On this date in 1960, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev pounded his shoe on his desk and declared to U.S. citizens, “We will bury you!” One year later, on October 6th, 1961, President Kennedy urged Americans to build bomb shelters to protect them from atomic fallout.
A nuclear conflict with Russia would likely mean an missiles and planes crossing the arctic. That made North Dakota an appropriate place for the country to locate nuclear missiles.
Field construction began in January of 1962 to house the Minuteman I Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) complex. At Minot Air Force Base, Strategic Air Command (SAC) activated the 455th Strategic Missile Wing in November, and in less than a year, the first Minuteman arrived from Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Soon, the North Dakota prairie was spattered with hundreds of missile sites boasting America’s latest technology.
During this time, Russian visitors weren’t allowed to visit the state, but the missile sites were far from secret; in fact, school kids went on field trips to tour their nearest missile silos.
By the next year, 300 Minutemen missiles were fully armed. Interestingly, if the state had decided to split away from the rest of the country, North Dakota would have been the 3rd most powerful nation in the world.
Several years later, the 321st Missile Wing at the Grand Forks Air Force Base was the very first to deploy the more powerful Minuteman II missiles. The Air Force then selected Minot’s 91st Strategic Missile Wing to become the first to convert to the Minuteman III in the early 1970s. The Minuteman III tripled the Air Force’s striking power and was more convincing as a war deterrent.
With the Cold War at ending in the mid-1990s, the Minuteman missiles were taken off alert. In accordance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the 150 missiles assigned to Grand Forks were to be destroyed and the silos imploded, but the 150 missile sites assigned to Minot were to remain in service.
The first missile site to be destroyed was near Langdon, on Oct. 6th, 1999, where more than 100 spectators watched a piece of military history reduced to a pile of rubble. It was 38 years – to the day – after Kennedy called on families to build bomb shelters.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm