The 579th Strategic Missile Squadron reunion launched on Thursday with a reception buffet at the Best Western Sally Port Inn, as about 30 original members have gathered in the city to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the squadron’s operational status. The men were responsible for maintaining 12 Atlas missile silos that surrounded Walker Air Force Base from 1962-1965, sites manned 24 hours a day and 365 days a year while the squadron was active.
Reunion members will take part in several activities throughout the weekend, beginning with visits to missile sites 4 and 10 this afternoon. On Saturday, the 579th SMS will tour the Walker Aviation Museum, which recently opened an exhibit dedicated to the crew and the Atlas F missiles they protected.
The reunion will conclude with a banquet Saturday night at the Sally Port Inn, where Mayor Del Jurney and Congressman Steve Pearce will make presentations. Pearce, a former Air Force pilot, is expected to address veterans health care issues, programs for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and current events in the Air Force.
Reunion coordinator Terry Doyle was part of the 579th from its beginning to its end, and helped to demilitarize the missile sites in 1965.
“How do you explain dedication and camaraderie? Because that’s what it’s about,” Doyle said. “People who shared a common sacrifice. …
“To me (the reunion) means a great deal. Every other year is the only opportunity we have to get back together and share the camaraderie that we shared when we were in difficult times.”
Each of the 12 sites was placed on high-level alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis, ready to launch the missiles if necessary, Doyle said. The Atlas F used a re-entry vehicle that carried a warhead with a nuclear yield of about 4 megatons of TNT, and had a range of 6,000 miles. Doyle says it is hard for some to imagine how young men could handle such tremendous responsibilities.
“Most of us were in our very early 20s at the time, and you stop to think that the people who were maintaining and operating these missile systems were anywhere from 18 to probably about 27, 28 years old,” he said. “You had put the weight of the world, and that’s what you had, in the hands of someone that young.
“I look at my 19-year-old grandson and there’s no way I could conceive putting him in the position that I used to be in. And probably, when I was that age, there’s no way people could conceive us young kids doing something like that. But the average person in the Atlas program was probably 24, 25 years old. And that’s a very young age to put in their hands something that has life or death consequences.
“We were just a bunch of Cold War warriors that did the job we were asked to do.”