I have read a few articles that make statements which aren’t completely true. I like to believe that the authors are simply misinformed. For example, on your web site, under people then dogs, the statement is made that “MP Dog handlers were assigned to all Nike Hercules sites.” I know this statement is not accurate because at D-4-6 in Neuheilenbach, Germany we did not have MPs or dogs, although I heard that there were MP dog handlers at some German sites.
So I felt I had to write my story. As you will notice, I name no one, for it is not my intention to show anyone in a bad way.
In May of ’61 I enlisted in the Army and took Basic at Ft. Ord, California. Then to Ft. Bliss and was trained in the IFC area but when I arrived at D-4-6 I was assigned to the launcher area. They were short personnel down there and so I became a launcher crewman. I was not alone. There were three of us.
I've read many comments about being a Nike Missilemen. Most comments are correct, but some are not. In three different stories I read that in order to be a Nike man you had to volunteer to extend your enlistment one year and then be tested to see how smart you were. As for the test, we were all tested before enlisting and again in reception, for placement. And for extending, well I didn't meet anyone who volunteered for another year. In Germany, at D-4-6 Balesfeld (Neuheilenbach), we had a few who extended for 2 to 5 months. Not one had volunteered. Stateside I was stationed at A-1-56, Brea, California LA-29 and did not know anyone who extended there. I am not saying those statements aren’t true, I’m just saying a lot of us weren’t required to extend. And as for as intellect, we had from high school drop outs to college grads – I was the high school drop out. I went to Ft. MacArthur to get a GED and a few years later 2 years college.
In Germany in the launcher area there were three sections with three launchers each. We had four Ajax and six Hercules. One HE and five Nukes with different size warheads.
Life on a Nike missile site was very interesting to say the least. I was a 17 year old kid and didn’t have any idea what I was getting into. Basic was hard and AIT wasn’t bad, but when I arrived at D battery I was told that until my clearance came through I would fill in for those who were on the launcher crews. That meant I was a KP fill in. The unit was new and still trying to qualify for nuclear status, so I had KP mostly 6 days of the week the whole time they were being evaluated. Then when my secret clearance came through I started OJT and guard duty plus KP.
After the unit qualified, things got better for me. I was trained by some of the best crewmen you will ever find. Learning my job was easy for me to my surprise. It was learning and doing everything else that was difficult. D Btry was an above-ground site with berms that needed mowing. Learning my job really was enjoyable, up to a point. Of course my job consisted of cleaning, painting, scraping, digging, mowing... One night in November, my section sergeant told me I was going to take a drivers test the next morning. I did and I qualified. That night I pulled duty driver. I never had a driver license before and here I was driving an Army 5 ton most of the night and in GERMANY. After that I was trained and qualified on every piece of equipment in our section. We had 5 ton trucks, a 3/4 ton, Ajax and Hercules trailers, and we had 4 wheel dollies for the launchers and two generators per section. I was qualified to operate the 400 gallon fire trailer and the 16 wheel drop deck trailer, 4 wheel dolly, oh yeah, and I was the generator operator for Bravo section and Launcher Crewman 4 that I took very seriously, for I knew what could happen if I took my job lightly. I fired expert with the 30 caliber carbine, M-14, and M-16. Fired sharpshooter in basic on the M-1 rifle.
When mowing berms, at first we used those weed cutters- you know what I’m talking about– you swing the thing back and forth to cut the grass- sling blades. Then we got power push mowers to cut the grass on the berms, which was a very technical three man operation. You tie two ropes to the mower handle and two men would pull on the rope to hold the mower on the side of the berm while the third would push it in the right direction. But fox holes were tougher: if the ground wasn't frozen, then it was so rocky you couldn’t dig anyway, and it took us a week to dig a 50 cal. emplacement and that was with the entire section taking turns digging.
