Home » Historic Preservation » Mixed Emotions – Road Tripping through the 321st Missile Field

Mixed Emotions – Road Tripping through the 321st Missile Field


Just over a year ago I went road-tripping on a tour of the former 321stStrategic Missile Wing. I wanted to get a good look at the 14 other Missile Alert Facilities (or Launch Control Facilities). I had a few reasons for doing this. One reason was that I was deeply curious—I wanted to see firsthand what had become of the facilities since their deactivation in the late 1990s.

321st Strategic Missile Wing (copyright SHSND)

I-0 (India-Zero)

The road trip and discovering the condition of the facilities ended up being much more emotional than I ever could have imagined. And my emotions were all mixed-up. It was a powerful trip. As I drove from abandoned facility to abandoned facility there were overriding similarities. The sites were overgrown with grass and weeds. Siding had been ripped from their sides. Basketball hoops had fallen into rusted, bent heaps. Rooftop security lights were precariously hanging by their last few bolts. Piles of old farm implements and rusting vehicles cluttered the parking areas (left their by their new private owners). Critters and raccoons had set up residence and taken their part in the deterioration. It was an ugly picture all throughout the missile field.

In one sense, I felt perfectly fine with all of this deterioration. In fact, it felt somewhat gratifying. The nuclear weapon is the most powerful and lethal weapon that mankind has ever devised–the deactivation of this missile field meant there were 150 fewer of these most deadly weapons standing on ready alert. Additionally, there is certain victory in their closure–the deterrent force of these sites brought the Cold War to a cold, peaceful conclusion. In other words, it is perfectly fine that these sites are now slowly rotting away because they had done their job and they had done it well—they had brought the long Cold War to an end, and they were no longer needed. There are definite reasons for rejoicing in their deterioration–but those reasons focus on the military and political mission, purpose, and capabilities of the sites.

K-0 (Kilo-Zero)

However, when my thoughts shifted away from the structures of these sites and focused on the people of the sites, the deterioration became deeply saddening. I couldn’t help but think of the many dedicated, hard-working, well-trained people who for over 30 years kept these facilities, this tip of the US nuclear sword, in immaculate and razor-sharp condition. I couldn’t help but think of the countless Air Force inspectors who visited these sites and demanded nothing but excellence and perfection—I couldn’t imagine how their stomachs might turn at the sickening sight of these rotting facilities. I couldn’t help but think of the many young Air Force members who put gallons and gallons of elbow grease and sweat into the maintenance of these facilities. I couldn’t help but think of the thousands of hard-working civilian contractors who built these sites and especially of the seven men who died constructing the sites. I couldn’t help but think of the families and the real impacts that these sites had on their personal lives—the spouses who spent Christmas at home and alone while their loved one fulfilled a duty to the nation at these isolated facilities. I couldn’t help but think of all of the laughter, tears, struggles, and successes that were wrapped up in these facilities—facilities that were now simply and slowly rotting away.

A-0 (Alpha-Zero)

J-0 (Juliett-Zero)

G-0 (Golf-Zero)

F-0 (Foxtrot-Zero)

E-0 (Echo-Zero)

C-0 (Charlie-Zero)

C-0 (Charlie-Zero)

So, while I appreciated the fact that the sites had effectively fulfilled a national military and political strategy and it was gratifying to set aside a tool that was no longer needed, I saw these facilities as much more than tools or objects. When we build structures, we typically build them to fulfill a necessity. But, as we build and use them we can’t help but embed ourselves into them—the structure will always hold countless human stories—that ability to hold our stories is their very real power. And it’s these personal stories, these very real but invisible human connections, that makes me something of an historic preservationist, or a building hugger as some might joke. There is an incredible amount of power in place. This is why I take a great deal of pride in the historical preservation and interpretation work that the staff and I take on everyday at Oscar-Zero.

Well, those are my ramblings. What are your thoughts on the deterioration of these missile facilities? Or your thoughts on the historic preservation of buildings? I’d love to hear your thoughts—I’m sure they’d help us all further shape our own thoughts and maybe even help straighten out some mixed emotions.



  1. haawwkeye says:

    It is sad like you said to see these buildings just sit there and deteriorating. I spent 11 years assigned to the 321 MSS as a Security Policeman and spent over 6 years in the missile field. I worked at every LCF there and finally ended up just working at the Command Posts C-0, I-O, & M-O. You would have thought that the government would have tried to sell them or rent them out to people who would be interested in living in them and maintaining them. Heck I would have loved to have been able to do that. Perhaps when my health is better, the wife and I will be able to travel to Grand Forks AFB, a place that we called home for those many years and raised our three children. I can remember when we got the first female Security Policeman and they allowed them to go out and work along side us. At Christmas time, they allowed us to bring our families out to the LCF and have dinner with us and they let them take a tour of the LCC. When I worked at Alpha-Zero, I noticed that there was also a old Army Facility that had been closed down for whatever reason. They had private security there, but no-one was assigned there. I asked about it, but no one could tell me about it. Just another set of buildings that have probably been torn down by now. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, I hope to read more about a place that I called home….

  2. Finsaas, Kerry G. says:

    Well written, Mark.

  3. very interesting and different type of post
    US Taxi

  4. Mark says:

    It’s pretty strange to name a closed nuclear warfare center after Ronald Reagan, who famously said a nuclear war could be “limited” to Europe, Trident submarine missiles could be recalled once launched and Biblical Armageddon could be nuclear war. Fortunately those around him kept his fingers off The Button.

    I’m more grateful that President Kennedy refused to attack Cuba and Russia in October 1962, that took tremendous courage and it is the reason his administration was cut short. How many Americans have read his June 10, 1963 speech at American University calling off the Cold War or his September 20, 1963 speech to the United Nations discussing the nuclear test ban and offering to convert the Moon Race to a cooperative effort with the Soviet Union? The ICBMs would likely have been deactivated decades earlier if that had happened.

    • Mark: Thank you for your comment.

      In regards to the naming of the site. In 2007 the ND State Legislature voted to add chapter and paragraph 55-10-14 to the North Dakota Century Code. This chapter reads: “If the state historical society acquires a missile silo historic site, the site is named the Ronald Reagan historic site.” Here is a link to that chapter of the Century Code: http://legis.nd.gov/cencode/t55c10.pdf

      Two years later, in 2009, the legislature approved the funding to acquire the site.

      So, when the State Historical Society of North Dakota opened the site, it followed the established law and named the site after Ronald Reagan.

      The 2007 legislation did not expressly state a reason why the site was to be named after Ronald Reagan.

  5. David Carter says:

    Just FYI on your comment about doors in the LCC for female crew member….I was there at Whiteman in 1988 pulling alerts and I can assure you there were no doors. The toilet is off to the right just as you walk in all you got was a curtain.

  6. Dennis Graham says:

    I spent 4 years of my life at Ronnie’s Rocket Ranch, And work Alpha thru Golf, those four years, Seeing the condition of these facilities, does bring back memories, in a sad sort of way, yet I’m glad we no longer need them, OR Do we? with the political and military climate that we find America facing these days, I often wonder if someone didn’t pull the plug too soon. The Russian Bear has resurrected itself, China and N. Korea as well as Iran have all become Major threats to our nation. And I have to wonder, just how safe we really are with out this serious detent.

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