Navy launches missile. Southern Californians freak out.

Living where I do there are all sorts of catastrophes that are waiting to happen. I say that in light of all the supposedly “terrified” folks in the Los Angeles area who freaked last week when they saw a missile test just after sundown. The Los Angeles Times newspaper reports that a second and final missile was fired this afternoon off the California Coast.

Everywhere, at least in SoCal, people are “skeered.” At least that is what the media reports.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Navy photo of nuclear anti-sub rocket in 1962 from the destroyer USS Agerholm.
Be afraid. Be very afraid. The destroyer USS Agerholm fires an atomic rocket in 1962.

I live in Beaumont, Texas. It is certainly a blip compared to Los Angeles, although, just a few miles from where I live is the nation’s fourth largest port in tonnage. The Port of Beaumont sits on the Neches River, at the northwestern leg of the Sabine-Neches Waterway. The 79-mile-long ship channel serves one of the largest petrochemical producing areas in the U.S. The port is also a “military outload” port. I saw weird bubble-wrapped helicopters being loaded during the prelude to the Second Iraq War, not to mention a plethora of tanks, fighting vehicles and assorted items most of which were covered in desert camo.

The waterway juts northward to the Port of Orange on the Sabine River. Just south of the confluence of both rivers is the Port of Port Arthur. That confluence is Sabine Lake, which is more of a bay than a lake. At the tip of the water way is Sabine Pass, where a small port sits. Also, two liquefied natural gas or LNG terminals are being built on either side of the lake. One is at Sabine Pass, the other near Cameron, Louisiana.

So, were one to be terrified of what might happen, this could be the place for you. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, fifth and ninth in tonnage respectfully, also makes for a scary place. There are refineries in that area as well and lots of varied military activity to the north and south of Los Angeles. This brings me to the big Pacific scare.

Now maybe people were really terrified. I don’t know. I bet some hipster sitting in his back yard looking over the ocean and tripping his ass off on acid had a real rush. But these type of things happen quite often off the Southern California coast. Take San Clemente Island, not to be confused on San Clemente, the city between San Diego and L.A. and the place where Tricky Dick Nixon used to live.

San Clemente Island sits to the southwest of Santa Catalina Island. The former is officially uninhabited. That is a good thing because the island has been, for years, a Navy missile and shipboard gunfire range. It is probably more of the former these days as Navy ships are more missile oriented these days. The ship I served a year on in the Navy was a World War II-era gun destroyer although it could fire “rocket assisted projectiles.” The armament system was called an ASROC, for Anti submarine rocket. The Agerholm, the ship on which I served, fired the first and I guess only, nuclear-tipped ASROC

The rocket test, called “Swordfish,” was part of a series of nuclear tests in the early 1960s, most of the tests were air drops from B-52s and were in the South Pacific Ocean. Swordfish took place about 400 nautical miles — about 460 miles — west of San Diego. According to information on the test, the 20 kilo-ton device was fired about 1 p.m. local time on May 11, 1962, from the Agerholm. The nuke’s so-called “yield,” the energy unleashed in the bomb, was approximately that of the “Fat Man” bomb detonated over Nagasaki. A raft some 4,300 yards — some 2.5 miles — away was the target for the ASROC.

 “The rocket missed its sub-surface zero point by 20 yards and exploded 40 seconds later at a depth of 650 feet in water that was 17,140 feet deep,” according to

 “The spray dome from the detonation was 3000 feet across, and rose to 2100 feet in 16 seconds. The detonation left a huge circle of foam-covered radioactive water. Within two days it had broken up into small patches and spread out for 5 to 8 miles.”

Operation Dominic took place about 15 years before I reported aboard the Agerholm. Was nuclear fallout still on the ship when I boarded her in the former Todd Shipyard facility in Long Beach, Calif? I don’t know.

Now the majority of stories on the test firings from the ballistic submarine USS Kentucky speculate whether the Navy was trying to send some message. I think the answer is “yes.” The very being of the U.S. Navy sends a message, as in the photo above being an extreme example. Some believe the people should be forewarned of such tests. The Navy says “Sorry, we can’t tell you when this missile will launch, top secret.” I would bet if something like the picture above appeared off the coast of L.A., people really would freak-out. And they’d have every right to be scared.

I conclude with this tip: Assume the Navy will test fire a missile in the water — somewhere!

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.