The National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas makes a campy nod to Cold War grotesqueries, but the most interesting part of what happened to our nuclear missiles remains covered up.
The day that changed David Schindele’s life began over breakfast in the summer of 1966, as he watched morning TV reports about UFOs buzzing rural Mohall, North Dakota, overnight. He kept it under his hat as he prepared to report for routine “alert duty” at nearby Minot Air Force Base.
MAFB was home to the 455th Strategic Missile Wing, locked and loaded with 150 Minuteman I nuclear weapons, each fitted with a one megaton-yield W59 warhead. By contrast, the beta-version bombs that vaporized Hiroshima and Nagasaki generated somewhere between 12 and 23 kilotons apiece.
As a deputy missile combat crew commander, Schindele was among the 15 two-man teams about to relieve their night-shift counterparts in blast-proof silos buried 60 feet below the ground and separated from each other by miles of prairie. Each launch control facility (LCF) commanded 10 missiles, or “flights.” Schindele was assigned to November Flight, just three miles west of Mohall.
During group briefings at HQ, the teams were told there was a problem at November, that a number of missiles had, without explanation, gone “off alert.” As they began to disperse, Schindele’s fellow airmen talked about the UFO reports over Mohall, wondering.
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