A New Year
The year 1961 brought continued change to Battery A, and to 40th Artillery Group as a whole. As for the troops, I know we were aware of the development of the Pershing missile, but I doubt that we gave it much thought as to what eventual impact Pershing would have on the Redstone missile in general and us in particular. In retrospect however, I am sure that the top brass was well aware that 40th Artillery Group's days were numbered. Obviously, the end was not going to occur in 1961, but the end of the Group was inevitable once Pershing was successfully deployed to Germany.
I now believe this had a direct impact on staffing levels. Our Battery A staffing numbers were lower in 1961, as were the manpower levels for the entire Group. One could argue that after 3 years in Germany, all the missile development and deployment kinks had been worked out, and Redstone was now considered to be a mature weapons system, capable of being supported and operated by less manpower.
Another argument could be made that 40th Artillery Group itself became obsolete, and therefore expendable, once 46th Artillery Group reached its full state of readiness in Germany. Redstone was originally envisioned and conceived as an artillery weapons system deployed in support of a Field Army. There were initially going to be four Redstone Missile Groups, but this was reduced to three Groups, the 40th, the 46th, and the 209th, once it became clear that Redstone would only be an interim weapons system until Pershing was ready to be deployed. That being said, two Redstone Missile Groups were deployed to Europe in support of 7th Army.
I liken the situation to my aerospace career with the Grumman Corporation, whose aircraft programs were divided along the lines of a research and development (R&D) side of the house and a production side of the house. I would make the case that in the Redstone Missile world 40th Artillery Group was the R&D outfit, and 46th Artillery Group was the production unit outfit. When 46th Artillery and 209th Artillery were constituted in 1958 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the two Firing Batteries in each Group were made organic units of the Group. In 40th Artillery Group, however, the two Firing Batteries were part of the 217th Field Artillery Missile Battalion attached to 40th Artillery. This original structure of 40th Artillery Group remained intact until the reorganization carried out on April 30, 1960. It could be said that was the point 40th Artillery's "R&D role" came to an end.
But old habits and old ways die hard. It was stressed to me time and again by our NCOs that I was to look upon being in Battery A as a special privilege and a special honor, because we were the first in so many things and so many ways. However, by June of 1961, most, if not all, of the people who had been with 40th Artillery and the Redstone missile since its Redstone Arsenal days, and who had served in Germany since day 1 in June 1958, were gone.
Promotion and Rewards
In January 1961 I passed the second set of college-level GED's at the Bad Kreuznach Army Education Center. As a result, my Army records were updated to show an education level equivalent to one year of college. And, in January 1961 I was promoted to Specialist 4 E4. Obviously that meant a few more (but not that much more) dollars in my pocket each month. My duties remained pretty much the same. However, on guard duty E4's acted as "corporal of the guard", posting the sentries, and no longer walking a post. Captain Pascarella followed the time-honored ritual of calling me into his office for a "reprimand" of some minor infraction, only to present me with my promotion orders.
The other fringe benefit of being Spec4 was being able to join the NCO Club at Rose Barracks. I recall the dues as being along the lines of $4 a month. The Bad Kreuznach NCO Club at 8th Infantry Division was a great club. The food and drink was good, and inexpensive. They also had some very good Saturday evening entertainment for the time period. It was a well-run and well-managed NCO Club. Captain Pascarella used to try and wangle invitations from us to the Saturday night festivities. He claimed that the NCO Club in Bad Kreuznach was vastly superior to the Officers Club.
Taking into account the era, our ages and who we were, and where we were, we really looked forward to the Saturday night shows. In the age of Elvis Presley and rock and roll, some of the performers were people past the prime of their entertainment careers, but the fact that they traveled to Germany in the days before the jet age to entertain the American GIs in a club atmosphere was something we all greatly appreciated. I know at the end of a show they always received standing ovations. We all tried to express our gratitude in personal ways, and these reactions took the entertainers by surprise, but were much appreciated by them.
