The Mystery of NYFLAKAGNEW!

Yesterday I re-posted a piece about the two Christmases I spent at Kagnew Station during 1964 -65.  It included the photograph above, taken in front of the PX located at the base.

That photo has appeared several times in the past on this blog along with the first names of the 3 guys other than me, one of whom passed away several years ago.  I identified myself as Toritto.

Well there is a group of guys out there who served in Asmara during the early sixties and I receive e-mails from many of those who were members of D-Trick.

About 8 months ago there was an e-mail in my in-box attaching the picture, copied to many others, wandering if anyone remembered a guy named “Toritto” at the base.  Who was that cute young man on the left?  The picture was apparently making the rounds of ex-ASA men!

I immediately fessed up  and stated it was I – Frankie S – the real Toritto of WordPress.

The mystery was settled.

And another arose.

Shortly thereafter, 7 months and 3 weeks ago according to my stats, I got a new follower.


My mystery follower visits regularly, likes posts but never leaves a comment.  He uses a thumb print as his Gravatar signature.

I haven’t a clue as to his identity.

Now I am a NYFLAKAGNEW by definition – I am from New York, now live in Florida and served at Kagnew.

But obviously its not me – but someone who purposely picked that Nom de Plume.

So give me a hint NYFLAKAGNEW!

Who are you?  Do we know each other from Kagnew?  Are you one of those who asked about the picture?  Are you one of those in the picture?

Who ever you are, thanks for following and best wishes for Christmas and 2020!


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Christmas at Kagnew Station – From The Archives – 2015

The gate at Kagnew Station


I spent the Christmas of 1964 and ‘65 at Kagnew Station.

Where you ask is Kagnew Station?

Kagnew was the 4th U.S. Army Security Agency Field Station in Asmara, Eritrea.

Yes. We had and still have troops just about everywhere.

The A.S.A. doesn’t exist as an independent military unit anymore.”The Agency existed between 1945 and 1976 and was the successor to Army signal intelligence operations dating back to World War I. ASA was under the operational control of the Director of the National Security Agency located at Fort Meade, Maryland; yes – that NSA.  The Agency  had its own tactical commander at Headquarters, ASA, Arlington Hall Station, VA.

Besides intelligence gathering, we had responsibility for the security of Army communications and for electronic countermeasures operations. In 1977, the ASA was merged with the US Army’s Military Intelligence component to create the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command.

We liked to call ourselves “snoops”. Asmara was located on a plateau some 7,600 feet high and we could listen to everyone’s regional communications.  We covered most of Africa, the mid-east, southern Europe and Russian missle launches.   The ASA had bases all over the world.

We also called ourselves the “ten percenters.” The Army told us we were selected from the brightest ten percent in the military. Right.

We spent months at Fort Devens, in Ayer, Massachusetts learning our craft before receiving our first assignments overseas – learning everything from the ability to copy manual morse code to highly technical skills (for the time) and interpretive “traffic analysis.”

Those of us who were to be linguists  were sent to Monterey, California to learn a foreign language, usually the one most useful for their future assignments.  Those who came to Asmara were Arabic linguists predominantly.

I could look at a message I could not read and easily determine whether it was Egyptian diplomatic traffic or Turkish military or if it was Greek maritime. Anything encoded was sent off to our Washington bosses. Anything in a local language was read by linguists. Traffic analysts plotted and recorded it all.

It’s been 50 years since my tours; much has changed. Kagnew is no more nor is the A.S.A.  The N.S.A. goes on.

I received orders while at Devens to go into Boston to get a passport. Where, mulls Toritto, was I going requiring a passport? Normally the military travels on an Army I.D. card.  I got my passport. A diplomatic, red one. Cool. I traveled on T.W.A.  to Eritrea.  I didn’t have to wait in lines. “This way sir”. Nice.

I arrived in Asmara in September 1964. When you were sent overseas in 1964 you left your family and your girlfriend. There was no internet; no iphone, no Skypef. There was no talking regularly from Africa to the folks back home. You were on your own.

A telephone call had to be “booked” 24 hours in advance and cost a month’s pay for a few minutes. And you could not reverse the charges.  It was by radio to London and then a phone line to the states. You couldn’t hear them very well anyway. I never called.

Asmara airport – 1965

In the sixties you wrote letters. My wife kept them all. They are stored in a duffel bag in my garage. My kids insist I keep them on the condition they won’t read them until I am dead.

Now you all know I have a very Italian last name. Asmara is in Eritrea (now the capital) and was once the capital city of the Italian Fascist Empire in Africa. There were thousands of Italians still living there I the 1960s.. They ran the restaurants, the garages, the movie theaters, the clubs. They grew coffee. They sent their kids to Rome for education. I fit in fine. I think that is why I was sent there.

The Emperor Haile Selassie visiting Kagnew

Eritreans wanted to be free. After the defeat of Italy, the U.N. gave Ethiopia a mandate over Eritrea. Haile Selassie would visit Asmara once or twice a year as a show of control. Ethiopia wanted to hold onto Eritrea as it was it’s only outlet to the sea.  Eventually Eritrea would wrest it’s freedom after a long insurgency. Unfortunately today it is one of the most repressive countries in the world.  All however was relatively quiet in 1964.

The U.S. made a deal with Ethiopia which allowed the base in Eritrea.

It’s not like we were soldiers. ASA guys rarely if ever considered themselves “soldiers”. Once a year, going through the motions,  we would go out to the “rifle range” to qualify with our weapons. Most of us couldn’t hit the side of a barn. On duty out at the guarded field “sites” we wore fatigues but the rest of the time it was civilian clothes.

Toritto (the cute one) on the left, then Francis, Tim and Jim – 1965.   Francis, my roomie, passed away several years ago, the first of us to go.

It wasn’t tough duty. We had three clubs (enlisted, NCO and Officers), where we could get credit till the end of the month, decent food in the mess when we were broke, a bowling alley, swimming pool, a 24 hour movie theater, a lounge to write letters (free paper and envelopes!), a full PX for cheap smokes.  Hashish was plentiful from the locals if you were into that sort of thing.


Local Eritreans did your laundry and shined your shoes for a few bucks a month.  The barracks were modern and we lived four to a room, kind of like college.  A few guys I knew lived off post, renting apartments from Italian landlords.


It’s just that after six weeks you had done everything there was to do – save for drinking and whoring. Less if you weren’t into that sort of thing.  And you missed home. So you sucked it up.  You went down the mountains to the beach on the Red Sea at Massaua.  You toured Axum and Lalibela.  You kept busy.  I saved my money.  My wife and I bought our first house before I was out of the service.

Duty was on “trick”. One worked on a heavily guarded “site” for 6 “days”, then got two days off. Next you worked 6 “swings” and after a couple of days off you worked 6 “mids”. Days were from 8am – 4pm; swings 4 pm till midnight; mids from midnight to 8 am.

Guys were sleeping at all hours as well as drinking or going to the movies. Each “trick” had its own barracks.

This schedule required 4 “tricks” in order to maintain 24 hour snooping coverage; I was on “D” Trick. We were the best. And we knew it.

The Oasis Club where I spent two Christmases

I served my time – got drunk two Christmases in a row.  I don’t remember whether or not I worked those days.  The first Christmas was especially bad; I knew I would be sitting in the Oasis Club the next Christmas as well. Lordy.

After Asmara, I was assigned to Fort Wolters,Texas. It was a helicopter school and an ASA jumping off base. We were loading flat cars for Vietnam.

I didn’t go. My mom died suddently (she was 43), my dad was ill and my brother was already in the war zone. He had been drafted. My dad bitched to a local Congressman and I spent the rest of my enlistment close to home making notifications to the next of kin of K.I.A.s But that’s another post I’ve already written.

ASA guys turned out to be good soldiers with a splendid record of supporting combat units with vital, immediate intelligence. There are several books about ASA exploits in Vietnam. An Asmara buddy died there.

So as Christmas approaches this year I am thinking about the only Christmases I was away – drinking at the club and knowing I would be sitting in the same spot next year.

I sent my wife  an Omega watch and a salad bowl set made of olive wood.  I still have it.  My eldest has the watch. I received gifts, cards and a tape recording from her.  I heard her voice for the first time in months.  Mom sent me a care package of goodies.

D trick early sixties has a reunion at J.B.s place in Indiana every September.   J.B. knows who he is. There are fewer and fewer of us to invite.  We are all getting very old.

Best wishes for Christmas and 2020.



ASA Patch

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A Morning On The Phone With The Phone Company!

I had plans for today.  I rose around 8 a.m., took a shower, had a couple of Eggos for breakfast, checked my glucose level, took my morning insulin shot, turned on the morning news.

Today I was going to finish writing out my Christmas cards and take a couple of packages to the USPS postal office to mail them and get stamps for the cards.

But I didn’t get to do that this morning.  What is that old saying about shit happening?

I spent the morning on line and on the phone with – the telephone company!

While toasting my Eggos, waiting for them to get a bit crunchy I made the mistake of casually opening this month’s wireless bill.  I probably should have waited until after breakfast and coffee.

Old Toritto doesn’t have a smart phone.  No need.  He has a Samsung flip phone.  No need to monitor “data” – his phone plan allows for unlimited talking and texting, which is all a phone has to do.

Toritto’s phone is also heavy duty; it is larger than other flips and heavily constructed – it can be dropped from a building and it will still work.  I  bought it two years ago to replace my flimsier flip which had eventually died and is now buried in the junk drawer.

In any case, I opened my bill from the wireless company (think of a capital “V” for a hint!) and almost had coffee in my nose.  The bill was about $120 higher than normal.

What is this?  I take my Eggos to the internet and push the “chat” button – “What is this?” asks I.  Why is my bill $120 higher than it has been for 15 years?

Well, advises the Chat person, Toritto made 2 international calls this month.

On November 11 – from Providence, Rhode Island  to St. Georges, Granada at 4:40 and 6:30P.M to the same number.  Total cost about a hundred bucks plus taxes and fees.

“Fraud!” cried Toritto.  I haven’t been to Providence since 1982!  I don’t know ANYONE in Granada!  I didn’t make the calls!

This was now getting too complicated to continue on Chat so I asked for a number I could call to speak to a live person in the fraud investigation unit.  I got it and called it.

After punching my way through the various choices (always a pain in the ass) I got a human on the phone that clearly didn’t want to hear about my problem.  She transferred me to a “manager” who was more helpful.

I told her those $120 worth of calls to Grand Cayman weren’t mine.  Besides I wasn’t in Providence.

She looked into it while I was on hold and agreed to put through a credit to my account and open a fraud investigation.

When can I expect to see the credit?  “Oh maybe not for a billing cycle or two.”

“You charged my account the second the phone calls were made but can’t credit my account for a month or two?”

“Oh you can make a partial payment!  By the way, it is possible your phone has been hacked.  It is only 3G and you should upgrade to a 4G.  Flip phones in 4G are available through our sales department.”

“Don’t talk to me about 3G or 4G.  I have no idea what you are talking about.  I only want a phone.  Besides, a hacker would much prefer a smart phone.  Flip phones don’t contain purchases or credit card numbers.  There is nothing on them other than perhaps dirty text messages.  And if a hacker took control of my phone to make international calls, why only make two on November 11?  The hacker would run up a bill in the thousands.  More likely it is a billing error on your part.”

Well “Thank you Mr. Toritto for being our customer.”

So I hung up thinking problem perhaps solved.   I decided to make a partial payment – actually sent $25 more than I thought necessary – and will now keep an eye out for the credit to make sure I don’t go into the dreaded “past due.”  I suspect I will have to make the rest of the payment before the due date.

But hey, its not the end of the world, right?  Don’t let it spoil the day.

So I pick up my cell phone – and its dead.  DEAD!

Apparently when speaking of replacing my “hacked” phone, the “manager” shut it down!

Back on the phone – my house phone.  This one is connected to my router and run by my internet company, along with my T.V. and computer.

“Hello!”  Punch the choices again.  Explain it all to a new customer service person.

“You shut off my phone!””

“Let me transfer you to Technical Support.  They will be glad to help you!”

So I tell the whole sad story again.  A young women takes about 15 seconds to turn it back on.  “If you really don’t make international calls, you can block any from your phone number, which may help if the problem occurs again” she suggests.

Transfer.  New person.  Need to tell the same story.  Block all international calls originating from my number.

Done, supposedly.  All except for the credit.  We will see.

Time spent – almost 3 hours.  So for all of my friends in England, Ireland, Spain, New Zealand and Australia – don’t expect a call.  Call me.

I did get to the post office.


P,S. – I got my credit today for the calls -only took 2 days!  A squeaking wheel gets the grease!


