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On the Nuclear Trail

David Sirota visits the atomic sites of the American Southwest for an inside look at a booming—and potentially radioactive—new travel industry

Author David Sirota Photography Bryon Darby

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Chuck Penson, the official archivist and historian at the Titan Missile Museum, stands on a platform overlooking the Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile.

ON OUR WAY back up to the  surface, I meet fellow atomic tourist Dan Dansro, a crewmember at the Titan site in the 1970s who is visiting from Albuquerque with his wife and two teenage grandsons. Underneath the lobby’s “peace through deterrence” sign, he fondly reminisces about the uncomfortable situations and camaraderie that come with regularly working in a claustrophobic bunker for 24-hour shifts. But the 63-year-old’s expression turns more serious when I ask him what feels like a taboo question—would he have followed the ultimate order from his commanders to turn the Cold War hot?

“The closest I ever got to that was when they told us to get our keys out of the safe,” he says. “It only happened once on my shift, and if it came to that, I would have done what I was trained to do, because I understood the importance of this weapon system.” Looking out across the dirt to the silo cover, he pauses, takes a deep breath, and in a somber voice adds, “The thing is, I never wanted to turn the keys. Never.”

DAVID SIROTA is a bestselling author and journalist. He looks back fondly on the duck-and-cover drills of his grade school years.

3 Responses to “On the Nuclear Trail”

  1. Jim Says:
    September 20th, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Cuban MC was October 1962, not 1963….

  2. Jack Cohen-Joppa Says:
    October 10th, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    David, you may have missed the contemporary nuclear connection to another of the aircraft in the Davis-Monthan boneyard: the A-10. The “Warthog” is the warplane responsible for firing an estimated 400 tons of depleted uranium during combat in Iraq, 1991 and 2003-4. Plus another 30 tons in the Balkans in ’95, leaving a legacy of radioactive pollution that’s still killing kids in Iraq. A-10 training is still among the main missions at D-M, but many A-10s are also in the boneyard. See http://bandepleteduranium.org/ for more info.

  3. Bill Geerhart Says:
    October 12th, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Enjoyed the article and photography. Small correction: The Cuban Missile crisis took place in 1962, not 1963.

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