Two particular Saturday nights still stand out in my memory. One was Chic Johnson's rendition of his Hellzapoppin, the 1938 to 1941 Olsen and Johnson Broadway musical farce that he and his partner, Ole Olsen, wrote and starred in. It was pure slapstick comedy and burlesque, with unwitting audience participation. Seated at a "ringside" table with a bunch of our guys, I suddenly found myself with a "big buxom blonde" on my lap. Her "irate husband" who threatened the both of us with an oversized pistol immediately confronted us. I almost dumped the woman on the floor to dive under the table. But she jumped up and ran off screaming with her irate husband chasing after her. Naturally, I was then the butt of some good-natured razzing by my friends. After the show, Mr. Johnson came over to thank me for being a good sport. That night a whole new generation of young Americans, some who were in diapers - and some who were yet to be born - when Hellzapoppin was first on Broadway, ate it up.
The second was an appearance by the singer and bandleader Vaughn Monroe. Vaughn Monroe had a string of top 10 hits in the 1940's and had made his last significant record in 1954. By 1961 he was known mainly by Americans as a TV spokesman for RCA products. He had a small group with him that night, and he played the trombone. His voice was no longer what it was at his prime, but that night he sang all of his hits from the 40's and 50's, his signature theme "Racing with the Moon", "Ballerina", "Riders in the Sky" to name just a few. We couldn't get enough. He was called back for encore after encore. After the show, this 21 year old at the time had the pleasure of hoisting a few beers with him at the Club bar. Vaughn Monroe passed away in 1973. As a child of the 40's, I was exposed to and knew Vaughn Monroe's music. As a consequence of that one night in Germany in 1961, I became and have remained a lifelong fan of Vaughn Monroe and his music.
January 1961 was interesting in another aspect. Captain Pascarella, with recommendations from others I would assume, chose me to represent the Battery for the Group's Soldier of the Quarter competition. Sgt Stacy drove me to Wackernheim. One by one the five of us chosen from the five organic units of 40th Artillery went before a panel of Officers to answer a host of questions ranging over a variety of topics, including knowledge of current events. Much to my surprise, I was chosen as the 40th Artillery Group Soldier of the Quarter. I got to meet Colonel Harrison again, and received congratulations from him. I also recall that I received a $50 savings bond and a 3-day pass.
By February, with less than nine more months to go on my enlistment - the case at the time - I started to get serious about my post-Army plans. I decided I wanted to go to college for engineering. The best plan for me at the time was to enroll in the College of Engineering of New York University, in Manhattan, and to pick up part-time work in the city to help with expenses. So, I applied to NYU and was accepted, pending the results of SAT's I would have to retake, since the SAT scores from my high school days were deemed to be out of date. I was planning on starting in January 1962, with the proviso that if I was granted an "early out" for college, I would start in September 1961. I discussed this with the Captain to make sure I would be able to take the SAT's in March at the American High School in Wiesbaden. Captain Pascarella assured me there were no plans that he knew of for us to go out in the field during that time, so permission was granted to travel to Wiesbaden for a Friday night and Saturday in March.
I guess even Battery Commanders are sometimes kept in the dark by their superiors because, wouldn't you know it, we deployed to the field in early March for about three weeks. But, true to his word, the Captain let me go to Wiesbaden for the tests. I remember that Sgt Amerson drove me back to Des Gouttes on a Friday morning. It was a short trip. Here again is evidence that we did not stray too far from Bad Kreuznach when we deployed to the field. I took an afternoon train to Mainz and then to Wiesbaden and spent Friday night in an Air Force facility. I took the tests Saturday morning, and by late afternoon was back in BK. I remember having dinner at the NCO club that night and getting a good night's sleep in our barracks. Sunday morning Sgt Amerson picked me up and drove us back to our field encampment.
What can I say about our Battery A leadership? Some who knew him might not agree with this assessment, but deep down beneath that tough guy image, our First Sergeant Amerson was a good man at heart. He certainly treated me well, and certainly accommodated me for this special personal need, even acting as my personal chauffer.