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In Memoriam – Mohammed Sameh Haitham – U. S. Navy

At Lakewood High School, here in  St. Petersburg, everyone called him “Mo.” Mohammed Haitham was a track and field star at Lakewood, known for his long legs, big smile and good high jump scores.

After graduating in 2018 he joined the U.S. Navy. He went through boot camp and recently was assigned to flight crew training at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida.  He was excited and decided to surprise his family in St. Petersburg by showing up for Thanksgiving; the 19-year-old didn’t look like a teenager any more.

“He looked like a man all of a sudden,” said Kim Walker, a longtime family friend.

His mother, a navy veteran herself works for the Veterans Administration.

They came to Florida and settled in St. Petersburg after the family lost their New Orleans home in Hurricane Katrina.

“Mo never lost his sense of humor. “He liked to laugh and liked to try to make you laugh.”

“He was an all-around great kid.”

“Mo” Haitham was killed at the Pensacola Naval Air Station this week by member of the Royal Saudi Air Force in this country for training.

He was 19 years old.

For those of us in Tampa Bay, he was our neighbor.


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Most Effective Murder – The Assassination of Yitzak Rabin – From The Archives – 2016

It’s been twenty years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

Political assassinations can be unpredictable events, just as likely to achieve the goal of the killer, if he had one, or result in some unforeseen consequence.

The JFK murder resulted in great national soul searching which LBJ used to push his Great Society and civil rights programs.   Lincoln’s killer certainly changed reconstruction.

Rabins’ murder seemingly put an end to any hope of peace which is exactly what his killer wanted.  It has turned out to be one of the most effective political murders of modern times.

Yigal Amir, an “extremist”, murdered Rabin.  We call them terrorists unless they are “extremists;” I guess it depends on whose side they are on. Amir walked around for months openly telling friends that Rabin should be killed and he wanted to be the one to do it.   Unfortunately, Israel’s security forces did not spend much time on domestic terrorists; twenty years ago it was inconceivable that a Jew would kill another Jew for not being Jewish enough.  Only Muslims did that.

Two years earlier, Rabin, setting aside a lifetime of enmity, appeared on the White House lawn with Yasir Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a former terrorist, to agree to a framework for limited Palestinian self-rule in the occupied territories; the next year, somewhat less painfully, he returned to the White House, with Jordan’s King Hussein, to officially end a forty-six-year state of war. Within months of Rabin’s death, Benjamin Netanyahu was the new Prime Minister and the prospects for a wider-ranging peace in the Middle East, which had seemed in Rabin’s grasp, were dead, too. Twenty years later, Netanyahu is into his fourth term, and the kind of peace that Rabin envisaged seems more distant than ever.

Rabin was 73 when he died; born in British mandated Palestine to secular socialist immigrants, He spent most of his life fighting Palestinians.  His mother Rosa was one of the most important female Zionist leaders of her time.  As a teen, he joined Palmach, a commando unit of the Haganah and he was 25 when the U.N. voted to partition Palestine into two states.

The partition plan demarcated the boundaries of Jewish and Arab territories; the U.N. envisioned a two-state solution from the start. This led, in May, 1948, to the founding of Israel, which prompted a full-scale attack by the armies of the surrounding Arab states. In battle against the Arabs (and, before that, the British), Rabin proved himself to be a daring and courageous fighter. But he also took part in the expulsion of some fifty thousand Palestinian residents from the towns of Lydda and Ramle, situated between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Several hundred villagers were shot during that operation, part of a wider exodus of Palestinian Arabs from the Jewish state.

After independence, Rabin focused on building the I.D.F.; and like that of many Israeli leaders since felt that was that peace would be possible only when Israel achieved military superiority over any combination of Arab foes.   He became a national hero after the Six Day War which left Israel in possession of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, parts of Syria, and more than a million Palestinians.

Did he speculate over the possibility of a broader peace?  Who knows.  The Labor Party back then was just as responsible as Likud would be for settlements in the West Bank.  He called the P.L.O., responsible for hijackings and bus bombings “Liars and bastards.”  Yet there appears to be general agreement in hindsight that after the First Intifada he came to the conclusion that ruling a couple of million Palestinians by force was not sustainable policy.

The breakthrough came with the Oslo Accords which offered withdrawal of troops from the largest cities and limited self-rule through the election of a parliament – the Palestinian authority.

