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Catching spies, keeping peace

Joe Erwin isn’t someone you want to cross. The Buckner Westminster Place resident is a retired U.S. Army Intelligence member, a certified lie detector and has led security initiatives around the globe.

Erwin was born as an only child on August 12, 1928, in Greenville, Texas. Three years later, his father died in an accident, forcing Joe to learn the value of work at an unusually young age. By age six, he was delivering the Dallas Times Herald around town on his bicycle. Once, a rabid dog beat him and almost killed young Joe. He barely survived after 14 shots in the stomach.

As he grew older, Joe worked several odd jobs around town, including a soda skeet at the local drug store. He met a girl named Virginia Ann, or “Ann” as most people called her. Even though she rode the bus and most kids looked down on the “bus riders,” Joe was interested.

“Ann was the cutest thing you ever saw!” he said. Ann and Joe were married in 1948 and had two children, Lynne and Lance, who later moved all around the world with them.

When Joe’s mother asked if he would go to college, to her disappointment he said, “I’m just not college material.” He enlisted in the Army in 1946 and was sent to Korea in the 2nd Infantry where he saw 13 months of active combat duty. Joe remembers, “I learned one thing for sure, keep your head down.”

In 1955, Joe was assigned to Army Intelligence and began a journey that would involve 27 moves from Texas to Germany, Italy, Korea, Vietnam, Virginia, Maryland, Austin, San Antonio, Tyler and back again. Joe worked in the National Counter Intelligence Corps and was taught to read and speak Bulgarian, German, and Czechoslovakian.

He became an expert interviewer and was certified as a lie detector examiner. Joe fondly remembers the time he and his team caught an East German spy in Italy. “She was beautiful, just like the spies from the movies, and was about to marry an American officer before we figured out what she was up to.”

Over time, Joe was promoted all the way up to a GS13 and had the honor to open and oversee many intelligence offices and initiatives around the world. In 1999, he was selected to be an instructor at the Department of Defense Security Institute near Richmond, Va. During all of his training and educational opportunities, Joe almost always finished first or second in his class. In 1986, while stationed in San Antonio, Joe went to college and earned his bachelor’s degree in personnel management and psychology from Texas State University just to honor his late mother’s wishes. Joe has gone on to write four books, and although they are fiction, he has woven elements of his life and times in Texas and his top secret experiences working as a special agent around the world.

Joe found his way back to Texas after retirement and has lived at Buckner Westminster Place twice. Although Joe’s wife and son have died, he is happy to have his daughter Lynne nearby and is blessed with six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Looking back on life Joe says he learned, “Always pay your bills, never lie, and learn to be comfortable being solitary. I have enjoyed my life and I am glad to be back at Buckner.”


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