NIKE HERCULES ACCIDENT
Air Defense Artillery
The 207th Ordnance Platoon arrived in Okinawa in January of 1959. We were stationed at the Machinato Army Post. Because of a backlog of work, we were temporarily assigned to assist the 96th Ordnance Detachment in performing direct support instead of our original mission as a heavy maintenance platoon. This temporary assignment lasted several months, if I recall accurately.
The accident occurred on a Friday, the very Friday that was our last day on direct support. As of the next Monday we were finally going to work as a heavy maintenance platoon which meant no more traveling to the sites. We arrived at site 8 which was at Naha Air Base and proceeded to start work, probably installing modifications, inside the launcher area, on one of the underground launchers just past the first launcher. I went back upstairs for something and was told by one of the battery officers to get my men out of the area, they were going into "blue-alert." I called downstairs for everyone to get out, we got into our truck and drove past the first launcher again. We stood by the guards shack watching the preparations, this was interesting stuff for us Ordnance guys, because we never saw a missile battery go into action before. We were asked to move away from the launcher area because they were going to raise that missile. As we were walking away there was a tremendous explosion, I thought we were bombed by whatever plane caused this "blue-alert." We dove behind a building with dirt and stones raining down on us. When things stopped falling we got up and walked towards the launcher area. I heard people moaning and could see 2 or 3 men laying on the ground. I then realized that the launcher was still in the lowered position and that the missile was not there! We ran inside the fence and tried to do whatever we could for those who were injured. One man, apparently the one who was attempting to connect the first cable to the back of the first booster, was dead with his leg blown off and a terrible head injury. I went over to another man who was badly injured but conscious with his fatigue jacket and undershirt completely blown off his body and his skin peeled and burned from the blast. I put my fatigue jacket over his upper body and my undershirt on his leg which was also injured. Other people were also busy helping all the other injured men. Later I noticed that the cyclone fence, behind where the missile was positioned, was distorted from the blast and the guard shack, where we were standing earlier had the windows blown out. I walked up to the front of the launcher and saw a hole ripped in the fence where the missile had gone through it. The missile was several hundred feet away, down on what I think was a beach-like area. It was mangled pretty badly but still in one piece, I think.
We found out later that the suspected cause of the accident was a short in the launcher that was not detected by the squib tester which several people said they saw the man use before he attempted to connect the cable to the booster.
That is pretty much all I can recall about that awful experience. It is quite a bit considering it was 40 years ago. We were very fortunate that we were not among the injured or dead, we came that close.
I don't remember ever hearing about how many died or how the injured made out.