Wallace R. Lonsway
Corporal-United States Army
Korean War (1954-1957), Inactive Reserves (1957-1963)
Wallace Lonsway was a “spook” for the United States. He worked on secret communications messages during the Korean War. Being interested in electronics since he was a child he not only developed skills on electronic equipment during the war but eventually became a successful electronical engineer working for the government. This expertise led him to a life of helping the war effort, his work and his family with electronic devices that changed lives for the better through communication.
Wallace R. Lonsway was born on September 6, 1936 in Sacramento, California. He grew up in Sacramento from a family of 6 children. His mother was a housewife and his father was a purchasing manager for PG. His older brother served in WWII in the Army with Signal Core. When the Korean War broke out he thought it was not necessary and too far away. Lonsway enlisted right after high school because he wanted to get a college education. Before joining the military he worked in manufacturing and installing of aluminum awnings. No one in his family went to college and he knew the GI Bill would pay for his education and a chance to have a better life. He also did not want to be drafted and sent to the infantry so he decided to enlist. His family did not mind he enlisted. He joined the Army Signal Core because he could enlist for three years in the military and in other branches you had to enlist for four.
Lonsway attended Basic Training in Fort Ord, California for a couple of months. He lived in an old building from WWII that was not in good shape so there was a lot of cleaning to do. Each room had bunkbeds with 30 men on each floor. There was a large bathroom that was shared. The food was tolerable but there was little sleep due to the rigorous hours. He learned how to shoot a rifle and do whatever he was told. He went on hikes, scrubbed floors and completed physical fitness tasks. The training was very degrading. The sergeants got you up early, called you names and tried to beat you down. In the end, he lost weight and was in better shape than when he came in. There were many minorities training with him and no segregation.
After Basic Training he went for specialty training at Fort Monmouth Army Base in New Jersey. He received training on electronic counter measures. Although he requested to become an IBM repairman, he was selected to be a “spook.” A “spook” listened in and analyzed electronic transmissions, radars, sonars and radio transmissions. He was not sure why he was selected. To become and IBM repairman, most people had to be enlisted for 6 years, have two years of college and pass an exam. During training he did not know what a “spook” was or what it meant. He thought it was general electronics training. His duties during training were going to class, studying and taking exams. Instructors taught about electrical laws and how to calculate them. He was taught how to operate various equipment and analyze signals. The equipment included radio receivers for different frequencies. He was not required to learn a foreign language. Lonsway lived in fairly new barracks with a mess hall on each floor. There were large rooms with beds and the instructors had private rooms. The food was good and there were no supply shortages. Communication with family was through letters. Morale was high during training but he did not want to go to Korea. At the end of training, volunteers were requested to go to Turkey and Lonsway was chosen. The rest of the class went to Korea.
Lonsway’s first assignment was at Sinop, Turkey in 1954. He worked for one year under Signal Corp which was an American Security agency. Only one of his classmates came with him. To get to Turkey, the ship stopped at many ports in the Mediterranean and Lonsway could get off and tour. Unfortunately, he had not been paid in 3 months because the pay records were not caught up so he didn’t do much sightseeing. By the time he arrived in Turkey he was broke. Military families were picked up along the way and many military men would babysit for extra money. The ship was for military sea transport and the families resided at the top of the ship. There was one incident in the ports that occurred while stopping in Athens, Greece. A group of Greeks that were illegal aliens were on onboard being deported back to Greece. They bought cigarettes from the ship and security caught one of them handing off bags of cigarettes to someone in a small boat alongside the ship. Security scared them off and 35 cartons of cigarettes were recovered that were given to the military on board.
Upon arrival in Turkey the people were friendly. Lonsway lived in town in a rented apartment and everyone pitched in to hire a cook. The food was good except for the milk. The milk was not pasteurized and many cows had tuberculosis. He was warned not to drink any milk unless it was powdered from the commissary. There were no food shortages except for beer. There were communication equipment shortages. The generator was inefficient and if it went down it would take days before parts arrived to fix it. Later diesel generators were used but still parts were difficult to get. For entertainment he would go to town and watch movies in the house with an old projector. He would hike, swim or rent a boat to go fishing. There was no base in Sinop but the military used a small Turkish radar building as headquarters. Overall, morale was high. Communication with family was through letters and took about 2 months to get home through the military but only 5 days through the local post office. Phone calls were expensive and done at the local phone company. Many of the Turkish people spoke English because the government had a program to teach them the language. Most people under 20 years old spoke some English.
