Roger John, Sr. McSharry

Mr. McSharry served during the Korean War in Occupied Germany.

He served in the U.S. Army. He was inducted in 1952. As a result of recruit testing, he and about ten others were selected to do their basic training at Signal Corps camp in San Luis Obispo, California. Mr. McSharry had the highest score of the group and so was assigned to carry the documents for the entire group during their trip by train to California.

His abilities earned him the position of Honor Graduate of his cryptography class. As a result, he was assigned as a “crypto specialist” at the Headquarters, European Command, in Frankfurt, Germany, in November 1952. He worked in the Code Room, meaning he had “Cosmic Crypto Clearance” (he had received “Top Secret Cryptographic” clearance by the U. S. and all other NATO nations). The Code Room was the nerve center of European post-war communications.

Mr. McSharry was honorably discharged in 1954. He was decorated with the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Occupation Medal (Germany).

Mr. McSharry was born in Greeley, Nebraska, in June 1931, the son of Walter Ignatius and Mary Sargent McSharry. Both of his parents worked for Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle, Washington, during World War II.

Source: Information from veteran (see below)

Roger McSharry was born on a small farm in Greeley, Nebraska, on June XX, 1931, the son of Walter and Mary McSharry. This was at the depth of the great Depression and during the infamous Dust Bowl era. He had seven sisters. When he was twelve years old, his family relocated to Seattle, both parents having been wartime employees of the Boeing Aircraft Co.

Roger graduated from Seattle Preparatory School in Seattle in 1949, enrolled at Seattle University, and studied there for two years with a tentative major in Psychology. During this time, he was employed by Manlowe United Truck lines, cutting freight bills on a machine called a “mill,” a sort of manual typewriter with capital letters only. He was pretty handy with it.

This being during the Korean conflict, he had to consider his military options. If you enlisted in the Army, you did so for a minimum of three years; if you were drafted, you served only two. Not being a very military type, and not really committed to college life, he chose to wait, and in August of 1952 he was indeed inducted into the United States Army.

All new recruits are tested, and one of the tests for anyone with clerical experience was, of course, typing, which happened to be done on a machine similar to the “mill,” with which he was very familiar. Since he performed very well on this test, and had an above average knowledge of the language, he was selected, with about ten others, to receive his basic training at a Signal Corps camp located in San Luis Obispo, California. Since he had the highest score of the group, he was assigned to carry the documents for the entire group for the trip.

Most of the non-Signal Corps group was sent to Fort Ord, California, for training in combat, using the M-1 rifle (the backbone of the army). The rifle used by the Signal Corps was the Carbine, a small, lightweight weapon. Having hunted the hills and fields of Nebraska for pheasant and rabbits to help feed the family, Roger proved himself to be a good marksman.

Part of the basic training period of three months was used by the Army to check the background of the recruits to see if they could be given security clearances for sensitive and classified material. Since Roger had a clean record, he was cleared for, and trained for, cryptography, which is of course code work, highly secret.

When the recruits went to class, they usually left their other basic training equipment on the ground outside the classroom, in formation. One day, after class, they found that some of their helmet liners (light-weight plastic helmets worn under the heavy steel “pots”) had diamond-shaped adhesive tape fixed to them. Some had tape on the front only, and some had tape on both front and back. They were not told what the tape signified, but they knew each other pretty well by this time, and soon had it figured out: Those with the diamond on the front must be eligible for leadership school, and those with tape both fore and aft must be eligible for officer candidate school.

They were soon proven correct, as it was explained to them that they could either go on the leadership school, and then to OCS if still qualified, or they could remain in the Signal Corps, finish their training in their specialty, and receive an assignment in that specialty. Roger did not wish to be trained to be a leader in what is essentially a killing profession, so he decided to stay in crypto.

His abilities earned him the position of Honor Graduate of his cryptography class. As a result, he was “offered” the distinguished position of “crypto specialist” at the Headquarters, European Command, in Frankfurt, Germany. So, in November 1952, he boarded a troop ship headed for Europe.

Headquarters, European Command, was located in the I. G. Farben building in downtown Frankfurt. It included members of the different services of the U. S. military as well as the NATO military. At that time, there were about 180 men of General and Admiral rank working from that headquarters, most of whom were in the field at any given time.

Roger went to work in the Code Room, a locked, air-conditioned office that functioned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Two smartly dressed, armed Marines stood guard at the entrance. Each cryptographer had his/her own desk, and encoded and decoded the messages as they came into and left the code room, which was the heartbeat and the nerve center of European post-war communications. The only people permitted entrance to the code room were those who had “Cosmic Crypto Clearance”, meaning that they had qualified for “Top Secret Cryptographic” clearance by the U. S., and by all other NATO nations. While Roger worked there, all the crypto specialists were Americans.

In the Code Room, assignments for both incoming and outgoing messages rotated among the cryptographers. The first piece of information contained in any message is its security level, anywhere from “confidential” to “Top Secret.” When a cryptographer received a message classified “Top Secret,” he had to announce it, loud and clear, so that no one would come near his desk while he decoded and printed it out. Cryptography is strictly on a “Need to Know” basis. No cryptographer wants to know anything he does not need to know to perform his assignment!

The Code Room can be a very stressful place because of the huge responsibility entailed. Roger handled the stress by intentionally forgetting the content of the messages he handled on any given day, as they were instructed to do. Not everyone can handle it that well: One young man who couldn’t hold up well under the pressure reported to sickbay. He told the doctor that he didn’t sleep at all because of “internal parasites that bothered him only at night.” He was relieved from duty in the Code Room as a potential threat to security.

Roger traveled as much as time and money allowed, and saw many of the great cities of Europe, but one city was off-limits to cryptographers. Because entrance to Berlin entailed traversing what was then Russian-controlled territory, the Soviets had on occasion stopped the train, then an official would walk directly to the seat occupied by a cryptographer, “entertain” him for a few minutes while holding up the entire train, then allow the train to move on. This was of course to show the U.S. and NATO that they knew who was aboard, and as a result, crypto people were no longer allowed to go into Berlin.

Roger served his entire two years in that position, and said that one of the most interesting and scariest moments was when Stalin died, in March 1953. Nobody was really sure of what might happen next in the USSR, so the messages flew fast and furiously in and out of the Code Room. Happily, cool heads prevailed, nothing of great import occurred.

Roger was honorably discharged in 1954. He was awarded two medals, the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Occupation Medal (Germany).

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