ALBERT W. MURDOCK, JR.

Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

Cryptology Analyst

Berlin 1959-1960, 1968-1971

 

Hi Fellow 280th ASA Company Alumni!

 

 

I’m Al Murdock and I was in the (battalion-size) 280th ASA Company in Berlin from May of 1959 through November of 1960. My specialty was ELINT analysis and I was assigned to the infamous location of the so called “Berlin Tunnel” (which was no longer active) in the Berlin suburb of Rudow. We were designated as Site One of the 280th  ASA Company. It should be noted that the 280th encompassed several locations in Berlin, such as Jagen 87 (a small station in the Gruenewald, and even a small detachment on Teufelsberg, (In 1960 I was the first ELINT operator in a MLQ-24 on Teufelsberg, until the British Provost Marshall’s troops asked us to leave) which was in later years called Site three.  As a portion of my particular “slice in time” in the 280th and at Site One, I remember the names of several people who served with me (Duplicate titles may indicate successors over the time period):

 

MAJ/LTC Karl Spinnare          Commander, 280th ASA Company

CPT/MAJ John Osaki              Deputy Commander, 280th ASA Company

1SG Orazzio Reale                   First Sergeant, 280th USASA Company

1LT Russ Seaman                    Site OIC

MAJ Charles King                    Site OIC

2LT James K. Schiller              Operations Officer

WO Elmer Gerkhe                   Maintenance OIC

MSG Raymond Provost           Site NCOIC

MSG Raymond Plymale           Operations NCOIC

SP7/SFC Harry Craft               Operations NCOIC

SFC Ed Lopez                         Operations NCOIC

SFC Fred Meyer                      Maintenance NCOIC

SP5 Steve Weiss                      ELINT Analyst

SP5 Gary Harris                       ELINT Analysis

SP5/SSG Bob Mills                  Trick Chief

SP5 James Bond                      Trick Chief

SP5 Rick Phelps                       Trick Chief

SP5 Ebie Atkins                       Trick Chief

SSG Harry Carey                     Trick Chief

 

RESUME

 

As I haven’t conducted my life briefly, I guess it's hard to describe it briefly.  In the early 1950s, I grew up on a dairy goat farm in Troy/Rochester Michigan. At Troy High, my yearbook remark was something like "With a line like mine, I'll be the President before the rest of you get out of the Army".  Thus said, I breezed off to Central Michigan College for two years of fun-filled adventure, first as the VP of the freshman class (a born gadfly!) and as a diver on the CMC swim team.  At the end of my second year, I decided to seek other opportunities, - perhaps something which could closer align with my interests.  So, in September of 1958, while many of you were starting your junior year in college, my dad and the recruiting sergeant convinced me that the Army was a wonderful place to pursue my education and really achieve.  I joined the Army Security Agency (ASA) and attended a course in Electronics Intelligence (ELINT) at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

 

The ELINT School was great.  For the first time since joining up, I'd connected with something that I could do, and do well.  Of course, I wasn't exactly in love with the Army (I'd initially joined to fight the Russians who'd invaded Hungary in 1956) (also naked truth moment - my grades at Central Mich were rotten and I'd been on almost every form of probation; academic - moral - administrative) and saw it as an interim existence until I could figure out what I really wanted to do with my life.  Would it be safe to say that I was a mixed-up young man at that time? (I'm older now, but being mixed-up is an excusable "second childhood" kind of thing.).  Fortunately (in my case), organizations seem to have a life of their own.  The ASA needed to fill some ELINT quotas in Germany and I was on my way to Frankfurt.  I was fortified with the words of my brother Jim (Troy High Class of '55), who'd studied German for a year at Alma College, that a chili-dog translated to Heizer Hund mit Mais.  It was truly a cultural shock to discover that ordering a dog in heat with corn was socially unacceptable, especially in 1959.

