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11 September 2002
Dear Roadrunners and other readers:
My book was not published, but a limited number of copies with
the cover drawing were privately printed and given to family and friends. One of
those friends was Barbara Slater, wife of Slip Slater, who had been with us
during the Vegas years. She showed it to Roadrunner President Roger Anderson,
which led him and Webmaster T.D. Barnes to invite me to write a biography of
Werner. I am delighted to write of Werner's life before, during and after the
years at the Nevada Test Site, but I must admit that the best part of those
years were spent more with his companions at Groom Lake than at home with me,
when he was either sleeping or playing golf! I have therefore asked Colonel Hugh
Slater, or Slip as we call him, to add his memories to those of mine. T.D. Barnes has been a dear friend and asset in getting the story told about the Roadrunners of Groom Lake. I have authorized him to publish my book as he sees fit.
You may have noticed that this preface is dated on a day of somber memory for
Americans. This is not entirely by accident. What happened on this date would
have been so traumatic for Werner that I am still unable to decide whether to be
glad that he did not live to suffer such an attack on the country he had come to
love so much and to which he had dedicated his lifetime of service.
WERNER. H. WEISS
aka The Desert Fox
Werner came to America when he was nine years old. He came with his parents
and his two brothers, a working man's family, and settled in Brooklyn, N.Y.
He did not know a word of English but was enrolled in a public high school
where his talent in mathematics saved him from being placed several grades
lower than his age would warrant. He learned English rapidly and left home
after he finished high school with the firm intention of serving his new
country. He had become an American citizen via his father's naturalization.
His memories of post WWI and Nazi Germany instilled in him a fervent
appreciation of what it meant to live in this land of hope and freedom. This
intense patriotism directed the rest of his life.
He started by going to Washington D.C. He got a government job which he always
swore was ranked lower than a GS-1. He passed the Permanent Civil Service
exams, worked while taking courses at the University of Maryland, got married
and joined the Army when it was time to go off to war. He went to England
until that war was over, and he got as far as Manila enroute to the Japanese
war before it ended. He became an Army civilian and was based for a while in
Utah, his wife Vivian's home state. His desire to go abroad led him to apply
for and get a job with the CIA. He was sent to Frankfurt, Germany, where he
would have been content except for the tragic and untimely death of Vivian
during their first year overseas.
I met Werner and Vivian during our early days with the Agency in Germany,
where I had gone to work for the CIA after my English divorce. He and I were
not even very friendly until some time after his loss, but were thrown
together and eventually became close, probably because he learned that I was
taking golf lessons. We spent a year in Berlin before returning to Washington.
Eventually, we both got new assignments in Germany. This was at the point
where Werner was first introduced to what was to become his association with
the U2 and SR71 programs.
After a few months in Wiesbaden, Werner was told that he was needed at the U2
base in Japan. We arranged to get married
he left so that I could join him as soon as family quarters were available. We
spent two happy years in Japan, although I missed being able to work. Wives
were not permitted to work in this type of program
I was at home one day when Werner phoned to tell me where our next assignment
would be. It took quite a while before I would believe it would be Las Vegas!
We arrived there on the first of January 1960.
We did not leave until 1969. My nine years in Vegas consisted of playing golf
and duplicate bridge and waiting for Werner to come home. At this point, I
will hand over to Slip Slater who knows a lot more than I do about Werner
during those years
* * * Werner Weiss at Groom Lake
Col. Hugh (Slip) Slater, USAF (Ret),
former Commander of the 1129th SAS
Werner Weiss, a GS-15, was singularly the most important individual concerning
the mission of the 1129th Special Activities Squadron at Area 51. Fondly
referred to as the "Desert Fox" by his contemporaries, he was with
the unit from the beginning and served as the senior Central Intelligence
Agency's officer. During this period Werner continually demonstrated
outstanding professional skill and initiative in managing the insurmountable
tasks of maintaining base and project security, staffing, logistics, labor
union relations, transportation, housing, and liaison with officials at local,
state and national levels. His attention to detail in support of the aircraft
operational and maintenance requirements contributed materially to the success
of our mission. He oversaw all support activities for the
unit. While labor union strikes were an annual event at the neighboring Nevada
Test Site, there were no labor strikes at Area 51 under Werner's watch. The
dining facilities at the Area were the best I had ever witnessed in more that
30 years of service. Wives were complaining because spouses cited how great
the food was at the Area, when they got home on the weekends.
