SFC John E. Quirk US Army (Ret) (1954-1975)
SFC John E. Quirk
US Army (Ret)
Shadow Box: http://army.togetherweserved.com/bio/John.Quirk
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WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I was six years old. We were at War, but it was nonetheless, a fun time for a boy to grow in. During the war years, I believe I saw every movie Hollywood put out about the War, and my heroes very soon became US Servicemen, regardless of Service; I loved them all. When I got to high school, I was a natural for Army ROTC, and I enrolled as a Freshman. I learned marksmanship as a member of the School’s ROTC Small Bore Rifle Team, and I Captained that team for most of my high school tenure. In my Senior year, I joined the USMCR, and began giving a lot of thought to the Marines after graduation. However, When we were almost through Senior year, a good friend, with whom I sang in a pop quartet, asked me if I would consider enlisting in the Army on the “Buddy Plan” with him. His brother was a good friend of the Army Recruiter. I thought about that the whole Summer after graduation and, in October 1954, I found myself with my friend on the way to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas for Basic Training with the 5th Armored Division. We had also received a guarantee of AIT in a Signal Corps MOS.
BRIEFLY, WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
We were assigned to the Signal School, at Fort Monmouth,New Jersey, for the title Countermeasures Search and Analysis Specialist. It was a fourteen week course,and was not easy, but we both hung in and graduated in late Spring 1955. After what seemed like months, we finally received our assignment orders, after award of our Secret clearances. So, on the 4th of July, 1955, we flew from McGuire AFB,NJ to Frankfurt, West Germany, and from there, an overnight train ride to the Big, Mysterious, and somewhat eerie city of Berlin.
The Berlin Tunnel was BIG NEWS in May of 1956. I had just arrived back at Fort Monmouth, NJ assigned as a “field-trained” instructor for the “Countermeasures, Search and Analysis” students. The course was still taught there at Fort Monmouth. On a morning in May I turned on the old Dave Garraway Show and, lo and behold, there was our Rudow site on camera and Garraway was excitedly talking about a “spy tunnel” discovered by the East Germans. I was flabbergasted but of course, with OPSEC firmly in mind, I could tell no one about my involvement with the tunnel .
When my high school buddy and I arrived in Frankfurt, no one told us anything except that we were going to Berlin. We boarded the night train, on which we actually shared an expensive compartment, and off to the North and East we went. Sometime during the night the train stopped, and we were rudely awakened and told to stand by and have our orders ready. Foreign soldiers, didn’t know if they were East Germans or Russians, but later leaned that they were, indeed, USSR, boarded the train and,in short order, were in our compartment, demanding to see our “papers!” I don’t need to tell you that we were both scared stiff and could just stand there in our skivvies and hand over our orders in stunned silence. They stamped their version of “OK” on the orders and the train was allowed to proceed to Berlin. WOW!
When we arrived at the Berlin Bahnhof, it was exactly as if we we had stepped off the train onto a World War II movie set. The whistles and cacophony of other sounds was instant deja vous to my childhood days in the movie theaters. We were both awe-struck and wanted to get into the foreign atmosphere as quickly as possible. We attempted this by buying German coffees and cigarettes; neither of which tasted good but what the heck, they were “European.” We found our way to a military counter where, at least, we recognized the uniforms. A sergeant there looked at our orders, scratched his head, and asked a captain to step over. The captain seemed perplexed as well, but he made a decision: “Send them over to Andrews Barracks! Maybe someone over there has heard of the 9539th Signal Service Team.” At Andrews, everyone seemed equally confused. No one had ever heard of the unit and, of course, had no idea of where it was located. After several hours of guessing and postulating, one of the sergeants said: “I’ll bet its that spook outfit out in Rudow.” Voila! We were shortly in a military sedan on our way to Rudow. We pulled into a sleepy little farm community and hung a left onto a tarmac road heading out of town. In short order, we could see the barbed wire fences, the guard booths, and a rooftop antenna field, coming up at the end of the road. We pulled up at the gate and were met by an armed PFC in fatigues, who immediately got on the horn; that call produced a Signal Corps Lieutenant Colonel in khaki uniform who asked us for our orders. Meanwhile, the sedan we had arrived in made a U turn and sped away from us. We reported to the Colonel and he said very matter-of-factly, “Oh yes, we’ve been expecting you for weeks. Welcome to the 9539th T.U. Signal Service Team” and we entered the gate and went behind the rows of wire to our new home away from home.
