I have no trouble telling people that (for the most part) I am a Libertarian (who leans very right when it comes to support for our U.S. Military). Whether I believe in what you do or not, until your rights start stepping on mine, I’m probably going to leave you alone. I expect the government to do the same thing. However, the more I study terrorist groups like ISIS and the more I visit with military men like Erath County’s Frank Saunders, the more I wonder if maybe…just maybe…I’m too rigid in parts of my thinking. Maybe America does have a role to play and a presence to keep in other parts of the world…maybe…
Frank Saunders lives in Erath County, Texas, and he is a character. There’s no way around that, and Dublin’s Janella Hendon told me so when she suggested I call him. He’s 80+ years young, and he’s been around the world and back again…literally. These days, the career navy man staggers and he falls from a brain tumor, but his mental capacity certainly never staggers or even waivers for that point.
“I was born when the Bonus Army was camped out in DC. The men were promised a bonus for their service n WWI. They were angry, and they were hungry so they camped out in the capital.
“Hoover called them rebels and told Mac [McArthur] to take care of them. Eisenhower would have gotten them out of there in the right way. Instead, Patton got the call. and he took tanks and rolled over them…killed about 6 of them. So, most became beggars, which ruined the dignity of hard working people.
“At that time, we were an agricultural people, and that’s all we knew. ‘Government’ promised them the bonus, and it did not come.”
Frank joined the navy reserves on Valentine’s Day 1950. He was 17 years old and had no permission to join.
“I just went with a friend one night, and they made me a reservist…no training or anything. I was a reservist. Mr. Claude Bloom, my history teacher, had convinced me that I should do something in life that would leave an impact, and so it was with the inspiration of Mr. Bloom that I decided to join the service.”
Of course, this is where I found our first major generational difference. Can you just imagine what I would have done if Dusty Jones at the age of 17 had skipped off to blithely join the military?!! And yet, as I type today I am also watching a Senate hearing filled with testimony about what we should do to protect ourselves from ISIS and as you might expect, the hearing has been interrupted time and time again by war protestors, wanting the U.S. to remain idle.
The question lingers in the air. Aren’t we putting Americans at unnecessary risk if we refuse to fight these terrorists until they here are on our own soil?
“And then in June something came along to change the world,” Mr. Saunders’ words brought me back into our story.
Of course, he was referring to Korea, that war that we couldn’t even bear to call a war, coming on the heels of WWII.
“By June, I had quit work because I thought I was going to be on active status. I wrote a note to the boss, who happened to be my dad, that he should have my pay ready on July 4, . Then, I took off to Oklahoma to see my Grandma before going into the service.
“My friend and I came back, picked up my uncle, and the three of us drove to California and rented an apartment ‘under the basement.’ It had to be under the basement because it cost us five bucks apiece, and we had to pay that on a loan because I had $1.63 and a bag of dirty clothes when I returned from Oklahoma!”
BUT he still had not been called into the service.
“The draft didn’t hit on me because I had joined at 17 and it didn’t see me.”
As it turned out, Frank Saunders spent most of his military career in intelligence.
“When I was placed in my navy job, they told me I was a CT. They told me they didn’t know what that was but whatever it was, I was going to be one.”
Frank came to know that CT stood for communications technician. There were four variants when it was first established.
M—people who built crypto systems
O—operators people who had moved from copying Morris code to teletype operators
R—people who listened to Morris code and wrote what they heard
“We were primarily interested in Russia in that era and scared that communism was eventually going to rule our country. Later, we changed the letters because of tech changes. In order to break the codes, you need to look at a huge mass of info in a hurry.”
It was the knowledge Saunders gained from his experience as a CT that led him to know that “FDR knew positively that Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor. It is questionable as to how much time FDR had and how much time it took to get the word up the chain of command to him, but he knew.”
Quite a bit of Saunders’ time was spent in Turkey, (after we authorized military aid for them) and this is where I had a question. “Why are we giving them money, and why did and do we need a base in Turkey, anyway?”
“Partly for oil, but mostly because Russia can’t get into deep water without going through Turkey. They can’t get their fleet out of the black sea without this. We wanted a base there to keep watch. Most of us who went there came out of naval security,” Saunders explained.
Of course, if you are as old as I, you will remember that we were frightened to death of the Russians once upon a time, and now I understand when and why we got into bed with Turkey. The military aid was to keep Turkey allied with the U.S. That answers one question.
“Now we have intelligence ships just like the Russians do. We watch the Russians, and we play war games with the Russians. Sometimes they get pretty stiff. We have a number of those ships that we send out to sea just like the Russians do. I designed and built instruments that were used on the intelligence ships. Some of the people on those ships now were students of mine.”
Because Mr. Saunders’ story is so long with so many twists and turns, I have omitted the love of his life, the only girlfriend he has ever had, the mother to his five children, and the woman that he says is his life “for real.” Frank left for Turkey, leaving a very pregnant Sheila behind. However, she followed…actually she more or less hitchhiked her way to Turkey just as soon as the baby was delivered.
“We had the first sit down toilet in Yalova, Turkey,” the man laughed. “We were in Turkey for two years, and we came home with a Turkish daughter!”
Saunders and his wife returned to the states, heading for Maryland.
“I was in the intel collection business, I was an engineer, and I was a school teacher. Once we learned how to use satellite communications, we built a system so we could shoot a signal, hit the moon, and bounce it down from Maryland to Hawaii and back.”
Mr. Saunders was actually in Maryland to build a school, which means to build the curriculum, raise funds, etc. for navy reservists.
“In order to have a strong nation you have to have a bright, strong military. These students went on to work for IBM, if you know what that means. We wanted a way to keep our brightest people, and this school was one way of doing that.”
Then, in 1970, Saunders began a tour with the NSA.
“We took 4 ships into the Black Sea just to let the Russians know that those are international waters. I could have stepped from our ship onto the Russian ship easily.”
And then, in 1979, during the Carter White House (“Which says it all,” he smiled a bit wistfully.), Frank Saunders decided to leave active duty after 30 years. He had worked with the FBI, the CIA, and the State Department.
“I’ve had such a blessed life. I was born in this country. There’s no other nation I’ve been to that has the freedoms we have in this country. I don’t need riches. My riches come from my life. Who would have dreamed that a kid who worked for 50 cents a day would have had my life?”
And to close, Frank Saunders recommends a book by Ronald Vail titled Fair Winds and Following Seas.
“He was my boss man when I came back from Turkey. You’ll even find a picture of me in his book!”
And at the end of the day, if we can stand and say that we have had a blessed life, what more is there anyway?