Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Robert Raichle, Part 2

This is a continuation of an interview with Robert "Bob" Raichle on September 14, 2015 by Leslie McCartney in the offices of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council (PWSRCAC) in Anchorage, Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Bob talks about impact of the Nike sites on the local community, realizing the significance of working with nuclear warheads, how working at the Nike site was a positive experience, and learning teamwork and leadership skills and applying this to his future career.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2014-18-11_PT.2

Project: Cold War in Alaska: Nike Missile Sites
Date of Interview: Sep 14, 2015
Narrator(s): Robert "Bob" Raichle
Interviewer(s): Leslie McCartney
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Historical Commission, Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Impact of Nike site on local community

Adapting to the seasons and weather in Alaska

Learning about teamwork and leadership from Nike job

Development of future career

Realization of significance of Nike experience

Old Nike missiles and site restoration

Differences between Alaska and Lower 48 Nike sites

Becoming a site evaluator

Positive experience of being at a Nike site

Maintaining classified information

Mission of air defense and types of weaponry and technology

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LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And we’re back, Bob. Thank you very much.

What about talking about -- a little bit about the overall impact of the Nike sites or the engagement with the larger community. Between the Nike site people and the community of Fairbanks, for example?

BOB RAICHLE: Okay, well, we briefly discussed the impact of the sites on the -- on the flood in 1967, which was fairly significant.

Not only did our battery, but other batteries, helped in putting up people during the flood, but also in the reconstruction later.

And just moving things around during the flood. So that -- that was a big help.

I think the biggest impact, other than obviously blunting the Soviet air threat and -- and keeping the Soviets out of Alaska, the biggest impact was the fact that over a period of years we probably put a 1000, maybe 1200 people through all the Nike sites in Alaska, including our battery.

And those people, some went on to live in the local communities. Stayed because they liked the lifestyle in Alaska. Some went on and came back. Some didn’t come back at all because they prefer not to be there.

But significant economic impact on the -- on the local community with food and other things. Food, gas, housing.

But just the fact that people got to see what Alaska was all about and was able to relate to that and maybe improve that over the years by staying there and living there and having an active role.

So I think it was more than just a defensive missile site that was involved. It was an overall impact on the whole community that you can look back to and point to.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. And anybody coming up who was, you know, young and in their 20’s and loved the outdoors. BOB RAICHLE: Correct.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: What a wonderful opportunity. BOB RAICHLE: Correct. Absolutely.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Yeah. How did you find the bugs in the summer?

BOB RAICHLE: Well, they were big. Of course, the mosquitoes were the biggest threat other than the other animals.

But, I would just use the biggest and best bug spray I could find and sprayed myself thoroughly before I went into the woods and that usually got it done, so --

But, yes, that obviously a threat to mankind when you don’t have that kind of protection, so --

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And how did you find the winters? Other than being --

BOB RAICHLE: Something that I could do nothing about, therefore I adjusted to it. It was kind of like my attitude when I was at the battery.

I knew it was going to be cold. I knew there was going to be snow. I knew it was going to be icy. I knew I had to get the window shields. What do you call those things? Ice shields? LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Ice shields.

BOB RAICHLE: Yeah. And I knew that I need to get the plug for my engine, which I did. I knew I had to get snow tires, which I did. I mean other than putting up with it, what else can you do, so -- ?

You know, you just kind of adjust to the environment and -- and deal with it and enjoy it when you can.

If it gets 50 or 60 below, which it did in Fairbanks, it's a little bit tougher. The wheels are frozen when you begin in the morning and so forth because of the condensation at the bottom of the tires, but it's just something you deal with and -- and hopefully can enjoy.

And once you get out during the winter, properly clothed with layers and everything, you can enjoy it. You actually can. It's a beautiful spot to spend summer or winter, so --

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Did the Army have good clothing that you were assigned?

BOB RAICHLE: They did. They -- they issued the parkas, the pile caps, the gloves with the fur on the back. We called them Bunny Boots, the white vapor barrier boots.

I knew I -- once had to fly from Fairbanks to New Jersey on a military plane, so I had to take all my equipment in case the plane crashed. And I arrived in New Jersey looking like a space alien with all my equipment coming off the plane, 'cause it was like 80 degrees at that point in New Jersey, so --

But that's -- that was part of the deal and you just deal with it, so --

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: That’s right. Very good. Let’s just talk a little bit about the overall impact of working at a Nike site on your overall -- your later career. Yourself. Was it a positive experience?

BOB RAICHLE: Yeah, I would say at -- at my point of life, 23 year-old, you know, young kid, it was very influential. It was -- it was leaders of the university really.

As I said earlier, you'd learn about teamwork and how to build teams, how to reward team members. You learn what works, what doesn’t work.

You learn about how to lead, when to be tough, when not to be tough.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Was this just learning by observation or were you actually put through training to learn?

BOB RAICHLE: No, it was by observation and seeing what worked and what didn’t work on your own and with others.

Again, in the military there're very strict rules. Some of the commanders I saw followed the rules to the tee.

However, in the situation we were in, which was not a typical military situation, we were isolated. We were living together for -- in some cases years on end.

I thought a little bit of leeway should be allowed, so I personally allowed it.

Some of the commanders that I knew and that over the time I reported to didn’t think that should happen.

And it was just not a typical military situation where I felt the military culture should apply. So I took some liberties there. And I think was rewarded for it by the teams that, you know, I supported.

They saw that I was trying to make their life a little bit easier, so they made my life easier when I was in the evaluation chair at the time of evaluation.

So it was a very important thing for forming, for me, the basis of my understanding and criteria for how I led organizations and dealt with people and so forth.

And from there, after seeing the benefits of a successful team and how teamwork works, I was able to build more successful teams in terms of businesses later I was involved in.

And the same principle has worked. I mean, you know, people wanted to be respected and -- and were willing to work as a team. And if you didn’t respect their abilities or were disrespectful of them as individuals, it wasn’t much of a team and the results were not there.

So I used those experiences and still use those experiences in many cases currently as I build teams and in businesses that I work with in trying to build teams.

I can go into a business now as a consultant and very quickly because of my experience determine if they have an effective team or not and typically rout out why it is not effective and fix it.

And sometimes that means moving people out of the organization or just very simply having stronger leadership at the top or some combination of the two.

But I learned all that in the Army, and it wasn’t a formal training program. I just learned it, you know, being in that kind of a situation as a young guy. So I thought very important.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: You said you're a consultant now. What did you do then when you left the military? You said for various reasons you decided not to follow that career?

BOB RAICHLE: Right. I pursued what it would -- what a military career might look like and I was told that I was basically on a fast track.

Given my success at the Nike site, I was on a fast track and, you know, would be a captain and a major very quickly.

And I would go, you know, have my own command and so forth. And my major question was, "Where? Is there a jungle involved?"

And I was told that, yeah, there would probably be a jungle involved. Not that I was, you know, fearful of that. I just felt I had better things to do with my life than have a military career.

So I opted not to pursue a military career.

And I might say at that point was pretty much shunned by the military. I spent a lot of weekends inventorying PX’s at remote sites because of that, believe it or not.

But because of that, decided to leave, and in the spring of ’68 left Alaska, went down to Fort Lewis, Washington where I was processed out of -- out of the military.

Thankful for two years of, you know, being put into the situations and experiences I was put into. Learning a lot from them, but nevertheless glad to be out of the army.

From there, I had applied to graduate school. Went and got a MBA at a -- at a pretty good business school in the Midwest. And from there went into a business career using all the tools that I had learned in the army and, of course, in business school, as well, so --

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So it was really the foundation for your career?

BOB RAICHLE: It really was. It really was.

And I should also say at this point, you know, I -- maybe I'm taking too much credit, but my whole Alaska relationship started with my father, believe it or not, who worked for Western Electric which was the manufacturing arm of AT&T.

AT&T was the prime contractor on the Nike Missile Site, but they also were the prime contractor on the DEW Line which had almost hundreds of -- a hundred radar sites across Alaska and Canada.

And spent two or three trips up here. Didn’t really relate to that until I got into the army and was sent to Alaska and then understood how the DEW Line and the Nike sites worked together along with the Air Force and everybody else.

So I sat back and one day said, "Boy, that’s kind of neat how, you know, generationally we went from him to me."

