Friday, March 12, 2010

Calling All Clarksville Base Marines and Sailors for a Walk Down Memory Lane!

From In the Garden

Hello and welcome! Today's post is going to take you down memory lane if you were one of the elite few who were stationed at the TOP SECRET Clarksville Base in the 1950s-1960s. Now sit back and reminisce...


From In the Garden


"From 1952 to 1969 hundreds of young men stood in "pillboxes"--concrete style bunkers with nothing but a slit opening to peer through or to fire a weapon--to keep strangers out of the classified area in the woods of Fort Campbell." [Source: AP-Military Forum]

This year marks a big milestone in the history of Clarksville Base. There will be two-count them-
two reunions here in Tennessee that involve Clarksville Base. The first reunion is scheduled for April 22-24, 2010 right here in Clarksville. The Birdcage Marine planners have all sorts of fun things in store for participants. Check out their link for more information.


The Marines provided the protective force for Clarksville Base during its heyday-days when nuclear weapons were stored there.


From In the Garden
The second reunion is scheduled for Sunday October 10th through Friday October 15th 2010 in Nashville. This reunion is sponsored by the Navy Nuclear Weapons Association and involves all members of that esteemed association, not just Clarksville Base alumni. Check out their link for more information.


The Navy nuclear specialists handled the actual nuclear weapons.


How do I know this information and why am I publishing it here? The main reason is that of late there has been tons of interest in my post titled "Clarksville Base Trail". Many folks come to this post when they Google this wonderful natural area. It is an area near and dear to my heart since I used to work at Clarksville Base. Even though I no longer serve there, I walk the 4.5 mile trail weekly-this is truly what is near and dear to my heart. The nature trail (as I see it) holds special memories for me mainly due to its peace and close ties with the native flora and fauna. Wild turkeys, deer, many birds, squirrels, river otters, beavers, and ground hogs make their home in this wooded area. In addition to the native fauna, there are tons of wildflowers growing all along the road and through the woods. This area is truly a gem for us here at Fort Campbell.



From In the Garden


"At our 2005 Clarksville Base Reunion, the Fort Campbell Museum Curator told us that newly available Russian documents indicate Clarksville Base was actually #3 on the USSR ICBM target list." [Source: Droppings, Issue Fall 2009]

This base is eligible to be designated a historic site on the National Register. Its intensely secretive reputation during the Cold War and even after have led to many stories, legends and lore surrounding it. It is called The Bird Cage because of the two sets of very high chain link fencing that surround the area. The interior set was electrified during the base's use as a nuclear weapon storage facility.


Between 1967 and 1969 at least one Clarksville Base trainee electrocuted himself at the high-voltage while going AWOL. [Source: Atomic Traveler] Check this link for more interesting and little known information about Clarksville Base.

The area also holds special memories for the alumni. One member contacted me recently to share his special memories from the early 1960s. I'm looking forward to meeting him when he comes down for the reunion and I just might take him for a hike along the trail. A battle of Army versus Sailors? We shall see!:) His name is Doug Rogers and some of you out there may know him. If so and you'd like to contact him, either email me or leave a comment here for him. So without further ado, here is a story from Doug in his own words about a not so happy thing that happened at Clarksville Base:


This incident took place perhaps in the spring or fall of 1960 or the spring of 1961, most likely 1960. The weather was cool, damp, and overcast. Place of incident was Marine Corps guard house near the main gate and the fire station.

I had departed the Administrative Building, #106 in the US Mail truck, sometime around 0800 hours (it was at the time for the change of the guard, whatever time that may have been) and was on my way to Fort Campbell Post Office and The Post Locator. I was, at that time, the Navy base postal clerk (PCSN, E-3).

As I began the approach to the main gate, some seventy five yards or so, I noticed a line of Marines being inspected for the morning change of guard. They were lined up along the guard house, which is directly across from the fires station, an officer was inspecting each Marine. Some had service 45 cal. handguns, others with M1s. As the inspecting officer stood in front of each Marine, made visual uniform inspection, then received the weapon, inspected it and returned the piece to the Marine, and then stepped up to the next Marine. I was finding it interesting to watch this very smart inspection as we Navy (at Clarksville Base) were operating much like a Club Med business. Life at The Bird Cage for the Marines was, to say the least, an unhappy military experience.

As the inspecting officer moved to the next Marine, inspected his uniform, then asked the Marine to present the weapon for inspection, which he did. The officer very smartly pulled the slide back, inspected the weapon and returned the weapon. I should mention that at the time, I was driving slowly, had the windows rolled up and the heater on, so all I saw was actions. As the inspecting officer stepped to the next Marine, the inspected Marine (had received the 45 back from the officer) placed a loaded clip into the weapon, released the slide, pointed the weapon forward and pulled the trigger. Of course, this is not the correct or safe way to handle a weapon!

