R and R, and Free Time
We were given one afternoon off every two weeks for rest and recreation (R and R). You were supposed to engage in some type of activity that would help keep you physically fit. Our leadership was pretty flexible on this. You could name your own activity.
In the warmer weather, groups of us would spend the afternoon at the Fort Sill outdoor swimming pool, located within walking distance to the east Staff & Faculty. On other occasions, we would use the post gymnasium, usually to play basketball. The gym was located on Randolph Road just to the west of Staff & Faculty. In 1959, the actor Russ Tamblyn was assigned to the gym. He was a draftee, in Special Services and a Specialist 4 E4 at the time. Russ was in charge of allocating court time, and signing out basketballs or other sporting equipment. I understand that in addition to being an actor he was quite a gymnast.
On other occasions, some of us would go out to Medicine Park, where there was a privately run archery range. It had fixed targets, and also a set of trails that you could follow, stopping to shoot at strategically placed targets. Going there was really used as more of an excuse to get off base.
With a car, I did a lot of touring and exploring of the southwest Oklahoma and North Texas area. We would drive over to Marlow and Duncan, about 30 miles to the east of Lawton. Sometimes we would go down to Wichita Falls, Texas, but that was an Air Force town, home of Sheppard AFB. I enjoyed driving out to Lake Lawtonka, the huge reservoir used for the Lawton water supply, and used also for recreational purposes: boating, swimming, camping along the shore, etc. I liked to drive up to the top of Mt. Scott, situated next to lake Lawtonka, which gave you a panoramic view of the whole region.
We would also drive through the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, where you would see American Bison and Texas Longhorn cattle, among other things. On one occasion, we stopped along the side of the road to watch some foolhardy GI who had gone out to taunt a buffalo. The buffalo turned on the guy, and he ended up running for his life, up into the nearest tree. The park rangers had to rescue this individual.
A very interesting event to witness in the area was the annual Easter passion play, held at the Holy City in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. I went out there with a group in 1959 and again in 1960. There were literally 10's of thousands of people on hand to see the play. We camped out on blankets on the hillside facing the performance area. I believe it started well before midnight, and ran through the night until sunrise Easter morning. When I think about it now, I marvel at the quality of the production staged 45 years ago, and especially the audio quality of it, at a time way before the use of body mics, and sophisticated audio equipment.
We discovered Oklahoma City, and groups of us started making weekend trips there. One of the guys found a downtown rooming house that rented rooms to GI's for a very small fee, so we would hang our hats there for the weekend. I vividly remember the State Capitol Building surrounded by oil derricks. There was an amusement park located in the northeast section of the city with a good size roller coaster and other amusement rides, and also a large outdoor pool that we would spend a lot of time at.
I worked with SP4 Ted Krauel, who was from metropolitan Dallas. We were also billeted together in Staff and Faculty Battery. Ted was an assistant instructor at the Redstone School, so we would travel together to and from work. Ted had attended the February 1958 REMMC which was split between Fort Sill and Redstone Arsenal. Ted was a short timer, but he still liked to try and get home as much as possible on weekends in his remaining Army time to visit his widowed mother. One Saturday he invited a few of us to spend the weekend at his mother’s home. Actually, his family home was in University Park, a city within north-central Dallas and bordered on three sides by Dallas, and by the city of Highland Park to its the south. Ted’s home was just a few blocks from the campus of Southern Methodist University. I understand that University Park was created in 1924 when SMU could no longer support the faculty and staff who had built homes near the campus with services, and both the city of Highland Park and Dallas refused to provide services.
In return for the invitation to Ted's home, I volunteered to drive. Dallas was supposedly beyond the limit we were allowed to drive on a weekend pass, but we went anyway. So, I got to make my first ever trip to the Dallas area, and also see something of the NorthTexas landscape.
Ted gave us a whirlwind 2 day tour of the city. Shortly after arriving Saturday afternoon, we took a tour of the SMU campus. The significance for me at the time was Don Meredith - a name I was quite familiar with - being the SMU football team All-America quarterback (subsequently the quarterback of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, who later became one of the announcers on ABC's Monday Night Football). Ted next took us to the Texas State Fair, with its huge Cowboy, "Big Tex", and a ferris wheel that rivaled in size - if not exceeded - the Coney Island "Wonder Wheel". We returned to the State Fair grounds on Sunday, and even got to tour the Cotton Bowl. And, we certainly enjoyed the hospitality his mother extended to this New Yorker and two other Yankees. We drove back to Fort Sill late Sunday evening. Although we set a hectic pace for ourselves, we certainly covered a lot of territory, and it was a most enjoyable and memorable weekend.
I did go into Lawton on a regular basis, but truthfully, I wasn't into the GI bar scene. When I first arrived at Fort Sill, Oklahoma was still a dry state. You could legally only buy 3.2 beer in a bar. But, there were plenty of so-called private clubs (anyone could join) where you could get a poured drink, or you purchased a set-up. Prohibition ended in April 1959, and over the counter package store liquor sales were authorized. The last night of prohibition, the private clubs were practically giving away liquor.
We had our favorite local 1950's hamburger drive-in places, complete with honest to goodness waitresses on roller skates providing car side service, that we frequented. We went to the Lawton movie theatres, but actually you couldn't beat the Base movie theatre ticket prices. And, there were other attractions to be enjoyed on the Base: a bowling alley; snack bars; the EM club with a pizza palace (albeit, a poor imitation of pizza for this New Yorker); a car repair shop; hobby shops; and other things of that nature.
In the Autumn 1959 and Spring 1960 semesters I took a couple of college courses in the evening at Cameron Junior College in Lawton. Quite a few of the Fort Sill soldiers took advantage of courses offered at Cameron College; and, the tuition rates were quite reasonable. I seem to recall that the Army would reimburse the tuition, or at least part of it, upon satisfactory completion of a course. During that year, I also managed time to squeeze in a few college correspondence courses offered through the Armed Forces Institute.
B-58 Hustler Incident
I was eyewitness to an in-flight explosion and destruction of a USAF/Convair B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber. It happened late in the afternoon of Saturday 7 November 1959. A group of us were standing by our cars outside the snack shop on Base. We heard the distinct rumble and roar of a high performance jet. One of the guys looked up and remarked about the speed it was making. I looked up and spotted the jet to the south-southeast of us, heading east at a high rate of speed. I made the comment that it looked like a B-58.
Within seconds I saw the aircraft explode into a huge orange fireball which then turned into a white/gray cloud. A few seconds later I heard the sound of the explosion. I watched the pieces of debris falling to earth, with an eerie red twinkle to them, reflecting the rays of the setting sun. It reminded me of the spent debris of a huge Fourth of July fireworks rocket falling to the ground. I learned later on that it was a Convair test flight with a Convair test pilot and flight test engineer onboard. The aircraft was performing some type of high speed structural loads test.
After dark we drove out to the area of the incident, along the road to Marlow, to see what we could see. There were plenty of emergency vehicles and plenty of flashing red lights. The state police stopped us, but let us proceed when we told them we were going to Duncan. We drove to the end of the road, and then turned around and headed back to Fort Sill, because in truth there was absolutely nothing to see in the dark, or nothing we could have done had we stumbled on anything related to the explosion.
On 17 December 1959, I participated in the filming of the Redstone School's activities by US Army Signal Corps photographers. SP5 Gene Chronister, PFC Ted Berg and I played cameo roles in the films. We were filmed operating FC&TT checkout consoles, although in our brief film stardom our backs were to the camera. The Signal Corps photographers also filmed RMMMC and REMMC classroom demonstrations, and a trainer missile operation conducted on the tarmac outside the Redstone Division hangar. SFC Gene Dollarhide and others of the school's Instructor section participated in the trainer missile operation.
I have added a video with audio to Page 16 Appendix D: Redstone Missile Videos, showing scenes of the Redstone School tour and demonstration of the Block I Redstone trainer missile filmed at the Redstone Division, Department of Materiel, US Army Artillery and Missile School, Fort Sill, Oklahoma on 17 December 1959.
Home for the Holidays
I made plans for two weeks Christmas Leave. The only way I could afford to do so was to make the round trip in my car. One of the ways we helped pay for such trips in those days was to recruit paying passengers, to help defray the costs of gasoline and tolls. I think the going rate was $30 or $40 a person, which was certainly worth it to people, when compared to the cost of a bus or train ticket, or airline fare. It worked out that 2 friends in Staff & Faculty from New Jersey and Pennsylvania wanted to go home for Christmas also, although the Pennsylvania friend would not be making the return trip with us. They would help out with the overnight driving, which would allow us to drive straight through, and I would recruit 2 more paying passengers.
