JERRY H. GILREATH

Bethesda, Maryland

German Linguist

November 1957-June 1959

 

 

BACKGROUND 

 

I was born on January 19, 1934, in DeKalb County, Tennessee, outside the city limits of the town of Smithville, the county seat.  I grew up for the most part in adjacent Cannon County with approximately one year spent in Akron, Ohio, during the war years.  My parents were Homer F. and Wallee Hollandsworth Gilreath.  I was the third of four children, two brothers and a sister.  My father was an agricultural worker for much of his life but later worked at an aircraft plant in Nashville for several years.  My mother was a housewife for the most part, but worked as a factory worker for short periods, and in her later years as a medical assistant at the local hospital. My sister is a retired convenience store manager and my brother worked for many years as a credit counselor with the Nashville Electric Company and recently retired.  An older brother did not survive infancy.  Numbered among my aunts, uncles and several cousins, are two successful businessmen, three school teachers, two dentists, and a local banker.  Most of the others were involved in agriculture with varying degrees of success.  My father served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army in World War II and was severely wounded in southern Germany in 1943.  He spent several months in a veteran's hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, recovering from his wounds, and was granted a partial disability pension on his discharge from the service. 

 

 

EDUCATION

 

I attended public schools in Dekalb County, Tennessee; briefly in Akron, Ohio; and the Cannon County public schools in Woodbury, Tennesse, from the seventh grade through high school.  I graduated from Woodbury Central High School in 1952.  I played varsity football in my junior and senior years and was an above average student.  I attended Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee, from 1952 to 1954.  This was a Baptist-affiliated liberal arts college located near Knoxville in East Tennessee.  I transferred to Middle Tennessee State College (now a sizable state university) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the fall term in 1954 and was graduated in 1956 with a B.S. degree in English and minors in sociology and secondary education.   I  received a Masters Degree from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in 1972.

 

 

ENLISTMENT

 

I had planned, on graduation from college, to become a high school English teacher and do graduate work during the summer months toward obtaining a Masters degree and possibly beyond.  However, in consulting with my draft board after graduation, I was advised that I was scheduled to report for the draft within four months.  Rather than risk two years of military service as a draftee, possibly in Korea, I checked with the Army recruiting officer in Nashville on what were the possibilities with a three-year enlistment.  I was more interested in an assignment to Europe than to the Orient.  I was told that at that time the Army was in need of personnel in the guided missiles field, and that there were also some openings in the Army Security Agency.  It was indicated that many ASA personnel were assigned to Europe.  This was enough to convince me that this was a good choice.  I took my basic training in July and part of August 1956 at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, which is now closed.  Several other trainees, including myself, were convinced that there could hardly be a hotter place on the planet during that period.  I had originally thought about OCS, for which I qualified, but the rigors of basic training, and the strict military discipline, quickly put this notion to rest.

 

 

ARMY LANGUAGE SCHOOL

 

After completing basic training, I reported to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, for further assignment.  Happily, I qualified for the Army Language School in Monterey, California, and began my language training in German in November 1956.  I remember we were transported on some antiquated twin-engine prop planes (I believe C 47's) operated by a Canadian company called Regina Airlines.  It took us over twenty-three hours to complete the trip with short stopovers in Chicago and Cheyenne, Wyoming.   There was no heat on the planes and we were almost frozen stiff until we reached the warm climes of California.  After completing the intensive six-month course at the language school, I graduated in May 1957 with a "Good" rating in all of the required categories.   Some of the memories of my stay in Monterey include the barracks comedian, Carmen Baselvecchio, from Philadelphia, who would "break us up" at our getting up time at 5:00 in the morning during class days with such utterances as "I feel like the whole Chinese Army has marched through my mouth."  There was the quaintness of Monterey Bay with the barking seals and the disappearing morning haze.  Charming Carmel with such residents as Kim Novak.  With Clint Eastwood now its leading burgher, this upscale township has obviously lost some of its edge.  The Big Sur, one of the most scenic and captivating roadways anywhere.  The glittering mirrors on the waters below followed us along the way.  A visit to Ensenada, Mexico, during the Christmas holidays with its pretty senoritas and soaring Mexican music.

