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Colonel Andrew J. Johnson, US Army (Retired)
my story about the 35th Air Defense Artillery Detachment
April 1963 – December 1964
I was commissioned in the Regular Army January 29th, 1963 from the ROTC program at Kansas State College (now Pittsburg State University) located in Pittsburg, Kansas. My basic branch was Ordnance, but I was detailed to Air Defense Artillery for two years. After commissioning, I immediately went to Ft. Bliss, Texas where I attended Air Defense Officer Orientation from February 1 to April 5, 963. I am not certain the exact date in April 1963 I signed into the unit, but it was a memorable day.
I left Ft. Bliss and wandered back home to Kansas to say good bye to my family and then on to Philadelphia, PA to visit the father of one of my neighborhood buddies, a gentleman named Wild Red Berry. Wild Red was a professional wrestler and his circuit was the east coast. After visiting Philadelphia’s sites with Red, I flew to Frankfurt, Germany found someone who told me to take the night train to Bremerhaven. As I was settling down in a 4-man bunk section of the car, a kindly Brigadier General policed me up and invited me to ride in his double bunk section. He got me settled and then he had me drink some orange juice he had in a canning jar. He said it would help me sleep and he would wake me in the morning when it was time to get ready to get off the train. I slept like a log.
In the morning, the general woke me and we disembarked. I finally found a place that, after opening a safe and reading a SECRET document, was able to tell me that I was assigned to the 35th USAAD out by Wilhelmshaven. They called the unit and told me to check back about 3:00 pm for my ride. At ~3:00 a soldier in a German jeep arrived and policed me up. We took off for the 35th and shortly boarded the Bremerhaven – Nordenham ferry across the Weser River.
We arrive at the 35th located at Jever Flugplatz around suppertime. My Team Commander, ILT Henry B. Dominik, III, got me settled in the BOQ and then we went to supper in the mess hall. After that, he and several other officers took me to the German Air Force Officer’s Club at the other end of the flugplatz for a wetting down ceremony to celebrate my arrival. Yes. They got me blinding drunk.
Early the next morning, around 7:00 am, one of the guys who helped get me skunked the night before (I think it was Tom Buntin) came in and shook me awake and told me that the detachment commander, Capt Henry J. Bahr, wanted to see me immediately. I was in no shape to see anyone. I could barely stand up and I had a blinding headache. After standing a cold shower for nearly 30 minutes, I was finally able to dress and report to the Detachment Headquarters. I first met the XO, 1st Lt Francis Parks. He smiled a bit at my condition and showed me in to Capt Bahr’s office. Capt Bahr put me at ease and asked me why I was there. I said I was told he wanted to see me immediately. At that point he realized what my fellow officers had done to me and started laughing. He asked me a few questions about myself and then sent me away to rest for the remainder of the day.
I was assigned as Assistant Team Commander of A Team. Other persons who appear on an assignment order with me include: Charles E. O’Dell, Wayne M. Davis, Arthur McNally, Isaac Howard, and Anthony Miles. Two other names that I recall were Thomas Buntin and John Baum. Lt Dominik was replaced as Team Commander by David Davis and then Richard Ranc. Capt Bahr was replaced as Detachment Commander by Herbert Wells.
During the time I was assigned to the 35th, the German air defense site at Hohenkirchen was yet to be built. So, we had no warhead security requirements to worry about. Most weeks began on Monday with the warheading crew going to a wooden barn out near an airbase runway area where they did run-ups for F-104 jet engines. The airbase was a training base to for several NATO nations flying F-104 jets. It seemed like they managed to crash one of these jets at least once a quarter. Anyway, when we arrive at the wooden barn on Monday morning, the warheading crew would proceed to take the training warhead out of its container and run it through electrical checks. Throughout the remainder of the week, the crew would assemble the training warhead to a missile nose cone and rear section, take it out to a training launch pad, and run through missile mating and other operations with our German Air Force partner. By 5:00 pm on Friday evening everything had been reversed and the training warhead was resting peacefully in its shipping container.
On occasion, we would run training convoys with our German partners, the 26th FlaRak Battalion. Other air defense and artillery units around us did have completed bases and did have a security and Permissive Action Link (PAL) mission. These units would receive Nuclear Surety Inspections from various higher headquarters. So, our next higher headquarters, the 552nd Artillery Group would borrow our warrant officer and some of us commissioned officers to go do practice NSIs to get these units ready.
From September 30 to October 4, 1963, I attended the USAREUR Nike Hercules Warhead Prefire Course.
On one occasion, perhaps in 1964, I was detailed to a field artillery detachment located at a German depot by Bad Fallingbostel near Walrode south and west of Hamburg. These guys had their assigned 8” howitzer and Honest John nuclear warheads. One of their three assigned officers had rotated back the U.S. and his replacement was not due for some time. They were required to have a duty officer every night and they were trying to get ready for Defense Atomic Support Agency NSI. So, I was sent there to be there nightly duty officer so the other two guys could get some sleep and be with their families. During the day I went out and watched them go through their operations. It soon became clear that the 8” section, which was missing authorized senior NCO and its authorized officer, was struggling. I knew nothing about this artillery system, but I knew I could read. So, while I was pulling night duty, I studied the books. After about a week, I felt like I could lead this team. So, I volunteered and was accepted. I was stunned and delighted when the section passed the inspection with no deviations and no comments. So was the Captain who commanded the detachment.
