Dedicated to all those who served with or supported the 456th Fighter Squadron or 456th Fighter Interceptor Squadron or the UNITED STATES AIR FORCE
The secret WWII operation at “P.O. Box 1142” bears lessons for today
Unless you are one of the few remaining soldiers who worked at “P.O. Box 1142” during World War II, there is a very good chance that you have never heard of it.
An offhand comment from a park visitor unveiled the untold story of a secret Virginia facility where clever interrogation techniques and good old-fashioned eavesdropping helped secure victory in World War II. Now the Park Service is racing to unearth all the details before the last remaining witnesses vanish.
By Heidi Ridgley
Click on Picture to enlarge
It’s a steamy summer night in 1943 in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside the nation’s capital, and another Army bus with dark windows is rumbling down the George Washington Memorial Parkway, headed for a nearly forgotten fort dating back to the Spanish-American War. The frequent arrivals at Fort Hunt no longer raise an eyebrow among locals, who assume the newly constructed facilities, complete with barbed wire fences and guard towers, simply support a World War II officer’s training school. But there’s a lot more to the story.
More than 65 years later, the activities conducted at Fort Hunt are emerging as one of the best-kept secrets of the last century: The men and the few women assigned here took oaths of secrecy to their graves. When the government began bulldozing the 100 or so buildings in 1946, this quiet spot along the Potomac became a place for simple Sunday pleasures like picnics and softball.
Since 1933, the plot of land has been managed by the Park Service, but during World War II, the War Department took it over to house a top-secret military intelligence center, referred to then as P.O. Box 1142. The site included prisoner-of-war interrogation programs run by the Army and Navy known as MIS-Y (Military Intelligence Service-Y) and Op-16-Z (Operation-16-Z).
From July 1942 to November 1946, the U.S. military shepherded more than 4,000 prisoners of war (POWs) through Fort Hunt, housing, interrogating, and surreptitiously listening to the highest-ranking enemy officers, scientists, and submariners. Notable members of the Third Reich questioned here include rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, spymaster Reinhard Gehlen, and Heinz Schlicke, inventor of infrared detection.
The intelligence that American military personnel uncovered primarily focused on the Germans’ rocket and submarine technology, which was superior to the Allies’. It may have played a role in the decision to bomb Hiroshima and the subsequent victory for the Allies, helped rocket the United States to the top of the space race, defined Cold War strategies, and was a forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency. Amazingly, the site’s historical significance might have been lost forever had it not been for a serendipitous moment between a park ranger and a park visitor three years ago.
In late 2006, a ranger told a tour group about Fort Hunt’s history as part of George Washington’s farm, as a hospital and camp for World War I vets marching on Washington to demand their war pensions, and as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the 1930s, and one of the visitors offered, “My neighbor used to work here during World War II.” The neighbor’s name was Fred Michel, and he had since moved to Louisville, Kentucky. When park personnel phoned him, he revealed, “Yes, I worked at P.O. Box 1142 during World War II, and I’d love to tell you everything about it,” recalls Vincent Santucci, chief ranger at George Washington Memorial Parkway, the park unit that oversees Fort Hunt. “We did some great stuff there,” Michel told park staff. “But I signed a secrecy agreement.”
P.O. Box 1142 documents were declassified in waves, starting in 1977 and continuing through the 1990s. “But no one had told the vets that,” says Santucci. “They lived in isolation, not even telling the closest people in their lives.” P.O. Box 1142 veteran Wayne Spivey, 89, a chief clerk who managed the database of information gathered during Nazi interrogations, says, “I didn’t tell anybody because I didn’t think anybody would believe me. When people asked me what I did during the war, I told them I was stationed at P.O. Box 1142,” he says. “One fellow thought I worked for the post office, and I just let it go.”
To assure veterans like Spivey and Michel that they could talk freely, Santucci and other Park Service personnel had to go to great lengths. As far as these veterans knew, their work at P.O. Box 1142 remained classified, their sworn oath to secrecy still a matter of national security. Then, about two years ago, Santucci appealed to the military intelligence community for help. The result: The chief of Army counterintelligence wrote letters to each veteran, encouraging them to share their stories with the Park Service, telling them, “We need to preserve the important information and the lessons learned from the work that you did,” says Santucci.
It wasn’t a moment too soon. In fact, with so few World War II vets still around, it’s actually about 10 years too late, says Santucci. “This information is going extinct like an endangered species,” he says. (Fred Michel died as this article was being written.) “The things these veterans told us need to be in the history books,” he adds. “We’ve now interviewed more than 50 veterans, and we’ve found out about multiple top-secret programs.” But those who worked in one program didn’t know about the other programs or even what others in their same program were working on. “It was very compartmentalized,” says Santucci. “That’s the way intelligence works.” Further confounding matters is how hard it is to track down living vets: Separated by their secrets, few stayed in touch.
