Photo Courtesy of Greg Brown from LA-88
Nike Missile Program Veterans' Stories
Nike Missile Sites
Click here to see his Cold War Certificate
Over the years that I was at LA-04 the things that stand out are the long days, Snow Time Missions, system exchange, and many, many days and nights on the hill. Being snowed in during winter storms. I was stranded with a fire control crew once for 6 days, we ran out of food, smokes, and patience and were very happy to leave...
...For those of us stationed at LA-04, the Cold War was very real to us. We trained for the worst possible situation, an attack by the Soviets, using bombers, the attack of choice in the late 60’s and early 70’s. We dedicated our time in the military to defending the cities of America from attack. We were reminded almost every day what we there for. We had a large map of the Los Angeles area posted on a wall between the RC and BC vans where the NBC guys plotted simulated bomb strikes, did the damage assessments and fallout prediction, thanks to CW2 Cecil Bell, our NBC Officer and Launcher Warrant we always knew what was going on in our simulated wars.
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Juan "TJ" Tejeda
I was from Southern California, Compton to be exact and having graduated from Compton I was ready for whatever life had for me. Of course as ignorant as I was about World affairs, I didn’t even know that there was a war going on in Viet Nam. I joined up after convincing my Dad that it would be good for me and make a man out of me. My Mom would have nothing to do with it, but my Dad signed the papers and off I went, headed to Fort Ord after going to through the Reception Station in Los Angeles. After going through the medical part and having lunch at that greasy spoon cafe around the corner from the reception station we boarded a bus and headed north to Monterey. I had no idea where that was....
...I finished BCT and headed back to the Los Angeles area. I had been one of the smart guys. I had enlisted for four years, but I had a guaranteed assignment in the Nike Hercules Missile field as a Radar Operator. I reported to my first assignment out of Boot Camp, Nike Site 04, on top of Mount Gleason, above the Los Angeles basin. I could almost see my house! We were just above the La Cresenta area, just West of Pasadena, 4,500 elevation. The Radar Dome could be seen from all the Los angeles basin. Looked like a Golf Ball on top of the mountain.
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LA 04, while having a Palmdale address, was no where near it. The radars were on top of Mount Gleason and the Admin and launch area was near Little Mount Gleason. It was about half an hour from Palmdale to the access road and about another half hour to the Admin/ launch area. The radars and vans were 10 minutes further up the mountain overlooking the L. A. basin. We were above the smog layer in the radar area and could see the top of the yellowish brown junk choking L.A.
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Located at Fort MacArthur, and seen from Pacific Ave in San Pedro. As seen no windows, entry for duty personal in the front and middle of about 35 yards of solid concrete. After coming through the security gate where ID was required. Also seen was the back of the building a large truck type door. The distance of this would be about 45 yards. While the walls as seen from the outside were just walls, but not known to the public was the thickness of those walls. Basic thickness was three feet, with the variance to about four or more feet at base. Roof as seen partly from a distance was just the peak in short view because of the structure of the wall. Wall was white, roof was black....
...The Operations Area, consisted of a plotting board as viewed from the door then viewed was the scopes. In front of that entrance was a disk. The daily log of event were written in hand by two persons there. If you looked to the right you saw the Tactical Scopes, the window to the Commanding Officers. The scopes were the tactic for specified Missile Sites. If you looked to the left of the desk there were stairs that took you into the tracking Operation Area. Those scopes saw the view from radar. The raw data saw by the Enlisted persons and monitored and made sure was tracked was electronically translated to the Officer’s on the top row. On those Scopes control panel had the button for communication to the Missile Sites. Plotting board was also the ability to detect the source or tactic of operation and was also from another source to counter the problem of failure in the Scopes in use....
