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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Bell County
Postwar Secrets

Part 1

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Editor's note: This is the first of two columns about the military's investigation of UFOs over Fort Hood in the late 1940s.

In 1947, the general public had no idea what was afoot at a secret base across U.S. 190 from Camp Hood, a sprawling Army installation in Central Texas established as a tank destroyer training camp during World War II.

Judging from newspapers of the day, the news media stood equally in the dark about activities in the vicinity of fast-growing Killeen, a once quiet cow town in Bell County. Newspaper readers would have thought nothing but routine military training took place at the camp, the postwar home of the famed 2nd Armored Division.

No one had any inkling that as the fourth decade of the 20th century neared its end some in the military had begun to wonder if the top-secret activities then under way at the post (not formally named Fort Hood until 1950) were being spied on—not by lurking communist agents but spacecraft from some other world. Either that or the Russians had developed some secret means of flying over the hush-hush installation.

That a civilian construction contractor was hiring men from coal mining states like Pennsylvania and Kentucky for a job near Camp Hood does not seem to have raised any eyebrows in Killeen, though no coal deposits existed on the federal reservation. The mostly imported labor pool had no idea that they were working on a top-secret endeavor that had nothing to do with mining. The military referred to it as Project 76.

Starting in the spring of 1947, this army of miners descended on a 7,000-acre tract (eventually expanded to 8,894 acres) six miles west of Killeen. They noticed they had to pass by Camp Hood to get to job site, but happy to be getting a good paycheck in a sluggish postwar economy, they apparently did not give it much thought.

The workers drilled and blasted a network of tunnels through solid rock. In effect, they hollowed out what passed for a mountain in that part of Texas. Twenty feet wide and thirty feet high, the shafts went down eighty or more feet.

By the fall of 1947, workers with other skills began pouring tons of steel-re-enforced concrete inside the tunnels. An overhead rail system capable of transporting heavy loads was installed along with ventilation machinery, wiring, lighting, and security measures. Contractors also erected a series of concrete watchtowers and bunkers around the high-fenced acreage.

A facility first known as Site Baker and later as Killeen Base became operational in 1948. Soon, in the dead of night, the Santa Fe Railroad began stopping long freight trains adjacent to the base and switching boxcars to a spur leading into the fenced compound. Noting that armed guards stood by during the off-loading operation, railroad personnel could only watch and wonder what sort of freight the cars carried.

Unknown to anyone but the highest levels of the U.S. military command and top officials with the relatively new Atomic Energy Commission, this remote area of Camp Hood had been transformed into one of only three nuclear weapons storage sites in the nation. The U.S. arsenal consisted of only 13 nuclear bombs, but the supply would be growing exponentially. The stockpile increased more than three-fold in 1948 to 56 devices and by the end of the decade, the U.S. military had 228 a-bombs at its disposal. Initially the security-cloaked installation adjacent to Camp Hood held B4 bombs, the first mass-produced nuclear weapons. Later, Killeen Base included tactical nuclear weapons designed for battlefield use in the event Russia’s Red Army rolled its tanks into Europe and triggered World War III, a conflict even the most hawkish generals knew might precipitate the end of civilization.

While Camp Hood proper was an open post, Killeen Base was off-limits to the general public, its purpose being on a strictly need-to-know only. Soldiers appeared to pop out of nowhere from underground to challenge anyone wandering too close to the site or even worse, somehow actually getting onto the reservation.

Once, Fort Hood lore has it, a couple of deer hunters strayed onto the area, hunting rifles in hand. Soldiers in full combat gear quickly surrounded the startled pair and hauled them to a Jeep for a fast ride to headquarters. The Army held the men incommunicado for hours until intelligence agents satisfied themselves that the two good old boys were not agents of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Incidents such as that stimulated fanciful rumors. People said the Army had built an underground airfield, where military planes could taxi straight into the side of a mountain to discharge or pick up some mysterious cargo. One wild tale had it that the United States had constructed a two-hundred-plus-mile subterranean channel from the base all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, a bombproof passage enabling the stealthy deployment of submarines armed with nuclear torpedoes.

Landlocked Killeen had not been transformed into a Navy base, but the part about airplanes handling secret cargo was at least partially correct. The military had constructed a 10,000-foot runway adjacent to Killeen Base, the genesis of what would become Robert F. Gray Air Force Base. The landing field could easily accommodate B-29 bombers, the delivery system for atomic weapons.

“One of my uncles worked out there and was not allowed to talk about anything he did,” recalled Michael Adams, a University of Texas at Austin, English professor whose father later served as Killeen’s mayor. “My uncle’s silence made him a character of mystery.”

Part 2: Attack on Camp Hood

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" - April 7, 2016 Column


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