NIKE AJAX AND HERCULES
ORDNANCE SUPPORT UNIT
SHORT, TALL STORIES
Air Defense Artillery
When I was with the 502nd Ordnance Detachment between 1959 and 1961, C Battery, 2nd Missile Battalion, 56th Artillery at Salzwoog was surrounded by a large tract of the Pfalzerwald---the Palatinate forest. Because I made more trips to "Charlie" than to any other battery, I got to like that route through the forest. Even on bright sunny days it was very shady and if the weather was rainy or overcast, which it often was, it was downright gloomy. Being from western Pennsylvania and no stranger to the Allegheny Mountains, I could appreciate the Palatinate forest. Now, daytime in these woods was one thing---nighttime was a whole different matter. It was dark! No lights to be seen anywhere on that stretch of road to the battery after leaving Hinterweidenthal. As "Charlie's" launcher area was on top of a hill in this forest, we usually referred to it as "the hill".
Normally, I never minded riding through those woods in the dark, and I don't believe in ghosts or any of those "other things" that might haunt the night. But there was one time when I was spooked as hell.
One afternoon the shop got a call that "Charlie" was having electrical problems in the launcher area. Richie Burdette, a launcher electrical repairman (251.10), took the call. It was standard procedure for contact teams travelling to a site have two men. I got tasked to accompany Richie. We got to the site about mid afternoon and went to work. Since I was a missile and launcher mechanic (433.10) there wasn't much I could do except give Richie a hand from time to time. At 1700 we took a break for supper and went down the hill to the admin area and the mess hall. While we were eating, we reviewed the progress. Much of the remaining work consisted of soldering and (I think) installing an MWO kit. Richie figured he could finish up using the ADA launcher crewmen when he needed a hand. I was agreeable to that and decided I'd stay at the admin area.
As NIKE guys know, a NIKE site mess hall was an all-purpose area. One of its additional functions was that of a movie theater. Each site had a portable projector and screen to show 16mm copies of big-screen movies. So I thought I'd see what movie was playing. It was The Brides of Dracula. Of course a vampire "flick" is nothing without vulnerable, sexy girls. Having nothing else to do, this one got my interest.
The movie was scheduled for 1900 hours and the mess hall was set up with the projector and screen. I grabbed a seat. Then, who should show up and take a seat next to me but the battery first sergeant. Now, ordinarily a first sergeant does not make casual conversation with a Spec 4, but this topkick knew me as he occasionally saw me at church on Sunday at the post chapel in Pirmasens. My being a "troop" from the "five-O-deuce" didn't hurt either. Every so often during the movie, "Top" would make some comment about the vampires---trying to give me the creeps. We watched Dracula work his charm and those beautiful brides were helpless. The undead lead some life!
When the movie was over I said goodbye to "Top". Realizing that Richie wasn't back yet, I gave him a call. The electrical repairs had taken longer than he figured but he said he'd be finished soon. I replied that I'd be over at the barracks catching a few "Zs" and to and pick me up on the way back. He said he would. At the barracks I found an empty bunk, stretched out and dozed off. At some point in my snooze, a vampire dream kicked in. That movie, plus whatever the first sergeant was needling me about, gave me a dream that had me battling vampire women. I was not sleeping restfully, that was for certain. Then Richie showed up.
Now, as most soldiers know, you always wake a soldier by shaking his foot or, if he sleeps in a single bunk, lift the end of the bunk a few inches off the floor and drop it. Never shake a guy by the shoulder. Richie knew that. He grabbed me by the foot. I shot out of that bunk like a bat out of hell. I made a grab for Richie. No cute vampire, him! He didn't know what to make of my reaction. "Take it easy, Jimmy!", he shouted. That fully woke me up. As we had bunked in the same squad room at our barracks in Pirmasens, he'd never known me to do that before. I told him about my dream. He thought it was pretty funny. We headed for the truck and home.
It was now about 2200 hours, it was cold and D-A-R-K, and I was still spooked. We had an M-37 3/4-ton cargo truck---a fine vehicle---and we moved as fast as Richie could safely negotiate that road downhill. All the way down, I had imaginings of female vampires lurking in that forest, ready to jump out at us. I think Richie was even feeling a tad spooked at this point. We weren't going take it easy till we were off that hill, cleared Hinterweidenthal and were on Bundestrasse 10 with the bright lights of Pirmasens ahead.
Back at the "five-O-deuce" barracks and tucked into my bunk, I went to sleep and had no more dreams about vampires. I never had any more spooked trips either, even though I made a lot more nighttime runs to "Charlie" Battery. The first sergeant soon rotated back to the States. I never told him about my "experience" as I didn't want him to know he'd gotten to me with that vampire stuff.
"Fangs" for the memories, "Top".