Ft Richardson Alaska
In Dec 1960, about 2 and a half years after I got out of the army at Ft Sheridan, I enlisted in the U.S. Army a second time for 3 years and I went to DesMoines Iowa again and got sworn in there and this time I did not go to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas but Ft Leonard Wood, Missouri. I made it down there OK and started processing in. Date of entry was Dec 8, 1960.
I had been out of service too long to keep the little rank that I had and on this second enlistment, went in as a Private E-2.
The first morning there me and a couple people about like me went to the messhall for breakfast. We'd waited until the line went down some then queued up but when we got into the messhall, the shittiest one I saw in all my time in the army, the food had run out. The cook said he could fix us some toast but we said no thanks and went to work call formation.
As soon as we'd formed up here comes this sergeant and starts yelling at us and telling us all the things they were going to do to us that day ...... blah, blah. Kind of ticked me off. I didn't think I'd signed up for this so I shot my hand up (the only time in six years) and he says "Yeah, what do YOU want?"
So I ask him if he knew he had a few prior service guys in the formation. And it got quiet but he rises to the occasion and hollers out "how many prior service guys we got in here?" and 2-3 guys raised their hands, and he said "Fall out here by me!" And the rest went their way and they moved us that same day over to an artillery outfit that was in the old wood-type barracks but fixed up nice and we never saw the recruits again. That arty outfit was good people and had a good messhall with good cooks.
The prior service thing should have been the sergeant's first item on the day's agenda.
They accepted my Fire Control Instrument Repair status and soon as I had fired the M-14 Rifle and M2 carbine they started looking for a job for me.
I remember sitting in the personnel office and this clerk asking me where I wanted to go "this time" and I said well, I really don't care, I've seen the eastern U.S. and been to Europe so I suppose the Far East somewhere, thinking of Japan or Korea. I didn't really want to go to Korea but would take it if they had to have me there. The clerk didn't say anything and I went on my way kind of wondering.
Then, I went for the shots and while sitting there waiting on my name to be called I was getting my papers straightened out and there on the bottom of the form requesting the shots was hand written in pencil the word "Alaska" and I thought "oh shit, Alaska is in the Far East Command and when I said Far East they needed a guy in Alaska and guess who."
I didn't know what to do. Should I accept it or try to get it changed? Then I figured what the hay, try it out it's bound to be an adventure ....... and it was.
I got through the induction process OK and they gave me a few extra days to get to airfield in Washington. So I was able to visit home 3-4 days before I went on to Alaska.
I took the train to Denver, then bussed from there to the airfield - can't remember if it was McChord or SeaTac - I think it was McChord (or maybe even Ft. Lewis) and Alaska Airlines flew us to Alaska. I remember the stewardess' wore fur parkas. It was Jan 1961.
Anything you've been told about the place ....... forget it. You'll never be able to understand until you've been there. Start thinking in terms of big - small, black - white, love - hate, tall - short, good - bad, light - dark, joy - pain, and so on. Contrasts that span an enormous spectrum and the damnedest place you could ever imagine.
It's gorgeous in a rugged way and things are just plain different there than here in Continental United States (that's CONUS in army jargon).
Alaska had just become a state but 3-4 years before I got there - in 1957. When I got there they were still using silver dollars. If you went downtown to go out on the town, you'd come back with a bunch of silver dollars (change) in your pockets. I saw several people wearing sidearms right in public, no problem there.
They got us up there and then no one could figure out what to do with me. My orders just said I was to proceed to the "Carrier Detachment" in Alaska. The way I understood it, that was what I was supposed to do and the Carrier Detachment was being set up as an Ordnance Backup shop at Ft Richardson in Anchorage for the Alaska Command (all things ordnance in Alaska).
They couldn't find anything there at Anchorage so they determined to send me to Ft Wainwright so they put me on a plane headed that way and next thing I know, I'm in Fairbanks, Alaska in January and no winter gear of any kind. The unit they sent me to fed me and they put me and a couple other guys up in a big concrete barracks that had the water frozen on the north side and there was no heat there but the south side had heat and was occupied.
This sgt got us fixed up with 2 sleeping bags apiece and a lot of blankets and that was my first night in Alaska.
They were on the phone all morning next day and finally Anchorage tells them to send me back down there right away. So they got me fixed up with a flight out if Eilson Airbase that evening and it was dark when we boarded the plane. Now it was winter so they had shorter days. It got dark early.
We got on the plane, I couldn't believe it - it was one of those old WWII C-47's. I had seen them in movies and stuff but I didn't realize how small they were. There was me and a master sgt and another guy I think. He may have been a crew member, don't know. The thing took off and when we got up in the air, one of the pilots came over the intercom and said "light up if you like."
The reason I remember the master sgt is because he reached for his cigarettes and I got a big whiff of gasoline about that time and I asked him to not light up, even though I was a heavy smoker myself. He was going to do it anyway and the other guy says "wait, I smell it too" so sgt put'm back, much appreciated by me, and the crew guy left and got a flashlight somewhere and started looking out the windows at the wings and said "yep" and hollered at the pilots and they somehow got it stopped whatever it was (smelled like gasoline) or reduced anyway until it wasn't too bad. Then we made it to Elmendorff at Anchorage and I got the Hell off that thing.
I was scared - one of the few times in my life - but I saw no alarm whatsoever in the plane's crew, remarkable!
I was beginning to wonder what in the world is going on here - am I dreaming, or what? Then they took me to Ft Richardson and I thought for sure I was dreaming. I had heard that Alaska was all quansit huts and was prepared for the worst but there were these big, modern, concrete buildings all painted in pastel colors - pink, brown, blue, gray, yellow - I don't know what all. I didn't think it was pretty, I didn't think it was ugly, I just thought "What the Hell IS this?"
Man, it was different! When I asked a sgt about it, he just laughed and said, "Yeah, it's different. Everybody in the army now calls us "Disney Land."
They put me in a "repple-depple" on the top floor of this modern concrete building. Fairly nice ....... while they were trying to find the place I was supposed to be going to. That took 3-4 days.
While I was there in the repple-depple, 2 things come to memory:
1) On a Sunday, I asked about a bowling alley figuring that it wouldn't be too crowded then so I'd spend a little of the extra time doing some bowling. Well, I went over there and it was a small place and only had about 5-6 lanes and when I started bowling guess who walks in the door and sets up a couple lanes away from me?
The next day, I'm just laying there on my bunk and in through the bay doors comes their sgt and he had a clipboard in his hands and went up to them there on their bunks and he threw the clipboard down on the floor, just kind of tossed it over to them like you'd maybe toss a bone to a dog and told them "to get on it" and they all, eagerly I thought, jumped down on the floor with the clip board in their midst, their butts sticking up and heads together, started working on whatever it was.
Well ..... special forces, clipboard, eager joint effort, etc and I immediately assumed they had been given a code to break. I looked at my watch to time them and the sgt stepped out of the bay to do something and he came back just a few moments later and taunting them says "ain't you guys got it yet?!!" and was 5 minutes by then.
Know how long it took them to break the code? Would you believe 7 minutes? Maybe 8 minutes cause I didn't look at my watch right away when they got the job!
I was very impressed to say the least. I figured it'd take them the better part of a day or something like that. And I never even got to talk to them, they just stayed in their area and did not offer to become acquainted or anything like that so I left them alone thinking that's what they wanted.
I didn't know it yet but the Army has maneuvers in the winter up there when the ground is frozen (much of the arctic area turns to mush/marsh in the summer and is practically unpassable) and apparently these guys were there to do their thing during the soon to be held maneuver but I never saw them again, naturally.
The army finally identified the "Carrier Detachment" as being an adjunct to the 24th Ordnance Co. and sent me over there. At any rate, it was obvious that the 24th would be my destination in any event, come what may.
There was a little snow on the ground and it was warm and when I finally got to my barracks there on Ft Richardson, green grass was showing in the bare spots on the lawn! On Jan 12th or 13th, not sure which.
Lineage And Honors Information
24th Ordnance Company
Lineage and Honors Information as of 15 November 2006
24th Ordnance Company Lineage
I arrived there early Jan 1961 and like I said, there was green grass on the front lawn. It was one of the brand new buildings and pretty nice. When they delivered me there, it was to the back door in the parking lot area. And there in the parking lot, 2 items that were a portent of what was to come. Racks of numbered Skis and Posts for electric outlets so you could plug in engine heaters. I didn't have a car but the supply room issued me a pair of cross-country skis right with my bedding.
I entered the rear door by the messhall and reported to the 24th Ordnance Company's orderly room. They were not impressed by my orders and sent me to the west bay on 1st floor of the building and there were a few "Carrier Detachment" guys there when I got there.
But there never was a "Carrier Detachment" there that I know of. They later rolled us over into the 24th Ordnance and I served the 2 years with them. This is a picture of me sitting at the 1st sgt's desk on C.Q. duty. The picture was taken about 1 1/2 years after I got there. Beware the picture as it was taken in a mirror, with a timing mechanism. You can see part of the Ordnance Pot on the front of desk. Note also my command patch as it is on my right shoulder due to the reversion of the image in the mirror.
