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Cold War topic of latest chat

Guinn Hinman, the director of the Ronald Reagan Historic Missile Site, owned and operated by the State Historical Society of North Dakota, spoke about North Dakota’s role in the Cold War during last Sunday’s Front Porch Chat at the Stutsman County Memorial Museum.

The “Cold War” was a term that described the period of history when there was a constant fear that the Americans and the Russians would start bombing each other with nuclear weapons. That never occurred, presumably because of the concept of “mutually assured destruction,” Hinman said. If anyone started the process the other would respond and both would be destroyed.

Hinman traced the progression of the arms buildup following World War II into the age of ballistic missiles with their nuclear warheads at the height of the Cold War. This was the period when even little children were taught what to do in case of nuclear attack. “Duck and cover” was a tactic that supposedly would help protect people from the initial blast. Fallout shelters were built and stocked with supplies to last for several months, and people were made aware that they may have to do that to survive. Realistically, for those in North Dakota, those measures would probably not have been enough, Hinman said. North Dakotans were in the “bulls-eye” of the Russian attack plan.

During this period North Dakota was at the center of the struggle, due mainly to its geography, being the closest point to Russia by going over the northern Arctic route. Air Force bases were at Minot and Grand Forks, each with a contingent of missile wings and the support crews who manned and protected them. If North Dakota would have been an independent country it would have been the third most powerful country on Earth in terms of its nuclear arsenals, Hinman said. There were four additional air bases that had missile wings, one each in South Dakota, Wyoming, Missouri and Montana. During the 1980s the treaties between the U.S. and Russia reduced the number of missiles held by each side and effectively signaled the beginning of the end of the Cold War. By 1991, further reductions in missile numbers and the dissolution of the USSR ended that period of history.

The Ronald Reagan Historic Missile Site is one of 15 missile alert facilities in eastern North Dakota. Each of them controlled 10 Minuteman missiles. All of these sites and missiles that were formerly attached to the Grand Forks Air Force Base have been decommissioned, the missiles removed and the underground silos have been destroyed. The equipment has been removed from all of the sites except the Oscar Zero site that is owned by the historical society. The Minot Air Force Base still maintains its missile wing as do those in Montana and Wyoming. The South Dakota and Missouri sites have also been decommissioned.

Hinman and her staff at the Oscar Zero site hold tours of the above ground facilities and the facilities 50 feet below ground where the actual missile launch consoles are located. Although the site is decommissioned, all the equipment is still there as it was during the height of the Cold War era.

Next week there will be no Front Porch Chat; the museum is hosting its annual ice cream social. People are encouraged to attend and have ice cream with cake and cookies or have a root beer float. David Morlock will lead the annual sing-along.

The following week the Front Porch Chat will feature Tim Burchill.

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