Two parts M*A*S*H, one part Animal House and a dash of Catch-22. That was life at the U.S. Army Security Agency Cold War listening post atop Snow Mountain (Schneeberg) during the mid-1960s.
In his new book “Snow Mountain Misfits: Cold War Tales of the Super Secret Army Security Agency,” Millsboro resident Jeremiah Davis takes readers on a tour of this once-secret outpost near what was then the West German-Czechoslovak border.
Very few people outside the ASA or its parent organization the National Security Agency know what day-to-day life was like at these stations, because knowledge of their operations was classified at the time.
This roman à clef is a first-person account of a year at one of the remote mountaintop intercept detachments on the border with the Communist bloc, where the author was a highly trained operator. The story begins with a history of the locale which had been used by sentinels as an observation post for hundreds of years before the Cold War. Maps of interest, photographs and links to other documents are scattered throughout the book. The author’s descriptions of the young men he served with, the local women they loved and sometimes married, and the everyday business of the unit provide a fascinating insight into Cold War-era signals intelligence operations.
ASA was sometimes referred to as an army within the Army. It recruited the brightest of enlistees into its ranks of linguists, intelligence analysts and technicians from late 1945 until it was absorbed into the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command at the end of 1976. Many recruits were college dropouts or flunk-outs. Most were reluctant soldiers who volunteered for ASA to avoid being drafted into the infantry. Some served on remote mountaintops like Schneeberg where discipline was lax, and alcohol and immaturity sometimes led to incidents and adventures that would strain the credulity of by-the-book soldiers.
The author served for almost seven years as an active-duty ASA linguist and intelligence analyst. Virtually all ASA soldiers were volunteers who committed to a four-year enlistment in an era when draftees were only required to serve two years and non-ASA volunteers normally served only three years. The Vietnam War was raging, but Davis and his comrades on the hill were fortunate enough to be assigned to a peaceful, albeit frigid, outpost in Germany. His narrative contains insights into how the ASA really worked at the small unit level.
This book peeks behind the curtain of secrecy that screened the men of these ASA detachments from the “real” Army. It is a notable if unorthodox addition to literature about the National Security Agency, ASA and the Cold War.
Readers will join Jolly Ollie, Whiskey Man, Lurch, and the other misfits as they soldier ASA-style through a year at a border site. The book is available in both paperback and eBook form at Amazon.com.
Davis is a retired National Security Agency senior intelligence officer and linguist as well as an ASA veteran. He is the recipient of NSA’s second-highest award, the Meritorious Civilian Service Award, and is a longtime member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers and the American Legion. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland, and he earned a master’s degree in Russian and East European studies from George Washington University. He and his wife Dorothy have been married for 53 years and have resided full time near Millsboro since Dorothy retired from NSA in 2008. He compiled, edited and published the inspiring cancer memoir, “The Starfish Chronicles,” written by his late daughter Heather Davis Johnson. It is also available on Amzaon.com.