During the Cold War, a vast arsenal of nuclear missiles were placed in the Great Plains. For decades 1,000 missiles were kept on constant alert; hundreds remain today. A visit here is a chilling reminder of a world on the brink.
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site protects two facilities that were once part of a Minuteman Missile field that covered the far western portion of South Dakota from 1963 through the early 1990s. There were 15 Launch Control Facilities that commanded and controlled 150 Launch Facilities (Missile Silos) holding Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. The park preserves two of these facilities in their historic state—Launch Control Facility Delta-01 with its corresponding underground Launch Control Center and Launch Facility (Missile Silo) Delta-09. These two sites, along with the Minuteman Missile Visitor Center, comprise Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.
During the Cold War thousands of Air Force personnel in Minuteman Missile fields throughout the Great Plains worked and lived around nuclear weapons that held unprecedented destructive power. It was these nuclear weapons that constantly threatened devastation of any aggressor nation that might consider launching a nuclear attack against the United States or its allies. This threat of destruction acted as a deterrent to enemies while paradoxically preserving an uneasy peace.
One of the most serious responsibilities during the Cold War was to be part of a missile crew with the ability to initiate the use of nuclear weapons from a Launch Control Center. These crews were ready to respond at a moment's notice. At the same time, maintenance and security police ensured that the sites were totally secure and always functioning.
The missile field was operational, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 365 days a year, for thirty years. Despite the searing summer heat and brutal winter cold of South Dakota, operational status of the missiles was maintained at all times. Meanwhile, local landowners and members of small towns in the central and northern Great Plains lived literally side by side with nuclear weapons. In the background to all this, were the American people who enjoyed unsurpassed freedoms and prosperity yet also knew that their way of life could be destroyed in a matter of hours by nuclear war. This same harsh fact was true for nations all around the world.