4th Missile Bn
(Hawk-AW)
517th Artillery
Panama
Canal Zone

 

Col. Lee Lewis (ret.) 1st CO D Battery (Hawk) and Bn S3

 

Recollections Of The 1960 Changeover To Hawk Missiles From Lee Lewis, CO, Battery D 

 
Dear Vic and Al:

I have some info as to the beginnings of the HAWK/AW era of the 4/517.  Prior to the summer of 1960, 4/517 had two 90 mm gun batteries and two AW M42 batteries. I do not know which were which nor where they were located prior to Sept 1960.

In July 1960, I was ordered from the AAA& GM school Staff & Faculty to attend the Hawk Off Qualification Course at that school. This was to prepare me (and others) to staff the two Hawk batteries destined for the Canal Zone. We were accompanied by the officers who were destined for the battalion to be trained and deployed to Korea. We and that battalion were the first Hawk units to deploy.

On 28 May 1960, I took command of Battery F 55 th Arty. At the same time Charles "Bud" Kindick took command of another Battery F. I believe it was 67th Arty. Shortly afterward Bud and I went on a recon & coordination trip to Panama to see where we would be located, meet the 4/517 gang and advise on what we might need in the way of special support. At that time. The battalion was commanded by Ltc Robert H. Johnston the Bn S3 was Sam Basile and MG T. F. Bogart was the CG USARCARIB.

The two "F" batteries trained in tandem within the 1st GM Brigade and the cooperation between them was great. Since most of the command emphasis was being placed upon getting the Korea bound battalion deployed, We pretty well trained ourselves. We got a lot of help from old friends I had at the school plus the tech reps assigned to us. We finally fired out our last rounds and packed up. When we left Fort Bliss, our batteries each had about 70 people including 4 officers and a warrant officer. We shipped our mission peculiar equipment, accompanied by 2 NCI's, in late August 1960 and put all others on leave to join me (with their authorized family members) at Charleston AFB o/a 8 Sep 1960 for airlift to the CZ. Believe it or not, every last trooper arrived at the appointed time and place after a two week leave.

We arrived in the CZ o/a 8 Sep and were met by Gen Bogart. By then, our equipment had arrived at Balboa and we immediately off-loaded and moved to our new homes. My unit went to become Battery D at Fort Sherman and Kindicks to Battery C at Flamenco Island, Fort Amadore. Battery A at Fort Davis, commanded by Jesse Lant was our host and a fine job they did. The barracks, mess, etc., were all set up and ready. We were to share the post with the Jungle Warfare Training Center commanded by Ltc John Goldoni.

On the next day we started to emplace the battery in the old officers family quarters area for Fort Sherman. Used the old streets, parking areas and some building foundations for hard stand. The engineers had already built us a missile assembly building and an alert crew ready building. We became operational with at least one launcher of prepared missiles four days later. We were a couple of days ahead of Battery C and, as we learned later, several weeks ahead of the Battalion in Korea. We therefore declared ourselves to be the "First Operational Hawk Battery in the World."

After challenges of the rainy season, mud slides in the position area, etc., we learned that the battalion would be prime in putting on a multi weapon firing demonstration sponsored by the JCS for Latin American ministers of defense. Our battery felt the brunt since the event was to be at old Fort San Lorenzo. The viewing stands were to be at the old fort and the firing point was to be on the beach, across and west of the Chagress River mouth. We were the closest, so much of the effort fell on our back. The firing point was, except for the immediate beach, solid jungle so, engineer heavy equipment was required to clear enough ground to put in our two Hawk batteries plus a large contingent of weapons from Aberdeen and Fort Sill. The demonstration took place in late February 1961. Narration was by Lt. Gene Jamison, a fluent Spanish speaker and a Battery D platoon leader. At the insistence of MG O'Connor, C/S. CINCARIB, we intercepted an
RP 76 drone with a Hawk quite close to Fort San Lorenzo. That emptied the stands and we had to delay the rest of the program to get the spectators back. After the demonstration, we continued use of the "Pena Beach Range" for both Hawk and AW service practice.

I continued as Try Cdr. until April 1961 at which time I became S3 and Sam Basile was Bn Exec. Ltc Charles W. Reeves became Bn CO in January of that year. 1stLt Edward S. Gregory replaced me as Btry CO. A short time later. Bud Kindick became assistant S3. He did not stay long however since his replacement as Btry, CO did not pan out and Bud went back to the battery for a time. In early 1962 Ltc Jack S. Bailey replaced Ltc Reeves. We then proceeded into a time of hyper activity called the "Cuban Crisis." We put in a lot alert time and the AW units kept going back and forth to their defense positions, loading and unloading their ammunition Jack Bailey and I departed the CZ at about the same time, Mid 1963 He was replaced by Ltc John deCamp and I by Bud Kindick who, by that time had resolved the problems of C Battery and was promoted to Maj. I went to C&GSC and then ARADCOM staff, White Sands, NIKE Bn command, MACV Staff, back to ARADCOM, Safeguard System Development, NORAD staff and retirement. Last saw Jack Bailey at Redstone where he was a Col. assigned to BMDSCOM. During my time, M42's did not tow Hawk equipment. We did not train at Rio Hato but did at one time consider displacement of D. Battery to Rio Hatto by LST. The Cuban Crisis eliminated that exercise. I did displace Battery D on several occasions to keep our mobility capability alive to some extent. I believe Bud Kindick did the same. I did get a lot out of the Panama experience, both professionally and personally. On Jan 17, 1962, I met a lovely Panamanian named Catalina at a birthday party for Bud Kindick's wife Anita. We were married in Panama on May 12 and moved into quarters at Fort Clayton. In June 1963 I sailed on the Cristobal with Catalina and a baby daughter, destination Leavenworth.

This has been long and perhaps, too verbose. However, it was fun to paw through the old papers and bring back old adventures.

Best regards,
Lee Lewis