Did you or a loved one serve in the military or other government branch during the cold war? This high stakes game of mutually assured destruction touched millions of lives, and Arizona Public Media wants to tell your story, but we need your help. If you have home movies or photos from your experience and would like to share them, please call us at 626-3383.


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Tucson Remembers: The Cold War Themes

"There is only one sure way to avoid global war, and that is to win the Cold War." Robert M. Gates, 1996
"And so the greatest of American triumphs became a peculiarly joyless victory. We had won the Cold War, but there would be no parades."President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953

The Cold war got its name because both sides were afraid of fighting each other directly. In such a "hot war," nuclear weapons might destroy everything; instead they fought each other indirectly. It was the major force in world politics for most of the second half of the twentieth century. While some claim it was the only war won without any shots fired, there were many deaths and immeasurable heartaches. Much of what happened was top secret and still classified, but the Cold War’s legacy is as important to the United States as all the "hot wars".

    Notable Cold War Events:
  • Berlin Air Lift - In June 1948 the Soviets blocked all ways into the western part of Berlin, Germany. President Truman quickly ordered military planes to fly coal, food, and medicine to the city. The planes kept coming, sometimes landing every few minutes, for more than a year. They provided almost 2.5 million tons of supplies on about 280,000 flights.
  • The Korean War
  • Creation of NASA - History changed on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the space age and the U.S.-U.S.S.R space race. The public feared that the Soviets' ability to launch satellites also translated into the capability to launch ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons from Europe to the U.S. The Sputnik launch also led directly to the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on October 1, 1958.
  • The Peace Corps - In 1960, John F. Kennedy, proposed young people help the developing countries, by promoting peace. He encouraged them to go to needy countries and give them aid, financially, educationally, and physically. The main reason for the Peace Corp was to ultimately, halt communism. The domino theory was going strong, and he asked these volunteers to spread democratic ideas.
  • The Berlin Wall - August 13, 1961 the Berlin border between East and West Berlin was closed. The zonal boundary is sealed in the morning by East German troops. “Shock workers” from East Germany and Russia a seal off the border with barrier of barbed wire and light fencing that eventually became a complex series of wall, fortified fences, gun positions and watchtowers heavily guarded and patrolled. In the end, the Berlin Wall was 96 miles (155 km) long and the average height of the concrete wall was 11.8 ft (3.60 m). Over the course of the Wall’s existence, 133 people were confirmed killed trying to cross into West Berlin according to official sources, while a victims’ group puts the number at over 200 dead. There were also some 5,000 successful escapes into West Berlin.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis - In 1962 was closest the world ever came to nuclear war. The United States armed forces were at their highest state of readiness ever and Soviet field commanders in Cuba were prepared to use battlefield nuclear weapons to defend the island if it was invaded.
    "Nuclear catastrophe was hanging by a thread ... and we weren't counting days or hours, but minutes." Soviet General and Army Chief of Operations, Anatoly Gribkov
  • Vietnam - Even after the Cuban Missile crisis Khrushchev had publicly declared that the Soviets would support "wars of national liberation" wherever they occurred in the world. Since JFK firmly believed in the "Domino Theory" the idea of backing away from containment was impractical from a national security standpoint, let alone a political one. It was for this reason alone, that holding the line in Vietnam was essential. It was JFK who increased America's troop number from 500 to 16,000 and he repeatedly insisted that while Vietnam might have been "in the final analysis, their war," American troops were nonetheless not there "to see a war lost" and that he totally disagreed with those who were suggesting the idea of a pullout.

The impact of the cold war on Tucson was especially significant and made it one of the prime targets for the Soviets nuclear arsenal. Davis Monthan Air Base and the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARG), also known as the "Boneyard” were active in the Hot and Cold wars of the era. A wing of U-2 strategic reconnaissance aircraft was assigned to the base and flew constant global missions. In addition, Tucson was ringed by 18 of the 54 Titan II missiles that existed in the U.S. Each one held a nuclear warhead with 214 times the explosive forced of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Here four-man crews would sit 24-hour shifts babysitting a 330,000-pound, 110-foot-long Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile targeted on one of three cities inside the former Soviet Union.

Tucson Public school children regularly practiced “Duck and Cover.” In the event of a nuclear attack, "you DUCK under your desk to avoid the things flying through the air and COVER to keep from getting cut or even badly burned." The fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the USSR are generally acknowledged as the end of the Cold War, but not the end to its vital place in United States and Tucson history.

You can help Arizona Public Media tell the story of the Cold War. If you have home movies or photos from your experience or your loved one's experience during the Cold War and would like to share them, please call us at 626-3383. Thank You!