The area of Montauk is known for having played a role in every war in which the United States has had involvement. In 1776, during the Revolutionary War, the infamous Battle of Long Island had many effects on the town and people. Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders utilized Montauk during the Spanish-American War, to recover from Yellow Fever before he and his troops returned to New York. During World War I, the Army stationed dirigibles, an aeroplane, troops and Coast Guard personnel at Montauk. Fort Hero, which was the original name for Montauk Air Force Station , was built by the Army during this time to house and train troops.
World War II brought many more changes to the quiet peninsula. The Navy acquired Fort Pond, a small area west of Montauk, and relocated the entire village to another area. The Navy also took over the Tower and Montauk Manor, as well as built new facilities to support their troops and operations. Docks, hangars, barracks, and other buildings sprang up quickly.
The Army built up Fort Hero, renaming it Camp Hero, the whole of which eventually consumed 278 acres. Camp Hero supported the coastal gun emplacements and other Army operations. Four 16-inch guns were placed there to protect the coast from enemy attack and invasion.
Camp Hero itself was designed and built in the style of a small village to avoid detection from the air. Most of the original buildings were designed to give a false impression when viewed from above, such as the gymnasium, which was built to look like a church.
After the end of World War II, the base was deactivated and used by the Army Reserve for summer training periods. In November of 1950, the Eastern Air Defense Force activated the 773rd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, which occupied the western portion of Camp Hero and provided basic aircraft mapping information. In 1952, the 773rd was transferred to the 26th Air Division and operated as an Air Defense Direction Center. Their mission was to supply surveillance, detection and interception of all aircraft entering their area of responsibility.
In November of 1957, the Army transferred Camp Hero and all property to the ownership of the Air Force. At that time Camp Hero was officially renamed to Montauk Air Force Station, and the Army ceased all operations there.
In 1958 SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) was installed at Montauk. The enormous radar dish, a large parabolic reflector array, was officially commissioned on Camp Hero in 1962. The reflector was 126 feet long and 38 feet tall, weighing 40 tons. The rotor base weighed 30 tons. The reflector was serial number two.
From this point, until the Air Force officially shut down its radar operations on July 1, 1980, the role of the 773rd remained the same: provide IFF (Identify Friend or Foe), height determination and radar mapping to other Air Defense SAGE units. The 773rd provided this data directly to the 21 st North American Air Defense Command Region Control Center, which was McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.
The Air Station was closed in 1980 and a small care-taking detail was left in charge. On February 8, 1984, the General Services Administration (GSA) auctioned off all the surrounding property. The Air Force Station itself was donated to the New York Parks Department. Some military living quarters, located along Montauk Highway, were converted into limited income housing in 1983. With the exception of this housing area, the re- mains of the Montauk Air Force Station are completely enclosed by Montauk State Park. The majority of this area is accessible to the general public. The base itself is considered off-limits.
It is interesting to note that currently portions of the Montauk Air Station are being demolished. A minimum of five structures are known to have been destroyed thus far, including the power station, the heating building, the enlisted man's club and two other buildings of unknown use. According to the Montauk Historical Society, the base is still under the control of New York State Parks Department and is being cleared of hazardous materials. It is unknown whether the station will be made part of the park, and opened to the public for use. Why it took the New York Parks Department ten years to begin demolition has never been satisfactorily explained.
THE HISTORY OF SAGE
Whirlwind was born in December 1944 when the Navy approached the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to begin a feasibility study of a general purpose flight trainer. The system would be used to train pilots and test new airplane designs. To fulfill its purpose, the trainer would have to respond instantly to a variety of real-time data and simulated tests. The system would have to interact with the pilot in real time.
Real-time operation was not a new idea. There were the emerging developments in digital ideas such as ENIAC and von Neumann's IAS machine. Yet the prevalence of operational and testing facilities was geared to analog technologies. Jay Forrester, the young engineer from Nebraska who headed Project Whirlwind, decided early on that the machine must operate in real time. The analog technology of the era was slow and tedious to program. Forrester saw the advantages of using the new, emerging digital designs, which solved many of the problems he would have faced with an analog solution.