As for Captain Pascarella? Early on in the Battery, at one of our Firing Section classroom meetings I referred to Captain Pascarella as "the World's Greatest Company Grade Officer". People got a chuckle out of that, and I remember Sgt Palmer rolling his eyes upward at that remark. I was serious, and I explained my reasons, particularly as they related to my Fort Sill experiences. I guess the word on that got back to the Captain, because on a subsequent occasion, with a sly wink, he made an off-handed play on words comment about being in good company with the world's greatest men.
Our CO was a good man who expected much from his men, and he got the most out of us because he treated us with professionalism and respect. He, in turn, was well liked and respected by his men.
Here is a very revealing comment from Ron Smith about our CO:
The New Battery A
Among my peers and colleagues - and friends, I might emphasize - one of the first to leave us from the Firing Section was SP4 Lawrence Hubenak, who departed for home in the middle of March. In early April, SP4 Reed Moon, who returned to Fort Sill for his expected final 7 months in the Army, followed him. I recently learned from Reed that he was subsequently extended on active duty until February 1962 (more on that subject later). John Samples, Larry Satterfield, and Ron Smith all left in June.
Our Firing Section chief SFC Starr Palmer left in April. Sgt Amerson was scheduled to depart in May, but was sent home in April due to the serious illness of his mother. SFC Stacy was appointed our new First Sergeant. And, our CO Captain Pascarella departed in May. He was succeeded by our XO, 1st Lt. Irwin Abt. In the first six months of 1961, 30 people - 50% of our strength and experience - departed Battery A. Of course, new faces arrived all the time, but our overall strength would never again be as high as it was when I first arrived the prior August.
The Inspector General
Sometime early in 1961 40th Artillery Group had its annual visit by the 7th Army Inspector General. I am sure that we spent at least a week prior to that getting ready for this visit. The IG team visited and inspected our barracks and facilities, and our operations and equipment at Des Gouttes Kaserne. His team then witnessed and rated a firing exercise that we conducted with the trainer missile at a remote site.
One episode in Des Gouttes stands out in my mind. We were all lined up in the Kaserne courtyard for the IG. We had been briefed beforehand that the IG would ask us individually if there was anything we wanted to express to him, and that we should not feel intimidated by the process. Captain Pascarella certainly did not ask or order us to keep our mouths shut. The unwritten rule of EM survival at the time however, was that one pretty much did keep his mouth shut and at most, gave some type of innocuous answer. Much to everyone’s surprise, one of our men, I believe it was PFC Carl Heskett of the Servicing Section, raised a legitimate complaint directly to the IG. In essence, he told the IG that each enlisted man paid $4.00 a month for KP to be performed by local hires, but the mess hall was set up each weekday morning for NCOs and Officers to have a morning coffee break, from which the EM were excluded. At the time the cooks prepared fresh coffee and doughnuts each morning. The EM, however, were relegated to buying a coffee and a packaged doughnut in the basement mini-PX snack shop. Carl didn’t think that arrangement was fair, and as it turned out, neither did the IG. The IG ruled that either the mess hall was open to all for coffee break, or it was open to none. Since the NCOs did not want this perk to end, commencing he following week everyone, regardless of rank, was allowed to have morning coffee break in the mess hall, and enjoy free coffee and a fresh-baked doughnut.
The all-day firing exercise was held at a remote location about 20 kilometers to the west of Bad Kreuznach called Eckweiler. The exercise was timed, and we had to complete it in less than 8 hours in order to pass the inspection. I am not sure if there is a town named Eckweiler. The German maps I have reviewed only show a location, not a village, so possibly it is merely the name used for a particular wooded area in the Soonwald close to the Nahe River valley. I remember that we used this specific isolated site several times. We would drive west out of BK through Bad Munster and other villages along the banks of the Nahe River. There is a photo of the location submitted by Jim Jenkins to the US Army in Germany web site, on the Field Artillery Overview Page, showing Battery A in action with the missile in December 1958. This location may have been abandoned sandpit or stone quarry. I remember, and the photo shows, a cliff dug out on one side, but the place appeared to be overrun with second-growth vegetation. It was isolated from “prying eyes”, however. We conducted an error-free exercise that day in near-record time, and were given a positive rating by the IG team.
