What happened to the missiles from the Cuban Missile Crisis?

April 5, 2012 4:21:36 PM PDT
The Cuban Missile Crisis 50 years ago is the closest the world has come to nuclear war.

In this Intelligence Report: A rare look at the Russian missiles and the Cuban launch sites that threatened the U.S.

ABC7's Chuck Goudie was in Cuba last week.

When ABC7 set out for Cuba to follow the pope, among the other stories we were interested in was what happened to the missiles from the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. And what came of the launch sites that had been built in the Cuban countryside?

It was widely thought that all the missiles were removed and taken back to the Soviet Union and the silos all dismantled. That does not appear to have been the case.

Across the harbor from Havana, behind a bluff that once protected a USSR installation, we found what is left of one of the Russian nuclear rockets; an R-12 medium ballistic missile that still contains what appears to be some of the original wiring.

No one could tell ABC7 why the missile remained behind, just that it was apparently among 158 nuclear warheads detected in 1962 by U.S. spy planes and satellites -- missiles made by the Russians and brought to Cuba and capable of reaching the Midwest, the East Coast and the South.

Days later, on the cusp of confrontation, the crisis was averted and the missiles dismantled.

Today, although not on the tourist maps, remnants of the launch sites are scattered throughout Cuba, 90 miles from the southern tip of Florida.

A soviet star still marks the spot where the USSR headquarters, primitive by 2012 standards, stands.

While missile storage sites and barracks were torn down, still standing is this guard house that once protected the headquarters entryway.

Also still there are some of the most famous structures seen in the U.S. spy photos that triggered the crisis.

On the ground today, the concrete Quonset that once house nuclear missiles is being overtaken by vines and thick brush, looking more like the scenery on lost than a piece of history from one of the world's most nerve-wracking moments.

There are no signs or maps directing tourists or Cuban history buffs to the Russian missile ABC7 found or to the nine abandoned missile sites from 1962. Nor are there any markings once you get there explaining what it was and how it brought the world to the brink. That's remarkable when you consider that single crisis changed the course of Cuba and its people for the past 50 years.