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Minuteman I missile

Test launch of Minuteman I, Vandenberg Air Force Base. US AIR FORCE

History of Minuteman Missile Sites

Criteria for Parklands

Among the alternatives considered (and later chosen) was the possibility of Delta One and Delta Nine becoming a new unit of the National Park Service. The category of designation that would be most appropriate for Delta One and Delta Nine is National Historic Site. A National Historic Site preserves a place or commemorates a person, event, or activity important in American history. The management philosophy of the National Park Service is outlined in the Organic Act of 1916, which created the National Park Service. The Organic Act calls for the preservation of America's natural, scenic, and historic resources, and allows for public enjoyment in such a way that will leave those resources unimpaired for future generations.

According to National Park Service policy, any new additions to the park service system must also be evaluated in terms of their national significance, suitability, and feasibility. As such, the Minuteman Special Resource Study Team evaluated Delta One and Delta Nine according to these criteria.

map of Minuteman Missile Sites

Ellsworth Air Force Base: Delta Flight, Minuteman II ICBM. HISTORIC ENGINEERING RECORD, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

National Significance of Delta One and Delta Nine

A proposed unit to the National Park Service is considered nationally significant if it meets all four of the following standards:

  • It is an outstanding example of a particular type of resource.

  • It possesses exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the natural or cultural themes of our Nation's heritage.

  • It offers superlative opportunities for recreation, for public use and enjoyment, or for scientific study.

  • It retains a high degree of integrity as a true, accurate, and relatively unspoiled example of the resource.

The Minuteman Special Resource Study Team determined that Delta One and Delta Nine meet these standards and are suitable for inclusion in the National Park Service system. The Air Force recently nominated Delta One and Delta Nine as a National Historic Landmark, the nation's highest level of historical designation.

Definitions — Is it an LCF, an LCC, or an LF?

As in the case of most specialized fields, Minuteman missileers developed their own "language," filled with code words, acronyms, and abbreviations. For example, the crew referred to missiles as "birds." "Birds in flight" meant launched missiles. Three of the most common abbreviations were LCF, LCC, and LF, which refer to various portions of the missile installation, all of which are represented at Delta One and Delta Nine:

Launch Control Facility (LCF)

An LCF is the entire launch control facility complex. This includes the underground launch control center; a topside support building that has eating and sleeping facilities, a security control center, and various equipment rooms; and a heated garage. Delta One was one of 15 Minuteman LCFs at Ellsworth AFB.

Launch Control Center (LCC)

Located beneath an LCF, the LCC is the underground, pod-like structure that was the operational center of the missile launch system. At Delta One, the LCC is 31 feet below ground and connected to the surface by an elevator. Within the submarine-like atmosphere of the LCC, a two-person crew was on duty 24 hours a day.

Launch Facility (LF)

An LF is the missile silo complex. Delta Nine, which was one of 150 Minuteman LFs at Ellsworth AFB, is comprised of an 80-foot-deep underground missile silo and a separate underground utility support building.

When the Soviet Union began to extend its boundaries and increase its military strength after World War II, many American leaders ascribed these activities to a deep-seated and innately hostile Soviet expansionism. The Soviets would be satisfied, they believed, only when the American way of life had been destroyed and the entire world converted to Communism. In order to halt this process, the United States adopted a policy of "patient but firm ... containment of Russian expansive tendencies." By the early 1950s, however, the United States also understood that any attempt to confront the ubiquitous Soviet threat by using conventional military forces would be both tremendously expensive and politically unacceptable. Faced with these prospects, American leaders formulated a new strategy. Henceforth, the United States would attempt to deter Communist aggression by threatening immediate and massive retaliation using nuclear weapons.

As the Nation mobilized to implement this strategy during the 1950s, the Air Force developed and deployed a new type of weapon that was capable of delivering a thermonuclear warhead to a target half a world away. This weapon was the intercontinental ballistic missile. General Bernard A. Schriever, who directed the effort, called the ICBM project "the largest military development program ever undertaken by this Nation in peacetime. " By the early 1960s, the missile program had helped make the "military-industrial complex" a fact of American economic and social life. Billions of American dollars, hundreds of thousands of American workers, and more than 2,000 American companies were directly involved in the effort to develop and deploy ICBMs.

The Minuteman ICBM system was the culmination of that effort. Powerful, accurate, reliable, and capable of being economically mass produced, the solid-fueled Minuteman missile was the Nation's first truly effective deterrent weapon. Beginning in 1961, the Air Force installed 1,000 Minutemen in underground launch silos dispersed predominantly throughout the high plains of the central United States. For the next three decades, this force remained on continuous alert — forming the backbone of the American nuclear arsenal, and serving as an important instrument of American diplomacy.

