Park service to turn missile site into Cold War national park

By Chet Brokaw
Friday September 27, 2002

WALL, S.D.— For nearly three decades, an 80-foot hole dubbed Delta Nine played a vital role in the nation’s defense. 

The underground concrete silo on the edge of Badlands National Park held a Minuteman II missile that could deliver a nuclear weapon to a Soviet target in 30 minutes or less. 

After the Soviet Union’s demise and the signing of a 1991 arms reduction treaty with Russia, the missile program was scrapped. Now the silo, never used for war, is being used to educate. 

The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site eventually will tell the story of the Cold War and the nuclear weapons that were never used. 

“This site will be the first national park in the world whose primary purpose is to commemorate the events of the Cold War,” said Marriane Mills of Badlands National Park, which is handling the project. 

At a ceremony Friday, the U.S. Air Force will formally transfer the silo and a nearby launch control facility to the National Park Service. 

Park Service officials hope the site will be opened to the public sometime next summer, Mills said. The crew housing facility and underground control center, about 11 miles away, won’t open for two or three years because a visitors’ center and other facilities must be built. 

One of the officials expected at Friday’s ceremony will be Craig Manson, the assistant interior secretary. When Manson was in the Air Force in the late 1970s, he was a launch control officer for the missile silo. 

“In many respects, the transfer underscores that we accomplished our mission in the Cold War, protecting America from the threat of nuclear war,” Manson said. “This event will mark the transition of the Cold War from an everyday part of our lives to a chapter in our country’s history.” 

The 44th Missile Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City stood watch over Delta Nine and 149 missiles in western South Dakota for nearly three decades. The wing was inactivated July 4, 1994, in compliance with a U.S.-Russian treaty. 

Minuteman I missiles became active in 1962, about the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy told Soviet leader Nikita Kruschchev the Minuteman was his “ace in the hole.” 

The original missiles were replaced by Minuteman II models, which flew at 15,000 mph, had a range of 6,300 miles and weighed about 73,000 pounds. The missiles were designed to survive a first attack and then strike back.