There was an anti-aircraft missile company on the 2nd floor and at that time, 1961, the missiles were hot stuff and those guys just kind of hung together and didn't mingle with us, probably because of secrecy rules.
Just to the right of the mirror is a "sign-out board" where soldiers sign out of the company to go on pass, leave and such. The mirror is probably 3/4 length and is for the personnel to check their appearance before they leave.
There was someone else there on the top floor but can't remember who.
I wasn't there long and they formed a Battalion from the diverse elements and made a slot for a Lt. Colonel and I suspect that was the purpose of all the baloney - just a way to open up another slot and get another field-grade officer on the payroll. They had more field grades per private there in Alaska than anywhere else in the Army, I swear.
I got settled in and was taken to the shop and it was very modern and really nice. The best place I ever worked while I was in the army. Now, just the work area, building and so forth. In this picture is a 1st Lt, our shop officer, I've forgotten his name and he was Japanese so I guess I wasn't that far from the Far Eastern Command after all, eh?
The 24th Ordnance Co supported 1 brigade of infantry, which was supported by 1 troop of cavalry and 3 batteries of artillery, only a few M41 tanks and 12 guns! The artillery was 1 battery of 105 S.P. Guns just like we had in Germany and one battery (the only one left in the army) of ancient 75mm Pack Howitzers! They called'm "pack howitzers" because you could break them down and pack them on mules (but they used helicopters a lot). They also had 1 battery of Tracked "Twin-Forty" 40mm AAA guns.
There was an Instrument man there at the 24th's shop (only one guy) who was a likeable fellow and seemed competent. When I talked to him to find out what the situation was, he said there was work for about 1 1/2 men. Too much for one guy but not enough for 2 men and he named the outfits (above) that we supported. I didn't worry too much about it then, that came later.
It started turning cold and pretty soon the snow was crunching under your feet when you walked in it. About that time one day down at the shop the Platoon Sgt said he had to go to town, Anchorage, to the bank and wanted to know if I'd like to go along for the ride and get a look at the place, so I did.
More introduction to Alaska. We got in the car and he takes off about like you would on dry ground and then he comes to the first stop sign steps right down on the brakes and I just straightened out like a board and the car came to a halt just where it was supposed to. Next stop, same thing. He must have noticed my discomfort because he said, "Oh, we don't pay much attention to the snow up here. It's so cold, it generally freezes dry and if it's dry snow, you have a lot better traction and can accelerate and brake on it a lot better."
Well, he was pretty close to right but I was almost a nervous wreck by the time we got back. There was better traction there in the winter than down here, in Iowa yes, but ..........
He struck me as being a good sgt but I never really saw him at things Ordnance because he rotated out about the same time as the Instrument Man did so don't know if he was competent that way.
I never started taking pictures in Alaska until probably about fall of 1961.
Then in late Jan 1961 it was maneuver time and there was debate on whether I should go along with the company. I had not gotten the "Cold Weather Indoctrination" that was mandatory for all new people but they decided I'd go and could do that "on the job" more or less.
So up Alaska's highway I go to the maneuver area there around Mt McKinley somewhere, with the rest of the company. The fire control guy I replaced didn't go and rotated out of Alaska.
I can't remember much of what went on but we sat in our 5-man tent the whole time. There was 4 of us sleeping on folding wood/canvas cots in the tent which had a liner and a gasoline "Yukon" stove and was fairly comfortable. There were 3 guys and myself in the tent.
I do remember just messing around in the edge of our company area and I got to see a porcupine and a ptarmigan and that was about it. That was all the wildlife I remember seeing that first winter. I think we may have been in higher elevations than most game. We were up in the Mt McKinley park area.
One day, we had gone to the mess hall for a meal and then we came back to the tent in the evening there and somebody, for some reason, untied the rubber gas line from the side of the tent where it was kept away from the stove. Possibly they had trouble when they put a full 5gal jerry can of gas on the tripod outside the tent and it was tied too high up and gas wouldn't flow so they took the line down off side of tent and it just lay there and somehow got up against the stove and I think that by the time they got it away from the stove it was damaged and leaking?
Anyway, you could not smell gasoline. I never did smell it, maybe just a hint of it every once in a while. Somebody wanted to heat some water and I guess you did that by positioning the water can by the stove and opening the lid so the heating water could expand (some of the guys had been burned when the water got hot and they opened the lid the water blasted out and hit them. The lid was lever-locked, either open or closed, no in-between). Anyway they opened the lid and had the can right by the stove and seeing the line drooping in the area draped it over the water can, using the can to keep the tube away from the stove I reckon. Some of the gasoline had to have drained down the side of the line, hit the can and dripped into it.
I had brought a canteen cup of coffee with me from the messhall and it had cooled so I set it on the stove to warm up and forgot it while I was doing something else and the coffee nearly all evaporated and crusted up in the cup in a big mess so I took the cup to the water can and filled it maybe 2/3 way with water and set it back on stove so I could clean it up.
Well, I'm setting on my cot writing a letter home and so help me "whooof" it went and broke into flame .....THE WATER WAS BURNING!! So Valdez, who was also writing home and had a clipboard, smartly laid the clipboard on the canteen cup and it quit burning so he retracted it and while we were setting there in shock at this wonderment it whooomphed again and I said better get that thing out of here.
I was right by the zipped up door out of reach of the cup and the other kid got it and headed for the door. Poor kid, he got almost to the door which I was trying to get open and he stumbled and the burning water slopped on his hand and the poor guy dropped it and when it hit the floor all Hell broke loose and the place just went WHOOMPHF and I was out the door, Valdez was right behind me and the other poor guy was carrying the burning liner of the tent on his back when he came out right behind us - all in a matter of seconds.
Never seen anything like it! Just right now! The whole area by the door was burning.
The 4th guy in the back of the tent couldn't get out so tried to go under the tent's side but he couldn't get it raised up so he started for the door again and realized he couldn't get through so went back to the tent's side again and that time got it up high enough he could get out that way.
Valdez and I were in the front trying to get the liner off the 3rd guy and people start running to help. By the time they got a fire extinguisher there, the tent was on the ground. I can't remember the 3rd person's name but he was Mexican and I think he was married - was pretty good guy and I can picture his face in my mind to this day.
They got the burned guy out of there and he was sent on down to the burn center in Texas and that's the last I saw of him. The other 3 of us got hardly a scratch but all of our gear was gone, parkas and all. We started cleaning up the area and got everything picked up and started retrieving the tent pegs that were driven into the frozen ground and we couldn't get them out of the ground!! They were aluminum type pegs and we broke 1 of them off trying to get them out and bent up the others and left about half of them frozen in the ground. How the guy got the one peg out seems a miracle yet to this day.
All because of some burning water ........?
Apparently, the gasoline had been dripping on the floor for some time and we never noticed it in that cold weather. It was running between 25 and 35 degrees below 0 during the maneuver and in that weather we just never detected the odor of the gasoline. Not in any strength, anyway.
We had no tent but were allowed to sleep in an ordnance van as best we good. One guy had no cap and I had only a field jacket some one loaned me and that was about it. Luckily the maneuver was over and we would be leaving in the next day or two.
Now, there were two units still in the area, our 24th Ordnance and a medical unit I think it was. Anyway, the weather forecast wasn't good so our company decided to stay put for the night but the medical unit figured they'd make a run for it and get through the pass and started out on the exit road before the weather got there.
They were wrong. They started out of the area and their convoy was effectively cut in half going through the pass area and half of them wound up on the road overnight. Those poor Engineers had been working non-stop to keep the pass open and when the wind got going real good they just couldn't keep it open and their equipment got bogged down and a few of the medical vehicles got stuck right in the middle of the pass, cutting the convoy in half, some going on and the others staying put.
The next day the wind died down, the engineers regained control of the road and we got out of there and back to post.
Alaska can be a wonderful place but if you don't pay attention, it can be deadly.
Just oddity onto oddity ...... when we got back to post, they had an investigation because none of the material from the fire was reclaimed as it was considered damaged and untrustworthy by our officers. Our weapons were even involved in that deal and they were thrown onto the burned remains and gasoline poured on and the whole pile of stuff was burned, mess kits, clothes, all of it.
This was done at the order of 1st Lt Steed who, as far as I was concerned, was a fairly decent officer. But somebody had it in for somebody or maybe they were just under worked and needed something to do. I had to report to some officer in some office on main post about 3 times and be questioned over the deal.
There may have been a reason for my being questioned ......... just as crazy as the fire but real, none the less ......... why were the khaki summer uniforms on the salvage list?
Having just arrived from CONUS in Jan, I had sent all my clothing that was wrinkled from being squeezed into the duffel bag to the quartermaster laundry so that it would look nice hanging in my wall locker and I could pass inspections, etc.
Well, when I had to go on the maneuvers I took off for the boondocks and when the laundry was done, it was picked up and taken to our barracks back at Ft Richardson. We were in the boonies on maneuvers and I just left the bundle back at the barracks. Then I started running out of underclothes and socks so when the company made a run to the barracks one time they ask if anybody needed anything from back there and I told them to send my laundry bundle up and they did.
Well, it had those khaki uniforms in the bundle, right? So, there I was in middle of winter on maneuvers with summer khaki uniforms and they were damaged in the fire and I put them on the list for replacement.
Now if I were the investigating officer and somebody came to me with a cock and bull story like that, I probably wouldn't believe him either, so I never really held the repeated interrogations against them and must have convinced them it wasn't a hoax to just get more clothes but it took a couple extra trips over there to do it.
We got the maneuvers over, got back to Ft Richardson, and got settled down finally. And I overhauled the shop area somewhat. They had a table in it that was kind of shaky ..... pretty touchy and you couldn't bump it or anything else or it would throw your leveling off on the surface plates while you were working on instruments so I got some 2x lumber and made a work bench that was solid and didn't wobble around when you were trying to do some work on it. This picture was taken when we were readying for an inspection and the solid bench I made is on the right.
Then we personnel were moved from the barracks bay in the west end to the bay in the east end and life kind of settled down with summer approaching and what not. I was running the Instruments Section by myself - the only one there at the time, I'm not even sure I was a PFC then. But I ran the section ever since the other guy had left.
Our shop had windows of tinted optical class which was very nice as you could make adjustments to the optical instruments looking right out into a good field of view and you didn't have to worry about aberrations in the glass causing you to make errors in the adjustments. We had a couple target signs hanging on a fence out there - nothing fancy but something specific we could zero on.
Interesting thing that. In the summer the sun shines most of the day, even in Anchorage area. In the peak of summer we'd have to draw the blinds at night to sleep. It didn't stay light in night time at our latitude but it never really got dark either.
We had a lot of ground tremors while I was there. One time we had just got off work for the day and marched to the barracks as we usually did and just when we fell out of formation and went into the barracks a pretty good little tremor hit, very noticeable. We were in the bay hanging up hats etc and this kid yells out, "Hey, come here quick!" and he is standing by the window at end of barracks looking out at street so we all run over there to look and here is this guy with his car in the middle of the street and he is walking 'round it looking up under the wheel well, then to the next one, on around the car and getting back to the driver's door, stands there a moment, shakes his head and gets back into his car and drives off!
We are laughing like the devil knowing there was a tremor but he in his car couldn't figure out what had happened. He probably thought his car was coming apart.
I pulled KP there several times - until I got my rank back. They had a nice mess hall but the food wasn't that great for some reason. It was real food and there seemed to be enough of it but it just wasn't good. About all I liked was the spaghetti, naturally, and the SOS and the Yankee Pot Roast.
Somewhere in the summer months we got some more Fire Control Instrument people. Three of them, to be exact. So that made a total of 4 men and not even work for 2. We had a hard time staying occupied but I just stuck to running it and trying to improve the place and make sure the new guys got to do most of the work so they could learn their jobs. Here are two of them, Oliver Dettman and William Forst both of whom turned out to be competent people.
Dettmann, the taller of the two, was a very precise worker, a genuine perfectionist and I appreciated we had at least one guy besides myself who could do the really delicate and sensitive jobs. I believe he was working on the artillery gun-sight right there on the table, a M1A1 Sight Mount which was used on the "Pack Artillery." The Model no. should indicate it's longevity in the army. M1 had to be an early model number, eh? It held the Panoramic Gun-sight which could be the instrument at the far end of the table. The older stuff was made of brass, was heavy but generally worked very smoothly.
The sights seen and discussed here were the arty sights for the 75mm Pack Howitzers.
The third person there is an artillery mechanic named Boisen, a genuine hero.
Boisen was on his way to Alaska via air and the passenger plane he was on started having trouble over the ocean and was losing altitude and wouldn't make shore. The pilots called the Coast Guard for help and then they and the C.G. figured about where the plane would land in the ocean and the C.G. said they could have a ship at so-so point and that is what they did. The pilots got the plane there and the Coast Guard was where they were supposed to be so they got the plane down on the water OK and the crew opened the door and Boisen was right by the door so one of the first ones out but he wouldn't leave the plane and then helped get the rest of people out, including dependents, and the Coast Guard got them onto the ship and no one got hurt. Can you imagine that?
For his efforts Boisen was awarded a Presidential Commendation, a highly valued award in the military.
To the left is the third man into the section (and me) looking at my camera which was taking the picture at the time, His name was Hartmann. He said he had never seen a timer work so I was showing him that feature of the camera.
Boy, we got a workout in that place. I doubt we averaged 4-5 hrs sleep a night. Lots of study on map reading, leadership, and so forth. One time one of the guys that was having problems getting his shoes shined. He said there was oil in them and he couldn't get it done. It became an item which drew a lot of attention and finally one day the top Sgt waited until the guy had left the area then took one of his boots home with him and brought it back the next day and held the boot up at work formation in the morning and showed everybody and it was shining like a mirror and he said, "If the other boot does not look like this by retreat this PM, this man is out of here. The poor guy tried but couldn't do it and was sent back to his unit. We started the class with about 33-35 guys and about 30 or so graduated (Guys leave the class for different reasons, I only remember one guy being told to leave).
Heh, they were teaching us how to teach. We had to know how to train people. So, we all had to give a class on some subject pertaining to soldiering and I got stuck with map reading. Anyway, in their instructions they had told us that when you start your students' class, you have to get and hold their attention and you should either tell a short joke or ask some question pertinent to the material the class was to be given.
Well, I got up in front of the class and I'm introverted as Hell anyway and I was scared to death to speak in front of a bunch of people and I did not think I could tell a joke so I just ask a question. Now maps and reading them is a complex subject there are about as many kinds of maps as there is Christmas candy. So I ask the class if any one there knew what "shaded relief" was and some joker immediately jumps up and says "I do, I do .... it's a guy taking a shit under a shade tree." and the class just roared so they got me through the thing, at least (Relief maps are shaded to show geological features in the terrain).
We had done all the class room stuff and it was time to try some of the stuff in the boonies so we formed up for a night exercise with all our combat gear on and took off, the mission being to knock out a radar tower. When they put me in charge, we were ambushed and I correctly laid down base of fire and sent flanking fire team, etc - did every thing right ...... EXCEPT, I wasn't supposed to knock the gun out. My mission was the tower. I was supposed to slide off from the ambush best I could and go for the tower. I felt kind of low about that but they didn't make a big deal out of it and I passed the course but I never forgot it either ...... keep your eye on the goal!
I'm more than happy to report that my fears were completely unfounded as to the capabilities of the school and that, as a matter of fact, the objects of my fears were actually assets and they did a good job and I learned a lot there. I finished that up and went back to the company and down to the shop. That's me in the top row, 3rd from the left. Looks like I was a PFC when I went to the school.
Then we got the 5th Instruments guy. He was George Forbes, a Sp-5 who they sent there to fill the slot because of the reorganization from a company to a battalion. Honest to God. Before it was done, there one time we had 7 guys in the 1-man section!!
For some reason, I do not have a picture of George. George was a good instrument man and had, I believe, taught at an instrument school somewhere - don't remember whether it was APG or not.
About this time, they had their annual "missile shoot" there at Site Summit. There were about 6 sites in Alaska that had the Nike ground to air missiles. There were 2-3 sites up by Fairbanks and 3 sites by Anchorage. Every year each site (battery) fired one missile from Site Summit.
And we would be watching.
Here are Forst and Bonsack, another arty mechanic watching the event. I generally just used a pair of 7x50 pair of binoculars and that way I could watch the missiles in flight. They would go up to maybe 15,000 ft, lay over on their sides and their main engine would kick in and they'd take off down range and explode while still in view from where we were. During the week of the exercise they fired one missile each day.
This is site summit. I told the guys I could photograph it and they didn't think so. I got my "collimation" telescope out, set eyepiece of one of the 20x scopes to exactly "0" diopters and just put the camera lens flush to the eyepiece and viola .....
I knew the thing was secret, probably, and almost never sent the film to be developed because I was afraid I'd be arrested or something then decided well, what the heck ...... and took it to the PX anyway and they processed it and no one said anything. Kind of surprised me. 'Course it's not that good anyway but where there is smoke ..........
So then I did this one on a closer peak ..........
At Ft Richardson they had a curious view of the "Specialist" ranks the army had just created. It was confusing to me then and is even more so today. When I was in Germany, the army embarked on a ranking system that would help them keep highly trained people. The weapons and tactics had advanced to the point this was necessary.
When they first started, they had specialist ranked from E-4/SP3 thru E-6/SP1, the higher the SP number, the lower the rank.
BUT, by doing so, they shot themselves in the foot because they wanted to have more pay grades but couldn't insert them because of the way they were numbered. Soooo, they merely reversed the numbers just made so that E-4 was SP4 and E-6 was SP6, etc. This allowed insertion of 2 more grades in the table of ranks and was better inducement for re-enlistments.
So the ranks then went on up to E-9 and Master SP!
Then they started whittling on them until they now have only the SP4 today - there are no specialists ratings over rank of SP4.
Now back in 1956 and since, there were a lot of hard feelings about the "Specialist" thing, especially among the NCOs. They didn't like it at all. So they kind of retaliated in a way and here's how it panned out.
In Germany there was total confusion - we were kind of bastards and if we went to a club it was the E.M. Club, we were not allowed in the NCO Club.
In 1962 Alaska, no specialists could handle troops. NCOs had to do that. When I was promoted to Specialist, I (and all other specialists) were denied admission to the NCO club there at Ft Richardson. A Corporal could be a member but not SP-4s or 5s.
