Pershing Missile Sir


Thanks to Don McMahon for the wonderful stories and pictures


Merklingon site December 1968
  Pershing The Giant article 1968
Pershing P1_1st & 81st Apr_69 Black Mesa   
Pershing P1 1st & 81st Apr 69 Black Mesa 
 Pershing P1A October 1970 Utah, C Battery, 1st and 81st Artillery
Pershing P1A October 1970 Utah, firing platoon, C Battery, 1st and 81st Artillery
Don McMahon is in the top row, 3rd from the right.
Pershing P1A 1st & 81st Oct 70 Black Mesa, 3 pads
Inneringen shooting
Don wrote:
The shooting at Inneringen took place a few months before I rotated out in Jan. '71. It led to serious racial tensions, resulting in a case of grenades being stolen from the armory. For months, every car going in and out of Wiley was searched, and several trucks were set on fire. To my knowledge, the grenades were never found. A month or two after I got home, there was a news report that a grenade was thrown into the line at the mess hall and 4 GIs were killed. That was the last I heard.

The main issue was that the armor who shot Hughes was an expert shot and could have disabled him without killing him. In an effort to calm things down, an autopsy was conducted by black doctors, who reported that the bullet hit his hip and ricocheted up through his lung and exited his neck. Even though they showed that Gurney's intend was to wound and not kill Hughes, it didn't fully satisfy a lot of the black soldiers, and there were even accusations of a falsified autopsy.
Pershing P1A On its way
Guarding Merlingen Site Oct. 1968
Some General saying nice things about us.
War is Hell - Strass site, 1968
Merklingen Germany Oct. 1968
Don McMahon wrote:
In the Fall of 1968, C Battery was getting ready to head back from Strass to Wiley Barracks to prepare for an IG inspection. They asked for 3 volunteers to post guard on the front gate of the old Merklingen site which we were going to occupy in December. Since it meant missing the IG inspection, 3 of us thought it might be worthwhile, and we volunteered.

Merklingen site was an empty forest with a perimeter fence and one usable gate. The only requirement was to have one person on the gate and to radio in from a little cabin in the woods every couple of days. They gave us a truck, an old house trailer 20 feet from the gate, C rations, water, and our paychecks. Each day, one guy did gate duty and the other 2 of us would drive around, visiting all the nearby towns and Gasthauses, bringing back lots of good food and booze, and going to Wiley every few days for supplies and a shower. I really enjoyed the Fall forest colors (reminded me of home in New England), and often had picnic lunches with the local sheepherder, even though we had no common language.

After 2 weeks, no one volunteered to replace us, and they begged us to stay on. We reluctantly (LOL) agreed and ended up staying through October and November. Meanwhile, C Btry flunked the IG, had to re-take it, and we missed all of that. In all of that time, nobody ever came to the gate except our supply truck every 2 weeks. When they finally came to occupy the site, some General came by and praised us for our dedication to guarding the site for 2 months.
Here's a few more:
We were scheduled to fire 2 missiles from Black Mesa but missed our firing window due to a huge sand storm.  While waiting for a new firing window, we had some unplanned free time and decided to explore the terrain outside the launch area.
Pics from Ulm
Here's a chilling Pershing story.

I don't know if this was standard procedure in the 70's and 80's, but in 1970 there was a periodic check of the arming capability of warheads that were "on status" at Inneringen. There were 2 officers that would arrive every 3 months, each with 2 digits of the arming code. Then would test each of the warheads by separately entering their half of the arming code into the PAL box. Once warhead arming was verified, they would disarm it and move to the next warhead.

Towards the end of my tour in late 1970, they arrived as expected, performed their checks and left. The next time we heard the familiar "standby for traffic" was about a week to 10 days later. The XO and I received the EMAS message, decoded and authenticated it as usual. Meanwhile the first 3 missiles were being raised to their launch positions. This was the point where we would determine that it was only an exercise, unlock the PAL box, put in the practice codes, run a simulated countdown, and then lower the missiles and go back to bed. To our utter surprise, the PAL box indicated that one of the warheads was already live, as in armed and ready to launch. To this day, over 40 years later, that was the scariest moment of my life. We were in complete shock, because we knew that we could have pressed the button and launched a missile with a live nuclear warhead.

We immediately locked the PAL box, told the crews to lower the missiles, shut down completely, and called out all the available security. We called into Wiley Operations and had a really tough time explaining in the typical coded language what had just happened. We hung in limbo for about 15-18 hours before a huge convoy arrived with 10 new warheads, untold number of security personnel, and lots of brass from Group and Washington. I swear it was like something out of a James Bond movie.

The next step was trying to develop a plan to swap out each warhead with the minimum down-time from alert status. The logistics of that were pretty complex, and I'm proud to say that I developed the plan that the brass accepted and ran with, and got recommended for the Army Commendation medal as a result. I don't remember how long everything took, but after they all left with our 10 warheads, we (at least I) never heard another word about it. My assumption has always been that the warhead never disarmed after it's last verification, either by an electro-mechanical failure, or by human error on the part of one of the 2 officers that performed the check.
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