Cold War Rising

Oscar-Zero at the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site

As we move further and further away from the end of the Cold War (which most historians date to the collapse of the Soviet Union in December of 1991), interest in Cold War history is rising. With this increasing curiosity in Cold War history, there is also a rise in historic sites, ‘alumni’ organizations, reunions, etc., that are doing their best to remember and make sense of the Cold War. At the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site we have been involved in a number of these efforts. Through our involvement with this history, we are often asked:

“Are there other nuclear missile sites that we can tour?”

Yes. Besides our Oscar-Zero and November-33 sites in North Dakota, those curious about the history of US nuclear missiles can visit three other sites in the US and one in the Ukraine.

The D-01 Launch Control Center at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Operated by the National Park Service, and located about 20 miles east of Wall, SD, the site operates the historic Delta-01 Launch Control Facility and the Delta-09 Launch Facility. Of the six Minuteman wings that were constructed, these facilities were part of the second wing and are examples of some of the earliest design features of the Minuteman system. (The historic facilities that we operate were part of the sixth and final wing to be constructed and thus are examples of some of the later technology and strategic differences in the then-evolving Minuteman system).

Titan Missile Museum. This launch control center and missile silo is truly an impressive historic site located just south of Tucson, Arizona. A visit to the Titan Missile Museum will bring to light the great differences in the Minuteman and Titan systems. Perhaps the greatest single difference that you’ll notice is that unlike the Minuteman system which separated each of its launch facilities (missile silos) by at least 3 nautical miles from the control facility, the Titan system co-located the missile silo and the control center. (Of course, there are countless other differences between the systems but this is perhaps one of the most noticeable).

Oscar-01 on Whiteman Air Force Base (Missouri). On Whiteman Air Force Base visitors can visit the historic Oscar-01 Launch Control Facility. Since I haven’t yet visited this site, I’ll limit my comments. But, like our site, and the NPS site in South Dakota, the Oscar-01 site was also a Minuteman control facility.

The 12th sector (for crew R&R) of Unified Command Post at the Strategic Missile Forces Museum

Strategic Missile Forces Museum. Located on the border of Kirovohrad and Mykolayiv regions in Ukraine, this historic missile site is the counterpart to our US missile sites. (It’s likely that our US sites and this Ukrainian site were targeting one another during the Cold War). I’ve never been to this site, but I certainly hope to someday. If any of you have been there, I think it’s safe to say that all of us would love a full report!

Of course, there are numerous museums that are hosting Cold War exhibits including our own neighborhood Northern Plains Cold War Interpretive Center which is located at the Griggs County Museum. These museums are recognizing the emerging interest in Cold War history and are taking measures to fulfill a growing public demand.

Another common concern we hear from guests, especially those that served in the missile systems, is:

“I want to be better connected.”

So, I’d like to do three things now. The first is to encourage you to spread the word that these missile sites are being preserved and reunions are centering around all of them–some folks due to countless reasons, just haven’t received the word yet.

Next, I’d like to encourage you, especially if you have a missile background, to get involved with the Association of Air Force Missileers. This outstanding alumni organization is open to anybody that worked any job at any time that was related to any Air Force missile system. It is a true hub of missile and cold war-related information and reunion information. The AAFM publishes an excellent newsletter that is full of personal stories and historical information. They will be hosting their 10th National Meeting in Montana in the fall of 2012–they’re taking registrations now.

Missile Crew Members from the 80s era reunite around the Oscar-Zero control console

Finally, if you were involved in the 321st out of Grand Forks AFB, I’d invite you to join their Facebook page “321 Strategic Missile Wing”. Setup at the time of the reunion, the page has become a ‘coffee shop’ of sorts where old friends mingle, share stories, post pictures, documents, etc. Check it out.

Well, that’s a very small start. If you’re interested in Cold War or missile history (which you must be if you’re reading this blog) visit those historic sites, check out the offerings of the Association of Air Force Missileers, and search Facebook for groups that interest you.

Also, I know I’ve left out a number of important and useful resources, historic sites, and museums. I invite you to post your additions in the comments below so other folks can take advantage of what you’ve already learned.

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Crew Commander’s Tour

We held another “Crew Commander’s Tour” this past Saturday (January 21, 2012). These recurring tours have proven very fun, educational, and successful. We hold the tours during our winter months (Nov-Feb). Because the site is only open by appointment during these winter months, we have the time and opportunity to offer these in-depth tours of the site to a limited number of guests. The long-length tour (about 2.5 hours) enables a relationship to develop between us and our guests and that relationship really opens up the dialogue. Because the site is otherwise closed during the tour, we can dedicate the site strictly to that tour—in other words, we have the place all to ourselves. But, perhaps the real highlight is the presence of a former Air Force member who joins Site Supervisor Mark Sundlov (himself a former missile crew member) to act as a second tour guide. This past weekend, former Facility Manager Joe Conzo joined Mark on the tour. Joe supported the site when it was an operational Air Force site and he has also been helping the site since its earliest days of becoming a historic site. Joe shared a number of great stories this past weekend from his unique perspective as a former Facility Manager (FM). It’s always a real treat to see guests light up when Joe nonchalantly tells of his days at Oscar-Zero and his time as FM NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) in the 448th Strategic Missile Squadron. After all, how often do we get to visit a historic site where the first person interpretation is not provided by a costumed guide but by the actual first person? What a cool experience!

Seeking qualified Facility Managers, the Air Force posted this ad on the bulletin board at Oscar-Zero in March 1992

Another great aspect of the “Crew Commander’s Tour” is the follow on lunch that the Friends of Oscar-Zero host at the Griggs County Museum. This collaboration helps highlight the activities of the GCM including their newly established Northern Plains Cold War Interpretive Center. It also gives the Friends of Oscar-Zero another opportunity to directly fulfill their mission of supporting Oscar-Zero and the GCM. This weekend the Friends hosted a very tasty lunch catered by “Wooden Gardens”—a great little coffee shop, gift shop, and lunch spot in Cooperstown.

