NIKE AJAX AND HERCULES
ORDNANCE SUPPORT UNIT
SHORT, TALL STORIES
Air Defense Artillery
More than glad to reply. Although it has been a long time, my recollections of working with the Nike Ajax Missile in Chicago seem to have happened yesterday. It was a thrilling experience for a young guy of 21. As a matter of fact, I almost left my heart there, having met a Sweet Irish lass at the Chicago USO.
When we got to Sheridan in 1955 the Corps of Engineers were in the process of finishing construction of the Ajax sites. There were still some AA (guns) in place around Chicago and a few Nike Batteries which were operating in temporary quarters with aboveground launchers; however, the guns were in the process of being removed. I donít know how the process was initially organized with Ordnance. We had a First Lieutenant in charge, a couple of NCOs and 5 or 6 Enlisted Men. There were also some civilian contractors from Erie Ordnance Depot but they left shortly after I got there. We were assigned to the 5012th SU but I think that was just for administration. Later we were reassigned to the 543rd Explosive Ordnance Detachment and that seemed to make more sense. Our shop was a converted stable, which had ruts from wagon wheels in the floor; we shared it with the people who were dismantling the guns. I think the ghost of Phil Sheridan was still in that place.
We were divided into teams of 2 with a Sargent who floated between the jobs as kind of our supervisor. Our Sargent was a Master Sargent Hong with whom I had trained at Redstone - a really nice guy fresh from the Korean Conflict. We were sent out TDY to the various sites and lived, mostly, out of our cars. We were given food and lodging by the AAA people, usually in the NCO Quarters, and were, in most cases, treated royally. The Sargent and his assistant preceded us by truck and dropped off our tools and supplies. Since most of the sites were not yet fully operational, things were very loose; no one was very rank-conscious; good food; and we had every weekend off. My partner was SP3 Donald E. Armstrong who lived just south of the area so he went home on Friday and came back Monday morning. I drove home to Cincinnati two or three weekends a month.
Our job was to set up and test the Ajax launchers and support equipment in a permanent setting. Above ground, this meant moving the launchers into place, removing their wheels, connecting electrical cables and hydraulic lines, setting up connecting rails and testing out the systems. Underground, we installed the launcher on the elevator, set up the storage rails, installed and connected electrical cables and hooked them up to the launch consoles. Finally, we were to test out all the systems including the elevators. The nastiest thing was permanently mounting the hydraulic lines on the walls of the underground. We had poor drills etc. and most times we had to drill holes in the concrete with old-fashioned star drills and hammers. In some instances I used my own tools. Sometimes, we were able to get details from the AAA people to drill holes and pull cables.Assuming everything would go all right, we could complete a site of three pits in 3 to 5 weeks. Unfortunately, things seldom went right. The Corps of Engineers and their construction contractors apparently had never seen a completed site. It was common for the pads for the rails and launchers to be off by 6 to 8 inches or more. Our only recourse was to drill holes and set new lug bolts, bend the bolts or dig around the pads and jack them over. Underground, the only thing we could do was drill new holes and anchor in new lug-bolts. It was backbreaking work.
We really had problems with the contractorís work. A big problem was the hydraulic elevators working in conjunction with the elevator doors. We had to make the system work but we werenít allowed inside the elevator control panels. In a test, I think it was Jackson Park, the doors decided to close while the missile was partially erect and the elevator going up (or down). The missile was pinched and the middle warhead (as I recall) fell onto the floor. We found out how safe they were when unarmed! The malfunction was caused by a little jumper wire left connected by the contractors. I still have that wire. By the time I was discharged in 1956, things were going much smoother. We were able to get an entire site checked out in three weeks.
I have been going over Ed Thelenís listing of Chicago missile sites and, as well as I can remember, I was at C-41, Jackson Park; C-44 Wolf Lake; C-50, Homewood; C-51, La Grange; C-61, Lemont; C-70, Naperville; C-80 (or C-81) Arlington; C-84, Palatine; C-92, Libertyville; C-72, Addison; and C-84, Palatine. We went by different names so itís hard to relate to some of them. We had one called Lombard, one at old Arlington Airport and another at Cal Sag. My orders called for me to work at 79th AAA Battalion, 86th AAA Battalion and 485th AAA Battalion in Chicago, Illinois and Gary and Whiting, Indiana.
Iím sure many details about my assignment have faded but some of them will stay with me forever. My car was frozen over with 3 inches of ice parked at the Assembly Building at Jackson Park and I couldnít get into it for days (most of my clothes were in it). We lived in Jamesway huts in Jackson Park and the oil heaters would only burn part of the night. Everyone froze trying to wait out someone giving up and refueling the damn things. At Cal Sag, the channel was so polluted the water was like syrup. One of the guys fell (or was pushed) in and had to go to the hospital for treatment and shots. He still got pneumonia. At Wolf Lake we couldnít sleep for the huge rats running around at night. At Libertyville, the water was so contaminated with iron and sulfur you couldnít possibly drink it. The only thing we could drink was milk and I didnít drink milk as a baby; I drank it then. At Homewood, we were gathered in the Dayroom watching a (ahem) stag film. The film broke and, I believe it was the Company Clerk - a tiny, bookish type Ď jumped up and screamed in his high-pitched voice; fix it, fix it, fix it! Ah well.
I guess thatís it, Doyle. I hope this gives you an idea of what things were like. It was a wonderful experience. Having stayed in the Federal establishment, looking back, I guess it was a hell of a way to run a railroad. Let me know if I can help in any way.