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The Signal Corps During The Korean War

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- This is Part II in a Three Part Series -

This article originally published on our Home Page in January 2012

Signal Corps During The Korean War

It’s a strange thing about us humans… we can remember that we once felt pain, even though we cannot remember what it felt like. Think of the last time you went to the dentist, and how even today you can remember that it was painful, yet try as you might, you cannot now recreate that pain in either your flesh or your soul, in sufficiency to feel it again. Clearly, unlike our brain cells, that supply us with painful memories long after the event and far into the future, our nerve endings are not able to recreate feelings they once gave to us, absence the presence of the stimulus itself. If they did, perhaps we would not only be able to remember something as being painful, but also feel that pain again, deep within us… and through this corporeal memory avoid its cause a bit more assiduously than we are prone to do.

Essen, Germany - Refugees 1945That seems to be the case with the pain the world felt at the end of World War II. While the war dragged on, the world suffered immensely, full of the unique physical and mental pain that only war can bring. People with both a means and need were unable to find food, dying of starvation even while others around them lived on in ease. Across Europe and Asia homeless wandered the streets of one war torn city after another, walking from bombed out building to bombed out building, clad in torn clothing that only a few years earlier would have been thought of as dirty rags. Displace persons, many from the concentration camps of the Reich, walked the railroad lines of Europe, trying at the end of World War II to get back to what was once home, in a vain hope that somehow by going home again life would revert back to the sunnier days of the pre-war period.

But it wouldn’t. Family members were dead. Cities destroyed. Governments decimated. And the very air people breathed filled with all forms of noxious content from radioactive particles to the stench of dead bodies. It didn’t matter if you lived in the jungles of Borneo, the nuclear bombed cities of Japan, or the suburbs of London or Berlin, for many the end of World War II was the beginning of a decade or more of misery.

Warsaw, Poland - 1945 RefugeesAnd yet… within a few short years of the end of the war, like the pain of dentistry, while the remembrance continued, the pain that was felt and lived only a few years before receded from people’s minds, as humanity began its march back again to the selfish mindset that makes one people want to dominate another.

By 1947 it was already becoming obvious; the calm peace that all had hoped would carry on for hundreds of years after World War II was showing signs of stress. International tensions were on the rise. Something called an Iron Curtain was said to be descending, creating an imaginary line that would separate Eastern from Western Europe for the next 43 years.

In panic over perceived threats, the countries of Western Europe began to band together to protect themselves from the emerging Soviet driven Warsaw Pact. In short time NATO was formed, with the United States being drafted into it like the only kid in the neighborhood with a baseball bat and ball, when a sandlot game is formed Belsen Concentration Camp - 1945after school.

Muscle flexing and tests of strength between countries broke out everywhere… with the Russians testing the commitment of the west to Germany via the Berlin blockade (1948-1949), the Indo-Pakistan War exploding across central Asia (1947), Mao Zedong chasing Chang Kai-shek off the Chinese mainland to the island of Taiwan (1949), Indonesia seizing Yogyakarta from the Dutch, Éire leaving the British Commonwealth and declaring itself the Republic of Ireland, insurrection in the Philippines taking center stage, with the former Philippine First Lady Aurora Quezon being assassinated on her way to dedicate a hospital, Italy taking control over Somaliland, Senator Joe McCarthy accusing the State Department of being staffed with 205 Communists, the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China signing a mutual defense treaty, Egypt demanding that Britain remove all its troops from the Suez Canal (1950), Puerto Rican Nationalists launching an uprising against the United States (The Jayuya Uprising), China invading Tibet, and to top it all off, Russia detonating its first atomic bomb.

It was almost like World War II never happened… or worse, that people had simply come to accept that war was an acceptable means of settling world affairs… regardless of the pain it caused for them personally, or the death it H-Bomb at Bikini Atolbrought to others. Clausewitz was right. [1]

By the late 40s it could be said with certainty that an arms race had begun, and with it came the knowledge that the threat of nuclear war was real. By the early 50s that knowledge had morphed from a question of whether nuclear war was possible into one of “is nuclear war inevitable?” And during all of this, nary a thought was given to conventional war. After all, why would anyone start a conventional war again… don’t you remember the pain we all felt during World War II?

Apparently not. Memories of pain being short, hubris and jingoism being in great supply (then, and even today), it was only a matter of time until social factors pushed two countries… or in the case of the 1950s, the champions of two political philosophies, into open, direct, and hot conflict with each other.

Why would the advocates of two different political philosophies end up in hot conflict with each other? The answer is just as simple as it was predestined: in 1950 the factors that most determined how countries on opposite sides of these two political philosophies would react to each other boiled down to just two. The first was that the United States had touted to the world its mindset that it would contain communism at all costs, and the second was The Red Scarethat its Army was reduced to little more than 600,000, down from the 8.3 million military men it had in uniform during its peak in WWII. Clearly, i) if you were a supporter of communism, you knew the United States was gunning for you, and ii) if you were ever going to strike in a way that invited a U.S. military response, you had better do so now, while the U.S. was at its weakest.

On the U.S. side, looking out at the world, those countries with designs on expanding communism were targets to be dealt with. How, no one had quite figured out. But by God, the U.S. was not going to let communism expand, even though we had no idea how we were going to go about stopping it. Even so, the U.S. at that time was determined that it would not happen, and even coined a new word to define U.S. policy towards communism: containment.

Strategically, the word had a nice ring to it. Tactically, no one had any idea how to implement such a policy. In the end, this inability to convert a named strategy into a tactical policy would be the undoing of nearly all of America’s post World War II military excursions. [2]

From the communist side, looking out… one could only see the menacing frown of Uncle Sam’s face, scowling at those who espoused communist principles of government.

What was wrong with this whole scenario was that in the early 50s the only place the U.S. was “looking out” towards was Europe. Somehow, it neglected to look back over its shoulder… at the new east, Asia, rather than the old east, Eastern Europe.

Uncle Sam & CommunismThe result was that with its eyes firmly fixed on Europe, and diplomatic efforts focused on anticipating and preparing for an outbreak of armed hostilities there, the  U.S. was caught flatfooted and bewildered when war broke out thousands of miles away, in Korea.[3] One of the reasons for the shock of the event and the bafflement that ensued was due to the role the Signal Corps played… or rather, the role the Signal Corps didn’t play.

