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Ex-spy recalls Cold War exploits, returns to Presidio for DLI gathering
|Story by KEVIN HOWE|
Herald Staff Writer The Cold War was a war of words as well as deeds, said a retired cold warrior who waged his share of battles in a half-dozen languages.
Retired Army Capt. Wilfred Toczko looked back on a career that began as a young enlisted soldier whose first shots in World War II were fired from his .45 caliber pistol at Japanese planes while guarding Hickham Field in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941.
He later flew heavy bombers over Germany and used his language skills — Polish, German, Russian and Japanese — to interrogate refugees and watch for potential defectors as a military intelligence officer and as a civilian agent into the 1960s.
Toczko, 87, of Sierra Vista, Ariz., returned to the Presidio of Monterey, where he learned Japanese and later served as the installation's intelligence officer, to attend Friday's open house for alumni of the Defense Language Institute.
Language, he said, is crucial to intelligence work.
"I don't care if you just learn a few simple greetings," he said. "It's important to get a friendly face out there."
Most people can get through the day, coping with the demands of everyday life, with a vocabulary of 600 words, he said.
Toczko learned Polish from his immigrant parents, and German and Russian by immersion courses in Germany during the post-World War II occupation.
Russian was already familiar to him, he said. He lived in Poland for six months as a teenager, where the local dialect was similar to Russian.
Toczko was one of six linguists "interviewing" refugees, displaced people and those seeking visas to the United States, screening them for information that might be useful for intelligence purposes.
"We had a chart, EEI — the Essential Elements of Information — we used."
One linguist was "a defrocked Catholic priest" who spoke Rumanian and Hebrew, another was a Frenchman who spoke Arabic.
"We would sit and watch when people came through the door, and bet on who would do the interview," he said.
Toczko served two assignments at the Presidio in the 1950s. He served as treasurer of the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club when stationed at the Presidio. He organized a Sea Scout "ship" using a boat donated by the Navy in Monterey.
After a Japanese course at the Presidio in 1953-54 at what was then the Army Language School, he served with the Army Counter intelligence Corps in Tokyo.
His Polish and Russian came in handy.
"My Polish informant was another defrocked priest," Toczko said, "who was raising pigs in the Tokyo area. He had contacts all over Japan. An excellent informant."
The ex-priest and a number of Polish nuns were working in Japan and could connect Toczko with "a lot of Russian girls who had married Japanese men in Manchukuo (Manchuria under Japanese rule before the war) and my main job was to keep track of all the Russians."
The former priest was able to give Toczko blueprints for the new Polish consulate in Tokyo when its communist government opened that diplomatic post.
An assignment to intercept a potential defector from the Soviet Embassy in Tokyo took him from Japan to Okinawa to Hong Kong.
Another case involved a Polish-born U.S. soldier coming to Tokyo from Korea on rest-and-recuperation leave whom superiors believed was on the verge of defecting.
Toczko said he donned a sergeant's uniform, met the soldier at the R&R center in Tokyo, struck up a friendship, speaking to him in Polish. The two spent the young man's leave in Tokyo with Toczko serving as surveilling agent and tour guide. The youth turned out to be merely homesick.
Toczko is credited with planting an informer in the Soviet Embassy in Tokyo and with the arrest of an Army sergeant attempting to sell classified papers to the Russians who turned out to be a German who had come to the United States under a false name and enlisted in the Army.
Toczko finished his career at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., working on classified communications equipment and unmanned surveillance drone developments. Until a few years ago, Toczko said, he continued flying as a private pilot and kept his plane at his own airstrip.
Kevin Howe can be reached at 646-4416 or email@example.com.