Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Teresa Simpson
Gazette Reporter 

Veterans Corner - Harold Knopes


November 17, 2022

COLFAX– Local veteran, Harold Knopes, 85 joined the Air Force in 1954.

“It’s cheating, but I can claim that I’m a veteran of the Korean war,” Knopes said, “I went in 1954. It was declared over in March, I wasn’t even out of basic training.”

A veteran of Korea, Vietnam, and a couple of brush wars, Knopes went from Craigmont Idaho out of high school into basic training at Syracuse University to immersively learn Russian, spending 21 years in the Air Force as a Russian interpreter.

“I spent 21 years listening to Russians,” Knopes said, adding that he would monitor them on the radio.

Knopes stated that he could not tell about some of the high points during his time, because he had top secret code word clearance, “super secret spy stuff,” he said, noting that they never notified him if they took it away, “I doubt they would allow me in the office anymore,” he added.

“Eight hours a day with our headsets on, listening to Russians, and typing it all out,” he said, “you might say it was rather boring.”

Knopes remembered a time he was on a ship off of Conchata island in 1972 monitoring Russians ICBM launches, “we were out there to watch their practice shots land in Conchata,” he recalled, “I got to see one coming in Conchata in the middle of the night, the sky lit up like all the fireworks you’d ever seen on Fourth of July rolled into one,” noting that all they were doing out there was monitoring how the shots went, “but that was fun.”

“Japan was a pretty remote site,” Knopes said, noting that he was also in Turkey and Alaska which were also remote, “Germany was nice, I spent two tours there, three years each, and I loved it.” Knopes would meet his wife in Germany. Knopes was stationed in Germany in 1962, 1965, 1968, and 1971.

Knopes recalled being on a site right on the point of Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and West Germany, “I was on duty one night, and I shouldn’t even tell this, but I will. I picked up something weird that the Russians had been doing on their annual exercises, something that said they were going into Czechoslovakia, so I told the world about it, or tried to,” he said, “nobody believe me, forty hours later we could of watched them go by right in our backyard.”

One time Knopes was lost in the fog in Holz Germany “I was at and made the wrong turn and wound up face to face with the Russian army guard at the gate. We were not allowed to be anywhere within five kilometers of that fence and I’d lost my track,” he recalled.

During the height of the Cold War, Knopes recalled that his employer was basically the National Security Agency (NSA), not the Air Force, he noted that there were times during the cold war when things were going to get real many times, “can’t point to any particular one, but we were always on needles edge.” He also recalled being in during the Cuban missile Crisis, “that was another one where panic broke out, and everyone got called back into the office.”

Knopes noted that Putin scares him, “He’s too much like Stalin and the Cruzek war, he scares me.”

Knopes listened to several of the Sputnik launches “They were interesting,” he said, “I got to listen to one crew that they’d lost on the way down in Germany, and then in Japan I listened to another where they lost the whole crew going down.”

Knopes family history goes back to this area, “we’re members of the old Heitstuman, Becker crowd in Colton, “My great grandfather Becker homesteaded.”

Several of Knopes brothers also had served, “My senior brother by two years was four years in, and sort of followed him in,” he said. His older brother was in the Air Force as a crew chief on B-47s “I think it might have been B-52s, but I don’t think they had them yet,” he said. His brother came out disabled due to an accident as a mechanic, “somebody hit the hydraulics when he had his ear right next to an outlet on it, and nearly deafened him,” Knopes said, noting that his two other brothers then followed him into the service. One in the Army, and one in the Air Force.

For Knopes his time in the Air Force was not wasted, “21 years I wouldn’t mind repeating other than the pure boredom in the middle of the night trying to find and listen to the back and forth on the dial,” he said, “I’d recommend the service to everybody,” he added, noting that he went in with the attitude he was going to make 20 years.

Knopes would end back here in Whitman County in 1976 buying a little house that was falling down, and fixing it up, “got a couple jobs, McGregor's for a while, dispatched at the Sheriff’s Office for a while, and then retired,” he said.

As for anyone who wants to join the service Knopes said “anybody still in high school, get your grades up, it counts. It’s an interesting life,” noting that there is the chance to make some great friends, “I had one of my crew stop by my place here in Whitman County from Florida, we worked together.”


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