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War Stories
copyright 2001 by H. Paul Shuch
Excerpted from Tune In The Universe! (ARRL)

Tune In The Universe!

Spook's Honor

You must not have opened the envelope.

I never really set out to do anything clandestine. When I volunteered for the Air Force, I figured my electronics background (commercial radiotelephone license, four years as a radio ham, and a year of Electrical Engineering before I flunked out of college) would qualify me for cushy duty. And, in fact it did; Uncle made good on his promise to send me through a year of electronics school. But first, I had to negotiate the halls and stairwells and associated perils of the Personnel Testing Lab.

PTL was one of the more imposing buildings at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where I did my basic training during the hot and hectic summer of 1965. I reported there three times: first, for a battery of written exams to determine my future assignment. Second time up, it was to be weighed and measured and charted and calibrated into an ergonomics study of the male military form, funded by your tax dollars. I thought the third visit was to retrieve my orders. How was I to know they did psychological testing there as well?

"Take this," I was told by an Airman Second Class as he thrust a sealed 9 by 12 manila into my eager hands, "to Lieutenant Johnson on the second floor. Do not open the envelope." Red letters growled "Confidential -- Eyes Only," only I's not easily intimidated. My curiosity alone nearly burned a hole in the envelope. After all, the Gulf of Tonkin had made its media splash, they were already sending troops off to the Nam in increasing numbers, and I couldn't help wondering if Tech School was off. Besides, I had to take a leak.

Facing me square on at the top of the stairs, the Men's room beckoned. It was deserted, and the hot water tap ran steaming. I whistled a merry "CQ" while innocently washing my hands, noticing with bemusement the glue starting to dissolve before my very eyes, as the envelope flap flopped open of its own volition. Slipping into a privy stall to assure my continued privacy, I dug deeper, and extracted my reward. The cover sheet clipped to my orders read "Congratulations, Airman. Report to Captain Goldman on the third floor."

Quick seal the flap, up another flight of stairs still whistling "CQ", and there I was, face to face with Captain G. himself. "Sir," I inquired, "did you want to see me before, or after I talk to Lieutenant Johnson on the second floor?"

Considering my background, I'm still amazed that they put me through all that special training, and can't believe they saw fit to grant me a Top Secret clearance. After all, I'd marched with Martin Luther King and stormed Washington, hailed from the notorious Left Coast, played guitar and sang subversive folk songs, and had this nasty habit of speaking my mind. I guess what sealed my fate was my willingness to unseal that flap. My current wife, with a degree in psychology, asks rhetorically "exactly what is it they were selecting for?"

Uncle kept his word and sent me to Keesler AFB Mississippi for my year of Electronics training. Next orders were for Maxwell AFB Alabama, home of the Air War College, for a year's seasoning as a telecommunications systems controller. It was at Maxwell, ostensibly during off-duty hours, that I was indoctrinated into the fine art of electronic espionage. When they finished with me, I could read the orders without steaming open the envelope.

When I came back to The World in 1969, it didn't surprise me at all that my service record somehow failed to document my brief diversion into shadow duty. So years later, when I met a fellow vet at a ham radio conference in Atlanta, and learned that he had gone through PTL around that same time, I had to maintain that none of it ever happened.

"I see," my newfound friend said coyly. "You must not have opened the envelope."

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this page last updated 14 June 2007
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