BLOWING OUT THE CANDLES AT RCRC
David Bohl was a medic assigned to RCRC after the missile launches ended and the troops went home to Ft. Bliss. He and a small skeleton crew remained for more than a year to remove all temporary structures and return the camp to its original desert state. The only building standing when they left was the chapel, which mysteriously disappeared sometime later. ClickHERE for more info on that event.
While it closed for missile firing in 1959, the actual camp did not close until about November 1960. I was sent to Red Canyon from Ft. Bliss in August 1959. There were three medics, Raymond Mays, Dale Whaley and I and about 50 enlisted engineers in the house keeping party. MSgt. Sidell was the Camp Commander during this time until the actual closing. Camp mascot Nike the burro was still there. He had a habit of eating cigarettes. If you left a carton on a desk or bunk they were guaranteed to be gone if Nike came by. Nike eventually left RCRC to live out his life with one of our retired Sergeants on a ranch up by Ruidoso.
Buildings had a history of disappearing during the closing of the camp. Many of the down range Quonset huts and butler buildings would disappear between inspection trips. I am sure the local ranchers made good use out of many of them. The site now is overrun with African Oryx (Gemsbok). That is a big difference from the Mule Deer that we hunted on the camp while it was open.
For an eighteen-year-old, Red Canyon was about the best duty a person in the military could ask for in 1959. We were isolated, fifty three enlisted men with no officers, officially we had no messhall so we received separate rations, which was a big pay boost. For a short time we had a tiny PX which mainly sold beer and cigarettes. Commissary runs were made to Holloman Air Force base near Alamogordo.
Ammunition was still shipped to us on a regular cycle, so we had all the free weapons and ammunition for hunting we wanted. Game was cooked in the "closed" messhall. Most meals were eaten at the Village Inn restaurant (not the chain) in Carrizozo or consumed in the Cactus or Nike bar.
As absolutely nobody would drive out from Ft. Bliss, uniforms were very lax, but kept handy in case someone flew up in a plane. If they flew up, they would buzz the camp and someone would go pick them up from the landing strip and the rest of the camp would put on their uniforms. Sick call consisted primarily of hangovers or bruises from fights but on occasion someone would get injured actually working or attempting to ride Nike while drunk. The severely sick or injured would be transported to the Air Force hospital. Most minor wounds and illnesses would be handled on the spot.
House keeping consisted mainly of driving around down range, finding old solid rocket fuel and firing it in 55 gallon barrels. We would also explore old mine shafts and drive the back roads over to Trinity Site. It is a miracle we all didn't die of radiation poisoning! Of course, every time it rained, rattlesnakes would wash out of the hillside and be around the entrances to the buildings that were being used.
After I married and moved into town across from the Cactus bar, life became even more casual. The ambulance was my transportation back and forth to camp. Many days I picked up the mail from the post office in the morning and dropped it off at the post office in the afternoon.
A group of guys rented a small house in town so they would not have to drive back and forth after drinking and it virtually turned into a GI flophouse. I would drive by the house each morning and take a load of GI's back to camp in the ambulance. Of course, if it rained or snowed highway 380 was closed so we just stayed in town all day. Highway 380 was very narrow, winding and ran through the lava beds so any bad weather at all would close the highway. Rain invariably would run off so hard that the dips in the road would flood and cut the highway.
Raymond Mays left first, and then Dale Whaley got discharged, leaving me as the only medic.
The end came when a one star general flew out from Ft. Bliss to inspect the camp. He asked what was in a locked Quonset hut and nobody knew. In fact, nobody had the keys to the building. They broke off the lock and inside were rack after rack of M-1 rifles, none of them on any inventory records. Shortly thereafter everything was sold as salvage. I still have a tap and die set that I bought and one of my brothers-in-law (Joe Herrera) still uses pans and stuff from the messhall when butchering cattle and game. Joe and Ida ran Carrizozo's Village Inn restaurant which was owned by my father-in-law Leandro Vega. Leandro also owned a feed store, lumber yard and grocery store at that time. When I drove the ambulance down to Ft. Bliss to turn it in they had no record of it at all and did not want to take it.
Then the Berlin Wall went up and the Hawk unit I was re-assigned to shipped out to Wuerzburg, Germany and I was back in the "real Army."