The 87th Artillery Group

(Air Defense)

Updated 12 June, 2010

A Unit Almost Lost to History

Until recently, there was very little information available in one place about this short-lived and obscure military unit. Even though I was an Alaska Nike veteran at the end of the Alaska Nike era, I had never heard of it until it was mentioned to me by a contributor of information about the Fire Island NORAD Control Center for the Site POINT webpage. He stated:

"I was the morning report clerk for the 87th artillery group from 1969 to late 1971. Men at these joint Army - Airforce sites were all accounted for through my office. Along with morning reports, I used to handle congressional inquires for both air defense battalions (Anchorage & Fairbanks)."

He also provided a photograph of the 87th Group's unit crest pins (worn by military personel on the epaulets and hat) from which the image at the top of the page was derived. He went on to note: "When I first arrived at the 87th we had no crest, I don't remember who designed it, but I saw a lot of rough drafts."

The photo below shows the 43rd ADA crests bracketed by the 87th Artillery Group's crests:

Of much greater interest was a copy of USARAL regulation 10-10 dated 1 July 1968 which describes the "Mission, Functions, and Responsibilites of the 87th Artillery Group (Air Defense)". Below is an image of the appendix to this document which shows in organizational chart form the relationships of the Alaskan air defense organizations at the time.

As you can see, the 87th was the organizational umbrella over the two Alaskan Nike-Hercules Battalions:

The 2nd Missile Battalion, 562nd Artillery

which provided area defense for the Fairbanks area, and the

4th Missile Battalion, 43rd Artillery

which provided another ring of supersonic fire around the Anchorage area. The 4/43 was redesignated as the 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery in 1971. It was at that time that the 2/562 was deactivated and with a single remaining battalion I suppose there was no need for a "group" command layer. Interestingly, if not for the memory of this contributor, the existance of the unit may have been burried and lost forever, since there is no mention of it on the U. S. Army's Center for Military History website.

To Action

Naturally, the revelation of this lost unit history prompted some investigation. The meager documentation I came up with was limited to a couple of short quotes from Cold War Historical Context 1951-1991: Fort Richardson. One of them states:

"...late 1960's...missile organization being renamed the 87th Artillery Group (Air Defense)...",

and the other mentions it being deactivated in 1973, though this date has since been found to be in error by two years (1971). This document can be found as a 7 meg PDF file HERE.

Some web search assistance was given by another reader. He noted: "...found a couple of pages that might offer some insight. They relate to records at the University of Alaska, and in particular, a Mr. Walter Blue, who was military historian for Army Alaska and died while a history professor at the University of Alaska, in 1990. Mr. Blue's records are apparently available for review at the University of Alaska."

I looked at that site and noticed that there is a document mentioned:

University of Alaska collections of Walter Blue, in Box 1, the last item under series 1b:
12. Unit histories - HQ USARAL, 87th Artillery Group, 171st Brigade, 172nd Brigade, 16th Infantry; n.d., 1971, 1975.

Perhaps at some point this document will be unearthed and scanned. (Volunteers? Anyone?)

So, when was this unit activated, and what was the actual date of its deactivation?

The first contributor had also sent along the photo below (taken circa 1970?) and noted that "The Group headquarters was on the 2nd floor of the same building [4/43rd company headquarters] located behind the NCO club on Fort Richardson."

Another, more recent contact that was at Fort Richardson from the summer of 1960 until late autumn of 1961 contributed the photo below, taken in the fall of 1960, which shows the same 4/43rd Headquarters sign, but the 87th sign has not been added. He states:

If the sign were put up after I left it would have been later than the late fall of '61 (November?).

In May, 2007 another contributor unearthed a 4/43rd ADA unit history document written circa 1967 that states:

"Also in 1964 the USARAL Air Defense Artillery Group, composed of two NIKE-HERCULES missile battalions, was activated and moved its offices from Building 1 to the upstairs half of our present headquartes, located in building 656, Fort Richardson."

This places the activation date of the group firmly in 1964. Note that the Group, even in the 1967 history, is not mentioned by name (87th).

Another researcher has unearthed the reason why the Group had no name mentioned in the historical document of 1967. He notes that "...the USARAL Air Defense Artillery Group, the designation given combined Nike-Hercules missile organization, was renamed the 87th Artillery Group (Air Defense) in January, 1968." and cites as a reference Woodman, Duty Station Northwest, Vol. 111, p. 154.

By the way, a scan of the 1967 4/43 history document which details the histories of the units that became the 4/43rd ADA, presented in the context of world events since 1914, including interesting details about the 120mm AA gun battalion that preceded the Nike missile units in Alaska is available for download if you CLICK HERE. Be advised it is about 3.4 meg in size and may take several minutes to download with a dialup connection.

In July 2007, further information came to light that in March of 1971 the Department of the Army announced its decision to close the remaining Fairbanks area missile sites of the 2/562 Artillery, the 166th Ordinance, and the 87th Artillery Group by the end of June, 1971.

Considering this activation date in 1964, and the deactivation date in June of 1971, it appears that the 87th only existed for about seven years of the twenty years of Nike defense in Alaska. If you add the fact that even by 1969 the unit still had no crests to wear on their uniforms, it is no wonder so few of the Alaska Nike vets I have been in contact with have ever heard of the 87th Artillery Group (Air Defense).

Interestingly, as a side note, the Army is not always quick to get things finished up. Even though the 4/43 ADA was redesignated 1/43 ADA in 1971, here is a set of orders dated 25 July, 1972 relieving soldiers from the 4/43 and assigning them to 1/43 ADA the next day. Fascinating...

- Juliet Tango Sierra
January, 2005