By orders issued at the end of the second world war, the Signal Corps had begun to dismantle the global military communication network that it managed at that time. By the time of the start of the Korean War, communication to the U.S. from diplomatic outposts (which depended on military communication links almost exclusively) in Korea was reduced to that of a single telephone line that often simply did not work. At that time, the only reliable means of communicating with the U.S. from Korea was to either send sea born documents to an interim location (e.g. Japan), from where they could then be telegraphed back to the U.S., or ship them by boat directly to the U.S., a transit time that could take between 18 and 32 days.

The relevance of this degradation in the physical means of communication was an impact on the objective of communication—to effect a transfer of information that allows the receiver to understand the views of the sender. If one looks philosophically at the purpose and function of communication, one quickly realizes that the purpose of communication is to foster understanding between two communicants. Without a means to effectively communicate, not only were U.S. diplomats in Korea at a disadvantage in terms of explaining the scene on the ground to those back in Washington, but the U.S., China, and the two Koreas were unable to exchange views with each other in a manner that could have precluded the Korean War. The dismantling by the Signal Corps, under orders, of its Asian communication links, effectively guaranteed that anything anyone in Asia was saying was not being well heard in Washington… and vice versa.

As an example, on 30 September 1950, Chinese Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai publicly warned “The Chinese people… will not tolerate seeing their neighbors savagely invaded by the imperialists.” As a statement of intent on the part of the Chinese to intervene if a war broke out in Korea, nothing could have been clearer. Yet no one in Washington heard it, let alone tried to figure out what it meant.

These types of incidents are the causes of war. Fortunately, what we now know about how wars are started is more than we knew then. Among other things, today we know:

1) War is costly.

2) Leaders care more about issues than about people.

3) Leaders are unsure of the value other states place on an issue.

Focusing on these three items, one can easily see that the only way to preclude war is i) for leaders to care more about people than issues, and ii) for leaders to focus hard on understanding what an opposing side’s values are on each particular issue that can lead to war. As shown above, without knowledge of what the Chinese were saying about the Korean issue, it was next to impossible to foretell that North Korea was on the brink of invading the south, and that the Chinese were going to stand behind them.

As a refresher of the historic events that led to the Korean War, the reader should recall that for nearly forty years (since the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905) Korea had suffered terribly under Japanese rule. After World War II instead of simply letting the Korean people have their country back and fend for themselves, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to jointly occupy Korea, setting the 38th Parallel as the dividing line between their areas of responsibility. With the involvement of the Allies, it was agreed that a unified, fully independent Korea would come into existence only after elections took place. Unfortunately, as we all know, as in the case of Germany, the provisional boundary that was set in place toughened over time into a lasting boundary that still exists today. As in Germany, on one side of the boundary the Soviets installed a Communist government, on the other the U.S. attempted to foster a republic with an elected president. By 1948 this task was completed on both sides, with the U.S. and Russia beginning at that time to remove their occupation forces. The U.S. was the first to complete its withdrawal, taking all of its troops out by mid-1949, leaving behind only an advisory group to help train a South Korean military force.

Looking at this situation it is hard to believe that neither the US, the Soviet Union, nor any other country in the world at that time could see the folly of thinking that two western countries could set an arbitrary line along the 38th parallel to separate Korea. Only two years before, in August 1947, the  British had tried this same trick with India, and it had already backfired by 1949, with war having broken out between the parties—a mess that lives on in the form of internecine warfare between India and Pakistan even until today. How anyone back then could have thought that this approach would work in Korea boggles the mind. The lesson learned from the British’s efforts in India should have been a simple one to be taught: people from another culture and world can’t simply take a pencil to a map and draw a line and say, “So here, old boy, is how we are going to partition your country.” It doesn’t work. In the case of the two Koreas, civil unrest within the newly divided nation began literally as soon as the line was drawn.

Within a year of the partition of Korea, on 25 June 1950, North Korea invaded the south.

Could the Korean War have been avoided had an effective communication network been in place so that diplomats in Korea and China could have communicated with Washington… telling them what was happening on the ground in real time… interpreting what the Chinese were saying through the eyes and ears of local in-country experts wholly familiar with the language and culture, and reporting same to Washington… offering alternative approaches to solving the problem, based on proximate knowledge, versus the issue based rhetoric of Washington politicians… becoming sure of the value the other side placed on an issue before either acting or reacting to it? One thinks "yes," it could have been avoided. Hello world... we're listening

Whatever the reason, whether it was an oversight on the part of the US government of that time in thinking that it no longer needed the communication network the Signal Corps had in place at the end of the second world war, shortsightedness on the part of each of the branches of the military in not protesting stronger the orders to dismantle it, or simply a disbelief on the part of those in Washington that make the decisions that war could be entered into again, so soon, on the heels of World War II, the fact of the matter is that as the Signal Corp’s global communication network began to come down, America’s ability to hear what the world was saying was dying. Worse, it would be many years to come before the Signal Corps would be able to resurrected it again.

Regardless, the damage was done. North Korea was inside of South Korea and advancing rapidly. Despite a resolution by the United Nations calling for a cease-fire and withdrawal of the North Koreans to the 38th Parallel, the North pressed on. The South, only lightly armed, was unable to stop North Korea. Seoul fell within a few days. Yet even with this win under their belt the Communist forces continued to push south. Finally, on 30 June, Truman stepped up to the bar and bought the next round of drinks: he committed American ground forces.

For the Signal Corps, where once the order had been to pack up its communication equipment and go home, now the order was to get as many links to Washington, Japan, and Taiwan up and running as fast as possible, and expand each regional system as required and without limitation. Interestingly, during all of this time North Korea (the “DPRK”) showed not the slightest interest in its own communication capabilities, not only disdaining telephone or radio circuits for civilian use, but also for military use… deciding instead to rely on whistles and bugles to control its own battlefield movements. [4]

As in the case of the beginning of the second world war, so in the case of the Korean War. Once the U.S. made the decision to go to war, it was all in. In rapid fashion, the U.S. drew its troops from the closest soldiers available: the occupation forces in Japan. For the most part these included elements of the Eighth Army, under the command of Lt. Gen. Walton H. Walker. Four divisions were serving on occupation duty at that time: the 1st Cavalry Division and the 7th, 24th, and 25th Infantry Divisions. Fortunately for all concerned, these were among the best troops in the world, and America, its Allies, and certainly South Korea, were lucky they were there. Unfortunately, while they were among the best we had, they had nevertheless lost most of the World War II veterans that had brought them the glory their battle streamers screamed of. Under-strength, the best (but sorely in need of training), and saddled with World War II era equipment and vehicles that were out of service more than in service, they sidled up to their transport ships and headed for Korea.

