A general history of everything
Posted or updated 07.27.12 by Bill Lamb
The following was prepared by F. Harrison (Harry) Wallace, who served on The Hill with the Army Security Agency from 1972 until 1974.
I. Eckstein — The Physical Site
In the summer of 1957 Czech and Russian troops of the Warsaw Pact held massive maneuvers in the area that was designated by NATO as one of the major potential invasion corridors. This gap was 15 miles wide in a river valley between two mountain ranges running parallel to the eastern border of the German state of Bravaria and the now Czech Republic. This major activity alarmed the border patrol personnel, and there was an emergency movement of an undefined 318th Tactical Group of ASA troops to watch over the activities. But the ASA troops were mostly late. It was a short, yet major exercise that was almost over before it began.
In the Spring of 1958 plans were made to be prepared for the next summer exercise. There was a search all along the border for a base of operations from which to monitor the situation. The mountain “Hoher Bogan” was a long saddle-back mountain (three miles from the Czech border) with two peaks: Grafenried (3,201 feet) and Eckstein (3,520 feet). Eckstein was the eastern most point on the mountain with a major view point and became the name of the border site (in the late 1960s). Three miles west of the mountain lies Rimbach, the closest village with access to the site. At the bottom of the cliff off of Eckstein, on the other side of the mountain, lies the village of Neukirchen im Heiligen Blut (New Churches of the Holy Blood, named for a religious miracle site, decreed by the Catholic Church).
Eckstein was chosen because there was a clear view eastward from the top of cliff (1,200 feet straight down). A single-lane logging road was paved (1958). The first ASA troops assigned to the area were on TDY for about four to five weeks before the start of the exercises, and they stayed until about two weeks after the end. Their initial stay was about three to three and a half months of the year. This continued for several years until 1966. The work generated in the preamble to the exercise demonstrated that there was an advantage in a possible border site located in Rimbach year-round. In the Late 1960s (possibly 1966 or 1967), Eckstein became a border site of USASA FS Herzo known as Detachment K.
Det K, as it was called for short, at first consisted of tactical vans, and as such resembled a tactical van parking lot more than a working border site. In 1967 the site complex was centered around a Quonset hut, and various trailers (with the wheels taken off) were scattered about a double-fenced oval compound approximately 130 yards long by 35 yards at the widest. The station was set behind some rocky outcropping (Point Eckstein) about 60 feet off the edge of the cliff. The rock outcroppings became the base for the mounting of antennas for operations.
The view was spectacular in summer when the weather was warm, with temperatures in the low 80s for very hot days. Mostly, summer days ranged from lows in the 50s to highs in the 70s. At night, one could see the lights of Plzeň and even Prague. However, in winter it could be one of the coldest places to be assigned with the ASA. Winds in excess of 60 or 70 miles per hour were not uncommon during blizzards. Snow could be six to eight feet deep on the mountain and would not melt until late May. Winter lows could be minus 25 degrees F, with highs from zero to 10 degrees. During the winter months, sunlight was rare. Mostly, there were clouds and fog day and night. It could be depressing not seeing the sun for as long as 60 days at a stretch.
Border sites were by nature considered remote. True to its definition, this site was on the border and remote. So remote, in fact, that from 1958 until 1975 there was no running water on the mountain. Water for coffee, hot chocolate and washing had to be carried to “The Hill” in five-gallon Jerry cans. With no running water for basic facilities, the old tried-and-true methods of sanitation came into play. There was a single two-hole, wooden outhouse and a stand-up tube that was driven at an angle into the ground that came out lower on the cliff. This was known as the “piss tube, with a large funnel on the business end and a three-sided phone-booth-like structure to shelter you from the wind. The newest Weed (new guy at the site) who happened to be assigned “day shift” on Sundays (a generally slow time) had to fill the sawed-in-half 55-gallon drums with diesel fuel and burn the week’s supply of waste. The Weed kept this duty until the next Weed was assigned to his “trick,” as shift crews were known.
The station changed the Detachment letter designation in 1972 with the formation of FS Augsburg. Herzo Base transferred control of the site when its personnel moved to Augsburg. Not much changed at the site between 168 and 1972. In early 1972 all the trailers were grouped around the Quonset hut, and a plywood hallway and roof structure was built. This allowed people to leave work locations (operations, TA shed, comm center, burn bag room and the tape room) and not have to go outside into the cold, snowy or wet weather. This was a major improvement to the work area. You could go between work areas without the aid of some sort of coat and hat.
