The National Security Agency yesterday honored the 13 soldiers who died when their planes were shot down during spy missions against the North Vietnamese.
Beneath rainy skies, and before a small sea of umbrellas, the NSA unveiled a sleek, black reconnaissance plane that served as HTC a top-secret workhorse for the Army Security Agency during the Vietnam War.
From 1963 to 1973, such Beechcraft RU-8D dual-engine propeller planes were used to intercept enemy radio transmissions and locate enemy troops by homing in on their radio transmitters.
David Hatch, an NSA historian, said the intelligence gathered by those planes and their crews was crucial to helping ground troops attack the enemy and avoid being attacked.
"Without it, I truly feel the casualty lists would have been much greater," Hatch said.
The plane was unveiled at NSA's National Vigilance Park and Aerial Reconnaissance Memorial at its headquarters near Fort Meade. The park opened in September with the dedication of a fat-bellied Lockheed RC-130, which the Air Force used during the Cold War to spy, particularly on the former Soviet Union.
The NSA plans to add a Navy plane to the park in an effort to honor all three branches of the military that, over the past 46 years, have helped the NSA protect national security by intercepting foreign radio, telephone and computer transmissions.
Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minihan, the NSA's director, said the park is a memorial to those who died in that effort -- "in slow and mostly unarmed aircraft" -- but could never be properly honored because their reconnaissance missions were top secret.
Sunday, as project manager Paul Higgins put the finishing touches on the plane before yesterday's ceremony, he noticed a flower and a small note taped to a wing. The note read: "Miss ya."
"I think these are more than just airplanes in a park," he said. "To the families who lost loved ones, they really mean something."
Three spy planes were shot down during the Vietnam War and 40 during the Cold War, killing 64 cryptologists and 45 crew members.
Pub Date: 5/13/98