Russell E. Hershey,
INTERVIEW WITH TOM DENCHY- 27.8.1996
INTERVIEWER: Tom, first of all, can I ask you if I can have your name and title for the transcripts?
TOM DENCHY: What do you mean title? [Inaudible]
INT: In the '60s, what was your rank?
TD: Well, I started here in as a second lieutenant, first lieutenant and captain and my first name is Thomas, middle initial J, last name is Denchy, spelt D as in dog, e n c h y.
INT: First of all, Tom, can you explain where we are and what is behind you?
TD: OK. Behind me is a long cableway, which leads to the launch duct of the Titan 2 missile. It's the missile that I put alert on during the '60s.
INT: Tom, what was a Titan 2?
TD: Titan 2 was a strategic missile that was designed to be launched from underground. It was the first one in our inventory that could be launched immediately without raising it above the ground. It sat below ground, totally fuelled, ready to go.
INT: And what sort of... if you can just explain a bit more to me about what, when we say missile, can you explain what its strategic importance was?
TD: Well, I don't know exactly what I can say here!
INT: Well, in simplest terms, that this was a nuclear missile...
TD: (Interrupts) See that's...
INT: ...it was an inter-continental missile.
TD: OK, OK. I that it had nuclear weapons on board. OK? That's a secret! [Laughter] OK, it was called ICBM or inter-continental ballistic missile, we launched from here and it landed on its target with approximately twenty five or thirty minutes.
INT: Did you know where those targets were?
TD: As a crewmember we did not. All we knew is that we had three inter-changeable targets, but we were not allowed to know what the actual target was. We all assumed that it was probably some place in Russia.
INT: Who determined where those targets were?
TD: We have a strategic group of people up in headquarters SAC that determined which targets were prioritized and as you can imagine, there were some that were very important and as we went down the gamut of targets, there were some that were less important, but they were all strategic military targets. As far as I know, there were no targets of trying to just annihilate people, they were all military targets.
INT: In terms of the US inventory, how important was the Titan 2?
TD: Well, it was a very important missile system. Due to the size of the warhead, it was the largest in our inventory, and it was used on what you might consider area targets, where if we used smaller weapons, there would be quite a few smaller weapons required to take out these little targets. It would be used to take out a bunch of little ones.
INT: Can you tell me something about what it meant to pull alert on a Titan 2?
TD: What it meant was, at the time, I guess, as an airman, I was in the barracks during the Cuban Crisis and that sort of brought right to the forefront the... I would say the battle or the mind battle that we were having with the Russian people or the... not the Russians, but the Communist regime and I felt this was part of our way of ensuring that they did not come over and take over our country. I believe most people did feel that way at that time.
INT: Could you tell me a bit more... going back, this is now talking in the early '60s, what did you feel and your colleagues feel about the Soviet regime?
TD: Well, we felt that they were trying to take over the world and actually we were one of their largest stumbling blocks in that effort and therefore we were one of their primary enemies and the primary target was to take over our country and if they could take our country, a lot of other countries therefore would have naturally fallen, because we couldn't protect them and their world conquest would really get a good shot in the arm. So, we felt we were, you know, number one as far as what country they would try to take over.
INT: What role did Titan and the ICBMs play in stopping them?
TD: Well, first of all, it was something that they could not annihilate and do away with, there was...
TD: OK. The ICBM systems were underground, as you can see here, and therefore they could not take them out, unlike an airplane where they could hit an airplane and knock it out of commission, certain boats and things like that. This missile was built to withstand a nuclear blast, therefore there was no way that they could annihilate us, to keep us from launching at them. The other thing is, we allowed a lot of aircraft to be used over in Nam, because we took over a lot of targets that would have been bomber targets, and this way it released the bombers to be used in other ways.
INT: Can we just go back over that question... How important and why was Titan 2 important to the US military?
TD: Yes, the Titan 2 was important to our inventory because of the range of targets that it could be used against. Although there were only fifty-four of them in the inventory, the size of the warhead allowed many targets to be covered by one missile. Therefore, it released many other, let me see, weapon carriers to be used in different ways or in different places.
INT: Do you know how the Russians felt about the Titan 2?
TD: As far as I know, this is the missile system that they were definitely afraid of. It's the type of missile that they're familiar with, it's a liquid propellant missile, therefore we can throw a lot more weight up into the sky and they knew that.
INT: What happened during a twenty-four alert, what happened when a warning came through? If you just run me through the sequence of events, very simply.
TD: Well, normally, we were just here, ready and waiting in case a message did come across. We had different, I guess I can say, def cons now, 'cos it's all over the place, we had different def cons which would [inaudible] different states of readiness, the difference being, during the day, more often than not, we had people working on different parts of the missile or the facility here, and depending on what def con we were in, said, OK, we have to be ready to turn key within a certain number of minutes. When we got right up to the top and couldn't go any closer to being ready, we'd be sitting with our keys ready to turn, waiting for a message. We all knew and felt that if a message did come, it was only because we were probably already too late, the other missiles were already on their way and this was just a way of not letting them maybe take over the entire earth without any obstruction at all. But most of us felt if we did our job right and the Russians knew that we were on alert here and that it worked, that they would not attempt that and that was our whole premise, was if we were ready and they knew it, they would not attempt it.
INT: Excellent answer. Had that message come through though, would you have carried...
INT: Had that message come through, would you have turned the key?
TD: I had a chance to talk with my crew about this and we felt by the time... with all the training that we had, doing it over and over again, it would be done before we had time to stop and think about what we were doing. It doesn't take all that long and it was just automatic, you know, we got the message, it went through, decoding the message and if it did, and we trained this over and over and over again, and it was... you know, we could do it in our sleep. There was no question in our mind that this was the thing to do.
INT: Could one person have initiated a launch in the control room?
TD: No, it was designed against that, it took two peop...
TD: It was designed against one person being capable of launching the missile. It took two of us to decide that, yes, the message was a valid message and that in fact did tell us to launch; you probably saw the safe, which had two locks on. I would have one combination, the other officer had the other combination, so all along there was this check and balance that it took two people to do it.