So, you know, it really kind of wrapped up the whole military and Nike experience for me. And today, I pursue that experience by visiting Nike sites when I can, talking to Nike veterans when I can, either individually or through reunions.

I'm trying to help the Nike site in -- in -- in Anchorage get an actual missile for display and -- and other things.

I visit Nike sites whenever I can, where they still exist around the country. I write about Nike Missile Sites. And so effectively one about the -- the defense of Alaska using Nike missiles.

So, you know, it's kind of a hobby, but I enjoy kind of wrapping it up. And as I do that, I learn more about the role and the mission and who accomplished it and who was involved and what it took to get done.

It's really quite a -- quite a story when you stand back and wrap it altogether.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And then you can relate it back to being very reflective about your own personal experiences. BOB RAICHLE: Correct.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And how -- how that can take on more meaning as like you said, you were 23. BOB RAICHLE: Right.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: You didn’t realize the importance and significance of this.

BOB RAICHLE: You know, I'm realizing the significance of -- Oh, I knew I had nuclear weapons, but I didn’t know the magnitude.

And, you know, the weapons we had were each one was like three or four times the power of Hiroshima, for example. With that, I can relate to that.

We had a surface to surface mission. And the reason we had that, in thinking about it and researching it, was because if the Russians ever invaded for some reason, Alaska or any other place, you know, we would want to have the ability to nuke them with our surface to surface missiles.

What I didn’t realize until I discovered it doing some research, was that our last mission as, you know, Echo Battery at Site Love north of Anchorage -- north of Fairbanks rather, is, if for some reason, the Russians did -- were successful in coming here and we still survived that initial onslaught our final mission was to drop missiles -- surface to surface nuclear missiles on Fort Wainwright, Eielson Air Force Base, the airport at Fairbanks.

And the Anchorage batteries had the same mission. And then get the heck out of there, so -- If you wanted to. So, I don’t know what would be left at that point, so --

So, all of these things I’m learning. I also learned that there was a high ranking military official who was recruited as a spy for -- for Russia and delivered quite a bit of the Nike systems to them.

I had a warrant officer, a good friend of mine, who was over in Italy and -- and took a side trip to Russia and in the library found full schematics of the Nike Hercules Missile System which were classified secret at the time.

So all these, you know, discoveries I make along the way kind of tie everything together for me.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. Have you been going to the Nike reunions too, then?

BOB RAICHLE: I've been to a couple of them. I missed a couple. And it depends when they are. And when my activities will allow me, that’s when I go.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. You were saying you were trying to get an old nuclear warhead missile -- or a nuclear missile for Anchorage.

BOB RAICHLE: Just -- just the missile, not the warhead.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Just the miss –- not the nuclear part. Just the missile. So they still exist somewhere?

BOB RAICHLE: They do. The question is where are they? LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Okay.

BOB RAICHLE: My experience is there're still quite a few in storage over in Europe. That’s a place to look.

There are various Army storage depots around. Pueblo, Colorado is one where quite a few have come out of, as well as radars and other things.

Some are out in front of city halls, you know. So you back up with a truck at midnight and make it disappear. There are a few around still, so --

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So when they abandoned the project here, closed the project down, a lot of these missiles went to Europe?

BOB RAICHLE: A lot of them went back to the manufacturer to be updated and refitted. And then Europe and Southeast Asia. Asia, in general. Korea, Taiwan.

A lot of the Asian countries had systems. In fact, operating until like the late, mid to late 90’s.

So, and in Europe, the Italian Army, for example, took over the US Forces and their equipment. So they were around the world quite significantly.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. So they are -- they are still around. You were saying when we were having lunch that just outside of San Francisco there's actually a Nike site that’s a heritage -- Do you want to talk about that a little?

BOB RAICHLE: Yes, it's called San Francisco Site 88. It was one of about a dozen that were around the San Francisco area.

It has been completely restored in terms of the launch area. They had to pump out one of the magazines as they call them -- underground magazines. And they, in fact, acquired a number of missiles.

So now it's fully stocked with missiles. Everything works on it. They can bring a missile up on the elevator, raise the elevator and almost -- almost fire if they want to.

