Someone 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 explosion. Around the site were tall trees, sidewalks leading to bunkers that held half a dozen nuclear bombs (see interlude for details). The trees and foliage were tall enough that only a small aircraft about a hundred feet above the site could see it, and the German government forbade allowing any flights over the site. The twenty-seven-year-old, well-built, auburn-haired, blue-green-eyed young sergeant had just taken over another sergeant’s shift; he was in what was called ENREST (Nuclear Security, watchdogs). Every sergeant on site, who had a top secret clearance, was put on the ENREST list, as was every officer with a top secret clearance, it was a twenty-four hour, once a month duty, and not even that sergeant or officer was to leave the bunker area. At night the doors were closed and bolted, the front doors, one to the bunker, the other to the ENREST room inside the bunker, where orders came in.

As Sergeant Chick Evens listened, he could hear the night winds over the bunker. At the same time, a five-ton truck could be heard bringing a new shift of the Military Police, who guarded the place 24 hours a day. He licked his lips, to moisten them, it was a very hot night, he took off his shirt, only his shirt, the fat captain, lay snoring on his iron cot on one side of the room, sitting 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 transcript and transcripts, since he was the noncommissioned officer, in charge of the Nuclear Security Program Investigations, and had often wondered how a captain could become a captain, with 90% of his semester grades being “D’s.” “. I mean he had more “D’s” than anything I’d ever known, no A’s, no B’s, some C’s. He’d gone to college himself and had a bachelor’s degree, and he’d gotten a D, and that was find fault.

Evens watched the fat captain, there was no one else to look at, he was breathing heavily, sweating, and the wind continued to swirl over the frame, his perspiration soaking into the mattress. Then he got up and paced back and forth, he never liked ENREST. He had told the Captain that one of them was to stay awake, watch the phones, the incoming data, read the printouts in case there was an alert. It was a two man control process but only one needed to be awake at a time during the night hours but he also knew this captain never liked doing his duty he let the sergeants stay up all night while he slept, but Evens said no to this crap, he was going to do his duty, just like him.

He tried to wake up the captain at 2:00 am, 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, that’s a law enforcement sergeant!” And so the Sergeant lay face down on the cot, his chin on the pillow, his arms outstretched.

“That’s nonsense” he said out loud hoping the Captain would hear “you can’t expect him to take his turn too and read the data correctly” messages were coming in from what was considered European Central Command all the time. And it had to be translated, it was in code, and one man had to break a white seal, after reading the message and deciphering it, the other man verified it and they followed the procedure. If it was a red stamp, then it was for an alert, high priority, and would then move to a second stamp if necessary. A white seal was less complicated. But often a white seal leads to a red seal, and that means war; and the Cold War, of course, was with the Russians. His premise was, if it was going to red seal, the nuclear stomachs (nuclear cylinders) – that’s what I called them – of the bombs needed to be sunk underground.

(Interlude: It is difficult to express the composition of a nuclear bomb and its destructive capacity in a single paragraph, and I have seen the inside of them, but let me put it in the most fundamental, if not simplified way: There are two parts to the nuclear bomb of the one I’m talking about, some have three parts, the secondary part of the nuclear bomb, about half a dozen of them were stored on site, this is the part I saw, of a cylinder type design bombs were 9 to 50 megatons or more, some were Titan II (ICBM), the Titan fleet retired in 1988, the fireball of one of those Titan missiles was three miles in diameter, its destructive forces would probably destroy all structures in a range of ten miles, or three hundred square miles. One kiloton is equal to 1000 tons of TNT, kilotons are measured in thousands of tons; Hiroshima witnessed a 15 kiloton bomb, called ‘Little Boy’, and Nagasaki witnessed a 20 kilo nuclear bomb tones called ‘Fat boy’, out there, while megatons are mea insured by millions of tones of TNT. The secondary part of the pump is the lower part; the primary is at the top. I don’t need to say more for this story.)

When the young sergeant woke up, it was still dark outside; he listened to an incoming message on the machine, printing it out for her to read and decode. He stood up, walked to the desk where the machine was spitting out paper and a message was being printed that was coming, went to wake up the Captain and said, “You have to decode the message, along with me. Or at least read it after decoding it.” .

“No, you figure it out,” he said, “I’m tired.”

He began to decipher the message and went back to sleep, not reading it clearly. As was the Captain’s job; one looking over the other’s shoulder.

It was now 6:15 am and the phone rang. The sergeant handed it to Horace and said, “The major wants to talk to you for some reason.”

He stood by the phone, half dazed, the phone heavy in his right hand, “Yes, sir,” said the Captain, “what is it?”

Captain Worme, back like a double bolt, grabbed the unscrambled message, “Didn’t you unscramble this last night?” he yelled at the sergeant.

“Of course I did,” said the Sergeant, the decoded part is right where the message you just picked up was.

“Hello,” the Captain said to the Major, “The Sergeant said he decoded the message.”

“Well, didn’t you read it?” the major yelled so loudly that the sergeant could hear him.

“Yaaay! No, I guess not, why?” said the Captain.

“Because,” said the Major, “we are the only nuclear site; no, in fact, we are the only place in all of Europe that is not on alert, and the Colonel wants to know why our doors are wide open, as if it is a normal day. I want to see you in an hour and read that damn coded message and get back to me in five minutes.”

“So, Sergeant,” Captain Worme 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 call an alert?”

“I woke you up and you gave me the order to leave you alone, after I told you that you needed to check the decrypted message, as it is supposed to be, and you were insistent, and I was tired and fell asleep.”

“It was stupid not to follow the message!”

“Yes! Be careful, captain. I did my duty and you did not do any duty, that can be called duty.”

After the Captain left the Major’s office, he stopped Sergeant Evens, “So what’s going on?” the sergeant asked.

“Sorry to inform you, I think there will be some charges against you maybe a court-martial; too many things to cover up.” Now that the sergeant knew how he got over those “D’s” of his in college, he was a conniver.

“Well,” said the sergeant, “if I go down, so do you! They obviously don’t know my side of the story; I’ll have to make a report sooner or later and I’ll let them know. Did they know it was you who gave me a Direct Order?” to let you sleep? (And the sergeant knew that a direct order, from a commissioned officer, should not conflict with established law, and it did.)

“I’m not sure,” he said.

“What’s there to be sure of, you either told them or you didn’t, and I guess you didn’t.”

I’d better get back in there and fix this before it gets out of hand. He was funny, the Sergeant thought, not blinking, and he must have been testing the water to see if he was to blame.

“It’s very good, if you do it, 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 forget what happened today and not say a word to anyone about this sergeant, okay? If you let this leak, we’re all dead.” We were with an attack, alert, the Red Brigades, some anti-German group has tried to attack one of our nuclear sites, and an alert was called for that, and we screwed up. If they had come here to our site, God only knows what would have happened. The doors were wide open and they could have taken hostages.

“Yes,” said the sergeant (looking at the now closed and secure doors), standing on his right side. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“Heard of what?” said the Captain. Again the sergeant thought of all those ‘D’s the captain had gotten.

“No one will hear of it, that’s what happens!” The Sergeant said, then thought: ‘… someone could have died because of our negligence-‘ and he just wanted to get away from there.

Note: The 545th Ordnance Company was activated in 1942. In 1950, it was activated in Japan, and in 1959 it was active in West Germany, by Muenster-Dieburg; inactivated June 1992; area returned to Germany, in 1994. No: 715 24-1-2011)

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