Former Nike launcher crewmen search for comrades
Tom Baker and Tom Walczak are on a mission: they want to find anyone who was stationed at the Nike missile base in Roberts and reconnect at a reunion set for next summer in Roberts.
“It’s a struggle,” Baker said. “A lot of people have dropped a landline.”
So far the two men have rounded up a few of their former comrades through word of mouth, searches on the computer and going to a local library. A call to the Army for a list of men proved fruitless.
“We want to get as many as we can get,” Baker said. “We had a lot of fun with a lot of these people.”
Walczak said almost 90 men were stationed there at any given time, though they were allotted to have 120 men.
Tom Baker, a.k.a. Baker-T
Baker was stationed in Roberts from June 1965 through June 1968. He and Walczak were both launcher crewmen.
Their duties included checking the missiles for obvious defects or sabotage, taking the missiles top-side out of the pits where they were kept and exercising them, running tests with the missiles, the all-favorite kitchen patrol and patrolling the grounds at night.
“You know, the officers and sergeants didn’t have to do kitchen patrol,” Baker said mischievously. “Hey Sgt. Winters, Sgt. Kamm: it’s 3 a.m. It’s your turn to do kitchen patrol.”
Both men fondly remember the base cooks, John Hudson and Vernon Pultz.
“The food was very good,” Baker said.
Baker, who described himself as a “skinny little guy with red hair -- believe it or not,” joined the Army five days after he graduated high school in Superior. He had been considering the Air Force, but changed his mind.
“There weren’t a lot of jobs in Superior,” Baker said. “The Army recruiter came along and guaranteed I would spend all my time at Fort Snelling or on a base. I was sold.”
This was during the tumultuous time when many soldiers were being sent to Vietnam and he was “bored on the outside, but leery of Vietnam,” Baker said.
After he was discharged, Baker went to college for a while, then worked for various lumber companies in the area. He finished his marketing degree at Metro State University and retired from a printing company in 2008.
Baker, who has been married to his wife Kathy for almost 29 years, has three children and six grandchildren and lives in Vadnais Heights, Minn.
Walczak was stationed at the Nike base from May 1965 through March 1968. He describes that period as “the best time of my life.”
“They had to separate us because the T in our names stood for trouble,” Baker said to Walczak, who rolled his eyes.
Walczak joined the Army about two years after he graduated from high school in Bessemer, Mich.
He had the same duties as Baker, and added they also spent time doing physical training, picking up trash on the highways and occasionally working for area farmers. They also helped fill sandbags when the Apple River flooded in 1966.
Both Toms fondly remember the recreational activities funded by the Army for soldiers to do. They spoke of having access to a snowmobile, golfing at the New Richmond Golf Course, shooting clay pigeons, hunting deer, playing in basketball and softball tournaments between the Twin Cities missile sites and buying and ordering stuff at the PX (base store).
Another memory that stands out for both men is when they ran a perfect Operational Readiness Evaluation test on missiles. This was rare, and they received congratulatory letters from a colonel at Fort Snelling and a general in Washington D.C.
“That was a big deal for me,” Walczak said. “Plus we got a three-day pass out of it.”
Baker agreed, saying he still has the plaque they received, which reads “We are second to none.”
After he was discharged, Walczak found work cleaning up train derailments. He then moved on to working for a municipality for 23 years, then bought and drove his own dump truck until he retired in 2005.
Walczak, who lives in White Bear Lake, Minn., has been married to his wife Pat for 46 years and has four children and 12 grandchildren.
The Nike missile site (MS-20) was one of four Nike Hercules missile sites protecting the Twin Cities from the Cold War threat of Soviet bombers and nuclear weapons strikes. It operated as part of the Army Air Defense Command from October 1959 through June 1971. The headquarters were at Fort Snelling, and the site that once housed them is now part of Fort Snelling Cemetery.
The Roberts site now houses a privately-owned storage facility. It’s located on the highest point of St. Croix County at 1102 120th St.
Both Toms have wanted to hold a reunion for years. They are looking for the names of anyone who was stationed there during the 12-year operation, not just from when they were there.
They have been in contact with around 10 people, including a Sgt. Winters and a Capt. Kamm.
The reunion is set for Aug. 23 at the Roberts Village Park, in the lower pavilion area. They encourage people with information on their former comrades, or people wanting to attend the reunion, to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-581-8384 (Baker) or email@example.com or 651-429-6507 or 651-247-4848 (Walczak). Deadline for ordering a reunion T-shirt is May 23. Families are also encouraged to attend.