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Little Boxes

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If one had worked with the National Park Service at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site near Kadoka, South Dakota before 2013 – they would become very familiar with “The Groobers” song “Little Boxes”

“Little boxes in Wyoming, little boxes in Dakota, little boxes in Montana, little boxes all the same…there are green ones, and green ones, and green ones, and green ones, and they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same”

This song would play at the end of each orientation video. A parody Malvina Reynold’s 1962 song “Little Boxes”, in turn a satire of suburban America, the Groober’s version relates to the Launch Control Centers and the Air Force’s fondness for sea-foam green paint within the structures.

U-S-Minuteman-Missile-Fields

Source: National Park Service

With 100 Launch Control Facilities and 1,000 Launch Facilities (silos) built between 1961 and 1967, Minuteman came to represent the bulk of the American ICBM arsenal.

As seen in the image on the left, with the red representing current Minuteman wings and the black showing the now deactivated areas, the role of the ICBM in Great Plains history is profound.

Yet Minuteman was only a part of the story. While the Peacekeeper missile would be housed within Minuteman silos by the late 1980s, the Atlas and Titan missile complexes that came before were found in a number of other regions in the United States.

atlas

Source: Wikimedia

The Atlas missile represented a massive investment in unproven technology. While Atlas-D missiles were stored horizontally in “coffins”, above-ground structures, Atlas-Es were based in buried coffin like structures and Atlas-Fs were positioned in 180 foot deep silos that required 24/7 construction efforts due to the urgency of the Cold War in the 1960-1962 time frame. From upstate New York to Texas, the deserts of southeast New Mexico to the plains of Nebraska, the role of the Atlas within SAC’s ICBM force was quite short. With the last missiles going “on alert” in late 1962, all were retired by the end of April 1965.

titan

Strategic Air Command Missile History

Titan missiles, the -I version activating in 1961, were built as a follow-on/backup to the Atlas. Titan-I facilities were massive structures linking three silos with a control center, antenna silos and a power generation room (all of this underground). Titan-Is were also deactivated by April 1965 while the Titan-II would activate in 1963 with its last model not being pulled from its silo until 1987. A huge missile with a huge warhead, Titan-II complexes were very large themselves.

So while Minuteman was being built across the Northern Plains and Missouri, dozens of other silos were already operational. Not tied into disarmament treaties, many Atlas and Titan silos sit empty and abandoned today. A handful have been turned into underground homes and while one Titan-II complex has been preserved as a museum, there are no Atlas sites designated as such today. A pity considering their pioneering task of American ICBM deployment.

Those “Little Boxes” were found throughout the American West, with a few still “On Alert”. The rest will quietly sit out millennia, super-reinforced concrete structures that will last generations. Something to consider perhaps if you’re caught driving on the backroads of upstate New York, that a missile silo might lie just beyond the trees.

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