We soon learned that it was a small unit, about 45 total personnel. The officer who met us was the C.O., and, at the time, the only other officers were a very boyish-looking 2d LT and a much older Chief Warrant Officer. At the time, there was no first sergeant and one unit clerk did all the administrative stuff. The Colonel sat us down and explained the rules of the game which we had just joined. The unit was operating a Top Secret “Project,” as well as a”cover” ELINT operation. It was so sensitive, that the unit had its own mess sergeant and cooks and mechanics, and pulled all its own guard duty in addition to either “Project” work or, the “cover” ELINT operation. He told us that, due to OPSEC, he could not tell us anything about the “Project,” but, as time went on, if we thought we had it figured out, to come tell him and he would let us know, at least, if we were correct. As I said, only about 45 men, but so compartmentalized, that each unit function had its own “enclave,” if you will. I was extremely interested in the “Project,” and spent a lot of time thinking what it could conceivably be. As luck would have it, though, thanks to compartmentalization, I was assigned to the “cover” ELINT operation and my high school buddy went into the “Project.”
In short order, I found myself on the guard roster and, in my free time (aside from ELINT and guard duty) I was road-tested on all assigned vehicles, quarter-tons, sedan, 3/4 ton, and two and a half ton trucks, and even forklifts. Once this was accomplished, I found myself either driving or riding shotgun on frequent trips across Berlin to the Gatow Royal Air Force (RAF) Base. The trips were always made in Class A uniforms with sidearms. If riding as shotgun, an M-1 carbine was added to the .45 caliber pistol. The CO always happened to be the officer-in-charge when I was along. Don’t know if any other officers, (we later acquired two captains as well as two SFC’s) ever made the trip, but each trip I went on featured the CO as Boss. He always had a side arm as well. On each trip we carried several large packages, always the same shape, rounded on both sides, and wrapped in plain, brown wrapping paper. These packages were delivered to the RAF at Gatow for immediate air delivery to London, and then on to Washington.
We had a very nice dayroom and a well-stocked refrigerator, loaded with Beck’s and Tuborg beer. When we were off duty and not on pass, that is where we congregated. I began noticing strangers in odds and ends of uniforms, coming and going. They were usually good at paying for their drinks whenever they were in the dayroom. As it turned out, these were either British SIS (MI6) or CIA people or equipment contractors of one sort or another.
After several weeks, we had a unit meeting and were introduced to a Brigadier General. It was kept very informal, but we were told that the 9539th TU Signal Service Team no longer existed! We were no longer Signal Corps but had been integrated into the Army Security Agency (ASA) as the 22nd Army Security Detachment, 7222 Defense Unit. The only thing that actually changed besides our address, was that the cord worn on overseas caps had to be changed. Where the cord had been orange and white for the Signal Corps, it was now light blue and white for the ASA. After that, if we were seen in Class A’s, we were often taken for Infantry, which wore a solid light blue cord. The Brigadier General officially welcomed all of us to the ASA and said we were doing a terrific job, especially–and this made us in the ELINT operation feel really proud — the ELINT “cover” was nevertheless a fully functioning ELINT site and, as such, had logged more previously unknown signals in the quarter just finished, than any other ASA site in Europe! How about that?
As I implied, we began receiving additional personnel. These new guys, at last, gave me all the information I needed to really figure out what was going on in the “Project.” One of the newbies was a heating, air conditioning and ventilation specialist, who was, on several occasions, seen with wet sand on his legs from the knees down. Anther newbie was a linguist, trained at Monterey, in the Russian language. The wet sand strongly indicated that this new guy was digging somewhere under the surface soil since it was dark loam and not sand, at least not on the surface. What else would a Russian linguist do except, of course, interpret Russian. This convinced me that the “Project” was an underground tunnel and the linguist’s working in the “Project”, coupled with the shape of all the packages we regularly delivered to Gatow, strongly suggestive of stacked cans of audio tape, further convinced me that we had tapped into some sort of underground communication lines, probably Russian and East German telephone communications. I never did tell the CO what I had surmised, but from then on, went about doing my jobs and feeling rather smug.