Among this mass movement were the elements of the Signal Corps that would support combat operations and integrate its activities into what was even at that early stage a rapidly growing effort to quickly expand global US military communications (back to WWII levels). Where a few months earlier if one listened carefully one could hear the sucking sound of global Signal Corps communications imploding, now if one listened they could hear the whooshing sound of it rapidly expanding.

The leisurely pace of occupationHowever, all was not to go well in terms of expanding the military’s (or the U.S.’s global diplomat corps') ability to communicate with Washington. On the local level, while the Signal Corps moved In lock step with the combat troops, they both discovered that good intent is not necessarily a substitute for good equipment. At the same time as the combat troops were discovering that they were critically short on ammunition, the Signal Corps was discovering they faced the same situation with radios, telephone cable, teletype equipment, and almost  everything else. In part this was because no one expected to need a vast quantity or stockpile of these materials to service the needs of post-war occupied Japan, and in part it was, again, because everyone within the U.S. was looking out towards Europe, and not worrying about what was going on in Asia.

In addition to equipment, as the war got underway it quickly became obvious that dint of determination on the part of the individual combat soldier and signalman was no substitute for unit integrity and cohesion. Because of the scarcity of open space for training in Japan, unit training had been neglected and in the first meetings with the enemy it showed. Soldiers habituated to the leisurely pace of occupation duty found on the other side of their barrel a hard-hitting, disciplined, and (in terms of their own needs) well-equipped opponent.

The Army eventually sent eight divisions to Korea, six Regular Army and two National Guard. The Marines provided one. In support of America’s efforts, some twenty members of the United Nations contributed ground, air, and/or naval forces.

Like the combat troops, the Signal Corps faced huge difficulties in getting operating systems and qualified people in place so that it could effectively support combat operations, never mind global communication. Unlike the combat arms however, where strategies and tactics tended to change slowly over decades (usually only in response to new forms of weaponry... like tanks)… with the result that training regimens rarely if ever change, thus insuring a constant supply of well trained personnel… with the Signal Corps change came quickly in the early 50s. The speed and pace of technical advances in communication equipment made it such that during the Korean War most EMs (who had completed training school long before the war broke out) found that what they had learned was often no longer valid… at least as far as equipment was concerned. This could be seen in how signalmen were finding new gear arriving that they had no familiarity with. New devices and innovations such as the AN/GRC-26 mobile radiotelephone station, an improved ground radar to locate mortar emplacements, L-5 Stinson aircraft for use in delivering messages (up to 34,000 pounds of messages a month were delivered in Korea by the Signal Corps), and both planes and helicopters for the laying of wire in difficult terrain, all challenged the signal troops on the ground to perform their own OJT.

To add to the difficulty of getting up to speed with new technology their was the problem of finding people… not just qualified people, but any people. In June of 1950 the Signal Corps’ strength stood at only 48,500, barely enough to handle global Signal Corps duties as they stood, never mind support a hot war in Korea while at the same time trying to quickly rebuild global military communications. Worse, unlike in WWII where an interim mobilization period was able to be set in motion before the US went to war, in Korea the unexpectedness of the invasion caught the military… and the Signal Corps, which was under orders to reduce its size and footprint… with no plan, personnel, program, or training facilities that could be activated quickly enough to meet an already operational war’s manpower requirements. The only option available was to call up the reserves.

Original HQ at Camp San Louis ObispoWith a green light given to dip into the reserves, the Signal Corps began searching for both individual signal officers to recall to active duty, as well as signal units that it could tap on the shoulder. Training capabilities were also expanded, with some of the first training programs being stood up at Fort Monmouth, Fort Holabird, and Camp Gordon. To supplement these, in December 1951 a new training facility was set up at Camp San Luis Obispo, California. A Class II training facility, it was called the Southwest Signal Corps Training Center.

Among the units set up to conduct training at Camp San Luis Obispo were the:

Southwestern Signal Replacement Training Center (11 February 1952 - 30 October 1953)

Southwestern Signal School (2 April 1952 - 30 October 1953)

1st Signal Service Group (later 1st Signal Group) (January to August 1952)

505th Signal Group (16 January 1952 - 8 September 1953)

207th Signal Depot Company. Unit was activated on 16 February 1952 at Camp San Luis Obispo

509th Signal Service Battalion (later 509th Signal Battalion) (Activated 15 February 1952 at Camp San Luis Obispo)

Of course, with equipment, manpower, and training facilities being in short supply for use in an unannounced and unanticipated war, the raw material needed by the civilian industrial sector that creates the equipment that the Signal Corps uses was in short supply too. Everything from polypropylene (used in capacitors), to polyethylene, nylon (to provide insulation for wires), synthetic manganese dioxide (for dry cell batteries), alkyd polyester (resistors), aluminum foil and aluminum plates (capacitors), coils, transformers, quartz crystals, copper wire itself, and much, much more was simply not available in the quantities needed.

Eighth ArmySo empty was the supply line that it took nearly 3 years for the industrial sector to catch up with the military’s demand. Hopefully we have learned this lesson, and today won’t find ourselves, as a nation, praying that the Chinese won’t shut off our supply of rare earth elements, precious, and semi-precious metals when we need them the most… in the next war we get into.[5]

As most readers know, the fighting that was done in Korea fell under the auspices of the Eighth Army. Activated in the continental U.S. in 1944, it was ordered to the Pacific where it earned the sobriquet of the "Amphibious Eighth" for its more than 60 "island-hopping" assaults across the Pacific, on its way to Japan. And if it hadn’t been for V-J day changing its mission, it would have hit the beaches of the main island of Japan, along the Kanto Plain, just outside of Tokyo, with a mission to defeat Japan on its home ground. After the war, it, along with the Sixth Army, provided the ground forces MacArthur needed to occupy Japan.