This became the standard of the Eckstein compound until some modern construction began 1974. In 1974 it was decided that the Rimbach-Americans were having too much fun being away from FS discipline and were costing the government too much money for extra pay (separate rations, overseas pay, cost of living, housing allowance, etc.). The plan was to send all of the troops back to a base area and take them “off the economy.” ASA command chose to build a microwave tower for remote control of antennas. They could be used and controlled by ASA personnel located a five-hour drive away in Augsburg. They hired the French telecom giant Alcatel to build the microwave tower and a civilian German general contracting firm to built a barracks to hold eight to 10 personnel. To sustain the barracks in a modern fashion, they buried two 10,000-gallon tanks. One was for water and the other for diesel fuel for heating. Septic tanks brought modern plumbing to The Hill for the first time. This project became known as a “La Faire Vite” site. This arrangement was not unique to Eckstein and was used in other border sites.
In December 1974, they sent part of the troop to Augsburg and ran the new and old systems. When the bugs were worked out, in early 1975, the Eckstein border site transformed into an antenna site with only maintenance men as security guards. As ASA was decommissioned in 1977, the maintenance men/guards were transferred to INSCOM. In a conversation with one of these guys at Eckstein in 1990, the INSCOM maintenance man felt the assignment was the “best maintenance assignment in INSCOM.” The site continued for 18 years in remote antenna function until 1993 when the site closed. By that time, the Cold War was over, the Czech Republic existed, the U.S. had advisors working with the Czech military regarding NATO expansion, and the Russians had gone home.
II. Personnel and Population Information
Eckstein was under ASA control. The ASA personnel numbered 102 in 1973. This broke down into four “tricks” (a work group working in rotating shifts) of a dozen each, eight communications center guys, five MPs, 12 traffic analysts, eight maintenance, and 11 “Day Pukes.” The primary MOSs (in 1972) for Eckstein were 98G-RUs, 98G-CZs, 98Cs, O5K20K9s, Electronic Maintenance, Comm Center and a few MPs, clerks, and straight day administration types. Two Officers were assigned by the ASA, commander and operations officer (major and captain, or two captains). The rest of the 100 personnel were enlisted. The breakdown of career military vs. “One-Time Charlie’s” was 10 percent / 90 percent in 1972.
There was a U.S. Air Force Security Service contingent assigned to Rimbach that numbered approximately 65 people in 1973. The controlling group for the AFSS was out of Augsburg as well. The original Air Force unit designation and the date of the first assignment to Rimbach is lost to our history. But surely, the Air Force did not arrive in the tactical days and most likely came when Eckstein was a formal detachment out of Herzo Base (circa 1967). Together with a few wives, children (most under age 6; no American schooling), and ASA and Air Force personnel, the American population was about 220 in 1973.
III. Life in Rimbach
All purchases of “American” items came through two methods: 1) a small, 12x16-foot room that was restocked weekly with Cokes, candy, laundry soap, alarm clocks, newspapers and small items, and 2) a trip in an Army bus or van three hours to the closest Army base commissary and PX (Amberg or Hohenfells). The wives ran an snack bar for hamburgers, hot dogs, tuna sandwiches, chips, Cokes and beer. This was the only food with an American flavor (unless prepared at an individual’s quarters). Everything else was local bratwurst, schnitzel and beer.
The local population regarded the ASA troops as a strange mixture of young, polite men who liked to drink and “go native.” There were good relations between the German hosts and the American community. The more an American would adapt to the German language, manners and customs, the better things were for the individual. Since most of the guys (about 80 percent) had been to Defense Language Institute (DLI) in California, they had the ability to pick up languages. In this remote area, the local population did not speak English (like Germans near most large American Bases). Therefore, Americans had to learn German. Because the troops tended to use German as a location slang, the process of learning very passable German was achievable in about two to three months. Within a year, the silver-tongued devils were as adept as the local guys at wooing and winning the fraulines in the neighboring towns. We became close with the Rimbach neighbors.
Lodging varied from people renting a single room in a guest house with no cooking facilities, to several guys living in a large farm house (as if it were a college fraternity house). Most rented small, two- or three-room apartments. We received movies three times a week and had a room in the basement of our rented HQ building located in Rimbach. Other than a bit of American food, a few movies and each other, all life was centered about things German.
In 1970, one ASAer asked the village mayor, “Why does Rimbach not have a beer festival?” The mayor explained that the town needed a sponsor organization to host the fest and take the financial responsibility for the event. He also explained that the village had mostly farmers who could not leave their animals for three to four days to put up and take down a large beer tent. They did not have enough spare labor and did not wish to take the risk to pay someone to do the work. Therefore, there could not be a festival for poor Rimbach.