 

Frankfurt (the 279th ASA Company in Gutleut Kaserne), as it turned out, was a "stocking pond" for ELINT operators at outposts along the Soviet border all over Europe.  I was soon sent to Berlin and began my career as an ELINT Analyst.  On the first day at work I was involved (make that started) in a fist fight with another operator who'd screwed up the logs.  God (Himself) intervened and, in a strange quirk-of-fate, 1LT Seaman, our site commander opted not to exercise Article 15 (a form of military justice), but rather, in a spectacular moment of inspiration, pronounced me an Analyst-Trainee; thereby divorcing me from the operators. (I hope my kids never read this.)  My career as an Emanations Analysis Technician was launched.

 

I loved Berlin and Germany and absorbed myself in the culture.  I took a job as a night waiter in a Gasthaus (the Drake Eck, at the corner of Drakestrasse and Ringstrasse), serving tables with a Langenscheit's Taschenwörterbuch in my back pocket.  For me, it was a modern day Toulouse-Latrec existence.  My labor (without pay) brought me knowledge of the language (for which I shall forever be grateful) and provided a private room, away from the barracks, which permitted dignity and expression (girls were involved). As my German progressed, I moved in with a German family on Drakestrasse, not because of their truly lovely daughter who awakened certain primitive cravings but rather for the opportunity to learn German beyond Gasthaus conversation.

 

THE “RUDOW INCIDENT”

 

I promised to “come clean” about this, and now that it would appear that I can avoid prosecution, I’d like to share a particularly nervous moment in East-West relations which occurred during the fall of 1959.  One summer evening at work I wandered up to the roof of the warehouse that housed our operations. The view was spectacular, as the Rudow site was surrounded on three sides by East Berlin and East Germany. It afforded a spectacular view of Sans Soucci, a historic estate only a half mile away, plus a view of the Russian Aeroflot aircraft active around the commercial Schonefeld terminal in East Germany.  Our double fenced compound was continuously patrolled by security personnel; a fact that would assure most folks – except that the security people were East German People’s Police, called Vopos or Volkspolizei. While on the roof I noted that there were several sections of stove pipe that had been left behind by a crew updating the heating system.  In a moment of inspiration I started arranging the stove pipes to look like a mortar. Stepping forward, complete with field glasses and staring intently at the Vopos’ guard shack, I pretended to be giving elevation and direction hand signals to an unseen accomplice.

 

What a reaction!  Three Vopos hit the ground and started crawling off into the weeds, while one crawled to the guard shack and, after furiously cranking on the field phone, started screaming into it.  All the while, I kept giving refined directions to my hidden accomplice.  Within minutes, two things happened nearly simultaneously. First, a large black sedan with a half dozen armed Soviet soldiers arrived at the guard shack.  They immediately disembarked and spread out on the ground.  I saw an automatic rifle being deployed by two of them. At that moment Specialist Harris’ sharp voice behind me barked “Murdock!  What the hell are you doing?  Get the hell off this roof!” Once below, it was obvious that Harris was greatly agitated.  “You’re an idiot” he screamed. “This is going to cost me my promotion.” Almost in tears and obviously agitated, he told me to go sit in the OIC’s office while he tried to do some damage control. At that moment, I realized that my prank was indeed serious and could potentially land me in Leavenworth.

 

 As I was contemplating my fate, the phone on the OIC’s desk rang.  “Site One, Specialist Murdock speaking sir.” 

“Who the hell is this?”

“Specialist Murdock, sir.”

“Murdock, this is General Clark.  I just got a call from the Soviet command. What the hell’s going on out there in Rudow?”

“Ah, sir! I can explain! It’s just a joke.”

“A joke?”

“Yes sir. Y’see, I had this stovepipe on the roof and was pretending it was a mortar..”

“Oh for Christ’s sake!“Well, sir, I came down before anything happened.”“Murdock, you stay right there. Don’t move a muscle. I’ll be there within the hour.  You’re under arrest, you dumb bastard!”

 

“Yes sir”, I said as my life passed before my eyes. I immediately left the office to give the Trick Chief the bad news. This set him off again and he started telling me how hard he’d worked for his impending promotion, only to have some idiot screw it up.  I apologized profusely, but he would have none of it.  For the next hour I agonized over my fate. I had indeed screwed up. The hour grew into two, and then three. Shortly before we went off shift, the maintenance sergeant came in and introduced himself as “General Clark” and I thereby ducked the greatest bullet of my life.