The Night on Kuhberg Hill
As an SP4 on Guard Duty, my task now was to conduct the changing of the guards at the 2 posts on Kuhberg Hill. We used the Battery A 3/4-ton truck to transport the men to Kuhberg. One of the PFCs on Guard Duty was assigned as the vehicle driver. All in all, it was about a 30 minute round trip. Kuhberg was a very high hill a few miles to the south of BK. It was very isolated, and at night, except in the headlight beams of the truck, pitch black. There remains vivid in my memory the events of one Saturday night tour in the late spring or early summer of 1961. At about 0145 hours Sunday morning the driver, the 2 replacement guards, and myself headed up to Kuhberg, about a 10 minute trip. As we reached the crest and turned down the country road that separated the two posts, we heard shots fired. I told the driver to step on it and get us to the gates ASAP, which took another minute. Neither of us was armed, and the two replacement guards, although carrying their M2 carbines, had no rounds for those. The procedure was that each guard had an M2 short clip with 3 rounds in it. My job was to take the clip from each guard going off duty, inspect it for 3 rounds of ammo and give the clip to the replacement guard.
Fortunately, the two gates where we made the swaps were directly opposite each other. Both men were at the gates anxiously waiting for us to arrive. In the absolute stillness of the night they had heard the truck coming up the hill, and spotted our headlights as soon as we turned the last corner. As far as they were concerned we couldn't have gotten there fast enough. When we got to the gates, one man, our PFC Lynn Miller from Battery A Servicing Section was a nervous wreck. The other man across the road, from 580th Engineer Company, was trying his best to calm him down. Not really knowing what to expect, I instinctively jumped out of the truck and ran over to the gate with my set of keys as fast as I could to unlock it and ask Miller what happened. Miller told me he thought he was being attacked by a wild boar, so he fired off 2 of his 3 rounds into the dark. Hearing the shots, the man across the street raced to his gate to see what was going on, just as we turned the corner with our truck. I asked Miller if he really saw a boar, or just heard one rummaging. He didn't think I believed his story. He was still convinced that he was going to be attacked in the dark.
It took me a few minutes to sort things out and to come up with a plan of action, and also how I was going to report this to the Sergeant of the Guard. I divided up the 4 remaining rounds between the two replacements. These two men really weren't too sure about being left up there, but they toughed it out. I told them once I got back to the Guard House I would try to get them a few more rounds from the Sergeant, which seemed to reassure them a little. So I locked the two replacements inside the compounds, got Miller and the 580th man into the truck and we started to head back down the road. We hadn't gone a 100 yards when the driver jammed on the brakes, and we narrowly missed hitting a boar that stood as high as the front fender of our 3/4-ton truck. There in our headlights I could not believe the size of the thing, with its silver-grey color and hooked tusks. It bolted in front of us and across the road and disappeared into the pitch black. By now Miller in the back of the truck, was shouting at me: "Now do you believe me, Now do you believe me?" My response was along the lines of okay Lynn, now I believe you. Now let's get the (heck) out of here.
When we got back to the Guard House, I told our Sergeant what had happened, and that we were two rounds short. I told him that I gave each man on the hill two rounds each, and I would try to bring them two more. He said not to bother, and we'd sort it out at the end of their tours in another hour and a half. As for Miller, the Sergeant asked him if he had hit anything. When Miller replied that he wasn't sure, the Sergeant responded along the lines of that's too bad, because it would have been nice to have a pig roast. Then told him to go clean his weapon before his next shift.
The Day We Lost a Redstone
Either in May or June of 1961, but in any case shortly after Lt. Abt took over as CO from Captain Pascarella, we conducted a daylight missile training operation at Kuhberg Hill with a tactical missile. The scuttlebutt at the time was that Lt. Abt repeatedly beseeched Group Hq to let the Battery use a tactical missile to help us get ready for our annual service firing at White Sands, scheduled for October 1961. Apparently, Group finally assented, and granted us permission to use a tactical missile during daylight hours for a practice session. So, one weekday morning we convoyed to Kuhberg Hill. I remember the day as being quite overcast, and even drizzling for a while.