To that came an ASA reply like a rally cry, “Bull Shit! I’ll have 100 ASA guys to put up and take down the tent. We live here and it is our responsibility to do what we can for the village. Labor is no longer a problem for the Rimbach Beer Fest. What else is a problem?” And so, six weeks later the first “German-American Friendship Festival” was held. Success was assured because of the 200 Rimbach-Americans drank to insure that the fest would and should continue.
When the American left in 1975, it was a loss to the economy of Rimbach. But the ASA troops left a structure that was to grow and thrive. The extra rooms that people built to house Americans were added to a growing number of guest houses for German tourists. The village has since expanded its tourist economy and is one of the major attractions in the area.
At the closing of the site and in recognition of the contributions to the village, Rimbach dedicated a large black granite monument as a memorial to the ASA and the AF Security Service. This was left as a reminder to their future generations that Americans had once lived in Rimbach and they left more than they took.
IV. Associated Sites
On the Hoher Bogen at Eckstein, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of France maintain sites next to the American site. The Germans had a site much like Det. K, but in 1970 they built a 16-story tower (with the antennas in the top crown of the tower). The German air force and army had troops that were stationed in a neighboring town away from the ASA and they were at the station for 24-hour shifts. They had sleeping quarters, mess hall and other facilities within the tower. Not much is known about their operation. They changed shifts at 4 p.m. every day. The French air force had a sealed compound within the German compound. The Germans had security for the outside of the total compound. The French troops were required to all live in a barracks in the Border City of Furth-im-Wald. When any of these three sets of troops happen into one another, there was a feeling of knowing each other’s business, but not really knowing.
V. Captive Personnel
As a side note, one of the concrete antenna mounts had an inscription (by an anonymous ASA veteran) in the concrete: “To the Men of Det K who lived and died for freedom.” This was maybe a tongue-in-cheek statement. No one known to the author died at Eckstein from military activity.
VI. Known Major Engagements
Many ASA sites have had their moments in history. The folks working the Cold War in Homestead, Fla., during the Cuban Missile Crisisa rate as one of the foremost moments in ASA history. Although, this is nothing compared to the ASAers who were in direct combat in Korea, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam and other places. However, Eckstein and world history came together a few times.
Without speaking directly about the operations at Eckstein, there were two major world events when Eckstein was very much in the focus of the SIGINT world. There might have been others, but these two were the first Czech Invasion and the Yom Kipper War.
The tradition of Eckstein ASAers of 1968 held true for the Eckstein Class of 1973. During the worldwide crisis, drinking, whoring and whenching took a back seat to volunteered 12-16 hour shifts. The troops were never asked to work overtime, they just stayed until exhaustion took over. Then catch four hours sleep, eat and return. It was the day for this group of ASAers to stand in the breach. If the Cold War had turned hot, the mission of Eckstein made it a priority target. But the 1973 troops were there standing tall, just like the crew in 1968. (Upon the cooling of hostilities, the drinking, whoreing and whenching resumed at a normal level.)
VII. Time Table
08/57 — First big Warsaw Pact exercise in Czechoslovakia.
03/58 — Site selection for late summer exercises.
07/58 — Tactical ASA troops on the Hoher Bogan at Eckstein summit.
1965 — Year-round troops assigned.
08/68 — Prague Spring Russian invasion.
03/72 — Transfer from Herzo FS to Augsburg FS (DET K to DET N).
06/72 — Construction of the enclosed site.
09/73 — Yom Kipper War.
03/75 — Construction on microwave tower and barracks start.
12/75 — Troop pull back to Augsburg starts.
01/76 — Site operations and personnel transfer to Augsburg.
01/76 — Maintenance group moves to mountain and guards the La Faire Vite site.
1977 — ASA decommissioned and control transferred to INSCOM, U.S. Army Intelligence.
04/93 — The SIGINT mission at Eckstein, Det K on the Hoher Bogan, Rimbach, Germany, ended. Eckstein closes.
The history of Rimbach as an ASA site is a small part of the total ASA story. However, it was a small, representative fragment of what the ASA was in total. A bit crazy, offbeat, unconventional, marching to different drummers, were all phrases used to tell the mood and character of Rimbach. Life there was very good for the person who wanted the overseas experience. Border sites and mobile, tactical troops seemed to signify the changing environment that was service with the Army Security Agency. The Eckstein border site is closed, but the fond memories remains in the hearts of those privileged few that were able to call Rimbach home.