Karen Urette’s Recollection of Mike’s Secret Mission
The following is by Karen Urette whose marriage to Mike Urette K-2
is approaching sixty years.
Remember the 60s? No cell phones, long distance calls were expensive, no
email and the Signal Corps communicated via line-of-sight antennas. Mike, like
most of his class had completed Officers Basic Course, Airborne or Ranger school
and was on his first assignment in Germany stationed at Goeppingen with the
144th Signal Battalion of the 4th Armored Division.
We loved living in Germany and were fortunate that my family was then living
in Verdun, France where my dad was the Command Engineer for the 4th Logistical
Command. No stateside phone calls needed! And though not right next door, my
family was close enough to spend Christmases together and to baby sit our two
little ones when Mike and I explored Europe. An added bonus was that I could
“run home” with kids and German Shepherd in tow when Mike headed off to Graff
for field exercises – preparing to protect us from a Russian invasion. It was a
wonderful first tour until...
One lovely late spring day in 1964, Mike came home unexpectedly early with
the news that he had to leave the next day! He had been selected for – well, he
couldn’t tell me that, he couldn’t tell me where he was going, he couldn’t tell
me how long he might be gone, he couldn’t tell me if he could call or write me,
he couldn’t tell me if he would even come back to Goeppingen. He couldn’t tell
me anything except that if he was gone for very long then the Army would send me
“home”. They wouldn’t let me go to my family in Verdun but the Army “would take
care of me”. All I could imagine was being off planed at McGuire AFB with an
infant, an almost two-year-old, a dog and nowhere to call home. Plan A: put up a
brave front and trust in the Army; Plan B: start saving change for a stateside
pay phone marathon to find a “home”.
I kissed my soldier a tearful good bye and concentrated on staying calm all
the while wondering “why my Mike”. Our little ones kept me busy and my mind
occupied -- except in the evenings. In the 60s, there was no English language TV
in Germany so after tucking the kids in bed I would listen to the American
Forces Network on our radio and read the Stars and Stripes -- all in the vain
hope that maybe, just maybe, there might be a mention of a “special mission” or
some clue as to where Mike was. But as expected the Army kept its secrets
The days, then the weeks and then the month passed. His commander would check
on me occasionally and the company wives almost daily. But still, I was so
tempted to just go AWOL and “run home” to Verdun!
Mail, as in snail, was a bright spot though the lack of a letter from Mike
always dimmed the delivery. And then, one evening I was reading our latest issue
of the US News and World Report – and there it was! A small news piece about
special training taking place at the John F. Kennedy Center for Special Warfare
at Ft. Bragg, NC. The report speculated on rumors that a special force had been
created of French speaking, Airborne trained personnel for an unknown something.
Mike spoke French – check! Mike was Airborne qualified – check! It had to be…
The relief was rejuvenating, if Mike was at Ft. Bragg he was safe and I knew
where he was!
Time then passed more quickly until the day his commander came to tell me
that Mike was coming back to Germany. He arrived a long week later after
visiting his parents in Monterey and yes, he had been at Ft. Bragg training as
the Signal Officer for a “Mobile Training Team” whose mission was to provide
communication support for contingency operations in the Democratic Republic of
Congo (now Zaire). His “secret mission” had been cancelled, he was thankfully
home and I promptly renewed our subscription to US News and World Report!
– After Word –
Several years later, Mike and I met a lovely couple at a small restaurant in
Alexandria, VA. The couple had just returned from a tour of duty in the Congo
and as Mike was considering an assignment to the Congo, we thought it wise to
find out more about the opportunity. It might be an exciting adventure to a part
of the world we had never visited! Towards the end of our evening, I asked the
wife what she had enjoyed the most about living there. After a rather long,
uncomfortable pause, she finally said “The strawberries are the largest I’ve
ever seen”. We didn’t go.