In 1947, Forester and crew completed a design for a high speed digital computer that could function in real time. Although the original purpose of Whirlwind was to build a Navy flight trainer, by 1948 the project's only goal was construction of a real-time, digital computer. At the end of another year's time, all hell broke loose and the scope of his project changed once more. It was September, 1949. The United States had just lost a critical edge in the theater of world operations. In deep Siberia, the Russians had just exploded their first successful nuclear weapon. Long-range bombers also happened to be present on Russian air bases, capable of delivering a payload deep into the continental United States. It appeared, to the defense community and others, that we were at a great risk. They wasted little time in developing both offensive and defensive strategies.
In December,1949, the Air Force approached MIT to design and build a computerized air defense network. This network would have to detect an enemy attack early enough so appropri- ate action could be initiated. In 1950, Forrester's lab and project were taken over by the Air Force to develop this system. Whirlwind became the cornerstone of SAGE, which in turn became the cornerstone of the defense of the United States.
In addition to its sophisticated computer technology, SAGE was different tactically. The previous defense network was strictly point-and-shoot. It could indicate that there was an object in U.S. airspace, but the intercept calculations were manually computed and then fed to the nearest airfield for intercept by aircraft. Each radar station of both the MEW (Microwave Early Warning) and earlier systems stood alone. Their control was kept local, as was all the data they gathered. No other station knew, in real time, what the other stations were tracking or where they were tracking it. SAGE was intended to change all of this.
In 1951, the Whirlwind/SAGE hybrid passed its first official test. It correctly mapped, identified and plotted intercept courses for eight simultaneous objects over the New England area. This data would have been available to other installations, had they existed. When the entire network was later linked to the sophisticated missile installations, it became a formidable air defense system.
To facilitate the installation of SAGE, the airspace over the United States and Canada was divided into 25 distinct sectors. Each sector was to have the ability to monitor and respond individually, as well as to pass data and act in accordance with the greater whole. Several main control stations were planned and built, such as McGuire Air Force Base and Mount Cheyenne, to funnel and link all sectors together. In 1952, the prime contractor for the SAGE computer was found: IBM.
By the late 1950's, SAGE installations were being planned for a variety of locations. Although nothing has been found documenting and describing all SAGE installations, the scope and intent appears to be primarily coastal. According to the Air Force Historical Research Agency, the 26th Air Division became the first fully operational SAGE air defense system within the Air Defense Command by January 1, 1959.
The lineage of the 26th Air Division lists 24 squadrons and 18 detachments designated as SAGE. Public documentation that is available regarding SAGE locations references only seven actual installations by name. Given the fact that SAGE operated in the UHF frequency band it only had an effective range of 300 miles (line of sight), seven installations could not possibly have covered all of the U.S. coastline. In The Annuals of the History of Computing (a periodical that was dedicated to documenting the entire history of computers) the final number of SAGE installations that were completed is given as 25. Twenty-four of these were in the United States and one was in Canada. This difference in what was actually installed is an anomaly until further information surfaces.
Oddity: The announcement of the SAGE Radar Network to the general public occurred on January l6th, 1956, during a preview of the new system and its capabilities by Dr. George Valley, Associate Director of Lincoln Loboratories, and retired Rear Admiral E.L. Cochran, Vice President of MIT. As reported by the New York Times 2 days later, on January l8th, Valley and Cochran had ominously described the SAGE system as " ... the mating of man and machine. "
Also worth mentioning are the astounding innovations Whirlwind/SAGE eventually incorporated. It was the first system to utilize a 16-bit word structure (short words helped real-time operations) instead of the longer formats geared for scientific annotation. Whirlwind was the first digital system to operate in real time and utilize interactive CRTs. Whirlwind/SAGE became the first system, in 1953, to use magnetic memory for storage instead of electrostatic tubes and mercury delay lines. This dramatically increased the machine's speed, over double the previous rate, and maintenance time dropped dramatically. It was also the first system that was completely redundant (2 CPUs, 2 Memory's, etc.) due to the nature of its task. SAGE had to operate twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Other contributions on the SAGE-first list are light pens and keyboards, digital data transmitted over standard telephone lines (this was how the remote sites, such as Montauk, were connected to the direction centers) and module-like circuit packaging. Note that, even though Whirlwind/SAGE broke new ground at every turn and virtually set the pace for our modern computers, it is a little known leap forward in computing technology.
