Sunday, March 1, 2015
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 [email protected] 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

  • Recent Articles

  • Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • .

    Solano News

    Peace and patience: Quilters gear up for show

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: C1 | Gallery

     
    School bands compete in Pageantry on Parade

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A1, 3 Comments | Gallery

     
    Conservancy plans next Quail Ridge Reserve walk

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

     
    Police seek suspect in armed robbery

    By Bill Hicks | From Page: A3, 3 Comments

     
    4-H Presentation Day brings fun, education to Fairfield

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    The agony of the codling moth, ecstasy of worm-free apples

    By Christine Macgenn | From Page: C4

     
    What you eat can affect your medications

    By Marilyn Ranson | From Page: C4

    Tri-City NAACP honors community members at gala event

    By Bill Hicks | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    CAASC 18th Annual Chinese New Year and Scholarship Celebration

    By Steve Reczkowski | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    Rollover in Suisun City

    By Aaron Rosenblatt | From Page: A5, 1 Comment | Gallery

    State schedules ramp closure at freeway project site

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A5

     
    Appointments on tap for Board of Supervisors meet

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A5

     
    NY, SF town house prices through the roof

    By Bud Stevenson | From Page: B7

     
    Fairfield police log: Feb. 27, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

     
    Suisun City police log: Feb. 27, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

    Airmen with local ties finish basic training

    By Nick DeCicco | From Page: B10

     
    Force draws many from South, middle class

    By Tom Philpott | From Page: B10

    .

    US / World

    Christie to Calif. Republicans: No rush to pick 2016 nominee

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

     
    US missionary abducted in Nigeria is courageous, friends say

    By The Associated Press | From Page: C3

    Dress that ‘greatly resembles’ stolen Nyong’o gown found

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

     
    Weekend storm drops snow, rain, hail in California

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

    Churches, synagogues, mosques bear tough New England winter

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

     
    Hyundai recalls 263,000 cars due to power-steering problem

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

     
    Blind dog rescued after being lost for 2 weeks in the cold

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

    Details about proposed national monuments in California

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

     
    National monument supporters in California get antsy

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

    US drone strike in Yemen kills 3 suspected al-Qaida fighters

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

     
    Greece will not seek another bailout, prime minister says

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

    Attacks kill 37 people in and north of Iraq’s capital

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

     
    Nemtsov a possible ‘sacrificial victim,’ investigators say

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

    .

    Opinion

    Sound off for March 1, 2015

    By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

     
    New school funding plan remains on bumpy path

    By Dan Walters | From Page: A8

     
    Even Gruber deserves a break sometimes

    By Megan Mcardle | From Page: A8, 2 Comments

    I might just vote for a Democrat next time around

    By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 10 Comments

     
    Aging Fairfield housing agency faltering

    By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8

    Editorial Cartoon: March 1, 2015

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    .

    Living

    Today in History: March 1, 2015

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Community Calendar: March 1, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

    With numbers falling, Houston-area nuns’ future uncertain

    By The Associated Press | From Page: C3

     
    Horoscopes: March 1, 2015

    By Holiday Mathis | From Page: C4

    Kidney Walk participation helped give me a positive outlook on life

    By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: C4

     
    .

    Entertainment

    Take a look – Dr. Seuss has a new book

    By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

     
    Publisher launches line of Warhol e-books

    By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

    Q&A: Opera star Deborah Voigt writes of turbulent life

    By The Associated Press | From Page: C2Comments are off for this post

     
    PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST-SELLERS

    By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

    Review: ‘The Girl on the Train’ has realistic plot

    By The Associated Press | From Page: C2Comments are off for this post

     
    TVGrid

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B11

    .

    Sports

    A year after meeting Tiger, Indian golfer on the rise

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

     
    Jeff Gordon takes a final spin at track that meant so much

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

    Vikings girls looking for first section title

    By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Local Report: Vaca’s Aquino wins Masters wrestling title

    By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B1

    Phegley hopes his style will catch on in Oakland

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

     
    Environmental activists disrupt meeting by Olympic officials

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Hamilton hones Mercedes with fastest time at F1 testing

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has surgery on cheekbone

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Anthony Mason, rugged forward of 1990s Knicks, dies at 48

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Warriors center Festus Ezeli suspended for a game

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Reichelt leads Austrian World Cup downhill sweep

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Players’ union head: future spring games in Cuba possible

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Harrington takes 36-hole lead, then more rain in Florida

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Defending champ Federer beats Djokovic to retain Dubai title

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Safarova beats Azarenka to win the Qatar Open

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Stolen No. 44 NASCAR race car found in suburban Atlanta

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

    Harvick wins Xfinity race at Atlanta for 3rd year in a row

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

     
    .

    Business

    For many in US, cash saved at gas pump is staying in pockets

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

     
    Fruits and vegetables get a star-studded marketing push

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

    Historic snows causing headaches for real estate industry

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    Nevada casinos keep $953.7 million in winnings in January

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    Greek prime minister rules out third bailout

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

     
    Boy, 13, builds Braille printer with Legos, starts company

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B9Comments are off for this post

    Recalls this week: hand trucks, ceiling fans

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

     
    Review: Freedom! These smartwatches leave the phone behind

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

    AP Exclusive: Fuel-hauling trains could derail at 10 a year

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B12 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Thomas Browning

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

     
    Leah E. Hoffman

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

    John W. Van Wart

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

     
    Virgil Albert Hanson

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

    .

    Comics