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The Okinawa missiles of October via Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

John Bordne, a resident of Blakeslee, Penn., had to keep a personal history to himself for more than five decades. Only recently has the US Air Force given him permission to tell the tale, which, if borne out as true, would constitute a terrifying addition to the lengthy and already frightening list of mistakes and malfunctions that have nearly plunged the world into nuclear war.

The story begins just after midnight, in the wee hours of October 28, 1962, at the very height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then-Air Force airman John Bordne says he began his shift full of apprehension. At the time, in response to the developing crisis over secret Soviet missile deployments in Cuba, all US strategic forces had been raised to Defense Readiness Condition 2, or DEFCON2; that is, they were prepared to move to DEFCON1 status within a matter of minutes. Once at DEFCON1, a missile could be launched within a minute of a crew being instructed to do so.

Bordne was serving at one of four secret missile launch sites on the US-occupied Japanese island of Okinawa. There were two launch control centers at each site; each was manned by seven-member crews. With the support of his crew, each launch officer was responsible for four Mace B cruise missiles mounted with Mark 28 nuclear warheads. The Mark 28 had a yield equivalent to 1.1 megatons of TNT—i.e., each of them was roughly 70 times more powerful than the Hiroshima or Nagasaki bomb. All together, that’s 35.2 megatons of destructive power. With a range of 1,400 miles, the Mace B’s on Okinawa could reach the communist capital cities of Hanoi, Beijing, and Pyongyang, as well as the Soviet military facilities at Vladivostok.

[…]

By Bordne’s account, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Air Force crews on Okinawa were ordered to launch 32 missiles, each carrying a large nuclear warhead. Only caution and the common sense and decisive action of the line personnel receiving those orders prevented the launches—and averted the nuclear war that most likely would have ensued.

[…]

Judging from what Bordne says he heard of the phone conversation, this request got a more stress-filled reaction from the major, who immediately took to the radio and read out a new coded instruction. It was an order to stand down the missiles … and, just like that, the incident was over.

To double-check that disaster had really been averted, Capt. Bassett asked for and received confirmation from the other launch officers that no missiles had been fired.

At the beginning of the crisis, Bordne says, Capt. Bassett had warned his men, “If this is a screw up and we do not launch, we get no recognition, and this never happened.” Now, at the end of it all, he said, “None of us will discuss anything that happened here tonight, and I mean anything. No discussions at the barracks, in a bar, or even here at the launch site. You do not even write home about this. Am I making myself perfectly clear on this subject?”

For more than 50 years, silence was observed.

[…]

Bassett died in May 2011. Bordne has taken to the Internet in an attempt to locate other launch crew members who may be able to help to fill in his recollections. The National Security Archives, a watchdog group based at George Washington University’s Gelman Library, has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Air Force, seeking records relating to the Okinawa incident, but such requests often do not result in a release of records for years, if ever.

I recognize that Bordne’s account is not definitively confirmed. But I find him to have been consistently truthful in the matters I could confirm. An incident of this import, I believe, should not have to rest on the testimony of one man. The Air Force and other government agencies should proactively make any records in their possession relating to this incident available in their entirety—and quickly. The public has long been presented a false picture of the dangers inherent in nuclear weapon deployment.

The entire world has a right to know the entire truth about the nuclear danger it faces.

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