The news today is that for almost thirty minutes the residents and tourists of Hawaii thought that a nuclear ballistic missile was entering Hawaii airspace.
Hmm, lots of tangents here. Thank God it was a mistake, part of a drill, although the message sent out stated that it was not a drill. The talking heads on TV have been all over the map, telling stories of people huddling in their garage, shaking in fear. What would you do? How can you know unless you were there?
Fortunately, or unfortunately, I do know what I would do. It happened to me.
I was in a concrete bunker on the DMZ in South Korea. Not near Seoul, but way off in the east, near Chunchon. I was manning the communications as trick chief in the wee hours of the morning. It was somewhere in the middle of January 1973.
Trick chief was not a big deal. The man with the most seniority and rank was in charge, and that was me. All I had to do was to check the incoming messages, check the security code, and process the messages in time depending upon the security codes.
By “processing”, it meant getting the message to the proper folks within a specific time. The message itself printed out the actual addresses before it actually got to the message. I was trained to install & repair the “hot-line” phone that the president would use, I wasn’t really trained on “processing messages”, but it seemed simple enough.
I had every clearance that the military issued, so it was okay for me to have eyes on paper. There was “no clearance”, then “secret clearance”, then “top secret”, and finally “top secret crypto” clearance. I was trained that was all there was.
When I was briefly trained as trick chief, I was told there was one more, “Red Rocket Flash”. It seemed to me that it was a made-up local designation, but everyone was serious about it. The other security codes had various processing times required. Red Rocket Flash was on the order of WWWIII, and had to be processed in one minute.
Actually, when I was trained, he said that “Red Rocket Flash” has always had “This is a Test”, because otherwise, it was North Koreans were about five minutes away.
Five minutes? Well, we had nuclear tipped missiles with about a 50 mile range, with the wind at the missiles back. The warhead had about a 50 mile blast radius. So technically we were at the edge of a nuclear winter if we launched. We prayed for a good wind.
Of course we never would launch first. We would wait to be told with a “Red Rocket Flash” message that stuff was happening.
That night in January I got a Red Rocket Flash message, and the first thing it said was, “This is not a test!”. Umm, a cold chill went down my spine. I immediately alerted the officer in charge, and then waited for the message.
The problem was that the five letter address code for the receiving posts was still printing out. Thousands of addresses were being printed, and that took almost 30 minutes. Every couple of minutes I had to tell the commanding officer that it was “Red Rocket Flash” but I didn’t know what the message was.
Meanwhile, everyone grabbed weapons, the armory was emptied, the missiles were rolled out, fingers on all the triggers. Every eye was turned to the north, waiting to see hordes of padded jackets flowing over the border.
For thirty minutes we pondered the end of our normal lives. What did we do? Ha! We did our jobs. What did we think? Now that’s a different thing. We thought everything, and 45 five years later I still remember thinking those things.
So the talking heads have talked about the psychological damage to those people in Hawaii. Normally I kinda go to “snowflake” statements. Umm, I can’t go there, my personal experience is that this will be remembered.
What was the Red Rocket Flash message? The Vietnam War was officially over.
There will be 1.3 million in Hawaii that will remember this day, what they did. And what they thought.