Airman 1st Class John Perdue of Punta Gorda, Fla. spent most of his four years in the U.S. Air Force decoding secret messages from the North Korean Air Force during the Korean War of the 1950s.
After running out of funds while attending college in the Chicago area he decided to give the Air Force a try because they offered him a choice of job opportunities, he recalled 60 years later.
“I wanted to became an aerial photographer. They said if I signed up I could become one,” Perdue said. “After basic at Lackland Air Force Base the major called me in and told me I had been selected to be a cryptologist because of my high score on the aptitude test.
“I explained to him I’d rather take aerial photographs than be a code breaker. He told me that might be possible, but it would take me about nine months to get into photographic school. In the meantime they’d put me in K.P. That was about the time I thought I might reconsider being a cryptologist.
He became part of the 6929th Air Force Security Group. He and five of his buddies were sent to Japan to Johnson Air Force Base outside Tokyo to learn more about decoding.
“There were two sections for encryption–Chinese and Russian. I ended up working with Chinese. Our job was to decode Morris Code given us in groups of five letters each.
“Much of what we decoded had to do with their MIG-15 jet fighter planes. We discovered where the North Koreans had their MIGs, where they were taking off from, when and what their objective was,” Perdue said.
In addition to his daily decoding job, he also wrote a monthly report for the Pentagon on what the decoders had accomplished the previous month. This report contained the same type information about the North Korean fighter planes.
When he and his buddies weren’t decoding enemy messages, they spent a lot of time decoding the Racing Form.
“We got into horse racing for fun. We used our decoding talents to figure out which horse was the likely winner. We got pretty darn good at it in our spare time,” he explained.
“Our major had called a big inspection for our unit. Our top secret stuff was in the top drawer of a cabinet where we worked. That’s also where we stuffed the Racing Forms,” he said. “The major came along, opened the top drawer and pulled out our Racing Forms.
“‘Sir,’ I said to the major, ‘There’s not much to do around here in our off time. We can visit the club and get drunk or visit the brothel. I decided to be creative and start a little hobby among our troops of analyzing the Racing Form.”
“‘Very commendable,'” he replied and moved on.
After Purdue got out of the Air Force he ended up in White Sands Rocket Proving Ground in New Mexico where his father worked as a physicist. He was working for .75-cents-per-hour in a photo lab.
Six moths later he had had enough of the lab and returned to Chicago. He went into the printing business with a buddy. Eventually he and his friend decided to go their separate ways and sold the business.
For the next 20 plus years Purdue worked as a real estate estimator in the Chicago area until he and his wife, Nancy, retired in 2000 and moved to Ponta Gorda. They couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year. They have two grown children: Jack and Susan.
Name: John Perdue
D.O.B: 21 Feb. 1929
Hometown: Muskegon, Mich.
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 1950
Rank: Airman 1st Class
Unit: 6929 Air Force Security Group
Battles/Campaigns: Korean War era
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, March 24, 2014s and is republished with permission.
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