I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M HERE
Air Defense Artillery
For what it's worth here are my thoughts on the RCRC Reunion.
"I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M HERE"
The words kept repeating themselves in my mind " I can't believe I'm actually back here." That's what I remember as I was driving, with my wife Beverly, down the highway from Socorro to Carrizozo past the brick framed entrance to the Camp, somewhat amazed that it still stands, and on through the lava flow into town.
MISSILE LAUNCH Having never witnessed a missile launch while stationed at Red Canyon this event was very interesting to me. Not knowing just what to expect I was immediately caught up in the excitement of the countdown. I was hoping I had my camera trained on the correct spot that had been pointed out by Jim Eckles and was pleased to have been fairly accurate when it finally blasted off. The speed of it took me completely by surprise. Woosh and it was gone! I guess I was expecting something more on the order of the space shuttle - slow and majestic - but this was more akin to a rifle shot. After it had disappeared from sight I was taken with the beauty of the smoke trail left behind and focused the camera on that in hopes of perhaps preserving that memory as well as the rocket lift-off. The thought went through my mind that it is unfortunate that man has to resort to such weapons which have been created to destroy and kill - and how unsettling that this beautiful scene we had just witnessed carried with it the promise of death.
How wonderful to rejoin, for those few brief days, the people from Red Canyon whom I thought I'd never see again and to meet so many others from that period so long ago. It seemed almost as though all those years had melted away and we were suddenly snapped back in time, back to the 'Camp' sharing the closeness we'd had. And it was especially enjoyable to be able to meet so many family members who came along to share in this event. Most notable and I might add, most remarkable, was the arrival of Col. Billy Mendheim with his extraordinary family. The Mendheim's can stand tall and proud - truly an inspiration to each and every one of us.
THE BUS TRIP
I doubt that anyone who piled into the two buses for that awesome journey up range to Red Canyon will ever forget it! Such a treat! A few of us chose to sit back in the last rows of the lead bus and my fanny hasn't forgiven me yet! It was a trip I wouldn't have missed for anything. Jim Eckles, narrating from his perch up front, kept us well entertained and remarkably informed all the way to the Canyon pointing out and explaining more historic events, wildlife, natural history and local landmarks than I could ever hope to remember. Throughout the entire two day event it was Jim and Debbie who carried the information ball. Professionals in every sense of the word - and nice guys to boot.
Trinity Site and the MacDonald farm are etched in my mind forever. Beyond the significance of the climactic event which took place there ( nothing could eclipse that ) I have to wonder what was going through the minds of those men as they prepared and assembled the 'thing'? Were they afraid? Did they gather in that little house each night like underage kids sneaking a ride in Dad's car or did they know fully the extent of what they were about to unleash on the world?. I stood on those hardwood floors in those plain rooms and tried to imagine what took place in that exact spot but the enormity of it was a bit beyond my grasp. Looking out through the farmhouse windows across the desert it felt to me as though the echo still screams from mountain to mountain - I suppose it always will.
The Obelisk, with it's bronze memorial plaque, struck me as very fitting for such a horrendous event. Dark, stark, violating the desert beauty. Period. No more than that. It happened here. It's done. "I stand to remind ( and haunt) you."
Our afternoon arrival at Red Canyon Range Camp where I spent so much time in the mid fifties had to be one of the happiest, and saddest, of times for me personally. Happiness, of course, to have had this opportunity to say a last goodbye to that sorry place. Were it not for this reunion I'm sure I would always have carried the false images around in my mind and I feel now that I can comfortably close that chapter of my life. Seeing the crumbling concrete slabs, overgrown camp roads, the pads where the mess hall and chapel and, yes, even the latrine once stood and how quickly nature is reclaiming that ground has brought me full circle to an acceptance - an understanding - that this is as it should be. I now have peace. I am done with it.
Sadness because I remembered so many happy times there - times that have held special meaning for me and times briefly brought back this wonderful day but which I know will fade again as we drive away from here around the hill to Oscura. Times which, unfortunately, will now be consigned to the memories of a few old desert rats.
And this brings me to two points left uncovered. Two individuals for whom this reunion held extra special meaning and without whom it may never have taken place at all. JP Moore, to whom we all owe so very much for the dedication, organization and superb management throughout this entire event. He proved to be a tireless champion from start to finish. His love of Red Canyon, obvious in his recent book, carried the day. And Don Bogges, who planted the seed that grew the tree bearing the fruit of the Red Canyon - Oscura Reunion. My heart was heavy from the moment I learned, just shortly before leaving for New Mexico, that personal, physical problems would prevent Don from being able to attend this remarkable gathering. I can't think of anyone more dedicated in his efforts nor more 'high' on the anticipation of coming to this meeting than Don Bogges. The unfairness of what he faced and dealt with boggles my mind. I can only hope that somehow, someday the scales can be brought back into balance for him.
I conclude with a few stray thoughts about the people I met and re-met in New Mexico:
Many of us shared a unique experience some 40 plus years ago. We've now had a momentous opportunity to meet once again on that same barren ground and have shared one last time that uniqueness with our comrades and with family members. We've shared wind and sand and sun - seen sights most of humanity will never see and, at least to my way of thinking, have exchanged bonds of friendship to last our life times.
Thanks to all who made this possible.