One must remember that the operation at the Area was around the clock and that
support facilities operated during the entire period with minor exceptions.
This included hobby shops and many different support activities. The theater,
rod and gun club, swimming pool, bowling alley and many more all provided the
necessary environment for this remote location. All were under Weiss'
control. And Weiss likewise did the same for the Blackshield deployment at
Kadena AFB, Okinawa.
Weiss loved a challenge. As an example, prior to the A-12s deployment to the
Far East the agency had constructed housing meant for the unit's personnel.
However, when the deployment actually was ordered the USAF was using these
billets in support of Vietnam operations and at rate four times greater than
had been planned for the 1129th. It was decided that every attempt to find
billeting area was paramount to a successful deployment. An abandoned and
scheduled for destruction Quonset hut area was found a short distance from
Kadena AFB and Werner decided it could be rehabilitated. I was doubtful but
after listening to his plans and concurring that the Air Force needed our
billets we moved ahead. In a matter of a few months all Quonsets were restored
to better than new condition. A complete mobile messing facility was added.
A-12 hangers lacked certain features that had to be added just days before the
arrival of the first aircraft. Within a couple of days Weiss had the necessary
work underway and completed on time. It was indeed a pleasure to have worked
with Werner Weiss during my four years at Area 51.
* * *
Post Groom Lake
Thank you, Slip: I have learned more than I ever knew before about what Werner
did up there all week.
After the Groom Lake years ended, Werner and I spent two years in Washington,
yearning to go abroad again. Werner and Vivian had had no children, so that I
was delighted that he and my son Tom became friends. Tom and his wife lived in
England and were about to give Werner his first step grandchild. We were
hoping for Rome but got Paris. I was delighted because I speak French but
Werner was not. Which, as they say, just goes to show. The Paris transfer led
to one of the most exciting assignments we could have possibly imagined. There
is not room for me to describe the Paris operation here, but it is described
in my aforementioned book, Chapter 48 for those not wishing to read the whole
book. I will say, however, that Mr. William Buckley, the well-known columnist,
wrote years later, in a discussion on covert operations, that ours was an
example of how successful such an operation could be even though the
logistics were infinitely complicated.
Werner retired following Paris and I think I can say, sadly but truthfully,
that he never drew another happy breath. He returned to Las Vegas and tried to
sell real estate, but hated it. He lived another 24 years but missed being in
service to his country. He was a simple but complicated man, who would take a
centipede outside and release it, but whose co-workers gave him a bull-whip
for his office wall.
Werner did not have a funeral or memorial service. His brothers were gone and
their children and his friends were so scattered that we decided to have our
ashes scattered over the Atlantic. This website seems to me to take the place
of the memorial he never had. I would like to thank Roger Anderson, Slip
Slater and Webmaster T.D. Barnes for allowing me to participate in this
wonderful work of remembrance. I feel that it has added years to his life and
life to my years.
SHARING OUR FOND MEMORIES
Click on photos to enlarge
|Werner at Tom's wedding in London - 1968
||Werner and Velma at Tom's wedding
||Velma w/grand child in Paris
||Velma in Las Vegas
|Werner and dogs
||Werner and grandchild
||Werner & Shirley Kemp
|Werner in Holland
||Werner - Scottish
* * *
Werner's fellow Roadrunners join with the Weiss family in remembrance of a fine
gentleman. May he rest in peace.
In Behalf of All Roadrunners
See a broken link or error, have a story or photo to add - please email the webmaster - - Page last modified 07/01/2012
Posted Thornton D. Barnes
By Thornton D. Barnes