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Old missile sites in area have new lives

The Rev. Monte Baker points to Vista de la Montaña United Methodist Church's playground, which was built directly over the silo at a decommissioned Air Force Titan II missile base just north of Tucson.

The Rev. Monte Baker points to Vista de la Montaña United Methodist Church's playground, which was built directly over the silo at a decommissioned Air Force Titan II missile base just north of Tucson.

CATALINA – It’s fitting that children at Vista de la Montaña United Methodist Church swing, slide and climb on this spot, the Rev. Monte Baker says, pointing to a covered playground.

The placement speaks to the motto of this church north of Tucson: “Once a Missile Site . . . Now a Church with a Mission.”

Directly beneath the playground, an Air Force Titan II missile once stood ready to deliver a nuclear bomb 600 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima.

“It’s wonderful to see the site of a weapon of mass destruction turn into something so nurturing,” Baker said.

It’s been nearly a quarter-century since the Air Force decommissioned the last of 18 missile sites around Tucson. One site now houses a missile museum, and some others, their silos and bunkers long buried, have new missions.

Each remains a reminder of southern Arizona’s key role during the Cold War.

In Tubac, 40 miles south of Tucson, people work out at a former Titan site that’s home to Crista’s Totally Fit Health & Wellness Center. Crista Simpson, who runs the gym, keeps a box full of photos, maps and newspaper clippings about the site.

“Hey, how many women get to own a Titan missile silo site?” Simpson said. “I’m just glad it’s now being used to better people’s health, not destroy humanity.”

Robert Gomez runs Acacia Nursery on a former missile site in Marana, just northwest of Tucson.

“Once in a while we get people curious enough to drive all the way to see the site,” Gomez said. “They walk around, but really there’s mostly cactuses and shrubs here now.”

In Sahuarita, just south of Tucson, 1 million people have visited the Titan Missile Museum, which opened in 1986. It’s the nation’s only former Titan II site accessible to the public.

On a recent weekday, Steve Bronson, visiting from southern California, joined those looking with awestruck faces into the museum’s 146-foot silo, which contains a decommissioned Titan II.

“It’s an imposing feeling, very humbling,” Bronson said.

Green Valley resident Lee Laughner said she visits the museum regularly. On this day, she brought a relative visiting from Denmark.

“People need to look beyond their own lives to see what’s happened in our world,” Laughner said.

The site has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

“It’s the most important site in the country depicting this chapter of the Cold War,” said Greg Kendrick, national historic landmark coordinator for the National Park Service’s intermountain region.

Yvonne Morris, the museum’s director, served as a crew commander at the site when she was 23.

“I didn’t think of Armageddon or anything all the time,” Morris said. “But I was trained and prepared to turn the key if we ever got the message to do so.”

The Tucson-area missiles were among 54 Titan II sites. The rest were near Wichita, Kan., and Little Rock, Ark.

Morris said the Titan II sites, activated in 1963, served the country well.

“Just by its sheer presence, our enemies dared not attack us, because they knew we had the power to retaliate – and how,” Morris said.

The Titan sites bring to mind an era that included the Cuban Missile Crisis, Stalin and Khrushchev, Arizona historian Marshall Trimble said.

“Everyone knew if the Russian missiles were coming this way, they’d head to Tucson,” Trimble said.

Few protested against the sites because of the nuclear threat, Trimble said.

Source: Titan Missile Museum


On the Web

Vista de la Montaña United Methodist Church:


Titan Missile Museum:


Pima Air & Space Museum: www.pimaair.org



• Length: 103 feet

• Diameter: 10 feet

• Warhead yield: About 9 megatons, the equivalent of 9 million tons of TNT

• Time from start to liftoff: 58 seconds

• Time to target: 25-30 minutes

• Cost to build each site (in 1963): $8.3 million

• Cost to build each missile (in 1963): $2.2 million

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