NIKE AJAX AND HERCULES
ORDNANCE SUPPORT UNIT
SHORT, TALL STORIES
Air Defense Artillery
Submitted by: Jim Young
Going through my military records recently I came across this roster of personnel assigned to the 502nd Ordnance Detachment. Although it's undated, I'm certain it was made up in early June 1961, just before I departed, since (1) I have the lowest rotation date of anyone listed, and (2) Charlie Scott and Bob Minson are not on this roster, having departed the unit sometime in May. A roster like this was compiled just about every month. Knowing "who was who" was especially important since personnel were always coming into or leaving the unit. Today, almost forty years later, this roster would undoubtedly be arcane to most people. So, I'd like to take some of the mystery out of the dates and numbers and also provide a reminiscence or two about some of the men listed. There's more information here than meets the eye!
Names are names, of course. So what's in a NAME, right? Shown here, there were 44 of us.* All men. This was a "man's army" in those days---no apologies about it. All of us are white, except for Jasper who is black. Of the three Hispanics, Pereira and Santana are Cuban and Carabajal is Texas-Mexican. As near as I recall, about thirteen men were married and lived in army family housing on post or had a German apartment in nearby Pirmasens. The rest of us, either single or "geographic" bachelors, lived in the barracks at D'Isly Kaserne (as Pirmasens Post was known at the time).
The GRADE entry certainly appears incorrect by today's army standards. But not in those days. Until 1957 the army had only seven enlisted pay grades, the highest being E-7 with a rank of Master Sergeant (MSgt). In 1958 the army reintroduced the rank of Sergeant (Sgt) at the grade of E-5 which created a shift in ranks and grades. To avoid the prospect of older sergeants losing a stripe in the conversion, they were given several years to be promoted to the next higher grade. So a MSgt E-7 would be promoted to MSgt E-8, a Sergeant First Class (SFC) went from E-6 to E-7 and a Staff Sergeant (SSgt) went from E-5 to E-6. Same ranks but higher pay grades.
The lower ranks were the specialists and the privates---also with their hierarchy. The designation "SP" meant specialist and the number denoted grade. The higher the number, the higher the grade. In addition to SP4s and SP5s, the 502nd was also authorized one or two SP6s, but none were assigned at the time. Privates and privates first class are what they've always been down through the years---low men on the totem pole. Usually, for the first two years (sometimes three), Pfc was as high a rank as a man could expect to achieve.
The "(P1)" or "(P2)" designation was recognition that a specific military occupational specialty was highly critical to the needs of the army. If a person doing that job was skilled enough in it and could pass an annual written and practical examination on it, he could be awarded proficiency pay. A P1 rating drew an extra 30 bucks a month and P2 was $45. A nice chunk of change in 1961! Ordnance guided missile maintenance jobs were some of the earliest in the army to be authorized "pro-pay".
The ASN, by today's standards, is the mark of an old soldier. This is the army service number, given to a soldier the day he came into the army. The ASN was eliminated sometime in the mid 1960s when the social security number was adopted as the identifying number for all service members. However, unlike the SSN, the ASN was a real mark of distinction. If one were savvy enough, you could tell something about another soldier just by looking at his ASN. Officers, warrant officers and enlisted personnel each had different combinations of numbers and prefixes. Captain Rodenhiser was a commissioned officer, identified by an "O" prefix; the five-digit number signified he was Regular Army. Mr. Pangborn's "W" and number identified him as a warrant officer on active duty in the Army of the United States.
The enlisted ASNs are also interesting for what they
tell. Looking at the prefixes, it's obvious that most are "RA"---Regular Army. The "US"
prefix indicated a man had been drafted into the Army of the United States. The numbers
themselves also told a tale. If the first digit in the number was a "1", it indicated a
man had enlisted directly for active duty. A "2" indicated he came in through the National
Guard, a "3" meant he came in through the old Organized Reserve Corps, and a "5" indicated
entry by Selective Service (i.e. a draftee). The second digit, from "0" for New England
and New York State to "9" for the west coast, identified a region of the United States from
where the person had enlisted or was inducted. The remainder of the ASN belonged to the
individual soldier. It's also interesting to note that the number itself never changed but
the prefix could. Note the career NCOs with a draftee number but an RA prefix. They had
re-enlisted beyond their initial two years. A real oddball number on this roster belongs
to Pfc Gundaker. This is not a typo: his number is a World War Two serial number. He was
what we called a "career Pfc"---get promoted to sergeant, get in trouble, get "busted" back
to Pfc. This probably happened several times in Gundaker's career. At any rate, he was
the oldest Pfc I ever knew!
* The detachment, as fully manned, would definitely have had one more warrant officer and possibly several more enlisted men. How many, I'm not sure, but the number "50" seems to stick in my mind as being the total authorized strength per Modified Table of Organization and Equipment 9-510FA under which the detachment was organized.