Of course the young Marine knew the correct way to handle a weapon. I think he was under extreme pressure by the inspection so he reversed the handling procedure. The correct way of course is to release the slide, insert the clip, aim safely and pull the trigger and move the safety to lock. I saw the explosion of the round going off and knew immediately what had taken place. I was, at the time of the incident only feet in front of the discharge.

What then happened? Well, as I very clearly recall this memory some fifty years later, as the weapon discharged the bullet traveled across the road, through a window in the firehouse office (the windows were high on the north side), over the head of the Chief who was sitting at his desk, hit the opposite (south) wall and knocked a bulletin board off the wall. No personal injuries.

Immediately after the weapon discharged the inspecting officer very quickly reached back, grabbed the weapon out of the hand of the young Marine, and knocked him to the ground. All other Marines held formation. I continued speed and checked through the Main Gate and on to Forth Campbell. One wonders the fate of that young Marine. Perhaps someone who attends the Marine Barracks Reunions will remember the incident, perhaps some of the Civil Service firefighters will too.

Doug Rogers, 23 February 2010



I worked in these very buildings when I was in the Army (2001-2003). The buildings are still there and probably look the same as they did back in the 1950s. I once tried to get the windows upgraded to more energy efficient windows and was flatly told no by the engineers. It seems the buildings are historical and cannot be changed, though I have been unable to find a source for this mandate. I hope everyone who comes and visits Clarksville Base can see it for what it is today, a peaceful quiet wooded area full of native flora and fauna. It is an area that needs protection not only for its rich history but for the habitat it provides to the local base.

Don't forget about the reunions. If you are an alumni and are curious as to how to comment, it is really easy. Simply sign in using an existing email account (GMAIL works well) or sign in Anonymously. It is not difficult as Doug found out. Do look at the other Clarksville Base post as well.



"History never looks like history when you are living through it." John W. Gardner

in the garden.....

Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team,

In the Garden

40 comments:

  1. That's so cool! I sometimes feel so sad when places have been left, glad to see some respect for the past.

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  2. Dawn, Do you know how small a world it is? Doug (story above) lives in Maine! We both got a chuckle out of that. This base is such a nice place and holds special memories for many. I haven't been able to walk there this week and I am missing it. Rain here everywhere.

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  3. Interesting stuff Tina! The bunkers along your nature trail certainly make one wonder about the history around the base.

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  4. Tina,

    Interesting story and neat to hear your personal memories of the past. I did not think you were old enough to have been in the military back in the early sixties.

    We have an old base I think it was called Camp Butner and it is now a wonderful nature place to explore. The bunkers are still there too but not many of them.

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  5. Dave, It is quite a history!

    Randy, No, I was a baby in the 60s but worked in the buildings during my last tour in the Army here at Fort Campbell (01-03). The bullet incident happened to a reader of this blog who contacted me and shared his story. It is neat how history connects us! It seems like old bases make great nature trails.

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  6. Fascinating! Would not be funny had the bullet killed someone but we can laugh hysterically now. I did.

    My husband's main job when he first became an officer was missile launch officer for minute man missiles. Very stressful and he has a badge for serving over 100 missions under North Dakota.

    I don't remember where we were on the target for 1st hit but Minot AFB was up there on the priority list--- at our wives briefing for missile safety---they told us to not do a thing when the sirens warned of an incoming missile. They told us a shelter would do no good.

    Scared me to death at the time and made it very real as each minute man missile would destroy 100 mile radius of the hit directly and fallout would be worse. We were told to be the lucky ones at ground zero.

    I still respect the Cold War and it has not passed to me. No longer scared but being so close to the subject---means I know the dangers.

    My husband came very very close to seeing it become a real war. He was strapped in his seat more than once and only a few turns away from simultaneous key turn---which means missile launch. It was a time in our life that only a hand full of people can write about.

    Which makes me appreciative that you wrote about it. I haven't spoken of it decades as ther is no one who even can remotely relate. My husband still wakes in his sleep with a startle hearing the warning bells go off.

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  7. Anna, Thank you very much for your heartfelt comment and sharing. I wasn't sure how this post would go over but it is near and dear to my heart so I am glad I posted it. Your comment reaffirmed my decision. The Cold War was a rough thing and I think many remember it. I cried when the Berlin Wall came down as I never ever thought that would happen. I have heard many things about Minot and in fact have worked with folks stationed there when I worked joint forces. It is an important base and your husband and you are to be commended for doing all you did. It wasn't easy by any means as all vets of that time will remember. There are these things that stand out in our head and history is what connects us all I guess. History and memories. Thanks so much for talking of it all.

