Courtesy of the Grand Forks Herald/Photo by Jackie Lorentz Capt. Rich Nameth describes the operation of Oscar-Zero, the final missile launch control facility of the Minuteman III defense system in northeast North Dakota. The site has been inactive since 1997.
By Chuck Haga | Wednesday, July 9, 2008
COOPERSTOWN, N.D. A decade ago, the missiles of eastern North Dakota left ever so quietly, one by one, stripped of their nuclear warheads and headed not in long, angry arcs toward Moscow but aboard long trucks. Now one underground silo and a command center will become historical sites.
Like the Cold War itself, the eastern Dakota missile field is now history, and the state is making it official: preserving one Minuteman III missile silo and one launch command center, like chunks of the Berlin Wall, as historical sites.
Come see the artwork scrawled on the walls of launch centers by young Air Force officers who were trained to turn keys and destroy cities, if ordered. Some missileers philosophized or painted murals inside their command bunkers.
At Echo-Zero, north of Devils Lake, N.D., crew members passed time during long stretches underground by searching for a dozen toy mice hidden by an earlier crew.
Before launch center Hotel-Zero was demolished, a menu posted in the mess recorded a last crew supper: a choice of country-fried steak, fried fish and pasta primavera.
Part of the prairie landscape
Many of us who lived and worked and played in the missile field, a region roughly the size and shape of New Jersey, came to an uneasy acceptance of the missiles’ presence. They were part of the prairie landscape, as familiar as a patch of slough, a field pocked with rock piles or a hillside heap of antiquated farm machinery.
We reacted more viscerally than others, perhaps, when we saw “movie Minutemen” fly from Kansas silos in the 1983 film “The Day After,” because we always wondered what it would look and sound and feel like if we ever saw one of our missiles leave in a hurry. Watching the film, we knowingly counted the minutes until Lawrence, Kan., disappeared under a retaliatory Soviet mushroom cloud.
For better than three decades, on every two-hour drive from Valley City, my hometown, to Grand Forks, where I went to school and later worked at the newspaper, I passed by several missile sites. And on the route out west, along U.S. Highway 2, they were mileposts outside Lakota and Michigan, N.D., and other small towns, a patch of gravel enclosed within heavy metal fence topped by barbed wire, with motion detectors and signs warning that “deadly force” was authorized against intruders.
The intruders usually were deer or rabbits, or occasionally a farmer who swung a plow too close or innocently walked out in the evening to inspect “his” missile.
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