I put up a notice in the EM club looking for 2 people. Two Privates from an Artillery Battery on the other side of the base said they were interested in being taken home to Pennsylvania also, and the price was certainly right. Since they only had a week 's leave, they would return to Fort Sill by bus. But first their Platoon Sergeant came over to Staff & Faculty to check me out and check out my vehicle. He gave both driver and vehicle his approval, so I had my two passengers, and my trip costs covered. We planned on leaving Fort Sill early on Saturday 19 December.
On the afternoon of Friday the 18th, without a prior word about it, the maintenance section enlisted men were "volunteered" by our Lieutenant to help out with an after school Christmas Party in his wife's classroom in the Fort Sill Elementary School. One of the guys got dressed up as Santa Claus, and the rest of us were there to help hand out gifts and refreshments, and to clean up after the party. All of us were anxious to get started with our holiday travel preparations that day, so I don't think we were too happy about being pressed into this kind of last minute unannounced, and dubious, duty. But, in the spirit of the Holidays, we put our best faces forward. However, some of the kids unfortunately turned out to be the stereotypical spoiled and ungrateful little Army brats, who must have learned from their parents that enlisted men and draftees existed only to serve the personal needs of career people and their families.
Saturday morning about 0700, with 5 of us in my car, we headed out for the round the clock trip back east. With a few minor adjustments, we followed the reverse route of my trip out to Fort Sill in September. We reached St. Louis about 2000 hours, and circled around the north fringe of the city via Route 66, and again over the Chain of Rocks Bridge.
Heading east on US 40, and hitting Indianapolis and Columbus in the dead of night, we drove straight through the heart of each city rather than taking the truck route detours around them. We made a few gas and coffee stops, but other than that it was continual driving. My two driver partners spelled me for most of the night. We reached western Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Turnpike in just about 24 hours, around 0800 Sunday. I dropped off my 2 one-way passengers in western Pennsylvania, and one Staff & Faculty Battery friend in eastern Pennsylvania. My New Jersey buddy and I reached his home in the East Brunswick area, just east of the NJ Turnpike, about 1600. After a brief stop at his house, for me it was the home stretch, to the Staten Island to Brooklyn ferry, and the drive to eastern Long Island. Because of the Sunday night holiday season traffic, it took almost an hour to get on the ferry. I reached home about 2000, for a total trip time, with stops and drop-offs, of about 36 hours for the 1,725 miles. My 1954 Chevrolet "stodge-mobile" had once again come through for me with flying colors.
Heading West Again
As all Leaves do, my 2 weeks at home went by much too quickly. I did have a most enjoyable Christmas and New Years with family and friends. And, we got to celebrate the arrival of a new decade, the '60's. On the afternoon of Saturday 2 January 1960 I headed west one more time. I picked up my New Jersey friend a few hours later. With only the 2 of us, we had planned the return trip such that we would drive for at least 24 hours straight, then stop for one night in a motel. Our goal was to arrive back at Staff & Faculty midday Monday, our "day of grace". So, we pushed it for close to 28 hours, in an uneventful leg. I knew the route so well by now, that I didn't need to consult my maps. We got all the way to Joplin, Missouri, where we stopped for Sunday night at a Holiday Inn on Route 66. We figured the Monday morning leg to Fort Sill would take us no more than 6 hours. We figured wrongly.
Monday morning as we were entering Oklahoma, we ran into a snowstorm. Will Rogers Turnpike was not plowed. I could only drive at about 30 mph, which I thought was a safe speed. Unfortunately it wasn't. I must have hit a patch of snow-covered ice on one of the overpasses, because before I knew what hit me, the car went into a 360 degree spin. The only thing that saved us from sliding down into the center median gulley was the fact that the rear door of the car hit a highway reflector pole, which stopped our spin. The rear door on the driver's side was smashed in, but at least we were okay, and the car was still running. So, we proceeded on at little more than 20 to 25 mph, all the way to Oklahoma City.
Fortunately, the snow stopped by the time we got to Oklahoma City, but the roads to Fort Sill were also snow-covered, so it was still slow going for the final 110 miles. I don't know, but has the State of Oklahoma ever had a snow plow in its long and proud history? I never saw one on that day. We finally pulled into the parking lot of Staff & Faculty Battery around 1800.
