Pfc. Gordon Gade helped operate Nike missile site in Germany during Cold War

Gordon Gade of the Seminole Lakes subdivision, south of Punta Gorda, Fla. joined the U.S. Army shortly after graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1958 with a degree in business administration. He served in Germany during the Cold War as a guided missile soldier.

After basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., he was assigned to an electronics school as part of his two-year tour of duty in Uncle Sam’s army. He served two years of active duty, two years of active Reserves and two years of inactive Reserves.

“After signal school in New Jersey, almost everyone was sent to Korea. I lucked out and was sent to the 36th Fighter Squadron stationed near Bitburg Air Force Base in Germany as part of the 566th Ordinance Detachment,” the 74-year-old recalled. “Our mission was to protect the fighter base with Nike-Ajax ground-to-air missiles.”

The telephone-pole-sized missiles were set up in fixed firing stands that could swivel 360 degrees and be elevated and lowered to home in on their target.

“Our missile base was halfway between Bitburg Air Force Base and Spangdahlem Air Force Base. We didn’t have any excitement during the year I served over there,” Gade said.

About 10 men ran one of these antiaircraft missile sites. His unit’s job was to keep the electronics that guided the ground-to-air missiles working smoothly.

In those days, the U.S. Air Force was flying F-102 “Delta Dagger” fighter planes. They were interceptors that flew below the speed of sound, built by Convair in the late 1950s.

The most exciting thing that happened to Gade and a buddy during his overseas tour was a trip they took with a Nike-Ajax missile aboard a specially designed flatbed truck. They had been assigned to drive the missile to a repair base in southern Germany from Bitburg, where they were stationed.

“The 40-foot-long missile was mounted on a special truck towed by a five-ton rig. At the back of the trailer was a U-shaped bracket where the nose of the missile was to sit,” he said. “I had a good buddy and we were elected to take the missile down south by truck. We were given an exact route to follow by our commanding officer.

“My buddy knew a shortcut that would save us a lot of time. We drove off our assigned route and headed down this rural route. As we entered this little German town, the road took a sharp turn at the bottom of a grade,” Gade said. “In Germany, the buildings are right up against the streets. As we made the turn, we managed to hang the missile up trying to make the corner.

“Fortunately, all of the townspeople were right there watching us. One guy, who seemed to be the mayor, recruited about 25 people to help us. We got the missile and trailer unhooked from the truck and jockeyed it around the corner with all the Germans pushing and pulling. Once we unhooked the truck, we were able to negotiate the turn with it by itself,” he said.

“We reached our destination and delivered the missile with no further problems,” Gade said. “We never told anyone at the base what happened.”

The best thing about his year of service in Germany was that he and his buddies toured Western Europe when they were off. They made almost all the capitals and most of the larger western cities by car, or with a Eurorail pass.

“About the only place we couldn’t go was Berlin because we had secret clearance. They didn’t want the Russians to find out anything about the guided missiles we were in charge of,” Gade said.

While at Bitburg Air Base, Gade and his buddy, Lee Albert, bought a couple of raffle tickets on an Austin-Healey Sprite sports car. Albert won the two-seat convertible, and the two of them began touring the countryside in the Sprite. At 23, it was a great adventure — protecting the Free World with their guided missiles while on duty and checking out the hot spots in Western Europe when they went on leave.

Gordon Gade holds the tip of a Nike-Ajax air to ground missile he helped operate in Germany during the Cold War 50 years ago. Sun photo by Don Moore

Gordon Gade holds the tip of a Nike-Ajax air to ground missile he helped operate in Germany during the Cold War 50 years ago. Sun photo by Don Moore

Although Gade never fired the missile once while overseas, he doesn’t regret the year he spent in Europe with the troops. When he returned to the U.S., he went to work for the Trane Air Conditioning company as an official in one of the firm’s major plants in Kentucky. He worked for the business for 37 years until he and his wife Barbara (now deceased) retired and moved to this area in 1998.

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 1, 2010 and is republished with permission.

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