In 1962, Spokane was integral in a decision that could have “changed the world as we know it.”
If you weren’t alive at the time, and if you slept through US History class, take a moment to Google “Cuban Missile Crisis.” I would guess that it’s the closest we’ve come to nuclear war with Russia, at least that we all know about.
What you may not find in those history books and websites is, in 1961, the US Air Force installed nine nuclear missile silos, right here in the Inland Northwest. They’ve long since been abandoned by the military, and 8 of the 9 are privately owned. If you are out driving around, and wondering if one is nearby – here’s a map of their approximate locations:
While mostly forgotten now, at the time, these silos were no big secret. Check out this photo of the Deer Park site, taken during a maintenance operation, some time during 1961 or 1962:
What once housed part of our country’s nuclear arsenal, now mostly houses farm equipment and mushrooms. One silo, located in Lincoln County, serves as the owner’s residence. A few of them stand completely vacant, their owners’ plans of museums and tourist attractions just dormant memories. My personal favorite is the silo located between Harrington and US Highway 2. It houses the records of Peter Davenport, the Director of the National UFO Reporting Center.
On September 21, 2014, the Spokesman-Review featured an article about these silos. Here’s an excerpt from that story, a first-hand account of the Cuban Missile Crisis, from one of the Air Force Servicemen who were stationed at one of the silos:
“Mellor, who’s now 81, said he doesn’t go out often to visit the Atlas sites, where he once served as a technician and review officer, testing other members of the missile squadron. Once a week, every crew had to lift the rocket from its horizontal frame and get it ready for a possible launch.
“It’s kind of scary going into one of them now,” Mellor said. “Because, really, we were 15 minutes away from letting one of those missiles go. That would have changed the world as we know it.”
In 1962, as the Cuban Missile Crisis started, Mellor was a member of the 567th “standboard” team, which made regular visits to the nine sites, testing crews and making sure the missiles functioned normally.
As the crisis deepened, all U.S. missile sites were placed on full alert. But Mellor said only the nine local Atlas missiles were retargeted to Cuba.
“The other missiles, in Kansas or Missouri, were too near Cuba; they’d overshoot Cuba. So they had our nine Atlases all aimed at Cuba,” he said.
If the order came, the crew started a 15-minute countdown. The 42-ton steel coffin lid would slide over and the missile would be lifted to upright position, followed by loading kerosene and liquid oxygen into the fuel tanks.
If the countdown reached the “commit” point, at 59 seconds and counting, there was no way to stop the launch, he added.
“We listened to reports from SAC (Strategic Air Command) throughout the whole thing, and we had to stay underground the 13 days,” Mellor recalls.
He worried about his wife and three young sons who were on the airbase but would have been evacuated if war broke out, he said.
If the order to launch had come down, Mellor said it would have happened. “Oh yes, without a doubt. Without a doubt. That was our job.”
The day the crisis was over, Mellor and the other crew teams left the sites.
“I got the hell out of there and took a shower,” he said.”
It just goes to show, you never know what could be buried underground in your own town.
—photos and source article, “Buried Treasures,” Tom Sowa, September 21, 2014, spokesman.com