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A National Park Service employee points to the double-locked red box that concealed the code and keys for a missile launch at the <a href='' target='_blank'>Minuteman Missile National Historic Site</a>. 2007 photo by Paul Higbee.
A National Park Service employee points to the double-locked red box that concealed the code and keys for a missile launch at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. 2007 photo by Paul Higbee.

The Mystery of a Missile Silo

Missile silos were once buried under South Dakota’s short grass prairie west of the Missouri River. They housed 150 Minuteman II warheads that could have streaked 15,000 miles per hour over the North Pole and into the Soviet Union if the super powers had fought a nuclear war.

As it happened, the silos were deterrents, and curiosities for ranchers and passers-by. Only one was ever launched; a 7-second test flight near Newell resulted in the missile landing harmlessly in a field. South Dakota’s missiles were deactivated when the cold war ended in 1991. Most were destroyed, but the National Park Service preserved one silo and one control center near Badlands National Park as the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

Visitors can peer into the underground silo and see the control room where two-member teams worked 24-hour shifts. Surely all the little red buttons have been disconnected, but be careful just in case. Headquarters is along Highway 240 — the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway — at Interstate 90 exit 131.

Editor's Note: This story is revised from the March/April 2010 issue of  South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to  subscribe, call 800-456-5117.


06:49 am - Fri, March 7 2014
david schau said:
going have to add this to my bucket list
08:24 pm - Sat, March 8 2014
Ernie Endes said:
I recall working during the construction phase of these missile silos in the summer of 1962 when I was working my way through SDSM&T getting my engineering degree. Worked mostly on the Minuteman sites and a little on the Titan site near Sturgis (3 large missiles in one complex). Good work and good pay for common labor, but it was unionized.
04:44 pm - Tue, December 9 2014
Stan Krupinski said:
Seeing these silos (LF's) brings back a lot of great memories for me. I was stationed at Whiteman AFB from '63 to '67, when the Minutman I was first used in our defense system, and was a cook with the 351st Food Service Squadron, that was part of the 351st strategic missile wing. Most of my time was spent cooking at every launch control facility(LCF's) at one time or another for the combat crews, security police, and missileers that were on site. Other times I cooked in the main chow hall or pulled duty in the bakery shop. I will always remember Whiteman for all the steam pipes in the air going around the entire base. And having to open the blast door to take each meal to the missile commander and his deputy. This was a great part of my life looking back 50 years ago.

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