Back to Work in 1960
The days of the first part of 1960 all seem to blur together now. It was the beginning of the end of the Eisenhower era. In less than a year, a new President of a "New Generation" would be in command, and one could say the portend of changes to come for all of us was in the air. On 29 February, I turned 20 - celebrating only my 5th "real birthday anniversary". On the job, I basically continued to do what I had been doing the second half of 1959. In February an overseas replacement levy came through, and Dennis Fife left us. Dennis remained at home until March before he had to report to the Overseas Replacement Center at Fort Dix. He finally reached his new assignment in B Battery of 40th Artillery Group in Wackernheim, Germany in late March, becoming the first REMM-C 2A-59 non-NCO student to make it overseas. Also, sometime in the first part of 1960, SFC Gene Dollarhide, who had been working as an instructor at the Redstone School since our REMMC 2A days, left us for re-assignment to Battery A of the 46th Artillery Group stationed in Neckarsulm, Germany.
In April I got to be part of a memorable 2 day trip, and experience, to the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, to witness a launch of a Redstone missile. Five of us from the maintenance section were picked to make the trip. On a Thursday morning 14 April, we flew from Fort Sill to the WSMR onboard an Army/deHavilland U-1A Otter. The Otter was the Army's largest single engine high wing aircraft at the time, used for general transportation and cargo purposes. It also could be used to deploy about 8 airborne troops. It was a Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) aircraft, with a cruising speed of about 130 knots, and was very reliable.
The pilot was a 1st Lieutenant, and the co-pilot a Warrant Officer. We had an SP5 crew chief, who instructed us on donning and wearing a parachute harness during the flight, and how to snap on a small chest chute stowed under our seats just in case, as he put it, he had to boot us out the door. I remember his other instruction being along the lines of: when we jumped, grab hold of the family jewels, shout "Geronimo", and don't forget to pull the ripcord.
The non-stop flight over West Texas and New Mexico took about 5 hours. The scenes below us were spectacular. I recall reaching the West Texas escarpment, where the land suddenly rises up between 500 and 1,000 ft, stretching as far north and south as one could see. The crew chief pointed out the city of Lubbock off to the north of us, sprawled out over the high mesa, in a checker-board pattern. The significance of that for us at the time was the fact that Lubbock was the birthplace and home of rock and roll star Buddy Holly.
White Sands Missile
We arrived at WSMR about noon, and after being shown our quarters for the night, we were escorted out to the Redstone launch pad at Army Launch Area 3 (ALA3). I don't remember if our escort was stationed at WSMR, or if he was from 209th Artillery Group from Fort Sill. 209th people supported the 40th and 46th Groups' annual service firing exercises at WSMR. This particular firing exercise was being conducted by Battery A of the 46th Artillery Group, based in Neckarsulm, Germany.
We were issued helmet liners, and had free access to the launch area to observe all that was going on, as long as we did not interfere with the operation. The missile was not ready for launch that day, and was tentatively scheduled to be fired Friday morning. That evening we took an Army bus into El Paso, and went over to Juarez for dinner, and to generally play tourist. Early Friday morning we were back out at the launch site, but the launch time had slipped to the afternoon. We were scheduled to fly back to Fort Sill at 1700 hours. Around 1500, the Redstone was finally ready for launch. All but the personnel absolutely required on the pad were moved back about a half mile. The launch took place within a half hour, and it was spectacular to observe. It impacted about 80 nautical miles downrange.
I heard later, that this launch had one the best target impact successes of any Redstone ever launched by field troops, and it hit within 20 meters of the target. The Redstone Arsenal Historical Site lists this missile as hitting 17 meters from the target. After the launch we went back to the launch area to take a look at the launcher pad and equipment. The launcher was still hot, and there was some damage to cables, etc. But generally speaking, things didn't look too bad.
I have added a video to Page 16 Appendix D: Redstone Missile Videos, showing scenes of the launch preparation operations and launch of Redstone Block II tactical missile CC-2014 conducted by Battery A, 217th Field Artillery Missile Battalion, 40th Artillery Group at WSMR on 16 March 1960, one month prior to my trip to WSMR. The scenes are pretty much identical to what I witnessed in person of the Battery A, 46th Artillery Group operation.