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  8. The military installations look pretty grim. The concrete box the guards stood in would be worse than a maximum security prison cell.

    Your friend Doug is a wonderful story teller. He has me wondering what happened to the unfortunate Marine too.

    I hope the natural land around the base can be preserved as habitat for wild life and native plants.
    Marnie

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  9. What a fascinating story, Tina! If you ever do find out the fate of the Marine, I hope you'll post it here. I'm glad nothing but a bulletin board was harmed in the incident, though. It's interesting to think of Tennessee being a primary target of the Soviets back in the days of the Cold War, but I can see its significance in national security. How cool that it has gone from a place of war to a refuge for wildlife! I'm being idealistic here, but wouldn't it be nice if a similar transformation could happen all over the world?

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  10. Thanks so much Marnie. It is a really neat place and one can only imagine what it was like back then. Such a different place now and so relaxing. Perhaps Doug will find out when he attends the reunion(s) and let us know about the Marine.

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  11. Rose, It would be a splendid place indeed if all old bases could be turned into refuges. Oh to imagine it. This place is so wonderful it would be a joy to share it everywhere. If Doug finds out about the Marine or I do I'll for sure post an update. Lucky thing no one died. Whew!

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  12. Great post Tina. Being from that area I've seen & heard quite a bit. Thanks for clearing up that episode. I too wonder what happened to that soldier.

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  13. Lola, Do your remember the secretiveness of the base? it must've been interesting. I know even now there are articles and innuendo about it all.

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  14. The cold War of the 60's was a very scary time for all. Even in school back then children were taught to hid uner the desk. Like that would have helped anyone....all it did was scar the devil outta kids. This little part of history is fascinating.

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  15. Hi Tina -loved Clarksville Base -great for running and my boys enjoyed bike riding with you out there:) Another rainy day -but it's Friday so yeah! Lots of flowers are enjoying this mother nature drink so I won't complain. I can't wait to see more flowers open up:) Have a great day y'all! Ciao

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  16. This was really interesting! The "pillboxes" don't sound like a place I'd want to have to be in!
    What a story about the gun accidentally going off, that must've been quite a scene. Glad no one was hurt!

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  17. Growing up in Clarksville during the 60’s and being so close to Ft Campbell, I have heard of the Birdcages all my life. I was not affiliated with the military at all so only knew of the crazy stories told through the Rumor Mill.

    My dad’s foster mother and father were involved with the building of Camp Campbell as they were on a farm of that land. They moved to Clarksville when his foster father fell from a barn and was paralyzed and could no longer work for Camp Campbell. The government asked people in Clarksville to rent rooms to the soldiers on Camp Campbell as they did not have enough barracks. So my dad’s Foster parents opened their doors to renters and the house became a boarding house. They met many people over the years and heard many stories of the birdcages. This is the house I grew up in as a child.

    I remember the “Fall Out” shelter signs posted on the building of the old Snuff Factory near our home. I knew to go there in an emergency but as a child, I was not sure just what type of an emergency they were talking about. Of course in my mind, a tornado was the emergency.

    Wow, you brought back some childhood memories today Tina!

    I recall reading some articles in the newspaper about this area a while back. People that were assigned there in the early days still do not talk about this place today for fear of the govt....

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  18. Sure do Tina, but some things you don't talk about. I know that there was a certain section on the base that no one went.
    66º & rainy. Rained hard yesterday so we are wet. I hope the things I planted in my barrels will be ok.
    Have a super day all.

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  19. Thank you, Tina! Aren't we glad the cold war is over!

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  20. That's really interesting Tina. I remember you posting about walking here. I never knew about this place before reading your blog. What a different era the Cold War was ~ like Tatyana said, so glad it's over. Now we have the terrorism era...

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  21. Hi Tina, What a surprise today for your kind inclusion in bringing back fond memories of our service at The Bird Cage. It is quite something to see immediate interest and memories posted by your non military blogers. It is only now that I think of having been a vetran of the Cold War as I research the activities of The Bird Cage. Thank you so much for putting up the Navy Nuclear Weapons Association and The Marine Barracks Reunion 2010 events. You are so kind and well appreciated.Doug

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  22. Doug, You are most kind. Thanks for sharing your story and enlightening me about Clarksville Base's history. I look forward to meeting you when you come down. I know you will have a great deal of fun at the reunions too.

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  23. Tina, after the reunions you will have to post about them so we can read more history.

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  24. I loved this post. It was most evocative. And the history behind. For a history buff like me, this was a very rich post indeed.

    Greetings from London.

