Editor's note: This is the first of two columns about
the military's investigation of UFOs over Fort Hood in the late 1940s.
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
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
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
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.”
2: Attack on Camp Hood >
© Mike Cox
- April 7, 2016 Column
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