I was delighted to read this week that in 1987 a Soviet submarine apparently sneaked into Kwajalein Lagoon and swiped one of our nuclear missile nose cones.
Not that I want them to get our secret data. I'm not happy about that part. But the fact that we now seem to have proof they were there is gratifying, because I said it 25 years ago and nobody took me seriously.I went through high school on Kwajalein, a missile base in the Pacific about halfway between Australia and Hawaii. We witnessed many launches during which anti-missile-missiles blasted up to intercept target rockets fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
We were always supposed to be under three inches of concrete during these shots. For most, that meant we had to stay inside our own homes, as the flat roofs were built with that much protection.
The reason was that our missiles had a habit of sometimes disintegrating on the way up.
The Nike Zeus, the rocket that was tested at the time, was the fastest accelerating vehicle in our armory. Sometimes it encountered rain droplets in the cloud cover, and the drops were just like steel shot because it went so fast - they tore it to bits, causing spectacular explosions.
Or if there was a twin shot, presumably to test defenses against more than one incoming bomb (this was before multiple independently-targeted warheads), the second Nike Zeus was certain to explode. Debris from the solid fuel burned by the first would destroy it.
Once a friend found a chunk of metal in his back yard. After all, the launch pad was only a couple of miles away.
But we never worried. We were kids and we knew we'd live forever. Sometimes we had missile parties, everybody waiting around on a patio until the thing finally went. With all the delays, that could be hours.
Sometimes the countdowns were broadcast on our little AFRS radio station. Sometimes we just waited to hear the "all clear" siren.
When a shot went during the day, afterwards we'd see the dense column of exhaust smoke hanging over the other end of the island. It would twist and drift as the breezes moved. When a missile exploded during a daytime shot, it would leave splattered trajectories in the sky, smoke streamers going off at the top of the column.
But the best shots were at night.
First the incoming missile would show high in the sky, broken into scattered burning fragments, streaking past stars, lighting patches of clouds.
We'd see a flash from the end of the island, followed by a giant startling glare arcing into the sky. Shadows would stretch out from buildings and palm trees, shortening rapidly as the thing climbed, changing direction when this blaze changed. Then the tremendous ground-shaking roar would hit.
One night I went to Emon Beach at our end of the island, hoping to see the launch reflected in the lagoon. I seem to recall it was exceptionally dark.
As I waited, far out in the lagoon I noticed a long, slim, low metallic something slinking along the surface. And then it disappeared.
I could barely believe my eyes. After it was gone - sliding under, I suppose - I almost wondered if I'd imagined it. I remain certain it was a Soviet submarine.
When we checked out the video version of Woody Allen's "Radio Days" a year or two ago, I was tickled by the scene where Woody spots a German sub and can't quite believe it. This was exactly how I felt 25 years ago - I saw something so strange I could hardly believe it myself. It was there and gone.
The Nike-Zeus and its successor, the Sprint, have been mothballed. But Kwaj is still an active base, used for testing reentry vehicles.
One of these was probably salvaged by the Soviets in 1987, CBS reports. Divers couldn't find the instrument box, with its information that was so secret that it couldn't be radioed back.
But on a small island in the Kwajalein Atoll, investigators found a Soviet sailor's cap, a can of insect repellent and an electrical junction box with Russian markings.