 

 

EUROPEAN ASSIGNMENT

 

I reported to Fort Dix, New Jersey, in late June 1957 and traversed the ocean blue to West Germany on the troop carrier, the USS Maurice Rose. At the time, we thought we were the unlucky ones who had missed out on air transport, which was accorded to a large number of the Fort Dix transient personnel going to Europe.  But the ocean voyage actually was not all that bad.  It took us about seven days to make the trip with good weather the first three days out to sea, and overcast, slightly bumpy riding the rest of the way.  I learned how to be inconspicuous for the most part and was assigned to only one daily detail that took less than thirty minutes to complete.  I was able to find time to read Charles Lindberg's Spirit of Saint Louis.  The book was much better than the movie, which I thought was pretty bad--not the story itself but Hollywood's exaggerations of it.  As we entered the English Channel on our way to the German port city of Bremerhaven, the White Cliffs of Dover loomed through the mist.  We were now in Europe. We traveled by rail from Bremerhaven to Frankfurt where I was assigned quarters at Gutleut Kaserene next to the Hauptbahnhof.  My work station was at the multistory I.G. Farben Building (I.G. Hochhaus) where I received further on-the-job language training.  In November 1957, I was assigned to the 280th ASA Company in Berlin with quarters at Andrews Barracks.  My workstation was at Tempelhof Airport.  I worked as a German linguist at this location for the next 18 months with a considerable period of the time as part of the daytime crew and subsequently as part of the alternating daytime/night-time crew.  I completed my three-year enlistment in June 1959.

 

 

THE BERLIN EXPERIENCE

 

There are many recollections of my stay in Berlin.  There were the spirited ping-pong matches we had after work in the recreation room at the barracks.  I was competitive, but no matter how much I improved, someone like Bob Asch (sadly no longer with us) would come along with a devastating wipeout.  Boy, could he play the game.  Dennis Bates, from Oklahoma, when he played, was also a top-notch player.   Having grown up in Tennessee, I found the Berlin climate to be remarkably mild.  Temperatures in the low 70's in July and August were something else.  Ah, the Baltic Sea climate.

 

Wannsee was a delight.  What a beautiful lake.  I understand that this was a favorite meeting place for Hitler and some of his advisers during the war years.  He was not completely mad.  On one occasion, we saw a pretty Fraulein change from street clothes into a bathing suit on the beach near us without any revelation.  What artistry.  I was impressed early on by the city's wide boulevards, lined with Linden trees, and buttressed with stately homes.  It's all a matter of personal taste, of course, but I found Berlin's residential architecture to be more stately and attractive than what I saw in Paris and Rome.

 

The Berlin opera, as well as the performances I saw in Frankfurt, were richly rewarding.  A ballet performance of Stravinsky's Rites of Spring at the Berlin Oper Haus was something  to behold--and I am not into ballet.  That level of energy and dynamism I had never seen onstage, before or since. As I recall, Bart Fenmore of Los Angeles came up with the tickets.  Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov was a bit heavy but wasn't too bad.  Jacques Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann and Verdi's Rigoletto, both of which I saw in Frankfurt before coming to Berlin were the best.  I have seen only one classical opera since I have been home, Bizet's Carmen at the Kennedy Center.  Instead, particularly when my daughter, Kathy, was growing up--she is now 25 years old--we saw mostly Broadway musicals--when they came to Washington.  But we did see Les Miserables in New York.  They may be smaltzy, but I liked Andrew Lloyd Weber's musicals: Cats, Evita, and less so, Phantom of the Opera.