Of course, there's no -- no rocket fuel in the missiles. The fire control area, unfortunately, they could not salvage so they have equipment from it right next to the launcher and they can demonstrate that. So it's -- it's -- it's not a working system, but it can be very close to one.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So have most of the Nike Hercules sites then, after they closed were they basically destroyed?

]BOB RAICHLE: They were either plowed under or converted for use as storage areas or demolition storage.

In some cases -- in all cases, the undergrounds were filled in and equipment just removed so that unless you knew what you were looking for you couldn’t find that was a site, so --

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: 'Cause Alaska was different wasn’t it? The -- the -- the missiles were above ground whereas --

BOB RAICHLE: Above ground because of the -- LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Because the cold whereas --

BOB RAICHLE: Well, because it was tough to dig into the ground. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Okay. BOB RAICHLE: So.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: But in the Lower 48 most of them were underground? BOB RAICHLE: Correct. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Okay. BOB RAICHLE: I think all of them were underground.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So, no real above ground stall?

BOB RAICHLE: And in Europe and in Southeast Asia where they were actually in barns. And they would roll them out of the barns. Yeah.

So all of the -- all of the sites in the continental United States, except for this one and one or two others, I think, which are being restored, have been completely obliterated or almost completely obliterated, so --

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: So in going and meeting people who worked at Nike sites, are you learning more about the various roles and responsibilities that other people had that you really -- BOB RAICHLE: Yes.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: -- didn’t -- they were just sort of out there, but you didn’t really know what they -- what their small part of the puzzle was?

BOB RAICHLE: I pretty much -- As battery commander, I pretty much knew what everybody’s role was and what they had to do.

You really kind of had to know that to be a qualified control officer and to be the actual person that pushes the button, because you never knew what questions were going to come up, what was going to happen, you know.

Anywhere that, you know, the evaluator could go up and pull the plug on one of your radars and say, "Okay what do you do now?" Or they would say, "Okay, that missile all of a sudden doesn’t work. What are you going to do now?" Or "something just exploded, you know, what do you do now?"

All kinds of, you know, stress type situations like that. You can’t train for all of them, but you can train for most of them.

But in talking to people, most of the responsibilities were the same, you know. There are some -- subtle differences like underground versus above ground. All the missiles were the same. Some didn’t have all -- as powerful nuclear warheads as we did. They had smaller.

Some didn’t have any, believe it or not. It depended on the tactical situation.

It's interesting to talk to people in some of the larger cities to see where they -- how close they were to the city itself.

As I said, one was in downtown Chicago, believe it or not. Right by the aquarium as I recall.

So people didn’t realize that there were nuclear warheads there. So it's just interesting to talk about the -- you know, the minor differences and how they prepared and how they executed and so forth so.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: You mentioned differences between being underground and above ground. Did you mean the actual launches or working underground or -- ?

BOB RAICHLE: The missiles were stored underground and brought to the surface for launch, yes.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Right. Yeah. Did you ever -- Yeah, this was the only bat -- this is the only Nike site that you were at, because you only had a two year career?

BOB RAICHLE: That I was actively involved in. I had been to others to eval -- to do evaluations and so forth, so --

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Okay. So you had seen the ones underground then? BOB RAICHLE: Yeah. Yes. Yes.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Okay. So you then became the evaluator? BOB RAICHLE: Uh-huh. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Okay.

BOB RAICHLE: From time to time. It was not a -- a constant job. But from time to time, I was asked to go along.

Again, because I was experienced and I pretty much knew, you know, what screwed things up. So I was asked to go in and screw them up and see what happened, so --

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Very good. So your -- you’ve -- you've really succinctly talked about how the army experience impacted the rest of your business career. BOB RAICHLE: Yes.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: And that's a really positive.

BOB RAICHLE: It is. And I think -- I think most people who are in the army, especially in the Nike part of the army, felt the same way. I think they felt that it was a very good experience for them.

Most of them came in as young kids, left as young men, you know, with having seen significant responsibility that they could get at their age. They leave --

I think went on to be very productive people. Some had bitter experiences, not a good experience, for whatever reason so they were not as fortunate.

