SAHUARITA, Ariz. — Amid the Cold War, the country established a series of 54 Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile silos intended to maintain the peace through strength, but ready to fire at a moment’s notice.
While it may seem hard to believe today, it was not that long ago. The missiles were on alert 1963 until President Reagan decommissioned them in the 1980s.
One of the missiles, formerly site No. 571-7, is preserved as the Titan Missile Museum. The museum, located in Geen Valley, Ariz., just outside of Tucson, is unlike any other and provides visitors with a first-hand look at a potentially frightening, yet intriguing period in the country’s history.
Here is what Yvonne C. Morris, director of the Titan Missile Museum, Titan Missile National Historic Landmark, had to say about this remarkable destination.
When we visited, there was a gentleman who served at one of the missile silos. Does the museum have a lot of visitors who served at one of the silos whether it is this particular location or another one, and what is their general reaction to experiencing the museum?
We have a fair number of visitors who served in some form or another in the Titan II program. Their general reaction to the site is one of nostalgia. They are also grateful that their families can tour the missile site and see first hand what it was like for family members who served in the program. It’s very gratifying to me to watch what happens when former crew members visit with their sons and daughters and grandkids. To see the awe in the youngster’s eyes when they learn about their parent or grandparent’s duties is very rewarding to me.
Why did the government decide to keep this specific silo in this location to transform into a museum?
This site was chosen because of its close proximity to Tucson and because the surrounding retirement community of Green Valley has a very high volunteer ethic. We knew we’d need a lot of volunteers for the museum and Green Valley provides a volunteer base that would be hard to match anywhere else.
What are most visitors surprised to learn?
There are two things that visitors are surprised to learn. The first is that the primary mission of the Titan II was “Peace through Deterrence.” The second thing they’re surprised to learn is that there’s no big red button! Instead, you launch a Titan II with two tiny keys.
This museum is so unique, and it doesn’t seem there are any others like the Titan Missile Museum. How does that make operating such a museum challenging — and perhaps even rewarding?
You’re right, there aren’t many other museums like the Titan Missile Museum. That very fact is one of the things that makes my job so rewarding. You can’t see anything exactly like our site anywhere else in the world. Its uniqueness also makes operating the museum more challenging. People don’t know what to expect when they visit the museum and many of them aren’t prepared when they get here. They think it’s a museum like any other museum. But it’s not, it’s a former operational missile launch facility. It wasn’t built for tourists. No matter how much we try to prepare people with the information on our website, they often don’t wear proper shoes, they still think they’re going to carry their backpack or their large purse on the tour, and they still get way to close to the transient rattlesnakes in the summer. The entire site is one huge artifact, and explaining that to people and convincing them to treat the site with respect is a daily challenge for our entire staff. But our volunteer tour guides do a tremendous job for us, interpreting the site for our visitors and protecting it at the same time.
What does the future hold? Are there any particular stories you would like to tell or interpret at the museum?
I think the museum has a role to play in educating the public about the role that nuclear weapons play in today’s world as well as the past. It seems we might be on the cusp of a new arms race with Russia and China, and concerns grow daily about North Korea and Iran. While the museum takes no position pro or con on nuclear weapons, we’re certainly well placed to give our visitors a frame of reference and the tools they need to do their own research on nuclear weapons so that they can make informed decisions about how they want to participate in the debate about the future of nuclear weapons. I’m looking forward to exploring how the museum can help the public become more engaged in planning the future of nuclear weapons in the US and around and the world.