 

I didn't travel extensively while in Berlin, but went to Paris for a week and spent most of my time at the Louvre.  Less than two years out of college, artistic and cultural interests burn brightly. I also attended the World's Fair in Brussels in 1958, which was an impressive array of exhibits from many parts of the world, including an exhibit of the first Soviet Sputnik.  I was in still in Frankfurt at the time of the launch and felt a surge of pride, not because it was a Soviet accomplishment, but because humankind had finally escaped the bounds of earth, even if in the form of a small metal ball.  An epochal event.  Of course, the journey to the moon was a magnificent encore.  I was also able to make it down to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Innsbruck and, in the process, took the cable car up to the Zugspitze.  The Bavarian Alps are a thing of beauty in the spring, covered with snow to the horizon while the valley below was bedecked in greenery.  Skiers glided over the snowy slopes with ease.  I managed to get to Rome later while working as a civilian in Frankfurt.  I really never had an interest in visiting London--unquestionably one of the great world capitals.  As they speak (more or less) our native tongue, or more aptly, we speak a version of theirs, and so many of our customs and traditions come from them, it would be like visiting a distant relative.  But I do regret somewhat not making it to Shakespeare's childhood home at Stratford-on-Avon.  Considered by most, including me, to be the world's greatest writer, he is deserving of the high affection and esteem accorded him.  I have yet to find the alternate authorship theories to be convincing.

 

Although there was never a time when I truly feared for my physical safety in the military, it was enough to make you stop and think what it meant to wear a uniform when Nikita Khruschev ordered the allies out of West Berlin in late May 1958.  We were restricted to our barracks for the day; carbines and machine guns were placed on standby; and evacuation assignments were discussed. Happily, that day came and went and we were none the worse for wear.  In hindsight, with nuclear missiles pointed at East and West alike, a person was probably as safe in Berlin as in any major city.  My stay in Berlin, overall, was an exceptional experience and has remained an enduring milestone in my life over the years.

 

 

THE FRANKFURT STAY

 

I received my discharge from the Army in Berlin June 1959 and chose to remain in Germany for while.  As ASA regulations would not permit me to stay in Berlin, I went to Frankfurt where I was able to find a position with the news agency United Press International.  I was able to qualify for the job because I could speak and read German and had majored in English in college.  I worked at UPI until December 1960.  My duties with the agency were primarily that of a teletype editor (teletype machines rather than automated electronic printers were used in those days).  The Frankfurt office was the relay center for all UPI news dispatches coming from all points west to London and then on to the Continent, and, conversely, all transmissions going west.  My job was to edit down or eliminate news dispatches during peak transmission periods to avoid system overload.  My duties also came to include several reportorial assignments, including participating in interviews of the then Chancellor of West Germany, Willi Brandt; and the visit of native son, Wernher Von Braun, who had engineered the successful launch of a Red Stone Arsenal rocket with a satellite to answer the Russian sputnik.  He was in great form and was one of the most impressive figures I covered while at UPI.  He possessed an encompassing vision of the future of rocketry in the exploration of space.

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.

 

I arrived in Washington in late December 1960.  My main reason for coming to Washington was to check on the results of my Foreign Service exam, which I had taken earlier at the American Consulate in Frankfurt.  I also thought that regardless of the outcome, favorable work might otherwise be available.  A bit optimistic perhaps.  I missed the cutoff by only two points, but a miss is a miss.  And there would also have been the oral interview to surmount.  I quickly lost enthusiasm for working overseas again and decided not to pursue this possibility further.  Not exactly sure just what I wanted to do, I was able to find a job as proofreader with a composition firm that prepared a variety of documents and books for printing.  I worked at this firm until late spring 1962 and then took a position as a publications assistant with the American Geophysical Union, an affiliate of the National Academy of Sciences. My duties consisted of proofreading the scientific papers published in the association's journals and preparing lists of Russian publications in geophysics for distribution to individual scientists and universities.  I also served as the information officer for the organization's annual meetings and managed the small advertising program, consisting of publication ads that appeared in the journals.  I became of member of the editorial staff of the Library of Congress' Aerospace Technology Division in the fall of 1965.  I was initially responsible, along with several others, for proofreading the scientific abstracts in English of articles translated from Russian scientific and military journals for the U.S. Air force with headquarters at Wright-Patterson Airforce Base in Dayton, Ohio.  The division employed approximately 260 people.  I held my initial position for approximately two years when I was promoted to serve as an administrative assistant to the division chief, with a wide range of responsibilities.  Among other things, I coordinated with the staff and the Air Force in assuring that the division's "work products" were completed and delivered on time.  I also served as the assistant security officer, keeping track of the classified materials used in preparing the abstracts and papers.  I held this position until August 1969 when the Air Force decided to turn over the division's work to private universities because it was more cost effective.  The more recent trend of  "downsizing" the Federal workforce is not new to me.   However, I was offered another position with the Library but decided to go back to graduate school in instead.

