The sun is barely above the horizon and I am packing up my campsite in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. I need to get a move on if I want to get a ticket for the Delta 01 launch facility Site tour. Delta 01 is part of the Minuteman National Historical Site. Minuteman National Historic Site preserves a Cold War minuteman missile launch facility and Delta 09 silo.
Due to the size of Delta 01, Minuteman National Historic Site offers 12 6-person tours of Delta 01. The tour is free, but a ticket is required. They are issued on a first come first serve basis. The tours are often sold out by 9 am. I arrived at the Minuteman NHS Visitor Center at 7:00 am. I am the twelve person in line. I settle in for a quick nap until the visitor center open at 8:00 am.
I wake up at 7:45 and find there are at least 35 people waiting for the center to open. I am glad I got there early. I am hoping to get a ticket for the 9:00 am tour. I want time to check out the visitor center, get my iron on patch and stamp my national park passport.
Right at 8 am the doors open and ticket pickup began. I get the last ticket for the 9:00 am tour. I collect my stamp and tour the Visitor Center. The exhibits are under construction. To make up for this, they have taped printouts of the displays to the walls. The displays go into details of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
“Ace in the Hole,” is what President John F Kennedy called the Minuteman Missiles. The first of the Minutemen II Missiles came online during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Over the next several years, over 500 Minuteman II Missiles and supporting facilities were built in the Dakotas and surrounding states. Wall, South Dakota was selected for the 44th Strategic Missile Wing. The 44th was headquartered at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, South Dakota.
This rural South Dakota prairie was purchased for these missiles and three Strategic Missile Squadrons. The Air Force built 150 Minuteman silos and 15 launch control centers. Each squadron was responsible for 50 silos and 5 launch control centers They are dived into three The facilities were spread out over 13,500 square miles. No two silos or launch facilities were within 3 miles of each other. They were spaced out in hopes that should the Soviet attack enough missiles would survive the attack to cause damage to the Soviet Union. An attack from the Soviet Union would result in the launch of all 500 missiles and would destroy the Soviets. This facility was used to ensure destruction of both nations should on attack.
The Minuteman Missile program was active from 1962 to 1994. The program was decommissioned due to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. This treaty limited the amount of missiles each country could have. The missile sites were destroyed and the land was sold back to the original owners.
About 4 miles from the Visitor Center is the Delta 01 launch facility. Delta 01 and Delta 09 were part of the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron. The facility has two parts. The first the above ground support center. The second is about 50 feet underground. The capsule underground housed a two man crew. This crew was responsible for monitoring the missile silos and if ordered launch the missiles. The system is full of redundancies. Each capsule is responsible for 10 missiles but has the ability to launch the 50 missiles. Additionally, if the Soviets took out all the launch control facilities, they had an Airborne Launch Command post with the ability launch the missiles.
The tour of Delta 01 are given by retired US Air Force Minuteman. These men provide first-hand accounts of living in the bunkers and the feeling of the age. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it was discovered that the Soviets had a missile pointed at Delta 01.
Delta 01 had a crew of 10 men (and in later years women). Eight were station topside. Topside was a facility commander, a cook, and six security personnel. The security personnel was responsible for investigating security breaches at the unmanned missile silos. Mostly they investigated wildlife and wind breaches. These men worked three days 12-hour shifts. The men topside had lots of free time to hang out in the common room.
In the capsule, were two men: an officer and his second. These two men were responsible for awaiting orders directly from the President of the United States. If they received the order to fire they would open the red box and remove the keys. They would use the decoder in the box to confirm the orders. At the assigned time, they would simulations turn the keys. Once a second minuteman launch facility, turn the key the missiles would fire.
The capsule is reached by a small elevator or ladder. The elevator dictates the size of the tour group. It is a tight fit for 6 tourists and a guide. The capsule is protected by blast doors and surrounded by reinforced concrete. There are four different communication methods for receiving the firing order.
After the Delta 01 tour, I drove about 6 miles to the Delta 09 missile silo. The silo is open to the public and no ticket is required to visit. The facility has a guided cell phone tour with information about the silo. The silo contains a dummy missile.
Overall, Minuteman National Historical Site is a great place to learn about United States history. I was listing to the cell phone tour at Delta 09 and I realized how little I actually know about the Cold War. I have visited historical sites all over the world and yet, I have been to very few US historical sites. I am glad I took a half-day to explore this amazing piece of US history.
Would you take a half-day out of exploring Badlands National Park to visit Minuteman National Historical Site?