John Bordne United Nations Interview
Seconds to Stop the Final Countdown: the Cuba Missile Crisis in Okinawa
Side-event organized by the permanent Mission of Chile to the UN and the Mayors for Peace.1
Analysis and Opinion
By George Mindling
“What counts is not what sounds plausible, not what we would like to believe, not what one or two witnesses claim, but only what is supported by hard evidence rigorously and skeptically examined. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” – Carl Sagan
On October 27th, 2015, I received an e-mail from Glenn Jones, a former fellow member of the 1962 TM-76B Mace missile Installation, Checkout and Verification team at Bitburg Air Base, Germany. Glenn forwarded an opinion article published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, dated 25 October 2015, titled “The Okinawa missiles of October” by Aaron Tovish.2 While unfamiliar with the article itself, I was well acquainted with John Bordne's story. I first heard it while writing “U.S Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949 – 1969 The Pioneers” with Robert Bolton, of Lawrenceville, Georgia in 2006 and 2007. John Bordne and I communicated often about the TM-76B Mace in Okinawa during that time, not only for the book, but also for my web site about tactical missiles.
I read the article and was struck by several statements I felt weren't correct, or were incredibly exaggerated. Two days later, at the TAC Missileer Reunion in Orlando, I addressed the reunion attendees after the main dinner asking anyone for comments or information, especially veterans of Okinawa. While there were members of the 498th Tactical Missile Group present, no one had heard the story, and many attendees gave it little credence. I wanted to know if perhaps I had been wrong in excluding the story from our book, or if I had been correct in my original assessment.
Charlie Simpson, Colonel, US Air Force (Retired) Executive Director, Association of Air Force Missileers, sent me an e-mail on November 17th, 2015, asking if I had any knowledge about the same article as he had received inquiries from members of his organization. I answered Colonel Simpson;
“Neither Bob (Robert Bolton, Co-author, U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949 – 1969 The Pioneers) nor I could corroborate any part of the story while we were researching our book several years ago, nor could I find anyone to give it any credence whatsoever. I posted questions about it on the web site, but have had no comments. I mentioned it at our last TAC Missileers convention, which included many 498th TMG vets, and the response was the same. No one had heard about it before, and no one gave it any credibility after I mentioned it. While I wasn't there, I can't swear it didn't happen, but personally, I think it's a case of confused memory. Operation Sunset Lily was true, but this is a whole different tale.
I soon received an e-mail from Joe Perkins, Executive Director of the TAC Missileers Association, asking anyone with any knowledge or information about the Bordne story to contact Travis Tritten, a reporter for the Stars and Stripes in Washington, DC. Tritten asked the TAC Missileers Association for information about the Bordne story. After exchanging e-mails and a lengthy telephone conversation with Tritten, I gave him permission to use any photographs from my web site in the article he was writing about the Bordne story. I agreed to allow the use of any material on my web site as I deemed it in agreement with the intent of the original contributors. Several photographs submitted to me by other members of the 498th TMG were used when the story entitled “Cold War Missileers Refute Okinawa Near-launch3“, was published on December 23, 2015.
My TAC Missile website, http://www.mace-b.com/38TMW/, originally based on the Air Force unit I was assigned to in Germany, has been open to the public since 1996 when I originally hosted it on AOL.com. [Over 617,000 page views, average 47 hits a day] It was moved to its own domain a little over 15 years ago, and has been popular with former missilemen and Air Force veterans ever since. As the site became popular, more and more people contributed stories and photographs to help keep our part of Air Force history alive. One of the early contributors, Robert Bolton of Lawrenceville, Georgia, - also a former Mace missile man – and I became good friends and eventually collaborated on a book based on our experiences with the web site and our personal experiences with the Mace missile system. The book, U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949 – 1969 The Pioneers, was published in 2008, and was developed from contributions from former missilemen from all aspects of the early cruise missiles.
