Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Haunting of A-05: The Genesis of ICBM Folklore and Legends

I love a good ghost story.  It's ingrained in my Cajun culture and I suspect that hauntings and ghosts permeate all cultural folklore...and the military is no exception!.  If you have had the patience to read through most of this blog's articles, you would have noticed that I had mentioned Malmstrom's A-05 in a couple of those articles.  I had only mentioned the site in passing and had only used it's story as a contrast to the various UFO stories surrounding Malmstrom's missile wing.  Yet, A-05's story deserves more of an in-depth study.  Let's explore this interesting legend's beginnings and see where it stands as of the present.   I'll also share some of the legends surrounding other missile wings during the SAC era.  All fascinating in their on rights.

I first became aware of the A-05 legend while attending Initial Qualification Training at Vandenberg AFB, CA back in October 1980.   I remember my classroom instructor, Carl Hamlin, tell the class that Malmstrom had a haunted Launch Facility, A-05.  The Launch Facility was supposedly haunted by the spirits of Native Americans as the site was built on an old Indian burial site.  I recalled we all had a good time with the tale and left it at that.  Yet after arriving on station during February 1981, the story would crop up from time to time.  As with all ghost stories there always seem to be different variations depending on who told the story.

Back in the early 1960s, a Camper Security Team was posted on A-05 presumably for a site security issue.  Some time during the night one of the security guards reported seeing a strange glowing ball of light enter onto the premise of the LF settling on top of the security fence.  The guard woke his partner and both described the ball of light eerily morphing into that of the figure of an Indian maiden.  As this version of the story goes,  the "maiden" just stands before the security guards smiling and abruptly vanishes.  Both guards, scared senseless contact wing security control asking to be relieved immediately and refuse to ever camper the site in the future.  This is the version that was told to me while at Vandenberg AFB.

Another version of the story was relayed to me during my first year at Malmstrom, 1981.  I not certain, but it may have been told to me by my first crew commander while driving out on alert.  In this version, a Camper Team is visited by not only the Indian maiden but also by an old man dressed in the usual Native American garb and wearing a feathered head dress.  Both apparitions of the maiden and old man quickly vanish before the security guards scaring both senseless.  In this version, the old man, a chief, is supposedly the father of the maiden and appeared to give off the aura of disapproval of the security team's presence on the site.

Still another version of the legend as told to me by an EWO instructor during the 1982-1983 time frame had a slightly different twist.  In this version, yet again, A-05 was manned by a Camper Team and late at night one of the guards spots the glowing orb and quickly retreats inside of the team's camper waking up his partner.  Both guards experience heavy pounding on the outside of the camper walls and roof.  During daylight, both guards discovered that the camper's outside walls and roof had numerous heavy indentations, some piercing the camper's metal sheeting.  The indentations appear to match that of the blade of a tomahawk.  Allegedly, when the camper was brought back to the base, someone produced an actual tomahawk and the blade matched perfectly with the indentations left on the camper's sides and roof.

Throughout the rest of my tour at Malmstrom, I would hear further different versions of the legend ranging from Armed Response Team's (ART) striking A-05 due to an outer zone security alarm violation and finding a bear lying on the launcher closer door and further repetitions of the old man and maiden sightings.  If anyone is wondering, during my time at Malmstrom, 1981-1985, there were never any claims of any ghostly activities associated with A-05.  Though one person, either maintenance or security cop (difficult to recall exactly) told me that when they were out on the site the "wind blows in only one direction and no birds are heard to be chirping in the surrounding woods."  For what this person meant remained a mystery to me for some months until I would eventually pay the site a visit myself.   Of the handful of alerts that I had pulled at Alpha's Launch Control Center, A-05 was always "green" lighted indicating strategic alert.  I never had a problem with the site, mechanically or security-wise.  Her gyros kept spinning happily within its missile guidance system.

