Minot Air Force Base
On this day, July 12, 1955, the Air Force and the city of Minot conducted groundbreaking ceremonies on a site that would become Minot Air Force Base.
After the communist government in the USSR developed atomic bombs in 1949, US military leaders began looking to strengthen defenses along the nation’s borders. With the memory of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor still fresh in the minds of Americans, a string of radar posts were built across the nation’s northern border to watch for a surprise attack by long-range Russian bombers carrying atomic weapons. A site twelve miles south of Minot, at South Prairie was selected for a long-range radar base and it was operational by 1951.
Jet fighter bases coordinated with these radar posts to provide protection against a potential bomber attack. By 1954, after fierce competition with Bismarck, Minot gained approval for a jet interceptor air base. Local civil leaders including A. R. Weinhandl, president of First National Bank of Minot, Ulric M. Gwynn of the Chamber of Commerce and Mayor Maurice Harrington lobbied in Washington DC on behalf of the base. Minot businessmen and citizens donated approximately $50,000 to buy the first portion of land.
On July 12, 1955, groundbreaking ceremonies were conducted on the newly acquired property thirteen miles north of Minot. Rather than using shovels, the dignitaries used a giant strip-scraper machine to illustrate the massive nature of the project. Construction of the brand-new base took almost two years to complete. The ground had to be prepared for landing fields. Runways suitable for jet fighters had to be constructed. Control towers, housing and administration had to be built before airmen could occupy the base.
About 300 local people were involved in the initial construction. Lester Convis of Lansford hauled gravel from his quarter-section of land to the base for undergirding the runways for almost three years earning about $1,000 daily. When asked about his instant wealth, he responded, “I really don’t feel any different now than before; in fact I haven’t even bought any new clothes.” Other local contractors, such as Mowbray & Son of Minot, worked as sub-contractors.
In anticipation of the construction, the small community of Ruthville also prepared itself for growth. Bernie and Marion Schimmelpfennig, owners of the Ruthville Store, began construction of a 10-unit motel, aptly-named the Jet Motel, to accommodate visitors to the new base site.
By January 1957, the first airmen came to Minot to organize and prepare the base for its defense missions. Today, Minot Air Force Base has over 6,000 military members and civilian employees. While the focus, weapons and aircraft of Minot Air Force Base has changed over the past 51 years, its importance to Minot, the surrounding communities, the state and the nation has not.
Written by Christina Campbell
Hoffbeck, Steven R., ed. Memory and the Mystery of History, A Short History of the Minot Air Force Base, 1955-1995, by Keith Strom and Steven R. Hoffbeck, (New York: American Heritage Custom Publishing, 1995).