Working on a Garbage Heap
Electronic Espionage in Berlin

During the 60's

Teufelsberg in the mudNot actually a "garbage heap" but rather a mountain, eventually named "Teufelsberg" ("Devils Mountain") built from the bombing rubble remaining of Berlin buildings destroyed during WWII 

The US Army's ASA (Army Security Agency) snagged this high ground from the isolated city which was located on the relatively flat plains of north eastern Germany as the ideal location to erect antenna's to listen for radio communications leaking from the far reaches of eastern Germany and Poland.

To process this valuable intelligence, the Army broke the "Army Intelligence" oxymoron and used brilliant and highly skilled technicians and translators who enlisted for a single hitch to meet their mandatory draft obligations which were in effect from the time Berlin was sealed off by Russia and the east German government through the end of the Vietnam era when the draft was finally ended.

When I served in Berlin as a German-English translator from 1963-1964, the unit name was the 78th ASA-SOU (Army Security Agency, Special Operations Unit) but the name changed many times over it's life until the cold war finally ended and the "wall" came down.

Because of the structure of the unit and it's cadre and the strict secrecy contracts we signed, most of those who served here for a single enlistment ended up loosing contact with the friends and associates they had in Berlin when they served, and, while there are a number of military veterans' groups and forums which serve career military reconnections, they are less than ideal forums for those who didn't serve beyond their first enlistment.

To help those who only served a single enlistment reconnect with others they have served with, I've set up a
78th ASA Yahoo group to help people reconnect which is open to anyone and everyone who served with the ASA or knew and connected with anyone who was there during these turbulent years.  If you were in Berlin during that time, please join us.

To join the 78thASA forum, start by
sending me an email containing;

your name (then and now)
the date(s) you were in Berlin
your job in Berlin
and, if you remember it, your work trick

In addition, the forum has over a thousand pictures, most taken by members who were in Berlin in the 60's, an archive of almost 10,000 messages posted by those who served, many links to other ASA Berlin related sites and a files section that includes books, memoirs and even recordings of the Army Language School's Russian Choir plus strange things like translated forms to request your Stazi records.

Some Personal Memories

I was posted to the walled city of Berlin, assigned to the 78th ASA-SOU, from early 63 to late 64, German/English translator at the recording desk, first at the east tower of Templehof, then Teufelsberg, and bus/truck driver on the side, sp4 when I was finally shipped out to Frankfurt in late 64 for announcing my intent to marry a Berliner and remained there (except for one illegal trip back to Berlin) until I was discharged in the spring of 65.

We could hear the machine guns on the East/West fence from our barracks at Andrews.  Somewhere, I have a few hundred b/w photo negatives from all over Berlin including walks along the wall but none of our sites.  That first winter, having grown up in south Georgia, Berlin taught me the true meaning of "Cold" and how important the right clothes are when I came close to frostbite simply waiting for a bus at 2am.

We watched the single engine plane escaping from Poland buzz Templehof and land, watched the DC4,5,6,7's disappear between the rows of apartment buildings before landing.  Sat on the Temphof East tower roof and watched the sun rise at 1:30am in the summer and managed to tour most of the interior of the hanger building and roof seating when things were quiet.

Didn't (can't) drink then or now, so did more prowling around Berlin than many, most of it via one of the, then newfangled, "10 speed" bikes to the point where I could get to most parts of the city faster than by car, bus or subway.   The Ku-damm was a frequent destination for us trick workers since there was still high activity after midnight.  Wansee and pfauen (sp?)island were favorites as well as the parks around the Winged Victory monument.

Berliner Currywurst was my favorite street food, and I finally got used to the German mustard in the Stuebens  ...never got used to sauerkraut though.

Was part of the 78th infamous mess hall sedition plot (there was no "plot") where every first enlistment member of the unit decided to not show up for lunch one day to get the message out, through the mess head count, about the state of our food... the worst I ever experienced in three years of wearing Army green...

Even though our pay was in the range of $75 a month, it was possible back then to eat out for lunch and dinner, but the Army breakfasts were great and since there were five breakfast meals due to the tricks, they filled in most of the hunger spaces which probably accounts to the fact that breakfast is still my favorite meal of the day... any time of the day.

Despite the threats, the food did get better and, ultimately, no one was imprisoned.

When I arrived, the unit was still in a state "lockdown" following the eastern retention of a unit member after his accidental drunken transit out of West Berlin and into East Germany by S-Bahn... so, the general environment during my stint was very hard core "us against them" where the "us" were those on their first enlistments, and the "them" were the cadre who didn't seem to know or care what our job was, and that division came across as hate with a passion and we were faced with it generally before, after and in addition to our 11-12 hour work shifts.  The regular sound of the East German machine guns underscored the importance of the mission, so we worked our asses off to assure it was carried out and accomplished despite any interference from whatever the source.

The translators at the 78th were in the majority... and that plus the 3 year enlistment requirement set the average education level of the entire unit at 3.5 years of college ...which also reflected in the corresponding re-enlistment rate of .0625 percent!!!  The education level dropped dramatically when language school instituted a four year enlistment requirement, then got worse when people stopped signing up for language school and the army had to sent two year draftees to Monterey who then showed up with just over a year left to server, often leaving before
the, very disgruntled, four year guys who arrived before the 2 year conscripts did.

We would stumble across the unit's resident guitar virtuoso practicing in the halls and closets, regularly join college scholars debating philosophy and then swim in the Olympic pool and return to talk our teenage roommate, who's trip through alcoholism was well under way, out of his sweat soaked bunk and back into reality.

I accidentally won the unit pool on Clay's heavyweight championship fight... watched Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech from Schoneberg plaza, then, later, was swamped by Berlin strangers on the streets and in buses asking me if "it" was true and why we would kill him.

I came to Berlin a rule follower... doing everything asked or expected "by the book," which, in the army, only seemed to lead to more work and additional duties.  By the time I left it seemed that the best approach was to do the exact opposite of what was asked or expected... such as writing my own three day pass signed by Capt. Mike E. Maus, and then boarding the military train out of Frankfurt and using that pass as passage.
  As another example, over a year of rotating shift duty had taken it's toll, but, despite many requests to get off of shift work onto "straight days" for months, it didn't happen, so, hence the announcement of intent which removed me from my mos and out of Berlin.  Strange thing though, everything worked much better when in that mode.

Decades later, I had an unexpectedly strong emotional reaction the night the wall came down.

...it was an interesting journey...

Beverly Howard

EMail me to Join the 78th ASA Forum

Go to the 78th ASA Forum's Home Page


Back Arrow Return to Bev and Rebecca's Page