The SAGE system became obsolete in the early 1980's with the advent of satellite technology. In January of 1983 there were only six SAGE systems still running. By January of the following year, all SAGE installations had been shut down. Smaller bases were permanently closed, primarily the remote sites of the SAGE network, such as Montauk Air Force Station. Facilities the size of Luke and McGuire Air Force Bases are still operating today, in support of different missions.
To state that SAGE was the most important computer system of the twentieth century would not be far from accurate. It incorporated, for the first time, many of the technologies that enable current systems to perform as they do. It also, in all likelihood, holds another significant record: The longest life span of any computer system-a total of 25 years, from 1958 until 1983 before technology overtook and put the system out to pasture.
MONTAUK AIR FORCE BASE TODAY
When I say `crime,' I mean that literally. It is a misdemeanor to be on base grounds without permission from the New York State Parks Department, punishable by a couple of days in jail or a fine of fifty dollars. We were caught, in October 1994, but were not fined. It is interesting to note that, even though it was a Parks Department officer who confronted us, he was accompanied by a civilian. The civilian seemed highly upset. The reason for his agitation was not made clear. It was this civilian who did all the talking. The Parks officer was very calm and said little. What authority this civilian had is unknown.
During the investigative trips, we were able to compile a very accurate map of the base layout which is the only known map of the Montauk Air Force Station. Although these and other Army Engineering documents should be available in the National Archives, the documents from the Montauk Air Force Station are missing, as well as the World War II Army documents on Camp Hero. This is odd, since an abundance of data exists for other locations in the Long Island Sound Defense Sector.
We will examine the most important features of Montauk Air Force Station found during the investigative trips, both through detail and photographic records. While there is a huge amount of data regarding these visits, only the most relevant (to the legends of Phoenix) will be covered. The rest is simply historical information. This information is fascinating, but has little to do with the scope of this work.
It is interesting to note the GSA compiled a report in 1981 to retain the base under a care-taking detail (remember the big finale of Phoenix occurred in 1983, when it was linked to Philadelphia), but then changed directions at the end of 1983 and wanted to get rid of the station! Located on the furthest tip of Long Island is the Montauk Lighthouse, a mere three miles from the Montauk Air Station. Situated next to the lighthouse is a splinter-proof concrete structure. This was the primary Fire Control Station for the Long Isiand Defense Sector, which included the large 16-inch guns on Camp Hero.
Just down the hillside from the lighthouse, located on the beach, is an oddity. This is an immense, overturned block of concrete, which appears to be an old dock mooring. No maps of Montauk Point have ever indicated a dock at this site. Examination of the block reveals it is hollow with a metal rung ladder inside. Only a quarter of a mile further dawn the coast is another example of these concrete moorings, still upright and in place. This could be evidence of the underground network, so often spoken of in the Phoenix legends.
Recent information that has been uncovered suggests that these structures were actually part of an underwater submarine mooring location. Since the only relevant location of interest in the area is the Air Station, an underground connection to the Air Station is almost certain. The underground network may stretch from these two moorings, probably with a connection to the Fire Control Station, then extend outward to the base. Once on the base, connections would likely be to the bunkers and other buildings. The network would then traverse into the town of Montauk itself, ending at the Montauk Tower. The legend states that test subjects, usually runaways or derelicts, were brought from the streets of Long Island to the Tower, and then sent via the underground to the base.
More indicators pointing to the existence of an underground network are the location just east of King's Point and is an unexplained outcropping of large boulders. Not only are the size of these boulders out of place along the shores of the Point, but so is their shade and color. One speculation is that they were blasted and hauled out of the under ground at some point during its construction. Also noticeable in this area is a distinctive, and somewhat unpleasant, metallic smell. It reminds me of the smell generated when circuit boards are submersed in etching fluid.
Inside the building we found extensive damage by vandals. All the windows have been broken out, porcelain shattered, doors knocked down and graffiti on the walls. Beer cans and other party ingredients are also strewn throughout the halls. As a note, this type of damage is prevalent throughout a majority of the buildings on the base.
