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Minuteman Missile SHS


The Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site opened on this date in 2009 near Cooperstown, North Dakota. Containing both the Oscar-Zero Missile Alert Facility and the November-33 Launch Facility, the site “…introduces visitors to the state’s role in international relations and the significance of missile installations on North Dakota’s history and culture.” On continuous alert for nearly thirty years, both sites served as part of the United States’ strategy of nuclear deterrence during the Cold War.

Beginning in the 1960s, the U.S. Air Force began building alert and launch facilities near its bases in Wyoming, Missouri, Montana, and the Dakotas. Stocked with Minuteman nuclear missiles, the facilities in eastern North Dakota were handled by the 321st Missile Wing of the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Built to withstand a massive blast, the Oscar-Zero and November-33 facilities were completed in 1965. November-33 acted as a “self-contained underground concrete-lined steel missile silo” that could be operated remotely. The Oscar-Zero facility, however, was an entire complex of above- and below-ground facilities in which managers, security forces, maintenance teams, cooks, and missileers lived their daily lives. The topside Launch Control Support Building included a kitchen and living areas for eight crewmembers, and was surrounded by an 8-foot fence, an electronic surveillance system, and guarded by two two-person security teams at all times. An elevator shaft led to the underground Launch Control Center, where a two-man team served 24-hour watches around the clock. Each team served a watch every three days and was responsible for “monitoring, launching, and retargeting the flight of ten nuclear missiles.” Built to be self-sustaining, the steel-reinforced launch control centers were connected by underground cables and a radio network to other launch facilities and control centers in its squadron.

In 1991, the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, reducing weapons on both sides. As a result, the 321st Missile Wing at Grand Forks was decommissioned and all of the missile facilities destroyed or filled, except for Oscar-Zero, which was preserved to become a historic site. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the site won the 2010 Governor’s Travel and Tourism Award.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme Job