BUT ....... they made us pull CQ duty!! I found it ironic that we were not trustworthy enough we could command troops, which we did anyway, all the time but they had no qualms about you performing Charge of Quarters duties and turning the whole damn company over to you at night. Hell, CQ duty was from about 5:00 PM to probably 7-8:00 AM the next morning.
With those hours we specialists were probably in charge of the company for more hours than the NCOs!
However, in Alaska, we were allowed our own "Specialist's Club" and it was located in the basement of the NCO Club - ALL specialist ranks went to that club, I think.
Then, when I was promoted to SP5 at Ft Carson, I could go to the NCO Club.
I never knew for sure about the whole deal. But with today's "volunteer" army and high salaries, I would imagine they no longer have need of their specialist but I enjoyed the rank then as being in ordnance, your competence as a mechanic counted for more than soldiering. Like I said, most of the time I spent in the field was as a mechanic, not an infantry soldier.
I'm not sure the Army even does the work now that we used to do. Wouldn't surprise me at all if a lot of it isn't farmed out.
On 1 July 1955, three grades of Specialist were established: Specialist Three (E-4), Specialist Two (E-5), and Specialist One (E-6).
In 1958 the DoD added three additional pay grades to give enlisted soldiers more opportunities to progress to a full career with additional opportunities for promotion. Thus the recognition was changed to six specialist ranks, and the pay grade was tied into the rank designation: Specialist Four (E-4), Specialist Five (E-5), Specialist Six (E-6), and Master Specialists (E-7), (E-8) and (E-9). CSM Dan Elder goes on to explain,
"In 1968 when the Army added the rank of Command Sergeant Major, the specialist ranks at E-8 and E-9 were abolished without anyone ever being promoted to those levels.
In 1978 the specialist rank at E-7 was discontinued and
in 1985, the specialist ranks at E-5 and E-6 were discontinued."
Heh, when I was going into the Specialist Club in Ft Rich pretty regular in the evenings, they had a bartender working in there named Riley. He was an Indian and a big guy and a friendly and likeable person and he gets to talking to me and wants me to join his Sky Diver's Club.
Well, we're in Alaska and damn little to do so I ask him about it and he's telling me this and that and I asked him how a big guy like him could sky dive and he just said, "I use a freighting chute" in an off-hand way, and I thought, yeah, baloney. So I asked when they would be jumping and he told me and said where I should be to see them come down and all that.
So, I went to the appointed place kind of like a big parade field and I'm looking around and there are a few other people there including wives and so I start talking to them and they say the helicopter has already went up and pointed up in the air and I finally saw it way up there and was watching just when this tiny, tiny spec came out of it then another and so forth and they fell ...... and fell ...... and ...... then opened their chutes one by one and all came down on the field.
They wound their chutes up and walked over to where we were and Riley was one of them. I just almost couldn't believe that big guy could do that! I had taken tough little French guy from Louisiana with me named Moubelies (never could spell his name) and he got to see them.
Now Riley pressed me to join the club but I finally said no. But the French kid went ahead and I told him I wasn't sure that was for him but he joined. So Riley gave him all the ground training and on the appointed day, he went over to the club to do his first real jump, just a "Static Line jump" that would qualify him for the sky-diving proper.
Poor guy got up into the plane but then he wouldn't jump ......... and had to quit the club. Last I knew, ol' Riley was still at it.
I suspected the crew may have done something but didn't really know for sure and about the 3rd one that came in broken I found that all were broken on the same gun. If that was the case, then maybe something could be wrong with the gun that was causing the problem so I asked them to bring the gun into our shop so that we could check it closely on our concrete floor.
They brought the thing in and we got into another of those "darnedest things" but eventually got the thing working right. I found a manual somewhere that told how to level the gun trunnions, field method, so we went right to work on it. I'd never done one before, never even heard of it but I enlisted the aid of the Instruments kid Forst so he could get the experience and we went to work on the thing.
The leveling procedure is lengthy and hard to do.
You set the vehicle on 3 jacks (just like one of our surface plates, you level a flat surface with three points, 1 on each corner at front end and 1 in the middle at the rear end). Then you elevate the gun to 0 mils on the gunner's quadrant, you level it.
Then you rotate the turret as far to the left (or right) as you can. Re-check the reading on the gunner's quadrant on the breech-block's pads and split the difference from what you first had, taking out half the difference with the gun/quadrant and half the difference with the jack on that side.
Then you rotate the turret in the opposite direction and do the same thing. You keep doing that until the bubble on the quadrant reads level throughout the traverse.
We had a Hell of a time leveling that thing, I think because we used hydraulic jacks instead of mechanical ones as they were all we had, but we finally got it reasonably level then moved to the gun elevation check. Forst ran the inside and I ran the outside of the gun's leveling. Forst did a good job on it, too.
Here, with the vehicle and gun trunnions leveled, the gun is checked to make sure it will elevate throughout it's operating range which is 1165 mils.
But something was wrong as the gun would only go to about 1148-50 mils and felt kind of spongy at the end of travel so apparently when the gun was at extreme elevation it had some kind of interference between the Fire Control linkage and the gun system in that last little bit of movement.
Now, when the arty outfit pulls maintenance on the gun, the drill is to run the gun through it's extreme elevation - just keep raising it until it stops then back to level and the elevation counter is connected to the gun naturally so apparently when things are just right that little bit of pressure was enough it could break the counter.
Well, we were running out of time and the arty outfit wanted their gun back so we had to break off and I said Hell, let's just put a block on the thing so they can't elevate it past the 1140 mils and that's what we did. I had the service department come down and weld a small block of steel to the turret hull at an appropriate location so that the gun couldn't elevate past about 1125 - 1140 mils.
They got their gun back and we never heard from them again so we assume it was repaired. That gun had to come out of depot that way and I think it was some federal facility in the state of Washington that put the gun out.
I was kind of proud of what we had done. I don't know how everybody else felt about it as we had the gun in the shop almost 3 weeks - but then we did a depot job with just very minimal tools and equipment, as far as I was concerned.
By then the instrument shop had filled up with too many people. Hell we didn't have enough stools for everyone to sit! I think some of the other sections had more or less the same problem.
So, I suppose that they realized that and came up with the idea of cross-training everybody in the company. Well, if they did everybody, that would reduce surplus workers by half. 'Course they never come close to half.
But I saw that as an opportunity and realizing the importance of logistics, asked for and got the supply cage where all repair parts that were requisitioned in the company were sent through that section. They only had one guy in the cage, a SP-5 and he had to do everything himself so I talked to him and boy, he was ready for some help, being short-handed anyway.
I went to work in the parts section and he was right, he was losing control over his parts so we set out to do a physical inventory, always a heck of a job, and we finally got the place straightened up. Also, I took classroom training on the job of "Stock Control Posting Clerk" which experience helped me with Farmall Co. and Young Radiator Co. later on in civilian life. The section leader was a very good parts man and I cannot for the life of me remember his name. It may have been Harrison or something like that.
He would gather all the requisitions generated by the job orders in the shop from the different sections, get them into some kind of order and if we had the parts on hand, we issued them right out otherwise I generally took them over to "tech" supply and picked the parts up there. Every day I made that run. If they didn't have them, they got put on order there.
After that was done in the office, I would pick up from them previously ordered parts and any that we ordered just that day get them loaded on the truck and then head back to the company. I generally drove the 6x truck and Shultz accompanied me with a 5-ton wrecker to load/unload parts - there was everything from small screws to tank engines and gun tubes.
And this is Shultz and Kroll, our wrecker operators.
Here is a picture of some mechanics at work and though you can barely see it, the parts cage is just in the background. The small parts are kept in the cage and the big stuff was outside the building. And below is a picture that I've kept over the years because it shows the equipment available in the shop and you can see that the mechanic is using the stuff just exactly as he should. It's not only safer but is actually faster in the long run.
We marched to and from the shop a couple times a day, from the morning work formation and back for the noon meal then back to the shop for remainder of the work day. We had animals roaming the post and one time a moose cow and her calf wandered into the barracks area and when we were marching back to the barracks at end of the day, they came towards us, got all confused and then panicked and ran right through our formation. The guys just whooped and hollered and they then took off down the street and we formed right back up and continued on our way to the barracks and our evening meal. Everything normal ........ 'bout like making way for any pedestrian you meet on the street.
I was reading the Anchorage newspaper and they had article with picture in it about this bull moose out at the international airport having a confrontation with this passenger plane. It was during the moose's rutting season and this bull moose apparently did not care for the way the airplanes were entering his domain so when one of them went out to the end of the runway and was setting there revving their engines, the bull moose came out of the nearby brush and attacked it! He rammed the fuselage a couple times, shook his head then turned around and trotted off ........ they had to hold the flight and bring a crew out to check the plane for damage before they took off.
They had another instance up in Ft Greely, a cold weather test facility the army operated. It was north of Anchorage and almost all the way up to Fairbanks. Three of their guys were on their way to the PX and this bull buffalo took out after them and they took off for the building and just made it into the building, then he attacked a car there. I guess he had attacked a car not along before, too. They called the MPs and the bull's luck had then run out as they came down and didn't mess around - shot and killed the animal right there.
