The silo hole, after the 1980 Damascus, AR explosion
Courtesy of Greg Devlin

Recently on KCRW’s UnFictional, independent producer Eric Molinsky delivered a story about ‘The Missileers,’ the men and women sitting in underground bunkers, ready to launch nuclear missiles and “mutually assured destruction.” Little is known about the missileers, or the danger associated with their profession. Ronald Grey and Greg Devlin told their stories in the episode. They both survived the 1980 Damascus accident. An airman was conducting routine maintenance on a USAF Titan-II missile just north of Damascus, Arkansas, when he dropped a socket wrench between the steel work platform and the missile. The wrench pierced a hole in the missile, causing highly explosive rocket fuel to start leaking into the silo. Greg Devlin, a Titan-II liquid fuel systems maintenance specialist, and Ronald Gray, who was in charge of quality control at McConnell Air Force base, were both evacuated. Here’s their full story on UnFictional:

628x471When investigative reporter Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) heard about the Damascus accident, he subsequently spent 5 years searching declassified documents for stories of incidents like it for his new book: Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of SafetyIt describes a series of near catastrophes here in the US during the Cold War, focusing on the explosion in Damascus, and raises the question of whether the US is safe today from its own highly complex technological defense systems. Schlosser joined To the Point host Warren Olney on KCRW today to talk about his book. An excerpt from UnFictional’s ‘The Missileers’ was used to add context to their conversation: