A Mexican Christmas in Bavaria

I remember it like it was last Christmas, but it was really--- Christmas 1954. A bunch of very non-military college-age kids were serving in the United States Air Force Security Service (USAFSS). Our unit was the 6910th Security Group, based at a former German air base just outside the beautiful little Bavarian town of Landsberg am/Lech. Our daily jobs were part of an Air Force intelligence mission and highly classified. Although far from home at Christmas, most of us privately gave thanks that we were not in Korea; we knew we had a plum assignment in Bavaria. We spent our spare time chasing frauleins, drinking German beer, snapping our German cameras, traveling throughout Western Europe and dreaming about getting out at the end of our 4-year enlistment.

On the other hand, we were all very serious about our jobs as small cogs in a large intelligence gathering enterprise. Because of our security clearances, we were forbidden to take leave in the border area near the Iron Curtain, but listening to radio signals across that border was our job. Truth is, we had been hand picked for our jobs; not that we knew anything about what we were getting into, but many of us had college degrees or other aptitudes that filtered us into the USAFSS. We received OJT training in communications intelligence at Brooks AFB in San Antonio, Texas. Yeah, we were kind of a smart-alec bunch of kids. Our CO was 1st Lt. Hector Quintanilla, Jr. Hector was college educated (Phd. in Physics) and understood and tolerated our non-military ways. Hector's other claim to fame was his beautiful wife, Eleanor, which brings me back my to my Christmas story...

The invitation to a Christmas dinner at the home of Hector and Eleanor came as a real surprise. As enlisted troops, we only admired Eleanor from afar, which was the norm for military life. To be invited to their home for a meal, especially at Christmas, was something special! The real surprise was the meal that was served Mexican! You see, all of us had developed a taste for Mexican food during our stint in San Antonio. We had now become connoisseurs of German food and drink, we didn't expect to taste Mexican again until we ZI'd (went home)! However, as a wonderful treat, Eleanor sent home for enough Mexican fix'ins to feed Hector's entire TA (traffic analysis) section. I think the pictures below tell the rest of the story of that Christmas day, so many years ago. Have you ever seen such a cleaned up bunch of grungy airmen? And the kids! They were the other part of the celebration that made it memorable. I took these pictures with my prized Leica camera; they have been shown only once or twice since 1954 but now I can share them again... It was a Christmas I will never forget, and I know those of you who were there also remember it as something special.
Ray M. Thompson (A/1C -18410468)
Christmas 1998

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Finding Hector

For about 40 years, I had contact with only a very few of my 6910th buddies. However in 1995, with the help of my computer and the internet, I began to find a few of them. Those that I found knew of others, and soon I found myself publishing our reminiscences in my "6910th 50's Newsletter." We passed the word to find our favorite OIC, Hector Quintanilla... After returning to civilian life many of us saw Hector's name in the news from time to time because he was tapped to head "Project Blue Book", the official Air Force program at Wright Patterson AFB which investigated UFO sightings. Not surprising, because 1st Lt. Quintanilla also held a Masters Degree in Physics! unfortunately, it was many months before I received his phone number in San Antonio (via Norm McClellan).

Sadly, when I called, his daughter-in-law informed me that Hector had passed away only a few weeks before. However, the call put me in touch with Hector's son, Col. Eugene H. Quintanilla and his wife Cynthia. We began to correspond by e-mail. They told me that immediately after the funeral, Gene was to report to Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo, Texas where he is now the 17th Support-Group Commander (what they used to call the base commander). Of course, contact with Gene and Cynthia brought to mind this story. I hope they will enjoy sharing it and my pictures with Eleanor, five other Quintanilla children, and six grandchildren!
Ray M. Thompson (A/1C -18410468)