The security and sensitivity of the missions of the unit were such that we were forbidden to ride the S-Bahn (elevated train) or the U-Bahn (subway), could not go into the East Zone under any circumstances, and could not even have overnight passes to Berlin. Passes ran from about 1800 hours to about 0100 hours. We rode into town in a unit vehicle, usually a 3/4 ton, 2-1/2 ton or sedan, depending on the numbers of men on pass. The drop-off point was near the Kaiser Wilhelm Church and the pick-up point was near Templehof. Time on pass was short but we always managed to cram a lot of fun into those short hours. The ratio of young women to young men in Berlin in 1955-1956 was, if I remember correctly, around 7 to 1, so finding enjoyable companionship was an easy thing. Most of us soon acquired girlfriends whom we usually saw when we went to Berlin. I was no exception there, but I have to admit that I met a lot of lovely young women and truly enjoyed myself. Some of the regular hangouts were the “Casa Leon” on Karl-Marx Strasse and the KBS (Kleines Ballhaus) in Schoeneberg. If we had money in our pockets or just wanted a little class for an evening, we went to the Resi Bar (on Hasenheide) which featured a full orchestra, two floors of tables or booths and a telephone and message pneumatic tube along with the lighted number at each table or booth. When we went to the Resi, it didn’t take long for the phone to ring or the message tube to make the swoosh sound of an incoming message.
A vivid memory from Berlin concerns a dumb-kid stunt that I and a friend pulled, which could easily have set off an international incident. The unit had, before I joined it, acquired two German Shepherd guard dogs, Aldo and Harris. Aldo was sort of on the scruffy side with a temperament to match. Harris, on the other hand, was a beautiful tan and black shepherd with a great disposition. In fact, Harris was so friendly,that his value as a guard dog was probably moot. Anyway, Harris had gone missing and had been gone for about a week. One very early morning as I was finishing up an overnight tour of rear guard shack duty, I heard a dog bark from the other side of the border. For whatever reason, I was certain that it was Harris, so I trained my glasses on the fence line and eastward and, as I was watching, a change of guard for the Vopos (volks polizei) drove up and they had a dog with them. It was, I was sure, Harris. I watched as they had Harris jump out of the truck and then back into the truck and it was then that I decided to get our dog back from the Vopos.
About this time, my friend, Al (who had also been in our AIT class at Fort Monmouth) came by and I called him over. I explained that our dog, Harris, was in the Vopo’s truck, which was still sitting near the fence line. Al decided to join me in this mission and we walked up to the border and I yelled at the Vopos “Sie haben meinen Hund!” One of them yelled back “Nein, habe ich nicht!” By the way, I forgot to mention that I was carrying an M-1 carbine with a full magazine, because I had just come off guard duty. So, Al and I, ARMED, crossed the border and confronted the Vopos. When we got to their truck, I called out “Harris, come here, boy!” In a flash, Harris cleared the tailgate of the truck and ran to Al and me wagging his tail like mad and licking our hands. I said again, “Das ist mein Hund!” and, with that, Al, Harris and I turned around and walked back to our fence line and the Vopos just stood there, gaping, open-mouthed.
All this had occurred under the unbelieving eyes of our CO and First Sergeant (who had only been with us a short time). Needless to say, we got a real dressing down but, before the CO was done yelling at us, the First Shirt couldn’t stop himself from laughing and, soon, the CO was also snickering. It was only then that Al and I truly thought about what we had done and were more than a bit shaken up. The First Sergeant finally said: “OK, we’re going to let you two skate this time – but don’t you ever do such a GD thing again. You two might have started World War III! Is that clear?” In unison we both answered “Yes, First Sergeant!” We, in fact, never suffered any disciplinary action because of our “rescue” and, moreover, became sort of short-term heroes to the group. This occurred more than fifty four years ago, but it is still vivid in my memory.