The first unit of the 8th that MacArthur sent to Korea was the 24th Infantry Division, which got there on June 30, 1950, five days after the North had come across the border. The first serious battle took place on July 5, five days later, when a set piece of Army forward forces called Task Force Smith engaged the enemy and “were badly bloodied in a gallant but unsuccessful stand north of Osan.”[6]

While the 24th was getting its knuckles rapped in Osan, Eighth Army's headquarters were being set up in Taegu, a choice made by the Signal Corps because of the existence at that location of a relay station astride the old Tokyo-Mukden (today known as Shenyang) cable. While during the nearly 40 years it occupied Korea Japan had done some despicable things to the Koreans, one thing it did well for its own accord was set in place a communication cable that linked China and Korea with Japan. That cable proved to be a God send for the U.S.

Task Force Smith - Korean WarEven so, it quickly became evident to the Signal Corps that the Eighth Army head-quarters signal section was simply unable to provide the level and amount of communic-ation support needed by the subordinate divisions doing the fighting. To meet their urgent needs three divisional Signal Companies were rushed into action (the 13th, 24th, and 25th), while the 7th Infantry Division and its Signal Company was held back in Japan and set aside to provide a source for any emergen-cy cannibalization that might be needed (for both combat manpower as well as communication personnel and equipment). With the 13th, 24th, and 25th Signal Companies already in route to Korea, plans were then put in place to move the 304th Signal Operation Battalion and the 522nd and 532nd Signal Construction Battalions to Korea too.

Osan-Taejon-Taegu KoreaAs the 24th ID was driven back from Osan to Taejon (located about half way between Osan and the Eighth Army’s HQ in Taegu), the Signal Companies supporting it found themselves almost wholly unable to perform their task. Lack of roads, un-fordable rivers, ravines, and endless ridges made it near impossible to lay cable, while mountainous terrain that changed elevation by several thousand feet every mile or so effectively broke up UHF (200-512 MHz short range, line-of-sight ) and VHF (30-180 MHz, moderate to short range, local and line-of-sight) communication links and transmission. The fact that the U.S. didn’t hold much of the high ground at this early stage also contributed to the problem, and even in those cases where some high ground was held, signalmen usually found that the distance to the next high piece of securely held ground was too far to support a battlefield radio net.

Adding insult to injury, the signals equipment that was deployed proved nearly useless. From radio batteries that died after an hour or less of use, to brittle insulation on wires and radio tubes damaged by the rough transit between Japan and Korea, the 24th’s ability to establish effective command and control was severely tested. Finally, factors beyond the control of anyone also stepped in to shut communication down. Fleeing civilians thought nothing of cutting the wires they found strung along the ground to make harnesses with which to tie down their belongings, while the enemy similarly thought nothing of shooting down signalmen in trees and on poles as they tried to string cable. In the end, in spite of all of the advances in technology that had been made between the wars, the Signal Corps found itself in the first few months in Korea falling back to running messengers between units in order to get the message through.

As June rolled into July and August, and summer began to fade into autumn, both the Eighth Army and the Signal Corps began to get things under control. Equipment from the States began to arrive, logistics bottlenecks were worked out, and even the untrained men that populated units finally began to understand what their job was and how to do it. I guess there is no better incentive for effective on the job training than being shot at, right?

Taejon Relay Site - 1969 - KoreaCommunication wise, the Signal Corps settled on VHF and microwave radio systems (technically, the upper VHF to microwave range) to support tactical communication that covered the long distances that were involved in Korea. This worked out so well that, not surprisingly, the same concept was used when Vietnam rolled around 13 years later.

What we know of VHF and microwave radio is that it’s easy to deploy, easy to maintain, and provides tons of communication circuits for the dollar being spent. Unlike wire, which requires an in-your-face effort to string at the front and invites pot shots in return, microwave and VHF allows you to sit back and lob signals over hills and dales to the next site, where it can then be wired directly into the local commander’s HQ tent. It’s flexible, allowing you to move the signal equipment with the same haste and speed as the Infantry moves, and if you site it properly, it isn’t stopped by mountains or rivers. Maybe best of all, it allows you to pass everything from teletype to voice over its circuits, negating the need for more than one type of communication network to be set up.

However, if you have been reading closely, then you probably saw a bug in the woodpile of words above… something that did cause a problem as re. the use of microwave and mid- to long distance VHF in Korea. The principal problem was that these forms of communication require line-of-sight (LOS) transmission. This meant that the Signal Corps found itself in the role of dictating to the combat commanders what terrain to take, in order to allow it to set up an all encompassing battlefield network. This in turn necessitated more combat than would have been preferred on the part of the grunts if these mountain tops did not need to be taken. Fortunately, mitigating this was the knowledge that tricks and techniques like Fresnel zone reflection, leveraging free space propagation, atmospheric refraction, rounded obstacle diffraction, and even ground reflecting allowed Signal Corps planners to turn almost any high ground into an effective signal site, even if it was not ideal. Even so, the necessity of requirement to set up transmission stations in highly elevated, isolated locations did increase the combat load that the Eighth Army had to carry, just so that it could talk to its units.

View From Taejon Relay Site - KoreaAn example of this was the Taejon Relay station. Situated on a mountain near Taejon, it still exists and is now called the Richmond Microwave and VHF Radio Relay Site. Once a Japanese aircraft spotlight site during World War II, the site was selected in part because it still had old Japanese perimeter defense works that could be quickly rebuilt to protect the troops while the signal site was being set up. Its purpose was to connect and relay communication from a site to the north of Taejon (called Highpoint Site) to another to the south, near Taegue (called variously Salem Site and Nite Cap). Taejon Relay served as the link for these, a hub for other connections to what is now known as Kunsan Air Base, and to several interior relay sites that provided short range VHF links to local field combat troops.

When Taejon Relay was first put up the battle around it shifted back and forth across its base several times, necessitating alternatively putting up and then removing the equipment. Since an entire station's equipment can weigh in at several tons (8 tons in the case of the Taejon Relay site), with one particular piece of equipment weighing in at 330 pounds, moving equipment around from one steeply sloped signal site to another could prove to be a challenge. Today we would do it by helicopter… but back during the early days of the Korean War the “old way” was the “best way”: hike up your sleeves, get a couple of men to set up a harness, and lift the damn gear up and onto the back of a deuce-and-a-half… if you could get one to the top of the mountain in the first place. Add to this the exposure of sitting on top of a mountain, and, well, you quickly learned that while the Signal Corps was technically not a combat arm of the Army, it spent as much time shooting at the enemy as anyone else did. As I learned on the signal site I was stationed on in Vietnam, Search & Destroy is not a game reserved exclusively for the Infantry. On my site we Signal guys played it weekly.

