weapons

October 23, 1957 – Vanguard’s TV-2 Launched From Cape Canaveral

Vanguard Rocket Launch. Photo: United States Navy

On October 23, 1957, the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Vanguard program successfully tested a three-stage rocket designed to send an American Earth satellite into orbit.  The recent launch of the Soviet Union’s rocket bearing the first Earth satellite, Sputnik 1, created a sense of urgency for the U.S. to catch up with their Cold War nemesis, and the original timetable for American satellite deployment was put on a fast track.

In 1955, the United States government announced plans to create and successfully place an Earth satellite into orbit during the International Geophysical Year, running from July, 1957 through December of 1958.  Consequently, three branches of the armed services – the Army, Air Force, and Navy – all independently pursued their own rocket-development programs.  The Army’s Redstone project and the Air Force’s Atlas ballistic missiles were military in nature and of a top priority.  The NRL was always viewed more as a scientific organization and Vanguard was emphasized as a non-military project.

Two NRL program launches took place before October 23rd’s blast-off.  TV-0, launched December 8, 1956, tested telemetry systems, and TV-1 on May 1, 1957, tested the separation and subsequent second-stage ignition capabilities of the two-stage rocket design.  Several abortive attempts occurred over the summer of 1957, before TV-2 was able to test the 75 feet tall, 3.74 foot diameter, 22,156 pound, three-stage version.  TV-2 successfully demonstrated Vanguard’s ability for first-second stage separation and “spin-up” of the third stage.  Stages 1 and 2 were steered by gimbaled engines.  The third stage was “spin-stabilized, the spin being imparted by a turn-table on the second stage before separation”.  The engines worked, the turn-table worked, the telemetry and separation systems worked, but American rockets were still incapable of packing a satellite aboard.

Fast-tracking the Vanguard project in response to the threat posed by Sputnik resulted in disappointments and set-backs before achieving its ultimate goal.  Next test reservation date for Cape Canaveral’s LC-18A pad would be December 6th.  The suspense was mounting.

October 21, 1957 – Army Captain Hank Cramer First U.S. Combat Death in Vietnam

United States Army Special Forces Captain Harry G. Cramer, Jr. Photo: Virtual Vietnam Veterans Wall

United States Army Special Forces Captain Harry G. Cramer, Jr. Photo: Virtual Vietnam Veterans Wall

On October 21, 1957, United States Army Captain Harry (Hank) Griffith Cramer, Jr., of the newly-formed 1st Special Forces Group stationed at Camp Drake in Japan, became the first combat fatality (of many to come) in Vietnam.  Activated on June 24, 1957, the 1st Special Forces Group was responsible for operations in the Pacific.  The unit went on to hold the tragic distinction of having both the first and last Vietnam combat fatalities – Sgt. Fred Mick was killed on October 12, 1972 –  as well as the first Afghanistan combat fatality, SFC Nathan Chapman, who died in country on January 4, 2002.  Captain Cramer’s name was initially left off of the Vietnam Memorial due to the secretive nature of his mission.  After an appeal filed by his son, it was added to “The Wall” in 1983.

Army Special Forces units, also known as the Green Berets, have six primary missions: unconventional warfare; foreign internal defense; special reconnaissance; direct action; hostile rescue; and counter-terrorism.  They also perform combat search and rescue, security assistance, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, humanitarian demining, counter-proliferation, psychological operations, manhunts, and counter-drug operations duties.  Counter-proliferation activities are defined as “diplomatic, intelligence, and military efforts to combat the proliferation of weapons, including both conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction” – in other words, arms control.

Capt. Cramer with his father, Captain Harry G. Cramer, Sr. Photo: Ancestry.com

Captain Cramer had been deployed to South Vietnam on June 25, 1957.  He led the first Special Forces team in place, with a mission to train a cadre of nationals into what would become the fledgling Vietnamese Army Special Forces.  Cramer was killed by an explosion while leading a patrol of combined American and Vietnamese troops near Nha Trang.  Although officially listed as an accident, an American eyewitness at the time claimed instead that the incident was a Viet Cong ambush.  Captain Cramer followed in his father’s footsteps in military service to his country.  Captain Harry G. Cramer, Sr. commanded an infantry company in France during World War I.