The PMOS stood for what a soldier's primary military
occupational specialty was. The first three digits were the specialty code and the
line-up in the 502nd was as follows:
179. Unit supply (?)
250. Electronic repair helper
251. Launcher electrical system repairman
252. Acquisition radar and computer systems repairman
253. Missile track and target track radar systems repairman
254. Missile internal guidance system repairman
430. Missile and launcher mechanical systems helper
433. Missile and launcher mechanical systems repairman
624. Power generator mechanic (?)
630. Wheeled vehicle repair helper
631. Wheeled vehicle repairman
710. Assistant clerk
711. Unit clerk
760. Technical supply helper
763. Technical supply clerk
Helpers were soldiers usually sent directly to a unit with only very elementary training in a skill. In the unit they had to work under the supervision of someone who was already qualified in an MOS. After a period of time and demonstrated satisfactory on-the-job performance they could request to have the regular MOS awarded. The skill level was the two-digit number after the "dot". Theoretically, it was correspondent to rank: the higher the rank, the higher the skill. In practice, it didn't always work that way. Some of the privates and specialists knew their jobs better than some section chiefs knew theirs. The "00" meant an unrated skill level and "10" and "60" were the two rated levels. The "76" skill level identified the detachment first sergeant.
In the army, rank matters, and what matters more (the higher you go in rank) is DOR---date of rank. This established the real "pecking order" in the unit. Note too, that on this roster some of the NCOs have dates of rank going back to the Korean War---or in the case of SFC Jasper, before that. It took a while to get promoted in those days! I was damn lucky to make SP4. I could "soldier" when I had to and my technical skill was above average, but I was a bit of a wise-ass. However, as the roster shows, I was the second-ranking SP4 and the only one in the grade of E-4 drawing pro-pay at the time I left.
The final item is uppermost in any soldier's mind from the moment he arrives overseas: "When am I gonna go home?" The R/DATE or rotation date is the expected date that a man looked forward to when going back to the good old U.S.of A. On this roster, I was the "shortest" man in the unit---I did depart on 18 June 1961. Two months later, the Berlin Wall went up and the rest of these people (with the exception of Santana, who got a two-day "drop" and left with me on the 18th) all got involuntary six-month extensions on their overseas tours and in some cases, enlistments. With the deteriorating situation in Berlin at that time, troop units in West Germany went on combat alert. Guys like Burdette and Poldmets and McGonigal, who couldn't wait to get back home, must have had one big "case of the ass" at being "extended".
I still have great memories of some of these guys:
Captain Rodenhiser was a fine officer. He knew I was a good soldier and he saved my butt once when I ran afoul of my section chief and the first sergeant---both at the same time. And little did I realize that in just over a year from this time I'd be a warrant officer myself, following an army career path like Mr. Pangborn.
Out of all the NCOs, Otis Clark was the best! A friendly, quiet sort, he was a great section chief. But not mine, unfortunately. However our paths would cross again in about eight years and we would work well together in another NIKE support unit. William "Bruno" Conlon was a good-natured Irishman and also a good sergeant to work for. He's the only soldier I ever met who actually participated in the Berlin Airlift in 1948. [Although not on this roster, the first Mechanical Section chief I had, SFC William Crowley, was funny, profane and professional. He'd been a paratrooper in his earlier army days. He referred to us missile mechanics as "high-altitude plumbers" and we in turn would kid him about being airborne. He departed the 502nd for a stateside assignment sometime in 1960.]
Tom Davis was as close to being my best buddy as anyone. He and I shared weeks of road time and on-site repair work. He went to the Seventh Army NCO Academy and extended his enlistment, which earned him a promotion to SP5. But I doubt if he ever made a career of the army. I lost track of him sometime after I got back to the States.
Richie Burdette, Mario Santana and Richie Schnabel were all "characters" and I liked them. I shared a lot of road time and repair work with them, too. They worked hard and played hard.
There were others who are not on this roster because they had already "rotated" back to the States---Charlie Scott, Charlie Drabek, Dennis "Red" Auries, Ed Staneart, Walt Nelson, Dave Barnes, Gordon Wheaton, Jim Musgrove, Buford Hurt, John D. Huff, and others. Friends of mine and good men. It was a distinct pleasure to know them all and to work with them, even if only for a short time.