John Bordne was also one of the other early contributors to the web site, and later the book.4 His descriptions of the early days on Okinawa in 1962 with the TM-76B Mace and the launch sites were an integral part of the early deployment story of the Mace B (TM-76B/CGM-13B.) All except one particular part: John maintained that they (the 498th TMG) were at DEFCON 2 during the Cuban Missile crisis and came close to launching missiles during the tense confrontation. While not being able to explain to me what DEFCON 2 meant, his belief was that all of the sites on Okinawa were operational in October, 1962, were ordered to launch their missiles against their assigned targets, and therefore they were at DEFCON 1. I disagreed with his assumption of the DEFCON level, but John was adamant and would not budge. I had no choice but to not include Bordne's story in the book.
I responded to Aaron Tovish's article in December, 2015, on the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists web page:
“I read your article with great interest as I researched John Bordne's story in 2008 for inclusion in my book, U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949 – 1969 The Pioneers, co-authored with Robert Bolton. We included many of John's comments and photos in the book, but could not corroborate or verify his Cuban Missile Crisis story. In our book's acknowledgments, I thanked John Bordne for his many comments and contributions to the book, but as I also wrote, 'We thank the people who contributed stories and material for this book, much of it derived from or inspired by contributions to the web site. We have endeavored to verify each and every story, confirm or deny every rumor. Many stories were left on the table, but several could not be ignored.' The story about DEFCON 1 at Kadena was one of the stories we left on the table.”
“One basic reason for our exclusion of his story is the lack of proof PACAF went to DEFCON 2 at any time during the Cuban missile crisis. USAFE, under Gen Truman Landon, escalated to DEFCON 3 unbeknownst to NATO Commander, Gen Lauris Norstad, who had been authorized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to escalate NATO forces at his discretion. Gen Norstad, after discussion with British Prime Minister McMillan, decided not to escalate from DEFCON 4 to DEFCON 3, although Gen Landon had received permission from direct Air Force channels as did all other Air Force combat commands. [Nuclear Weapons Safety – Scott Sagan-Leadership Involvement, pg 103]. The Strategic Air Command was the only U.S. force I found to advance to DEFCON 2, and stayed at that level until Nov 15th. Theater Commands such as USAFE and PACAF were not part of SAC and did not fall under that command. While part of the SIOP at the time, the TM-76B (CGM-13B) was a tactical missile, not a strategic weapon.”
I found no records from the 498th TMG, 313th Air Division, or 5th Air Force to show they escalated to DEFCON 2 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and therefore did not support inclusion of John Bordne's story as a factual component of the book.
I decided to watch the Bordne interview to better understand Aaron Tovish's article. As I watched the video,5 I realized I was being forced into a position I had avoided for several years. I quickly began to suspect the purpose and overall integrity of the interview based on irregular, inappropriate, and quite frankly, erroneous statements Bordne made while explaining not only the background to his story, but his Air Force history as well. It appeared to be more theater than substance.
John Bordne and I trained concurrently, though separately, for basically the same system and skills early in our Air Force enlistments. While Bordne was Flight Controls, launch, I was Flight Controls, maintenance. I, too, was half-way through TM-76A Flight Controls class at the Lowry Technical Training Center in Denver, Colorado, early in 1961 when Leonard Estrada, Long Beach, California, and I were selected to move to the first TM-76B Flight Controls mechanic training for first term airmen. All previous TM-76B Flight Controls personnel, both career airmen and NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers), were factory trained in Baltimore, Maryland, by Martin-Marietta.
Bordne and I were both students at the Combat Tactical Missile School, 4504th Missile Training Wing, Orlando Air Force Base, Florida, during the second half of 1961 although Bordne stated he was assigned to Kadena in the summer of 1961 while I didn't finish training at Orlando until November of that year. Bordne trained as a launch crew member while I was trained in missile maintenance. One of my classmates, Leonard Estrada, and I were both slated for assignment to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, after graduation, however, at the last moment – after our hold baggage containing our winter uniforms had been shipped to Kadena – our orders were changed and we were both given PCS (Permanent Change of Station) orders for Bitburg Air Base, Germany, to report in January, 1962. I remained in the Mace B program for eight years, serving through all of its numerical designation changes.6
I found the cumbersome, ill-recorded video of the October 28, 2015, John Bordne interview tedious to watch, so I converted it to the .mp3 audio format so I could listen to it conveniently. I deleted the first ten minutes of the recording – before the interview actually starts – and have listened to the entire John Bordne interview at least three times. I replayed parts of it many times while taking notes and insuring I understood what Bordne said. I had to research many of the comments, including those that were not necessarily germane to the Okinawa issue, as I knew many of them to be inaccurate Unfortunately, they are indicative of the relative accuracy of the overall interview. I began to question not only the information being presented by Mr. Bordne, but also the purpose of the interview as well.
