Former US soldier details account of 1959 Naha accidental nuke firing fatal to fellow soldiers

Former US soldier details account of 1959 Naha accidental nuke firing fatal to fellow soldiers


October 26, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo


Washington Special Correspondent Yukio Zaha reporting


Fifty-eight years ago on June 19, a sunny Friday morning, a Nike Hercules surface-to-air missile equipped with a nuclear warhead was fired accidentially from U.S.-controlled Naha Air Base.

While under a blue-alert, meaning missiles were being prepared in response to a perceived threat, the booster of the missile in question was ignited by mistake due to a soldier’s blunder on a connection of the ignition system.

With a resounding roar the missile fired, and hurtled along the surface of the ocean at an incredible speed before submerging.

Left in its wake were broken and bloodied soldiers and missile fragments.

Robert Roepke, an 81-year-old former U.S. Army serviceman who worked in missile maintenance, provided his account of this disaster that happened on Naha Air Base in 1959, formerly unbeknownst to Okinawans.


According to Roepke, the Nike base in Naha had two missile launch pads facing the East China Sea.

Generally, there were just four missiles at the ready on these pads.

Fences, retaining walls, and hills surrounded the launch pads.

Roepke said he does not think people could see inside from any outside spot.

Roepke said that on the day of the incident, when he used a measuring instrument to check the connection of the ignition system, the device made a small sound indicating an abnormality.

“I don’t think we should plug it in,” he said to another soldier before he crossed the launch pad and started down a staircase to check on another machine.

In that instant, an ear-splitting roar reverberated and a blue flash like fireworks split the air overhead.

As Roepke looked in the direction of the ocean, and saw the missile drop into the water.

The soldier to whom Roepke had spoken was blown away by the launch and lay torn in half near the launch pad.

Roepke remembered: “I looked at him and his mouth was kind of going like he wanted to say something to me.

Basically, he was dead already.

” Another soldier burned by the fire from the missile’s booster was blown into the fence.

He was administered first aid while another missile equipped with high explosives was being moved and prepared for launch.

Then the stand down order came through the chain of command.

Roepke said: “As far as I know I might be the only one involved who is still living.

I would be glad to talk about it now that we’re free, because I would like to get my stuff on record.”

When asked if he wanted to convey anything to Okinawans he said: “The missiles were for defense and not aggression.

We were there to protect the people of Okinawa as well as our own interests.”


(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)


Former U.S. missile maintenance man gives interview on 1959 Naha accidental missile firing


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