Inspiration

I Didn’t Expect That! | Near Miss, Titan II Missile Crisis in Arkansas

One thing I didn’t expect, but have come to love, is the research I must do for my radio show. Each week, under pressure of a deadline, I read about my guest. As a result, I’ve learned so much!

My interview with Mr. Lay, founder of GWL Advertising, was fast approaching. My first thought was to research his business, GWL Advertising, and speak to the changes that have occurred in his industry over the past 40 years. But, when he sent me his bio, I quickly changed course. Gary Wayne Lay, from Clinton, Arkansas, has a story that really caught me by surprise and opened my eyes, once again, to the fragility of life.

In the biography he sent, along with career and family information, was a short mention that he was one of two survivors of the 1965 Titan II Missile Crisis in Arkansas that killed 53 people. I don’t ever remember hearing about it. Granted, I was only 11 years old. Still, there is little talk of it, even today. As I Googled the story, I became confused because a 1980 Titan II Missile Crisis in Arkansas kept coming to the top of the page. My first thought was Gary had his dates wrong. But no.

Arkansas experienced two near catastrophic Titan II Missile Crises before president Reagan decommissioned them in 1981. I was agog and thought myself to be naive. I asked myself how could I not have known about this? Why didn’t the news report it when it happened? This is what I discovered.

In 1965, 17-year-old Gary Lay was returning from lunch at the Titan II Missile Silo near Searcy, Arkansas, when he saw a flash of light and felt the strong pull of oxygen out of the air he was breathing. You can listen to him recount the chain of events that happened that day and how he survived in his own words.

Fifteen years later, in 1980, near Damascus, Arkansas, a workman dropped a wrench that fell 80 feet down and punctured the side of the Titan II missile’s base. Toxic gases were released into the silo. Upon direction of an Air Force Officer, a fan was brought in to dissipate the gas. When the fan was switched on, a tiny arc caused an explosion that only killed one man but catapulted the armed Titan II warhead 100 yards into a nearby field. Because of safety features, it did not detonate.

At the same time, 50 miles away in Little Rock, Vice President Walter Mondale and then Governor Bill Clinton were attending the Arkansas Democratic Convention. At that time, because of Cold War nuclear secrecy, the Governor, VP and even the President were not notified of the mishap.

Now, that is one thing I didn’t expect to learn! I wonder if the President felt the same when it finally came to light?

Gary Lay Recounts Surviving the 1965 Titan II Missile Crisis