You can see from the picture of Taejon Relay site (as it stood in 1969) that the climate in Korea proved as much of an enemy as the North Koreans did. While nominally a country situated in the temperate zone, Korea has some of the most extreme weather variations in all of Asia. Anyone who has been to Beijing in winter can tell you about the 50 mile an hour Siberian winds that blow down across the Gobi desert and drive temperatures in the city down to -15 to -30 below. Well, those same winds rip across the Korean peninsula too. Whether the troops were suffering in the winter from frost bite, frozen and useless radio batteries, or ice covered grounds on which to lay their wires, were sweltering in summer heat of 100+ degree days, or suffering through the June to September monsoons, mother nature was not going to give a break to the combatants in the Korean War.

On the positive side, the Korean War occurred at the dawn of America’s greatest period of industrial strength and growth. Coming on the heels of World War II, with America exiting that war as the supreme power in the world, it was only natural that America’s technical, scientific, financial, and industrial might was ready, able and willing to combine to deliver an industrial system capable of producing almost anything of need, in almost no time at all. If the military wanted it, America could produce it.

American factories perfected the principles of mass production during the second world war and now they stood ready to be tapped again to support the Korean War. As such, almost faster than the laboratories at Ft. Monmouth could dream up new communication devices, the civilian industrial sector was able to turn those ideas into products… and not just commercial products mind you, but MIL-spec products.

Signal Corps Laboratories - Ft. MonmouthYes, it’s true that the occasional Julius Rosenberg would worm their way into Ft. Monmouth’s labs.[7] And it’s also true that in 1953 Joe McCarthy ranted about Ft. Monmouth being chock-a-block full of spies. And it may even be true, to some extent, that there were a fair number of communist spies in the facility during the Korean War (two additional Fort Monmouth scientists, Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant fled to the Soviet Union during this time), but that didn’t negate the fact that the Ft. Monmouth labs were turning out all sorts of ideas about how to help a government and its military communicate better.

Two of the products of that effort were the AN/GRC-26 mobile radio-teletype (known as both the "Angry 26" and the "Jerk 26") and the Mortar-Radar Locator AN/MPQ-3 and AN/MPQ-10 (one of the Signal Corps’ most useful pieces of equipment and rugged enough to withstand travel over the brutal Korean roads). As for what other specific pieces of equipment came out of Ft. Monmouth's labs at the start of the Korean war, that seems impossible to tell. It seems that , unfortunately, just as in how the Korean War itself has been systematically neglected as an important historical point in our country’s history, with little consideration or endorsement being given to the superb vets who fought it, the same seems to be true as re. the communication equipment introduced to the military during the Korean War.

Today we know almost nothing of the radio equipment used in Korea except for the fact that most of it was said to be of WW-II origin. With a mindset like this, it’s impossible to tell what was new, versus what was left over from WWII. Worse, from this distance in time, equipment that did not even exist during the Korean War is now being labeled as Korean War era communications equipment.

A/N PRC-6In researching this article, we've come across many such instances. One example has to do with an “RT-68 Korean War vintage transceiver” which we saw advertised on the internet for only $45.00. Looking a little deeper into what an RT-68 was, and when it was released for use in the Army, it becomes clear that it didn’t even exist during the Korean War. As a quick quiz, consider the following list: PRC-6, 8, 9, and 10, a GRC-9, and an RT-66, 67, 68, 70. Which of these were used in the Korean War? Wisdom on the internet and in publications relating to this era says all of them. Unfortunately, only two of the radios listed here could possibly have been in service in time to participate in the Korean War, and one of those wouldn't have had anything compatible in the field to talk to. The answer then is only one in the list was actually available and able to be used in the Korean War, despite what one might read in any number of publications.

This problem of being unable to determine what new equipment the Signal Corps seeded the Korean War with stems from how military equipment is dated. When no other historical documentation is available, one would seemingly be able to depend on several things to try and estimate the vintage of equipment and when it was introduced. Unfortunately, as you will see here, most methods that are used to age military radio equipment are flawed and will lead you astray.

The first item most commonly looked for in determining when a piece of signal equipment was first brought into service is the order date present on the data plate. Unfortunately, this date reflects the date an item was ordered, not when it was actually put into service. The radio's actual delivery and usage date could lag this date by as much as a year. Similarly, perhaps the worst way of determining a date of introduction and use is by looking in the various equipment lists of the time, such as the Technical Manuals (TM), as well as the SIG and FM series of publications. This approach doesn’t work either, as the information contained in these was very often obsolete before these publications were even printed. As an example, the 1950 edition of TM11-487 lists none of the radios commonly known to be of Korean War vintage.

Another unreliable approach is comparing the AN number, and it's order, with one from a radio of known vintage. For instance, the actual timing of the release of the PRC series is as follows; the PRC-5 was in use during WW-II, the PRC-6 would be introduced around 1950, the PRC-8,9, and 10 not until 1951 at the earliest, and the PRC-7 sometime around 1956. Simple, huh? Unfortunately, the problem inherent in this approach exists for all other series of military equipment too. What’s the problem, you ask? Surely you noticed that the numbers went forward, and then backwards, didn’t you? With a varying number scheme like this, it’s impossible to pinpoint when a piece of equipment was released.

The best reference of all for determining when signal equipment was introduced is by using the actual publications that were issued at the time in question, and which discussed the new equipment coming online. Such publications as the CMH series "The Signal Corps," or "Test for Technology," are good examples. Unfortunately, for the Korean War period none of these exist because everyone was too busy making the equipment to write up nicely written and published histories about what it was and how it worked.

Which leaves us with only one option in terms of telling you what kind of new communication equipment was released during the Korean Warsince we can’t tell you what it was, we’ll tell you who made it:

The Sperry Gyroscope Company; the National Company, Inc.; Wells-Gardner Co; The Hallicrafters Co.; E. H. Scott Radio Laboratories, Inc.; Crosley Corporation; Collins Radio Company; and Hammarlund Mfg. Co., Inc.