This past weekend, Melanie Orlins from WDAZ, Channel 8, in Grand Forks joined us on the tour and then reported the story on the Saturday evening news. It always feels good to have the media on site to help spread the story of the site and the preservation work that the State Historical Society of North Dakota has been doing here. Here is the link to that video…

Tour Offers Recent History Lesson of ND Nuke Site

Remember—the Crew Commander’s Tour is not the only way to see the site. We transition to our spring hours on March 1 and then to our summer Hours on May 16. If you’re interested in visiting the site, click on “The Historic Site” tab at the top of this page for the fine details or just call us at 701-797-3691 or write to the Site Sup (Mark Sundlov) at msundlov@nd.gov

Annual Report (Jul 2010-Jun 2011)

We were busy in our second full year* of operation as a historic site. Below are some highlights from our July 2010-June 2011 Annual Report…

After first opening its doors on July 13, 2009, the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site enjoyed its second full year of operation from July 2010 through June 2011. Operations at the site during this second year primarily focused on the continued restoration of the site and the delivery of new and effective interpretive programs for guests.

  • Two significant special programs were developed for the site. A fun, family-oriented, “Children’s Rocket Day” hosted nearly 100 guests and treated families and children to a fun day at the site.

    Children's Rocket Day at Oscar-Zero was a real blast for the kiddos!

    An ongoing, wintertime “Crew Commander’s Tour” offers extended-length, in-depth tours of the Oscar-Zero facility from former Air Force members who worked in the missile field. These collaborative tours conclude with lunch offered by the Friends of Oscar-Zero at the Griggs County Museum.

  • The site launched the youth-oriented educational program, “Youth Missile Commander.” All visiting children are provided with the challenge to complete workbook activities in reward for a special “Youth Missile Commander” patch (similar to patches worn by Air Force members who served at Oscar-Zero).

    Children who complete the special youth program earn the coveted "Youth Missile Commander" patch

    The site also continued development on History, Math, Science, and Language Arts educational lesson plans that are targeted towards secondary school children and will be available on the internet and on-site.

  • The ongoing oral history project, “Memories of the Missile Field,” was formally planned and launched. Nearly twenty interviews were recorded. As the project has progressed, new techniques and new equipment have been incorporated to ensure recordings of high quality will be captured.
  • Significant improvements were made at the site to improve the guests’ experiences. Improvements included: additional directional signs for Oscar-Zero and November-33, outdoor brochure distribution boxes, a new digital frame displaying historic photos and a new exhibit case in the orientation room, and a new kiosk for brochure and information distribution.
  • Using historic inventories, on-site user manuals, and other supporting historic documentation, numerous pieces of equipment were restored to Oscar-Zero. Restored equipment included: an original Chelsea US Government 24-hour clock (located in the Launch Control Center),

    One of many restorations at the site included the restoration of the 24-hour clock to the Launch Control Center

    exterior security light fixtures, a basketball hoop, two televisions, one VCR, a digital alarm clock, one refrigerator, a personal computer (with monitor, keyboard and mouse), and a computer monitor.

  • A number of projects were undertaken and completed to preserve the historic condition and integrity of the site. These projects included: installation of acrylic over vulnerable historic wall-hangings and the Security Control Center desk; cleaning of sludge and decay from the bottom of the elevator shaft way and beneath the tunnel junction floor; restoration of below-ground drainage lines (to allow ground water to reach the sump pump and be evacuated from the below ground area); a significant cleaning of the site’s garage; an inspection and testing of the historic (and still functional) cathodic protection system; and, extensive grass cutting, spraying, and tree removal from the sewage lagoon to restore it to its historic state and improve its functionality.
  • Site library resources continued to expand with the acquisition of numerous secondary sources and primary documents that relate to nuclear weapon systems and the Cold War. The site continued to pursue acquisition of primary documents relating to the 321st Strategic Missile Wing from the Air Force Historical Research Agency. Once obtained, these documents will serve as an invaluable on-site resource for future historical research and current interpretive understanding of the site.
  • The site continued to receive positive recognition as it won the Mountain Plains Museum Association’sTechnology Competition for its orientation video,“America’s Ace in the Hole: North Dakota and the Cold War.”

    Guests enter Oscar-Zero at the Orientation Room where they have the opportunity to watch "Ace in the Hole," take in an educational exhibit, chat with tour guides and buy something to take home.

  • The site continued to expand its community involvement with a presence on the Cooperstown Economic Development Council, Cooperstown Community Club, and the Cooperstown Area Strategic Planning Team.  Additionally, the Site Supervisor attended the Association of Air Force Missileers’ annual conference in Tucson, Arizona and presented on the site’s preservation efforts, solicited input on historical resources, and developed relationships.
  • The site continued to work closely with the Griggs County Historical Society to assist them with the development of the Northern Plains Cold War Interpretive Center. The site also assisted the GCHS as it began participating in the American Association of State and Local History’s StEPs program.
  • The site pursued and achieved formal certification from the National Museum of the US Air Force under its official loan program. With formal certification, the site is now eligible to borrow objects from the NMUSAF. These objects could potentially include a Minuteman missile, Peacekeeper armored vehicle, UH-1N helicopter and others.
  • Marketing and advertising efforts continued with a regular Facebook presence, regularly scheduled summertime weekly radio interviews, and special interviews with local and distant radio stations (including Chicago’s WGN and Prairie Public Radio).

*As part of a state agency, the site operates on a fiscal year that runs between July 1 and June 30.