‘Missile men’ unite at Bavarian Blast

NEW ULM – Four men drafted into the U.S. Army during the late 1960s who served in Neu Ulm, West Germany in the Pershing missile program, reunited this year at Bavarian Blast.

St. Paul attorney Tom Lee, San Diego engineer Michael B. Gunn, Ed Cierly of Mt. Orab, Ohio and Phil Scott of Round Rock, Texas said they came to New Ulm for the love of polka music, German culture and everything that goes with it.

Gunn said Lee, his former Army roommate suggested the four men spend a few days in New Ulm during Bavarian Blast this year. They were drafted into the Army during the late 1960s.

“The Army took a number of basic training recruits with high test scores and sent them to missile school at Fort Sill, Ok instead of infantry training and on to Vietnam,” Cierley said.

Named after General John J. Pershing, the first program lasted from 1960 to final elimination in 1991. Missile targets, as far as 1,200 miles away, were classified (secret) information, the men said.

“We had many alerts (drills) but we never knew if they were for practice or the real thing at the time,” Lee said. “President Reagan sending loads of missiles to Germany in the late 1980s led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

On duty about the clock, the men lived in an old World War II German Nazi barracks and in house trailers in Germany. They served in Germany until 1970.

The Pershing system program was scrapped after the ratification of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on May 27, 1988, according to the U.S. Army history files. The missiles were withdrawn in October 1988 and crushed in May 1991 at Longhorn Army Ammunition plant in May 1991.

Scott said he and his wife recently returned from a trip to Neu Ulm, Germany.

“We love going there,” he said,” he said. “My wife climbed the Muenster Cathedral steeple, the world’s tallest steeple, but I didn’t. It’s so high, you can see the Swiss Alps from the top of it.”

The men attend biennial reunions in Oklahoma with a national Pershing alumni group. During other years, they often meet at Lake Tahoe, Calif. They arrived in New Ulm on Thursday evening, toured Schell’s Brewery and other historical sites.

Decades ago, several of Lee’s relatives including Mickey Lee, who lived in New Ulm and played baseball for a Sleepy Eye team and later on Los Angeles Dodgers minor league teams.

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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