Epilogue by Norman Tengstrom, STAG-1 Veteran
To the nearly 1,000 men of STAG ONE/SATFOR, the period from August 1943 through October 1944 will never be forgotten. In May 1944, many of us found ourselves in San Francisco, on liberty before boarding our ships, and below legal age to buy a glass of beer. In the main, we were young, eager, patriotic kids, well trained in our jobs and led by experienced, capable officers many of whom had spent their entire naval career working with and developing radio controlled aircraft. Many were regular Navy, Mustangs and Annapolis grads working side by side with recently commissioned Reserve Officers, all had respect for each others talents. We accepted, without deep thought, the “new” technology of television, radar. gyros, solenoids and hydraulics.
We accepted, without hesitation, our assignments. We flew our missions and were proud of what we could accomplish with our “top-secret” weapon and that we could hit enemy targets while generally staying out of harms way. Many of our Pensacola or Corpus Christi classmates were not as fortunate.
We trained in Clinton. Oklahoma where the runways were four feet thick and two miles long, built to handle the converted PB4-Y (B-24) drones that STAG TWO was supposed to operate, the “Officers Club” was in Elk City and the local bootlegger sold booze from the trunk of his car. We trained in Traverse City, Michigan where we made long distance, over water, practice runs on a lighthouse with a 50 mile separation between drone and control plane. We lived in the Grand Traverse Hotel until quarters were ready on the base. We trained in Monterey, California where over water training continued and we relaxed in Carmel at the Del Monte Lodge and saw the movie National Velvet, filmed on the Pebble Beach Golf Course.
During November and December of 1944 when the breakup came, most STAG ONE/SATFOR personnel were ordered to Pearl Harbor for reassignment to various Fleet units and squadrons. The writer was one of the few who continued to work with the TDR-1. We returned to the main base at Clinton, Oklahoma to ferry TBF Control planes and TDR drones to the Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake, California. Here we formed the Drone Utility Unit under Commander Fred Wallace, a pioneer in radio control. We were based at Harvey Field, an auxiliary field in Inyokern. Our TDR Assault Drones now became Target Drones, to be shot down as we tested the newly developed proximity fuse and air to air rockets. This was important work that made good use of remaining drone inventory. It was fitting that a B-29 should land at this top secret base and spend a few weeks with us. Months later we found they had been doing trajectory testing of the atomic bomb.
A few months later we celebrated V-E day and soon after an unbelievable party at N.O.T.S. started when the news of Japans surrender was received and the V-J celebration began. Once again things started to break up as the reservists accumulated enough points and left for home. It was amazing how quickly you forgot the Navy as you was picked up your life and returned to civilian ways – college, a job, marriage, a house, babies …… and not always in that order.
It took about 35 years for members of the STAG to start thinking again about the war years. Fortunately, many had stayed in touch with each other and a few were willing to take an active role in bringing people together again. J. J. Hall and John Conroy took the lead in starting annual Stag One/Satfor reunions with the first held in Washington, DC in 1981. They were soon joined by others including Joe Blume, Red & Rose Lepien, Ray & Sally Woolrich, Winnie & Ann Walker, George Grimes and our Annual Reunions were off and running. 1982 – Monterey, CA; 1983 – Traverse City, MI; 1985 – Orlando, FL; 1986 – Lawton, OK where we visited our old base in Clinton.. J. J. Hall also published his book, American Kamikaze which in J.J.’s words, ” is about, the TDR, the U.S. Navy’s Kamikaze, also about the men of STAG ONE SATFOR in an untold, true story that has been researched, remembered and related as it affected the author.”
In 1987 we met in Houston where the highlight was a tour of the Johnson Space Center. In 1988 Bob Bothfield and Ken Sanders were hosts in Pensacola and arranged to have the one remaining TDR displayed on the front lawn of the Navy Air Museum. We gathered there for pictures as the Blue Angels flew over. Frank and Lola Cain welcomed all to Seattle, WA in 1989 and in 1990 my wife Eleanor, daughter Laurie and I, chaired the reunion in Washington, DC where we were greeted by letter from H. Lawrence Garrett, III, Secretary of the Navy. Our banquet was held at the Washington Navy Yard Officers Club. Admiral William C. Bowes spoke and narrated a motion picture about the Cruise Missile and recognized the TDR as its ancestor.. Subsequently, the Smithsonian included photos and text about the TDR and the exploits of Stag One as part of the Cruise Missile exhibit in the National Air Space Museum.
In 1991 we returned to Traverse City where Roger and Lee Newton, along with Josie Jordan, put together a memorable affair. Cape Cod in 1992, hosted by John and Marguerite Conroy. 1993 saw us welcomed in Covington, KY by Jack and Marietta Heupel, no one will forget the riverboat ride and the Octoberfest! Jim and Ardath Nowlin handled things in San Antonio in 1994, we enjoyed the Riverwalk, visiting the Alamo and a Texas Bar-BQ. In 1995 it was Denver, CO with Lou and Bonnie Garramone, visits to the Air Force Academy and Central City were highlights. In 1996 George Bangert and Mary Corum made the arrangements in St.Louis, MO and this year, 1997, we are back in Beantown (Braintree, MA) with John and Marguerite Conroy.
The glue that has held the Stag together has been the tireless efforts of the Reunion Chairmen and, in particular, Eddie Moyes and Red Lepien, our perennial Treasurer and Secretary. Winnie Walker ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) who maintains our mailing list and Sally and Ray Woolrich who are always there to assist with each reunion. The Captain, Bob Jones, has always been the key pin. Don’t hesitate to contact me with any comments or suggestions you may have.
(please send emails to Norm to his granddaughter, Hallie: halliewilfert @ gmail.com)