Redstone Historian: Berlin Wall fell because of the success of the Pershing II

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - There's history, and then there's history, and Redstone Arsenal has a lot of both.  The Saturn V moon rocket certainly changed the world, but then again, so did the Pershing missile.

The Pershing II missile system was a bit of a monster.  It could fly 1,800 miles to a target and get very, very close to it.

"Ten yards, maybe better," said Col. (Ret.) Tom Brown, former Pershing Program Manager at Redstone.

The Pershing was the natural successor to the German V2's the Army tested at White Sands, New Mexico.   The Pershing was designed and developed at Redstone Arsenal.

"All the research and development that was done was turned over to a contractor, but the research and development was done, was done here," said Mike Baker, Redstone Historian.

Pershing II (Courtesy: Wikipedia/
Pershing II (Courtesy: Wikipedia/

The missile produced by that work gave the U.S. a very powerful Cold War weapon.

"The Pershing had some unique capabilities. We could take the thing to a three-minute hold and sit there forever, so if the President said shoot, the missile was going down to the target in three minutes," said Col. Brown.

The Pershing was so fearsome, it brought the Soviets to the negotiating table.

"The beauty of the Pershing was that it never had to be fired in anger, but it achieved peace," said Brown.

That peace meant Russian treaty compliance inspectors visited Redstone Arsenal in 1988.  They were there to make sure no Pershings still remained.  The missiles were all destroyed between 1988 and 1991.

"The Berlin Wall fell because of the success of the Pershing II," said Baker.

The wall came down in 1989, and the Cold War ended.  Thousands of workers at Redstone Arsenal can be proud their labors helped make it so.  And yes, the product of their years of labor was destroyed, but that's okay.

"By destroying it we won," said Col. Brown. "That's kind of an unusual thing, but sometimes the classic winning the game, may not be the right answer."

Col. Brown calls the organization that made the Pershing possible at Redstone, probably the finest in the world.

Read and watch more of our reports marking Redstone Arsenal's 75th Anniversary.

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