Spotlight: Andreas Air Force veteran served aboard legendary Texas Tower
Memorabilia, stories and photos from the days of the legendary Texas Towers have been assembled and saved by veteran Bob Doerr over the past 60 years. He intends to donate the collection to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
U.S. Air Force veteran Bob Doerr of Andreas displays an image of the unique defense tower, located 115 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean, where he served during the Cold War era. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Bob Doerr, second from left, is pictured at work aboard Texas Tower 2 about 1960 with fellow airmen.
U.S. Air Force veteran Bob Doerr snapped this photo of Texas Tower 2 as he prepared to board the structure, one of three that served as surveillance stations during the Cold War. All three no longer exist.
We were looking for Russian
U.S. Air Force veteran
It was 1960 and there was one job at hand.
“We were looking for Russian bombers,” says Bob Doerr of Andreas.
The 78-year-old former Air Force airman first class recently discussed his experience serving one year aboard Tower Two, one of three towers anchored far from the Eastern Seaboard, all now gone.
“I was a heating specialist,” he says, “Every week I was on a different crew.”
The Texas Towers were radar facilities used for surveillance by the United States Air Force during tense days of the Cold War. Five towers were planned, but the most northerly two were dropped from plans due to budget constraints.
Each tower consisted of a triangular platform 200 feet on each side and standing on three caisson legs. The high structures were built on land, towed to site, and jacked up to clear the sea surface by some 67 feet or more.
The platform itself contained two floors housing living areas; two of the legs held fuel oil for diesel generators, while the third held the intake for a desalination unit. The platform roof served as a helicopter landing area. Despite being nowhere near Texas, they got their name because they were modeled like offshore oil drilling platforms off the Lone Star State and operated from 1958 to 1963.
New recruit Doerr, then a 20-year-old from Philadelphia, embraced the job as a new opportunity. Actually, completing a full year out at sea required two years.
“The full tour was 365 days, 45 days on, 15 days on the beach,” he says.
What was life like existing 115 miles offshore of Cape Cod?
“It looked like a ship inside. The towers were manned by 45 enlisted personnel and four or five officers. There were six men to a room. The chow was great and all airmen, first, second and third class, pulled K.P. It was open mess 24 hours a day. During the day, anyone who caught fish cleaned them and gave them to the cooks who would cut them up into bite-size pieces, batter dip and deep fry them. They were served free at the flick at night.”
The towers were noisy and prone to vibration from equipment. Even worse, the relative flexibility of supports also caused shaking and swaying in response to wind and waves.
But Doerr held up well.
“Getting used to a storm was no problem because when you’re 20, you had no fear.”
However, a terrible tragedy struck one of the towers.
On Jan. 15, 1961, a nor’easter blasted Tower 4 with waves upward of 50 feet or more. The tower crumbled into the sea with 28 men struggling to stay alive. All perished. Only two bodies were recovered.
The loss of Tower 4, coupled with increased emphasis on ICBMs as a predominant threat, led to changes. Escape capsules were added to the two remaining towers, allowing rapid evacuation.
“After Tower 4 went down, Cape Hatteras would send the supply ship, the AKL17, out to New Bedford to evacuate us. It would take the ship almost 24 hours to arrive and many times by then the waves or wind wouldn’t allow her to tie up. So we just had to wait it out. One great Atlantic storm of 1962 put the fear of God in most of us,” says Doerr.
Shortly after, the military decided to close the remaining towers. The electronic equipment was removed.
There were plans for both platforms to be salvaged ashore for scrap. But things didn’t work out for Tower 2, which sank and could not be recovered. Tower 3 was then filled with foam before being knocked off its support and successfully returned to shore and dismantled.
Wreckage of Towers 2 and 4 remains in place on the ocean floor.
Doerr went on to apply his boiler-operator expertise working for Temple University and later Alpo in Allentown.
Today he is retired. But the drama of the era survives in the mind of Doerr, 78, and other veterans. Doerr is both proud and humble to have spent his early adult life serving his country at a critical time in American history.
“It’s been a lifetime in years since my tour but I remember it like it was yesterday.”