Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Public safety at the Airbase

Lincoln's Airpark West is getting a lot of public safety attention lately, as we've opened a new firearms range and training facility, and are about to break ground on a replacement for Fire Station 11, near NW 48th and West Adams Streets. 

One of the most interesting periods in Lincoln’s history was from the early 1950s through the mid 1960s, when the Lincoln Air Force Base served as one of the largest and most important components of the nation’s nuclear shield. Not to forget the importance of the Lincoln Army Airfield’s role in World War II, but during the cold war the stakes were raised even higher. 

Lincoln’s huge airbase was the home of B-47 squadrons on hot alert 24/7/365, loaded with nuclear bombs, ready to roll around the clock during the height of the cold war, including the 13 days in October, 1962, when the world stood on the brink of Armageddon. It is a fascinating part of our history, and one that is rapidly fading.

Today, however, considerable visible evidence of this 15 year window of history remains. The concrete pads on either side of the runway where eight B-47 Stratojet nucler bombers awaited their mission are still there, slowly disintegrating into the earth. The bunkers that held both nuclear warheads and conventional munitions remain, and will probably outlast virtually every evidence of Lincoln’s very existence. Many of the buildings have been demolished, but many remain; including Lincoln Parks & Recreation’s Airpark Recreation Center.

Along Highway 33, between Lincoln and Crete, lies a Nike missile site, which protected the Lincoln airbase from Soviet bombers, and where over 100 soldiers and K-9s worked around the clock to ensure the security of the base, the City, and nearby Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile installations. A companion Nike site north of Lincoln still stands as a daily reminder of these sentinels. The Integrated Fire Control center for the north site is now the campus of Raymond Central High School. 

When I was a student at Rountree Elementary School in Springfield, MO, fire alarm drills were not quite as memorable as the drills we practiced in the event of a nuclear attack: duck under the desk, hands behind the neck, fingers interlocked. A few years later, when the family moved to Lincoln, I had no idea that a significant component of the forces protecting us from this threat, through nuclear deterrence, were right here in my new hometown. 


Steve said...

Ah, the good old days, when you could perish in a thermonuclear explosion at any minute.

Steve said...

Speaking of the bunkers, I lived in the old officer housing for a time back in the 70's when the cold war was still a thing to cause concern. I decided that if the bombs should ever start falling, I was grabbing everything I thought I might need and running the family up to one of those bunkers. Given their construction, one person could defend them against pretty much any threat short of military grade bombs. I figured I could hold out there for quite a while. Might have been a pipe dream, but it was the best I could have done.

Trevor Brass said...

Very interesting read and thanks for all the links! The existence of the complex of buildings West of the airport proper makes more sense, as well as the length of one of the runways. Maybe I should go watch Dr. Strangelove again.

Not a mover-or shaker said...

I grew up in that era, and we never had bomb drills like I read about now. Wondering if small town SD was immune to those worries, it were we just naive.