Warren’s service to his country runs the gamut

Published 12:27 pm Thursday, November 12, 2009

It may be hard to believe that a native of Gallion in Hale County was one of the engineers who worked on nuclear missiles and helped develop the lunar rover.

Alfred Warren came into World War II as part of the peace-keeping mission in Europe. He later worked with military missiles before joining NASA and working on the lunar rover.

“The high school that I went to in Memphis had a good ROTC unit,” he said. “They actually had a full battalion. I ended up with a commission as a first lieutenant in ROTC before I ever got into the Army.”

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Warren entered the war soon after it ended helping to maintain the peace in the countries formerly serving as battlefields during the war.

“In World War II, they were taking just about anything that could stop a bullet,” he said. “I got into the Army in 1945. The shooting war was over, and they sent me overseas in the Army of Occupation. If you look back at the documents, it was many years after the end of hostilities that Congress undeclared war, so there was actually a state of war going on over there. We turned Nazi Germany into one of the best democracies in the world, so I can’t help feeling we did a good job over there. The people who went before me won the war, but we won the peace.”

Warren went to Georgia Tech through the G.I. Bill, working in engineering, then used his education in the military.

“I worked in the Army with guided missiles,” he said. “When I first got with the Army, I worked on secret weapons to go over to Korea. After the Korean War wound down, we went into the missile race. I ended up transferring into guided missiles, and the guided missiles that I worked on was America’s first guided missile that carried an atomic warhead, the Redstone.”

Warren’s experiences with missiles put him in the heart of the situation that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“About 1959, they had just developed the Jupiter missile,” he said “It had a range of 1,500 miles and an accuracy of no bigger than a football field, which is phenomenal. And, of course, it carried a nuclear warhead. We were working for the Army at the time, and we developed that thing, and (former President Dwight) Eisenhower said that the Army shouldn’t have long-range missiles, that it should be given to the Air Force.

“So, they get this Jupiter missile, and they take it over into Europe. France says, ‘We don’t want it; it’s too provocative.’ Germany says, ‘We don’t want it; it’s too provocative, since the Russians are going to figure that it’s a threat and are going to be over here eating our lunch to get rid of it.’ Turkey says, ‘You can put it along the Black Sea.’ So they did that and aimed it towards Moscow.

“Well, on a good day in Moscow, you can take a spyglass and look across the Black Sea and see what’s on the other side,” he said. “There are all these missiles aimed at Moscow, so (former USSR premier Nikita) Khrushchev says, ‘We’ve got to show those Americans a little of their own business,’ so he went down to Cuba, and that’s how we got into the Cuban Missile Crisis. (The military) claimed at the time that Huntsville was not a target, but we knew full well that Khrushchev knew where the people were who made that Jupiter missile that was aimed at Moscow. So, I ended up buying this farm and moving my family down here.”

When Warren left the Army, he got a job with NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and worked on an important aspect of the first moon landing, the lunar rover, also called the “moon buggy.”

“One interesting job that I worked on with NASA was the lunar rover,” he said. “It was designed and built by Boeing, and it was supposed to fold up into the lunar lander. Boeing’s deployment system didn’t work, and I had a young engineer reading some drawings, and he said, ‘Do you want to go down and see the deployment?’ So, we went down there, and the Boeing deployment didn’t work right. One of the people there was the Marshall Space Flight Center’s director. When we came back, I told my employee, ‘You know, I can fix that thing,’ and the director overheard me, and he said, ‘Do it! Do it! Do it!’ Then, when the astronauts landed on the moon, they were able to deploy it, even though it had landed in a crater.”

Warren’s walls are covered with honors and photos of his illustrious career with military missiles and the space agency, including a photo of him with noted rocket scientist Werner von Braun.

From high school ROTC to working on the lunar rover, Alfred Warren’s life is a fascinating journey through many chapters in American history.