|LINKS TO ASA KOREA REUNION
PHOTOS 2000 - 2014
Patriot-News, The (Harrisburg, PA)
September 14, 2001 'Freedom is not free' - Participants recall Korean War intelligence duties
Author: Matt Miller; Of Our Carlisle Bureau
Even old soldiers are feeling the effects of Tuesday's terrorist attacks.
The attacks certainly thinned the ranks yesterday at a reunion of the Korean veterans chapter of the Army Security Agency.
Organizers expected about 115 of those former top secret soldiers for the event at the Radisson Penn Harris Hotel & Convention Center
in East Pennsboro Twp., said Andy Kavalecs of North Londonderry Twp., the group's president.
With the travel snarls caused by the attacks, "we're going to lose 20 or 30 easy," he said.
Those who made it had plenty of tales of the days they spent in Korea, working in military intelligence. Some came during the Korean
War fighting of 1950-53 and others were there later in the '50s.Their main job was to intercept North Korean and Communist Chinese
communications to give U.S. and United Nations forces a jump on the enemy.What they had in common was top security clearance.
You had to be at least a second-generation American to get into the 501st Communications Reconnaissance Group and other ASA
units. You couldn't have relatives in a communist country and you had to pass a tough FBI background check.
Their operations were so hush-hush there are still things the vets can't discuss, said the Rev. Charles Knappenberger, 68, of Jim Thorpe.
"It's silly, but 50 years later we're still classified," said Knappenberger, who was 20 when he set foot in Korea on New Year's Day
1953, just in time to catch the war's last seven months.He worked with a detachment of the 330th Communications Reconnaissance
Company, far up the east coast of North Korea. "It was very cold. Up where we were it was 40 degrees below zero," Knappenberger
said.He could hear fighting nearby and see Navy jets roaring in for air strikes. The battleship USS Missouri would come in and fire its
massive guns over the unit's camp at enemy targets far inland. "We had the shells of the Missouri coming over top of us all the time. We
just prayed, 'Don't have a short round,'" Knappenberger said, chuckling. "We weren't in combat, but we were close to it. Every once in
a while there would be a couple of sniper shots come into our compound." Just before the armistice in mid-1953, a Chinese attack
almost overran his unit, which loaded as much gear as it could on trucks, destroyed the rest and headed south.
Frank Taft, 71, of Auburndale, Mass., was 22 when he reached Korea in May 1952.
"What really struck me was all of the sudden seeing all this desolation," he said. "It kind of struck home: This looks like it's war."
Taft's job with the 501st was to analyze intercepted enemy messages taken down by teenage South Korean soldiers in listening posts on
the 38th Parallel, the front line then, now the border of the two Koreas."I was impressed that I was very close to the fighting," Taft said.
"In the morning we'd see the ROK (Republic of South Korea) soldiers heading out on patrol."
Parker Lee, 69, of Mechanicsburg, never left the U.S., but as personnel sergeant from 1955-58, he assigned ASA men who went to
Korea. One of his tasks yesterday was to connect faces to the names he remembered from so long ago.
"I sent a lot of these guys over and brought them back," Lee said. "I still recognize a lot of the names of the ones I handled."
There was a strong air of patriotism among the vets. Knappenberger, for example, wore a "Freedom is not Free" button on his vest.
"The big thing about the Korean War ... is the people who fought, all the United Nations troops, were able to stem the flow of
communism into southern Asia," Knappenberger said.
"Look at South Korea today versus North Korea. Look at the standard of living, the industry in South Korea," he added. "That is the
result of what they unfortunately called a 'police action'... We're all damn proud we were there."
Matt Miller may be reached at 249-2006 or email@example.com