Paul served in the U.S. Navy 1967–1971. He was stationed in Illinois, California, Texas, and on bases in Taiwan, Japan, and Maryland.
Author on Home Leave in March 1970
1970 Navy Memories of Being Assigned to Fort Meade, Maryland
From March through December 1970, I was attached to the Navy Security Group Activity NSGA and worked at the National Security Agency NSA on Fort Meade, Maryland. It was my last duty assignment in the Navy because I had decided to get out after my enlistment ended in June 1971.
In this article, I first reflect on getting duty assignment orders to Fort Meade when I was in Taiwan. Next, I recall my off-duty activities both on and off base from March through the end of 1970. Finally, I especially remember Navy and civilian colleagues who helped make my assignment pleasant before an early out on January 4, 1971.
Getting Duty Assignment Orders to Fort Meade, Maryland
I received duty assignment orders to Fort Meade, Maryland, at the end of 1969, two months before my 15-month Taiwan tour of duty ended. It wasn't a 15-month tour of duty. I spent five months on temporary duty to Japan before returning to Taiwan near the end of January 1970.
Although not unexpected, I still disliked the orders back to the United States. It seemed like a death sentence because my time spent in Taiwan was like being in heaven.
Back at Fort Meade, I would be on an Army base halfway between Baltimore and Washington D.C. My barracks would be spartan and open bay. I would not have a car and the expenses for wine, women, and song would be much more expensive than in Taiwan. It would also be boring having to spend most of my time on base.
Most of my Navy colleagues in Taiwan who also received orders for Fort Meade felt the same way. One guy, John D, convinced the Navy that he didn't have a job to do at NSA where we were all assigned to work. In pleading for an overseas assignment, he agreed to be sent anywhere, even Guam.
On March 1, 1970, I bit the bullet and was transferred back to the States. After two weeks of leave spent at home with my folks in Wisconsin, on March 15, I boarded a flight from Milwaukee Mitchell Field bound for Friendship Airport outside of Baltimore, Maryland.
Getting Accustomed to Fort Meade—March–April 1970
An airport taxi dropped me off at the Navy barracks on Fort Meade on the evening of March 15. The barracks along with other military barracks was a short walking distance from NSA.
After reporting to the Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD,) I was assigned a rack and foot locker on the second floor of a cement structure. My new living space was in an open bay area where about 40-50 other sailors stayed. This was quite a change from Taiwan where I shared a room with two colleagues.
I was a Communications Technician 2nd class (E5) and reported to work at NSA the next day. My job was easy and boring. Working hours were Monday–Friday 0700–1600 with one hour for lunch.
My immediate non-duty surroundings consisted of the barracks, a chow (dining hall,) and a small service club with a snack bar. Entertainment could be found at an Enlisted Men's Club on the other side of the base.
Off-base bars and nightclubs were found outside the base's gates near Odenton and Laurel. Baltimore and D.C. were other options, but you needed a car for transportation.
During the first week or two at my new duty station, I spent a lot of time in the service club. Soon after, however, my colleagues from Taiwan started reporting for duty.
Some of them had cars and I was now able to get off the base. One of my former colleagues from Taiwan, Tom R., introduced Rick and me to a bowling alley in Glen Burnie. Another colleague, Tom K., who had a new Volvo took me and other Navy buddies to a lacrosse match at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
After arriving at Fort Meade, I decided to get out of the Navy after my 15-month tour ended in June 1971. I also decided to travel back to Taiwan, A few days before I went back to the States, I met a Taiwanese woman that I fell in love with. Susan and my past pleasant experience in Taiwan drew me back to the island. To pay for my airfare and live in Taiwan without Uncle Sam's assistance, I needed to save money. I did this by not buying a car and spending a great amount of time on base.
Spending More Time Off Base—May–August 1970
In May I moved to an isolated cube on the first floor. Ray C. a returnee from the Philippines was my cube mate.