 

 

GRADUATE SCHOOL

 

I enrolled at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in January 1970 with an intended degree in urban affairs.  This was a big deal in Washington at the time.  After two school quarters in this area, I changed my degree track to urban planning, dealing more specifically with the physical structure and layout of the city.  I completed all of my course work and successfully defended my thesis in November 1972 with a Masters degree in Planning being granted at the end of the fall quarter.

 

 

PLANNING COMMISSION

 

I returned to Washington and became a member of the planning staff of the National Capital Planning Commission in December 1972 as a community planner, where I worked until September 2002--a span of approximately thirty years.  Including my time at the Library of Congress and my Army time, my Federal service came to approximately 37 years.  The Planning Commission is a small Federal agency responsible for planning for the physical facilities of the Federal government in the Washington area and has additional responsibilities for protecting the Federal interest from adverse local development.  It is a twelve-member panel with three of its members, including the chairman, appointed by the President; five ex officio members from large Federal agencies headquartered in Washington; as well as four members from the District of Columbia government. 

 

My first major assignment at the Commission was to research and prepare a major portion of a planning report for the development of policies for the location of chanceries, embassies, and international organizations in the Nation's Capital.  It was necessary to work closely with the State Department in obtaining the necessary information through surveys and other sources.  This work went well and I got a pat on the back for the effort.  The next assignment required similar work in developing policies for the location of Federal facilities in the Washington area.  This involved the gathering and analyzing of an array of data on Federal employment, land and buildings.  I then received a year and a half detail assignment to the State Department's Office of Foreign Missions to research the real estate holdings of all foreign missions in the Washington area.  This data was used to enable the State Department to prepare a computerized list for future reference in approving future locations for such facilities.  On my return to the Commission, I gradually took on the duties of interpreting and providing a written evaluation of the Commission's adopted Comprehensive Plan policies relating to proposed Federal projects that it was called upon to approve.  No project could be approved if the project was determined to be inconsistent with the adopted policies.  More recent projects reviewed and approved by the Commission included the MCI Center, the Washington Convention Center, the World War II Memorial on the Mall, and, tragically, the restoration of the damaged Pentagon building.  I went to work on 9/11 not knowing what had occurred--the event had not occurred when I left for work.  Arriving at the office that morning, not a soul was to be seen.  The office had been vacated earlier.  I knew immediately something was up.  Another colleague arrived a little later and we turned on the office television set to see what was happening.  We then went to the roof of our building in downtown Washington where we could see large clouds of black smoke rising skyward from the Pentagon across the Potomac River with helicopters buzzing at low level near the site.  It was a chilling site.  I then took the subway home and watched the further unfolding of the horrific drama that had befallen New York City.

 

In 2000, I was designated by the Commission to serve as its representative on the District of Columbia's Board of Zoning Adjustment where I served for more than a year.  Only pressing work at the Commission required that I shorten my length of service on this board.  This was one of my most rewarding assignments.  Because of the wide range of duties required of a generalist planner, the work over the years was seldom, if ever, boring.  The biggest complaint would probably be the misdirected affirmative action policies of the agency.  Morale problems among the staff were ongoing for much of the time I was there, but, by and large, a high level of professionalism was maintained by the staff in the work performed.

 

 

FAMILY

 