Oct. 1962: the ground was frozen and so were we. We spent the entire Cuban crisis in the sections with missiles on the launchers and ready. If necessary, we would have fired out within the 5 minute spec. When we were not inside the panel room for warmth, we were outside on the perimeter, manning either the 50 or with M14s on the frozen ground. The only way to keep warm was to crawl inside your sleeping bag with your weapons. Each launcher crew manned their section's defensive positions, while the assembly, engineer, and LCT operators manned the other positions.
We knew when we fired the first three rounds we would not get to fire another round. All that BS about firing out and destroying what was left was just that- “BS”. If the Soviets didn’t kill us after the first volley then our own air force would. And again, who knows– we had three Hercules on launchers, and only one was an HE the other two were nukes. With all the different branches of service, and all the nuclear fire power we had in Europe, there was enough to wipe out the Soviet Union. We were a great deterrent.
State side we used those weed cutters again- well so much for progress. We used mowers too.
And then there was guard duty. LA-29 was an underground site as such. We had three sections with four launchers and seven Hercules missiles. In each section, three launchers were permanantly placed top-side, and the fourth was on the elevator. Scraping, chipping, and painting is what we did, along with training (and there was lots of that). WD-40, graphite impregnated grease, asbestos wrap, and tetrachloroethylene gave a new meaning to the job description . What was cool about LA-29 was that our barracks, admin, and launcher areas were in the same compound. The missile storage was underground. When we were on 15 minute status we could use our own bunk and eat in the mess hall. In Germany, the launcher area was separate from the barracks and admin areas, so we had a guard house in the launcher area. We stayed there when pulling guard duty, and on 24 hour duty, which we pulled every third day. And we were served chow in Marmite cans– no way to eat.
Guard duty between D-4-6 and LA-29 was as different as night and day. In Germany, we had roving guards in all sections and another in the outer launcher area, and a two man guard shack inside the exclusion area during limited visibility. In good visibility, the guards came out of the sections and into towers. At LA-29 the launcher area guard shack was outside the exclusion area, so only one guard was needed with the ADT alarm system, and one roving guard when the MPs were not roving with their dogs. I was on gate guard when President Kennedy was shot.
LA-29 had what was called a motor pool. It consisted of one pick-up, one 2-1/2 ton truck (with automatic transmission), and one van. The missile assembly people had a thing that, if it had had a bucket instead of forks, would have been called a pay-loader. It had a knuckle in the middle so it could bend when it need to, and all four wheels were able to turn in any direction in coordination, which gave it the ability to turn on the that dime that is never there. This was the vehicle used to transport missiles and other equipment between the launcher area and other places. In Germany they used a 5 ton wrecker with a boom crane.
LA-29 had a lot of advantages. The main one was we had far less equipment to take care of and the other was I was close to home- I could look down into the San Gabriel Valley and see my neighborhood, even during poor visibility- well, moderately poor visibility. The unit was on top of a mountain and transportation to and from could be nonexistent. If you missed the last duty run then you had to find another way up the hill. When I missed it, I would make my way to the corner of Central Ave. and the site access road and wait until someone going up to the site come by and gave me a ride or wait there until morning for a ride that would get me there in time for first call. A few of us dated girls from La Habra and Brea, and some married them. I dated girls from both towns- I believed in equal opportunity! Don’t get me wrong, Germany was fantastic, we had two towns within walking distance. I loved it over there and enjoyed every time I went back, but the USA is home.
Well I have said enough to get in trouble so I think I better close. I don’t know if I accomplished what I set out to do but that was to correct some misinformation.
Rocky Stovall SFC Retired
More about site LA-29:
ROCKY'S STORIESRocky Stovall writes about his time at site LA-29
SITE VISITMark Morgan takes a walk up the hill to site LA-29
ABOUT LA-29A brief history of the acquisition of land for site LA-29 and the disposition of the site after decomissioning
IFC PHOTOSAlvin "Butch" Ball shares photos of the IFC when he was there