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May 17: Air Raid

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Air raid sirens filled the air at Minot Air Force Base during a drill on this date in 1965, and weary soldiers sprung into action.

It was 3:00am. They were told that a nuclear missile had exploded just west of the base. They were quickly informed that an underground nuclear blast had completely leveled the north side of the base and set fires to homes and barracks.

Sabotage blasts completely cut off the water supply to the base. They were then informed that a missile was inbound, with a target just 40 miles west of the base. They deployed B-52 bombers and were ordered to take cover. By midmorning there were 300 casualties from to nuclear radiation. The toll continued to rise in what was called the “Great Effort.”

But of course, none of this actually happened. The bombs, air sirens, and even the casualties were all part of an elaborate 12-hour exercise. The base was completely closed off to all civilians apart from construction crews who were there on request. Additionally, children from base housing were transported to school. School goes on, even in the midst of this ‘nuclear war.’ The exercise even included men being carried off in stretchers after being “shot.”

In the aftermath, the 2,900 dead resumed their normal jobs. The “ruins” were repaired, and the base resumed normal operations by the 18th. The base command reported the exercise was a success, but while most of the casualties were fake, one soldier, Sgt. John Huber, suffered a heart attack and died.

This exercise was conducted during the height of the cold war, preparing the soldiers at the Air Force base to perform their duties even in the face of a nuclear assault. The dangers were very real, a concern of particular significance in a state that housed many of country’s nuclear missiles.

Dakota Datebook by Colby Aderhold


  • Minot daily optic May 17th, 1965, page 1
  • Minot daily optic May 17th, 1965, page 2
  • Minot daily optic May 18th, 1965, page 1

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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