United States Army

MEMORIES OF OKINAWA

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Hi, I am, or at least I was during the Vietnam War, Army Specialist E5 Tom Madracki.   I was stationed on Okinawa in the East China Sea from 1967 to 1969.   As part of the 30th. Artillery Brigade, the Hawk Missile Batteries, as well as the Nike Hercules Batteries provided general air defense for the area around Okinawa, but in particular, they provided air defense for Kadena Air Force Base.   Okinawa is located just off the coast of Southeast Asia and it was from there that the U.S. launched bombing missions over North Vietnam.  Later Okinawa would revert back to Japan, but during the Vietnam War, it was a U.S. Protectorate and the key to Rolling Thunder, the bombing of North Vietnam and later in 1969, Nixon's Operation Menu, the bombing of Vietnamese and Vietcong bases in Cambodia.   In all, the US flew 2,380 B-52 bomber sorties over North Vietnam, lost 922 aircraft, with 818 pilots killed and had dropped over 634,000 tons of bombs.

Okinawa was a busy place in those days.  Our Missile Brigade worked under the operational control of the Air Force at Kadena Air Force Base.   Our SAM sites worked closely with the fighter jets from Kadena as part of a highly effective multi-service air defense team protecting the air base.

The B-52's from Kadena took off early every morning, wings drooping, propped up by little wheels on their wing tips and engines laboring to get their bomb loads aloft.   Late afternoon we'd pick them up on our radars returning from North Vietnam. Not all returned and some that did were missing parts of their wings or tails.  You could see the battle damage as they came in low over the water and touched down just after they crossed the coast highway.   Interestingly, I don't remember anyone every being concerned about the planes or the bombing missions at the time.   It was just something that was happening around us, we were a part of it and we all just did our job.

The first of four SR-71 Blackbirds arrived at Kadena AFB on March 8th, 1968.   These secret spy planes were flown by Air Force pilots and usually hid in their hangers by day, but every once in a while you'd get a glimpse of them near "Habu Hill", or coming in to land at "Kadena".   The SR-71's were 2 seaters and you could tell them from the A-12s by the second window behind the pilots.   The original Detachment that had come from Beale AFB to "Operating Location 8" (OL-8) evolved and ended up with the nickname of "Habu", a deadly black Okinawan Cobra.

I'm 66 now and retired, but then I was a 20 year old, slick sleeve private, fresh out of the Fort Bliss Air Defense Artillery School in El Paso, Texas.  The shooting war in Vietnam was going strong, so considering that so many U.S. forces were dying in the war everyday, this was by comparison, a very safe place to be.   By 1967 the American Air Force had decreased the North's pilot strength by half. The North Vietnamese were using Mig-17's and later, Mig-21's and were a formidable adversary.   There were MiGs were based only 370 miles to the west of us and with a top speed of over 1300 MPH, the MiGs could suddenly pop up on our radar screens without much notice.

Okinawa was never considered part of the "hot" war during Vietnam, but because of the role Kadena AFB (and us as their defenders) played in the bombing campaign, we occasionally took hostile gun fire from "unknown forces".   I remember a few times at Site 12 (the northern most missile site on Okinawa) when these "unknown forces" were taking pot shots at us. They usually targeted the radars and usually shot from the jungle areas just past our fence line. We also had a few sapers who came over the fences into the missile launch areas and even though they were forced back into the jungle with M14 rifle fire - it officially never happened.   Following these "incidents" we'd all have to wear our steel helmets everywhere we went on site. After a week or so, it'd go back to work as usual, wearing our baseball caps and the steel pots would go back on top of our wall lockers.

I guess if someone shoots at you it's only considered harassing fire, if the Army officially lets you shoot back. then it's considered combat.   The U.S. Government never acknowledged Okinawa as a combat zone during Vietnam, or part of the Vietnam War, but those of us who were there had a very different opinion.  The politics of the day kept most of what went on secret - the last thing the U.S. wanted was to upset the Japanese people, both on Okinawa and in Japan.

