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MAC commemorates Fairchild's role in Cuban Missile Crisis | Community Spirit

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MAC commemorates Fairchild's role in Cuban Missile Crisis
MAC commemorates Fairchild's role in Cuban Missile Crisis

In 1962, Spokane was a small city surrounded by endless fields of grain, rock and brush.  But for 13 days in October, it was of great interest to the Kremlin. Leaders of the Soviet Union feared the end of the world might just come from those fields.

50 years ago Tuesday a crisis was being revealed to President John F. Kennedy. Two days earlier, an American spy plane making runs over Cuba took photographs of Soviet made nuclear missiles being installed on the island nation.

On October 16th, 1963, those pictures were shown to the president in the Oval Office. Although not ready to launch at the time, the missiles would be able to reach most U.S. cities within five minutes.

President Kennedy decided the construction of the missile sites on Cuba could not be permitted and asked Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev to remove the missiles.  Khrushchev refused, triggering a tense, 13-day standoff between the two nuclear powers.

While the eyes of the world were focused 100 miles off the southern coast of Florida, Nine Atlas missile sites all within 70 miles of Spokane were receiving new coordinates.

"All of a sudden they were a cocked weapon, ready to go," said Tony DeLateur, President of Honor Point Military and Aerospace Museum.

The nine missile sites were under the command of Fairchild Air Force Base.  The Atlas-E missiles took 15 minutes to launch and it was thought at the time that they would be the only missiles that would be able to be launched and hit Cuba if the Soviets launched a nuclear attack.

"That's one of the reasons why these missiles were so important," said DeLateur. "Other missiles that were closer would either overshoot, or just weren't ready."

The nine sites were located in an oval around Fairchild at Newman Lake, Deer Park, north of Reardan, Egypt, Davenport, Wilbur, Lamona, Sprague, and the Rockford-Worley area. 

"We all knew about the missiles, it was no secret.  But this brought it all into focus as to what was going on," said DeLateur. "Suddenly we were in the cross hairs and if the Russians wanted us they'd come after us because we posed the greatest danger to them."

To mark the 50th Anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture and Honor Point Military & Aerospace Museum have teamed up to show Spokane's role in the historical event.

A new exhibit opens Wednesday and runs through October, 27th. It features a recreated Atlas missile launch control room, and historic photos of the nine missile sites.

"Many of these photographs have not been published before," said DeLateur.

The exhibit goes beyond just the photographs and artifacts.  It shows a worldwide crisis through the eyes of those who lived in Spokane and those who would have followed the orders that could have ushered in World War Three.

"On of the most unique things about the exhibit is the stories from the guys who were actually in the silo and would have been responsible for launching the missiles," said DeLateur. "It's not just the hardware, it's the feet on the ground. What did they see, what did they know?"

If you'd like to see the exhibit, the Museum of Arts and Culture is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Admission is $7.00 for Adults, $5.00 for Seniors and Students of ID.  Children under 5 are free.

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