It happened Friday – the Blue Cube is gone. All that remains are piles of concrete and steel flanked by equipment breaking it up and loading it on to trucks. Soon, only memories will remain.
The passing of an era.
I started doing some research on Mr. Umunhum Radar Tower, thinking I would write a blog post about it, but I was struck by a fact I can’t quite shake – places that I knew as working, operational defense bases are now turning into museums. Relics of a bygone age and of a war that we called, “Cold.”
One of the websites I went to on radar systems of the 1960’s had a comment from an apparently young person saying some thing like, “I couldn’t imagine living in America with the constant threat of being blown up. It must have been a horrible life.”
Well, I lived through that time with no ill effects from having enough megatonage pointed at me to vaporize the planet seven times over. I think I suffered more from wearing bell bottom corduroy pants in the early 70’s. Really, did you ever go back and look how we dressed? That’s required a lot of therapy to overcome.
As a child I lived about half between Moffett Field Naval Air Station and the Almaden Air Force Station which we knew as the Mt Umunhum Radar Tower. From the playground at my school you could see the radar and on clear days you could see it turning. After school we looked up and saw the P3 Orion sub-hunters coming home from their long missions over the Pacific.
Frankly, we never thought about it much. It was just life. Sure, in school we learned about the dangers of atomic bombs and in the movie theaters watched all manner of films about the horrors of atomic warfare. Some time in the 70’s the words changed from atomic war to nuclear war to thermonuclear war. We knew that it was possible that war would come, but we also knew that being Americans, we wouldn’t go down without a fight.
A comforting thought to a 12 year-old boy, but a horror story to a 54 year-old man who now knows that the fight would ensure that both sides were destroyed. It was called, MAD, mutually assured destruction. Our defense wasn’t a defense, but rather a retaliation that ensure there would be no weapons left.
The radar, the Blue Cube, the P3s, the nuclear stockpile in the East Bay and even the Nike sites were all part of that protection and deterrent against our enemies. I do recall being afraid of what might happen if WWIII started. I remember at about ten years-old talking to my father about building a bomb shelter – an idea he dismissed. He was confident that the, “Soviets aren’t that stupid.”
As I grew up I came to the understanding that if nuclear war were to break out, I would not have much to worry about. I was living in the middle of a major part of America’s defense infrastructure – 15 miles from Moffet Field and the P3s, 50 from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise’s home port and within the shadow of the radar tower. At least one missile would be aimed at the radar and several at Moffet. There was every possibility that the day hostilities broke out would also be my last day alive.
So I had nothing to fear: expect the fickle winds of international relations that could give one side nothing to lose; the deceptions of politicians whose rhetoric could inflame the weak-minded; or the mistakes of military personnel in the long watches of the night that might trigger the first step in the escalation.
It never happened. The bombs never fell. The missile never left their silos. I never needed that bomb shelter. Father was right, the enemy wasn’t stupid.
It would be easy to say that I never needed the radar or the P3s, but that would be over simplifying our past. It’s just possible that the bombs never fell because the Air Force maned the radar, the Navy flew the P3s and missiles were ready to fly at a moments notice. The truth is somewhere between the two extremes.
Don’t remember the exact day, but I do recall looking up one day in 1980 and saw that the radar wasn’t turning. Some time after that the radar antenna was removed and all that remained was the tower. Part of me was a bit sad – it was kind of like turning out the bedroom night-light that keep the monsters away. I understood that technology had moved on and other methods could now detect a missile launch, but still…
Piece by piece our weapons of cold war have been replaced or rendered unneeded because of changes in technology or in the hearts nations. The Soviets fell and China isn’t likely to attack it’s best customer. Wars have become smaller, stealthier – ruled by deception and terrorism.
In the midst of these thoughts is the reminder that all these buildings and defense sites housed people – men and women of our military services. The radar needed men to watch the screens, and fix them when the broke. The P3 had pilots, crews and support personnel on the ground. It was people who built the towers and runways. It was a human effort to defend our skies.
Monday is memorial day. Remember the fallen, raise the flag and honor their sacrifice.
but also remember what we’ve been able to avoid and the graves we haven’t had to fill.
Till next week,