Looking back on it now, the audacity of the deal was breathtaking and it was supported by a majority of Israelis.  Rabin was able to carry the day precisely because he was not viewed as dovish; much like Nixon’s opening to China.

It was a happy story without a happy ending.   Hamas began a bombing campaign to inflame the Israeli public and the right wing settler group came out in open opposition concerned that they would be forced to leave the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  While many of the deal’s opponents invoked religious justifications for maintaining Israel’s hold on the territories it acquired in the Six-Day War, a large number of the opponents were secular. What united the two groups was their rejection of the notion that any conquered territory should be turned over to the Palestinians, even in the interests of peace.

Yigal Amir was not a settler; he was a law student from the coastal city of Herzliya, the son of ultra-orthodox Yemeni parents.  He became convinced that Rabin was selling out Israel, particularly the settlers. He began organizing settler demonstrations in the occupied territories and tried to start his own militia.  He moved rapidly from disgruntled right winger to murderous fanatic.    After his trial it was revealed that a number of persons had heard Amir vow to kill Rabin; no one turned him in.

In the weeks leading up to Rabin’s murder, three extremist rabbis from the West Bank issued a written opinion suggesting that it would be acceptable to kill Rabin, on the ground that he had betrayed the Jewish people.  Netanyahu was at a rally, about a month before Rabin’s murder, where crowds spent two hours chanting, “Death to Rabin.” Netanyahu did nothing to discourage them.

Rabin almost missed the demonstration in Tel Aviv where he was killed; he was concerned that the turnout would be embarrassingly small.  Instead over 100,000 screaming for peace turned out to welcome him.  Security kept it’s eyes open – for Arab suicide bombers.  Amir easily walked passed the guards to Rabin and shot him twice in the back.  After his arrest he asked for a glass of schnapps to toast the death of Rabin. He said he was doing God’s work.

Would anything be different if Rabin had lived?  Who knows.  He was probably committed to giving up the occupied territories to a Palestinian state but that would probably not have brought peace.  The Oslo Accords brought more bloodshed than peace.

More important, a deal with the Palestinians, even one that included substantial withdrawals from the occupied territories, would have done little to alter the demographic trends that have been reshaping Israeli politics and society; that is, the growth of the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities. In the twenty years since Rabin was killed, Israel has become more religious, more conservative, more “messianic.” Rabin would have found himself increasingly among people to whom he had very little to say.

However slim the chances for a comprehensive peace agreement were in the nineteen-nineties, today they are effectively zero.  Talk of  the two state solution is empty prattle.  Meanwhile the Palestinian population combined in the West Bank and Israel itself will exceed the number of Jews as soon as 2020.

There are now 400,000 settlers living in the occupied territory; religious fanatics determined to own it all, rebuild the Temple and greet the coming Messiah.  Meanwhile American Christian fanatics support them looking forward to bringing on the Apocalypse and the rapture.

What will Israel do  with it’s two million Palestinians?  Is there a final solution to the Palestinian question?



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In Memoriam – Joshua Caleb Watson

Joshua Caleb Watson

Graduate of the United States Naval Academy – 2019

Dean’s List

Captain of the Rifle Team

Killed at Pensacola Naval Air Station on December 7, 2019 by a member of the Saudi Air Force here for training.

“After being shot multiple times he made it outside and told the first response team where the shooter was and those details were invaluable; he saved many lives.”


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Pizza Man – From The Archives – 2014


Our pizza man is a super hero
able to leap tall buildings in twenty minutes
delivering manna, loaves and fishes
to the multitude

Pizza man sped to his next stop
like Santa Claus on Christmas Eve
two large pies, one with pepperoni
for a woman who must be poor judging by her lodgings

Pizza man’s chariot pulled up
and found her outside in the cold
with three booger faced kids
trying to load a u-haul by herself, despair apparent on her face

“Will you take a check?” she asked
“No ma’am; it ain’t permitted”
the booger faced kids standng there
eyeing the pizza boxes; “I want peperroni!”

A look of anguish came over her face
a dark shadow, which told the children
no supper tonight;
She couldn’t cover the check anyway.

Pizza man stood for a moment, listening to the bells of the Army
without a word he left two pizzas, one with pepperoni
giving her back her check
“Merry Christmas ma’am”.

And as he drove out of sight
he swore he heard a heavenly host
singing “good tidings and great joy
which shall be for all people!”

sharing simple gifts.




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