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Green River Resident Remembers Years Working at Missile Site

Emery County Progress

Jay Vetere from Green River was one of the first people hired to work on the Green River Missile Site. Vetere said, “I was hired in the fall of 1963. I worked in the base fire department. I was involved in fire prevention and also in base security.
“We would inspect all of the trailers and buildings on the site and make sure everything was kept up safety wise. Things slacked off in the 1970s and four of us remained for a couple of years. I was laid off in March of 1986. The army contracted with our companies over the course of time I was there; Bendix Engineering, Dyna Electron Corporation, land air division, Comarco and Cortez 3.
“We had a guard trailer and a check-in point. We took turns making rounds in a pickup to check on things. We checked the fire extinguishers to make sure they were full. A company would come in and refill them. I was a crew chief.
“On a launch day there would be between 40 to 60 extra people on site. We always had an extra crew on standby. We would go to the launch site and remain behind the bunker while the missile lifted off and then we would always come out to watch once it was in the air. It was fairly loud. The first launch took place in February of 1964. If a missile was off target it could be destroyed before it left the corridor. They launched the 100th Athena missile on March 29, 1968. The missiles weighed eight tons and were 50 feet long. They went on a 450-mile flight. They were shot straight up on an angle and after they had gone up far enough they were turned back down to land at White Sands. This was the first overland range. It depended a lot on who owned the payload as to how many extra people came in. There were others besides the army involved in testing. The air force and also private companies who were testing their products. Many of these products dealt with reentry. The Atlantic Research Corporation the contractor for the air force was the main contractor who built and fired the missiles.
“The army hired a lot of locals and people commuted from Moab, Price, Grand Junction and East Carbon. It was a good job. It was good for the local economy. We don’t have much industry down here, mainly tourism. We were on rotating shifts which worked out good for me because I also have a farm where we raise watermelon, hay and corn.
“Everyone at the site was really friendly. The army would bring in the main crews for the launch but some locals were involved. People from all over came to the site to work or to visit. The first fire chief was from Maryland. There were two fire trucks kept on the site.
“When the site became inactive a lot of the equipment was to be moved to Mountain Home, Idaho but that didn’t pan out. Here at the Green River Site at the onset they originally planned to launch 149 missiles. They would launch so many in a particular series. Sometimes they would launch one a week or sometimes two. It just depended on the weather and what they had scheduled. The launches usually all occurred at night. White Sands would fly in crews on passenger planes and when the launch was over they would fly them out. The missile program here was a highly successful program. It was a really busy place. The locals would gather to watch the launches from Geyser Road. It was about six miles away from the launch site but you could see it really plain. You could also see it good from the hill where the Burger King is now. There were a lot of places where you could see it really good. There was a lot of interest in the site by the local people.
“The components for the Athena were assembled on site and there were inspectors who watched the placement of everything, making sure every wire was in the right spot. I never did watch them assemble an Athena because it was a dust free area and well protected. Several civil service employees were able to retire with the time they accumulated on the site. It didn’t do us any good though because the subcontractors we worked for kept changing.
“I was offered a job at White Sands, but I didn’t take it because I didn’t want to relocate. I was born and raised here in Green River and have lived here all my life. In addition to the farm we also raise registered Black Angus cattle. My three sons still live here and two of them work on the farm, but my other son said he wasn’t a farmer so he became a police officer.
“I made some lifelong friends while working on the site and met a lot of people. One couple my wife and I still go and visit. They live out in California now and they still call all the time. He was an engineer on the site. It worked out good for me the time I spent at the site. I’d like to see the city or some industry put the site to good use. The buildings are still in good condition and we need some industry in our area,” said Vetere.

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