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...We had to build everything from scratch when we arrived. A crew from the Army Engineers came to our site to cut a section of a hillside away so we could build ourselves a dog training area. It took the four of us handlers about two months to build the area. It had dog obstacles, walls, catwalks, jumps for the dogs to be trained each day that we were on duty. My dog, Rebel weighed almost 100 lbs. and he always had problems climbing the 8 foot wall. But he made up for his size when we trained for attacks. We would each take turns putting on a heavy agitation suit, and the other handlers would teach their dogs in the attack training. When a dog hit a suit it was like an obstacle hitting you at 60 miles per hour, and if you were in the suit, you hoped that the dog didn’t knock you over. We never handled each others dogs or were allowed to try to be friends with them, with the exception of feeding them. The dogs had kennels that were lined up in a row of four units, and had a doghouse with a small “run” and a cyclone fence around the areas. We each took turns feeding the dogs every day with horse meat mixed with dry food, then quickly opened each kennel gate, and then put down the food as fast as we could...
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I became interested in Nike Hercules when my grandfather (Homer H. Huggins) showed me a picture he had saved from a magazine of a Nike Hercules Missile at launch. It would have been about 1958 or 1959 and I was 10 or 11 years old at the time and was very impressed with the image of a large missile blasting off with all the attendant fire and smoke. My grandfather told me he was a Sergeant and a radio operator in the 7th Coastal Artillery during WWI and that the 7th Coastal had been reconstituted as a Nike Hercules Air Defense Battalion. I idolized my grandfather and knew anything he respected must be really great so Nike Hercules stuck in my mind as a good thing...
...I had come of age at LA-78 and had gained confidence and self-assurance that stayed with me for the rest of my life. I left there knowing who I was and what I was going to do for the remainder of my working life. On the other side of the coin, I never connected with the culture there. I always thought the scenery was beautiful but the people seemed like they were playing a part in a movie rather than living their lives and if you took a look around the edge you would see it was all just a facade. To this day I don’t understand a lot of what goes on out there. Even with that said I still was reluctant to leave the security of “the devil I knew” but I was also aware that since I was considering a career in the Army that I needed to broaden my experience as well as to network with the many influential people at the Air Defense School at Ft. Bliss, TX. So in the autumn of 1969, after some goodbyes and a memorable party, I packed up what little I owned and headed to Ft. Bliss, Texas.
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...Part of ‘New guy’ tour included a visit to the T-1 Trainer, where I was left with the operator for a few minutes to get a demonstration of all the inner workings. After he had shown me the basic working of the trainer, he offered go into the Dayroom and get some coffee for us, I accepted and was left alone in the van as he disappeared out the door, which shut with a loud thud, followed by the slight rocking of the trailer as he jumped down off the steps. It seemed as though the trailer had barely stopped rocking, when suddenly it started rocking again, but this time more noticeably, as if someone was rocking the trailer intentionally. Within moments, I could hear someone jumping on the metal steps an instant before the door swung open, and the T-1 operator stuck his head in and shouted “Did you feel the earthquake?!?!” I’m thinkin’ to myself ‘Yeah right, I’m the new guy on the Hill, just assigned to Southern California, and this is their idea of a prank.’
...What surprised the most was how they just wouldn’t let it go, all day long they kept trying to convince me. It wasn’t until I was watching the news at 11 that night when I realized there really was an earthquake! The next few days were very awkward for this new guy!!
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...I’m sure, if you lived in L.A. during this time, you will recall that around this time was when they had the rioting in Watts, and that seemed to keep everybody close to home. I remember having to make a trip to Fort MacArthur during this time, and I was required to drive down the Harbor Freeway and back. It was a very tense trip to say the least. I was just happy to get back home that day. Watts was a real mess.
In October 1964 my wife was pregnant. I was on duty at the top of Oat Mountain when she called at about 4:30 AM and told me to come on home, it was time. I left the IFC area and drove like a maniac to Tom Pauolus’s apartment in Northridge. We had made arrangements for his wife to watch our two kids while we went to the hospital. I picked up Tom’s wife and took her to our place and I ask my wife if I had time to change into civilian clothes and she told me to hurry up. I changed and a few minute later we left for the hospital, it was now about 5:45 AM. I turned onto Reseda Blvd and when I hit the red light at Roscoe Blvd I went straight through it, and my wife said, “Maybe you better stop for those “red lights.” So at Sherman Way I stopped for the light. When I got to Victory Blvd she said, “Maybe you better not stop anymore.” So I drove straight through disregarding the lights. We got to the hospital at 6:10 AM and the first twin was born at 6:21AM and the second one was born at 6:26 AM one was a boy, and one was a girl. Of course, I was proud of my wife, and the two babies were completely healthy, so everything worked out just fine...
