Dr. Rodney T. Hard

                             HANG LOOSE

By:  Dr. Rodney T. Hard

“Sign out your firearms, gas up the van, and report back to me.”  Lieutenant Colonel Luis Castro-Acobez was not a man of many words.  He was over-ranked, to say the least, to command a Company in the United States Army. 

But this was no ordinary Company.  In 1969, Company A of the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion in Seoul, Korea was a small unit “hidden” in plain sight in a neighborhood called Tae Bang Dong.  The interrogation unit, taking up a square block of real estate and surrounded by guard towers and ten-foot high concrete walls topped by barbed wire, housed captured North Korean spies.   

Joe and I took the Colonel’s command to mean that we were to check out concealed carry pistols from the armory, put on our civilian clothes, sign out our civilian ID cards and G2 (cooperate with us and don’t ask any questions) credentials, and get the covert vehicle with civilian license plates ready to go.  We were excited.  A covert mission was a lot more interesting than interrogating the Communist “packages” or typing and filing reports.   

We reported back to the Colonel.  “What is our mission, Sir?” 

“Go the Kimpo Airport and hang loose.” 

Bewildered, I asked, “Is this surveillance?  Is it a pick-up….?” 

He cut me short, “Just hang loose.”  

Joe and I pondered the cryptic command all the way to the airport.  We were both interrogator/interpreters (MOS 96C) with the rank of Specialist 5 and did not have special training for this “super spook” stuff.  What if we screwed this up royally? 

We parked at the airport and went inside to case the place and see if we could figure out what our mission was all about.  I ran into a missionary kid friend of mine from high school that was heading back to the USA after visiting her parents.  I really couldn’t tell her why I was there, so I gave her a bogus cover story and we chatted a little before she had to board her plane.   

After an hour we gave up inside and went back out to check the parking lot.  Parked near the front entrance was Colonel Castro’s black limousine.  We went back inside and finally found the Colonel waiting outside a terminal gate.   I sidled up next to him without looking at him and covertly asked him, “Is this a pick-up?”  He continued to look toward the gate with incoming passengers and almost imperceptibly nodded his head. 

Joe and I still wondered what all the cloak and dagger secrecy was all about, but we didn’t have time to waste.  As we headed out to get our Volkswagen van, we spotted a vehicle from the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion, Company B, counter intelligence unit. 

These were the real “spooks” and they were getting into their vehicle to leave.  I recognized their covert vehicle by the license plate starting with the numbers 88. 

“You guys here for a pick-up?” I asked. 

“We don’t know.” one of them said.  “We were just told to come here and…..” 

“Hang loose!” I said. 

Their jaws dropped.  “How did you know?” asked one of them. 

“It’s a pick-up.  Just follow us.” I said. 

We raced in front of a line of taxis and pulled in behind Colonel Castro’s limousine just as a space opened up by a departing taxi.  The timing could not have been better planned.  The Colonel emerged with a man and his family who got into the limousine.  We helped the porters load the copious amounts of luggage into our van and the other “spook” vehicle.   

Guard tower outside detention enclosure on the left.

The van for the "Hang Loose" Mission with a couple of my co-workers.

Rodney Hard ready for mission.

We followed the Colonel, and our three-vehicle caravan delivered the family to their new residence on the Yongsan military base in downtown Seoul without incident.   

When we got back to our unit, I looked up the Colonel and asked him, “Why didn’t you at least tell us in advance that it was a pick-up job?  If we had screwed it up, that would have been embarrassing for you.”  I told him about the Company B guys who almost left the scene had it not been for my intercepting them. 

He just said, “I knew you wouldn’t screw it up.”  And then he dismissed me.  That was the pat on the back I needed.  That was the unspoken “Well done!” that made my day. 

Mister Tom Rowan, my civilian boss at the office, eventually told me that the man we picked up was the second in command in Asia for the Central Intelligence Agency. 

PS:  Joe is not the real name of the other guy in this story.  I cannot remember his real name.