68.

“YOU COULDN’T KEEP HIM IN THAT JOB”

Then, that August, Schriever broke Ed Hall’s heart by taking Minuteman away from him. The project was passing from the conception to the testing and production stage and it was impossible to leave him in charge. The task of managing a program on the huge scale looming ahead for Minuteman was beyond his gifts and prohibited by his personality. As he had with Thor, he would alienate too many people and make a hash of things. “We knew from our previous experience with him,” Terhune, who admired Hall’s fertile mind and aggressiveness, recalled, “that you couldn’t keep him in that job.” As Schriever put it in his comment as indorsing officer on Hall’s last efficiency report under his command: “Col. Hall’s inability to work harmoniously with persons with whom he disagrees seriously impairs his competence in the management area.” Even Sidney Greene, Hall’s friend now working for Jacobson, who had put his own future in peril back at the Wright-Patterson laboratories by shifting the $2 million to Hall for his pioneeering venture to devise the engine that would power Atlas and Thor, felt that Schriever had acted responsibly.

Hall, now intensely embittered toward Bennie, clearly could not remain in Los Angeles. He received orders at the end of August transferring him to Paris to start a project for a new solid-fueled intermediate-range ballistic missile that would be jointly produced by the NATO countries. Despite intra-Allied bickering and rivalry, he succeeded in getting the program started. His efforts eventually saw fulfillment in a French IRBM called the Diamant, but Ed Hall could not see much of a future for himself in the U.S. Air Force. Although he had been promoted to full colonel in February 1957, he was obviously not going to receive a star nor was he likely to get another compelling assignment. Twenty years of service, the minimum for retirement, would come due for him in the fall of 1959. He returned to the United States to exchange his Air Force blue for a business suit that October 31, accepting a job offer as an engineer and assistant to the chief scientist of the United Aircraft Corporation in East Hartford, Connecticut. Schriever saw to it that his achievement was recognized. In January 1960, Hall flew out to Los Angeles for a ceremony to award him his second Legion of Merit. It capped the first he had received as a first lieutenant in England in 1943 for putting B-17s back into the air against Hitler’s Third Reich by inventing special tools to hasten repair of flak-damaged fuselages. Terhune pinned on the medal with an oak leaf cluster, the symbol of a second award. Hall would have spurned it from Schriever.

Bennie put one of his stalwarts from the Schoolhouse Gang, Colonel Otto Glasser, an engineer and nuclear weapons specialist who had been the original program director for Atlas, in charge of Minuteman until the right officer could be found to guide it to fulfillment. (Glasser was yet another of Schriever’s crew to go on to win the three stars of a lieutenant general before his career was over.) Terhune and Jacobson encountered the man they needed during a trip to England in 1959 to assess the deployment of Thor. He was a straight-as-a-pencil young colonel named Samuel Phillips, director of matériel for SAC’s 7th Air Division in Britain, temporarily assigned to help ready Thor installations for turn over to the RAF. He had participated in writing the Thor basing agreement with the British and was to receive a Legion of Merit for his contribution. They were so impressed with him that they looked up his background on return to Los Angeles. Phillips had graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1942 with a degree in electrical engineering and a Regular Army commission he had gained in a special ROTC competition. After flight training, he had done two tours as a fighter pilot in Europe, and twice been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery, along with eight Air Medals and a Croix de Guerre from de Gaulle’s Free French. After the war, he had gone back to school for a master’s in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan, focusing on electronics, and then joined the laboratories at Wright-Patterson for a gamut of assignments, including project officer on the B-52. He arrived in Los Angeles in August 1959 as the new program director for Minuteman and proved to be a superlative manager of large-scale enterprises. He also had plenty of help. Schriever had Ramo assign Mettler to head the Ramo-Wooldridge team that worked with him.