But this much we know: P.O. Box 1142 housed two military intelligence programs in addition to MIS-Y and Op-16-Z. The MIS-X (Military Intelligence Service-X) program helped American personnel overseas to evade capture and communicated with those held captive. This was the stuff of James Bond—or Hogan’s Heroes. The duty of an American POW was to escape or cause enough chaos in the prisoner camp to keep the German soldiers preoccupied and off the frontlines. With the help of several manufacturing companies, personnel at 1142 sent care packages to American POWs containing items like cribbage boards and baseballs with radio receivers that could tune in to the BBC for coded messages. Decks of cards, pipes, and cigarette packs might contain hidden escape maps, saws, compasses, or money to help POWs escape.
Another key program was MIRS—the Military Intelligence Research Section—which studied documents to support tactical decisions but also aided efforts to extract information from POWs. This group armed American interrogators with details that made them appear to know far more than they actually did. For example, after Army researchers spotted a newspaper photo of German General Erwin Rommel surrounded by other generals at his daughter’s wedding, they used it to corner a general who was eventually captured and delivered to 1142. “An interrogator would say, ‘We already know most of the information we need,’” says Santucci. “‘And by the way, how was the wedding? We know you were standing next to general so and so, who was also captured and gave us plenty of information, so you might as well talk.’”
Personnel also interrogated prisoners and monitored them covertly. “They even bugged the trees,” says Santucci. “Although it’s hard to believe they called them bugs—they were two-feet long.” Often the agents eavesdropping had little or no understanding of the details they were recording or the significance of the information, which was then passed on to other agents. Take the V1 and V2 rockets, the weapons of mass destruction at the time. Set on a course toward England, the world’s first long-range missiles flew until their engines gave out and then simply fell wherever they were. At 1142, monitor Werner Moritz recalled overhearing two German naval officers talking in their room: “Don’t worry, once the work at Peenemunde prevails, Germany will be victorious.” It took the Allies about a month to determine Peenemunde’s location, where the rockets were being made; soon after the British bombed the site.
In another instance, George Mandel, now 85, was assigned to a POW working on purifying uranium, though at the time Mandel had no idea why. “In my mind, I was just writing reports,” he says. “Of course months later, when Hiroshima happened, it all made sense.”
At first, the prisoners were primarily U-boat captains and crew members who had surrendered in the Atlantic. But as the war’s end neared, prominent scientists surrendered or were recruited with the promise that if they talked, they could pursue their studies in the United States. “The Russians captured more German scientists than the Americans,” says Santucci. “But we captured the hall-of-famers to help in the Cold War.” One such person, believed to have passed through 1142, was Wernher von Braun, the rocket scientist who would eventually become a key part of NASA’s efforts to put a man on the moon.
General Reinhard Gehlen, Hitler’s top spy against the Russians, also surrendered to the Americans and ended up at Fort Hunt. “He probably should’ve gone to Nuremberg and been prosecuted for war crimes,” says Santucci. “Instead he became chief of Russian counterintelligence during the Cold War. That could be another reason why the military wanted to erase the things that happened at Fort Hunt years ago.” Mandel says Nazi party membership was overlooked in some cases because the U.S. military was already gathering intelligence on its next immediate worry: containing the Russians. “We didn’t like the idea that we were treating Nazis well,” says Mandel. “Many of us were Jewish—not necessarily religious—but we knew how the Germans had made life difficult for Jews in Germany. Still the feeling was that we should extract as much information as we could.”
In fact, many men stationed at P.O. Box 1142 were refugees from Germany—Jews who were young boys when their family fled from Hitler in the late 1930s. Some of them, like Henry Kolm, 84, lost relatives to the Nazis. These men were selected for their loyalty and their basic science skills but also for their proficiency in German and their cultural background, which could prove useful during interrogations. For example, Kolm recalls a conversation he had with one of his “customers” while playing chess. In an age when discussions of “enhanced interrogation techniques” have arisen regarding the Middle East conflict, POWs housed here were wooed with kindness and camaraderie. If they coughed up information voluntarily, they might get treated to a dinner in town or a shopping trip into Washington, D.C. In this case, Kolm’s colonel reminisced about his favorite remote mountain lake in Austria. Coincidentally, it was the same vacation spot Kolm’s father had taken the young Kolm, so he knew exactly what it looked like—down to the two small sleeping huts. The stunned colonel was convinced “ever afterwards that American intelligence had a dossier on every detail of his entire life,” says Kolm. “Very useful for my interrogation.”
