Missiles of Key West
Reunion 2004

This story published on Sat, Mar 13, 2004

HAWK missile troops reunite

Vets remember duty, pleasure in Key West

BY MANDY BOLEN
Key West Citizen

Photo by: MIKE HENTZ/The Citizen
Naval Air Station Key West commander Capt. James K. Scholl welcomes and thanks a group of Army veterans who manned the Hawk Missile Bases. The men were visiting all the Hawk Missile Bases as part of a reunion.
KEY WEST — Wes Guidry was having dinner Thursday evening on the verandah of a local hotel. He wore a Hawaiian shirt and a baseball hat that made his connection to Key West obvious.

The Army Air Defense hat is proof that nearly four decades ago, Guidry was in the Army. He worked odd hours and always with an ominous red button near his left hand. It was marked with an F.

The fire button, if pressed, would launch a HAWK missile at incoming enemy aircraft that would, most likely, have come from Cuba. In the tense Cold War years that continued after the edgy and potentially deadly Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, military personnel like Guidry and others serving in one of the four missile batteries kept a watchful eye on Key West's skies.

"The U.S. never fired a HAWK missile in combat," Guidry said Friday, enjoying a reunion of about 12 men who had served in Key West with the 6th Battalion, 65th Artillery Unit.

The Cubans never attacked while Guidry was here, and the HAWK missiles were eventually relocated in the 1970s.

"Our theory was that we did our job — the Cubans never took Duval Street," Guidry said. "They didn't make it to Sloppy Joe's."

And although the four missile batteries were on constant alert, the bars of Duval Street also received plenty of attention from the Army's Air Defenseman.

"Key West was a great adventure in paradise," Lowell St. Cyr said Thursday. "I don't think there was any place the Army could send you that was better than Key West."

The HAWK missiles were in Key West for 17 years, but most men served here for several months at a time, protecting the island from intruders that would come from the sky. Guidry explained that the HAWKs were never intended to be launched at the island nation of Cuba.

"Forty miles with a good tailwind, that's as far as they'd go," he said.

The missiles were intended for aircraft that may have been flying low enough to evade radar detection.

"We protected the air space," said Jerry Rhyne, a retired colonel who commanded one of the missile batteries that was installed on Geiger Key. Each battery was equipped with 36 unmistakable lethal weapons — 18 of them on launchers and pointed skyward. Each battery was manned 24 hours a day and the men were on a rotating status. While one of the four was always "hot" or ready to fire, the others would be on five-minute alert, 15-minute alert and maintenance, Rhyne explained.

But the men of the 6th/65th didn't' work 24 hours a day.

"I spent my 21st birthday in the Bamboo Room," said Richard Whitt, thinking of the old bar on Appelrouth Lane.

Years have passed and military agendas have changed, but as the reunited men of the 6th/65th tour their old barracks and batteries this weekend, their responsibilities will feel as recent as yesterday and the F on the red button will remain etched in their memories forever.

Excellent time. Met a bunch of wonderful folks. I can appreciate the efforts that went into coordinating all the support agencies. Thanks again
Bob Campbell, St. Louis, MO

I've got to say that the reunion was better than I expected. The hospitality shown to us, by the military and press, was unbelievable! And the camaraderie of the attendants was amazing. I'm looking forward to the next with a larger crowd!
Rod Getsy, Benica, California
I can't begin to tell you yet what a good time I had! (I have to sober up first). I'm really psyched about our next get together, and the forming of our HAWK Veteran's Association.
Lowell StCyr, St Petersburg, Florida
We landed on the beach. We met little resistance. Established a beach head, and proceeded to pillage the local beer supply... ADA- "First to Fire & First to Drink!"
I want to thank all the old "hawk" guys and ther wives for attending and sheding a different perspective of what it was like before and after my stay in the Keys. Thank you , looking forward to the next reunion.
Geoff Gooley, Erie, PA
The wives took a pop quiz on missile nomenclature... and passed! I think that makes them all 16D's