Saturday, July 26, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Travis plays role in Cuban Missile Crisis

cuban missle1

Troops get ready for a possible invasion of Cuba at Travis during the Cuban Missle Crisis in 1962. (USAF courtesy photo)

By
From page TRA39 | January 31, 2014 |

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — It’s been 50 years since now-retired Lt. Col. Morrie Wasserman and his fellow Travis airlifters helped move troops and supplies to Florida for a possible invasion of Cuba, in case the crisis over Soviet missiles in that country turned into a war with the United States.

“We were alerted and sent to a base on the East Coast, which was an assembly point for C-124 aircraft,” Wasserman said of his specific assignment. “It was a classified mission and, to this date, I don’t think it has ever been cleared (for public knowledge). We did have a war plan for that mission.”

Wasserman said that while it’s more than 50 years since the missile crisis and people and technology change, many war plans don’t.

A lot of odd air strips around Florida were lit by car headlights at night to allow military aircraft to fly in and position troops for the possible invasion, Wasserman said.

“We had all these paratroopers to put on airplanes,” he said. “The plan was to drop them to take the airports and then air-land more troops. They were pretty serious about Cuba.”

That period in October 1962 was the closest that the U.S. and Travis came to war with the Soviet Union – after an Air Force U-2 reconnaissance plane captured photos of Soviet missile bases being built in Cuba on Oct. 14, 1962.

At first, the U.S. considered an invasion. Instead, President John F. Kennedy decided to impose a military blockade with the expectation that it would end up as a military confrontation.

“Anything could have happened. It was a close call,” said 60th Air Mobility Command historian Mark Wilderman.

Wilderman said, “It was a time of one confrontation after another with the Soviets,” with the Cuban Missile Crisis happening only a year after the Berlin Wall’s construction and subsequent crisis.

At the time the Cuban Missile Crisis started, Travis was home to the Military Air Transport Service’s 1501st Air Transport Wing and its three squadrons of C-124 Globemaster IIs, a squadron of C-133 Cargomasters and the then-new C-135B Stratolifter, according to Wilderman.

It was also home to the Strategic Air Command’s 5th Bombardment Wing, with its B-52G Stratofortress bombers, which were equipped the year before with the GAM-77 Hound Dog cruise missiles, and KC-135A Stratotankers.

The base was surrounded by a ring of Nike Hercules surface-to-air missile batteries of the 1st Missile Battalion. The remaining structures of two are now parts of the Fairfield-Suisun School District’s school bus maintenance facility and the Goodrich Corp. facility in the Potrero Hills.

It also had a squadron of Delta Dagger jet fighters, which were parked on the northeast part of the base behind the old David Grant Medical Center.

When the crisis started, the 1501st was alerted and tasked to airlift military personnel to Guantanamo Bay and Florida to support the possible invasion of Cuba if the standoff turned into a shooting war. The wing’s official history from that time simply and tersely states, “Many operations were flown by the 1501st as a result of military build-up observed on the island of Cuba.”

It was probably the greatest workload surge in the history of Military Air Transport Service, which the Chief of Naval Operations praised as “an absolutely magnificent performance,” according to the wing history.

Wasserman, now retired in Vacaville, was a C-124 pilot and chief of Travis’ Transport Control Center at the time the missile crisis started.

“The base was under control of the Military Air Transport Service and we still had some B-52s there,” Wasserman said.

While Travis’ Strategic Air Command bombers were not directly involved at the time, the air transport squadrons were alerted and sent out.

Before Wasserman left, he managed to get home long enough to tell his family that something may happen and they would have to be prepared, according to his daughter, Wendy Wasserman, who was a young child at the time and remembered that the schoolchildren were taught to duck-and-cover in case of nuclear attack.

“Our entire garage was filled with provisions, boxes of water and food,” Wendy Wasserman said. “He kept it really low-key. We had no fear.”

Wasserman said he figures he got the assignment to oversee the C-124s going to Florida because, earlier in the year, he attended a course on ballistic missiles that required him to have security clearance so he could have access to top-secret materials.

“We were very close to war. We were waiting for Kennedy to pull the plug and sink those ships,” Wasserman said of the Soviet freighters and their missile cargo, which were approaching the military embargo line the Americans put around the island.

By Oct. 22, 1962, the base’s Strategic Air Command forces were put on Defense Condition 2, one step below nuclear war. The B-52s were put on alert status, loaded with nuclear weapons from the on-base facility called the Secret City and made ready to launch strikes against the Soviet Union.

The aircrews were on standby at the recently constructed Strategic Air Command alert facility on the south side of Travis’ flight line, which is now home to a Navy strategic communications unit. The base stayed on DEFCON 2 until Nov. 15, 1962.

The base’s Delta Daggers of the 82nd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron were sent to Siskiyou Airport near Mount Shasta as a precaution to help ensure their survivability in case of a surprise Soviet attack, according to Wilderman.

This came less than a month after the U.S. Air Force Air Defense Command made a deal with the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors for use of the airfield because it was “ideally suited for use as a dispersal site, because it was well outside any targeted or fallout area,” according to the Siskiyou Historical Society.

Tense public and secret negotiations ended the crisis on Oct. 28, 1962, with a public agreement that the Soviets would dismantle their weapons in Cuba and a secret agreement that the U.S. would dismantle its Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Italy.