Even as the war came to an end, the work continued. When Germany accepted defeat and the U-234 submarine surrendered at sea, the entire crew was transferred to 1142. Among the sub’s cargo: an unassembled jet fighter and a load of uranium oxide. “Not the stuff you could make a bomb out of,” says Kolm. But it indicated the Germans were on the right track. Interrogators found out the submarine’s destination had been Japan. “If that had gotten to Japan, we would’ve been facing kamikaze pilots flying rocket planes,” says Kolm.
Mandel recalls interrogating a prisoner about faster planes and proximity fuses that could blow things up simply by getting close to a target. “We didn’t have any of that,” he says. “German fighter planes suddenly became so much faster we couldn’t catch them. So I asked a German prisoner what was happening and he told me their planes didn’t use propellers anymore—they had jet engines.” It was this sort of technological ingenuity that almost allowed the Germans to win the war. But as we know, that didn’t happen. The Allies defeated Hitler thanks to innovative interrogation techniques at Fort Hunt. But the site’s crucial role in the war would have been lost forever had it not been for the persistence of park staff who, once they discovered the secret, doggedly pushed for more, realizing their race against time. “We’re losing the last generation of World War II vets,” says Santucci. “We need to find as many as we can and hang on to their stories. Thousands and thousands of books have been written on WWII, but what we’ve uncovered at Fort Hunt is changing what we knew about military intelligence history. It’s a shame it didn’t occur 10 years ago when more veterans were around. But we’ve got it now and we’re never going to let it go.”
SIDEBAR: TELLING THE REST OF THE STORY
Now that the secret’s out, there’s a big story to tell at Fort Hunt. The Park Service’s plan is to create a visitors center at Fort Hunt, perhaps in a 1903 building used during the World War II era—the noncommissioned officers’ quarters. If funding is found, park personnel plan to install interpretive signs, old photographs, and maybe even some war paraphernalia. Although the men who served at P.O. Box 1142 were instructed not to take photos or mementos, many veterans have a small stash that they have since shared with the Park Service.
The Park Service is also hoping to mirror the experience of those agents eavesdropping on the German POWs, by allowing visitors to don headphones and listen in as if they were monitoring a conversation. Using actual transcripts from 1142 recovered at the National Archives, they hope to hire native German speakers to record the original dialogue in the mother tongue, so visitors can listen in and read the English translation in front of them. For now, visitors will find little more than a public park with a flag, a plaque, and a few interpretive panels. But with any luck, the full story will be told here within a few years’ time.
The National Park Service
"P.O. Box 1142"
by Brig Gen Joseph L Shaefer
Click on Picture to enlarge
Memorial to The Men of "P.O. Box 1142"
Whatever topic I might have chosen for this year’s annual Veteran’s Day message was changed on 5-6 October, when I had the honor of speaking before a group of truly Honorable Men – men who have kept their nation’s secrets for 60 years.
The occasion was the first-ever – and possibly the only – reunion of the boys of “Post Office Box 1142.” The youngest of these veterans was 82, the eldest 94. Most had not seen each other since their unit was disbanded in 1946, when their secrets were classified anew, and the buildings and equipment they used were razed by bulldozers.
PO Box 1142 was a unit so secret that it was only referred to by the address to which the men’s personal mail might be sent. It was comprised of a few US citizens who, because of their heritage, their travels, or their studies were fluent in German, Italian or Japanese – mostly German.
These few were joined by many more who had escaped Nazi tyranny. They were refugees from well-to-do families who escaped with only the shirt on their back, as well as those of lesser means who had the foresight to stay one jump ahead of the encroaching Nazi sickness, and even one man who was already in Dachau and inexplicably released.
All came to America with a far more realistic, and a far more personal, understanding of the evil that was Nazism. All chose, not to cower under the protective shield of nascent American might, but volunteered to serve in the US Armed Forces – knowing they might be volunteering to jump back into the very hell from which they had escaped.
But service in the infantry or armor was not to be their fate. They were plucked quietly from their initial units and given top-secret orders to report to Fort Hunt, Virginia, now a part of the National Park Service’s George Washington Memorial Parkway.
At this location, just south of Alexandria, Virginia, , they were tasked to interrogate, interview, debrief, and secretly monitor the prisoner-to-prisoner conversations of high-level (mostly) German prisoners of war 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The prisoners they interrogated possessed the most valuable strategic-level information. They were rocket scientists (it was Box 1142 veterans who discovered the existence of the V-1s and V-2s at Peenemunde.) They were nuclear scientists, some of whose information allowed us to beat the Germans in producing a weapon to end the war. They were entire U-boat crews, which resulted in major leapfrog advances in US understanding of German codes and ciphers as well as sonar and radar advances. And there were many others, including the German general who would later go on to command the West German intelligence services during the Cold War.