I spent the rest of my time in Berlin learning how to REALLY do my job.

 

MY ARMY CAREER

 

I departed Berlin in November of 1959 and was posted to Schneeberg (Det J-1 of the 318th ASA Bn) as an ELINT analyst.  A week after being assigned to Schneeberg I had a unique Gasthaus opportunity to translate between a friend and a pretty German girl, whose girlfriend was (to me) far prettier and, a year later, talked her into signing up for a (so far) 43 year hitch with me. Her name is Leni and her love has fortified me while her cooking has created more of me than I’d ever dreamed possible.  In 1964, 1 was a (E-6) Sergeant (Operations NCOIC) with a wife and two kids on my way home to teach ELINT to the Vietnam-bound masses at Ft.  Devens, Massachusetts. 

 

In 1967-68 and again in 1973-74 I was sent off on isolated intelligence assignments not far from Siberia, operating technical surveillance equipment monitoring foreign strategic missile activities; all in support of the ongoing Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and negotiations.  Being separated from my family during those times was surely the lowest point of my life and I thank God that our marriage was strong enough to withstand the long absences.   From 1968-1971, I was (go figure!) back in Berlin as the Site Commander of Rudow. During those years I always nervously cast a wary eye toward the warehouse roof.

 

In 1971-73 I was an MOS test writer for German (Having passed the State Department certification as a German linguist) and ELINT. Over the next several years much happened simultaneously.  I went to college nights.  We raised our son and daughter; Leni learned English, I was promoted to Master Sergeant (E-8); we bought our first home; I was commissioned a Chief Warrant Officer (rather than a Warrant Officer - a save-pay condition) and assigned to the ASA (later called INSCOM) staff in Arlington, Virginia. In 1978, 1 marked 20 years, 3 days and roughly 3 hours (but then, who was counting!) with the Army by retiring at the earliest possibly moment.  Three days later, Murdock Research Associates opened for business in an upstairs bedroom which doubled as a photo lab 

 

A year later (1979), 1 joined the staff of the Army's Intelligence and Security Command as an Intelligence Analyst (GS-12).  At first, the work was exciting and I spent a lot of time overseas in Germany, Honduras, Panama and Korea. Five years later (1985), I left my job as a Division Chief (GS-14) and joined The Analytic Sciences Corporation (TASC) as an Applications Engineer. In 2002, Leni retired from the Army Civilian Personnel Office as a GS-12 and, on the same day, I left my duties as a traveling Oceanographer and retired with her.

 

THE REST

 

That's sort of a thumbnail sketch of what happened in my life in the last umpty-ump years.  So what did we do for fun?  Well, for the first twenty years we raised the kids, which was, of itself very exciting and gave us pure doses of what we Troy Colts must have been passing on to our parents way back when. Also, we spent our Berlin and Schneeberg years as hunters and skeet/trap shooters.  Leni is an excellent shot; a quality which many believe contributes to lifelong fidelity in marriage. We also spent several years brewing and perfecting our selected beers according to the recipes of the German brewmasters, until we got to the point where the demand totally outstripped the supply.  Nowadays we buy it in barrels and have moved on to other pursuits.

 

Now that we’re approaching 43 years of married life our fun for the last fifteen years has centered on building and maintaining our "dream" house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in Kill Devil Hills, near the point where the Wright Brothers first got away from it all a hundred years ago.  The house can sleep about a dozen people (if you're related... or about eight if you ain't!). We have an off-shore fishing boat and 114 feet of deep water dock on the Albemarle Sound.  From the dock, it's a 30 minute cruise to the ocean. 

For many of us, success in life is staying out of jail.  I have moved beyond that point (a little) because at one time I met a person whose wisdom, principles, generosity, concern and intelligence infected me with an uncontrolled curiosity and desire to succeed.  For that, I will always be indebted to Specialist Five Gary Harris, who kept me out of jail back when I was a mis-performing ELINT’er in the 280th ASA Company.

 

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