Central to the U.S. Naval Security Group Activity in Winter Harbor, the Wullenweber Antenna Array — popularly known as the “Elephant Cage” — was used with satellites to triangulate the location of foreign warships and enable the U.S. Navy and its ships equipped with cruise missiles to track and target them. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. NAVAL CRYPTOLOGIC VETERANS ASSOCIATION

Retired cryptologist traces former naval base’s history

WINTER HARBOR — The U.S. Naval Security Group Activity in Winter Harbor was not just another posting for most military who served there.

It was often a dream realized and a life-changing experience, according to David Phaneuf a cryptologist at the base from 1957 to 1960.

“My commander told me you will do one of three things while you are here: marry one of the locals, have a car accident or re-enlist.”

Phaneuf did two. He married Neta Rice of Birch Harbor and re-enlisted. He was spared the collision.

In honor of his time here, Phaneuf decided to chronicle the station’s history using articles from the Acadian, a publication produced at the Winter Harbor naval facility, as the basis for the two-volume, 819-page book.

“Winter Harbor’s Naval History, 1917-2002,” follows the birth of the U.S. Naval Radio Station at Otter Cliffs on Mount Desert Island, its move to Winter Harbor and its eventual closure in 2002.

Gouldsboro resident and retired cryptologist David Phaneuf has concluded a monumental effort — more than 800 pages of history about the former U.S. Navy base in Winter Harbor. PHOTO BY JACQUELINE WEAVER
Gouldsboro resident and retired cryptologist David Phaneuf has concluded a monumental effort — more than 800 pages of history about the former U.S. Navy base in Winter Harbor.

“I just liked the base so much,” Phaneuf said, recalling the facilities available such as a gym, workshop, commissary and chapel. “I thought, why not write about it?”

Phaneuf largely based the book on articles written by Lois MacGregor, who worked at the Winter Harbor station from October 1966 to July 1982.

MacGregor was involved with the first issue of the Acadian published on Oct. 21, 1966.

By 1970, she was editor of the journal. MacGregor went on to receive five Thomas Jefferson Awards and six Chief of Information Merit Awards for excellence in journalism.

The publication also was among CHINFO Merit Award winners 10 times in 13 years.

“As the newspaper editor, I came up against a few problems over the years, but the job of putting out a newspaper overshadowed the problems,” MacGregor wrote. “It was a real pleasure to be the editor, and that is stating it mildly. There is no way to tell you how I felt in my heart about the Acadian. It was a major part of my life that I will always cherish and remember.”

Her final article for the Acadian was published on July 9, 1982.

Phaneuf, who is one of her biggest fans, said the paper evolved from copies run off a mimeograph machine to a more professionally printed publication with photographs.

His career, though, took a decidedly different turn than MacGregor’s.

Phaneuf was born in Fitchburg, Mass., and enlisted in the Navy in March 1954.

He completed Communications Technician School at the Naval Training Center in Imperial Beach, Calif., and served at naval stations in Guam and Sangley Point in the Philippines.

Phaneuf then was assigned to Winter Harbor, where he began the first leg of a 13-year career in Project Clarinet Bullseye, which took him to Japan, Guam, Fort Mead, Md., and Scotland.

His last two tours of duty were in Washington and at the Naval Security Group Command and the National Security Agency. He retired in June 1975.

Phaneuf went on to earn a degree in education and a master’s in educational administration. He was a teacher and principal at the Lamoine Consolidated School for 17 years and retired in 1994.

He and Neta live in West Gouldsboro and have three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Phaneuf was aided on his mission to record the Navy base’s history by Michelle Bierman of Hancock, a cousin of Neta’s.

Bierman was working at the Schoodic Institute in Winter Harbor, which is located on the former Navy property.

“I asked her if anything had been left behind and if the National Park Service had copies of the Schoodic Scoop — the Acadian’s predecessor — and the Acadian,” Phaneuf said.

Bierman found most of the newspaper copies at Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor and then Phaneuf was provided access to all of them.

The first volume begins with the establishment of what was considered a small radio receiving station at Otter Cliffs.

“The Navy established its first shore radio stations in 1903 and by 1908 was operating chains of stations that could relay messages from one to another the full length of the nation’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts,” Phaneuf wrote.

At this time radio communications had been adopted by all of the industrialized nations, which had begun to intercept and analyze the communications of other nations.

By World War I, the British cryptologic effort against German submarines was well developed and, as a result, the U.S. Navy supplemented the British effort with direction-finding stations.

By 1932, the National Park Service and John D. Rockefeller Jr. sought to relocate the aging installation at Otter Cliffs to extend Acadia National Park’s scenic loop road on Mount Desert Island.

The Navy agreed to move the station if a comparable site could be found within a 50-mile radius. The installation was then moved to the Schoodic Peninsula across Frenchman Bay.

The Navy base was built on 26 acres of what had been National Park Service land in Winter Harbor and was commissioned on Feb. 28, 1935.

The Winter Harbor base and other high-frequency direction finders along the Atlantic Coast reported bearings taken from aircraft, surface ships and submarine transmissions to a control center associated with the Naval Intelligence Section’s Atlantic Division.

Phaneuf said that although the historical data is interesting, what impressed him most about the Acadian were the local tidbits about life in Winter Harbor.

“It was a good mixture of what goes on in a community,” he said.

Phaneuf’s wife, Neta, was more than happy to see a conclusion to the five-year project.

“You know what I called it? His five-year mistress,” she said. “Wherever we went, he brought it with him. It was a big relief when the book was done.”

The book must be purchased as two volumes. The price is $90. Interested buyers may contact Phaneuf at 664-8439.

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]
Jacqueline Weaver

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