Missile Museum Sparks Cold War Memories Twenty-five years ago, a network of nuclear warheads rested below Arizona, Arkansas and Kansas. None of the Titan II Missiles were ever launched and all but one have been destroyed. A museum in Tucson is dedicated to the lone survivor.
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Missile Museum Sparks Cold War Memories

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Missile Museum Sparks Cold War Memories

Missile Museum Sparks Cold War Memories

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Any day now, the Titan II Missile Museum in southern Arizona will celebrate its one millionth visitor. Twenty-five years ago, that would have been unthinkable. The missile silo south of Tucson was one of the most top-secret places in America, part of a network of nuclear warheads. Now it's a national historic landmark.

Mark Moran of member station KJZZ reports.

MARK MORAN: At the height of the Cold War, this Titan II missile sunk 150 feet deep into the Sonoran Desert could be launched in less than a minute. If a launch was ordered, this is what you'd hear.

Ms. YVONNE MORRIS (Titan II Missile Museum): One, turn, release.

(Soundbite of buzzing)

Ms. MORRIS: And there's like this hollowness - only there's - it's down here in your gut. You can feel it, and that's when you know it's real.

MORAN: Of course, it never was real because the missile was never actually launched, but the crew, led by Yvonne Morris, who was 23 in the early 1980s, was trained for years to be ready to respond to launch orders they hoped never came.

Ms. MORRIS: If you're being ordered to take your keys out and to get ready to launch your missile, life as you know it is pretty much over. In essence, you have nothing to lose.

MORAN: This Titan II, still in its silo, is part of a museum where Morris is now the director. It's the last of 54 such missiles that were clustered in Arizona, Arkansas and Kansas. The rest have been destroyed. The Command Post deep inside the ground is like something you'd see in a sci-fi movie - mint green metal panels full of blinking lights, large switches, dials and meters.

The missile site evokes strong memories for visitors like Rosemary Mancillas, who thinks back on when she was in grade school.

Ms. ROSEMARY MANCILLAS: I get a kind of a creepy, crawly feeling all over thinking about it, really think back on that time. We all grew up during that time of duck and cover, and I remember as a child that I was thinking that we were being invaded by Russians and we were all going to die.

MORAN: The site also brings back memories of one night in October 1962, when President Kennedy made this speech:

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: This sudden, clandestine decision to station strategic weapons for the first time outside of Soviet soil -

MORAN: Joel Sarich from East Lake, Ohio, was 14 at the time.

Mr. JOEL SARICH: I can remember vividly sitting in front of the television and seeing John Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis and thinking just maybe that was going to be the end. And I know there were neighbor kids who were much younger than I was at the time that were very, very frightened and didn't sleep that night because they figured we were all going to be goners.

MORAN: A few days after President Kennedy delivered that speech, the Russian missile facility in Cuba was dismantled. But it would be more than 20 years until the Cold War was officially over. Visiting the missile site, Joel Sarich is reminded that the threats we face today are much different than they were back then.

Mr. SARICH: The enemy isn't as well defined and neither are their actions as well defined. At least between us and the Soviet Union, there seemed to be a kind of mutual respect for human life. Now, that seems, at least on one side, that it's gone.

Ms. MORRIS: I'm not kidding. You can get nostalgic for the Cold War.

MORAN: Now Yvonne Morris is trying to raise money to help educate people who don't know about the Cold War, and not just with tours and the gift shop. You can actually spend the night in this once top secret missile silo for $500. For $1,000, you sleep in the crew quarters, play war games at the commander's console, launch an imaginary missile and get a catered dinner.

Ms. MORRIS: It's another tool to reach people, to bring history alive to them, and I don't know any other way to do it, you know, short of creating a Titan II video game, you know?

MORAN: All at a missile site where not all that long ago, a pair of keys was the only thing that stood between nuclear destruction and peace.

For NPR News, I'm Mike Moran.

NORRIS: The Titan II Missile Museum was ranked as the number one roadside museum in America by the editors of Roadsideamerica.com. You can get the whole top 10 list and a list of other roadside aficionados at NPR.org.

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