By way of introduction and background: I was in the 3rd Armored
Division's 12th Cav. from Feb. 1964 to June 1966, stationed in
Budingen, Germany, at Armstrong Barracks. My unit, the Delta
Helicopter Company, had ten Huey UH1-B's, two Sikorsky CH-34's,
four Bell OH-13's and a few fixed-wing observation aircraft.
Starting in 1965, Delta Company's main mission was to provide
a real-world (live ammo) training environment for pilots (officers
and warrant officers) on their way to Vietnam.
Pilot training included practice at evasive maneuvers, low-altitude
(tree-top) skills development, emergency flight operations (for
example: controlled crashes using no power and auto-rotation),
and weapons training using two side-mounted cannons and/or two
machine guns or other weapons on the UH1-Bs. My duties included
avionics repair (radio, gyroscopes, transponders, cockpit gauges/instrumentation,
etc.) and data processing (parts replacement for all aircraft).
When not in flight training with the pilots, I had the opportunity
to see a lot of Germany from the air as we shuttled the "brass"
between locations like Hanau Air Field, Stuttgart Air Field,
Frankfurt HQ, and several other U.S. bases scattered around the
Captured After Making Wrong Turn
Certainly the most interesting and bizarre experience of my
3-year Army career happened during January of 1966, when my Company
was included in Silver Talon, a massive field training exercise
(FTX) in which 22,000 soldiers participated. It was a very cold
winter in Germany. I recall eating C-rations warmed in a pot
of boiling water -- one of our few sources of warmth. I also
recall sleeping through the freezing nights on the bed of a three-quarter-ton
truck with a few others guys. We'd all curl up around the 50-caliber
machine-gun and its huge stand -- more steel to keep us from
getting too comfortable! I was one of the lucky few not to have
to spend those nights on the frozen and snowy ground in an almost-large-enough
During the mock battle portion of the exercise, which lasted
four days, our helicopters were running low on JP4 fuel. As a
SP5 acting NCO, I had the necessary rank to chaperone an unlucky
PFC in a deuce-and-a-half tanker to a fuel storage depot. As
misfortune would have it, at one point we turned the wrong way
driving through a small village and got "captured."
We gave the "enemy" our names, ranks, serial numbers
and dates of birth, and were promptly escorted to what appeared
to be an HQ or Command and Control facility. Many "enemy"
officers were there and they seemed to be controlling the movements
of units participating in the exercise.
Taking Stock as a POW
Our captors parked us within full view of a large, open, heated
tent, in which several radio operators were transmitting information
and orders to officers in the field. My driver was frightened.
We were told to stay in the tanker. Our captors would get back
to us. I recall seeing a large grease-board in the big tent;
on it were displayed the locations of units participating in
the exercise with indications as to where they were going to
be re-deployed. The place was a veritable beehive of activity,
with officers barking orders at the radio operators and continually
updating the information on the grease-board. No one paid attention
to us. If we hadn't been boxed in between a jeep and the trees,
we could have just driven away.
Taking stock of my new situation as a "prisoner of war"
who was virtually unguarded, I decided the best thing for me
to do was to reconnoiter the area. I got out of the truck --
leaving my less enterprising driver alone in the cabin -- and
strolled into the Command Center tent. I wanted to see if my
first impression was correct. It was indeed a strategic Command
and Control center, where the deployment of units was being managed
by some very big brass. These officers were so busy with their
duty that they never noticed me in their midst. I went back to
the tanker, got a pen and paper, and returned to the tent. Very
casually, I wandered around among the Command-and-Control people
and wrote down the number of every "secret" wavelength
the radio operators were using. When I got back to the tanker,
my driver had a fit. Didn't I know that what I was doing was
not authorized, that I could get us both in trouble!
Since we were a helicopter unit, all our vehicles carried
back-pack style radios to enable us to stay in touch at all times
with pilots who might need fuel or emergency maintenance. As
our company's avionics guy, I knew the active frequencies employed
by our UH1-B aircraft by heart. I dialed in a few of our standard
frequencies in an attempt to contact one of our pilots. My idea
was to pass on the frequencies I had just pilfered to our pilots.
They could then use them to monitor the "enemy's" operational
conversations, and in that way get the upper-hand on the bad
guys. Unfortunately, it turned out that because this was only
an exercise, none of the standard frequencies could connect me
with any of our good-guy chiefs in the field or elsewhere.
Sabotage and Resulting Panic
After giving half a second's consideration to the risk I would
be running, I determined to show some initiative and take matters
into my own hands. When I turned on the radio hidden behind my
seat, my driver went ballistic! Ignoring him, I tuned into one
of the "enemy's" command post frequencies and started
eavesdropping on what was happening. After a few minutes I was
ready to do what I could to be disruptive. At first I merely
diddled with my radio's "transmit" button, causing
intermittent noise at the other end; then I used my pen to scratch
By keeping this up, I caused any simultaneous conversation
to become completely garbled and totally useless to both the
officers in the command post and the personnel in the field.
