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Somebody Should Have Died (1975, 545th Ordnance Company, Nuclear Site, West Germany)
(1975, 545th Ordnance Company, Nuclear Site, West Germany)
The structure was built to withstand a nuclear blast. Surrounding the site were tall trees, sidewalks leading to warehouses that held half a dozen nuclear bombs (see interlude for details). The trees and foliage were high enough that only a small plane about a hundred feet above the site could see it, and the German government forbade allowing flights over the site. The young sergeant of twenty-seven, well-built, auburn hair, blue-green eyes, had just taken over another sergeant’s shift. he was in what was called ENREST (Nuclear Security, guards). Every sergeant at the site who had a top secret clearance was put on the ENREST roster, as was every officer with a top secret clearance, he was on twenty-four hour duty, once a month, and neither that sergeant nor officer was to leave his area refuge. At night the doors were locked and bolted, the front doors, one to the shelter, the other to the ENREST room inside the shelter, where the orders came.
As Sergeant Chick Evens listened he could hear the night winds above the shelter. At the same time he could hear a five-ton truck bringing in a new shift of the Military Police, who were guarding the site, twenty-four-seven. He licked his lips, to wet them, it was a very hot night, he took off his shirt, only his underwear, the fat captain, lay snoring on his iron cot on one side of the room, as he sat on his iron cot, on the other side of the room. The room was twelve feet by twelve feet. The young captain’s name was Horace Worme. The sergeant had seen his file and college transcripts since he was the NCO in charge of Nuclear Security Program Investigations, and often wondered how a captain could become a captain with 90% “D” semester grades. . I mean he had more “D’s” than anything he’d ever known, not an A or a B, a few C’s. He’d gone to college himself and had a Bachelor’s degree and gotten a D, and that was fault finding.
Evens watched the fat captain, there was no one else to watch, he was breathing heavily, sweating and the air just swirled over the structure as his sweat soaked the mattress. Then he got up and paced the floor, he never liked ENREST. He had told the captain that one of them had to stay awake, monitor the phones, the incoming data, read the printouts in case there was an alert. It was a two man control process but only one had to be up at a time during the night hours but he also knew that this captain never liked pulling, he let the sergeants stay up all night while he slept away but evens he said no to this crap, he would do his duty, and so would he.
He tried to wake up the captain at 2:00 a.m. to take over the night shift, his time was up, but the captain wouldn’t wake up. In fact, the captain said, “Leave me alone, he’s a sergeant!” And so the sergeant lay face down on the cot, his chin on the pillow, his arms outstretched.
“It’s stupid” he said out loud hoping the Captain would listen “you can’t wait for me to take your shift and read the data properly” messages kept coming from what was thought to be European Central Command. And it had to be translated, it was in code, and one man had to open a white seal, after he read the message and did the decoding, the other person checked it, and they would go through the process. If it was a red seal, then it was for alert, high priority, and then it would go to a second seal if needed. A white stamp was less complicated. But often a white seal leads to a red seal, and that meant war. and the Cold War was of course with the Russians. Their assumption was, if it went to the red seal, the nuclear stomachs (nuclear cylinders) – that’s what I called them – from the bombs that had to be sunk underground.
(Interlude: It’s hard to express the composition of a nuclear bomb and its destructive capacity in a single paragraph, and I’ve seen the inside of them, but let me put it in the most fundamental, if not oversimplified, way: there are two parts to nuclear bomb that I’m talking about, some have three parts, the secondary part of the nuclear bomb – about half a dozen of them were stored at the site, that’s the part that I saw, cylinder type design. the bombs were 9 to 50 megatons plus, some were Titan IIs (ICBMs), the Titan fleet was retired in 1988; the warhead of one of these Titan missiles was three miles in diameter, its destructive forces would probably destroy all structures within ten miles, or three hundred square miles. One kiloton equals 1000 tons of TNT, kilotons are measured in thousands of tons; Hiroshima saw a 15 kiloton bomb, called “Little Boy” and Nagasaki saw a 20 kg nuclear bomb tons called “Fat boy” – there, while the megatons are mega secured by millions of tons of TNT. The secondary part of the bomb is the bottom. the primary is at the top. I don’t need to say more about this story.)