As mentioned above, my curiosity got the better of me and my wife and I planned a road trip with A-05 as one of our stops.  This trip was done either in the late spring or summer time frame of at least 1982 as I recalled no snow cover on the ground and a fairly pleasant late afternoon.  A-05 is located in the Lewis and Clark National Forest and within the confines of the Little Belt Mountains southeast of Great Falls.  My wife and I took US Hwy 87/89 past Belt to Armington Junction.  Here US Hwy 89 split off from Hwy 87 going due south to Monarch and Niehart.  A short distance out of Monarch, near A-06, we turn on the Hughesville Rd traveling due east.  Hughesville Rd winds its way through the Belt Mountains paralleling Dry Fork Belt Creek for most of its distance to Hughesville.  Approximately 10 miles distance sits A-05 with only the Hughesville Rd separating the LF from the creek bed.  As best as I can recall, I took no photos, A-05 sat in small valley surround by aspens and pine trees.  A serene setting, one of the more picturesque settings of all of the 341st SMW's LFs, barring one or two of the 564th's LFs near the foot hills of the Rockies.  True the wind did indeed appear to blow in only one direction, but that was easily attributed to the fact that the site sat in a small valley and the Hughesville Rd approach, both east and west, basically was a small canyon road in which the wind currents really had no choice but to blow in one direction.  I remember that there were indeed the sound of birds chirping combined with that of the creek's rushing water.  It was pleasant to both the eyes and ears.  If there was one draw back, it would have been that due to it being the late afternoon, the surrounding mountain ridges were blocking the sun causing heavy shadows to fall onto the LF itself.  And not so surprisingly, I saw neither an Indian maiden nor the old Indian chief.  My wife and I soon got back in our car and headed back to Monarch with the intent to look around Niehart.

How did the legend originate and is it true?  Its almost impossible to pinpoint who actually started the story, but if we look at all of the variants as told to me, most if not all of the story centers around a Camper Team that is posted on the site due to issues with the outer zone security system (reset issues).  All of the variants take place in the early 1960s, possibly right after Alpha Flight was operationally activated.
Alpha Flight was the very first operational Minuteman squadron.  The bulk of the 10 SMS was completed around 1963.  Alpha Flight was certainly operational by 1962 as John F. Kennedy hailed the flight as his "Ace in the Hole" during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crises.  What is well documented via Bernard Nalty's ICBM histories is the fact that the early LF security systems were notorious for malfunctioning and/or resetting which necessitated the need for a security camper team at numerous sites.  As far as the actual events taking place on A-05, its far easier and factual to state that during my 4 years on station, I never heard about anything unusual happening on A-05.  This would also include my wife, then a maintenance officer.  She has stated that nothing unusual was ever reported to by her maintenance troops nor did she see anything unusual when on the site itself.  I suspect that the story originated from a bored camper team that invented the tale with the hopes of pranking future teams who would have had to either perform work or provide security for the LF.  Or, maybe one of the guards actually thought he saw something and his imagination got the better of him.  Remember, all of the variants of the story happened in the dead of night (no pun intended).  Could a bear have actually climbed over the LF perimeter fence and on to the launcher closure door as told in one of the versions of the story?  This would have been very plausible as I had seen a bear running across the fields on my way to Lima-01 near Eddies Corner!

Does the legend of A-05 continue to this day?  Surprisingly it does, though not as often mentioned as it was back in the 1980s, it does come to light every now and then.  On one missile forum a year ago, the group was discussing haunted sites.  A current young 10th SMS crew member had posted that "he had heard that A-05 was supposedly haunted."  Unfortunately he never went into any details, yet this may be that all of the different story variants are now fading away only to be recalled my "old heads" such me!

Note:  In a future article, I'll post stories about other missile wing's "haunted" sites.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Interpersonal Transfer of Experiences: A Working Cognitive Theory for the Echo and Oscar Flights Folklore

As mentioned in my very first blog article, over the 4 years that I was assigned to Malmstrom AFB, in the 490th Strategic Missile Squadron, I never ran across the story of the Echo Flight shutdowns. This also included my 4 months of crew training at Vandenberg AFB prior to my arrival on station. And to a certain point, that personal observation is what drives my questioning of the UFO event as the cause of the shutdown, as well as, any event that may have occurred at Oscar. Even my wife, a maintenance officer during the same time period at Malmstrom, never heard of any UFO stories involving Echo or Oscar and she had access to senior enlisted personnel (Master Chiefs) who never hinted about the incidents.

I am curious as to what drives these stories. How is it that a story such as our "haunted" Launch Facility, A-05, has longevity (originated in early 1960s), yet the Echo and Oscar stories were either non-existent, or locked up in some one's memory? Base on this interesting phenomenon, I've coined the term "Theory of Interpersonal Transfer of Experiences." Simply, the "Crew Force Oral Tale."

My theory is loosely based on the word of mouth passing of a rumor. Over a period of time the the rumor changes in its message and context as eventually the final message has no resemblance of the original message. In my exercise a personal experience that someone has is usually passed on in a verbal means of communication to another individual. For all practical purposes, this is similar to the oral tale. The telling of a missile crews' experience is usually a verbal form of communication.  For the purpose of this thought exercise, I use the passing on of a missile crew's experience, a story based in fact or rumor, to a new generation of listeners. A generation, in this context, means a period of 4 years. Four years was the time period that most of the missile crews had to serve before being reassigned to other duties either at the same locale or a new base. Missile maintenance personnel usually where on station for 3 to 4 years, if not longer, depending on the circumstances.