After maintaining a state of bachelorhood for many years, I married Ellen Johnston in 1974.  We met at the Planning Commission where we both worked.  Although she was born in New York State, she grew up in Washington where she attended public schools.  She was a graduate of William and Mary College with a degree in Fine Arts.  She also studied urban planning and architecture at Harvard University for two years.  Her father worked for much of his career as an assistant administrator with the Department of the Navy.  Ellen and I bought a small colonial rambler in Bethesda, a Maryland suburb, in 1978, the year our daughter, Kathy, was born.  We did substantial upgrades t the house, then purchased a larger house in a nearby neighborhood in 1991, which I am still working on.  It is an attractive older house, lived in by an elderly widow for about 20 years.  The house is structurally sound, but still needs quite a bit of scraping, sanding and painting.  Ellen left work and stayed home with our daughter until she entered high school.  Kathy attended neighborhood schools in the Bethesda area.  She was a good student and was unusually adept in math.  She graduated from Bethesday-Chevy Chase High School in 1996 and attended Boston University where she graduated with a degree in communications with a concentration in advertising in 2000.  She works as an Account Supervisor with the advertising firm Oglivy and Mather in New York City and handles the Merck account.  Ellen works part-time as a library assistant at the Bethesda Regional Library where she has been employed for about fourteen years.  She plans to continue working part-time for the foreseeable future.  We have two cats: Meeko and Milo .

 

 

RECREATION

 

We haven't done much traveling over the years.  Ellen and I did go to Denver to attend a planning conference back in the mid-seventies and a similar trip was made to San Antonio a year or two later.  We spent a few days in Hilton Head with side visits to Savannah and Charleston.  We also managed to get up to New York for a three- or four-day tour.  And as is traditional with most families in our neighborhood, we did the pilgrimage with our daughter to Orlando and Disney World.  We extended this trip a bit by going over to Sarasota and Tampa.  We have gone on several family trips to ski resorts in the mid-Atlantic area, the best of which is Snowshoe in West Virginia.  We have spent a week or so for several summers at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, a more attractive beach it would be hard to find.

 

 

RETIREMENT

 

I retired from the National Capital Planning Commission in September 2003 after 30 years of uninterrupted Federal service.  For the next two years much of my time was spent researching and preparing a Short History of the 280th Company.  As most of the material pertaining to the Company was still classified, it was necessary to weave available bits and pieces of information together into an intelligible narrative with the bioprofiles provided by individual members comprising the greater part of the document.  Sixty copies were printed, all of which were taken up, with later requests going unfulfilled.

 

In May 2006, Armen Tashdinian, who served with the 280th as a German linguist in Berlin frm May 1959 to May 1960, and  I arranged a Reunion of 280th Members in the Nation’s Capital.  There were approximately 30 attendees coming from all parts the U.S.  The Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) located at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and the successor to the Army Security Agency, provided a high-ranking intelligence officer, who on opening day of the Reunion discussed  the important role the 280th Company played in the Cold War struggle. The Historian to the National Security Agency (NSA) Museum at Fort Meade, Maryland,  spoke at the banquet dinner and outlined the history of Army Intelligence gathering from early on.

 

Subsequently, coordinating with a core group of 280th members, I worked with ASAer Bill Gunter, who lived  in Daytona Beach Florida, in setting up a website for the 280th.  Sadly, Bill is no longer with us, but his important duties have been taken on by Dale Carmichael, a Russian linguist with the 280th in Berlin, who is  now retired and resides in Simpsonville, South Carolina.. I worked with Dale in setting up a revised website, mainly by providing  biographical profiles to be added to the website.. 

 

Also in 2006, I took a part-time job at a Barnes and Noble bookstore in downtown Washington, mainly as an early morning bookshelver with some limited information specialist responsibilities.  I worked at this location for approximately ten months until a recurrent lower back problem required me to leave.  To correct this problem,  major surgery was required, from which I am still recuperating.

 

Assuming a complete recovery from the operation, I hope to do a revised version of the Short 280th History I prepared, in which I will add information on the Gruenewald and Rudow sites, as well as address the Security Breach in the 280th’s intelligence operations sometime in the late 1960's, involving a 280th member who was arrested in East Berlin, interrogated by the Russians and who divulged top-secret information pertaining  to 280th activities.   The revised version will also include additional bioprofiles and appendix items provided by individual members such as an English translation of the German War song Lili Marlene, the history of Andrews Barracks, and the planned elimination of Tempelhof Airport.

 

This go-around I hope to have the revised document formally published, which should reduce the cost per copy significantly below that of the original document, making it more affordable to the membership than before. I might add that I have received numerous requests for a copy of the original document after the supply was exhausted. Several attendees at the Reunion inquired  if copies were still available. 

  

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