Reflections on Texas Tower Duty

Contributed by Ken Taylor in a collection of Texas Tower documents.

By: MSGT/Ret. Arnold Orr Gilman - Texas Tower #2 stay of November 1955 to Spring of 1957.

I was a S/Sgt. assigned to the Civil Engineer Section at Otis Air Force Base when I received orders and was reassigned to the Texas Tower #2 for a one year tour on the Tower which took me approximately two years to complete. The schedule was to be 30 days on and 30 days off.

I arrived at the Tower before the Air Force took it over. I landed out there late October or very early November of 1955. Had to learn how to run the boilers and the evaporator that made fresh water from sea water and many other jobs not common to an Air Force Base.

There were approximately ten of us that were aboard the TT 2 leaving Boston Harbor on the sea going tug "El Sol". We made two trips to the tower and one trip back on the boat. We had to be raised from the deck of the tug by a crane and bucket. It was pretty scary because the tug boat captain had to judge the swells of the ocean, as well as the crane operator on the tower, in order to get you up and off the tugboat deck without getting dumped, which happened once to me trying to get up to the tower. We didn't get in the water but dumped onto the deck of the El Sol. The next try; we made it! So I know how the crew that finally were taken off the TT 2 after the storm felt!

The first three months or so, the only way we could communicate with our loved ones back on shore was through HAM Short Wave Operators. Out of the goodness of their hearts they would phone patch from the Tower to our homes. This meant a lot to us and our spouses and loved ones to be able to communicate.

I went through that storm of November 1955 on the Tower. I had no doubt in my mind that none of us would ever leave this three legged monster alive. You will read in one of the newspaper clippings that the tower shook and shuddered for about eight hours but it actually lasted for twenty-four hours or more until the eighty ton fender finally let loose, slid down the leg and finally sunk. No one could sleep due to the noise, constant shaking, swaying and shuddering of the entire tower.

I didn't have the luxury of a helicopter ride to and from the tower until January of 1956. This wasn't any picnic getting on and off the tower but far better than being raised and lowered from the El Sol tug boat deck or from the tower deck to the boat deck.

One of the boilers blew up during my stay on the tower but luckily no one was injured. Then I was overcome by chlorine gas and was air lifted by helicopter to Otis Air Force Base hospital which extended my tour stay by a week.

One of the helicopter pilots lived in Buzzards Bay, MA across the street from me. He was quite a pilot! I remember one Christmas, I was due off the tower and it started storming. We called this pilot "Hoppy". I do not know if this was his last name or not. If it is his last name it would be spelled Hoppie or Huoppie I would think. He was a 1st Lt. at the time and stationed at Otis AFB. Anyway, he made the tower that afternoon and got me back to Otis AFB late that evening. My wife was waiting for me and we took off for Vermont to spend the Christmas holiday with relatives and friends. He never took chances, but always stood by in case a break in the weather, to get crews off the tower when they were supposed to. If it hadn't been for him on duty that day I would have probably spent another Christmas on the Tower.

Anyone remember the freighter Stockholm ramming the Andrea Doria passenger ship? The freighter didn't sink but the Andrea Doria did. Deck chairs and suitcases etc., of that ship came floating by the tower. A S/Sgt. Martin 0. Washer, who was in charge of the rescue boats and the deck of the tower lowered a rescue boat down to the ocean and retrieved the deck chairs and other items. One of the suitcases he picked up belonged to an actress whose name I can't recall. The deck chairs were still on the tower when I left the tower. The actress's suitcase was shipped ashore but I don't recall of ever hearing if it got back to her.

There were many other incidents during my stay on the Texas Tower #2 but just thought I would include some of the highlights of my stay on the tower.

In conclusion, I would say that my duty on the Texas Tower #2 was the worst duty I ever pulled in the 20 years of my career, and I was in Viet Nam.

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