I also recall that on occasion, we went to an underground facility at Brockzetel out near Aurich and Wiesmoor and participate in air war exercises. I remember a big board laid out showing flocks of incoming Soviet aircraft and our aircraft rising up to encounter them. I remember a German Air Force Colonel asking me how many Soviet aircraft we would kill if we fired a Nike missile at them with a nuclear warhead on board. I remembered from my days at Ft. Bliss being told what shape the shock wave from a nuclear warhead might look like, but no one ever posited how many aircraft flying in a formation might be knocked down. Further, as I recall, the Nike had three yield settings. So, we decided to make up some game rules depending on the nuclear yield selected for the warhead. I also remember watching the blips on the old late WWII radar installed in that command post. It would track NATO F-104 aircraft flying right at the West-East German border. As the blips approached the border, you could see the East Germans scramble its interceptors. When they hit the border area, the F-104s would point their noses straight up in the air, hit the after burners, do a roll, wag their tails at the East German MIGs and head home.
I have seen another story by another gentleman who was in A Team after the battery at Hohenkirchen was completed and his recollections of never having any time off or getting to travel. The opposite was true for us. After I had been at the 35th for 3-4 months, Tom Buntin, Arty McNally, and I were allowed to rent an apartment in the attic of a house in the southern part of Wilhelmshaven. After about six months there, we moved into a house located in Sande Bush.
Typically, we didn’t go out much on Monday or Tuesday nights. On Wednesday nights there was always a dance at once of the nearby establishments. We never missed one. Typically, we never missed a Saturday or Sunday night dance either. In the summer, when it was warm enough to swim in them, we would go put some beers in the water at a local sand pit and swim and bask in the sun.
One of the guys got a bright idea to have a dance an invite the German girls in the area. He enlisted the help of the guy delivering coca cola in that area to put invitations on all his machines. The invitations told the young ladies where to meet and that they would be taken to and from that point by bus. The event was a roaring success. All three of us who were rooming together wound up dating girls who attended the dance. Tom Buntin married his date.
For a very long time, we ate extremely well in our mess hall. I was the mess officer. One day the cook came to me and said he had an idea how he could improve the quality of our meals and NEVER be overdrawn on rations. He noted that troop ships docking at Bremerhaven often had good food left over but they had to dispose of it and put all fresh stuff on board for the return trip. So, he set up a means of being notified when ships would dock. He would get a German driver and truck and meet the ship. That evening he would return loaded with coffee, sugar, turkeys, steaks, etc, and etc. We would trade some stuff to the Germans for things they got in their supply line that we didn’t. Everyone was happy and gaining weight. We had a huge party with the 26th FlaRak and officers from other nations at Thanksgiving. Then, we had an IG inspection. The master menu called for C-rations, but we served steak. The IG noted the deviation. He also noted that we had not drawn any C-rations for over six months. That was the end of our weekly trips to meet ships at Bremerhaven.
My association with the 35th USAAD did not exactly end when I left in January 1965. In December 1964 I received orders that ended my detail to Air Defense Artillery. Another set of orders sent me to the 525th Ordnance Company located at Sieglesbach, Germany near Heilbronn. There, I was assigned as the Storage Platoon Leader from January 1965 – April 1966. One of the missions of the 525th was to transport nuclear weapons via convoy from Sieglesbach to detachments and Ordnance Companies assigned to the 514th Artillery Group. So, when the 35th went live at Hohenkirchen, it is possible that I was in the convoy that transported the warheads north.
My association with the 35th USAAD did not end there. In June 1977, I was lieutenant colonel and I was assigned as an inspection Team Chief in the Nuclear Surety Division, Office of the Inspector General at USAREUR Headquarters in Heidelberg. Yes, you guessed it, I conducted NSIs all over the 552nd and 514th Artillery Groups and I recollect being at the site in Hohenkirchen. If it is the site I think it is, the missile part of the battery was located between two dikes out on the edge of the North Sea. I recall that the dike farthest from the sea had doors in it that could close across the roads to seal the dike in the event that the dike closest to the sea was breached by high water. I recall seeing several boats at the ready leaning against a building in the event the battery had to be evacuated.
Unlike the poor fellow who was pretty miserable during his time associated with the 35th USAAD, my memories are all quite positive. You might think that after my stint as IG, my association with the 35th would be done. Well, not quite. From June 1984 to June 1988, I was assigned as Assistant for Security and Survivability, Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy. In that role, I was responsible for my boss being able to assure the Secretary of Defense, and ultimately the Congress, that every U.S. nuclear weapon in the world was safe and secure, including those in the custody of the 35th USAAD and the 26th FlaRak Battalion.
End of Story.