Lonsway’s mission at this assignment was to listen to radio broadcasts and record them. He was very close to the Black Sea and Crimea, where Russia had their fleet. The Russians were doing missile testing there. He recorded transmissions but could not discuss what the military was trying to find out because it was top secret. The shifts were 8 hours with 24 hours off. During his shift he would go to a building and listen to radio transmissions. He was not officially working with allies but he was picking up information from Russia. The British Airforce Unit got along well with the Americans and would alert them if something was going on. Lonsway remembers, “They would say, you better pay particular attention to certain directions and certain frequencies.” There was one incident when transmissions were gathered from a Russian submarine that had come close to shore. The Turkish radar station was informed and picked up the transmission. A man was coming ashore in a rubber boat and was arrested. The Turkish felt he was from the submarine and he was hanged. Lonsway attended the execution which was a difficulty event to watch.
To get leave military papers had to be filled out. Lonsway went to Istanbul one time. He did not suffer any injuries during this assignment. He did recall a humorous incident while stationed in Turkey. After the first lieutenant got transferred another lieutenant took over who was very strict and wanted to make changes. He required all military personnel to move into a hotel so he could shape them up. The men were required to attend a dress up dinner one day and take out their uniforms. They started complaining, and then decided to skip the dinner. The men got all dressed up in their uniforms and after drinking too much staggered down the street. They marched around, which they were not supposed to be doing. The stumbled upon Turkish soldiers taking down their flag at city hall. One of the men took it away and showed them how it should be done with dignity, putting the flag back up the pole and then bringing it down, just like an American flag and then gave it back to the Turkish soldiers. Later that night the Mayor showed up to talk to the lieutenant and the men never did it again. Overall, the men got along, had fun and trusted each other.
During his time in Turkey, Signal Corp was taken over by the American Security Agency (ASA). His responsibilities did not change but the attitude of the men on base did. Signal Corp had a policy that you could pick where you wanted to go when you came back to the United States. When ASA took over the policy changed and they told the men they would send them where ASA wanted them to go.
After being stationed in Turkey, Lonsway’s second assignment was at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. When he arrived he was treated well by fellow Americans. The living conditions were difficult because the barracks were hot with no air conditioning. At this time he was Private First Class and then promoted to Corporal. The mission was to test new electronics equipment. He also was required to assist a civilian research department on base and test their equipment. During this assignment, he was sent to Louisiana to practice war games in the area of communications. The whole idea was to disrupt communications between teams. The other military personnel had not been trained and did not know what to do if someone jammed their equipment while receiving transmissions. Lonsway was too efficient in this area so he was sent back shortly after that.
During this assignment he received additional training in Washington DC at the Navy Countermeasure School for three weeks. The goal was to discuss ideas on how to improve the Navy’s training and discuss any new ides they could use. Lonsway received a citation and good conduct medal after his service in Arizona.
Many friends were made from his service. He had a close friend form Fort Monmouth and served in Turkey together. He was best man in his wedding and they kept in touch for years until he passed away.
Lonsway was released from service on September 9, 1957. The Korean War officially ended in 1955. There were no celebrations when the war was over. He feels it was because the Korean War was never really over officially. He stated, “Most wars are finished with a surrender. The Korean War was a cease fire by both sides.” He was happy it was over and could go home. He had always wanted to go to college and now it was time. He knew the GI bill would pay for college. After his release he was too late to start college that semester so took time off then attended to Sacramento Jr. College and received an AA degree. He then went to Chico State and obtained a BS in Electrical Engineering. He graduated in 1962 and went directly to work at Mare Island for the Department of Defense. He worked on repairing submarines for the government. Since he had Top Secret Clearance he was later assigned to work on ocean engineering which involved special projects for submarines, diving and rescue systems. Some of the work he did was similar to his duties in the army. He was in the inactive reserves from 1957-1963.
In conclusion, Lonsway learned there are a lot of things he had to put up with and it was important to just get through it. He does not believe going to Korea served any purpose. He stated “They should have gone into the war and won. I don’t think they were trying to win.” He feels everybody in the United States should be required to serve. He explains, “You see a lot of people with different outlooks on life. Do research before you go in so you know what you are getting into. Get things in writing. Look for something that will give you training for later on in life.” His knowledge of electronic devices was crucial to the war effort and advancing his career. The skills he learned from his time in the military lasted him a lifetime.
Interviewed by Anna Lonsway May 28, 2016.