Eye on KELOLAND: The Minuteman Missile


WALL, S.D. (KELO) — For almost 60 years, the Minuteman Missile Site right outside of Wall has been hiding in plain sight. Missile sites like this one, could cause massive destruction but were intended to keep peace and prevent war.

In the 1960s, 1,000 nuclear missiles were placed in the Great Plains. About 150 of those were right here in South Dakota. Some are still active today.

The operation facilities and the missile silos were even hidden in plain sight.

“They did such a good job of just becoming part of the background noise of life in South Dakota that they just disappeared in everyone’s lives,” Joseph Brehm, Chief of Interpretation, said.

The missiles were about 4 and a half feet wide and about 60 feet long. They could be launched and reach their destination in minutes. Traveling at a maximum speed of 15,000 miles per hour.

“We would go ahead and make sure that we had so many nuclear warheads in our arsenal that it would be so disadvantageous to even conceive of attacking the United States because if you attacked us we would go ahead and throw everything we had at you so it would be mutually assured destruction to attack us but it worked the other way around too,” Brehm said.

During the Cold War, the US and Russia balanced the amount of weapons in order to keep peace and avoid a war.

Thousands of Air Force personnel in Minuteman Missile fields worked and lived around nuclear weapons. In this facility, 10 people lived and worked, including Steven Willis.

“Well I was at Ellsworth for 5 years, I was in the missile wing for 3 years and then I was targeting outside the bomb-wing for 2 years,” Willis said.

Willis worked down in the pod with secret codes that were able to launch these missiles.

While it might sound quiet in here now, years ago when the missile site was actually being manned, there were all different sorts of noises going on.

“We did not play or do anything with the equipment out here, we did that in a training environment out on the base, very realistic,” Willis said.

Delta-one was operating 24-7 for thirty years. Willis would work for 40 hours down in the pod.

“I enjoyed the Air Force whatever I was doing, I had a number of assignments,” Willis said.

Willis’ most recent assignment, is a volunteer tour guide at the missile sight. A mission appreciated by visitors.

“We loved the guide, he said he used to work here and he’s in some of the pictures, really got a picture of how life was here,” Mark Bauer said.

“It was great to have somebody that experienced it and so he had some personal stories and great jokes,” Christine Jennings said.

Mark and Kristin Bauer are visiting from Michigan.

“We were touring the area and just did a bunch of research and saw it. Things like this are unique and interesting to see. Things that when we were kids were the Cold War and all of that stuff was a big deal and now that a lot of it has been put to bed, it’s just interesting to see how it all worked and the things that were underground that you didn’t know were here,” Kristin Bauer said.

Kris and Christine Jennings visited from Alabama.

“I think it’s fascinating to learn about it and it’s convenient if you are going to see the Badlands, it’s the same exit, yeah it’s a great thing to do,” Kris Jennings said.

Both families say they recommend stopping by the Minuteman Missile Site and say hi to Willis when you do.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors are not allowed in the elevators and pod during tours. That could change in the future.

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