CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Korean War Oral History Interview
US Army, Army Security Agency
Date: June 21, 2018
Interviewer: Carol Fowler, Kristine Galassi
Summarizer: Hayley Branstrom
Noel Kirchner was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1931. He remained in New York while growing up. Kirchner recalled that he had never left the state until he enlisted in the United States Army when he was 18 and a half years old. His family line included few war veterans prior to his own enlistment. He stated that they were lucky in that the ages of his relatives did not align with the outbreak of previous wars; and, that he had only had one cousin serve before him. When war erupted in Korea, however, Kirchner felt that he had to do something to help, so he enlisted in the Army in August of 1950.
Kirchner completed basic training at Fort Dix, where he and all the soldiers training with him completed an aptitude test, which informed Army officials of what work a given soldier was best suited for. After taking his test, Kirchner was approached by a recruiter from the Army Security Agency (ASA). He remembered accepting by saying “‘Sure, why not?’ because “[he] didn’t know any better.”
Much of Kirchner’s Morse Code interception training and stateside work was conducted at Fort Devens in Massachusetts. While there, he listened for messages from the enemy as well as transcribed them, in addition to listening for their signals and attempting to triangulate their location. Kirchner and other ASA members would do this work for 8-hour shifts every day. As tedious as this may sound, he stated that it was good training, because he learned Morse Code; and, he learned to type well. To do this work, Kirchner needed to receive a high security clearance, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) interviewed his friends, family, and neighbors, causing some of them to worry that Kirchner had fallen into trouble, prior to his acceptance in the ASA.
During his stateside training and work, Kirchner also spent time at Camp Gordon, near Augusta, Georgia. This location provided a cultural shock for the New York native. Even though he is not African American, he was used to his diverse hometown of Brooklyn; and, while the United States troops were no longer segregated, civilian life in the South still was. Kirchner did not recall any African American soldiers in his unit, and going off the base was very strange for him. Despite this, being in a new location was exciting for the teenaged Kirchner, who still remembered Augusta’s golf course.
It is well-known that the general public often does not know the full truth of the events that are occurring in a war overseas. Kirchner’s interview revealed that even servicemen working to decode messages from the adversary were largely unaware of the true details of what happened in Korea. He got his information on war developments just like everyone else, from the newspaper.
Kirchner was deployed overseas in the fall of 1951, as a member of the 329th Communications Reconnaissance Company. The company was sent from Camp Pickett, Virginia to California and then to Yokohama, Japan and then finally to Pusan, South Korea. The first thing that he recalled from his arrival was the smell of the air. Kirchner stated that, at the time, many Koreans used human waste to fertilize their fields and gardens. While in Pusan, he was struck in the thigh by shrapnel due to the accidental explosion of a grenade. His unit then operated in and around small towns and villages such as Chinc’hon and Chi Pori. When Morse Code interceptors were in the field, their equipment was set up in the back of or mounted atop trucks so that it was transportable, and the men could work within the trucks themselves. The 329th, and later the 326th Company that Kirchner was transferred to, were non-combatant units. Regardless, the veteran spoke of how he often felt endangered by his situation in a combat support unit.
Kirchner served in Korea until early 1953, when he was transferred to the 8603rd Army Auxiliary Unit stationed in Okinawa, Japan. He remembered that while the Japanese people were generally friendly, they tended not to be very “forthcoming.” Kirchner added that civilians did not seem to openly resent American soldiers for being in Japan, despite it being so soon after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His service on the island was only a few years after the end of World War II; and, there was abundant evidence of the conflict, including destroyed buildings and wrecked military equipment scattered around. After serving in Okinawa, he returned to the United States and received a Convenience to the Government Discharge in August of 1953. His total service was 2 years, 11 months, and 15 days. Kirchner was awarded the United Nations Service Medal and the Unit Commendation Medal for his service in Korea.
Upon returning home, Kirchner was able to take advantage of GI Bill benefits when he attended accounting classes at night after working as a clerk during the day. He then worked as an accountant in the garment industry for the rest of his career. At the time of this interview, Kirchner was a member of groups that connect veterans, including the Jewish War Veterans Post 125 in Ocean Township and the Seabrook Veterans Group. He was also in contact with other veterans on veteran social media pages. Kirchner enjoyed communicating on websites such as ASA Korea, even if many of the veterans served in Korea after him, because, as he stated, “Us old folks are drifting out.”