Fortunately no one was hurt in these episodes but there were injuries, generally in confrontations with bears.
Man, they had a brown bear mounted in front of the sporting goods store where I bought my ammo. Lordy, I hope I never have to meet something like that......... ANYWHERE! That sucker was standing and was at least 14 ft tall.
One winter we are just laying around there and decide to go do something, anything to have something to do. So we decided to go skiing so we went to the supply room to see if they had any wax and of course they didn't have downhill but they had climbing wax so we had to take our skis, unwaxed and see what we could do with them. We started out through the boonies there close by and we were going down this tank road, I reckon it was. Any way it had been leveled out somewhat on the side of the hill where we were and we took off down the road.
We are going down the thing as best we can on the skis and since they are cross-country types they are not really made to steer, you just run in them. Well we come to a little grade and start gliding down around the hill the best we could on the road and we come up to this kind of sharp little curve where the road wraps around the hill and one of the guys is right there about 15-20 yards in front of me. I'm trying to not wreck and not paying much attention to him and when I finally negotiate the turn on the hill I look up and the guy who was in front of me is gone - nobody there.
I stop and am looking around trying to see where he went and couldn't see him any where and pretty soon I can hear this voice calling from far away and I thought what the world is that and about that time this tree off over the side of the curve shook a little and I started back up there and it was a pine tree of course and completely covered with snow and he had ran off the road, flew through the air and lit in the tree UPSIDE DOWN with his head and shoulders in the deep snow on the ground and the skis caught in the tree limbs. Well I started working on him to make sure he could breathe and another guy got there and helped me and we were all laughing like crazy and we finally got him out of there.
We were lucky no one got hurt.
Then we decided to go hunting for Caribou. Well, took some planning but we finally got everything lined up and there were five of us including a 2nd Lt. and we could take an army 3/4 ton truck for the trip. Well the caribou migrate out of the arctic and winter in the Lake Louise area up north of Anchorage a ways and it's a one day excursion. There is a bag limit of 3 animals per person. I'd never heard of such a thing but that's what it was.
We head up the road and are there before too long and when we pulled into the area, we are setting on this ridge and the boys decided they would drop somebody off there and they would go on and come back for him on their way out of the area and I got picked. So they take off and leave me there.
I can hear firing almost all around me but it's down lower than me, below my ridge. There is nothing at all going on where I am but pretty soon this single caribou comes up and starts to cross the ridge right there in front of me maybe 70 yards away in fairly deep snow. When he gets up the hill and almost directly in front of me, I fired at his head and down he went but got right back up and went a few steps and stopped. I was moving quickly towards him and when he stopped so did I and aimed and fired again, same result. Down he went and struggled back up kind of shakey and I fired again and down he went again but that time he couldn't get completely up he was sitting on his rump and holding his front up with one leg.
I knew then that something was bad wrong, probably my gunsights (but I was all excited and out of breath too). I was using an old WWII 8mm German Mauser which my brother had been "sporterizing" but still had the military sights and I had taken with to Alaska before he was done. So I got as close as I could and reasoned on a neck shot because of the way he was positioned, I'd hit something vital so I fired and that time I put the poor thing out of his misery. I had hit and broken 3 of his legs!
I dragged him by his rack through the snow to the little road and was waiting for the other guys and they weren't long getting there. They also each had one animal and we then went back to the post. They dressed the animals out and guess what? I had the only animal that was not gut-shot or just plain shot to Hell!!
Yes sir! And we donated the meat to the orphanage at Homer, Alaska. I never hunted after that unless I knew for sure the capabilities of the weapon I was using.
For some reason, I never understood why, we suddenly had to start pulling guard. Here I am clear out in the boonies somewhere, actually off-post, I think, guarding some WWII installation of some kind. I had another picture of the old wooden building which design you would immediately recognize but I have lost it somewhere.
The guard shack is on the picture's left.
In Jan/Feb 1962 we went on the 'BIG' maneuver.
The Army started getting ambitious I reckon 'cause it was held farther north than any of the other ones that I am aware of. They decided to do it in the Tanana River area along the ALCAN between Fairbanks and Tok Junction, Alaska. Now that is one of the coldest areas in the state proper.
Down in Anchorage the weather is influenced by the Pacific stream which comes up from Japan and goes around southern Alaska and back down the American west coast and on by California, etc. If you are in this area you can expect some mild weather in the winter.
BUT ....... if you leave Anchorage and go across the mountains to the interior of the continent - buddy ........ beware, that's all I can say. If you get away from that ocean, it gets really cold.
And that is what the army did. They set up this exercise called 'Great Bear" in the area mentioned above.
What an adventure that was! We started moving up the roads to get there and we went from Anchorage to Tok Junction, a village where the ALCAN comes out of Canada and forks, one road going back down to Anchorage and the other going on west to Fairbanks, following the Tanana River.
When we had got to the Tok Junction area, it was so cold you could put your hands anywhere on the truck engine except the manifold. There was three of us in the cab of the truck and the personnel heater was going full blast and we just got colder and colder and soon my feet were getting really cold. It's getting dark and just in time, as far as I'm concerned, we arrived at our area.
The engineers had bulldozed a park area for us and we pulled in there kind of helter-skelter and the guys bailed out of the trucks and without orders immediately started setting up the 5-man tents. First time I ever saw a bunch of GIs jump right in and do a job without some hectoring.
Heh, then the sgts couldn't get them out of the tents to reorganize and repark the trucks. It was 65-70 deg below 0. I'm from Iowa and I thought I'd seen cold weather but never anything like that.
They got a few of the guys to help with the trucks as they wanted to restart them every so often through the night. The next morning the guys realized that they were there for it so they got to work, untangled the traffic jam and set the company up proper, everybody in place.
Immediately, water was a problem. they had water trailers with heater coils on them but they were a pain in the ......... but they somehow kept water in the messhall.
Our section screwed up again. I didn't have anything to do with it but one of the small arms guys got his buddy artillery guy to convince our platoon sgt (who stayed in Ft Rich with a "bad back") to let them take a "platoon-sized tent" (like we'd do shop work in) instead of 3-4 of the 5-man tents and that way they could burn diesel fuel and use a 50 gallon drum instead of the 5 gal jerry cans which had to be changed every few hours. Also, and most importantly, the larger tent had no liner.
It very nearly lead to a disaster.
We hadn't been there 2-3 days and on a very cold night the fire went out. It got colder and colder but no one would get up to investigate. Finally, one of the guys at the back end of the tent got down into his completely zipped up sleeping bags (we each had 2 bags inside a canvas cover) and did exactly what we had been warned about ...... losing contact with the closed opening and started smothering to death.
I heard something sounding like somebody way off trying to get somebody's attention. I listened and finally got woke up and figured it had to be coming from our tent so raised up my head and was looking around and then distinctly heard it coming from the far end of the tent to my right so I unzipped my bag got out in my long johns and headed to the end of the tent and somebody turned the light up and somebody else was already there and was helping the guy get out of his sleeping bag. He sat on the edge of his cot breathing in as large quantity air as he could in huge breaths and finally got to breathing normally.
I'm not sure anyone would have gotten out of the sacks if it hadn't been for that guy smothering but when we were up then we fully dressed and got everybody else out of their racks and made'm fully dress until we could get some kind of fire going in there. We could very easily have just lain there until we were really in trouble.
We kept the tent for some reason but the fuel and the stoves were redone. And the weather warmed up a little and we finally got through it. Sometimes just the wind can do it to you.
We had a thermometer hanging on a tent rope just outside the tent and it generally read in the -50 to -60 degree range and we thought it might be colder than that so we took it off the tent rope there by the tent and put it on a tree about 25-30 feet from the tent and sure enough, we recorded 72 deg below there next morning.
I never took my camera into the field but dearly wish I had now.
I got tired of laying around the tent so I asked for a job and they put me to driving for the mess hall. I got to visit a building somewhere up there and they said belonged to an oil company and they had made it available to the army so Ordnance could work on the vehicles inside in warm air. Just a repair shop probably 1/5th the size of our regular shop.
Another thing kind of interesting ....... while driving the truck, I had to haul hard-frozen fresh fruit and vegetables to the dump a few times. I'm not sure about it but I think they were frozen before they got to our company. There for awhile it was bitterly cold and the messhall really struggled to get us some "balanced" meals. Canned stuff would be frozen solid, too if everyone did not do their jobs. They deliberately let the fresh milk freeze to preserve it and brought it inside the mess tent to thaw and use as needed. But the stuff separated when thawed and there was about 1/4 to 1/3 of the cartons turned to powder with some milk stuff on top.
During this really cold weather, we ate a lot of pasta and powdered stuff with water. Things people take for granted down here in states just was not the case up there.
And I got to haul some JP4 jet fuel for the Canadian army. Their Princess Patricia's Light Infantry was in the maneuver with us and they needed some fuel for their Caribou Airplanes so I hauled 5-6 drums to them. I was scared of the stuff because I was told it was "Jet Fuel" - heck I didn't know it was just kerosene until one of the Canadians told me (they were a Canadian Airborne unit).