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I was assigned to LA 88 in mid summer 1966, from the Bee Caves Rd site in Austin Tx. It was the first time I had ever been to California. The sites location on Oak mountain was an interesting ride to the top from Chatsworth. Also it was the first time I had been exposed to topless bars! (in Chatsworth) As with all Nike site duties, the hours were long and some times sleepless. When on HOT Battery status, which was usually a week at a time, every 4th week, it was 24 on and 24 off. One of our duties while on hot status was Radar Bomb Scoring. We would track B-52's and SR-71's while they made bomb runs on specific targets in the LA area. At a tone from the aircraft at simulated bomb release, our plotting board would simulate the trajectory of the bomb to the target on the plotting board. We would then relay the results to the aircraft. A direct hit was called a "Shack Job"....
...During the Viet Nam/Cold War period many served also in combat/hostile fire zones. The terminology of Veteran I think, is misunderstood by the majority of people. A Veteran is ANYONE who served in the military! VA medical care is offered to anyone that has served with an honorable discharge. The only difference is the amount of co-pay involved between a combat service connected vet and a service connected or non-service connected Vet. Most of us that made a career of the military during those years also served in combat or hostile fire zones. Those of us that served in the Air Defense Commands, Army or Air Force or Navy, endured long duty hours, hoping we would never have to break those Top Secret crackers that would release Nuclear Weapons!!!
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Click here to see his Happy Birthday (Day Off) Letter
Situated on a hill named Oat Mountain overlooking the San Fernando Valley, access via Brown’s Canyon road, near Devonshire and De Soto Ave. For the next three years it was more like a job than being in the Army. I worked at several different Jobs on the missile site. On arrival in October 1968, there were no open Nike crewmen positions, so I worked as a dining room orderly and a cook. When positions became available, I worked as an elevation tracking radar operator, acquisition radar operator and generator operator.....
...The most exciting time on the site was being on the “SNAP” (Short Notice Annual Practice) Crew. I was picked for a position as a Generator Operator on the Launcher crew for the 1971 trip to Mc Gregor Range, Ft. Bliss Texas, to fire several live missiles at a live drone and be evaluated in the process. All Nike sites were required to do a yearly “live fire” or SNAP, to show their proficiency and be evaluated by the Army Air Defense Command. The Ideal score was 100 %. This also showed the Russians that we knew how to use our missile system.
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I was at the LA 88 site from June, 1970 until October, 1971. I arrived direct from radar school as a radar technician as 24P20 MOS from Fort Bliss. Originally I enlisted into the Army after being drafted in April, 1968 and was a radar operator 16C20 MOS and stationed in Coventry, RI on an ADCAP site with a Raytheon system. I applied for school and was sent to Ft. Bliss for training in July, 1969. Our site in Chatsworth had a HIPAR and LOPAR radar system which I was responsible for keeping in working order. Many times while on 24 hour duty we ran missions with Vandenberg Air Force with B 52’s. They sure could jam our radar systems. During my duty there the site endured some major natural disasters. In the Fall of 1970 during a drought we were overcome by a severe fire which started in the Ventura Mountains. The winds reached 60 - 70 mph and the fires burned right up to our fences. In February, 1971 we had a 6.6 earthquake which was centered in Simi Valley and put our site out of commission. I had moved our radar systems and we had to have cranes brought up to the site to put them back into place.
I remember the journey every day to reach the top of the mountain on the narrow road. One day in the winter I started out and saw that there was snow on the top half of the mountain and had to fight the traffic to get to the site as people wanted to see the snow.