By January 1961, when the time was approaching for the initial test firing at Canaveral, Phillips made up his mind to do something unprecedented for an opening launch. They would test the entire rocket—all three stages, the inertial guidance, a dummy warhead inside the ablative reentry vehicle—everything that would be on a deployed Minuteman except a real hydrogen bomb. General White had asked Schriever to trim a year off the deployment time and to field the first Minutemen in the fall of 1962, rather than in 1963 as earlier anticipated. There was no time to meet that deadline and follow the normal procedure of successive flight tests for individual components of the rocket. And so Phillips, who had confidence in the missile, decided on a gamble. He would risk what is called in the rocket trade an “all up” launch, never before attempted on a first try. Schriever agreed to the gamble, because there was no choice if they were to meet White’s wishes, but not without considerable trepidation. If the missile failed, it was going to be a well-publicized fiasco. With Air Force permission about 150 reporters and television cameramen assembled at Canaveral on the morning of Wednesday, February 1, 1961, a fine clear day in Florida, to cover the event.

Ed Hall’s rocket proved itself worthy of Phillips’s confidence. At 11:00 A.M. the first Minuteman to fly lifted from its pad and rose, accelerating ever faster. At 65,000 feet the streak of flame and a long column of white smoke from the first-stage booster engine could still be seen, the missile now hurtling along at thousands of miles an hour. The countdown announcer in the blockhouse was calling off the telemetry readings the instruments in the missile were transmitting back:

“First stage burnout.

“Second stage ignition.

“Second stage burnout.

“Third stage ignition.”

The range safety officer in the separate Central Control bunker announced over the circuit that his instruments showed the guidance system had released the warhead on a bull’s-eye course for the center of the ring of hydrophones off Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. At that moment, a phone in the blockhouse rang. It was Schriever, who had been listening to all of this over a special communications hookup, calling from Washington to congratulate Phillips. The next day in East Hartford, Ed Hall received a telegram from Major John Hinds, a public affairs officer with the Ballistic Missile Division who had taken a particular interest in Minuteman from the time Hall’s work had become general knowledge within the command. “Congratulations on fathering the most significant single missile and space event of the decade,” the telegram said. “I thought of you as your brain child roared to life at Cape Canaveral.” Phillips’s reward was the star of a brigadier, the youngest general in the armed forces at forty years of age. He was subsequently loaned to NASA to run the Apollo program, which put astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on the moon on July 20, 1969, and then took on a series of senior Air Force commands, including the Space and Missile Systems Organization in Los Angeles, a later successor to Schriever’s original WDD, which were to bring him the four stars of a full general.

Yet nothing that Ed Hall and Sam Phillips had ever done or would ever do would be more important than bringing Minuteman into existence. Schriever and his comrades had reversed the missile gap in favor of the United States with Atlas and Titan. The creation of Minuteman now put the United States so far ahead in the strategic missile competition that the Soviet Union was confronted not with a gap but with a chasm. Not until five years later, in 1966, did the Soviets acquire their first solid-fueled ICBM, designated SS-11 by NATO. By then the United States had 800 Minutemen waiting in silos in the Western and Midwestern states and the total would rise to 1,000 in April 1967 after 200 Minuteman II missiles, a larger and improved version that carried a still bigger warhead, were added to the force. Shortly after that first successful launch at Cape Canaveral on February 1, 1961, LeMay and Tommy Power at SAC proposed that the United States build and deploy 8,000 Minutemen. Robert McNamara, secretary of defense in the new administration of John Kennedy, who had assumed the presidency in January, decided that 1,000 was enough.

The advent of Minuteman put an end to the fear of a nuclear Pearl Harbor that had haunted Eisenhower. The Air Force organized the Minutemen into wings of 150 missiles, each wing composed of three squadrons of fifty, with five flights of ten comprising a squadron. Every flight was under a separate control center, housed in steel and concrete capsules placed well underground, with entry and exit through equally sturdy concrete shafts, and manned by two launch officers. Sufficient redundancy was built into the communications system so that if incoming Soviet missiles damaged it, any one of the control centers could fire all fifty Minutemen in the squadron. In practice it took more than a minute for the launch control officers to fire Minuteman. They needed two to three minutes. They had to verify the coded go command before each inserted a separate key into one of the two locks on the launch sequence control computer. Then they simultaneously turned the keys and in sixty seconds the missiles were gone. With the radar and other alert systems the United States possessed in 1961, and was to elaborate extensively in the years to come, this was certainly fast enough for hundreds of Minutemen to fly out of their silos before the Soviet missiles struck. And even if by some miracle the Soviets managed to hit first with everything they had, there would still be plenty of Minutemen intact in their steel and concrete shelters to doom Russia. No Soviet statesman with a vestige of sanity could risk a surprise attack.

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