When my orders to return home arrived, I was happy to be going home, but also sad to be returning to rather hum-drum stateside duty, after the electricity of Berlin, and I have often thought about those days. They were so long ago – I’ll turn 75 in less than a month – and I was only 19 when I went to Berlin. As I’ve aged, I’ve come to the realization that I was, indeed, a part of American Cold War history.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
After my first enlistment, I was separated and tried civilian life for awhile. However, in less than six months I was back in the military, and didn’t leave again until 1 April 1975, when I retired from the Regular Army. I served another tour in Germany, in Bamberg with the 7th Cavalry, 3rd Infantry Division, Did three tours of duty in Vietnam: The first in 1962-1963, in MAAG-Vietnam, as senior enlisted assistant to a Brigadier General. The second, in 1966-1967 in Troop A, 2d Squadron, 17th Cavalry, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, and the third, in 1969-1970 in MACV-SOG, the famed Studies and Observations Group. In the 17th Cavalry, I was an Operations NCO, a Scout Section Leader, and 1st Platoon Sergeant. In SOG, I was in OP33, Psyops Studies Branch, where I was the NCOIC and custodian of all classified files. For the most part, I lived in Saigon, but, on occasion, was required to be at the C&C’s (Command and Control) elements in Danang, Kontum, and Ban Me Thuot. We dealt in Grey and Black Psops. Everybody in such operations held Top Secret clearances.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
I am and will always be proud of my tours of duty in Vietnam. As a career soldier, especially a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer, Vietnam was where I should have been. That was and remains a fact that I will always believe. I believe with all my heart, that, in my three tours in Vietnam, I served with heroes and walked with giants. Having said all that, from the heart, the fact remains that my very first overseas assignment in the Berlin suburb of Rudow, has had the biggest impact on me because of the danger and importance it held in the dark and shadowy world associated with the clandestine and classified services of the United States. It is a good feeling to realize that one has played a part in the history of the Cold War.
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
I was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Bronze Star Medal, not for valor, but for, as it says on the citation, “Meritorious Achievement In Ground Operations Against Hostile Forces.” Was also awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the Joint Services Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, The Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm, both individual and unit awards, and a number of “I was there” ribbons or medals .
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
The Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Parachutist Badge were the most meaningful because they are a rank above my other awards, having demanded more of me.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
There were a number of people I served with in my career who had important influences on me. They range from the Brigadier General in MAAG-VN, for whom I worked; the Group Sergeant Major of the 1st Special Forces Group (Abn), in which I was honored to serve on Okinawa and in Thailand. He was the second Sergeant Major of the Army, George W. Dunaway; the command structure of SOG, and all members of OP 30; The Troop Headquarters element and the entire 1st Platoon of Troop A, 17th Cavalry, In fact, the command structures of every organization in which I served influenced me greatly. Last, but certainly not least, all personnel who served with me in the 9539th T.U. Signal Service Team in Berlin.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
The funniest incident that I remember from my service is sitting at the bar of the Ban Me Thuot NCO Club and listening to Colonel Maggie (Martha Raye) regaling her rapt audience. She was so funny that it had many of us streaming tears down our faces. Colonel Maggie was, indeed, one of a kind, a force to be reckoned with, an actress of stature, a wonderful singer, and an all round marvelous person. I know she is resting in Peace.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
After my Army retirement, I tried a couple different jobs before I had the good fortune to hear of an upcoming civil service test for the title of Associate Personnel Analyst in a small autonomous agency. I applied to take the test and and became one of the 250 people to give it a try. By the Grace of God, I scored second on the test. I didn’t become a member of the sponsoring agency, though, for about six months but I did get hired, and about a year later, took and passed a promotional test for the title of Senior Personnel Analyst. I worked there for almost twenty-eight years, and retired the end of July 2005. The work was personnel management in various areas of that field. I worked in Labor and Employee Relations, Training, Compensation and Benefits and, the most enjoyable, Examinations, where I spent almost ten years. The month I retired from the Regular Army, I earned my BA degree in Social Sciences, and, after my start as a personnel analyst, received an MS Degree in Personnel Management.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I am not a current member of any military associations. I anticipate re-activating my membership in the Alpha Troop, 17th Cavalry Association, as well as the Vietnam Veterans of America, in the near future.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
My service in the Army has influenced my life in many ways. I learned, early on, to always give my best effort. To not be afraid to volunteer (as evidenced by my three voluntary tours in Vietnam) and, very importantly, my experience of going to Jump School (more correctly, the Basic Airborne Course), at age 29, and at pay grade E5. It took a lot of intestinal fortitude to get a guy who was always terrified of heights, to take that step, but take it I did, and consider it one of my absolutely highest achievements, even if I did feel I was lowering the earth level of Fort Benning with all the push-ups I did.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
I would advise all those currently serving in the US Military, to stand tall, because they are the best of their generation, the cream of their age group in American Society. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. You occupy a much higher level of American Citizenship than those who have not served. You are members in high standing of the Brotherhood of the Military, and it matters not which service you joined. I salute you all, and I am certain everyone in TWS does as well. From the bottom of my heart, Thank You for your Unselfish Service, and may God Bless You.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
Being a member of Together We Served has helped me reinforce my pride as one who served. It has helped me make many new and wonderful friends on the site, and gives me heart that we will indeed prevail!