One thing we know is true about some of these manufacturers, if you’re a true Signals guy, your heart felt a burst of warmth as you read their names. Companies like Hallicrafters, Collins, and Crosley will always spark a fond memory in a real Signaleer, usually because as kids we cut our teeth on surplus equipment made by these folks.

Finally, let us begin to wrap up this article by telling you about how the Signal Corps itself changed during the Korean War.

848th Signal Training BattalionDuring World War II the role of the Signal Corps was perfected, but the structure it operated under still left something to be desired. One can see this if one looks closely at the chaos that ensued in Signal Corps personnel management when, after the North Koreans crossed the 38th parallel, it suddenly became a top priority to recruit and train a ton of new personnel.

In a recent research project for the grandson of a WWII Signal OCS graduate (Class 43-25) we discovered that the 848th Signal Training Battalion was created to hold the wash-outs from AAF (Army Air Force, a division of the Signal Corps at that time) training. That is, Signal Corps personnel that were to become Officers once they completed AAF flight training were reassigned to the 848th, a unit created specifically to "house" them if and when they failed to complete their AAF training. That left the question of what to do with them once they got into the 848th, especially since the men involved were already well along on their way to becoming Signal Officers by the time they washed-out.

The answer was to define the purpose of the 848th as being to provide some other form of specialized Signal training for these wash-outs. After which, once this new specialized training was successfully completed, the men would then and only then be sent on to complete their OCS training, and receive their commission as a Second Lieutenant. As you'll see, while it was a good idea, it didn't work well in practice, even to the point of uncovering a basic flaw in how all Signal Corps Officers were being trained back then.

With so many men filling the 848th’s rosters at the start of the Korean War, it was decided to send them off to Camp San Louis Obispo, where an Artillery and Infantry training center operated, preparing men in those branches for service in Korea. Thus the wash-outs from AAF school left Camp Crowder in Missouri for the sunny climes of California. There they were taught the role of a Signal Officer in supporting Infantry and Artillery operations. After finishing their training in Camp San Louis Obispo, they were then sent on to Ft. Monmouth, to complete their officer training, from whence they would then receive their commission and their final unit assignments.

Signal Corps Training - Korean WarLooking at this closely, one can see that the training being done both at Camp Crowder (aviation training), and at Camp San Louis Obispo (Artillery and Infantry training) is what we would call today specialized training. And it was being given to men who were, for all practical purposes, only officer candidates (note the lower case letters), not Officers. In other words, the process of training Signal Officers during and after World War II generally involved providing specialized training first, and then Officer (note the capital “O”) training second.

This is just the opposite of what was done for the Vietnam War. For the most part, during the Vietnam War candidates for officer training went through Signal OCS training first, and became Officers, and only then, upon completion and receipt of their commission, were sent away for specialized training.

Somehow, between the end of WWII and the beginning of the Vietnam War, someone thought it better to reverse the order and conduct the bulk of the Officer training first, and the specialized training second. In hindsight, the reason this decision was made is obvious, and can be found referred to in numerous contemporaneous documents of the time that discuss the quality of the Officers the various OCS programs were turning out. The problem was that what was found towards the end of the second world war turned out to be true again at the beginning of the Korean War... by emphasizing technical training over Officer training, the skills, courage, intelligence, discipline, education, dedication, character, and commitment needed to qualify someone as appropriate Officer material was not being fully vetted in selecting those who were being sent off for specialized training. Worse, because of the investment the Army had in putting someone through specialized training, and the demand for Officers to send to the field, anyone who completed their specialized training was (in the early days at least) virtually guaranteed of becoming an Officer. This resulted in a fair number of well trained technical specialists wearing bars, but who had little of the moral fiber and personal makeup needed to lead troops in the field.

848th Signal Training at Camp San Louis ObispoBy reversing the order of the training it was possible to put an equal amount of emphasis on the self-discipline, motivation, con-fidence, judgment, problem solving skills, and ability to always accomplish the mission that is needed if one is to lead in battle, as it was to emphasize a person's technical competency. Thus, over the course of the Korean War, Signal Corps Officer training migrated from the form and type it had been at the end of WWII, to what it was at the beginning of the Vietnam War: one where an increased emphasis was placed on who was being let into OCS for training in the first place, and how they were trained to be an Officer once they were there.

The development of this new philosophy in how to train Signal OCS Officers was one of the byproducts of the Korean War. One can see its outcome by simply looking at the dropout rate of Signal OCS candidates to those of its sister services. As many in this Association will readily tell you, Signal OCS saw a dropout rate of 50%, while that of the other branches’ hovered around 25%. Thus, from the Korean War forward, to be a Signal Officer who earned a commission through OCS two things had to be learned: i) leadership and ii) mastery of the technology. For the Infantry and the other sister branches, only one thing was needed: leadership. With Signal OCS candidates being graded in two key areas, versus the one of the other branches, it was only natural that Signal OCS candidates had twice as many opportunities to fail the program... and many did.

This is said not to be at all critical of the other branches, but only to state the obvious... a lesson learned by the Signal Corps during the Korean War: unlike in the other branches where leadership is the prime capability one must possess, in the Signal Corps both leadership and technical intelligence are needed. This is only natural, leading to the obvious conclusion that among candidates for Signal OCS training it is a necessity that the vetting process find people who can master these two things equally: i) the kind of incredibly unique strategic and tactical thinking that, say, an Infantry Officer must master if he is to be an effective leader of men, and ii) the kind of technological and signals intelligence skills that a Signal Officer must hold, and combine with his leadership skills, in order to achieve his mission.

Korean War Organization StructureWith the Korean War prompting a new fresh look at how its Officers were to be trained, it was only natural for the Signal Corps to also  take a closer look at its organizational makeup.

Unlike in WWII, Korea showed that the kind of warfare that resulted from more modern weapons and means of communic-ation would be better served if a more clear distinction could be made between the types of soldiers that were being sent to the field. That is, there was a need for all concerned, across all branches, to understand instantly what the role was of the many and varied types of Signal units and personnel that roamed both the front lines and the rear echelons.

To simplify things, during the Korean War the Signal Corps began to enhance the distinction between the various types of Signal troops that it had, classifying them into three broad categories. The fist consisted of Signal soldiers that were assigned to specific military bases ("Base Ops"). These troops were charged with installation, operation and maintenance of the base's communication infrastructure, generally along with hired civilian contracted companies. While those of us who went through the Vietnam War will instantly recognize this format, during the Korean War this was a radical departure from how the Signal Corps operated during the second world war. For one thing, there were far fewer civilian contractors in the field and on bases during the second world war than the Korean War, and certainly fewer in both cases than during the Vietnam War.

