GAITHERSBURG, MD. (WDVM) — Somewhere between the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Vietnam War, there was the Cold War.
Former Army Sergeant Larry Matthews was a Cold War warrior who served in ASA, the Army Security Agency. Matthews says the intelligence-gathering agency that was headquartered at Arlington Hall across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. had two mottos, but one mission.
“One was the agency’s unofficial motto, ‘We Weren’t Here.” The other one, says Matthews was, ‘In God we trust. All others we monitor.”
“We were spooks. That’s what we did,” said Matthews as he sat on the deck of his home in Gaithersburg and talked about the task of finding out the enemy’s position and intentions during the Cold War in Europe and Southeast Asia. His father was in ASA.
Lawrence Matthews Sr. had a distinguished career in the Army. During World War Two he fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped liberate Dachau, a German concentration camp.
During the Korean War, Sgt. Matthews helped American soldiers and Marines escape Chinese encirclement at the Chosin Reservoir.
After Korea, Larry’s father was sent to the U.S. Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird, near Baltimore where he learned to be a field agent in the divided city of Berlin.
Being able to speak fluent German helped Matthews infiltrate the East German government and monitor their actions for five years.
After his tour of duty in Berlin, Command Sgt. Major Lawrence Matthews Sr. became an analyst at Arlington Hall.
When his father died, Larry kept his “tools of the trade,” spy cameras, brass knuckles and a hand-carved wooden spook that was presented to intelligence agents like him by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
“Of course he couldn’t tell me what he did, because ASA was classified, so when I enlisted, I tested for the Army Security Agency and trained at Fort Devins, Massachusetts where he was taught to copy Morse Code and operate radio monitoring equipment.
After graduating from Morse Code School, Matthews became a member of a signal intelligence team and found himself in a transport plane headed to Cuba with other paratroopers after a high-flying U2 spy plane took photographs of Soviet-built missiles that were capable of striking targets in the U.S.
The invasion of Cuba was called off at the last minute when Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev blinked and ordered the missiles removed.
“Fortunately we knew things were getting better for us while we were in the air,” laughed Matthews.
When the jumpmaster came around and collected their ammo, Matthews and the other soldiers looked at each other and said, “We ain’t going.”
The whole world also breathed a sigh of relief as both the U.S. and the Soviet Union pulled back from the brink of nuclear war in the early 1960s.