Interesting airplane, that Caribou. It had a tail section that just went up in the air - too far, it looked like and I couldn't figure what the deal was until I saw one take off. They were turbo-prop, I think, and used a very short runway. When the plane took off they just sat it back on it's tail (or where the tail would be on regular aircraft) had the nose right up in the air and it was airborne in nothing flat. Very short runway for that size airplane.
We hung right in there and tried to do our work there but sometimes it was downright difficult. One time the track mechanics were working on an M8 tractor and the engine caught on fire so they grabbed the fire extinguisher they had and got a couple small squirts out of it and somebody came running from the mess hall with another one and it was the same thing, couple little squirts and that was it. Nothing they could do but watch the fire burn out.
There is an awful lot of stress on the mechanics and the engineers in a deal like that. I felt sorry for those engineers. They had a hell of a job.
Whenever I saw infantry or one of the line outfits they always seemed clean and spruced up but you could generally tell an engineer or an ordnance wheel/track mechanic. They were often dirty, many times unshaven and their jackets and parkas were generally dirty as hell, even had tears in them. With all those clothes on they looked like some bear waddling upright down the road. Many times during maneuvers the mechanics had almost had no time to even eat. One time when I was in Germany and helping to change out some tank gun tubes, we were billeted right next to the guns and our meals were brought to us to save time.
Towards the end there we made a move that took us to the other side of the Tanana river. We moved down this road the engineers had cut and we drove up to the river and there was this big mound like the access to a bridge and we started up it with me driving the Instrument ordnance van - a GMC with an automatic transmission - and one of those guys I just described above flagged me and came up by the cab and said "All passengers dismount and walk across the ice. Driver, put it in low-granny, open your door and step onto the running board - one foot on the running board and the other on the accelerator and do not let it shift gears." And I went on over the hump which was a pile of tree limbs spread over the ice and snow and water onto that, freezing and holding everything together ..... an ice bridge!
Here I am again, thinking what in the world ....... And when I was on the ice it would let out a big crack and it'd just take off down the river and you could hear it fade away. We got across OK and turned around and came back just a few hours later. I don't know what the deal was.
I have since seen on TV the guys driving their trucks on the frozen lakes up in Canada and I have an idea of what those guys are facing.
We got a P.C. froze to the ground and they were trying to get it loose and they burned around the tracks, they rammed it with another vehicle. Finally they had it running and they would accelerate the engine then pop the clutch so to speak and finally they decided to do it all at once so they got everything ready, revved the engine way up, gave the signal and the driver threw it into gear and the other P.C. rammed it all at the same time and just tore the "spokes" out of the drive wheels, broke like glass. And it stayed stuck to the ground.
The weather was particularly hard on things rubber. We were running low on inner tubes for the tires and the flexible brake lines for the front wheels of trucks was getting hard to find. Tires had big chunks of rubber torn from them because when you drove the tire heated up a little and when you parked it melted the snow/ice and settled a little then froze tight. When you took off chunks of rubber might stay in the ice behind you.
It was just really hard to do any meaningful thing there - too much time was spent just getting by. In order for a mechanic to work on something it has to be enshrouded some way and heat pumped into it so the thing can warm up a little bit before you even start to turn a nut ........ if you don't warm it up some there is a good chance a steel bolt will just snap off at the temperatures we were experiencing.
That aside from the fact the mechanics would suffer frostbite if they gripped a tool or a workpiece. They had thin little gloves they wore when working to help protect their fingers and hands against frostbite. I wasn't even an automotive mechanic and got a dose of that ..........
Later on back at post, I had a pretty bad cut to my hand working on something there in the instrument section and we had no first aid kit so I went to the shop office and they had one but when we opened it up it was empty. So we are trying to get it to stop bleeding and this guy who was from Armament Platoon came in to see how I was doing and he said he had a kit in the trunk of his car so he went out to the parking lot and got it.
'Course, he has his parka and stuff on when he goes out and he brought the steel kit in and laid it on the counter and I grabbed onto it and tried to open it and suddenly it just felt like bees stinging my fingertips and I got turned loose of the thing and had white frozen spots on my fingertips! I got frost-bit handling a first-aid kit, for cryin out loud! And it took several minutes to get rid of that.
There are lots of ways to get hurt in the army ........
The exercise wound down and the weather got some better, up to -40 maybe and I got a chance to stop at this truck stop there east of Fairbanks a ways and I think I went there a couple times and even got to talk to the guy who owned it. 'Course the place is full of GIs but he was a friendly man, sensible, and he said he had come to Alaska 2-3 years before and set the truck stop up. He wanted to get away from the USA and some of that stuff then he waved his hand around and said "Now look, here they all are!" He had 2-3 teen daughters and I could understand why he might be worried.
Soon after that we wrapped it up and we were back in Ft Richardson. When we got back, the Army issued a little card, like a business card that said something about having the Great Bear maneuver in -55 deg weather and the guys, all over the post, sent their cards in because they didn't say -65 deg so they re-issued the cards with a more truthful representation of the factual temp. I can't find the thing anywhere now.
It was one big adventure, Ill say that.
One thing for sure I learned up there ...... who to go see to get a heater fixed. Now I am talking about the various heating systems in the vehicles - they had all kinds. All the trucks were winterized and that meant engine heaters, battery heaters, personnel heaters, space heaters for the mechanics out in the boonies, etc.
When you wanted to start a truck up there in the winter, it was a regular ritual. First, before you even turned the ignition on, you started the engine heater. It was a gasoline heater, I think, and heated the oil pan and the batteries on most GM models. After that had ran so many minutes, you turned the ignition on and tried the engine. I can't remember exactly but you had to watch the defrosters for the windshields. If you got a sudden rush of hot air onto a cold windshield they would crack across the bottom. Best thing was to warm up the windshield, engine and personnel heater all at the same time. if you did every thing right, the oil will be warmed and allow the engine to turn and the batteries will be somewhat warmed and closer to full power and all of that stuff.
The heater business was good business up there and here is the man to see - one of the best heater men up there - the guy on the right, Specialist Downey. Wasn't too bad on Carburetor and Ignition either, if I remember right.
We had a battery of the Twin 40mm AA guns up there - same type as the ones we had in Germany. They brought them in for a checkup and no one had been around them so I got the job, naturally.
I grabbed my tool box and went out into the park by the shop where they were and started checking them. I leveled the guns off on the first one and checked with the gunner's quadrant and the darned thing was about 13 mils minus so I adjusted the mechanism and went to the next one. They looked like they never got used - looked pretty good. The second gun checked out about the same and I thought that's odd. And when I was done with that one I went to the third gun and it checked out the same and then I knew I was in trouble, they couldn't ALL three be the same, just no way so I went into the shop and finally found a manual for the thing and sure enough ..........
They had to have 13 mils super-elevation set in the system. Kind of like the "battle sights" on the M1 rifle. I think that was 3-4 clicks elevation.
While we are on the subject, the F.C. Instruments, when attached to linkages in tanks, artillery, the AAA gun, etc, have Ordnance Seals put on them where the adjustment is made. It can't be changed unless the seal is removed. The seal was a little braided wire with a flat lead pellet attached to one end. The pellet had an opening in it that the plain end of the wire could be passed through special small holes in the linkage and then back through the pellet and a plier-like sealing tool with the Ordnance Emblem on it squeezed it onto the wire. After system repair was done, we would put the seal on it. I packed the sealer in my tool box. I didn't use it much in Alaska but did while I was in Germany.
Anyway, I put them all back to the setting in the manual, re-sealed the linkages and was glad I had decided to check the deal out. Don't ask me why I didn't check the manual in the first place. Manuals were hard to find around there for some reason and anyway, I thought I remembered how to do it from my time in Germany but I had forgot about the super-elevation.
Along in here a Sgt heard about our section and looked me up and asked me if I could fix a pair of binoculars for him. Well, I did do some of that for friends or people I knew and generally did it free gratis but this fellow I didn't know and kind of took a dislike to him right away but I told him I would take a look at them - maybe I could. He asked what I wanted for pay and I told him a fifth of vodka. I didn't drink the stuff but some of the other guys did.
Well he brought the glasses over and I looked at them and they were some kind of foreign made opera glasses. I didn't want to mess with them and one telescope has a chipped prism and it cut the light quite a bit so trying to get out of it I told him I couldn't get parts and so forth but he insisted I just go ahead so I told him they'd be ready next PM. He could pick them up then. So we went our ways and I opened them up and cleaned up the lenses which some were chipped, from dropping I imagine, and it helped them a little.
Well, the next day I had to go to dentist and they drilled between two front teeth, filled the hole (hell of a deal) and I got back to the barracks in plenty of time for the sgt to pick up the glasses. He came around and gave me a paper bag with the fifth in it and I gave him the binoculars and away he went. Never seen him again.
However: I opened the bag and it was Starvsky Vodka. I'd never heard of it, didn't know that much about it, so anyway I took it back to the barracks and some of the guys tried it but they didn't seem crazy about it so Forst and I figured we may as well drink some of it and throw the rest away.
And that's what we did and do you know that stuff dissolved the filling in my just-filled teeth and it came out and had to do it all over!