After that, it was time to board the Otter for the 5 hour flight back to Fort Sill. We took off around 1700, and the pilot announced he had to make an "emergency stop" at the El Paso airport. Some emergency. We landed at El Paso to pick up a couple of cases of duty free tequilla and scotch. The pilot warned us that if we were overweight, one of his passengers would have to remain behind in lieu of his priority cargo. We were airborne again about 1830, and reached Fort Sill around midnight.
The third Saturday in May was Armed Forces Day. We were on duty that day as part of the Redstone Missile demonstration team at the Redstone School. All of the Field Artillery missiles and artillery pieces currently being used by the Army were on display at the post airfield, along with tanks, helicopters, and both Army and Air Force aircraft. A B-52 from Altus AFB, located to the west of Fort Sill, made low level flyovers. In fact, the Fort Sill Army airfield must have had the latest in navigation aids installed, because B-52's would make regular and recurring low level approaches and passes over the Fort Sill runways.
I had by this time just about resigned myself to spending the remainder of my Army time at the Redstone School. I had less than 18 months left on my enlistment, and the normal deployment minimums to Germany at that time were 18 months for draftees and 24 months for enlistees. However, sometimes things work in strange ways.
The following week I was pulling KP one day at Staff & Faculty. Outside in 90 degree weather, I was cleaning out the grease trap just after a local fat rendering plant had made a pickup from it. It was smelly, dirty, disgusting work, and I think I must have been at the all time low in my Army service.
A lieutenant who had served in the Redstone School, but had transferred to the USAAMC personnel section, spotted me from the second floor balcony outside the personnel offices. He shouted down to me to say hello, and ask how I was doing. My reply was in essence: I'm doing miserably here, Sir; and, PLEASE, get me out of this place on an overseas levy that comes down. He asked me if I was serious about overseas duty, and when I assured him that I was, he said he would see what he could do.
My lieutenant friend came through for me with flying colors. Less than a month later, I received a copy of Special Orders 146 dated 15 June 1960, from Headquarters, US Army Artillery and Missile Center, relieving me from duty at Staff & Faculty Battery and transferring me to the US Army Overseas Replacement Center, Fort Dix, New Jersey, for August shipment to USAREUR.
In high anticipation of moving on, my final 3 weeks at Fort Sill went by quite rapidly. There was the paperwork to fill out, the gear to pack, and the traveling home plans to be made. One Saturday we even had something of a going away party out at the Base picnic pavillion. I spent my final weekend, the 3 day 4th of July holiday, in Oklahoma City.
I was authorized 7 days travel time home by POV, and told to then stand by for further orders which would come in the mail. Another friend in Staff & Faculty was also heading to Germany. He would ride with me to Cleveland, Ohio, where he then planned to take a bus to his home in Buffalo, New York. I said my last round of goodbyes to guys I had known and worked with for a year. At noon Saturday 9 July 1960, I drove out the east gate of Fort Sill for the final time.
We reached St. Louis by midnight, and drove straight through the city. Once across the Mississippi, we headed north on Route 66, toward Chicago. We made the southern outskirts of Chicago by dawn. Then it was east on the Indiana Turnpike and the Ohio Turnpike for Cleveland. I dropped off my friend about noon, and continued on into Western Pennsylvania, where I finally ran out of steam, and stopped for the night at a motel along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
On the road again early Monday morning, I reached my home on Long Island by mid afternoon. For the fourth time in 10 months of truly pushing it, once again my reliable '54 Chevrolet came through for me without a hitch. It was to be my final long distance drive with this vehicle. Now it was a matter of enjoying some time off at home, while I awaited further instructions and orders from the Army.
US Army Artillery and Missile School Reorganized
Unknown to me at the time, six days after I departed Fort Sill The US Army Artillery and Missile School, Fort Sill, completed a reorganization, effective 15 July 1960, which created three new departments and consolidated the materiel, gunnery, instructional, and research aspects of its guided missile and rocket systems. Of personal interest to me,the Department of Materiel became the Guided Missile Department.
This reorganization is detailed in an article appearing on pages 55 and 56 of the November 1960 edition of ARTILLERY TRENDS under the section NEWSNOTES FOR ARTILLERYMEN. To view the article and reorganization structure, click on the following link to the ARTILLERY TRENDS November 1960 edition, and scroll to page 55.