Bordne's dramatic opening statement "It was hard to believe, that if we had to launch theses missiles, that we were in last minutes of our life, and that within days there would virtually no life left on the planet. I cannot explain the feeling that I had, It is something I only had once and haven't had since then. Bone chilling, numbing feeling" is expectedly as profound as the subject itself. The problems begin about a minute later when he says emphatically, "I did not want to be a missileer, in fact I wanted to fly. At Lackland, the Captain that gave us our assignments stated that we have you slated for missiles because I had taken some college as, in electrical engineering.”
At this point, I made my first replay to make sure I copied the text correctly. The statement is so fraught with basic procedural problems it had to be addressed.7 After listening to the entire interview, and reading Bordne's comments posted on the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist web page that contained the article, I realized the story had expanded beyond my initial reading of it some seven or so years ago. I had not heard the part about sending other launch crew members to the adjoining complex to possibly shoot the other launch crew, and had not heard the part about “cracking open” the massive launch bay doors. The first part is preposterous and the second part is impossible. If it had been an actual launch order, an EWO (Emergency War Order), any attempt to prevent a launch would have been considered an enemy action and met with defensive action, including gun fire if necessary, and secondly, the launch bay doors had to be partially open to even start the Mace-B J-33 jet engines as they are “air breathers,” not rockets as mistakenly reported recently by a Japanese news agency. To make the story even more implausible is the thought of raising or lowering the 100 ton launch doors manually.8
While I seriously doubt Bordne's personal intelligence knowledge of any Cuban refugees or of the 50 SAM sites in Cuba9 he mentions, I cannot prove he was not privy to highly sensitive intelligence data not usually disseminated to enlisted, non-related personnel (E-3's) in the field. I documented the "sabotage" event in Germany he wrote about in the comments section of the on-line article in my book as that is part of the official 38th TMW record. He mentioned the sabotage story to me in an e-mail in 2007 while I was writing the book, and the story was resolved when Robert Bolton and I uncovered the documents that showed the “sabotage” proved to be a contractor error at the worst possible time. As far as the “3 TM-76B sites that were “sabotaged” from the “Road to nowhere,” we only had two sites at Bitburg for a total of 16 launch bays, and we didn't go operational until 1964. Our first missile test insertion was at Rittersdorf, Site VII, still a raw site, in September, 196210, the month prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis. While Bordne states these were comments made at a pre-shift briefing, the incorrect assertions simply don't lend credibility to the remainder of his story.
On December 6th, I forwarded Bordne's story to Carlo Croce, a former Mace-B Launch Officer who also served at Kadena from May 1965 to Dec 1966, for clarification of procedures and duties. Carlo contributed much to my book from the 313th Air Division history concerning Operation Sunset Lily, the planned launch of an inert Mace-B from Kadena during the Vietnam conflict, and has experience in other missile systems as well.
“We never received mid-shift codes (did get altitude potentiometer settings from 5th AF), and only Target Planning had info on the missile targets. The launch crews had no such information. Target coordinates were provided as data settings during count up and could not be changed without shutting the missiles down and counting back up. The alert crew had no control or knowledge of targets. So obviously there was no call-out of targets during launch.
We had no pouches and no launch keys. The launch key concept was a SAC Minuteman ICBM concept. We did have keys to the locked bookcase that contained the launch authenticator cards. These keys were handed over to the LO and Mech 1 during crew changeover.”
While Carlo disputes many of Bordne's comments, specifically about the presence of launch keys, I would recommend contacting Carlo for his full comments and opinions. Croce did not reinforce any of Bordne's assertions, and contradicted many of them.