I just couldn't figure it out and one day a worldly sgt (our army gets around pretty good, all over the world) explained it to me. He said well, the market here is not that big and it cost a fortune to ship stuff up here from CONUS so it makes the Europeans competitive. They can fly over northern North America to Alaska almost as easy as they can to Arizona or California, etc.
Well, not sure how that plays but they sure had an international flavor there in Alaska.
We were getting closer to rotation and one of the good guys was leaving, a guy from Texas, and he came into the bay and asked if anyone was interested in going downtown for a Mexican meal. No one said anything and he looked at me and asked if I was interested, he was buying and I told him that I didn't know anything about Mexican food and he said I'll take care of that, it's not that big a deal anyway.
Well, I got curious having heard of Mexican food and all but never eating it so I said I'd try it. Glad I did.
We went to the Mexican restaurant there in Anchorage and he explained all to me and we ordered and I stayed away from the hot stuff and we had a white table cloth and when they brought the food it was all reds and greens etc and when it was set on the table, I thought it was about good looking meal as I'd seen and it was very good. Really enjoyed it.
It seemed like they were barren up there and at the same time they had EVERYTHING.
One day, they came to me there in the bay and said you have a phone call. I didn't know anyone locally so I thought there was problem at home and went to phone and this woman was on the line and she started talking to me and pretty soon she says, "You don't know who this is do you?" and I said no and it was my aunt Lavaughn, ex-aunt, and she and her new Chiropractor type husband had moved to Alaska. So, they came picked me up and we had good visit.
One day in the shop it is kind of busy and Forst went to take care of someone who walked into our shop. I never looked up or anything told Forst to get it so he went over to the counter and I kept working on whatever ..... and Forst comes back and says a supply sgt. has got a whole bunch of observation telescopes and he wants to turn them in for checks/repair. I didn't even look up I just said "He knows they can't turn everything in, tell'm to leave some and we'll get the rest later.
Forst went back and then he came right back to me and said "He said for you to get your butt over there and take care of it." So I whirled around ready to do battle and there stands Howard Hudson from my little hometown in Iowa!!! He'd recognized me when he came in and was tormenting me. Turned out he was the supply Sgt for the Alaskan large bore rifle team and they were getting ready to go to Indiana for the Army matches and he had a bunch of the 20x "Observation" telescopes that the shooters use and he just wanted them checked, etc. Since he was not a combat unit, I was sure was OK.
Another time, I was walking down the street and here comes this car just right there by the walk and I got a real good look at the occupants and would you believe? My typing teacher from High School? Yep and her hubby was driving the car. She was teaching at my school and she and a senior student became enamored of one another and she became pregnant so they got married and I hadn't seen either of them since. I assume she was teaching in the area there at Ft Richardson.
Along about this time another 3rd A.D. guy showed up. One of the guys, Dietrich Woehler, one of the German GIs of Company B. Apparently, he was still trying to get his citizenship thru Army service. He was a wheel mechanic and I was not especially close to him, didn't know him that well. I knew he was a good soldier though. I just got to talk to him one time and I thought he said he was going to be the shop officer as a Warrant officer. I think I got it right. Never saw him again, as I rotated out.
I'd already seen my old 1st SGT there. And Hudson told me that Boliver Large was there too. He was from our hometown also.
In my 3 years in the 3rd AD I met almost no one I knew before I went into the Army, except the 2 guys at Knox.
But in Alaska .....? Of all places.
And speaking of rifle teams, along about this time, I joined our Company's Small Bore Rifle Team, trying to find a way to kill some of the time in Alaska. I had never fired in matches before but it turned out to be quite an experience and I enjoyed it very much.
We used the .22 cal. bolt action "match" rifles. They were pretty good rifles and we had some of the gear to go along with them, like firing jackets, etc. They had "Peep-Sights", slings and so forth. They had the heavy barrels and you could just feel a slight recoil when you fired them. They were nice rifles. I can't remember how many people were on the team ........ seems like maybe a half-dozen and a couple extras.
I can't remember for sure but I think we fired at targets 25 feet away (the bull was exact diameter of the .22 bullet). There were possible 400 points where firing was done from 4 body positions. So each position yielded up 100 points. There was a sheet of 10 targets each having 10 points to make the 100 total. So 4 sheets of 10 equal the 400. Interesting in that each individual target only had 5 rings. The bull was 10 points, the next ring out, the 9 ring, was 9. Then the 8 ring was 8, then the 7, then 6. Any hits outside the 6 ring was a 0 for that target, if you hit outside the 6 ring you "dropped" all 10 points.
When we first started firing, I noticed that most of the guys concentrated and tried so hard to get perfect, or near-perfect scores, in the prone and sitting positions that they were stressed too far when they got to the kneeling and standing positions where aiming is much more difficult and they would miss outside the 6th ring and drop all 10 points, generally too many times and would turn in low scores - 325 to 350 range.
So, I learned to relax in the first 2 positions and to take a slightly lower score than the other guys and then be careful on the last 2 positions and not hit outside the 6 ring to keep from dropping the entire 10 points. It worked real well. Didn't actually make me a better shot but made me much better competitor and I did very well and really enjoyed myself. I'd yield maybe 5-6 points in early part of the match to pick up 10-30 points later.
Also, you may not believe it but smoking just before you shoot would affect your score. When I was told that by the team leader, I did not believe it so kind of checked myself and by golly, he was right. He had said that if we smoked a cigarette just before we shot we'd probably "drop" 10-15 points from our match score. Well, I tried not smoking and there did seem to be a difference so I would not smoke just prior to or during shooting and raised my score another 10 points or so.
I went fishing down at Port Seward while I was there. The army had a little deal set up down there and the company gave me 5 days R & R for some reason and send me down there. It wasn't much to look at but it was one of the best real vacations I ever had in my entire life. They had a mess hall which started serving early in the morning, 6:00 am I think, and did not close until 11:00pm and they had very good food. The terrain was beautiful and the fishing was great. The boats (with the operator) costs only $2 a 2hr period (I think). It was just great. One time a couple whales came by the boat where we were fishing. Man, those suckers are big!
It was summer time naturally and there is ice covered hills all round down there mostly on the south side of the sound. There is a peninsula that juts into the ocean and its hills are covered with the ice. Now in the summer the snow has melted and mostly gone but the ice is still there. Since the glaciers are kind of south of the fishing area, when you look at them the sun is actually behind them with some of the light penetrating the ice and coming through. It is very beautiful if you get just the right angle on the ice.
Another plus for Alaska!
I remember telling my buddy and the boat operator that Elizabeth Taylor NEVER had a diamond as beautiful as that.
I got my rank back, SP-4 and in no time I got pro-pay for my Fire Control Instrument Repair M.O.S. and the extra $45 per month came in pretty handy there as the cost of living was/is very high there.
I kept working and then another of those things occurred .........
Like I said, the missile units converged on Anchorage and had a firing exercise once every year. Well, 1962 and they assembled and we got ready to watch and Instrument Section made all the telescopes we had in the shop available to the guys so they could watch, as usual. Come Monday and the guys were all set up and ready to go ...........
And they fired the first missile and it went up, as usual, then laid over on it's side .......... and blew up!
We were looking for it to take off down-range and then explode like they had done the year before. Next day, they fired another one ...... same thing, just laid over on it's side and blew up!
Then they called the "Shoot" off, and from what we could get from the guys in our barracks (very little, actually) they had sent for a team from "White Sands" N.M. and they were on the way up there.
They were on the job either that Wednesday or Thursday, can't remember for sure. Anyway, when they got there, they fired another one and it did the same thing and then they shut the Shoot down.
Come next Monday they are ready to try again and fired one and it worked just like it was supposed to.
The only thing we could find out was that sometime during the fall of 1961 they had received a M.W.O. (Modification Work Order) from White Sands for the Nikes. Apparently, the MWO was either flat-out wrong or it was misapplied.
Try as we might, we could not find out. BUT ......... Between the time the MWO was done on the missiles until the "Shoot" took place, there was no anti-aircraft missile defense in Alaska, certainly not at Anchorage.
Couple of things here:
1) The system was undoubtedly complex and mistakes probably occurred frequently and shouldn't necessarily be held against the people doing the work.
2) that was during the height of the cold war and you cannot rule out sabotage. It would be a very easy matter to fix up, or alter a directive affecting the missile's capabilities and I never ruled that out.
When I was in Alaska, we had the Cuban Missile crisis and when the president make his public speech, all the guys cheered- I don't remember anyone objecting about his actions. So, we had Hungary when I was in Germany and Cuba when I was in Alaska.
I was thinking about making a career of the army about then so I decided to start studying up on the Russians. I bought some language records at the PX. Got Russian and Modern Hebrew and the guys asked me why I got them (in those days it was generally French or Spanish) and I told them 'cause ...... one of those peoples is going to wind up running the world and whichever, I want to be able to speak their language.
So, I signed up for a class on Russia. I'd forgotten they had once ruled over Alaska and due to that, the Orthodox Religion which was big in Alaska, and the climatic weather being similar to Russia's, there were people of Russian extraction living there and one of them, an older fellow who had been a colonel in the White Army during the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, taught Russian history with the University Of Alaska. So they set it up for him to teach there at Ft Richardson and I signed up for the class, finished it and got credit with the University of Alaska.
