On watch: Merle Rhodes was part of missile defense

May 5, 2015

Ellwood City Ledger:

ELLWOOD CITY — Merle Rhodes, 70, from Ellwood City, said his time in the Army was uneventful, but he spent a lot of time on alert with the Hawk missiles while in then-West Germany near the Czech Republic border.

For 10 months, Rhodes was stationed at the Hohenfels Training Area, less than 60 miles from the Czech border, and alerts would be triggered by Russian planes that would fly on the border in a zig-zag pattern.

“The Russians messed with us. They would fly on the border, triggering an alert. When the alert sounded, we never knew what was happening, so we had to get the missiles ready to fire,” Rhodes said.

The Hawk (Homing All the Way Killer) Missile is a medium-range surface-to-air missile guided by radar that locks it onto its target.

“The Hawk missile is also called that because it gets above its prey and then swoops down,” Rhodes said.

While in Germany, Rhodes saw a lot of the countryside and toured castles and other points of interest.

Rhodes enlisted in the Army and spent one year training as a mechanic for wheeled vehicles. While he was serving, he received his induction notice. After basic training, Rhodes went to Aberdeen, Md., and to Fort Benning, Ga., for more training. He also went to dive school.

“The first time I was ever on a plane, I jumped out. I did ten dives,” Rhodes said.

“After one year, I re-enlisted to get more education. I wanted to be trained in missiles, launch crew, maintenance and preparation, which is to arm them ready to fire,” Rhodes said.

After six months of training at Fort Bliss, Texas, Rhodes served with the Nike Air Defense in Hazlet, New Jersey, which had a Nike Hercules missile facility for defense of the New York and Philadelphia areas. Nikes were surface-to-air missiles for medium- to long-range high-altitude air defense…

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