“Kennedy was not kidding and we were very pleased when the Soviets backed down,” Wasserman said. He was glad that the country had a president who was willing to do what was necessary, he said.

Wasserman described the crisis as a good example of Travis’ and the American military’s ability to mobilize to protect the country.

“The United States was threatened. Everything we do in peacetime is to train for war and we were prepared,” Wasserman said. “It was a tense time. It happened fast and it ended fast.”

Outside of some of the buildings, the only remnants of Travis’ role in the crisis 50 years ago is a C-124 and a C-133 now at the Travis Air Museum. They were flown by the 1501st Air Transport Wing during the crisis. The Travis Air Museum also has a B-52D bomber, an F-102 Delta Dagger and a Hound Dog missile on display.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or ithompson@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson has worked for the Daily Republic longer than he cares to remember. A native of Oregon and a graduate of the University of Oregon, he pines for the motherland still. He covers Vacaville and Travis Air Force Base for the Daily Republic. He is an avid military history buff, wargamer and loves the great outdoors.
LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

 
Large party to honor entry into Army

By Brad Stanhope | From Page: A2

 
 
County releases Solano whistleblower investigations

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A3

Crashes snarl Friday traffic on Interstate 80

By Glen Faison | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Abrams to speak at Democratic Club meet

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A4

 
Suisun City police log: July 24, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

Fairfield police log: July 24, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

 
Physical activity may diminish fatigue

By Scott Anderson | From Page: B10

Share nature’s bounty with others

By Murray Bass | From Page: B10

 
Weather for Saturday, July 26, 2014

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B11

 
.

US / World

US: Russia is firing across border into Ukraine

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Police still investigating after burglar killed

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 1 Comment

What happened? The day Flight 17 was downed

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Large Sandy-struck family splits $20M lottery win

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

BART station reopens after reported bomb threat

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
California county sues over subdivision slide

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Wildfire forces evacuation of rural NorCal homes

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Ex-Bell councilwoman gets 2 years for corruption

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Database details California school employee pay

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
California state senator facing additional charge

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

Designer: Bay Bridge bolts don’t need replacing

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Pelvis pix victims must feel trauma to share $190M

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Sheriff: 300 homes burned in Washington wildfire

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Taiwan plane survivor crawls out, phones dad

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Teams converge on remote site to probe plane crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Former CIA officials can’t see ‘torture’ report

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Same-sex marriage ban struck down for Miami area

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Migrants: Obama urges Latin leaders, GOP to help

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Gaza sides agree to lull but truce efforts stall

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

 
Ebola outbreak spreads to 4th West African country

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

.

Opinion

Top 3 ways to impress an employer

By Deon Price | From Page: A8

 
Editorial Cartoons: July 26, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Ranchers coming around on global warming

By Thomas Elias | From Page: A8

 
Immersion kindergarten class in jeopardy

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8

Cheers, jeers for the week of July 20-26, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

 
.

Living

Today in History for July 26, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: July 26, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Horoscopes for July 26, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

 
I’m not attracted to my husband since he’s gained weight

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B5

.

Entertainment

Sam Raimi announces planned ‘The Last of Us’ film

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Nolan, McConaughey surprise with ‘Interstellar’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Comic-Con gets first look at ‘Mockingjay’ trailer

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Bazinga! ‘Big Bang Theory’ writers hit Comic-Con

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Scientists make love, war weapons in ‘Manhattan’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7 | Gallery

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

.

Sports

Puig, Dodgers go triple-crazy, beat Giants 8-1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Forces strong during NHRA qualifying at Sonoma Raceway

By Brian Arnold | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Fairfield Expos bats come alive in 13-2 win

By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B1

 
Raiders brimming with optimism at start of camp

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

49ers ready to fill big void for injured Bowman

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Dallas Cowboys LB McClain convicted in Alabama

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Horsey in halfway lead at Russian Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
7-shot lead for Langer at Senior British Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Furyk, Petrovic, share Canadian Open lead

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
US rebounds to win twice in International Crown

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Hammel 0-3 for A’s after 4-1 loss to Rangers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
With Nibali in command, Tour is about 2nd place

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

FIFA rejects calls to strip Russia of World Cup

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Marshawn Lynch missing as Seahawks camp begins

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
This date in sports history for Saturday, July 26, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

NASCAR drivers want changes on the schedule

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
.

Business

Fast food workers prepare to escalate wage demands

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Orders for US durable goods up 0.7 percent in June

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

Russian execs fear lasting damage from plane crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Global tensions don’t dent enthusiasm for stocks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

Feds probe Dodge Charger alternator complaints

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Towering worry: Small holes cause big jitters

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

McNuggets pulled from sale in HK after meat scare

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
US to evaluate Impala air bag performance

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

Family feud sparks revolt at grocery store chain

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
.

Obituaries

Pamela Dixon

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Mary Bell Scrivner Sanders

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

Arturo Montenegro

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Mary Spingola Stagnaro

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
.

Home Seller 07/26/14

Real estate transactions for July 26, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: HSR2

Citation Northern offers new Madison Lane homes

By Barry Eberling | From Page: HSR2

Average US 30-year mortgage rate at 4.13 percent

By The Associated Press | From Page: HSR2