Based on the 4 year generation cycle, from 1967 to 1983 there would have been four complete generations.
Since crew/maintenance/security experiences are predominantly verbal (some experiences are written down as I will show later), there are factors that naturally affect the relaying of the initial experience in a story's format:

1) The significance of the experience will determine if the story will be passed on to the next generation.

2) With each succeeding generation, the passed on oral experience is subject to numerous factors. Over a period of time, the story develops "fatigue" and it's interest and importance fades. Details of the original story become blurred with the passage of time and the passing on of the story to succeeding generations. The story may disappear due to the lack of enthusiasm, yet resurface secondary to a trigger mechanism. And most importantly, the loss of first hand knowledge of the original experience degrades the initial significance of the story.

The experience can only survive the passage of time if it has a major impact on the succeeding generations.
I had mentioned previously that the missile crew experience can be in a written format. This usually presented itself by way of the "Captain's Log." Each Launch Control Center traditionally had it's own Captain's Log  which all crew members that pulled an alert at that facility could informally write their personal thoughts and views. This was an unofficial compilation of an individuals thoughts concerning missile crew duty.  At some missile wings, the practice of having the log was heavily frown upon by the wing staff. Its uncertain which missile wing started the tradition of the Captain's Log, as well as, when the first log appeared in use. My recollection for Malmstrom was that some of the earliest existing writings dated back to roughly 1973. Of the fifteen Captain's Logs that I had read and written in, there were never anything in them that mentioned and/or referenced UFOs affecting Echo and Oscar. More to the point, Echo's and Oscar's Captain's Log was a blank slate regarding any mentioning of UFO activity.  Of equal interests is the omission of any UFO sightings/activity over the Kilo Flight in 1978 which has been mentioned by Robert Hastings and others.

1967 - 1971, The First Generation

Based on documentation, both official and unofficial, it's well known that on 16 March 1967, that all ten of Echo's ICBMs dropped off alert.  It's also well known that there were numerous rumors that UFOs had caused the missiles to drop off alert.  This was made clear in the 341st SMW's Unit History.  These rumors evidently spread through out SAC and it's various support agencies.  Based on my past experience with missile related rumors, it is not a far stretch to believe that by the end of the day, most if not all of Malmstrom would have heard of the shutdowns and eventually the UFO rumor.  The UFO story would have been talked about through out the four operations squadrons.  Yet by 1971, the story would have either been fresh or starting to fade via "fatigue."  How much of the story would have been passed on to the next generation, that is, those new crew members newly assigned to Malmstrom?  Admittedly, this is difficult to say with any certainty, but it may be assumed that some of those newly arrived on station would have been told of the Echo story and the UFO angle.

1971-1975, the Second Generation

By mid-way through the second generation what remains of the original Echo story would have started to fade away.  This can be supported by the lack of anything mentioned in the numerous Captain's Logs that had entries dating back to that time period.  Yet our "haunted" LF, A-05, still persist during this time period as evident of some of the contents that I recall from A-01's Captain's Log.

1976-1980, the Third Generation

All traces of Echo and Oscar Flight had now evaporated.  My first and second crew commanders were newly assigned to the 490th SMS during this time period.  Both of these individuals never relay the story to me, nor do I hear of it from others that were assigned to the 10 SMS.  This would have been the time-frame for the allegedly Kilo Flight sightings during 1978, again there is no talk of such an event occurring.  Despite the "loss" of the Echo and Oscar stories, A-05's haunting still flourishes!

1981-1985, the Fourth Generation

This is my time period.  I arrived on station during Jan-Feb, 1981.  Over this time period, I personally never hear of anything occurring at Echo and Oscar Flights, this includes both the actually loss of Echo's sorties and the UFO angle.  By this time Carlson, Figel, Salas and others vanish from any unit memory.  Kilo's 1978 sitings equally evaporated from the wing's combined consciousness.  But...the haunting of A-05 continues to live on, despite anything actually happening on that site for 20 plus years!


What conclusions can be drawn?  Echo's loss of alert status for its 10 sorties was important only for a year or two after the event.  The UFO angle fizzled out about that same length of time because an engineering analysis concluded what actually did, or with high probability, occurred rendering the UFO story strictly a jocular fantasy.  Of note, Oscar's story suffered anonymity due to the total lack of any solid foundation to launch it even into the myth or folklore category.   Both stories had no lasting impact on the actual participants and the follow-on crew generations, yet an old, unsupported, folklore about a LF built over an old Indian burial ground, started by a long forgotten Security Camper team in the early 1960's lives on!  Now, some 40 years after the fact....enter Hastings and Salas...