On the second floor, south end, we found a room with emblems on the door. The emblems, some of which are bumper stickers and other are metal insignia mounted on the door, are clearly Marine Corp., circa 1980. This would indicate a Marine presence on the Air Station after the base was closed. We do know from documentation that the base was put under care- taking detail from 1980 until 1984. The question is: Why use the Marines for a care-taking detail? This is highly unusual.
The other interesting feature in the Exchange is that besides the trash that is visible, you can clearly see that some temporary food preparation items have been left behind. Also, scattered throughout this area of the Exchange are utensils, old food containers and plastic kitchen wares. This indicates there was a sizable force on the base that needed to be serviced.
The staff of Montauk Air Force Base, at its peak, was 110 people. The Mess Hall was used during normal occupation to feed everyone stationed there. Documentation indicates that the care-taking detail was no more than ten people, according to Air Force papers. Therefore, the temporary setup within the Exchange is an anomaly. It appears to be setup to feed about fifty people pre-prepared meals. This is more than a care-taking detail and less than a full base contingent. What was happening here during 1980 and 1984 that would require not only fifty people, but also Marines to watch over them? And why did they leave all their stuff? Were they in a hurry?
The LSD Building
It appears to be simply another abandoned building, no different than any of the rest. Even as you walk in, and bend the recently installed plywood back far enough to squeeze through and enter the first floor, it still gives off the impression of being very ordinary. Walking upstairs, however, your mind becomes confused. You immediately rationalize that this is the work of psychedelic airmen having a little fun with their dorm rooms. As you look closer and walk through each room, the rationalization becomes less and less logical. To put it simply, the thing just doesn't make sense.
There are a total of four rooms, each of them covered with a distinctive, and quite bizarre, pattern on all four walls. The first is a mandala pattern, appearing to be Indian in nature. The second is a sixties pattern, somewhere between tie-dyed shirts and the Grateful Dead. The third is alternating, vertical black and white stripes. The last is a leopard skin pattern.
There are no telephone outlets in the rooms, and each room has a small closet in one of the corners. While there are bathroom facilities downstairs, there are no showers. There is no facility for laundry. Each of the upstairs rooms has extreme damage to the walls, with gaping holes kicked in and some of the papering ripped away. The windows are not broken out. There are small radiators in each of the rooms for heat. There is a fire suppression system (ceiling sprinklers) installed upstairs, but not downstairs.
The patterns on each of the rooms are meticulously done, not haphazardly painted. The trim and molding were done professionally, and care was taken not to splatter and over paint on the floor or ceiling. The patterns that are wallpaper are cut evenly and neatly and in harmony with the layout of the walls. In the case of the leopard room, molding was even placed neatly along the bottom of the paper. The ceilings were left totally untouched and are painted white.
While you quietly digest this, think about the structure next to the LSD. It is called the Pickled Building (because the sign on the front door says so) The inside layout is an exact duplication of the LSD building, except there are no bizarre painted or wallpapered features upstairs or downstairs. It is perfectly normal in all regards.
So what are we to make of the LSD building? What I have named it tells the reader about the impression that I had when I first saw it: A drug house right off the Haight in San Francisco, dropped straight out of the sixties. The only problem with this is that the rooms are located on a top secret Air Force radar installation on the eastern most tip of Long Island. I guess I could rationalize that, somehow, but the building is also placed in a very prominent and visible portion of the base itself.
Consulting the base map, we find that the LSD building is just west of the main intersection, in the center of which used to stand the base flagpole and Old Glory. Across the street is an Administration Building and the Officers Club. Just to the west is where the Enlisted Club used to stand before it was demolished in 1993. Finally, high on the hill overlooking this oddity, is the SAGE radar reflector and Computer Building. This leaves us with a puzzling oddity that we can only throw speculation over and determine what fits best in the overall picture. Was the LSD building meant to test mind control drugs, LSD and mescaline, during the MKULTRA days of the CIA? Was it the Air Force's own little version of MKULTRA? Perhaps it is an on-base brothel, to keep the boys in uniform from getting in trouble in the sleepy town of Montauk? Perhaps a mixture of all of these theories, which would fit nicely with the legend. A place to test the subjects' control of their own mind, under drugs and in sexual situations. To help develop that all important PSI factor that would sentence them to time in the Phoenix chair.
The Computer Building