NIKE AJAX AND HERCULES
ORDNANCE SUPPORT UNIT
SHORT, TALL STORIES
Air Defense Artillery
Since 25 June 1950 duty in Korea has always been overshadowed by the fact that there is no real peace between the North and South. An armistice has existed since 27 July 1953 and powerful UN forces have served in the Republic of Korea for decades since, keeping the truce. Most of the time life is good in South Korea, but every now and then a period comes along where the North Koreans are up to "major crap". The late 1967-1969 saw some of the worst of those times. The capture of the USS Pueblo and the internment of its crew, the NKPA commando attack on the South Korean presidential palace, the shooting down of an EC-121 "spy plane", as well as other war-provoking activity (some of it well south of the DMZ and Seoul) was enough to keep the entire southern part of the peninsula in a high state of agitation and armed forces in combat readiness. You might say it was the time of the "Second Korean War".
I was serving as the platoon leader and shop officer of the NIKE GS Platoon, 30th Ordnance Company from mid 1968 to mid 1969. This was exceptionally fine duty at Camp Ames, not far from Taejon and over 100 miles south of Yongsan where company headquarters was located. Camp Ames was the special ammunition supply point (SASP) for Eighth Army and not many people knew about the place. The cantonment area was small as there were only a few units there, none larger than company size. Besides the NIKE platoon, there was the post headquarters section, the 833rd Ordnance Company (SA)(GS) which ran the depot, the 110th Military Police Company which provided physical security, and the 150th Medical Detachment/665th Dental Team.
There was also an infantry rifle company from the 7th Infantry Division that rotated through the area about every six months. I'm not sure if they were on post or in a compound adjacent, but in any event, their job was exterior guard and to reinforce the MP company performing depot security. At this time our "ground-pounders" were from (I believe) A Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment.
Because of the small-size units, the officer cadre totaled probably no more than about 35 officers and warrant officers. We all got to know one another pretty well. One reason for this was the once-a-month "dining-in" that we had. It was---for the officers---a big deal. We'd get suited up in our dress blues and go through the whole dining-in ritual. It might sound like "chicken shit" but it really was a great morale booster. Of course, after the meal we'd all adjourn to the bar and proceed to get "schnockered". At that time much loud bragging and/or complaining took place.
The January 1969 affair was typical---a good time being had by all. But then came the argument. The MP Company commander got into a "bragging rights discussion" with the infantry company commander as to which unit was better at responding to a ground defense alert. [These no-notice alerts were held periodically and all units on post participated. When the siren blew, everyone had to get to assigned positions (foxholes) throughout the area. The exercise was usually timed in order to evaluate how fast we reacted.] The post commander, not wanting to let the opportunity pass, declared: "Guys, you've got five minutes. Get going." I thought it but I didn't say it: "Oh, hell! Someone's 90mm mouth has just overloaded their 9mm asshole."
Picture it: The whole lot of us, in dress blues, mostly drunk, it's close to midnight and the temperature outside is down near zero degrees. And were going to have a ground defense alert to see whether the infantry or the military police can fully deploy first. Are these guys *#+@^'g nuts???!!!
I headed out to the NIKE platoon. As my troops were actually billeted in the shop building, we were the closest to the SASP main gate so we didn't have too far to go. I was hustling along as the siren went off. I got to the dormitory area and troops were just starting to roll out of their bunks---reluctantly. My platoon sergeant, SFC Clark, came in right after I did. He asked me what was up. I told him, "You ain't gonna believe it, but I'll explain later. Just get the troops on the move and into position as fast as you can. Make sure we have commo and call in to the post headquarters when we get set." "OK, chief." he replied.
At some point, I changed uniforms---sort of. I still (purposely) had on my white shirt and bow tie, looking ever so "spiffy" with OG-108s and field gear. The troops loaded onto a couple of five-ton cargo trucks and we made for the SASP main gate. We checked through that and deployed to our sector. After some fumbling around, we called in that the NIKE platoon was on line. Other units deployed accordingly and soon the infantry was firing 81mm mortar illumination rounds. Those things could light up the landscape. Once on position we had little to do but wait and take in the night air. And was it ever cold!!! Winters in Korea are brutal, as those people who have been through one well-know. Winter nighttime readings at or below zero are common---"cold enough to freeze the nuts off a brass monkey". The temperature this night, as I said, had to be near zero. Invigorating, to say the least. After about a half hour to 45 minutes we received the word to secure from the alert and return to the barracks. We departed probably faster than we arrived.
So, what did that all prove? Not a damn thing so far as the infantry and MPs were concerned. The 833rd and the NIKE platoon called in first, so "Ordnance won". The next day I told Sergeant Clark about what caused the alert; he was not happy to hear that. I agreed. I didn't like how the alert came about either, but there wasn't anything we could to do but "move out". Sergeant Clark promised me that he wouldn't say anything to the troops. At least not for awhile.
We do a lot of things in the Army that don't seem to make any sense. Sometimes though, the passage of time does cast a different perspective on events. That argument between company commanders was a lot of gung-ho BS, but that ground defense alert turned out (I think) to be a good thing. Given the serious state of affairs in South Korea at that time, what if there had been North Korean infiltrators who wanted to penetrate Camp Ames' defenses?