Monday, August 20, 2012
North Dakota had a larger role than most people realize during the Cold War fever that swept the country. Missile facilities existed throughout the state, such as the Oscar-Zero Missile Alert Facility and the November-33 Launch Facility, which make up the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site. Citizens served in various functions throughout the decades of the cold war, but in August of 1962, North Dakota’s involvement took an interesting twist, as it hosted a site designated for target practice.
Bombing missions from across the country and even occasionally outside the country were sent to the target area near Straubville in Sargent County, about 13 miles southeast of Oakes. Major Harold Bills of the Strategic Air Command had a train there on a Soo Line siding that carried electronic gear and radar, plus 84 men and all of their accommodations—far more people than lived in Straubville, which never reported a population of more than forty.
Planes flew in and “dropped their theoretical bombs” on the target, and the men below would gauge whether or not the bombs “hit,” along with what had gone wrong, if anything.
Adding to the drama were sonic booms from aircraft exceeding the speed of sound. Major Bills said the planes causing the sonic booms were B-58s, and they tried to minimize this by requiring them to fly above 35,000 feet. Nonetheless, constant booms led the Ransom County Gazette to publish this notice:
“If, because of jet-made thunder claps in clear weather, your turkeys are killing themselves, your cows are getting nervous, or your mink are killing each other, be patient. Things will change after the month is out. These things do actually happen, to the consternation of farm folks. City dwellers in this jet age are more concerned about tenement windows falling out and the frequency of the nerve-shaking sonic noises interrupting their various degrees of serenity.”
Coincidentally, Major Bills told the local Lisbon Kiwanis club that he was glad not to have to be part of the claims office in Washington, so he didn’t have to deal with paying out for damages caused by these particularly loud noises. He and his unit were one of three, and, the Gazette reported, “Animals and humans alike, bothered by sonic booms, won’t be sorry about its leaving.”
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
The Ransom County Gazette, Thursday, August 23, 1962