The next group were Signal Corps personnel who were members of non-Signal Army units, like the Infantry, Medical, and Armor corps. Their job was to provide communication capabilities for those with other jobs to accomplish, like killing the enemy or keeping our own soldiers alive. As in an analogy mentioned earlier in this article, these troops effectively became the I.T. department of the units they were assigned to.

The third major type of Signaleer became the one assigned to what purists would think of as a true Signal unit. These Signaleers found that their mission was to provide communication links between Army units in their areas of operation, as well as other signal nodes in still other areas served by still other Signal units. The most fundamental form of Signalman, these people were the ones that prompted the review of how Signal Officers were being trained, because while both the EMs and the Officers who did this work had the singular task of doing almost nothing but signals work, they also had the task of building the signal sites they ran, and filling in their otherwise spare time by defending them.

It was this latter duality of performing local combat operations (defense, combined with localized search and destroy), as well as highly specialized technical work, that brought out the dichotomy of trying to find officer material capable of thinking both strategically and tactically (right brain) as well as technically (left brain). Further, where in World War II clearly defined front lines that almost always tended to move forward dominated (thus reducing both the need and value of stationary signal sites, as well as the need to defend those that were built), and a pre-existing telephone infrastructure existed (in Europe) to support regional military and combat communication, in Korea none of this was true. In fact, it was just the opposite, in Korea it quickly became clear that signal sites on top of mountains had to be built and they had to be vigorously defended, if the Army was to be able to communicate. In other words, the Signal Corps' Officer corps had to learn how to fight and defend their own territory, as well as communicate.

U.S. Army Signal Corps WingsTo round all of this out, during the Korean War the Signal Corps got its wings back. Korea’s terrain forced the issue of whether the Signal Corps needed planes or not back to the Pentagon for review. The need to be able to lay cable by plane and helicopter, the need to be able to ship messages over the mountains by air (especially bulky maps and documents that do not lend themselves to radio transmission), and the need to perform photo recon of the battlefield all combined to cause the Secretary of Defense to reverse his decision to strip the Signal Corps of its wings. At the same time, the Signal Corps was given near carte blanche to rebuild its logistical support capabilities…everything from building a more effective means for training its Officers and enlisted men, to reinvigorating its laboratories back at Ft. Monmouth, building new liaison laboratories with several civilian contractors, extending its combat photography services to include motion picture cameramen, aerial photography, photo analysis, and so forth.

By the end of the war the Signal Corps had redefined itself across many levels. In one sense, it brought forth both the new being that the Signal Corps would become as it took its place in the new form of warfare that resulted from the Korean War, as well as the new substance it needed to support that new soul.

In terms of what this being was, mission wise, it was now clear to Signals people everywhere that the Infantry’s rejoinder that its goal, as the tip of the spear, was to “shoot, move, and communicate” was wrong. And knowing that it would be a cold day in hell before the Infantry would change its motto to match anything the Signal Corps might suggest, instead of setting off warfare between itself and its sister branch, the Signal Corps simply set about the task of preparing to be there, by the Infantry’s side… and that of Armor, Artillery, Aviation, and any other branch of service that wandered by, when they finally came to realize that what they needed most in order to effectively engage the enemy and meet their mission was to communicate. That is to say, the Signal Corps’ new post-Korean War soul would live to fulfill the purpose of supporting the other branches when they finally discovered that in the real world of modern warfare it is more important to communicate first, and then shoot and move, than to fire first and ask questions later. If one doubts this, one need only look at the impact on America’s war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan of the many civilian and ally deaths resulting from poorly communicated targeting and target analysis details.

For the record, it's not that what the other branches of the military does is wrong in putting shoot and move before communicate, it's that warfare has changed, and along with that change there is a need to integrate into the traditional tactics of warfare real time capabilities that weren't needed in the types of wars fought in the past. As the Korean War unfolded the Signal Corps saw this fact come to life, and as a result began to incorporate these lessons into its combined forces strategies.

Signal Corps Observation BalloonOne can see this if one looks at how the very concept of battlefield communication has chang-ed down through the ages. For example, where in Custer's days the only communication needed was seeing the Indians, and during the Civil War all that was needed in the form of communication was to observe troop movements, perhaps from a balloon 1,500 - 2,000 ft above the ground,  so that surprise attacks could be avoided, and during WWI the primary need was to find a weakness in the trench system of the opposition, likely by observation from above via a Spad flying at 5,000 feet, and commun-icate this information back to the soldiers who were about to go over the top, by the time of WWII all of these preliminary com-munication-as-a-form-of-seeing-where-the-enemy-is needs were replaced by a need to be able to know what the enemy's intentions were long before you could see him, or he could began to move his men.

This change in the fundamental concept of what battlefield communications is came about because as the speed of warfare and combat increased, the ability to win an engagement purely on the basis of physical observation of the enemy's position decreased. Simply put, in a fast paced, quickly evolving combat and/or war scenario, communication in the form of listening in on the enemy's communication and moving the knowledge gleaned from this exercise quickly throughout the combat arena (so that field commanders can move their men and then shoot) becomes of supreme importance. In other words, as the pace of war increases, the value of shooting and moving... or in some cases moving and shooting... becomes directly proportional to the amount of exocentric (listening to the enemy) and endocentric (distributing what is learned within the unit) communication there is. Without these two, one's combat forces are essentially blind. They can shoot and move all they want, but if they don't communicate with those who know where the enemy is and what his intentions are, they will for the most part be wasting their ammunition.

For the Signal Corps, this was one of the key closing lessons of WWII. As the North Korean blitz attacks of the early days showed, the Korean War only reinforced it. The result was that the Signal Corps used the period of the Korean War to perfect its ability to integrate in real time its ability to find, trap and analyze exocentric knowledge of the enemy's intentions and activities... from all available sources and services...  and build ever quicker, faster, cheaper, better endocentric means of analyzing and sharing this information with the combat arms in need of it.