Suitability of Delta One and Delta Nine

Vicinity Map

Delta One and Delta Nine are in southwestern South Dakota, an area already rich with natural and cultural attractions. The sites are in the vicinity of Badlands National Park, which is approximately 70 miles east of Rapid City. Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Black Hills National Forest are to the west. Other regional attractions include Jewel Cave National Monument, Wind Cave National Park, Deadwood National Historic Landmark, and Buffalo Gap National Grassland.

Located between the communities of Wall and Cactus Flat, the Delta One and Delta Nine missile facilities are adjacent to Interstate 90, which is a major east-west tourist route. Delta One is in Jackson County, approximately 1.7 miles north of Interstate 90 on County Road CS 23A at Exit 127. Delta Nine is in Pennington County, one-half mile south of Interstate 90 on Buffalo Gap Grassland Road 7116 at Exit 116.

Built in accordance with Air Force dispersal strategy, Delta One and Delta Nine are approximately 11 miles apart, and were linked together through a system of blastproof underground cables and a radio communications network. Delta One and Delta Nine were part of a ten-missile operational unit (Delta Flight) assigned to the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron of the 44th Missile Wing, headquartered at Ellsworth AFB.

Vicinity Map

To be suitable, a site must possess national significance and represent a theme or type of resource that is not already adequately represented in the National Park Service system, or is not comparably represented and protected for public enjoyment by another land-managing entity.

As noted above, Delta One and Delta Nine possess national significance. In addition, the Minuteman Special Resource Study team determined that the National Park Service does not have a unit that specifically commemorates or interprets the Cold War. Delta One and Delta Nine could fill this gap. The National Park Service system includes units associated with presidents who served during the Cold War, including the Harry S Truman, Eisenhower, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Sites, but these sites do not specifically interpret the Cold War. Gateway National Recreation Area (New Jersey and New York) and Golden Gate National Recreation Area (California) include Cold War structures. But these two National Park Service units only contain fragments of Nike missile batteries — which the US Army deployed to defend major cities from Soviet bombers — and are interpreted at minimal levels.

Comparative sites to Delta One and Delta Nine include the first and second-generation ICBMs — Atlas, Titan, and Titan II. The Air Force deactivated all first-generation Atlas and Titan missiles by the end of 1965. These missile sites were then partially dismantled and many were sold. Two second-generation, liquid-fueled Titan II sites have survived. The Titan Missile Museum near Tucson, Arizona, has preserved Titan Site 571-7, which was recently designated a National Historic Landmark. But Titan 571-7 was compromised by the construction of a visitor center directly above the underground control center. The other Titan site, 395 Charlie, is located within Vandenberg AFB, where Titan missiles were tested and maintained on alert. The Air Force has restricted access to this test site and provides limited interpretation.

Whiteman AFB in Missouri has deactivated and preserved a Minuteman II launch control center: Oscar One. But Oscar One is not a "typical" Minuteman facility. Unlike all other Minuteman facilities — which were dispersed in rural areas outside the confines of Air Force bases to increase their chances for surviving a nuclear attack — Oscar One is on a military base. In addition, Oscar One is a more modern version of Minuteman, significantly different from the Cuban Missile Crisis-era configuration of Delta One.

Feasibililty of Delta One and Delta Nine

To be feasible as a unit of the National Park Service, a site's natural systems and/or historic settings must be of sufficient size and appropriate configuration to ensure long-term protection and accommodate public use. It must also have the potential for efficient administration at a reasonable cost.

The Minuteman Special Resource Study Team determined that the large amount of Federally-owned property surrounding Delta One and Delta Nine would provide sufficient land to develop a National Historic Site, while maintaining existing natural systems and historic settings. Additional property could also be transferred to the National Park Service from the US Forest Service, which has major landholdings in the area. The primary threat to Delta One and Delta Nine is the potential for development of adjacent lands in ways that might intrude on the historic character of either site. However, the National Park Service could alleviate these threats through the use of scenic easements or land trades that would protect the sites' historic character.

The creation of a Minuteman Missile National Historic Site at Delta One and Delta Nine is also feasible because of the missile sites' location near a major thoroughfare (Interstate 90), the potential for employees from the regional labor force, and the availability of utilities in the area within the next few years. These factors would make it possible for the National Park Service to efficiently administer a Minuteman Missile National Historic Site at a reasonable cost.


Introduction | Parkland Criteria | Minuteman History | Site Description | Bibliography

Source: Minuteman Missile Sites: Special Resource Study, 1995.