CEDAR FALLS — Leo Ogden visited his older sister and her husband several times during his summers off from school whenever they were stationed stateside. He heard good things about the military from his brother-in-law, a “career Navy man.”
“I just thought it would be a good thing to do, so I joined the (naval) reserves” at his Sioux City high school in 1949, Ogden said.
Once the Korean War was declared, he joined up with the Navy, “because I knew if I didn’t, I’d get drafted.”
He was inducted in Omaha and put on a train to San Diego, where he waited around until there were enough sailors to form a company before he began basic training.
“I think it was supposed to be 12 weeks that we spent in boot camp, but because of the rush to try and get people out in the fleet they had reduced that to 10 weeks,” Ogden said.
He doesn’t remember if he or his company were exactly itching to go to war. Mostly, they were exhausted.
“They kept you pretty busy from 5 o’clock in the morning ’til 10 o’clock at night. By then, you were tired and wanted to sleep,” Ogden said. “I think most of the guys were enthusiastic about what they were doing.”
After basic, Ogden was recommended for one of two specialty training schools: flight school or electronics. He chose the latter.
“While I would have liked to learn to fly, I thought, ‘Well, go to electronics school and learn a trade,’” he said. “So that’s where I went.”
The school was on Naval Station Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay, where Ogden learned the ins and outs of tube theory, wiring circuitry and repairing receivers and transmitters.
After 15 months there, he was assigned to the communications station on Guam, where he was assigned to a receiver site and repaired and maintained single side band radios that communicated with Hawaii.
“It was a matter of sitting at a work bench and testing if they had problems; if they did, you figure out what the problem was and repair it,” he said.
Ogden was on Guam for about 17 months, and remembered spending a good bit of his free time swimming in the ocean, about a 2-mile walk to a place surrounded by a coral reef.
“It was a gorgeous setting and the water was clear — just wonderful,” he said.
Soon, Ogden heard the Navy was looking for volunteers who wanted to go to a new school they were developing on guided missiles. Ogden and a friend signed up and were selected to go to the newly opened base, Point Mugu, an air missile test center about 65 miles north of Los Angeles.
Ogden spent five months studying mathematics and learning about the guided missiles the Germans had developed in WWII.
After his training, he joined up with the very first company, Guided Missile Test Group One, on Point Mugu. Ogden said the new company worked with Regulus 1 Cruise Missile, which the National Air and Space Museum said is the first operational Navy cruise missile, which could go up to 30,000 feet high and had a range of 500 miles.
Periodically, the company would go to Edwards Air Force Base to work alongside civilian manufacturers of the Regulus. Ogden worked on autopilot and radio-controlled portions of the missiles.
“We would launch some missiles from there, then the aircraft would fly them to their destination and bring them back and land them,” Ogden said.
Because they were quite expensive, the missiles had landing gear so a pilot controlling them remotely could land them and the military could recover them to use again.
“We had one missile, I recall it was called ‘Old Number 17,’ I think it flew successfully 13 or 14 times, which was really quite amazing,” Ogden said.
Ogden was around for the very first installation of a Regulus 1 onto an aircraft carrier, the USS Hancock.
“We took three missiles with us and fired two of them while we were out there, showing off,” he said.
Ogden doesn’t remember thinking he was on the cutting edge of anything, despite being in the first training class, in the first company and working with the very first Navy cruise missiles.
“You were aware it was new and different, but I don’t know whether we were really aware that it would ever amount to anything,” Ogden said.
He spent the last 15 months of his military duty at Naval Air Station Barbers Point on Oahu, Hawaii. His sister and brother-in-law were also stationed near there at the time, which he liked.
“Everybody thinks, ‘Oh geez, I’d love to go to Hawaii,’ but there are aspects of it that aren’t any nicer than living in Cedar Falls,” Ogden said. “A lot of people think it’s all sun. Well, during the rainy season it rains and rains, just miserable.”
After he returned home, Ogden got married, went to college for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, then worked with the Black Hawk County superintendent of schools for 32 years. He said he severed his relationship with the Navy because he could see the Vietnam War was ramping up.
“I think when I joined the Navy I was very immature — I didn’t have much common sense,” Ogden said. “I think that’s the kind of thing the military does for people — it teaches them responsibility and discipline, and I think it did the same for me.”