Our Servicing Section people proceeded to unload and assemble a pristine tactical missile that looked as if it had just arrived from the Chrysler factory. We in the Firing Section went about our tasks, mindful that for the first time in daylight hours we were working on the real thing, and observing the Servicing Section tasks with interest. While the Battery still retained some experienced holdovers, I should point out that the Battery overall was now operating with quite a few new people - EM and NCOs -, more so in Servicing Section than Firing Section. We also now had a new CO, albeit one who was experienced as our XO, a new XO, and a new GMMAO. For many, this missile operation was one of the first, if not the very first, to be conducted by them in the Battery. Some of the new Servicing Section NCOs had recently come over from Fort Sill, either from 209th Group or from the Redstone School. Several of the new EM, however, only recently were RMMMC students at Fort Sill, and lacked any experience working with a tactical missile.
I have to say I, along with others, was excited about working with the tactical missile during the day for a change. From my perspective it turned out to be textbook operation, which ended late in the afternoon, about 8 hours after we initially occupied the site. There was quite a lot of other Army activity on Kuhberg that day. I remember that the field hospital was set up a short distance away from us. More significantly, 580th Engineer Company was running their LOX plant full bore only a few hundred yards away. And, during the course of the day, quite a few people, Germans and Americans, had driven to Kuhberg and parked quite nearby, to watch the action from their cars. Although we were approaching the height of daylight hours in Europe, because of the heavy overcast and drizzle, in the late afternoon/early evening hours we were operating in near twilight conditions.
The operation ended as usual with the LOX vent valve being activated, and the plume of gaseous oxygen enveloping the base of the missile. Everyone was congratulating one another on another successful mission. With that, the order was given to secure the missile, start the de-fueling and teardown operations, and pack up and head for home before total darkness set in. At that point truck headlights and the spotlights on our generator were turned on to illuminate the missile and the surrounding work area.
With that, the alcohol trailer was brought into position start pumping the 19,000 pounds of fuel out of the missile's alcohol tank. Within seconds of the truck's pump being started, I heard super-loud cracking and popping sounds. In an instant of time, standing next to me, one of our new NCOs, an E6 Staff Sgt who had recently joined us from Fort Sill shouted to Lt Abt, "You lost that one, Sir!" A fraction of a second later, the missile literally snapped in two, just below the top of the thrust unit. The body section - the combined warhead and guidance unit - along with a jagged piece of the top of the thrust unit still attached, pitched over and plummeted straight down into the ground, nose first, digging in no more than 5 or 6 feet away from the bottom of the thrust unit and the base of the launcher pad.
Illuminated in the twilight mist by truck headlights and our spotlights, the scene was absolutely surreal. The nose cone had driven several feet into the ground, with the now upside down body section positioned nearly vertical alongside the thrust unit. A mixture of purple-dyed alcohol and blue-white liquid oxygen was furiously bubbling out of the top of the broken thrust unit. Our generator was still on-line, with all electrical cables attached to the missile. We literally had a fuel/oxidizer mixture with the potential to be ignited and possibly explode in a split second, and with the nearby LOX plant operating at full bore, probably capable of blowing a nice chunk of Kuhberg Hill off the map.
I doubt if more than a few seconds had passed for all of this to take place. The Sgt turned to me and shouted for the two of us to get out of there as fast and as far as we could. So, we took off down the dirt path on top of Kuhberg Hill as fast as we could and as far as we could. Our people were literally running in all directions for their lives. But, in reality, there was nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide. So, about a hundred yards away, and out of breath, I stopped, hit the deck behind a tree, and instinctively turned around to look at the missile and observe all else that was going on. Many of the people who had been observing the operation from their parked cars were now trying to drive out of the area as fast as possible. Not surprisingly, some stayed put in their vehicles where they were, perhaps with morbid curiosity to see what would happen next, or perhaps because they were too dumb-stricken to react otherwise.
If miracles happen, one happened that evening. Luckily for all, a stray spark or a broken hot electrical wire did not ignite the spewing alcohol/liquid oxygen mixture. Within minutes we gathered ourselves together and regained our composure. Individually and in small clusters we made our way back to the launcher area. Someone had the presence of mind to kill generator power. I would like to say precisely what happened next, but honestly, for a while it was still chaotic, and much of the aftermath is now a jumble. I think disbelief that this could have happened initially set in, followed by a sense of relief that nothing totally catastrophic occurred, and that thankfully in the initial moments of confusion no one was injured.