But I think, overall, especially from the Nike people I've seen and talked to and know, they've had good careers either in the army afterwards or as civilians, so --

I've a very good friend that ran a site back in New York City and he's long retired now, but he had an army career that was fairly beneficial and he feels it benefitted him.

Every time I attend a reunion or something, I send him the materials and he appreciates that, so --

But it's -- it's a story, I think, that really hasn’t been told properly. And through these restored sites and through these interviews and through other media, we can -- we can get the word out so people can really appreciate what these thousands and thousands of young men did over a period of 20, 25, 30 years in defense of the United States from a threat that was constantly there.

The Russians -- the Soviets knew what they were getting into, so they never came. And I think that’s -- that’s a tribute to the young men.

I don’t think there were any young women at the time, but the young men who were at these sites and who, you know, went through all kinds of grief and probably morale problems and --

But they did their job and they accomplished their mission because nothing happened.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Well, and maybe the story's never been told because probably as a battery commander were you even allowed to tell people what you did?

BOB RAICHLE: I was allowed to tell people to a certain extent. The fact that we had nuclear missiles -- nuclear warheads on site was classified for a long period afterwards.

All of the -- all of the technical capabilities of the sites were classified for a long period afterward, because they were still being used in other countries, for the defense of other countries, so they wanted to keep that as classified as they could.

Just in the last 15 or 20 years has it really become unclassified, although there are still certainly aspects of the radars and the warheads and so forth that remain classified for obvious reasons.

It's interesting the -- I mentioned the ballistic missile capability we had to shoot them down. A large part of that came from Area 51 that -- The area that did not exist, does not exist in Nevada.

That’s where a lot of these radar capabilities for the incoming ballistic missiles for the Nike sites were developed. And secretly moved from there to the actual sites. Our site in Alaska being one of them to receive it, so --

And that’s just a tidbit of information I learned just doing research here and there, so --

But, you know, it makes -- makes life interesting knowing that some of those things actually happened. But they never happened, so -- From a place that never existed, so --

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Well, Bob, is there anything that we haven’t covered that you think is important to capture?

BOB RAICHLE: No, that was pretty much it. It was an interesting two years for me.

It could have been more interesting had I decided to stay in because the technology and everything went through an interesting period of development from development to non-development, I feel, because of various treaties with the Soviet Union.

A lot of my peers went to Vietnam, not so much in an air defense role, but in a role where they used some of the older air defense weapons for ground support operations.

There was a missile called the Hawk Missile, which I think is still in use which was -- they had a number of batteries over in Vietnam defending Da Nang and Cam Ranh Bay and some of the -- the -- the airfields over there which came under some enemy fire, but not much.

So, you know, air defense as a separate branch was -- was learning -- earning its spurs, if you will, growing up. And I think Nike Hercules had a lot to do with that, with putting it on the map.

Again, I think it's a story that should be told. I've often toyed with writing a fictional account if it's -- maybe saw it as a screen play or something and get in the movies. But that’s a -- that's a long lost dream, I think.

But it's -- it's something, because, as I say, thousands of people went through it, worked very hard and very diligent. You know, suffered because of it, hardship just because of it.

And the result was nothing happened. But that was what they were trying to achieve, so that's -- that was success.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Mission accomplished.

BOB RAICHLE: Mission accomplished, exactly. That’s what -- exactly what I say at the end of my article. Thank you for saying that.

But it was an important role during the Cold War. It was an important role in the defense of Alaska and in defense of the continental United States.

And without that and the other roles played by all the other branches of service and all the other airmen and radar people and people at the DEW Line and everywhere around the -- around the world, you know, kept the country safe and that’s important, so --

We're dealing with similar strategies and -- and -- and threats today from different locations. I'm convinced that a properly tuned and structured Nike Hercules site can take out any incoming threat right now.

But, you know, we have to have more sophisticated weapons, I guess, so -- So I -- I think it's something -- it’s a threat that never goes away, something we always have to be aware of and be ready to counter it.

We did our part, you know, over the last Cold War period. Now maybe a new one starting. I don’t know, but we should be prepared to do it again.

LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Well, thank you very much, Bob. It's been a very enjoyable afternoon.


BOB RAICHLE: I enjoyed relating it. LESLIE MCCARTNEY: Great. Thanks.