On the weekends, Ray tried to introduce me to tennis and golf. Since I had played neither sport when growing up, it was hilarious seeing me try to hit a tennis and golf ball. I gave up on tennis after one try but accompanied Ray and two other Navy colleagues onto the base golf course on a couple of occasions.
My problem with golf was trying to hit a golf ball like you hit a baseball. After playing one 18-hole round, my score was horrendous. I had more success, however, drinking beer on the 19th hole in the clubhouse.
Beginning in May and through October, the Navy scheduled monthly beer softball games for physical training. On a Friday afternoon, all NSA sailors were excused from duty and made a short walk to a ballfield on base. It was a lot of fun and we probably drank more beer than had exercise.
The Navy also had a Fourth of July picnic on base. The highlight of the picnic was the Navy pulling the plug on a Country Joe and the Fish antiwar song that was blaring.
I also started to get off base more often. This included military and colleague transportation to either Baltimore or D.C. on the weekends.
On Saturdays, the military had a free bus that alternated trips between Fort Meade and either Baltimore or D.C. I usually went to D.C. to visit monuments and museums on the National Mall.
On another occasion, the military had a free bus into D.C. for a Dionne Warwick outdoor concert.
Some of my Navy colleagues also took me to baseball games in Washington and Baltimore. I remember seeing the Senators play at RFK Stadium in May and then going to two Orioles games in July and August.
A civilian colleague, Tom C, made one weekend in July exciting by taking me and a colleague to the Block on Baltimore Street in Baltimore. We arrived in the early afternoon and spent a pleasant hour watching strip shows.
Preparing to Travel to Taiwan — September–October 1970
In preparing to travel to Taiwan after my enlistment ended, I needed to save money, get a passport and visa, and purchase an airline ticket.
After arriving at Fort Meade, I decided to save as much money as I could. As an E-5 with almost three years of service, I was earning about $350 monthly. I could save most of my pay because living in the barracks and meals were free. Since I had no car expenses, I only needed money for clothing and other incidentals that I could buy cheaply at the Base Exchange. By hardly going off base and avoiding expenses for wine, women, and song, I was able to save a great deal of money in nine months. $1,000 was used to purchase a plane ticket and I had about $1,500 in traveler's checks for Taiwan living expenses.
With a new passport in hand, I took a day's leave in October and traveled from Fort Meade to the Republic of China Embassy in Washington D.C. to apply for an entrance visa to Taiwan. Ray C. who was planning a trip back to the Philippines and needed a visa accompanied me to D.C.
After getting a visa, I had to wait to purchase an airline ticket until I knew the exact date of my early out. The Navy was reducing its manpower in 1970 and many sailors were getting big early outs.
When I found out my active duty enlistment was ending on January 4, 1971, instead of June 15, 1971, I purchased a Northwest Orient Airlines ticket from Milwaukee to Taipei, Taiwan, on or about January 21.
The Block in Baltimore
A New Cube Mate and Anticipating an Early Out — November–December 1970
November and December 1970 were the happiest months of my Fort Meade tour. I had a new barracks cube mate and was excitedly anticipating an early out from the Navy.
Around the beginning of November, I moved to a new barracks cube and became acquainted with John H. John had recently returned from Taiwan and like me was awaiting a Navy early out.
John had a car and was a happy-go-lucky guy. He was also kind and very generous. During our two months together, John often took me with him to nearby off-base bars like the 602 and Starting Gate.
For about one month, we both had a part-time job cleaning offices near Friendship Airport. John gave me transportation to and from work and on one Saturday in December, I accompanied him to a ski resort in Pennsylvania.
Toward the end of December, a Navy acquaintance had just reenlisted in the Navy and was at Fort Meade for temporary training. How can I forget the night he, other Navy colleagues, and I took a taxi to Baltimore and had an exciting time on the Block!
John and I got early outs on the same date and left Fort Meade in his car.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Paul Richard Kuehn