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  25. I was a Marine stationed at Clarksville Base between 1955 and 1958 and now editor of the USMC newsletter "Droppings from the Cage". One item indicated a Marine was electrocuted on the high-voltage fence. In truth, it was an incarcerated soldier attempting to escape from the Ft. Campbell stockade who apparently thought scaling the fences (there were four of them)would lead him to freedom from Ft. Campbell. When he touched the 2nd one, he was instantly killed. This was verified for me by the maintenance personnel who were called out to deal with the incident.
    John Tonkin - Birdcage Marine

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    1. John, I was there from 7/55 to 7/57 as a Navy Decon team member I don't remember the fence deal but then most things were kept quite.
      Bryce Jones Birdcage Sailor

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  26. Thanks John! I appreciate the info and it is now passed along. Clarksville Base sure has a storied history!

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  27. I was Navy stationed at the Birdcage from 1961-65 in the Legal Office -- many great memories and stories...drinking at the Airman's club and the Top 5...many girlfriends. Would love to hear from other squids who were there.

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  28. Larry V Jones MSgt USMC (Ret.)June 1, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    I stopped by Clarksville Base from 1966-1969. While there I was in charge of a Security Guard Platoon. My best memory is riding the train engine to the weapons loading area and back to our perimeter. Naturally, anytime we opened the fences at the tracks, we had to set up machine guns, etc. But, once the train left the Birdcage, whatever it carried was up for grabs.

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    1. I was stationed at the Birdcage 1965 to 1967 Cpl Tom Slone Marine Corps I worked all of the security post from Main gate sentry Q area 6 Alpha 6 Bravo north and south bridge 12A 13A ,Dispatcher, Enclosed is a picture taken during a shift change Main Gate Remember a Sgt Jim Palmer and Dave Henke were is everybody?. I have a post on facebook with all kinds of photo,s and pictures see boomernc birdcage marines Facebook tough duty assignment but we had a good time back then if you where there 1965 to 1967 email me at boomernc@gmail.com I think i remember you Msgt Jones if you still have remember me , give a shout , I was on that train and ran the convoy escort to Fort Campbell Airport and back Thanks for the memories

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    2. now Boomer Boom 04 is shooternc@gmail.com I would like to hear from anyone that still remembers Birdcage 1965-1966 ( Jim Palmer, Dave Henke ) are you guys still with us? If so give me a shout Thomas Slone email shooternc@gmail.com

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  29. It sure sounds like Clarksville Base brings back a lot of great memories. Walking it now I can only imagine what it must have been like back then. Thanks all for sharing your memories of this Fort Campbell gem.

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  30. It is great to see photos and read stories of people stationed at Clarksville. My father was with the Navy and was stationed there for a couple of years beginning in 65. He never spoke about his 20+ years in the service and he passed away in 1994. I would love to find someone who knew him back then. My mother seldom speaks about him and most of his life is a mystery and she has no idea what he did at Clarksville.

    Any light that could be shined would be sooo wonderful! Thank you!

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  31. Anonymous, Not sure if I can help with someone knowing your father or what he did but this base was a secret base and it seemed many of the folks were guards or involved with the nuclear aspects of it. Perhaps the nuclear organization can help with you finding out what your father did as it seems there are still a lot of alumni around that have such fond memories of Clarksville Base that it is likely someone might remember your father. Good luck.

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  32. i was in the navy stationed at clarksville base from about mid june 65 to sept 67.great duty! if you were to through out a name that might be helpful.

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  33. Hi Frank and thanks for stopping by my Clarksville Base post. Clarksville Base was such a special place and still is! I'm not sure what you mean about names-there are some names on this post. You all are welcomed to communicate on here. Some folks post anonymously because they don't have an account to post with. My name is Tina Ramsey though I was not stationed here in the 60s I was a soldier at Fort Campbell in the the early 2000s. I still walk the trail when I can. It's splendid out there. Merry Christmas to you and thanks for your service!

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  34. I was at CB as a Navy MM2 from1955 to57 and there were more than 2 fences so it check out,more like 4
    B Jones

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  35. B Jones, I am sure you are right on the fences. I can only see two parallel fences where I walk though so that is all I posted on. Thanks for the info!

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  36. my name is ed fowler usmc i served from 1951 to 1956 at the bird cage. i also took care of the adt protection. tou had to have a #7 exposed on your id to gain access to that structure. is there anyone out there that remembers me.
    my e-mail is efler66@bellsouth.net by the way i intend to take a trip yhis cominr friday june 1 to see the base once again

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  37. My name is Tony and I would like to make a Wikipedia page. All I would need is info and pictures would make it all the better. My secondary email is anthonyodonnell1992@gmail.com. Hope to hear from you.

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