"Kagnew Station - Tract C" by George Cook
Part Two

Since this was an intelligence operation there was a method for alerting senior government officials in the unlikely event of a sneak attack. One morning the duty sergeant noticed a message on a Teletype machine that reported a movement of Chinese troops across their border into India. The ramifications of this were tremendous! A war on the Indian subcontinent would not remain there. But first things first - a message was sent with an alert status of "CRITIC," which was the highest priority. It went ahead of all other messages and received immediate attention by senior officials.





The President and the National Military Command Center was informed. The Pentagon alerted SAC and Air Force bombers were in the air and on patrol towards Russia and China. All American military worldwide were moved from an alert status of DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 3. (DEFense CONdition 5 is peacetime, DEFCON 3 is medium alert and DEFCON 1 is "War.")

When Washington tried to verify this report through other channels they were unable to do so. Apparently Kagnew was the only station to report this. That in itself was suspicious so they asked us to verify the source. The sergeant went back to the printer, which was in the repair shop, and learned that a repairman had typed the report himself, just to see if the keyboard worked properly. It did. And so did the alert mechanism. The military worldwide was ordered to stand down and the "exercise" was a success. No one was punished as the repairman had no intention of showing the information to anyone and the sergeant was doing his job. But it was interesting to see how our alert system worked.

Democracy vs. Communism
One way for an operator to test the Teletype machine operation is to send a sentence that contains most, if not all, the letters of the alphabet. If it prints okay, the machine works. If one of the letters is out of place, the machine needs to be fixed. One of the sentences Americans used was, "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party." On the other hand, the Russians used: "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party." Notice the difference? Any idea why?

The Battle of the Blue Nile One evening a group of us were ambushed downtown. Some local "street boys" attacked us from behind some buildings and we dashed for cover. It was 3 against 30! They only had rocks but were experts in their use! We were caught out in the open and dashed for cover as quickly as possible. Then the fight raged for "an eternity" before they pulled back and quietly melted into the night.

We all agreed this was to be considered a "Black Op," a secret operation. That's why you never heard about it or read about it in your history books how a bunch of American GIs were attacked and fought for their lives in Eritrea in 1961.

We licked our wounds and limped back to the "Blue Nile" bar. We all agreed they were three of the toughest street boys we had ever seen!

Rent A Car Ride
One weekend, just to get away from the usual rut, I rented a car from the local rent-a-car company and drove a few miles down the mountain. There was a small restaurant, "The Half-Way House," along the road so I stopped in for lunch. Apparently the owner didn't get that many custgomers in the middle of the day as he seemed quite talkative. We chatted for a while and I lit up a cigarette, dropping the match and the ashes into the ashtray on the counter.

There were two small glass dishes, one with white stuff and the other with ashes. I used the one with the ashes already in it. A strange look came over his face as I did but he said nothing. About a half hour later I had something to eat and found out the tiny glass dishes were actually salt and pepper containers. I was so embarrassed! I had put my cigarette ashes in his pepper holder! What a bonehead! I offered to pay him but he wouldn't accept my money.

On the way back I drove around the city. In Asmara the traffic keeps to the left, as in England. It wasn't hard remembering the difference since the steering wheel was on the right side.

At one corner I made a left turn onto a major shopping street with a lot of traffic. But I made one mistake - I turned wide onto the right side of the road. Suddenly I was facing three rows of cars coming right at me! There was an opening near the curb between two parked cars. I swerved quickly into the hole and stopped, just as the cars went past. I waited for them to pass, backed up and drove over to the right (correct) side of the street, which was the left side. Keep in mind, the right side of the street was the wrong side, the right side was the left side. And that's correct!

Out and About
Speaking of driving, I still carried the Military Drivers License I had earned back at Basic Training at Ft. Jackson. Oddly, very few others had one. The midnight shift at "The Funny Farm" required a courier to carry documents from the site back to post or to the embassy, as required. It was not a hard detail, taking only about an hour and was a great way to break up the usual monotony of the night shift. When the regular guy was off they asked me to do it. Why not? Plus, they gave me a 45-caliber pistol as sidearm, with holster. John Wayne never looked more fearsome!

Often the only vehicle available after midnight was the Chevy sedan used by officers. So there I was, tooling around east Africa in a car late at night. The ride was short, only about 2 miles to post, but at night the animals were out and I saw dik-dik and hyenas along the roadside. This kid from north Philadelphia enjoyed the ride through the African countryside. I didn't do this every night, only about once a week, sometimes less. It was a nice diversion from the regular routine.

The only non-routine trip involved escorting one of the guys from the Comm. Center as he delivered a hot message downtown to the US Ambassador. I wasn't allowed to see what was in the envelope but was expected to guard it, and him, with my life! We found the embassy about 3:30am, rang the bell, woke up the ambassador, he signed for it and we left. But standing there with a .45 on my hip, looking into the shadows for sinister characters, Russian spies or rock carrying street boys was exciting. I'd like to think my frightening demeanor and my expert marksmanship scared them away.

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