Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Story I Never Heard

While I was finding useful links to the incidents that killed the spooks listed on my Memorial Day post, I came across this story regarding the EC-121 Willy Victor shootdown by the North Koreans. The author is not named, but it was purportedly published as a letter in CRYPTOLOG (the journal of the Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association, NCVA.)

Two of the CTs came from NSGA Hakata (across the bay from Fukuoka, Japan)
(also known as US Army Field Station Hakata and Air Force Hakata Air
Station. The two men were CTC Richard "Snuffy" Smith and, as my memory
serves, CT2 Joe Tesmer, They went TAD to Kamiseya the day prior to the
Concerning the flight. I was on duty in Room One of the Operations
building at the time of the shootdown. (Morse collector). Taking a break, I
was on my way to the snack bar and had to walk past rooms two through six
before intersecting the aisle where the snack bar was located.
The Air Force collectors were in room five.
As I walked down the hall and past the AF room five I heard emergency air
tracking coming across an open speaker. I looked in the room and there we
no operators at their positions. None. I immediately ran back to room one,
dialed up the frequency on the "floaters" position and started copying the
tracking. By that time it was too late, although our P&R shop sent out an
As to the AF people who should have been at their positions, they were
scattered around the building doing various personal things. The fallout
was that the 2nd LT and the senior NCO on duty were reprimanded and I
believe, both denied continued service past their existing contracts.
I've always felt that if someone had remained in room five, our plane
would have been alerted and would have broken its track and headed back to

This is a story I had never heard. For some reason it never made it into the lore around the shootdown. The idea that operators responsible for monitoring the air tracking would abandon their positions during a mission is horrifying. That such negligence, resulting in the loss of an aircraft and crew, might go unpunished is equally disturbing.

Of course, the procedures we relied on to keep us aware of enemy observation and intentions in the 1980's may have been the result of changes made after the loss of the Willy Victor, the USS Pueblo, and the attack on the USS Liberty. Those three years, 1967, 1968, and 1969 were dark for Navy Cryptologists. I just amazes me that we ever could have been so casual about it.


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