Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories detailing the history of the American Legion in Wausau, including highlights about the men and women of Post 10, in advance of the organization’s 100-year anniversary.
By David Stenklyft, Wausau Pilot and Review
Wausau Post 10 Vice Commander Bob Weller wasted no time in leaving for the service in 1961. He graduated from high school in Chilton, Wis. on May 28 and was on an Air Force plane a few hours later.
The reason, Weller said, was because enlisting in May meant he could be accepted in to the electronics division, which led to the field of intelligence.
Weller was one of 63 recruits at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. He spent the first few weeks in classroom instruction with a heavy emphasis on education, rather than physical training. After basic training, most of his classmates transferred to different bases in the country for radar, radio and other training, but Weller stayed at Lackland when his training shifted to encryption — something only Lackland offered.
“There was top secret coding equipment there,” Weller said. “My instructor said I was only the second recruit to be assigned to the encryption program there. I was really pleased that I was accepted in the program, when some fellows who came from universities didn’t get accepted.”
What Weller didn’t know was just how “top secret” the training was. He would only find out later, when he learned he would go to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) Headquarters in California. Until then, he had the same training that other recruits would have: going to radar school, radio school, or electronics school.
“Then I was exposed to the encryption regimen and it was quite an eye opener for a kid from Chilton, Wisconsin,” Weller said.
Nearly his entire military career was spent in California, at March Air Force Base in Riverside, command headquarters for the 15th Airborne unit and one of three SAC bases in the country. The other two were in Maryland and Louisiana.
Because of his assignment, he was subject to some rather unusual restrictions for traveling. Weller said he was prohibited from straying more than 150 miles from the base and was not allowed to go to Mexico or Canada.
In fact, Weller said, the encryption work he was doing was so top secret, they didn’t even share it with NATO.
Most of the encryption equipment at the time was disk-related, Weller said, going back to World War II with the Enigma machine. The Japanese had a similar code — and those could be broken.
But the code Weller and his fellow soldiers worked on was a new, transistorized code, a binary code that changed on the regular basis.
“The code itself could change 100,000 times per second,” Weller said. “It was a brilliant mathematical equation.”
Weller also worked with the Navajo Code Talkers, bilingual speakers specially recruited during World War II by the U.S. Marine Corps to serve in their standard communications units of the Pacific theater.
“They were the worlds best at fast-tracking a message,” Weller recalled. “Normally there is a delay from coding the English alphabet to an encrypted response. They could read the alphabet and immediately get the message out. They saved a lot of lives when you are talking about moving weapons or manpower to where they were needed.”
Eventually, however, digital encryption became so advanced and portable that the Code Talkers, after being kept secret for 30 years, were ultimately decommissioned.
Weller had the opportunity to meet a fellow soldier from the Navajo Coder program during the man’s visit to Wausau.
“I got a chance to sit down with Chester Nez; he signed a book with me,” Weller said. “It was interesting that he was the first Navajo Code Talker and I was the first digital code talker. That allowed him to travel around the country and meet so many appreciative people.”
Weller’s duties for the Post involve chairing meetings when the Commander is not available. He also deals in public relations, advertising, and dissemination information about the Post.
The Post is on a membership drive through the summer, looking for new members, not only to boost membership numbers, but also to help veterans and their families. Weller states there are 63 programs they work with to assist with any veteran issues.
The American Legion Post welcomes all military personnel serving our country. Their mission is to implement the goals, aspirations, dreams, peace and blessings for our country, friends and families. Membership is based on honorable service with any branch of the U.S. Armed forces during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Lebanon/Grenada conflict from Aug. 24, 1082 to July 31, 1984, Operation Just Cause from Dec. 20, 1989 to Jan. 31, 1990, and Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, from Aug. 2, 1990 through today.
To learn more or to join Post 10, visit the organization’s membership page.