The day the Cold War got warmer at Loring AFB

15 years ago

To the editor:
    I finished my first eight weeks’ of basic training at Christmas in 1956. I had a chance to go to Officers’ Candidate School, but this would have meant signing up for an extra year. At age 21, another year seemed like an eternity to me. Two other options I had were Military Police and Nike. I immediately chose Nike since I knew that they were building Nike Bases at Loring. 

    In training somehow, I got assigned to become a Launcher Control Panel operator. When I first saw the panel, I was overwhelmed and intimidated. It had four rows of 24 dials and switches on each row. However, once I learned one row, the other three were similar. You wore headphones and in one part of the alert information came down through one ear, and in another part of the alert, it changed to the other ear. After training and serving the Boston area, I got assigned to the Nike Base at Connor.
    In July 1958, President Eisenhower sent the Army and Marines into Lebanon, and all Strategic Air Command bases worldwide including Loring were on alert. The Army had four Nike anti-aircraft batteries around Loring, and I was a Launcher Control Panel operator at D. Battery in Connor. I was due to be discharged in six weeks.
    Friday night, I had guard duty and was bored right out of my skull. Saturday about noontime, I was to get off for the weekend and planned to go to Canada that night to a dance. In those days when we had an alert, they would send the fighters up from Presque Isle Air Base, it usually never lasted more than 30 minutes and we were told to stand down.
    That Saturday morning was dark and overcast, with light showers. The sirens went of and we raced to the pits where the missiles were stored underground. The battery had three pits and each pit had its individual crews, elevators and launchers for four missiles, making 12 missiles ready to launch before reloading.
    I was underground operating the Launcher Control Panel and this alert did not seem to end. An off-duty NCO who had been through WW II and Korea, came down into the bunker and said “What’s up Tweedie?” I said, “They found five unidentified planes and then they found seven more.” The sergeant said, “This looks bad.” At first, I could not believe that this base could be under attack, but as time dragged on, I began to wonder.
    I thought that if they were hitting Loring, they must be targeting our cities and other bases. I received the signal for Red Alert at which time the squibs were hooked on each missile and after the heaters and gyros were warmed up, we were ready to go. I gave the order over the intercom to the men topside to “hook up the squibs”.
    In Red Alert, we were trained to check for stray voltage, as they said a flashlight battery could set the missile off and they send down many volts in a one-inch diameter cable. We had never gone into Red Alert at any base I had ever been stationed at. It was now raining which made the task more hazardous. A guy from Oregon acknowledged the order on the squibs with concern in his voice. After hooking up the squibs, the men topside immediately came underground and joined the sergeant and I in the control room.
    Meanwhile, the dependants who lived across the road from the base where all standing out in the rain waiting to see the missiles launch. After what seemed an eternity, we were told to stand down. A captain who was the duty officer that day at Loring, said had those planes come closer, or if he was overly nervous, we were ready to do our best to destroy them. It later developed that those were Canadian planes. I did not eat supper that night, but I did go to the dance in Canada.

Bob Tweedie