We then got ourselves re-organized and set about the task of recovering from this mishap. With the alcohol tank now at ambient pressure, once the alcohol level got below the tank rupture, it ceased spewing out and down the sides of the thrust unit. The remaining liquid oxygen in the LOX tank rapidly boiled off, which probably didn't take all that long. Firing Section gathered up our equipment and the electrical cables that we could, and reloaded our trucks. The remainder of the alcohol, and the hydrogen peroxide were pumped from the missile. Firing Section and part of the Servicing Section crew then drove back to the Kaserne. Guards were posted at the site for the night. There was probably some more packing up of equipment over the next few hours, but the bulk of the work was taken care of the following day.
The following morning we drove back to Kuhberg. The missile body section was positioned exactly as it was the night before. The damaged thrust unit was on its transport trailer. A contingent from 40th Artillery Headquarters arrived to inspect the scene. I cannot recall precisely the actual dismantling of the missile body sections, or how the damaged thrust unit had finally been lowered off the launcher. I remember we employed our 5-ton wrecker truck to lift the body unit out of the ground and lay it on its side, and then hoist it onto the warhead trailer. Possibly the A-frame and H-frame had been re-attached to the launcher, and the A-frame hoists may have been jury-rigged in some manner to get the thrust unit down off the launcher. Firing Section basically gathered up the remainder of its gear and equipment.
Within a day or two a board of inquiry from Wackernheim was established. A Captain from either Headquarters Battery or 630th Ordnance Company who we knew, interviewed Battery A members in the CO's office at Des Gouttes in groups of two or three, as to what we had observed, and particularly during the time of missile assembly and checkout. I essentially told the Captain that much of my time was spent inside the FC&TT, but when outside watching the Servicing Section operations, I had not noticed anything particular, except to comment on how nice and new the missile looked, without a blemish on it. The Captain thanked me, and said that observation in itself was important.
This incident occurred through a combination of the newness of the missile itself and a level of inexperience on the part of us handling it. This particular missile had apparently just recently arrived in Germany after trans-Atlantic shipment on a cargo ship. The method used to protect the missiles in transit across the Atlantic Ocean from the salt air environment was to encase them in a protective membrane, and particularly seal off any openings to the interior of the missile such as the louvered vents on the side of the thrust unit. When the missile was prepared for delivery to Battery A, most, but not all of the protective outer membrane was removed. The material covering the louvered alcohol tank vent, which is located on the perimeter of the thrust unit at its top, was overlooked. At the test site our Servicing Section NCOs in charge of missile assembly failed to notice that the alcohol tank vent was still covered with sealing material. Doubtless, none of the EM carrying out the assembly tasks noticed either. Obviously, all of us who were around the missile that day failed to notice this problem and call attention to it, so in effect we were all to blame.
During alcohol tank filling, the membrane of material sealing the louvered vent was flexible enough to expand out and allow the air inside the alcohol tank to be pushed out the vent. However, as soon as pumping was initiated to pump alcohol back out of the tank, the sealing material was sucked back into the louvers, effectively blocking air from re-entering the tank, and creating a vacuum in the tank, causing cavitations. The alcohol tank immediately collapsed near its top, and the missile literally snapped in two.
Interestingly, heads did not roll as a consequence of the loss of the missile. There were apparently no reprimands, demotions, wholesale transfers and the like meted out over this incident. It all seemed to be kept very quiet, and treated matter-of-factly. SFC Mahan in the Servicing Section subsequently became our Mess Sergeant, but his reassignment may have been totally unrelated to the loss of the missile. At the time there were no barracks rumors afloat, and no one ever directly said anything to me concerning culpability and punishment. I don’t recall a safety stand-down. Missile inspection procedures were probably reviewed and tightened. But other than that, we seemed to go on from there in a business as usual mode. If anything did go on behind the scenes, the troops were certainly not aware of it.