Lt. Col. John J. McCarthy

(1907 - 1995)

Commander, Red Canyon Range Battalion

1955 - 1959


Photo: Lt. Col. McCarthy realized a dream come true when the first well water flowed at RCRC.






Note: This history, written by the men of his command, was presented to LTC McCarthy at a 1959 dinner party in Carrizozo, NM. The occasion celebrated LTC McCarthy's 4 1/2 years of tireless and outstanding efforts in improving the living conditions at Red Canyon Range Camp. The camp was closed to missile launches immediately afterwards.

"On the 28th day of October 1953, a Nike-Ajax missile soared skyward, gaining momentum with every foot of altitude, suddenly diving and streaking toward and then destroying a tiny target.

This event was the start of many heartaches, headaches, nerve wracking hours of work, good times and a general closeness of the personnel involved. For five years and eight months these missiles continued to be fired and then on 17 June 1959, the last missile was sent skyward. This ended an era which took place at Red Canyon Range Camp located 20 miles west of Carrizozo, New Mexico, on the Northwest corner of the White Sands Missile Range.

It all started back in 1953 when Package one was organized and needed a place to fire. They fired at White Sands Proving Ground which had only meager facilities for firing. A need existed for a range in which to fire Packages and thus Red Canyon was started in the summer of 1953. All summer men were living in pup tents, showering out of barrels and roughing it while the work progressed.

 In October, Package two arrived and fired the first missile. The method of firing was called the "over the shoulder shoot." These missiles never carried any warheads. One problem during these times was the disposal of a training missile. The easiest way was to shoot it. The missile had been torn down and put back together several times and many screws had been stripped. Many fairing plates and tunnels had no screws, and masking tape was applied to hold them on to the missile. When the missile was fired, masking tape, fairing plates, and tunnels showered the air, but the missile continued on down range for a perfect kill.

Red Canyon continued to fire packages, then under the 495th AAA Missile Battalion commanded by Col. Daniel A. O'Connor, until Jan. 1955. In Jan. 1955, Red Canyon got a new mission, to support Annual Service Practice Units. They set up two sites to handle this ARADCOM mission until Jan. 1956, when two more sites were set up for ASP firings. Red Canyon then consisted of four ASP sites and six package sites. In Jan. 1957, two more ASP systems were substituted for package sites due to the increase in Nike sites around the various cities in the United States. On 20 July 1956, Range Operations Battery and the present organization of Red Canyon Range Battalion were set up. From this time on most of the improvements and facilities were established. In Oct. 1955, Lt. Col. John J. McCarthy assumed command of Red Canyon. It was under his tireless efforts that most of the improvements and facilities were accomplished at Red Canyon. As time progressed, a bowling alley, Post Exchange, craft shop, service club, theater, officer's club, NCO club, and latrines with hot water were added.

During this time the favorite phrase was "Nothing is too good for Red Canyon and that's what we get most of."

Of course, all the missile activity stimulated the imagination of the troops. One Wednesday afternoon a homemade missile had been carefully made and erected right below VIP hill. The troopers idea was to fire this missile at the same time as the real missile and no one would be the wiser. During the count down a cease-fire was ordered, but the homemade missile crew did not hear the order and BOOM! Off went the homemade missile soaring just over the heads of the VIPs.1

The brass from Fort Bliss naturally had to have periodic inspections. The inspecting personnel were typical of Fort Bliss, not understanding Red Canyon's problems and mission, came up with some very humorous incidents. On one occasion the inspecting officer checking thru an IFC van came across a dusty chassis. The NCO explained that the chassis had been dusted and cleaned the day before, but high winds had made everything dusty again. The inspecting officer declared that he could determine the difference between new and old dust and that this was certainly old dust. Another time the inspecting officer declared that there were too many rocks in the area after he had tripped and nearly stumbled on one.

ASP and package firings continued until McGregor Range was started. Package 59 was originally scheduled to be first to fire at McGregor, but due to land and congressional difficulties, it had to pack up and come back to RCRC to fire.

In the fall of 1957, a small burro was found near South Wells and was adopted by the men. Post Engineers and a First Sgt. raised the new mascot up to beer drinking age. The little burro was named "Nike" and has become a Red Canyon legend ever since. It seems like Nike loves beer and can cup his tongue to consume every drop in a can. Nike also likes cigarettes and strange as it seems, prefers a lighted cigarette to the unlighted ones. The story goes that after the new chapel had been built that Nike had been braying on the front porch during the Protestant services one Sunday. The minister, after having some difficulty speaking to the congregation said, "Well, at least we have a convert, he used to attend Catholic Mass." On another occasion, one of the ASPs teased Nike just a little too much. Nike knocked him down and sat on him, gently munching on the man's leg.

But Nike's greatest achievement was when he brushed past the inspecting party and barged into the barracks. The surprised and somewhat shocked inspecting officer gasped that hereafter, Nike would be tied up and not precede the inspecting party.

At times RCRC went thru serious personnel shortages which hampered the operation, but the men worked extra hard and RCRC continued to fulfill her mission. One comment during this time was that they "cut" all our personnel and Nike.2

The constant improvement of RCRC continued with new BOQ's and HQ buildings, paving the road (during the winter with summer asphalt) and many other things. With each new project the comment could be heard "When I get this done, that's all."

RCRC had excellent medical and dental facilities. A doctor and dentist would come up each week from Fort Bliss. One doctor seemed to be a jinx because every time he came up to RC something bad would happen. Everything from truck accidents to a man hanging himself.

In the fall of 1957, plans were being drawn up for a chapel. In December 1957, ground was broken and the chapel was started. It was built from volunteer labor and from scrounged materials. The dedication was held Easter Sunday which incidentally took all the glory from St. Michael's Chapel at Fort Bliss. Seems like the papers gave full coverage to the RCRC Chapel and only a minor news item to the Fort Bliss Chapel.

During the summer of 1959, it seemed evident that RCRC would move to McGregor Range. The ASP units were scheduled to fire Hercules missiles after the 1959 summer break. RC had no facilities for Hercules and was built only as a temporary camp. McGregor was built with permanent facilities, and being much closer to Fort Bliss, it was decided to move to McGregor.

As the summer break grew near and work progressed on the move, the personnel grew reluctant to think of leaving RC. It seems RC had become very close to the hearts of most and they dearly hated to leave her. However, on 17 June 1959, the last missile soared skyward and the ranges became quiet and sullen, ending an era that will always warm the hearts of the officers and men of RC."

Footnotes (by JP Moore)

1. In my defense, this homemade rocket launch was sanctioned by the honchos and conducted by SP-3 JP Moore and MSgt. Sidell for the entertainment of the VIPs. A slight "anomaly" at T minus zero seconds (ignition) forced the rocket 90 degrees off course. It did not fly over the VIPs, impacting instead some 100 yards short of them down the side of the hill. A white smoke grenade in the payload section, belching a beautiful contrail of smoke, clearly marked the flight path, probably unnerving the observers as it appeared to zero in on them. It definitely unnerved me. Thus ended my homemade rocket career.

2. Nike was taken to the veterinarian at Ft. Bliss for neutering.