For the Signal Corps then, the Korean War proved to be an important period of transition, in both how it selected, trained, organized, and managed its personnel, as well as how it performed its core task of communicating. At the beginning of the Korean War the Signal Corps still had one foot in the past. By the end of the war it had firmly left the past behind, had transformed itself into a modern, technologically advanced, work flow process management focused military enterprise, had its feet planted firmly in the 20th century, and had its eyes on the 21st.

Communicate, shoot, and move. We, the Signal Corps, will help you do this.[8]

Finally, the United States Army paid for the Korean War with nearly 110,000 casualties, 334 were Signaleers.

The Eighth Army paid the price for its success by being asked to stay behind in Korea when everyone else went home. It is still there, preserving the rights of the South Koreans to live under peace even while they complain about the U.S.’ presence. In this author’s view, the Eighth Army is the backbone of both the Korean country and its people.

As for the Signal Corps units that entered Korea along side the Eighth Army, they remain with it even until today. In our view, to make sure the Eighth Army can communicate before it decides to shoot and move, as well as after.

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In The Next Article, The Last Chapter In This Three Part Series: The Signal Corps During The Vietnam War.

Advertisement As Originally Posted In January 2012



READ MORE  - -  Go to Part I:   The Signal Corps During The Cold War       

READ MORE  - -  Go to Part III: The Signal Corps During The Vietnam War   


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[1] Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz (1780 – 1831), a Prussian soldier and German military theorist, studied and published a dialectic on the moral and political aspects of war. His work Vom Kriege (On War) famously stated "War is the continuation of policy by other means." To return to your place in the text, click here: Return to Text

[2] As we know today, for one country to “contain” another country’s ambitions, a commitment of both military, fiscal, and popular support for the effort must be made by the people of that country… a commitment to stay the course in all three of these areas for a period in the order of 30–50 years or more. Time and again it has been proven that while the American people will allow a limited use of its youth (military) in support of a cause against another country, and its money (fiscal), it will not support a 50 year commitment to the cause. Why? Simply because the cost in terms of youth and money is too great for most Americans to stomach, no matter how worthy the cause. In simple terms, gone are the days of the American people supporting the kind of 50 year occupation that it unknowingly set in motion, and therein allowed to happen, in the cases of Japan and Germany. To return to your place in the text, click here: Return to Text

[3] In addition to the two issues previously listed as a source of encouragement for a communist leaning country to undertake military action against US interests, in the case of North Korea some also cite as an incentive for them to invade South Korea an address to the National Press Club on January 12, 1950, by then US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, wherein he described the boundaries of U.S. interests in a manner that made support for South Korea appear ambiguous. Presumably, since the U.S., which was so hell bent on stopping communism that it listed all the areas of the world where it would intervene militarily to stop its spread, did not include Korea, then that meant that the North could press its case by military means, with impunity, and without fear of a military response from the U.S. To return to your place in the text, click here: Return to Text

[4] Even today the DPRK seems ambivalent about whether to bother building an effective communication network or not. As at 2007 it was reported as having approximately 1.1 million phone lines, amounting to less than five mainlines per 100 inhabitants. Most of these are installed in government offices, collective farms, and state-owned enterprises (SOEs), with only perhaps 10 percent controlled by individuals or households. While there are perhaps 400 dedicated networks among SOEs, according to one eyewitness at least as recently as 2002 some significant facilities (in the power generation and grid network) were still using hand-cranked phones for communications. To return to your place in the text, click here: Return to text

[5] “China controls more than 90% of global production of REs and has embarked on a series of deals to secure output from other international producers, meaning it accounts for 97% of all REs sold globally.” Nomura Securities’ chief strategist Sean Darby To return to your place in the text, click here: Return to text

[6] Source: official 8th Army History; To return to your place in the text, click here: Return to text

[7] Julius Rosenberg had worked as a radar inspector at Fort Monmouth in 1942 and 1943. He was accused and convicted of stealing a new form of proximity fuse that was developed at the labs, passing plans for the manufacture of the device to the Soviet Union. Documents released by Russia after the Cold War verified that Julius Rosenberg was indeed a spy working under their employ. To return to your place in the text, click here: Return to text

[8] The first time this author heard the inverted phrase "communicate, shoot, and move" was in the midst of a story told by MAJ (R) Richard Green, one of the U.S. Army Signal Corps OCS Association's Directors. He was regaling this author in an eMail telling of a heated telephone conversation he had had many  years before with an Infantry Colonel. Apparently the Colonel had said or done something that offended Major Green. When the Colonel tried to sooth Major Green's ruffled feathers by telling him to calm down, as we were all on the same team... reminding him of the Infantry's motto to shoot, move and communicate as an example of how we all depended on each other, Major Green shot back that that was the problem with the Infantry, and was probably the reason why they lost so many men in battle... they were "too dumb" to know  their task should be to communicate, move and shoot, not the other way around. According to Major Green the Colonel promptly hung up on him.

Since that time the phrase has intrigued me, and it was in researching the evolution of the concept of shoot, move and communicate that it first came to light for this author that the Signal Corps went through both a practical and philosophical migration during the Korean War... going into it with one view of how it should go about meeting its goals, and coming out with another. For the Signal Corps, the Korean War proved to be the crucible that brought the Signal Corps into the modern world, forcing it to integrate more and newer forms of technology and thinking into its strategic and tactical mission plans. Research on how this happened led to these three articles. Our thanks to Major Green for spurring the research. To return to your place in the text, click here: Return to text


Sources used in the writing of this article include:

Marcus Noland, Peterson Institute for International Economics, Telecommunications in North Korea: Has Orascom Made the Connection?, a research paper.

Anne E. Sartori, Faculty, Northwestern University, The Might Of The Pen: The Reputational Theory Of Communication In International Disputes, "

Hall, M.P.M., Barclay, L.W. and Hewitt, M.T. (Eds.), Propagation of Radiowaves (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, 1996).

CCIR Report 1145, "Propagation over irregular terrain with and without vegetation" (International Telecommunication Union, Geneva, 1990).

Info on Richmond Relay Site courtesy:

Blumtritt, Oskar, Petzold, Hartmut, and Aspray, William. Tracking the History of Radar, Piscataway. New Jersey, IEEE-Rutgers Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, 1994.

Info on the history of the Taejon Signal Site courtesy:

Info on dating Korean War era equipment from: Machines of War - Communications, Korean War Educator,


This page originally posted 18 January 2012 

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