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.

3 comments:

  1. Funny I was at Malmstrom AFB from 1981 - 1985 as well. You should get a copy of the original story that was in the news paper back then. Things did happen in the area of A5 but AF members wouldn't say anything as you can imagine the ridicule they would endure.

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  2. My dad was there from 73-79 and said that he saw a lot of strange things a A05...

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  3. I did see lights at the site back in the mid eighties, not like a flashlight or firefly but just a ball of light. Our dog went crazy and we left post haste. We stopped at the top of the canyon, and the dog went nuts again.

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