Anyone remember when the B-52 crashed near Site 10 on November 19, 1968?  It was trying to take off with a full bomb load, but ended up hitting the lights at the end of the runway, bursting into flames and then exploding it's load of 500 lb. bombs.  I went to the crash site which was only about a quarter mile from where we were sleeping, but after the fire died out, all you could see were the smoking engine pods and the wheel clusters.   Everything else had been blown into little tiny bits, I assume by it's own bomb load.  It was a B-52D, tail number 55-0103.  I still have a hunk of the twisted green metal shrapnel that blasted into our building when the plane exploded.   The Air Force collected all the pieces and for the longest time, kept them in a huge pile on the west side of the base, hidden from outsiders, all the while denying that there had even been a crash!

Site 10 was at the East end of the Kadena Air Base runway, with the tactical site (the place where the actual missile launchers were) in the middle of the Chibana ammunition dump. I always wondered what military genius thought of that as a "good" location for a missile battery, especially the way they drove the truck up and down the hill, through the bombs and munitions stacked on the both sides of the road.   Next we moved to Site 12 at the North end of the island, on top of Mount Tano-dake, above the small fishing village of Nago, where we used to skin dive in the beautiful lagoon.   Nago is now a very popular Japanese resort destination.  I remember the steep and slippery road from Nago up Mount Tano-dake to Site 12 and the ambulance we used to run people up and down the hill in. My last move was to Site 9 near Bolo Point.  I eventually became a short timer, then a "two digit midget" and eventually took my MAC flight back to CONUS (aka, the Continental United States).

I will, as time permits, try to place my collection of Battery "C" pictures and pictures I receive from you, on the Picture Pages (see links below). If you were in Battery "C" or any other Hawk Battery on Okinawa or any Hawk unit anywhere else in the world, I'd love to hear from you. If you have pictures you'd like to see here, eMail them to me.  I found out what eventually happened to C-8-1, but I never heard what happened immediately after I left. I vaguely remember everyone being scheduled to ship out to Korea except for a hand full of us who were too short to be extended for another year.   I stayed at Site 9 and worked as a guard at the front gate until it was time for me to catch my MAC flight home. If you ever wondered what happened to old C-8-1 and the 30th Artillery Brigade,  I did some research and found out - follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the official account.

Anyway, check out the photos of people and places on Okinawa and other Hawk locations around the world (see links below).   I've heard from so many Hawk people that I had to add extra picture pages. We now have picture pages for Okinawa, Takashiki, Korea, Germany, Fort Bliss, Florida, Vietnam and Panama.  It's been so long, it's hard to remember the names and places, but I still remember the faces... and our mission, to protect South East Asia from the Communists, or something like that.   We did our part then and now, so many years later, it doesn't seem like the "Rock" was such a bad place after all.

A few names do come to mind as I go through my photos and with input from those who have eMailed me: Capt. John Page; Lt. Rod Hyland; Lt. Tom Chase; Lt. Sam Heltzel; Lt. Charlie Walden; Lt Dyer; Lt Scoville; Lt Salopek; Lt. Teague; Brigade XO Col. Payne; Battalion CO LTC Murray; George Watts and Jerry Ginnappolis who were both my roommates at one time or other; Greg Ball - the Battery Clerk; Warrant Officers Robinson, Sherman, Shand and Trayham; First Sgt. Oren Philpott; SP5 Dennis Naylor; Sp5 Jim Halloran; Sp5 Leeland Lee; "Red" Foster; Jim Nix RIP, Jerry Miller, Dave Barber, Joe Gonzales, Paul Flowers, Al Czeck, Paul Ebert, Gene Gonzales from A-8-1 and Charlie the battery dog - I think Charlie wandered in while we were at Site 9.   But like I said, most of the names escape me now...

This Web site was designed and is maintained by Tom Madracki, US56708259. For further information about this Hawk Missile Web Page, if you have pictures you'd like to see up here, or if you'd like to talk about the good old days, please CLICK HERE to send e-mail to me at tom@madracki.com.

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