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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.
05:28 pm - Mon, February 27 2017
David Gallimore said:
The museum is well worth the visit. I have stopped by the new site several times, as well as the temp site they had while building the new one, when passing by on my annual SoDak vacation from the Carolinas.
I was stationed at Ellsworth AFB 91-95, as a Security Policeman and pulled many tours in the Missile Field. "RON"ed (remain over night) at 13 of the 15 LCFs and witnessed the deactivation and removal of the weapon systems. I was the last Airman SP in the 44th Group, and had to transfer to the 28th SPS as the 44th MW dissolved June 94.
So pleased that we have this museum to preserve and share this history and let the public see what we treated as SECRET and only a "need to know."
09:56 am - Mon, March 13 2017
Terry Finley said:
Was stationed at Ellsworth AFB from 68-72 and worked in the "mobile maintenance" section of 821st Transportation Squadron. Spent many a night at all 15 LCF's and at one time or another visited all 150 LF's.
I have many fond memories of my time spent in S.D.
11:24 am - Sat, April 29 2017
Cheryl (Bishop) Steeves said:
We were stationed at Ellsworth AFB during the Cuban missile crisis. My father was "underground" for almost a month. It's good to heAR that this museum is available for people to see.
05:12 pm - Sat, November 11 2017
Ken Rick said:
My best friend "Randy" served in the Missle Wing @ Rapid City in the early 70's! Just wanted to say "thanks" for defending our freedom!
12:43 am - Fri, December 14 2018
Fred Lindenberg said:
I worked as a field engineer with American Bridge Division, the company that furnished and installed all the concrete reinforcing and structural steel at the Rapid City and Cheyenne missile projects...I worked out of Enning, Wall, Newell and then on to Cheyenne. Most of my work was with erection of steel for the silos and the launch control centers from 1962 through 1963.. Met a South Dakota girl, married her, and brought her back to Alabama...we're still there..
01:58 pm - Fri, January 18 2019
Richard Tisdale said:
I once read of a missile site being sold after most of the usable hardware was removed and the site was converted to an underground home. Was this a story that was untrue or real.
05:17 am - Thu, September 5 2019
Annette Havrilla said:
I visited a few years ago and thought it was interesting. BUT, I recommend you watch Comand & Control before visiting if you haven't gone yet. It's on Netflix. It will give you more to think about :-)
09:38 pm - Fri, May 7 2021
Megan Horton said:
My dad was stationed out at the Ellsworth Air Force Base in the early 80s. I just have a question what year did supposedly extraterrestrials Disarmed the missals? After being stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base he was put into the mental hospital and I’m trying to figure out why and what the reason was for. I was only five years old to six years old at the time. Any information on what was going on down in the early 80s would be greatly appreciated.
09:06 am - Mon, October 18 2021
Don Denner said:
Great memories of cutting wheat around the various sites. During the disarmament stage, the site was occupied by a military semi, a couple of Humvees, helicopter and armed soldiers. We stopped to talk one time and were told to keep on moving " There is nothing to see here." I was 18 or 19 and had no clue. Glad they kept one to preserve history.
07:18 pm - Mon, December 19 2022
Roger Perrigo said:
I worked Delta 1 as a site cook, enjoyed my time there, spent alot of time in the black hills.

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