Then I skipped around among the various "enemy" frequencies.
Whenever I heard someone attempting to transmit orders, I would
recommence scratching the microphone. After doing this is for
some time, I stopped to listen in again. To my surprise and delight,
I had created quite a stir -- indeed a panic! Officers were grabbing
microphones and saying things like "Whoever in transmitting
over U.S. Army bandwidths must stop immediately! You are tampering
with U.S. Government frequencies! You must cease your interference
immediately, or there will be severe consequences!" As I
listened I could see what was going on in the tent. The officers
My position as I saw it was that, as a prisoner of war, I
should do whatever I could to make life miserable for my captors.
So I continued with the scratching, occasionally listening in
to my victims' ever more desperate attempts to get "whoever
is doing this" to "stop immediately!!" I became
bolder and bolder. I stopped the scratching and began redirecting
units. I believe the nastiest thing I did was to allow a command
post transmission to be completed and then, after a short silence,
to send my own message to the receiving unit, annulling the message
they had just received: "Disregard that last order",
I would tell them peremptorily.
Getting Caught and Resisting
After I had been carrying on like this for a while, it was
clear the officers were extremely upset. I was making a real
mess for them -- and I continued doing so for about two hours.
Eventually I got caught. The command post officers gave me several
direct orders to open the tanker truck door, which was now locked,
and to hand over my radio. Each time I refused. Finally the officers
present summoned some other officers who were wearing red arm-bands.
They announced that they were "judges" who were scoring
the exercise, and demanded that I exit the truck. But I still
refused. I took the truck's red emergency flag, which looked
like one of their arm-bands, and wrapped it around my arm, to
show them that anyone could masquerade like that. "Why should
I believe that you're judges?" was my implied message. I
refused to do anything but repeat my name, rank, serial number,
and date of birth.
After half an hour or so, some "enemy" mechanics
showed up and literally wrenched the door off my vehicle. The
officers took away my radio and told me I was heading for a court
martial and was likely to be spending a lot of time in the military
prison at Ft. Leavenworth. They were extremely mad. They seemed
to want to see me punished in the worst way possible.
Appearance at JAG in Heidelberg
I don't recall exactly what happened next, or what happened
immediately after the exercise was completed, but I do recall
being back with my unit and explaining to my CO, Lt Col H. R.
Fuller, Jr., what I had done. He took down my description and
told me to go back to work at the Budingen Air Field. After a
few weeks I was told to go to our base HQ and see Lt Col Fuller
again. The CO announced that he and I would be going to Heidelberg
for a meeting with a few senior JAG officers. I recall getting
spit-shined, boot-bloused, and smartly done up with my yellow
neck scarf, and driving Lt Col Fuller to USAREUR HQ in Heidelberg.
He told me the purpose of the meeting was for me to explain to
the JAG brass "just what I thought I was doing and why I
was doing it". He said it was viewed as "poor judgment,"
and that I might have to face a court martial and possible imprisonment.
Needless to say, I was very worried.
At 21 my future looked decidedly grim. At Heidelberg we were
escorted to what looked like a basketball court in a gymnasium.
There were about eight chairs set out for the JAG panel with
two additional chairs facing them, one for me and one for Lt
Col Fuller. The JAG officers arrived and the inquiry began. Lt
Col Fuller introduced me to the board, who then asked him to
remain silent while they questioned me. I recall that the meeting
did not last long, and that my interrogators were not harsh in
any way. They asked the obvious questions; they wanted to know
exactly what happened, how I got "captured," how I
came to be left alone in the truck, how I obtained the radio
frequencies, why I did what I did, etc. I told them the story
as it is described above. The board members were calm and polite
and stuck very much to the point. They seemed very well prepared;
they knew all about the background of the case, my refusal to
obey several direct orders, etc. (Incidentally, to my knowledge
the tanker truck driver was never questioned.)
A Surprise Ending
The drive back to Armstrong Barracks, Budingen, was long and
silent. Lt Col Fuller did not discuss the matter, but his attitude
was supportive. A few weeks later I was called back to HQ. When
I arrived I found Lt Col Fuller and several other senior officers
waiting for me. To my relief, they didn't clap me in irons; instead
they congratulated me for the boldness of my actions, and presented
me with The Order of The Silver Talon!
I never heard a word regarding the fate of the Command Post
officers who had blithely allowed a POW to sabotage their mission
and communications. I did eventually learn -- privately and quietly
-- just how costly and disruptive my actions had been, and that,
but for the intervention of some intelligent JAG officers, I
might have finished my Army career in the Ft. Leavenworth prison.
Best wishes to all,
James L. Martin
[Jim is now retired from IBM after a career that included
marketing/sales, engineering, and management. His
framed Silver Talon Award hung in his office for years
on the top row of his civilian professional awards.]