E. LEE "TOMMY" THOMPSON
Decatur, Georgia
German Linguist

April 1957-August 1959


JOIN AND…SEE THE WORLD

The little town of Fort Gay, West Virginia where my family lived from the time I was eight sent most of its eligible young men into the armed forces. The few who failed to go were generally suspect. I had two older brothers in the Navy when I completed high school. I had every intention of ‘joining up’ too, but my parents had other ideas. Since I was only seventeen I could do nothing without their consent. They thought I would make a good teacher; I thought otherwise. On my eighteenth birthday, after waiting almost a year, I made the bus trip to Huntington to join the Air Force. The Air Force recruiter was out––I walked across the hall and joined the Army.

Basic training at Fort Leonard Wood was not a particularly happy experience. Like many other basic trainees, I learned the chant, ‘This is my rifle, this is my gun. This is for fighting, this is for fun.’ And who could forget those nice guys in charge of CBR and hand-to-hand combat training! I did, however, learn much that I have retained to this day, not the least of which is teamwork.

With the end of basic training, I was assigned to Fort Devens, Massachusetts. The cryptic orientation for the Army Security Agency that was provided by the ASA detachment at Fort Leonard Wood provided not a clue of what was in store. Within two weeks and following a battery of tests, I was once again on a plane bound for the Presidio of Monterey and the Army Language School.

MONTEREY

The Army Language School was a life-defining experience. For the first time I was in daily contact with other ethnic groups--Greeks, Jews, Germans, Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, and Mexicans. The quality of the instruction was superb. Indeed, I have since attended many schools under a diversity of circumstances, and I have yet to encounter the quality of instruction that we enjoyed at ALS. The six months in Monterey with all that it offered opened the world to me.

I remember that I reported to Fort Dix, NJ for the trip to Germany, but I do not remember Fort Dix.

FRANKFURT a/M

In many ways, life began in Frankfurt. I arrived in late January 1957, and like most other Berliner Kamaraden, I was billeted at Gutleut Kaserne. Karnival was one of my first experiences in Frankfurt. Gutleut Kaserne was about three or four blocks from the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof. Scuttlebutt had it that the bahnhof area was a hotbed for black market and ‘other’ activities. We shared the kaserne with an MP Battalion, and we became friendly with them. Having MP friends saved a number of ASAers from company punishment.

The IG Farben building was reputed to be the largest office building in Germany. Architecturally, it belonged to the Third Reich and was reminiscent of Tempelhof, a place dear to many of us. There were rumors of a secret understanding between the Germans and Allies about certain places that were not to be bombed, IG Farben being one of them. The Paternosters, continuous elevators, were a source of endless fascination. For those who were not there, the Paternoster was a continuous belt elevator with open compartments that held two people. It never stopped so one had to hop on and hop off at the right time. GIs bragged of riding over the top from time to time. To work in the Farben building was of itself a “braggin’ right.” It housed the High Commissioner of Germany and the US Army HQ for Europe. It was not unusual to run into the top brass in Europe, particularly in the vicinity of the field-grade Officers Club that was contiguously located.

Most of us were introduced to the world of SIGINT in the IG Farben Building. The Ampex recorders were mesmerizing. It was also here that the decision to send some of us to Berlin was made. Many years later I met the officer, Major Loren Rhoten, who made that decision. As a civilian, he was initially my instructor; then my supervisor. Over time I became his supervisor. Such are the fortunes of military service.

Frankfurt memories are comforting.

BERLINER LUFT

Even in the fifties, Berlin was a phoenix. What a town! It endured the Russians, tolerated the French, ignored the British, and embraced the Americans. It was and is forever reinventing itself. It is indomitable. If life began in Frankfurt, it flowered in Berlin.

If you knew the right people, you might swing a trip to Potsdam. How many took an occasional trip to East Berlin, if for no other reason than to attend the opera or just to shop at the Czech store? I suspect their numbers are legion. On the tamer side, West Berlin’s opera and concert seasons were world class. Kempenski’s on the Kudamm; the Boyar Bar; the Zigeuner Keller; and for the more risqué, the Golden Horseshoe or even an occasional foray through Nurnberger Strasse. And more frequently, the camaraderie of Rex Casino (Herr Walter!); the enjoyable late evenings at the Fischerstube; and wintertime dips in the Olympic pool at Andrews.

Who can say what about east tower operations at Tempelhof? It truly must be one of the most unique and lucrative missions in the history of our business. I visited Field Station Berlin in 1973, years after the east tower had closed. The mission on which I had worked was still a most viable one. However, our equipment, acquired under dubious circumstances, had been replaced with state-of-the-art American prototypes.
Berlin bleibt doch Berlin!

INTERLUDE

I left Berlin in late August 1959 after a five-month extension to my original enlistment and with just enough time to make the enrollment date at Marshall University. I received a Bachelor’s degree in political science and economics in May 1962. After considering an employment offer with NSA, I accepted employment with a firm that serviced group insurance accounts where I came face to face with the Teamsters Union, having been assigned to the account shortly after accepting employment. Enuf’said. Two years later, I left the firm and accepted a teaching position with a West Virginia consolidated high school where I taught, among other things, German! I was also active with Jay Rockefeller’s task force at that time.

ROUND TWO

Meanwhile, I had joined an Air Force Reserve unit and had accepted a reserve commission in order to take over the unit’s intelligence shop. During the winter months of 1968, I received a call from the Air Force Personnel Center with a request that I volunteer for a two-year active duty stint. I was to be assigned to the USAF School of Applied Cryptologic Sciences to assist in the development of a course for Air Force Signal Intelligence Officers.

I jumped at the opportunity. Two years later, I was offered a regular commission, and, again, I accepted.

Every officer on active duty with the Air Force pulled a tour in Vietnam. Many of us served multiple extended TDYs prior to serving our tour. It was the Air Force’s way of realizing maximum returns from minimal resources. I was affiliated with a number of missions, as many of my colleagues were, and I learned much about the politics of war. Among other duties, I worked the Ho Chi Minh trail truck count, the Cambodian air campaign, and sundry Laotian cats and dogs. It would be difficult to document success or even a rationale for any of these missions. I left Southeast Asia for the last time in August 1972, a sadder but wiser man.

My Air Force career was spent crisscrossing between Special Intelligence and Professional Education. There were tours of duty with the Defense Intelligence Agency (also a political education), USAF Security Service/Electronic Security Command, and Air University where I headed the National Security Policy section for Air Command and Staff College. My last operational assignment in Special Intelligence was as Commander of the 6981st Security Squadron in Alaska. At the time of my retirement in August 1984, I was the Director of Worldwide Operational Training, Electronic Security Command.

OUT OF UNIFORM

Following military service, I was employed as the director of human resources for a school district. I also served as the district’s chief labor contract negotiator and contract administrator––rancorously at times.

Along the way I was married to Gail, and we had two sons, both University of Tennessee graduates. The elder, Todd, received his MBA from the University of Texas at Austin (where I had also completed a masters years earlier). He presently heads his own homebuilding firm in Atlanta, Georgia. The younger, Eric, received his Masters of Divinity degree from The University of the South (Sewanee) Seminary, and is now an Episcopal priest serving as a chaplain in the U.S. Army.

Now a widower, I have relocated to Metro-Atlanta and have once again entered the labor force––this time in real estate sales.

If I rest, I rust.
LT/June 2007

 

 

Lee Thompson Pics Button
BI 190 000 000