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...One story that remains in my memory regarding duty at the site was a cold and blustery December day in 1967. Many of the site personnel had been granted Christmas leave and there were only us guys that were left pulling duty which was not so bad because we anticipated a pretty quiet period, I mean what can happen over Christmas holiday. Well on this particular December Night at about 0300 all hell broke lose. NORAD declared Defcon 4 and soon raised it to Defcon 3 ....we hit the equipment assumed 20 minute status and wondered what was going to happen next. There we stayed for nearly a week bouncing from 20 minute status to 1 hour and then back to 20 minute. Since we had only enough guys to staff one full crew we stayed on the equipment with only short reliefs for a power nap. During our breaks off the equipment we broke out a T.V. to see how much longer they would be here and finally after a couple days we learned the U.S.S. Pueblo had been captured by North Korea and that due to the type of material that was on board the vessel to a degree our defense had been compromised....
...Missile Sites were not arbitrarily numbered, the site I was stationed at was identified was LA-94 which meant the location of the site sat on the 94th radial of an imaginary circle, In a circle with one hundred radials radial 00 would be due north, 25 due east, 50 due south and 75 due west. In the case of the LA-Defense area the hub of the circle was the LA civic center. That number was also the site's Primary Target Line ( PTL).
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My first assignment out of boot camp was to Ft. MacArthur where I was then sent to the Van Nuys headquarters to wait for transportation to my assignment duty, Battery A, or Site 94. I was picked up in Van Nuys by our motor sergeant, Terry Boyle, and I was put in the back of a pickup truck and experienced the ride of my life, traveling up the steep, winding roads (with no guard rails) at excessive speeds on our way up to the crest of the Los Pintos mountains and Site 94. I never forgot that ride, and later, when I was a duty driver, and it was my duty to pick up the newcomers down at Pasadena headquarters, I took great pride and satisfaction in giving them the same indoctrination ride....
...On a more serious note, everyone remembers where they were when President Kennedy was shot and I'm no exception. A couple of us had been sent to Fort Mac for a two or three day fire fighting school. The final day of the training, the news came in that the president had been shot and we were immediately ordered back to our post at Site 94 and were placed on hot status. That was probably the most anxious period of my time there, not knowing what to expect next, but being prepared for anything.
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Life on a Nike Site was a never ending process of making sure the equipment would work properly, and training to become the best we could be in the use of that equipment to prevent any penetration by enemy AirCraft. To insure this happened required many hours of our lives daily. Seemed like we were constantly cleaning checking and checking some more....
...Looking back over the years I recall the many long hours spent making sure we could do our job, but I also marvel at the idea that so many Defenders of America did so in the back yards of the very people they were defending with out those same people knowing what was there. LA-94 was located on a mountain top known as Los Pinitos and looked down over the San Franando Valley. We were pretty isolated from the general public. LA-96 IFC was on Mulholland Dr and not so close to the public but the Launch Site was on Victory Blvd, a very heavily used street. For some it was an awesome sight to see those missiles standing straight up and sirens going off. Makes you wonder what they must have thought. To me it was always a vision of might, strength, a statement, NOT IN MY BACK YARD. But it was never easy.
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I was inducted in Los Angeles and form there bussed to Fort Ord for about two weeks for testing, medical exams, inoculation and initial issues of clothing, etc. After that we were put on a military transport plane and flown to Colorado Springs, CO. From there the few miles to Fort Carson. At Fort Carson had eight weeks of infantry basic training then eight more weeks of advanced basic training in heavy weapons. This was heavy mortars, recoilless rifles and heavy machine guns. We learned at the end of this that our entire unit was scheduled to be shipped to Korea for duty. However for me I was offered the opportunity to take a “short discharge” and reenlist for three years. I had the choice of going to officer training school or going into the Nike Missile defense program with my choice of locations. There also was an option to sign up for the Nike maintenance school. This was because of my high scores on the battery of tests during induction. I chose the Nike program in the Los Angeles area. Mainly because I have always liked electronics and LA was only about sixty miles from home. This all “worked out” except for the schooling which I would have had to reenlist for three more years. Which I declined as I was ready for civilian life….married with one child and another on the way....
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