The efforts of these interrogators, debriefers, and monitors shortened the war by an untold – unknowable – period of time. In this alone, their efforts saved many thousands of lives. Some of the nuclear knowledge gained may well have saved millions of lives, Allied and Axis, American, German, and Japanese, military and civilian.
Yet, to a man, these Box 1142 survivors were befuddled by all this attention 6 decades after, for most of them, their last days of service. “I was never even shot at,” one told me. “I was never in any real danger,” said another. “I did nothing special,” was the refrain from all.
Here were men, many of whom craned their heads to catch our voices with their one good ear, men whose vision paled in poor light, men who walked with difficulty or with assistance, men the nation forgot and never thanked, yet there they stood, prouder and taller, as the flag was unfurled and the national anthem was played. No resentment. No regrets. The arthritis in their hands disappeared as they placed their hands over their hearts or, seeing some of us do so, saluted smartly as the flag was raised.
A few made the military a career. Most went on to lead other successful and fulfilling lives, becoming doctors, lawyers, college professors (one the Chairman Emeritus of the Physics Department at MIT) and many other venues, including another who became a US Ambassador to five different countries.
But they were warned they must never speak of the things they did. The Cold War was descending and it wouldn’t do to let the Soviets know how much we knew. Or who the good guys were in bad places. So they never did. Not to their friends, not even to their families. Many of them had died in the intervening years so their family members came to represent them – and were stunned to hear of their loved ones’ accomplishments. “Never speak” meant never speak and a promise was a promise.
Every man or woman who ever volunteered or accepted their draft notice has stood on the precipice of the unknown. You’ll never know where the Great DOD Bureaucracy will send you. Yes, a few of us chose to assist in the decision by volunteering for one thing or another, but in fact, it is capricious fate or boredom on the part of some personnel officer that often determines our destination and destiny as much as any forethought or planning. “The needs of the Service come first.” It’s true, no one shot at the men of Box 1142. But thousands and thousands of men who may have been shot at and hit are alive today because these men did their job – a job which they alone were uniquely qualified to do.
To speak with such men today is an honor beyond words. Each of them give all the credit for their wartime successes to the comrades on either side of them, not to themselves. They didn’t see what they had done as exceptional; it was just “the right thing to do.”
I am writing these words from Paris, where my wife and I will attend the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Arc de Triomphe tomorrow, and we will then wind our way to Normandy. Maybe that’s why the dignity, dedication and, until now, the silence of the Honorable Men of PO Box 1142 stands uppermost in my mind. In France (and Belgium and Luxembourg) I have had the experience of meeting men and women who cried with gratitude and insisted I share a Calvados when I did nothing but show my US military ID upon entering their one-room museums in tiny forgotten villages.
“Vous etes Americain, Monsieur?”
“Merci, Monsieur. Merci.”
If elderly and gracious farmers and fishwives in the small towns of Europe remember all these years later and if their grandchildren still clean and care for the white crosses of fallen United States soldiers, can we do any less? Are there others we have forgotten as time and luxury and languor have overtaken us? Let us never forget a single one of those old men who straighten their backs when the flag passes by.
The unsung Honorable Men of PO Box 1142 kept their secrets for 40 years, until their stories should have been declassified. They then kept their own counsel for yet another 20 years before the National Park Service, as part of its Oral History for the American People program (and not DOD which, for shame, has forgotten these old soldiers) finally gathered them together for a first and perhaps last hurrah. How can we not show our respect and our admiration? If not for them, and the tens and hundreds of thousands like them, we would not be here today.
We stand on the shoulders of Giants, even if some of them stand only five foot four. They may find it painful to salute but they do it anyway. They may walk with a stoop, but they know when to stand, and how. They are Giants and we have been honored, if only for a short time, to walk with them.
Thank a Veteran, every Veteran.
Brig Gen Joseph L Shaefer
The Unapologetic Christian Conservative Patriot
P.O. Box 1142: Top-Secret Intelligence Gathering in World War II
Posted By laura On July 29, 2009
Just outside the limits of the nation’s capital, a top-secret military intelligence facility was created in 1942 with the task of interrogating high-value German prisoners of war. Code-named P.O. Box 1142, the facility was located at Fort Hunt, Virginia, on lands that had previously been owned by George Washington.
Many of Germany’s foremost scientific minds passed through P.O. Box 1142, including Wehrnher von Braun and Heinz Schlicke, the inventor of infrared detection. Not only did the camp aid in the Allied effort during World War II, the information obtained from men like von Braun had direct effects on the subsequent Cold War.
