Air Force Featured Stories

Service in Silence: Trustworthy Airmen chosen for select, island hopping squadron

  • Published
  • By Lori A. Bultman
  • 25th Air Force
Silent service seems to be the common thread shared by alumni of 1st Radio Squadron Mobile, who began meeting annually in 1999 to share experiences and rekindle friendships formed decades earlier. This year, the group met in San Antonio, Texas, and members were recognized at the 25th Air Force anniversary banquet.

“At the time we served, many scores of years ago, we naturally could not be recognized in any manner, while others were recognized for sneezing in the right direction,” said K Appelget, 1st RSM alumnus. “Hence, the very kind words expressed to all in attendance, and also the words expressed to me and others of our squadron before and after the formalities, were most gratifying.”

The 1st RSM has a long history, to include service in Japan during World War II and in Korea, according to the squadron’s online history. The 138th Signal Radio Intelligence Company was the first designation for the unit, which was activated on Valentine’s Day in 1942. In their early days, these mobile island hoppers bounced around the Pacific theater, setting up shop in remote locations such as New Guinea, Philippines and Japan. In 1993, after several iterations and in-activations, the 301st Intelligence Squadron was named and located at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

The youngest member of the 2016 reunion group, Appelget, said he knew the RSM airmen were part of something special.

“We had all the perks in the world. We knew what we were doing, and we were 18 and 19-year-old kids,” he said. “We knew we were a select unit, just not how select.”

One of this year’s attendees, LeRoy Blackbird, began his 1st RSM adventure when he volunteered for service in 1952. He said his family questioned that decision.

“My family said, ‘You are not drafted yet,’” Blackbird recalled. His voluntary enlistment was from 1952 to 1955, but the Reserve re-called him in 1960 until 1966. “I came to Lackland and it was a tent city. There were tents all over the place,” Blackbird said. “They said there were 100,000 in the tent city.”

Blackbird, who attended crypto school, said he would do it all over again if he had the chance. “I liked the service,” he said. “You get frustrated at something, but, just like being married, you get over it.”

Another 1st RSM Veteran, Frank Murakami, joined the Air Force in 1949, after spending time with his immigrant parents in an internment camp during World War II. Murakami said a buddy who wanted to get away from his family’s farm encouraged him to enlist.

“When we took the exam, I passed and my buddy flunked,” so Murakami was on his own. He went to radio operator training to learn Morse code, then continued to his first assignment in Tokyo, Japan. Murakami spent two years monitoring Morse code but then Korea started and things changed, he said.

While Murakami is unable to talk about the details of his service, he feels good about his contributions to the United States military.

“We were not able to share our accomplishments back then,” he said. “We were a select bunch, and it was good to know we did something important.”

In contrast to Murakami, Bruce Fitzpatrick came from a military family. His father was a pilot in World War I.

“I got to go up with him on occasion,” despite his mother’s objections, Fitzpatrick said with a smile. The younger Fitzpatrick entered the Air Force in 1953. He enjoyed his military experience and would go back in if he could.

“It is a learning experience and you get to travel,” he said, adding, “It is better than high school math.” But, Fitzpatrick emphasized security service is not for everyone. “They’ve gotta to be nice and they’ve gotta be smart to do it,” he said of young Airmen who want to work in ISR.

Fitzpatrick said the 1st RSM reunions help him cope with the past.

“It’s nice to see the guys for a day or two. We went through a lot in Korea and Japan,” he said. “You go and you see all that death at 18 or 19 years old, and it makes you think about life.”

The reunion group’s official photographer, James Smestad, joined the Air Force in 1948. He said the Air Force coaxed him into service with the offer of selecting a technical school. He wanted to be a photographer.

“I was number one in my class and was assigned to a B-29 photo mapping unit. There were 119 people there doing the same thing,” Smestad said, so he decided to actively search for a different unit.

“I found one outfit, Security Service, which was better than [Strategic Air Command]. First, you went to language school, then, in 1950, I went to radio school. Then, when the Army took Seoul for the third time, the Radio Squadron Mobile went in,” he said.

Smestad said he spent two exciting years in Japan with his RSM comrades and would not trade his time there for anything.

“We intercepted information and analyzed it, all in one room,” he said. “I loved Security Service. I loved what I did. We went to Japan as boys and came back as men.”

The young at heart veterans of 1st RSM will continue reminiscing at next year’s reunion in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where they to share more stories and create new bonds with their remaining, no longer silent comrades.