Local vet recalls propaganda battles during Korean War

Jun 25, 2015 | Community News

Bob Rose recalled that being a teen fresh out of high school and about to join the U.S. Coast Guard, not much bothered him. “I was too young to have fears,” he said. “Back then, we had no fear.”

“Back then” was 1948 to 1953, when Rose was in the Coast Guard. And from 1951 to 1952, he was the storekeeper on the Cutter “Courier.” He said he was primarily concerned with doing his job right.

“I did not even take time [to be afraid]. I just wanted to do a good job in what I was trained for and help 137 other sailors on board the ship,” Rose said. “They got whatever they needed.”

Today is the 65th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, when armed forces from Communist North Korea stormed into South Korea, triggering a response from the United States in defense of South Korea.

Along with the fighting in Korea, there was a propaganda war underway between the U.S. and the Communist nations, principally the Soviet Union. R.F. “Bob” Rose, 83, now a resident of The Village retirement community in Gainesville, played a role in that propaganda conflict, helping to broadcast the U.S. “Voice of America” radio shows to Russia.

Rose was aboard the Courier’s training cruise in 1952, when the crew tested the equipment on the ship before it sailed to Rhodes, Greece to broadcast U.S. propaganda to Russia. The shakedown was also a way to spread good will to South America and the ship’s stops in Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Mexico. Rose said he worked 15 to 17 hours a day, seven days a week on the ship. He supplied most things for the ship, including food, tools, dining equipment, refrigerators, stoves and more. The only thing Rose did not supply was the electronic equipment for the radios.

Rose said he was also the only person on the Courier who did not receive a gun for protection. “They wouldn’t give me a gun, but they gave me a phone,” he said. “It was a comedy act.”

Once Rose’s time on the Courier was over, he went back to Hoboken, New Jersey and worked in the Coast Guard supply depot there. After that, he said he went to college and began a pharmacy job in sales. But the Courier went on to Rhodes, where it acted as a “mobile transmitting facility” for the U.S. Information Agency’s “Voice of America” broadcasts. “The operation was designed to provide a ship-borne radio relay station to transmit Voice of America programs behind the ‘Iron Curtain,” according to the “USGG” website.

The Cold War is over, but the propaganda battles between the U.S. and Russia continue, according to University of Florida Russian Studies professor Michael Gorham. He has a doctorate in literature and cultural studies, both concentrating on Russian area studies.

In an email, Gorham said that Russia­­—backed by its president, Vladimir Putin—is broadcasting through the TV station “Russia Today,” which shows a Russian view on world events and casts a negative light on the West, particularly the U.S. While Soviet-era Russia pushed the ideology of communism, it no longer pushes a clear ideology now, Gorham wrote. And funding for U.S. programs like “Voice of America” have been severely cut, he said, though some people in Washington are calling for a revival of these measures. Gorham said the Internet is the medium through which the “information war,” as opposed to outright propaganda, is waged. “Controlling the Internet is much harder than controlling television, though, so this medium remains the go-to source of information and communication for Russians more critical of the current administration (and those in need of multiple/more objective perspectives),” he wrote.

This story originally featured in The Gainesville Sun.