Despite its importance, P.O. Box 1142 remained a secret for decades following the war due to the sensitive nature of its operations. For 60 years, veterans who served there kept silent, sharing their experiences with no one. Recently, the surviving veterans were reunited at Fort Hunt, and a memorial was dedicated in their honor. And, for the first time, the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy officially recognized them for their work. At the 11th Annual Conference, two of these veterans – George Frenkel and Dr. George Mandel – shared their experiences at P.O. Box 1142. Moderating the panel was Brandon Bies of the National Park Service, who has led the effort to record these veterans’ stories.
George Frenkel:I was born in Berlin, Germany in 1919 and spent a very happy childhood in both Switzerland and Germany, mostly in Germany. In 1933, as I am sure you all know, Adolf Hitler came to power and a very trying period ensued for members of the Jewish faith. Eventually, because we were lucky enough to have family in the United States, we managed to emigrate, and I arrived in New York.
I spent four years in New York doing menial jobs because I was a high school graduate. Then I was drafted and was assigned – as a city boy from New York who had only seen horses off and on – to the horse cavalry. This was incidentally the division that made George Custer famous. Some of my friends have jokingly said that I was probably the last survivor of “Custer’s Last Stand,” but that was a little bit before my time!
I received my basic training in Kansas and was subsequently transferred to El Paso, Texas, where the 1st Cavalry Division was stationed. In those days many of the men in the 1st Cavalry, were refugees from the “Dust Bowl” in Texas and Oklahoma, who were excellent horsemen whereas I was strictly a neophyte. I did manage to ride a horse military style.
Because of my academic background (I was fairly literate in those days) I was assigned as the personnel clerk. But I felt that my proficiencies were not properly exploited because I was a speaker of both English and German. So I tried to get into military intelligence, but I wasn’t a citizen. I became a citizen only in 1943.
Brandon Bies:Dr. Mandel, could you similarly tell us when and where you were born and how you came to this country and a little bit about your early life in the United States?
George Mandel:Actually my early history is in many ways similar to what you just heard. I was born in 1924 in Berlin. My father was a decorated World War I officer, but he fought on the wrong side because he was fighting for the Kaiser. We thought that living in Berlin was perfectly fine except that we had some American relatives who said, “You have to get out of this place.” They said this because of our Jewish background, so we emigrated to the United States in 1937. I went to high school outside of New York City in Scarsdale, New York.
Then I went onto college. I decided to major in chemistry, largely because I had a high school teacher who was teaching chemistry, and I thought that was very exciting. I was in college just about three months when Pearl Harbor was bombed. At the time America had tried to stay out of the war until this happened. The question was: What do you do next? I was told that the development of science was extremely important in the national interest, and I should by all means finish my college education in chemistry, which I did. I got a bachelor’s degree at Yale.
As soon as I finished that, I was drafted and served in the infantry for basic training. When the Army discovered that because I had lived in Germany for some twelve to thirteen years and that I spoke German, they thought that might be of interest to the American war effort. Also they thought the fact that I could use a typewriter was very significant.
So I was pulled out of the infantry and was sent to an ASTP program (Army Specialized Training Program) at Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio where I was supposed to learn German in a couple of months, which was all right because I had been speaking it for twelve years. At that point, we started to get involved in German history and German philosophy. I was then transferred to a place called Camp Ritchie, which was a military intelligence school in northern Maryland.
Brandon Bies:I want to contrast a little bit about your two trainings. Mr. Frenkel went through this training a couple years earlier at the beginning of the war. Mr. Frenkel, if you could tell us a little bit about your initial military intelligence training?
George Frenkel:I stayed in the horse cavalry but eventually hoped to utilize my proficiency in German. I made efforts to get into military intelligence training. I was frustrated in that endeavor until such time that I became a citizen in 1943. Then I was sent to Ft. Bullis in San Antonio, Texas where I received Interrogation of Prisoner of War (IPW) training. I did very well, but I returned to the 1st Cavalry until such time that we went on maneuvers in Louisiana. It was there that I was grabbed without any previous knowledge on my part and was transferred to P.O. Box 1142.
There I was placed in charge of a contingent of enlisted men who transcribed monitored interrogations of naval personnel. At that time, interrogations were only conducted by commissioned officers. I stayed at P.O. Box 1142 for about half a year. Then for reasons unknown to me I was transferred to Camp Ritchie. So I went in the other direction. George Mandel went to Camp Ritchie first and then to P.O. Box 1142. I started at P.O. Box 1142 and eventually went to Camp Ritchie. At Camp Ritchie I was asked to join the faculty and lecture on German military subjects until I was transferred to Europe.
Brandon Bies:Dr. Mandel, if you could tell us a little bit about your experience in training at Camp Ritchie and how that led you to P.O. Box 1142?
