2007-03-23 / Columnists

It's My Turn

By Ruth Altman

By Ruth Altman

Ruth Altman was a long-time resident of Beach 27 Street. She attended PS 106 in Edgemere and graduated from Far Rockaway High School in 1957. Most of her career was spent as a civilian employee of the United States Army, beginning at the Nike Missile site in Fort Tilden on the western end of Rockaway.

Wow!! Did Howie Schwach's article Once a Vital Defense Component: Now Avenue for Concerts, Little League , in the August 4, 2006 WAVE bring back so many memories for me.

After graduating from Far Rockaway High School in June 1957, I took and passed a clerical test given by the Department of Defense and was eligible to work for any branch of the military. I was offered and accepted a position at Fort Tilden as a clerk-typist at a salary of about $62.00 a week and then promoted to secretary (a raise of about $4 per week) to the Director of Ordnance, a civilian named Joseph (but he went by his middle name) George Dicker, who was in charge of supplies and materials and eventually the reporting of deliveries of nuclear warheads for the new Nike Hercules missiles. More on that later.

Before going on, I have to mention that I had already spent time at Fort Tilden while in High School. In my senior year, I and lots of other girls used to go to dances at Fort Tilden and helped to lift the morale of the troops. It was there that I met and dated a handsome Italian, a recent arrival to the United States, with dark hair and beautiful blue eyes. Gabriel Anthony Lozzi was my senior prom date and proudly wore his uniform for the event.

By the way, does anyone out there in Waveland remember those dances?

Any other "girls" recall our visits?

Back to my time at Fort Tilden. When I first started to work the missiles were the Ajax variety but once the Hercules nuclear missiles came in, there were classified reports that had to be sent each time we received warhead shipment. I had been given a security clearance of SECRET because I was the person who had to send out the reports, which were prepared by my boss and others.

All deliveries came at other than regular working hours and there was a short time within which the reports had to be filed.

So, on several occasions, I had to go into work with my boss at odd times but, because of the nature of the work, I was not able to tell my mother why. I was only able to say that I had to help with the filing of reports and leave it at that.

I was somewhat uncomfortable about the situation and yet excited that I couldn't tell my mother the details. I really didn't have any big secrets from my mom but this was a legit one I had to keep.

I also had a personal tour of the inside of one of the Hercules bunkers from the Lieutenant I was dating for a time who was stationed at Fort Tilden. That was really not allowed - just another adventure.

What a time I had. I think I really did appreciate it all then but how lucky I was to have such excitement and adventure on my first full time job. I was so young and so very unworldly but right in the middle of something rather unusual and unique. I was very carefully screened before given my security clearance - my family, friends, neighbors were contacted - and then the secrecy of having to go to work at odd times. What a start to my working career.

Soon after that, the Ordnance and Repair Unit at Fort Tilden relocated to Bellmore, Long Island and consolidated as the Combined Field Maintenance Shop with responsibility for Fort Tilden, Lido Beach and Rocky Point locations. I was promoted there to work for the Army Major in Charge - Fred Dorsey - so my work with the reports was over. This new job proved challenging and exciting too in many ways and from there I applied and was accepted to work overseas.

I spent 1 ½ years in Morocco, Africa working for the Air Force and 1½ years in Bremerhaven, Germany working for the Army.

After returning to New York, I left work with the Department of Defense and began my working career in private industry. It's been a very good ride and I've had some other exciting and challenging and fulfilling jobs. I feel very lucky for the majority of my working experiences.

But isn't it funny how I can remember so much of what happen all those years ago but today I have to write down almost everything to be sure I remember what's happened, happening or being planned. The only consolation is that I know I'm not alone.

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