My research continues on several statements, but the overall accuracy of John Bordne's interview is poor at best, terrible at worst, and therefore, to me, the overall reliability of his interview is in question. I doubt most of Mr. Bordne's comments could have been made to an audience of his peers without serious disapproval or disagreement. All of the facts are important here, not because they have direct bearing on the claim of an incident that could have launched a nuclear attack, but because they show a potential problem with Mr. Bordne homogenizing past memories into a blend he can express with one sentence, unfortunately with little or no accuracy.
In my opinion, something out of the normal routine may have occurred during A2C John Bordne's duty shift that day in the launch complex at Kadena, however, I have come to the conclusion the event, as described by John Bordne, is undoubtedly enhanced and exaggerated, quite possibly by simply fading memories of fifty-four years ago. I will leave the reasoning for such enhancements to others.
Aaron Tovish has spent exhaustive hours developing his article and taken extreme care to place disclaimers about the validity of the information presented, but I think an intensive program to research all USAF records, specifically WRAMA (Warner Robins Air Material Area) to determine if PAL (Permissive Action Link) was installed on the PACAF systems as they were on USAFE weapons over a month prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis, should be undertaken before any organization supports the story as anything more than just an “opinion.”
Finally, and perhaps most important in understanding the combat readiness of all operational Mace tactical missiles, including all TM-76B/CGM13B missiles assigned to the 498th Tactical Missile Group in PACAF, the 71st Tactical Missile Squadron and all TM-76A/MGM13A missiles in the 38th Tactical Missile Wing in USAFE, were continually assigned as QRA, or Quick Response Alert missiles – the equivalent of the Victor Alert status for fighter aircraft with nuclear response assignments, regardless of “DEFCON” status. The DEFCON level had no bearing on missile launch status or readiness condition with QRA responsibilities.
The Mace missile alert launch responsibilities did not change because of the Cuban Missile Crisis, or lessen when the crisis was resolved. John Bordne's contention that PACAF or the 498th TMG status was raised to DEFCON 2 is not only incorrect, but immaterial as well. It only serves to confuse what may have actually happened.
Co-author “U.S Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949 – 1969 The Pioneers”
Owner and Webmaster http://www.mace-b.com/38TMW/
Port Charlotte, Florida
4 US Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949-1969 The Pioneers pages 234 and 261
6 My original IC&V (Installation, Checkout and Verification) duties at Bitburg Air Base, Germany, included installing and testing all Flight Controls/Safety and Arming test equipment and support equipment in the Missile Support Area, and later working with cabling crews at both launch sites, 7 at Rittersdorf and site 8 at Idenheim. I worked under the Launch Control Center floor at both complexes at site 7, and pulled cables to both the LCSC and the LAGG consoles. Leonard Estrada and I, along with S/Sgt William Reeves and A1C John Cochran, not only tested and inspected the Flight Controls System, including the Heading Monitor System, in all TM-76B missiles and nose sections in the Missile Support Area, but performed all Safety and Arming checks on each warhead section mounted on each missile at the time of insertion in the launch bays as well. We were responsible for all site dispatches for all Flight Controls/Safety and Arming problems, including the Heading Monitor System. By 1964, our section had grown to seven airmen and two NCOs. Following my four-year assignment at Bitburg, I cross trained to Inertial Guidance system mechanic while assigned to technical school support at Lowry AFB, Colorado, and later served a second tour at Bitburg in both Guidance and Flight Controls. I earned my Master Missileman badge as a Staff Sergeant in 1969 having served solely with the Mace B. I was an Air Force board-certified 7 level technician in Flight Controls and on the AC AChiever inertial guidance system as well.
7 AFQT (Armed Forces Qualification Test – administered to all military recruits) and AQE (Airmen Qualification Examination) scores – Category and enlistment date was determined by AF Recruiting area quotas. Only certain numbers of recruits for each of the four categories were allowed to enlist each month. The categories were Administration, Mechanical, Electronic, and General. Each recruit's category was decided prior to enlistment.
9 There were 24 identified sites, (2 not operational, as of Oct 20,1962 – CIA Documents of the Cuban Missile Crisis 1962, Editor Mary S. McAuliffe, CIA History Staff, October 1992