George Mandel:Camp Ritchie at that point was a major interrogations center and dealt largely with trying to extract as much information as possible from captured German soldiers. The emphasis at Camp Ritchie was to find out information of military significance. For instance, the questions that we learned to ask were: “Who is your commanding officer?” “Where is the local machinegun?” To get very specific with war related activities. To our great surprise, while everybody else was shipped overseas, I was told that I would be going to a place near Washington where I had never been. That turned out to be P.O. Box 1142.
At P.O. Box 1142, because I had scientific training (though a bachelor’s in chemistry doesn’t make you a super scientist!) the idea was that I should be able to interrogate those technically proficient and expert engineers and scientists who were captured by the American military in Germany and sent to this country to try to get information that might be useful in the war effort.
All this was around the beginning of 1945. As you remember the war ended later in ’45, though nobody was at all sure exactly when that would be due to the Battle of the Bulge which was a big surprise to the American military. The war had suddenly taken a dangerous turn. It was not until the early part of ’45 that it was clear that the Allies were going to win the war.
Brandon Bies:Mr. Frenkel, can you give the audience some details about what your specific role was and what you remember about some of the German prisoners who were at P.O. Box 1142 early on?
George Frenkel:Well, the secrecy was very strict. I didn’t know where I was until I entered Ft. Hunt. I was assigned, as I mentioned before, to supervise the record that was established by the people working with me who transcribed the monitored interrogations and checked them out with the officers who performed these interrogations.
I never saw anything but my immediate daily work. I never saw any prisoners. I never watched an interrogation. I just received the recordings that were gained from interrogating these German naval prisoners. They were then processed and sent on. That was the extent of it really. It was only after I went to Ft. Ritchie when my military career really blossomed.
Brandon Bies:It is important to note that the microphones of the interrogations that you were listening in on were hidden.
George Frenkel:Yes, but even that I did not observe. I simply was confined to the space where the transcription took place.
Brandon Bies:So it is safe to say your job at P.O. Box 1142 was literally and figuratively compartmentalized. You didn’t really know what else was going on with other people’s responsibilities.
Brandon Bies:Now, Dr. Mandel, if we could talk a little bit about your experiences. Whereas Mr. Frenkel’s job was to work with these monitored conversations and interrogations, you were actually dealing with some of the prisoners yourself, correct?
George Mandel:Yes, that’s right. It was actually an amazing experience! I was put in a room to deal with some of the captured Germans who made some major contributions. My job was to find out exactly what they had done and to report to the War Department the information that was acquired.
It was amazing because I interrogated somebody who had been working on purifying uranium. I didn’t know why anybody would want to purify uranium. You have to remember that this was at a time before the atomic bomb was released. That information was totally secret. There was really no knowledge at all of what atomic energy could do with respect to the war. So I was interrogating this gentleman. He was very open because at that time, the European War was essentially over. For the Germans there was no hope. It was important for them to deal with Americans and the Allies because they didn’t want to deal with the Russians, which was the other alternative.
I was interrogating people about not only atomic energy. Though as I said, it really hadn’t been discovered yet. I was interrogating somebody else as to why was it that the new German planes were so much faster than our planes. I had never been in a plane. I thought that planes had propellers, but the Germans had used jet engines to power their aircraft. This was a major change because all of the sudden the speed of the airplanes was so much faster than what we had. This could have been a very frightening experience because superiority of the air was extremely important during World War II. We had acquired that because of our extensive bombing efforts, but there was now certainly a challenge that the Americans might lose the superiority of the air over Europe because of the fact that these planes were so fast we could not shoot them down.
Brandon Bies:If you could just really briefly tell us, Dr. Mandel, about one of the more famous characters that you interacted with at P.O. Box 1142?
George Mandel:Yes, you are referring to a man by the name of Werhnher Von Braun. One of the other activities was to deal with the fact that the Germans had developed an extensive rocket program. They were sending rockets over the English Channel to bomb London extensively. The person who was the leader and instigator of this program was Werhnher Von Braun. He was one of the men that I interrogated.
Because of his expertise, he had been told that he and his family would be able to work in the United States. He was sent to a place in Texas. He was one of the people, if not the most important person, to develop the rockets that eventually landed American people on the moon.
Brandon Bies:Mr. Frenkel, if we could talk a little bit about what you did after your time at P.O. Box 1142. What were your responsibilities in Europe at the end of the war?
George Frenkel:I was transferred to Europe after my stint as a member of the German Language faculty at Ft. Ritchie. I was assigned to a mobile field interrogation unit, an interrogation unit that operated at the Army group level. The Army group was commanded by General Bradley. I had sort of a three-part responsibility with a major focus on the interrogation of prisoners of war. It was strategic interrogation, which spanned a wide bracket of activities. For instance, we did a study of the effect of strategic bombing on the lines of communications in Germany. I also had a rather mundane job helping to assess the effects of trench foot on winter warfare and the prisoners who were located at the station at which I operated.
My initial duty station was in a small town in northern France, which was close to the Belgian border. There we worked in the strategic capacity until the armistice was signed. In 1945 we crossed the border into Germany and did a long walk with various intermissions, but we simply stayed until after the Potsdam conference. Then we were assigned to the American sector in Berlin. There we performed interrogations of not only captured military personnel but also famous and highly reputed Germans such as Professor Ernest Ferdinand Sauerbruch who was a splendid medical doctor, making major contributions in prostheses, surgical techniques, and diets for treating tuberculosis. This proved to be a very hapless episode. He was the famous German geopolitician whose son was murdered by the Nazis because he was remotely involved in the attempt at Hitler’s life.
Brandon Bies:Dr. Mandel, we talked a little bit about Mr. Frenkel’s experience after P.O. Box 1142. After the war, you had a few run-ins per se with P.O. Box 1142 experiences as well.
George Mandel:Yes, with the person that I interviewed about the atomic bomb project, except I didn’t know what the atomic bomb was at the time. I should mention that when I was still in college a lot of my colleagues were told that they should consider a position to go to a place called Oak Ridge and work for a company called Kellogg. I didn’t know what that was. I couldn’t find Oak Ridge on the map. The only Kellogg’s I knew was the maker of cereal. So I didn’t know why all these people were going to go down there. I said, “Can I go to?” They said, “No, because you are not an American citizen yet.”
I thought P.O. Box 1142 would be the end of my experience in military intelligence because I went back and got my degree in chemistry and then came to George Washington University as a scientist where I still am. But the experience that I had with military intelligence, promptly came back to me when I attended a scientific meeting in Paris where a lot of scientists were interested in biochemistry, which was my field. I was sitting next to a person who looked very familiar. He looked at me, and he also realized that he had seen me before. Suddenly it occurred to both of us. I heard him say to his wife who was with him, “My god, there is my former prison warden!”
Article printed from American Veterans Center:
Intelligence Gathering in World War-II
[Congressional Record: October 18, 2007 (House)] [Page H11759] POST OFFICE BOX 1142 RESOLUTION The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Moran) is recognized for 5 minutes.Mr. MORAN of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, from 1942 through the end of the Second World War, a top secret military intelligence service operated clandestinely on the shores of our own Potomac River. At Fort Hunt Park, along the GW Parkway, a secret installation operated silently in the shadows of our Nation's Capital.Known only by its mailing address, P.O. Box 1142, the men and women at this post provided the military intelligence that helped bring an end to World War II and gave the United States an early advantage in the Cold War.P.O. Box 1142 was an interrogation center. Throughout the war and its aftermath, the post processed and interrogated nearly 4,000 of the most important German prisoners of war.The men who performed the interrogations were drawn from across the country. The shared attribute is that they all spoke fluent German to be able to interact with their captives. Many were Jewish, to ensure their loyalty to America's mission. And most had friends and family battling on the front lines against Nazi Germany. To them, the war was personal and would impact their lives forever.Despite these circumstances, their interrogations never resorted to torture, used violence, or implemented cruel tactics to obtain the vital information required to support our Nation at war. Instead, their most effective interrogation technique was to start a dialogue to develop trust with their captives. They all talked with their captives, played card games, took walks, discussed their lives, and ultimately obtained the necessary information from their captives. Despite the apparent simplicity of these methods, these interrogations resulted in the discovery of most of Germany's secret weapons programs.P.O. Box 1142 learned about research to develop the atomic bomb, the jet engine and the V-2 rocket, all technologies that became essential informational components in waging the Cold War. The detainment and interrogation of high-ranking German officials, such as Reinhard Gehlen, who ran the German intelligence operations, advanced our military intelligence operations well beyond the Soviet Union's capabilities.In advancing the Nation's interests and uncovering vital secrets, the interrogators at P.O. Box 1142 never resorted to tactics such as sleep deprivation, electrical shock, or waterboarding. Their captives were never sexually abused, humiliated, or tortured. They never resorted to the methods that have recently branded our Nation so negatively. As a result of the war on terror, I'm afraid that America is now haunted by lasting images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. The current intelligence community can learn from the men of P.O. Box 1142. For all our sake, I hope it's not too late.Despite the vital work that the interrogators at P.O. Box 1142 performed, their activities remained closely held secrets by those who worked at the post. Many of these men never told family or loved ones. It wasn't until park rangers from the GW Memorial Parkway uncovered declassified documents and met former officers of P.O. Box 1142 that the operations that occurred at Fort Hunt Park during World War II became known.Under the encouragement of the National Park Service, these park rangers identified veterans of P.O. Box 1142. They conducted professional oral history interviews. The deeper the park rangers dug, the more obvious it became they had discovered a remarkable story that had remained unrecognized by the officers because of their oath of secrecy.After 2 years of work, the National Park Service decided it was time for the men of P.O. Box 1142 to finally be acknowledged. On October 5 and 6, the National Park Service held the first-ever reunion of the veterans of P.O. Box 1142 at Fort Hunt Park. The veterans raised the American flag in the post's original flag pole setting and memorialized the grounds.Today, I'm proud to play a small part in giving justified credit for the tremendous work performed at P.O. Box 1142. Along with my northern Virginia colleagues, Congressmen Tom Davis and Frank Wolf, I'm introducing a long, overdue resolution to honor the men of P.O. Box 1142.Mr. Speaker, I extend my appreciation to these veterans. The Nation owes a great debt to them for their sacrifice to our Nation during a time of war for their pursuit of critical intelligence, while maintaining the highest level of integrity and America's moral values, and for their intrepid actions that have, until very recently, gone unacknowledged.
