- Associated Press - Monday, February 3, 2014

HONEA PATH, S.C. (AP) - Hubert Armstrong said he feels as if, for most of his life, luck has been on his side.

The 26 years he served in the U.S. Air Force afforded him the opportunity to stand guard for the nation’s Titan II missile defense system. He has traveled the world, worked on airplanes that intercepted spy satellites, and for three years he traveled across Europe transporting top secret documents to American authorities and its allies.

“It has not been anything special that I have done,” Armstrong said. “I have just always been in the right place at the right time.”

Then, about a month ago, his luck continued again.

He made a typical stop at the McDonald’s restaurant in Belton for a usual cup of morning coffee and met up with a friend and co-worker he had not seen since the mid-1970s.

Ernest Reynolds, who moved to the Starr-Iva area three years ago, made a stop at the same restaurant. He said he instantly recognized Armstrong.

“The details I don’t always remember, but I have a good memory for faces,” Reynolds said. “When I started asking him the questions, all of a sudden you could see his face light up.”

Like Armstrong, Reynolds served in the Air Force. He, too, served as a missile mechanic. And he served as a courier for some of the U.S. Department of Defense’s top secret documents during the Cold War.

For three years, Armstrong and Reynolds - who came from totally different regions of the United States -served alongside each other in another country.

Reynolds is an Ohio native. Armstrong is a native of Honea Path. They served together in Germany. They were both couriers for the Department of Defense. There were 35 couriers in their unit at the time, Armstrong said. Armstrong and Reynolds said couriers were always paired up in teams of two to transport the military information.

Sometimes, the documents, or parcels, were headed to the nation’s capital. Other times, they were carrying documents to U.S. embassies, or to NATO bases, or to the officials of allied nations. But they never knew what they were carrying.

“We never knew what it was,” Reynolds said. “It might have been missile launch codes.”

“It was always wrapped up,” Armstrong said, of the parcels. “One time, something I couriered cost $20,000 to fly from Germany to the Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. That was the cost of the freight and my plane ticket.”

Those three years kept both men on the go.

Armstrong’s pocket calendar from those years shows non-stop travel for days and weeks at a time. He went to Turkey, Spain, Norway, Italy, Greece, England and of course, Germany. He also traveled between Europe and the Pentagon quite often.

There are no regrets for this Honea Path High School graduate who still lives on the same street he grew up on.

He said he has been able to experience some of the most amazing things because of his time in the Air Force. In 1954, Armstrong went into the Air Force after a short stint in the National Guard. He said military service meant something different than working in a textile mill. So he joined.

“I worked in the mill, but it wasn’t the best environment,” Armstrong said.

Before he was stationed in Germany as a courier, he worked in aircraft maintenance and he served in the nation’s Cold War missile program. He was assigned to a unit that guarded the 18 Titan II missiles that were buried in silos 147 feet underground in Little Rock, Ark. There were also 18 of the same missiles in Arizona and 18 in Kansas.

He and the others assigned to the same duty would live underground in those command centers during their shifts. Helicopters would fly them from their bases to the entrances to the underground silos.

“We had the red phone. We were on alert. We would listen to messages as they came in and we would check on the system,” Armstrong said. “Those 18 missiles had the power to obliterate Russia.”

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Armstrong worked on airplanes in Hawaii as part of the 6593rd Test Squadron. Those planes helped intercept spy satellites and helped gather information - particularly images - of the Soviet Union. The program was the first of its kind.

“The 6593rd Test Squadron conducted one of the most important Air Force missions of the Cold War,” according to the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office’s historical records.

In his time as part of the 6593rd Test Squadron, Armstrong helped maintain the aircraft that captured the satellites that were gathering those images, he said. He was part of the crew that caught the first of these spy satellites in midair, he said. The unit received the U.S. Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, and the plane that accomplished that mission was placed in the Smithsonian.

“I helped maintain that airplane,” Armstrong said.

For him, those career accomplishments helped give him some of the biggest thrills of his life. Now, after 34 years, to be able to reconnect with one of the guys he served with has been amazing.

Reynolds said he didn’t remember when he moved to Anderson County that Armstrong was from the area.

“It was amazing,” Reynolds said. “I mean, what are the odds? It was uncanny. He is the first guy that I ran into, like that, that I served with.”

“I don’t know how he recognized me,” Armstrong said. “The chances of that happening is like winning the lottery.”


Information from: Anderson Independent-Mail, https://www.andersonsc.com

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