50 years ago: Missile dropped on Mayport ship, Navy says nuclear warhead unarmed

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An unarmed, two-stage missile tipped with a nuclear warhead accidently was dropped several feet to the deck of the guided missile frigate Luce at Mayport Naval Station, but did not explode.

When word of the accident spread, hundreds of residents began to panic and flooded the base’s switchboard, believing the missile might be in danger of detonating.

A Navy spokesman said there were no armed nuclear weapons stored in the Jacksonville area.

He added the Navy had to have nuclear weapons stored in the area, but they were armed only while at sea in an operating area or when under attack.

The danger of the accident lay in the fact that the missile’s high-explosive propellant could have exploded, scattering nuclear or radioactive material around a large area.

The amount of charge contained in each warhead was classified, officials said. But one source indicated most of the naval base could have been destroyed or damaged had it exploded.

“I feel as safe around one of these missiles if it dropped as a five-inch bullet,” said Capt. Dixon Lademan, commanding officer of the Luce.

He said the odds of the warhead detonating or the propellant igniting after being dropped were “more than a million to one.”

Guided missile frigates such as the Luce were equipped to carry 40 Terrier missiles. The weapons were 31 feet long and were fired at supersonic speeds to a range of 10 nautical miles.

• Financial success for the second annual Greater Jacksonville Open golf tournament was assured with the report of sponsorship ticket sales having gone over the 500 goal, with 527 being on the books.

The ticket sales put $79,050 in the account for the March 24-27 event at Selva Marina Country Club in Atlantic Beach.

W. Ashley Verlander and James McAfee, co-chairs of the advisory committee in charge of raising funds, credited success of the drive to two organizations — the Junior League of Jacksonville and Sales and Marketing Executives of Jacksonville, both of which put on drives to sell the $150 tickets.

“We must credit the Junior League with a great effort,” Verlander said. “The girls in that group sold about 130 sponsorships last year and of those, 113 were renewed and members of the club sold 71 more this year.”

The Dan Sikes team was the leading group in ticket sales with 58. Top salesman on the team and in the entire effort was Julius Fletcher, who sold 42 tickets.

• Florida Junior College at Jacksonville would open in the fall with a freshman class only, said J. Bruce Wilson, who would be the college’s founding president.

He said the provision of a freshman class only was a state policy, adopted when money was set aside by the Department of Education for the two-year college.

Wilson said there could be some transfer students enrolled the first year but they would not be considered sophomores.

He also reported progress was being made toward obtaining a faculty for the school.

“We’re seeking our people from all over the country,” Wilson said. “From indications we have, we will be fortunate in obtaining outstanding people.”

One major step remained in the establishment of the school — determining where classes would be conducted.

Numerous sites had been offered to the Duval Board of Public Instruction, but no choice had been made.

For its first year and possibly the second, pending selection of a site and construction of buildings, the abandoned South Jacksonville Elementary School would be used for classes.

• Edward Whaley, who was charged with assaulting and escaping from a deputy U.S. marshal, believed he could frustrate the federal court by refusing to submit to a psychiatric examination. But he found out it wasn’t that easy.

Whaley on Jan. 7 pleaded not guilty to the charges, contending he was insane at the time of the offense and that he remained insane and was incompetent to face trial.

On a motion by the government, U.S. District Judge William McRae Jr. appointed a psychiatrist to examine the defendant in the county jail.

Whaley refused to answer any questions put to him by the doctor.

When Whaley appeared in court after the examination, McRae told him it was very probable an attempt was being made to frustrate the court.

“But federal procedure and a federal statute protects the court from such frustration,” McRae told Whaley.

At that point, Adam Adams, Whaley’s court-appointed attorney, asked that his client be committed to federal custody for a psychiatric study and report.

He said Whaley contended he could not comprehend the nature of the charges against him and he was unable to prepare a defense for his client.

McRae declared he would grant the motion, adding he had been ready to order the commitment even if Adams had not moved for it.

The judge’s order directed Whaley be confined in the hospital for federal prisoners at Springfield, Mo., while the study was being made.

• The Merritt Collection of Floridiana, one of the largest private collections of Florida historical artifacts, became the newest acquisition of the Jacksonville Public Library.

The collection included 500 rare books, several hundred maps, state and federal publications and other documents.

It was assembled by the late Dr. James Merritt of Jacksonville.

The collection would be placed in the Haydon Burns Library. Harry Brinton, library director, said the materials would not be placed in circulation, but would remain in a special section for use by scholars.

The acquisition was the result of several years of effort on the part of board members, Friends of the Jacksonville Public Library and private donors to purchase the collection from Merritt’s estate.

The purchase price was not disclosed.

• Inflation hit Municipal Court when Judge John Santora announced a minimum fine of $10 for any moving traffic violation.

He had been using $5 as a base.

Speeders would pay $1 for every mile an hour they exceeded the limit, said Santora.

He also warned that ignoring a ticket would be expensive, costing at least $25.

• John Stanford was sentenced to life imprisonment — the maximum penalty — for second-degree murder in the knife slaying of a waitress at a Normandy Boulevard tavern.

The 34-year-old ex-convict pleaded guilty Nov. 22. He was sentenced by Circuit Judge Albert Graessle Jr.

Stanford had been scheduled to go on trial Nov. 22 for first-degree murder in the multiple stabbing of 33-year-old Donna Mack.

He pleaded guilty that day to second-degree murder, however, and the plea was accepted by the State Attorney’s Office.

After the guilty plea, Graessle deferred sentence, pending an investigation of Stanford’s background by a probation officer.

Then, through defense attorney Major Harding, Stanford made a motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

Stanford said he entered the plea because he was afraid of the consequences if he went to trial for first-degree murder and was found guilty, opening the way for a possible death sentence.

State Attorney William Hallowes filed written pleadings opposing the plea withdrawal on a number of grounds.

Among other issues, Hallowes said, there was no legal basis for the withdrawal and in any case, Stanford in his motion did not maintain his innocence of the murder.

The judge was ready to hear oral arguments on the motion when Stanford, after conferring with his attorney and his sister, withdrew the motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

Graessle then imposed sentence, after Hallowes ascertained by questioning that Stanford had not been coerced into pleading guilty and had not been offered any reward or hope of leniency.

County detectives said the victim was stabbed repeatedly with a knife on April 14 at the Windward Tavern at 8757 Normandy Blvd.

An autopsy showed she died of stab wounds to the heart, lungs and aorta.

Under Florida law, Stanford could have been sentenced from 20 years to life in prison at the judge’s discretion.

Court officials said Stanford was on parole for robbery when the murder occurred.

• Robert Phillips, public relations chairman for the Jacksonville office of St. Regis Paper Co., was named chairman for the seventh annual fundraising auction of Channel 7, Jacksonville Community Television Inc.

The auction would be May 9-14, with a goal of $125,000. Money raised would be used for remodeling and station operating expenses.

For every dollar donated in cash or merchandise, The Ford Foundation would match 50 cents, Phillips said.

• Carpco Research and Engineering Inc., a Jacksonville firm that designed and manufactured mineral processing equipment, received President Lyndon Johnson’s “E” award for excellence in export expansion.

W. Bruce Curry, director of the Jacksonville Field Office of the U.S. Department of Commerce, said the company’s export accomplishments were an important factor in the expansion of U.S. foreign trade and contributed to the improvement in the nation’s balance of payments.

Carpco was doing business in the mining and engineering research industries in 50 countries and probably was better known abroad than it was in its home town, Curry said.

He also said only eight other firms in the North Florida had received the award since it was established in 1961.