House Resolution 753 IH
H. RES. 753
Honoring and thanking the soldiers that served the top secret units for the United States Military Intelligence Service under the project name `Post Office Box 1142'.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
October 17, 2007
Mr. MORAN of Virginia (for himself, Mr. TOM DAVIS of Virginia, and Mr. WOLF) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Armed Services
Honoring and thanking the soldiers that served the top secret units for the United States Military Intelligence Service under the project name `Post Office Box 1142'.
Whereas Fort Hunt Park along the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Fairfax County, Virginia has a long and storied history in the preservation of our Nation's security and safety;
Whereas the coastal defenses and cannon batteries protecting Washington, D.C. were stationed at Fort Hunt until its gradual abandonment after World War I;
Whereas on May 15, 1942, Harry L. Stimson, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Secretary of War, obtained from the Department of the Interior a special use permit which gave the United States military virtually unlimited use of Fort Hunt for the duration of World War II, plus 1 additional year;
Whereas the military immediately initiated construction of facilities to transform Fort Hunt into one of the more vital posts for intelligence gathering during World War II;
Whereas over the ensuing 4 years, two elements of the top secret Military Intelligence Service (`MIS') operated clandestinely at Fort Hunt, the MIS-X program that communicated with captured American soldiers to coordinate their escape, and the larger MIS-Y program that carried out the interrogation of prisoners of war vital to American interests;
Whereas because of its top secret operations, the post remained unnamed known only to its soldiers that served there as Post Office Box 1142;
Whereas the Army hand-selected intelligence officers for their ability to speak fluent German, many of whom had friends and family perishing under the tyranny of Nazi Germany;
Whereas the intelligence officers conducted interrogations of nearly 4,000 enemy prisoners of war and scientists;
Whereas these interrogations resulted in the discovery of many of Germany's secret programs, including research to develop the atomic bomb, plans for the jet engine, blueprints of V-2 rockets, and secrets originally destined for Japan before the end of global hostilities;
Whereas the work at Fort Hunt not only contributed to the Allied victory during World War II, but also led to advances in military intelligence and scientific technology that directly influenced the Cold War and Space Race;
Whereas the detainment and interrogation of high-ranking German officials, such as Reinhard Gehlen, a prisoner who ran the German intelligence operations in the Soviet Union, proved instrumental at aiding the development of U.S. intelligence operations on the Soviets during the onset of the Cold War;
Whereas the more effective interrogation techniques included entering into discussions with the captives, building up trust and not threatening violence or torture;
Whereas the current intelligence community is interviewing former Post Office Box 1142 interrogators to learn which humane practices facilitated the best intelligence;
Whereas the intelligence activities at Post Office Box 1142 were only recently uncovered after Park Rangers from the George Washington Memorial Parkway came across former soldiers and reviewed declassified documents about the top secret facility;
Whereas the top secret nature of the activities at Post Office Box 1142 remained closely held secrets by the veterans of the post, many of whom never told their families, wives or loved ones about the invaluable service they provided this nation during World War II;
Whereas under the encouragement of the leadership of the National Park Service, these Park Rangers identified the veterans of Post Office Box 1142 and conducted professional oral history interviews with over half of living members;
Whereas after two years of research and planning, the National Park Service held the first ever reunion for the living veterans of Post Office Box 1142 on October 5 and 6, 2007; and
Whereas at exactly 11:42 a.m. on October 5, the National Park Service and the living veterans of Post Office Box 1142 raised an American flag in the post's original flagpole setting, and forever memorialized the grounds as the home of Post Office Box 1142: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives honors and extends its sincere appreciation to the soldiers of Post Office Box 1142 for their sacrifice to our Nation during a time of war, their pursuit of necessary intelligence through humane means and their service that went too long unacknowledged.
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