And the stakes could not have been higher. For United States Air Force personnel who managed top-secret sites like the Titan II missile site near Green Valley, Arizona, nuclear war was a possible outcome.
Of course, it never happened to that, and the disarmed nuclear missile site south of Tucson now serves as a museum and a national historic monument – a testament to when Arizona schoolchildren were given instructions. on how to hide and cover in case of nuclear. attack.
While the Titan Missile Museum may be the most spectacular of the state’s Cold War relics, it isn’t the only one. A number of older facilities and museums are dotted around southern Arizona.
Here are five of the most fascinating places in Arizona’s Cold War history.
1. Titan Missile Museum, Green Valley
As I walked along the tubular corridor connecting the missile launch control center to the 104-foot-high Titan II missile, I couldn’t help but think that I had wandered into a Tom Clancy novel.
Certainly, it was not difficult to imagine the tense moments that had probably taken place in these rooms dug 35 feet underground. Just before my walk down the metallic hallway, my tour mates and I had participated in a mock missile launch, complete with sirens, floor-to-ceiling control panels, flashing lights, and the fateful phone call.
The Titan Missile Museum features the only surviving Titan II missile installation of 54 built in the United States in the mid-20th century. It offers a bewildering but captivating glimpse into the technology used by the United States to prevent nuclear war.
The excellent tour guide who led my group offered interesting information about the secret culture that reigned in the mission. Officers and enlisted personnel who occupied the missile site were not allowed to reveal the events, even to family members. The museum’s website also makes reference to the guarded atmosphere: “What was once one of America’s most secret places is now a National Historic Landmark,” he says.
On the day of my tour, only four people participated, so we were all recruited to participate in the mock attack. My job: deputy commander, the officer who would have managed communications and telephone lines. In that role, I would have confirmed the coded information the commander also received – a form of pre-Internet two-factor authentication.
A missile launch would only have happened in the event of a verified attack, our guide told us.
“And that means missiles are in the air, and that means there is less than half an hour left to do anything,” she said.
If the US president gave the order and Strategic Air Command led the Pentagon, a missile could have been launched into enemy territory from the Arizona missile site.
The tour points out that the Titan II missiles were never launched and that they were deactivated from 1982.
For anyone interested in the Cold War or military history, a visit to the museum is definitely worth the half-hour drive south of Tucson. The visit, for a fee, lasts about 45 minutes. Participants must be able to descend and climb 55 metal grid stairs and stand for the duration of the tour. Closed-toe walking shoes are recommended, without heels or flip-flops. Tours fill up during peak season, so booking online in advance is recommended.
Pro tip: For other things to do in the area, check out my article 7 Reasons Why Snowbirds Love Adorable Green Valley, Arizona.
2. Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson
With around 400 historic aircraft, from the Wright Flyer to the 787 Dreamliner, the Pima Air & Space Museum is said to be one of the largest government-funded aviation and space museums in the world.
Admiring the 80 acres filled with every form of airplane imaginable, I had no doubts about this claim to fame. The planes – a mix of military and passenger planes – are laid out over the desert landscape with the rugged Tucson Mountains as a backdrop.
And that’s without even mentioning the six huge hangars that house the museum’s interior exhibits (three dedicated to WWII) or the separate building that serves as the poignant 390th Memorial Museum honoring the staff of the 390th Bomb Group from the WWII era. World War.
The Pima Air & Space Museum, which opened in 1976, has evolved over the years, and while the history of WWII is important, the museum also focuses on other eras, including the cold War.
Perhaps the most famous aircraft of the time was the Boeing EC-135, best known for its use in Operation Looking Glass, in which an EC-135 was in flight 24/7. 7 throughout the threat of the Cold War. The planes served as flying command posts for Strategic Air Command in the event of nuclear war.
Entrance to the museum is chargeable and tours are largely self-guided. Note that a tram tour is generally available, but has been suspended until further notice.
Pro tip: Although the museum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. seven days a week, the last entry is at 3:00 p.m. It is best to arrive early and allow at least 2-3 hours to experience the full history of aviation on display at the museum. Museum .
3. Davis Air Force Base – Monthan Air Force Base AMARG, Tucson
Located near the Pima Air & Space Museum is the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) facility at Davis – Monthan Air Force Base, known as the Airplane Frame. The Cold War began in Davis – Monthan in the late 1940s with the presence of Strategic Air Command at the base.
Considered the world’s largest airplane boneyard, the Davis – Monthan AMARG is open to the public, but touring possibilities are quite limited. According to information on the Airplane Boneyards website, the only access to the boneyard for unauthorized persons is via a bus tour that begins at the Pima Air & Space Museum, located across East Valencia Road from Davis – Monthan. No one is allowed to get off the bus, although photos are allowed from the bus.
Pro tip: Typically, tickets for the boneyard bus tours are available at the Pima Air & Space Museum. Note that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tours are interrupted indefinitely, so it is advisable to check availability in advance.
4. Military Intelligence Soldier Heritage Learning Center, Sierra Vista
Housing everything from a large fragment of the Berlin Wall to a vehicle operated by the US Army’s Military Liaison Mission, the Military Intelligence Soldier Heritage Learning Center located in the Sierra Vista region of southern Arizona , offers a unique perspective of the Cold War.
The website notes that the museum acts as a custodian and repository of artifacts important to the history of intelligence organizations, operations, and individuals. It aims to provide education in military history by highlighting the role of military intelligence from 1775 to the present day.
Along with its section of the Berlin Wall, the museum has a collection of artifacts, including agent radio communications equipment, aerial cameras, cryptographic equipment, an Enigma code machine, and two small drones.
The Military Intelligence Soldier Heritage Learning Center is located at the Fort Huachuca Army Facility, and site visit information can be found here.
5. Arizona Military Museum, Phoenix
Arizona military service, including during the Cold War years, is on display at the Arizona Military Museum in Phoenix. The museum, which is managed by the Arizona National Guard Historical Society, offers an overview of military service in the state from the early Spanish conquistadors to the present-day Arizona Air National Guard.
The museum displays artifacts ranging from military vehicles and weapons to photos and newspaper clippings. The museum’s website notes that the Army and Air National Guard were involved in the Berlin Crisis of the Cold War, adding that an Air National Guard and a transport company from Winslow, Ariz. “Have been mobilized. and supported this Cold War effort.
Pro tips: The adobe museum building has a history of its own, having been constructed in 1936 as part of a Depression-era public works project. It then served as a maintenance workshop for German prisoners of war confined to a nearby POW camp.
Looking for more Cold War history? Here are five places in the Midwest where you can learn more about the conflict.