When the young sergeant awoke, it was still dark outside. he heard an incoming message on the machine, typing for him to read and decode. He stood up, went to the desk where the machine was spitting out paper, and a message was being printed, coming in, he went to wake up the Captain, he said, “You must decode the message, along with me. Or at least read it after I decode it.”
“No, you’re decoding it,” he said, “I’m tired.”
He began to decode the message and fell back asleep, not reading it clearly. As was the captain’s job. each looking over the other’s shoulder.
It was now 6:15 and the phone rang. The sergeant passed it over to Horatio, saying “The Major, he wants to talk to you about something.”
He stood at the side of the phone, half dazed, the phone heavy in his right hand, “Yes sir,” said the Captain, “what is it?”
Captain Worm, darting back like double lightning, grabbed the decoded message, “You didn’t decode that last night,” he yelled at the sergeant.
“Of course I did,” said the sergeant, the decoded part being right where the message you just received was.
“Hey,” the Captain said to the Major, “The sergeant said he decoded the message.
“Well didn’t you read it?” shouted the Major so loudly that the sergeant could hear him.
“Yes! No, I guess I didn’t, why?” said the Captain.
“Because,” said the Major, “we’re the only nuclear site; no, actually, we’re the only site in all of Europe that isn’t on alert, and the colonel wants to know why our gates are wide open, as if a normal day. I want to see you in an hour and read this damn coded message and come back with me in five minutes.’
“So Sergeant,” Captain Vorm said to Evens and began to read the decoded message, “it looks like you decoded it correctly, why didn’t you wake me up and alert me?”
“I woke you up, and you instructed me to leave you alone, after I told you, you had to review the decoded message, as it was supposed to be, and you persisted, and I got tired and fell. to sleep.”
“It was foolish not to follow the message!”
“Yes! Be careful captain. I did my duty and you did no duty at all, that can be called duty.”
After the Captain had left the Major’s office, he stopped Sergeant Evens, “So what’s going on?” asked the sergeant.
“I’m sorry to inform you, I think there will be some charges against you maybe a court martial; too many things to cover.” Now the sergeant knew how he got over those “D’s” in college, he was a stickler.
“Well,” said the sergeant, “if I go down, so will you! They obviously don’t know my part of the story; I’ll have to make a report sooner or later and let them know. They knew it was you who gave me direct orders to shall I let you sleep?’ (And the sergeant knew that a direct order, by an officer, should not conflict with established law, and it did.)
“I’m not sure,” he said.
“What do you have to be sure of, you told them or you didn’t, and I guess you didn’t.”
“I’d better get back there and sort this out before it gets out of hand.” It was funny thought the Sergeant, he didn’t blink, and he must be testing the water to see if he would take the blame.
“That’s very good, if you do, I’ll stay here for a while.”
When the captain returned, everything was settled.
“We’re all soldiers,” said the captain, “the thing to do is just forget it ever happened, and don’t say a word to anybody about that sergeant, okay? If you let it leak, we’re all dead We were on an attack, alert, the Red Brigade, some anti-German group tried to break into one of our nuclear facilities, and that’s why the alert was called, and we got it wrong. only he knows what would have happened. The gates were wide open and they could have taken hostages.”
“Yes,” said the Sergeant (looking at the gates now closed and secure), standing to his right. “I never heard of that.”
“Did you hear what?” said the Captain. Again the sergeant thought of all those ‘D’s’ the captain had received.
“No one will ever hear of it, that’s it!” The sergeant said and then thought, “…someone might have died because of our neglect-” and he just wanted to get out of there.
Note: The 545th Ordnance Company was activated in 1942. In 1950, it was activated in Japan and in 1959 it was activated in West Germany, from Muenster-Dieburg. deactivated in June 1992. territory given back to Germany in 1994. No: 715 1-24-2011)
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