By Paul Wood
CHAMPAIGN — Steven Morenz, a top-secret coder during the Vietnam War, just came back from a Land of Lincoln Honor Flight.
He saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as well as the Iwo Jima statue and Arlington Cemetery.
“I knew a few people on the wall,” he said.
A recent count put the total of those who gave all at 58,318 names.
The Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., had veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War era on it.
“There’s more room for the Vietnam vets every year,” he said.
Morenz grew up in Champaign and joined the Naval Reserves, put in six years (two active), returned and worked for Kraft until retirement after 38 years.
He had advanced training in communications and coding in Pensacola, Fla., and earned a top-secret clearance.
The most intense years were his two sending and receiving coded messages between Vietnam, the U.S. and Guam.
Even President Richard Nixon visited Guam — twice.
In 1969, Nixon gave a speech on “the Guam Doctrine.”
Nixon promised assistance to allied nations fighting communist aggression, but told them they also had responsibility for their own defense.
In 1972, while Morenz was there, Nixon stopped while on the way to China, the first by an American president.
But Morenz was largely huddled in the code room.
“We knew about the bombing runs and the troop movements,” he said, at a time when Soviet and Chinese code-breakers were trying to aid their allies in North Vietnam.
He served there from 1970 to 1972.
The experience for Morenz was very different than for those who served near the height of the war.
Morenz got married at 18 and brought his wife to Guam. They had their first child while stationed on the tiny island.
“It rained about every day. You didn’t worry about the weather report,” he said.
He read off ticker-tape coded message sent to warships like the Ticonderoga and Kitty Hawk, and to the mainland of South Vietnam.
“Coding came pretty easy. I was a lot younger then,” Morenz said.
Guam is only about 30 miles long.
Morenz was next to the airstrips along that length.
“They were loaded with B-52s loaded with bombs and ready to go,” he said.
“They took off every day. They had fighter jets, two abreast in a line.”
Morenz found that upon his return, there wasn’t as much interest in the Vietnam-era soldiers as there had been with World War II and the Korean War veterans.
“They didn’t even think we should be there,” he said. “Then they forgot about it.”
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact Paul Wood at email@example.com.