This note came from Bill Phillips via email. It adds quite a bit of substance to my original. Thanks, Bill for your input!
I ran across your BMEWS Web site and read it with watering eyes. Thanks an awful lot for putting it together it's a great piece of work - what memories. I went to Thule after 3 years in the Navy in early 1961 and stayed the 510, then came back for a second short 3 month tour between college years in the summer of 1964. I was one of the T/DRED operators in the operations room working with the operating controller and monitor. I also went through the Riverton cycle and at the ripe old age of 21 arrived at Thule ready for polar bear. Thought I'd try and list a few of the events that I personally recall from those days of youth and adventure.
I was housed in the multi-story complex which was a grouping of semi-private rooms with two (I believe) large bathrooms on each floor. In the winter these places would get so dry that the entire building became one great big electrostatic charge. But after 3 years at sea with the Navy, it wasn't all that hard to take. Fortunately, one of the most strictly enforced rules in this complex was that if you were caught fighting, you were terminated and sent home on the next flight out - a rule that everyone observed and which avoided confrontations beyond the shouting stage. Everyone could only keep $35/week (??) from each paycheck and the rest had to be sent to a US Bank. This was to make sure that we "high paid" civilians didn't upset the military economy of the base. Although, we could make large purchases, such as cameras, Chavis Regal and stereos with a check.
There were emergency shelters - one mile apart from the base to the site in case the bus broke down or you were stranded due to an unexpected storm. The shelters contained a small stove, a telephone to the base, a flashlight, a first aid kit and a few blankets.
Several times during or right after a Phase, Eskimo families wandered onto the Site - dog sled and all. This of course set off the perimeter alarms and the AirForce went into their panic mode. Once I remember, we brought the Eskimo family into the dining room and gave them dinner.
Remember the Phase parties on the base for those of us locked out of work for a shift or two. Sometimes when the party was half over and everyone was three sheets to the wind, the phase abruptly ended and everyone had to go in - ready or not.
I remember the periodic crackles of the arcing in the wave guides while in the tunnel and how we would scare the new non technical types with stories of radio active energy leaks.
I became somewhat involved with the AirForce HAM station - which was used as a secondary public phone system to the states. This station was one of the most desirable in the world for HAMs to talk with because of it's location. The call letters were KG1BO and the operator always used the protocol: "This is KG1BO - King George's First Body Odor, calling from atop the world".
Being in the job I was in had certain advantages as far knowing what was really going on.
When a B-52 on a routine mission from Omaha to the Pole crashed into the ice cap near Thule, the rescue operation never located the crew. All they found was a huge hole in the cap where the aircraft had gone in head first.
I recall several real AirForce alerts, especially the two after a bomb exploded near Cheyenne Mountain and after JFK was assassinated. The AirForce police surrounded the Site, posted a sentry in front of the operations room and issued (another) special ID card to those of us who worked there. We always asked ourselves what the Russians would do with Thule even if they captured it ? Operationally, BMEWS was one of the first 10 targets on the Soviet priority list. If the Russians were going to attack North America, the scenario was thought to be that BMEWS would be destroyed before any US target and that that destruction would cause all communications links to NORAD to be lost. So contrary to most people's beliefs, BMEWS was not expected to report incoming missiles in the event of an attack on the US - it was expected to be destroyed and all communications lost - signalling an attack was imminent. Not something that was advertised to the general Thule population.
Do you remember the threatened strike by the RCAS technician union? As a result of this threat, the AirForce officers in charge of the Base and Site actually told RCAS managers and we operations people that if we went on strike we could be "shot" for abandoning a job which was critical to US security. This caused a major flap between RCA and the AirForce, but was kept under wraps for a long time.
Prior to and during my second tour, sometime in 1964, the AirForce installed an elaborate Electronic Countermeasures capability into the BMEWS system to detect and filter potential jamming sources. At the same time they decided that the operations aspects of BMEWS needed to be upgraded to Top Secret, which meant that everyone who worked in the operations room now needed to be cleared for that level of access. RCAS balked as they should have. The solution was that the AirForce then decided to take over the operations aspects of the site - except for the Controller positions and I went back to college with a years worth of tuition money - ending my career with BMEWS.
I hung around a group of people who were mostly from the Philadelphia area - some of which I knew before Thule. As of today, I have not been in touch, nor do I know the status of anyone from those days. This is mostly because after 1965, I move to California and stayed there until just recently. The people I remember who were fairly popular and you may have run across were Bill Cavanaugh, Ray Thomczak, (Both Stock Clerks or something like that), Jim Cavanaugh (a mechanic), Bill Leonard (my boss - I kept in touch with him till the mid-80's, Bob Rey (an Operating Controller) and great guy - heavy Texan accent, The only person that I recall who lived full time in the your facility was a 44 year old heavy set technician who worked on the DRDTOs in my building (Bldg. 2) and whose hobby was spending a fortune on stereo components - don't recall his name. He always reminded me about his age and how much more he made than me and that I sold myself too cheaply to RCAS. Having completed a year of college while in the Navy I continued taking classes at the University of Maryland Extension set up by the AirForce in Thule. It was through one of these classes that I met my Thule mentor, Ralph Heacock. Ralph was about 65+ at the time and a globally well respected mechanical engineer. He was the principal designer of the runway at Thule and his stories of the effort were fascinating, particularly the permafrost considerations. I think that I read somewhere that even today, that runway was the most expensive ever built. I was also good friends with the site telephone/public address operator - though for the life of me I can't think of his name.
Again, Carl, thanks for devoting your effort into creating the web site. If I ever run across an ex-Thuleite, I'll sure direct them to it. By the way your description of the taste/texture of the ice cream was so on target. I remember it exactly that way - never could get used to thinking about it as desert. And I was a guest in the O-Club when the Bob Hope group was isolated there and even got a kiss from Jane Mansfield (remember her ?).
Very Best Regards,
August 27, 1997
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© Copyright 1997, Gene P. McManus, Baltimore, OH