I met some, not many, people there in Alaska who claimed they were related to the original Russians.
Then, one of the guys who was married and had his family with him took his discharge there and went to work on the Salmon Boats which were very active and a guy could supposedly make a good living working on the boats so Jordan tried it. Not sure how he made out and he came around once, then I never saw him again.
I do know that there was fierce competition between the boats and so forth. Then the competition between the Russians and Americans got really serious as the boats had a shoot out and the Americans shot a Russian crewman ........ then took him to the hospital at Anchorage!
He got patched up then the Russians picked him up and took him home.
We got a lot of map reading there and it was just as strange as Alaska itself. We had several classes right in the barracks, in the mess hall. About the only thing I remember was the fact that the magnetic declination there in Alaska was atrocious. Seems to me it was up to 40 degrees. Now "declination" is the difference between True North (map north) and magnetic north (a magnetic field south of the real north pole).
If I remember right, the line designating "0" declination happens to run south down through Canada and into USA somewhere around Detroit then on into Indiana and on south. So if you are on that north-south line and use a compass, true north and magnetic north are one and the same. However; if you move east or west there is a variation and that is called "declination."
Where we were was west about 5 time zones from the "magnetic pole" and even worse, back towards the north, there is a pretty good declination and the farther north you move around there, the worse it gets and makes big changes pretty quick. In some places up north the exactness of the magnetic field's location becomes a crap shoot and is one reason Alaska's "Bush Pilots" are famous the world over for flying only with "dead reckoning" most of the time not relying on magnetic instruments.
Now, thank the lord, we have Global Positioning System equipment.
Alaska is wonderful and at the same time it can be very dangerous.
Well, as I neared my rotation date, I got into trouble with the 1st Sgt we then had. This fellow came up from CONUS mad as Hell.
What happened was that in the old Army, what we called the "Old Brown Shoe Army", career personnel could often "buy" their assignments through the personnel system. So, some guy would get plum duty somewhere and then at re-enlistments just stay there his whole career until he retired. He didn't go to war, he didn't have to go to deserts or jungles, he just sat in the gravy. In the Navy, they called these guys "Plankers" (I think it was), they stayed on one ship or in one base, never having to pull maybe some distasteful duty somewhere else.
Also, there was a time when rank stayed in the unit. If someone transferred out, he had to leave his stripes there in the unit. So you can understand a soldier's reluctance to leave a unit. Now that's what I heard, I not sure about it.
This was causing some problems in the Military as the totality of a force was not mixed. You may have an excellent unit here, but over there is a very low performing unit and it can't seem to improve. Is it getting all of the scrubs and the better unit getting the choice personnel or what? They had to try and even things out. And guys would hunker down in one assignment and stagnate, never grow.
So what they did via McNamara, was to ensure ALL career military men were thrown into the "replacement" system when they re-enlisted. All the "plankers" got reassigned when their enlistments were up and same in the Army. When your enlistment was up, you could figure on moving. As far as I'm concerned it was a good thing and should have been done long ago. Unit history and tradition are fine to have but let's be reasonable here.
So we got Gibson. Now, I suppose he was all right but he had let the modern army pass him by and had a hard time adjusting. He was a 1st sgt and had spent his 18 year career in Ft Benning and was almost ready to retire. He came into our company thinking he was in a Basic Training outfit and didn't understand that most of our men were fairly mature militarily, were not recruits to be screamed at and he absolutely did not like "Specialists" who were generally the technical people and that the army had a healthy investment in the training of these people and wanted to keep them if they could.
One time when I had night duty (CQ), I walked through the doors of our bay into the hallway headed towards the latrine to freshen up before the duty and just as I reached the latrine door there was this screaming came from our orderly room down the hallway a few feet and I thought what the Hell is going on here? And this saucer hat came flying out of the orderly room door and hit the wall of the hallway and bounced back and down on the floor wobbling around to upright and there was this big gold eagle looking at me ..... AN OFFICER'S HAT!!
And right after it came this 2nd Lt. with his overcoat on but unbuttoned and picked it up and went into the Company Commander's Office. I went on into the latrine and did my thing then reported to the orderly room for my Charge of Quarters duty (C.Q.). Sgt Gibson was not in there when I reported and I asked the clerk what was going on and he told me that the officer, a new 2nd Lt., had just got there and was reporting to the company and came into the orderly room with his overcoat unbuttoned and had taken his hat off and laid it down on Gibson's desk and it covered the corner of some papers Gibson was working on and he exploded and jumped up, yelling at the Lt "that that was no way to report" and grabbed his hat and threw it out of the orderly room's door and told him to report again. Of course, he did not but retrieved his hat and went into the C.O.'s office.
Well, there are pros and cons here. Obviously a poor performance by the Lt. but let's get real here. You just don't treat officers that way. Nothing wrong with correcting the guy and even speaking to the C.O. about it but deliberately try to degrade the guy with everyone able to see it? Noooo ........ that just does not fly.
Gibson obviously was not smart enough to realize the Lt. would assume responsibilities in his company and that Gibson would be rated by the company's performance and here he had diminished the stature of someone he has to rely on to get his job done? It's kind of like shooting yourself in the foot. If Lt. has no stature how can he command Gibson's soldiers? But that was the way Gibson had done it for years.
I got along with everybody there except one guy in the Armament Platoon and was on friendly terms with everybody in the place as far as I know.
And during an I.G. inspection, I went to see the I.G. Now, we had a bad situation in the shop, especially where I was, and way too many men sitting around with nothing to do. At the time we had about 5-6 guys in the section and work for a couple, maybe. We talked about it in the shop and no one wanted to step forward so I said well, my tour here is over in a month plus days so it looks like I am the "shortest" man (least time to go) here so I'll do it so I went to the I.G. and made the complaint. He was a major and I'm pretty sure he understood the problem. I had discussed the problem verbally with the involved Officers and NCOs of the company but had never made a formal complaint to them. They would just say there was nothing they could do about it.
However; in Gibson's scheme of things you never, never, never complain to the I.G. so I was a marked man and everyone knew it. That's the reason no one else would do the job in the first place. Now, if the Gibsons of the army were right, why was the "office" of I.G. created in the first place? Yeah, tell me about it.
Now, my complaint had absolutely nothing to do with 1st sgt Gibson, he was never a player in any of that stuff but he took it personal and corralled me and threatened me with courts martial and every thing imaginable. In his old army that was the way things were done, everything was on a name basis and you protected all your contacts even above the interests of the Army. Well, he pissed me off and I told him no way was he going to court-martial me and he let me know right now what a piece of crap I was and that he could break me for "Inefficiency" any time he wanted to and I told him to have at it - I didn't see how he could do that because I was tested every year in my job and had a high score, was school trained and 5 years experience and was drawing Pro-Pay 1, etc. I said you'll have a heck of a time proving "inefficiency" - I wasn't necessarily the Army's model soldier but I had a very good record and I knew it. He just started frothing at the mouth, literally, and walked off.
Next thing I know, here comes Pergerolies (? spelling) our shop sgt. boss, who had already filled in his portion of my unit rating and told me that Gibson had asked him to withdraw his good, favorable rating and re-do it so as to show it unfavorable. Pergerolies said he wouldn't do it so I told him to go ahead - do whatever he thought he had to do to protect himself, that I would understand and bear no grudges. I had always liked the little Greek guy and we got along good. I never knew for sure but I think he stood by his first evaluation.
Nothing happened so I proceeded with the rotation paperwork and the personnel clerk asked if I had a preference for the outfit I'd be sent to and I asked if any new outfits (modern equipment that requires new tactics, etc) were out there and he checked and said yes, we have re-organizations of the 5th Infantry Division which is going Mechanized and the 11th Air Assault Division and he said the Air Assault outfit was like airborne only would be a heavier hitter than older Air Borne units. So I selected the 11th Air Assault.
See the difference between Gibson and me? The previous paragraph should explain it all. His type dodged the responsibility for staying up to date and I'm trying to give my country the best service I know how. Here the American Army has finally adopted the concepts of air cavalry and Germany's mechanized infantry divisions 15 years after WWII and Gibson wants to stay in Benning and keep kissing butt?
Well, came time to get the final orders so I went to personnel to bring everything up to date and the clerk, same one, tells me "Well, the 11th Air Assault deal fell through but the 5th Mechanized Infantry is still going .......... and I said, "I'll take it!"
And that was it, I was out of there within a week headed for Ft Carson, CO.
Got down there and it was like Alaska, in a way. Jeez, the 5th Infantry's army ways were just as exciting an adventure as Alaska was - not the army in Alaska but Alaska itself.
And Gibson got my pro-pay. He rated me so low as a human being on his part of the evaluation that it dragged my score down enough I was under the cut-off points for the pro-pay. It didn't hurt me at all, certainly never came close to getting one of my "stripes" but he did get the bonus pay. All for going to the I.G. about something that every officer on the post should have been raising hell about.
BUT ....... according to the Lineage Chart at the top of this page, the 24th Ordnance Co was de-activated in July 1964 - about a year and a half after I went in to see the I.G. so what do you think of that now, Top?
Goodbye Alaska, you beautiful, dangerous, big, hostile, friendly, WONDERFUL place!
Ernest E Conger 6/14/2013
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