by Newt Harlan
Do you like secrets? I’m not sure whether I do or not. I am sure of one thing: I really do know a bunch of them. I don’t know if I look trustworthy or bear a resemblance to some father confessor or what, but lots of folks seem to feel duty bound to tell me their secrets.
For my part, I suppose I’m a pretty good person to trust with a secret, if someone feels a need to tell one--I can’t remember ever having divulged a confidence, even those that were told to me in hopes that I’d relay them. Many times as a teenager I frustrated the social system of the time when some girl would say to me, “Can you keep a secret?” I’d answer yes and they’d say something like, “I sure do think your friend Donnie is cute, and I really would like to go out with him.” Then several days later she’d ask me, “Well, did you tell Donnie what I told you about going out with him?” When I’d answer that I hadn’t because she’d told me that it was a secret, I’d get some reply like, “Oh, that wasn’t a real secret; I was hoping you would tell him.” Girls finally learned to tell me if they needed me to act as a “go-between.”
The other day I was listening to an “Oldies” station on the radio and heard a song that was number one on the hits chart for a while back in 1956 concerning a secret. The name of the song is “Green Door” and Jim Lowe sang it.
As I recall the song went something like this:
Midnight, one more night without sleepin'
There's an old piano
I was in the service in the mid-60's and sitting in the on-base club with several members of my flight crew at an airbase in Alaska, sipping a few beers and wishing we were home, or flying, or at least somewhere besides godforsaken Alaska, in the middle of the winter. I got up to play the jukebox (at least it was free), found “Green Door” among the selections and punched it, hoping the tune would stir up some memories of happier times spent at home in warmer weather with pretty girls. I returned to my seat and was pleased to see our Crew Chief (Boss); SMSgt. Weitz had ordered up another round and joined us at the table.
Sgt. Weitz was a career serviceman and was finishing up his final tour after 30 years. I especially enjoyed drinking beer and swapping honest lies with him because he had so many interesting stories about all the things he’d done during his career.
Anyway, after I resumed my seat we all shot the breeze and drank our beer for several minutes until “Green Door” began to play on the jukebox. My mind sort of drifted away from where I was and for a few minutes I was at home and riding around with one of my old girlfriends with her head on my shoulder, listening to Jim Lowe sing “Green Door” on the radio, while the honky-tonk piano accompanied him. Soon the song was over, and as I returned from my reverie Sgt. Weitz was saying:
“There’s a story behind that song. ‘Green Door’ was written by a serviceman back in the early 50's and I met him several years ago at a base in Japan where I was TDY for a few days. We were sitting in a club somewhat as we are tonight and he told me the story behind the song and how he came to write it.
His name was Jake and he had been drafted at the end of World War II. After the war he went to school on the GI Bill, and after graduation he married, had a couple of kids and became an aspiring songwriter and a police officer in Nashville, Tennessee, to make ends meet. When the Korean thing broke out, he was recalled to duty and was assigned to an Air Police Squadron. When that was over, he decided to stay in since the service offered a better situation for his wife and kids and he would still have time to work on his song writing. Anyway, getting back to the story behind the song.
Sgt. Weitz took a drink from his beer and looked around the table at each of us and said, “and each one of you knows the secret behind the Green Door, because every day that’s where you report for work.”
Yes, I know the secret of what was behind the Green Door, and after keeping it for over forty years I’m going to go against my principles just this once and share it with you. Actually, there are several secrets (or at least little known things) that are described or alluded to in the song and story:
1. Why were the compounds unmarked? The compounds were unmarked because they usually housed the base intelligence operations and the thinking at the time was it was best not to call attention by hanging a sign saying something like, “Base Intelligence Operations.” We were in the middle of the Cold War and the prevailing thought was there were foreign spies everywhere, so no sense in giving them directions to one of the things they were probably looking for.
2. Why did they all have a green door? The door color signified the clearance level needed to gain access. Green was Top Secret; yellow was Secret and other colors, no clearance or normal clearance required.
3. “Midnight, one more night without sleepin’ -- Intelligence operations went on 24 hours a day, so when everything else was closed and everyone else sleeping, the intelligence crowd was going strong.
4. “There’s an old piano and they play it hot behind the green door” -- The compounds always had music playing loud from speakers on the outside to interfere with attempts at eavesdropping with electronic microphones. Same thing goes with recorded laughter.
5. “Knocked once, tried to tell them I’d been there, etc.” Even if you had the proper clearance and credentials, if you didn’t have a “need to know” and weren’t pre-approved, you didn’t gain admission. (We once had a base commander who threatened to put our whole unit in the brig because he couldn’t get into our ops area.)
Finally, the secret that you’ve been reading all this way to learn -- the secret behind the green door was really no secret at all, just people processing a bunch of classified information and turning it into what would eventually become intelligence, and those that weren’t involved in the operation wouldn’t understand it anyway.
Now I’ve revealed the only secret I’ve ever revealed in my life and you know it -- or do you?
Newt writes: "I was born, raised and educated in Texas. With the exception of the 4 years during the Vietnam Era that I spent riding around on airplanes, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, I've lived the almost 64 years of my life in the same town where I grew up. I managed to cram a four year college degree into nine years and by virtue of that feat, I am a former student of six different schools (sure helps the odds of rooting for a sports winner), winding up with a degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. I'm married for 30-something years and have beaucoup kids and grandkids. My hobbies, in no particular order, include writing, grandkids, hunting, fishing and visiting the local watering hole to swap honest lies and research material for stories. I'm now semi-retired, having spent the past 35 years travelling around Texas, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast areas of Mississippi and Alabama trying to sell steel products."
Want to read more of Newt’s stories at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Ol’ Red and the Armadillo
Telephones and memories
Tastes like chicken
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