Without doubt, the two years I spent with the "five-O-deuce" were among the best and most memorable I've spent in 42 years of military service.
|RODENHISER, Carl L||Det CO||Capt||O88903||4802||08 JUL 62|
|PANGBORN, Richard K||Maint Off||CWO W-2||W2208127||4811||21 JUL 62|
|PEREIRA, Abelardo||MSgt E-7(P2)||RA14290436||252.76||02 MAY 52||25 JUN 62|
|BLIXT, James D||SFC E-6(P1)||RA17260105||252.60||15 MAY 53||06 MAY 64|
|CARABAJAL, Paul||SSgt E-6(P1)||RA18028578||433.60||11 DEC 59||26 FEB 62|
|CLARK, Otis||SFC E-6(P2)||RA53069434||252.60||22 JUN 55||20 MAR 63|
|CONLON, Wiliam G||SFC E-6||RA20214326||631.60||25 APR 55||01 SEP 61|
|JASPER, William T||SFC E-6||RA13233906||251.10||19 MAY 50||07 JAN 63|
|PIERCE, Charles G||SFC E-6(P1)||RA34833906||252.60||12 DEC 50||20 MAR 63|
|WILLIAMS, John C||SFC E-6||RA57505938||253.60||29 MAY 57||01 FEB 62|
|O'NEIL, Thomas L||Sgt E-5||RA55341141||253.60||14 MAY 56||21 MAR 63|
|DAVIS, Henry L||SP5 E-5(P2)||RA17483254||254.10||16 FEB 60||29 SEP 61|
|DAVIS, Thomas||SP5 E-5(P1)||RA16617462||433.10||09 JUN 61||22 JUL 62|
|DOSS, Thomas J||SP5 E-5(P2)||RA53198956||254.10||24 MAY 56||27 SEP 62|
|DRAGAN, Kenneth E||SP5 E-5(P2)||RA13609222||252.10||05 SEP 59||14 OCT 61|
|JOHNSON, Don A||SP5 E-5||RA16487638||254.10||28 AUG 57||22 JAN 62|
|REES, Carl V||SP5 E-5(P2)||RA18288564||252.10||07 OCT 57||25 OCT 61|
|REINHARDT, Thomas C)||SP5 E-5(P2)||RA19219468||251.10||18 SEP 53||08 SEP 63|
|BYLER, Mack Jr||SP4 E-4||RA17547912||711.10||21 MAR 61||08 JUL 62|
|GUNN, Kenneth G||SP4 E-4||RA51276831||763.10||16 APR 59||12 FEB 62|
|McGONIGAL,Robert T||SP4 E-4||RA13654897||253.10||01 APR 61||12 NOV 61|
|SALO, James W||SP4 E-4||RA17549580||252.10||01 MAY 61||21 MAY 62|
|YOUNG, James D||SP4 E-4(P1)||RA13623243||433.10||01 SEP 60||18 JUN 61|
|BISHOP, Michael S||Pfc E-3||RA16657075||760.00||12 MAR 61||15 NOV 62|
|BURDETT, Richard A||Pfc E-3||RA23740048||251.10||22 MAY 59||01 SEP 61|
|BUTLER, Clark A||Pfc E-3||RA12549526||254.10||10 MAY 60||26 OCT 62|
|CROSSON, Terry T||Pfc E-3||RA16654783||624.10||14 DEC 60||05 NOV 62|
|EGANHOUSE, David C||Pfc E-3||RA17546053||763.10||22 FEB 60||06 MAY 62|
|ELITOWITZ, Barry R||Pfc E-3||RA19599902||760.00||03 FEB 60||16 NOV 62|
|FAUST, Robert J Jr||Pfc E-3||US55675501||763.10||23 NOV 60||26 FEB 62|
|GUNDAKER, Edward||Pfc E-3||RA7022134||941.10||18 FEB 61||12 DEC 61|
|HALSTEAD, Oscar E||Pfc E-3||RA17568454||763.10||23 NOV 60||26 AUG 62|
|HORNE, Roger C||Pfc E-3||RA15613961||624.10||19 AUG 60||22 OCT 62|
|KNOX, Robert R||Pfc E-3||RA16647848||179.00||24 OCT 60||13 JUL 62|
|PITKETHLY, John||Pfc E-3||RA12593844||253.10||29 SEP 60||26 AUG 62|
|POLDMETS, Mart||Pfc E-3||RA12570610||252.10||03 JUN 59||14 SEP 61|
|SANTANA, Mario Jr||Pfc E-3||RA14674965||251.10||08 NOV 60||20 JUN 61|
|SCHNABEL, Richard W||Pfc E-3||RA28780842||430.00||13 OCT 59||21 SEP 62|
|SHUE, Floyd N||Pfc E-3||RA55638860||710.00||15 APR 59||20 SEP 61|
|CATALIN, John R||Pvt E-2||US52515720||250.00||09 OCT 60||20 SEP 62|
|DOZIER, Terry W||Pvt E-2||RA16658766||763.10||17 MAY 61||05 JAN 63|
|MENZ, Steve M||Pvt E-2||US51460733||251.10||02 NOV 60||12 OCT 62|
|MORTON, Larry D||Pvt E-2||RA17576122||250.00||28 OCT 60||26 APR 63|
|LOWRY, James W||Pvt E-2||US51457047||630.00||01 DEC 60||11 NOV 62|