, I was able to make that choice.  In hind sight, German would have been much more practical and would have served me better both in Berlin and potentially in civilian life.  However, Russia was the adversary so it seemed logical that that was where the action would be.

 

I got engaged before enlisting with the target of getting married during the leave promised to follow language school.  We were told that there would be a nice leave at that point plus travel time to our next assignment (Ft. Devens).  Well, it did not turn out that way.  The actual leave time was much shorter and travel time was three or so days.  This meant that the wedding date had to be moved and the anticipated honey-moon would essentially not happen.  Many of my barracks buddies were also distressed with this change of events.  One of the “barracks lawyers” discovered an obscure army regulation that said military personnel traveling by car were limited to 300 miles per day of travel for safety reasons.  From Monterey to Ft. Devens, 3,000 miles / 300 miles per day meant 10 days of travel time, when tacked on to what leave time we did get extended beyond our scheduled arrival date.  So all involved agreed to sign in at Ft. Devens at this later date, stating that we all drove (separately), even though we would all be AWOL by several days.

 

I did get married in December 1956, even though the scheduling was extremely close and I had to leave for Massachusetts all too soon.  All the ASAers in our” band of brothers” did exactly as planned and showed up late at Ft. Devens.  The corporal signing everyone in eventually figured out that all of us were AWOL.  After a considerable brouhaha over the 300 miles/day policy, he threw up his hands and said “sign in and get out”.  Fortunately, he did not consider that the small parking lot would not hold all the cars required had they existed.  Let me tell you, Ft. Devens, MA in January is cold.  Water froze in the barracks “butt cans” at night even though we had coal-fired furnaces.

 

For the next six or so months we went to school doing what ASAers do.  At the end of training, we were able to chose our country assignments based on class ranking.  The choices were St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea off the coast of Russia, Japan or Germany.   Having had some Ft. Devens instructors who had served on St. Lawrence who were a little whacky and as I did not like cold weather, the Bering Sea was out if I had a choice.  Germany surely seemed more interesting than Japan so that’s where I ended up.

 

THE MILITARY YEARS - BERLIN

 

Departure was from Ft. Dix, NJ and by the luck of the draw I got to fly over to Europe.  Others, not so lucky, went by small ship and they later told horror stories of sea sickness and other miseries.  On one ship, some bug got hold of the guys and they were quarantined in the landing point harbor for an additional week.

 

After a brief period in Frankfurt it was on to Berlin via the military train through the Soviet zone.  The assignment was to the 280th ASA.  I worked at the Grunewald site for some time and later was assigned to Rudow (location of the famous "Berlin Tunnel").  The 280th ASA reunion confirmed that most of the guys had university degrees or finished getting them shortly after returning to the states.  Indeed, many went on to receive their masters degrees and in some cases PHDs.  It was a privilege to work with some very sharp and dedicated young men who performed thier duties with exceptional skill and with a minimum of supervision. Officers rarely visited the operational sites where I worked. There were really two seperate lines of authority, the army one and the operations (NSA) one. Probably due to security clearance issues, the "operations" personnel generally were dominant..

 

My time in Berlin was an eye-opening experience from both from the ELENT standpoint and as a historically famous city.  It was something for a young Okie  who had never traveled far from home to be exposed to a foreign experience in one of the famous cities in Europe, even though it was still recovering from the scars of World War II.

 

While getting out of Berlin and back through the Soviet Sector was a challenge, I was able to go down to Garmish on R&R.  I also took a couple of weeks leave and took a bus tour through Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France.  The several days in Paris were fantastic.  I was scheduled to go to Brussels while the Worlds Fair was there.  However, President Eisenhower sent the marines into Lebanon, a soviet client state, to establish order.  This resulted in Khrushchev threatening to take over Berlin in retaliation.  That ended any thought of going to Brussels, so that opportunity was lost.  During my tour in Berlin there were constant threats or perceived threats.  Sputnik was launched, the spat between the U.S. and Russia over the support of Egypt, Russian army maneuvers around Berlin and Khrushchev’s constant blustering to take over the city.

 

There were periodic incidents which sometimes were amusing, but sometimes only after a bit of time passed.  On two occasions someone at the Grunewald site failed to clear their automatic pistol correctly and ricocheted a bullet off the floor and through the ceiling barely missing nearby personnel.  Another time while in transit from Andrews Barracks to the Grunewald site, we were ambushed by soldiers in strange uniforms firing a machine gun point blank at our vehicle.  It turned out the they were “aggressor” forces in an U.S. army infantry training exercise that had set up their position at the wrong place within the Gunewald forest.  Fortunately for us, their bullets were blanks. They were lucky, because we were under orders not to be stopped and our bullets were not blanks. Only good fortune avoided a tragedy.

 

While working at the Rudow site, myself and a couple of other guys were on break.  This site was powered by large diesel generators.  The fellow who maintained the generators stopped in with a mystery.  He explained that generators only create electricity that is demanded of them and his generators were running flat out, generating much more electricity that our equipment would demand.  Rudow was smack dab on the border of the Soviet Zone with a local village nearby.  We began to wonder if VOPOs  had somehow tapped in to our power and were electrifying the whole local village.  About this time one the guards patrolling our perimeter fence came in complaining that he had just about got electrocuted when he tried to open the security gate to let a vehicle in.  It turned out that there was a short in the perimeter lighting wiring which had electrified the whole eight foot fence.

 

BACK TO THE “REAL WORLD”

 

After finishing my tour in April 1959, I returned to reestablish my married life and career.  It was back to the accounting desk.  Within a year or so, I was transferred to the corporate headquarters in Toledo, Ohio.  While the military and intelligence services had operated mainframe computers since World War II, they were new to the business world.  Owens Corning Fiberglas had established a large computer center at their headquarters but was having difficulty obtaining the appropriate personnel to program and operate this new technology.   I found accounting really rather boring and repetitive and when a “cattle call” went out for anyone interested in learning how to write programs for these large (for the time) machines, I jumped at the chance and never looked back.

 

For the next thirty plus years I worked with data processing (later upgraded to be called Information Technology).  This ranged from writing computer programs in machine code to occupying management positions.  My work required a great deal of travel but by taking a few courses at a time, I was able to earn my MBA at the University of Toledo over a period of five years.

 

Along the way, I left OCF and joined a French firm, Schlumberger, Ltd. which was big in oil field services and the manufacture of electrical, gas and water meters.  Since Schlumberger was headquartered in Paris, My family and I were occasionally able to enjoy visiting our favorite city by combining business with pleasure.

 

Along the way, Elizabeth and I have been blessed with two daughters, a son and seven grandchildren, including a darling adopted granddaughter from Russia. We have lived in Kansas, Ohio and Michigan, ending up in South Carolina where I retired in 1998.  We live in a lovely small town, Simpsonville, near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  For more than three decades we lived in a small university town (Clemson, SC) where others visit for college football, vacation or move to in retirement. I am now enjoying reading and such while occasionally trying to gain a few of the personal computer skills that my older grandchildren long ago mastered. 

 

Providing technical support for the Berliner Kamraden web site has been a great pleasure.

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