Ground broken for North Dakota’s first ‘major military’ installation 65 years ago
MINOT AIR FORCE BASE – Sixty-five years go on Sunday, July 12, 1955, a ceremony was held north of Minot to break ground to officially launch construction of a U.S. Air Force jet interceptor base.
Local people along with Air Force and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers leaders gathered on the hot, sunny day for the afternoon ceremony on land formerly farmed by Ted Abresch, The Minot Daily News reported. Earthmoving machines to be used in construction of the base would replace farm tractors used on the land.
The base was slated to be in full operation by the spring of 1957.
Brig. Gen. James O. Guthrie, commanding general of the 29th Air Division from Great Falls, Mont., told the group the base would play an important part in the air defense net across the northern border of the United States and it would be the “first major military installation” in North Dakota.
Only one contract for actual work on the site had been awarded when the groundbreaking was held, according to Col. Thomas L. Hayes Jr., Omaha district engineer for the Corps of Engineers who was in charge of the base construction program. He said Peter Kiewit Sons Co. of Omaha had been awarded a $3.6 million award for construction of a runway, taxiway, parking aprons and jet fuel storage.
However, Hayes disclosed more than $20 million worth of work at the base site had been designed or was under design and, if funds became available, the Corps would plan to call for bids to be opened in the coming August for the construction of 11 buildings plus roads and utilities. He said more contracts would be awarded if money was sufficient.
The August projected contract would be to construct hangars, operations building, four barracks, mess hall and other structures along with roads and utilities, Hayes said.
Lt. Col. Theodore Roe, at the time in Puerto Rico, would be coming to Minot in August for the duties of area engineer for the Omaha office of the Corps.
Dr. A.L. Cameron, on behalf of the local Chamber, told those gathered at the site “we are gratified beyond measure now to witness this outstanding event.”
“In our country’s build-up of air power, we are proud to have our city and community become an important site and link along the northern border,” Cameron added.
Cameron said the Chamber and community welcomed the opportunity which the base affords “to reveal our spirit of loyalty in every way possible by timely and unstinted cooperation in the construction and establishment of this great military base.”
Minot Mayor Maurice Harrington assured Guthrie and Hayes that “Minot realizes its responsibility in this enterprise and I am sure will give its wholehearted support.”
He expressed gratitude for the spirit of cooperation shown by farmers who lost or would lose their farms due to the location of the military installation.
In the city of Minot, Harrington said contractors were planning to build around 1,000 new homes in line with the growth of the city from the base construction project and new industries.
“Minot welcomes you… may your stay with us be a happy one,” said Harrington summing up the event of that day.
What became Minot Air Force Base officially began that day in July 1955.
Less than two years later, in February 1957, Roe turned over the “key” to Minot AFB to Maj. Joe Roberts, the first base commander, during a small ceremony in front of base operations.
Today, more than 12,000 people – military members, family members and civilians employed at the base – make up the base’s population.
Minot AFB is the only dual-wing, nuclear-capable base in the U.S. Department of Defense. The 5th Bomb Wing has B-52H Stratofortresses and the 91st Missile Wing has Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in the Minot missile field. The bomb wing and missile wing are part of Air Force Global Strike Command.
For more about the 65 years of Minot Air Force Base, see The Minot Daily News’ recently released commemorative magazine, Celebrating 65 Years of Minot Air Force Base, 1955-2020, at The Minot Daily News website – go to “Special Sections,” then scroll down to the “Celebrating 65 Years of Minot Air Force Base, 1955-2020” magazine cover.
Print copies are free and also available at The Minot Daily News office at 301 4th Street SE, Minot.
Naming Minot Air Force Base
MINOT AIR FORCE BASE -The permanent name for Minot Air Force Base has remained just that – Minot Air Force Base.
Other names were suggested for the Minot base.
The Mayor’s committee for renaming Minot AFB, established in 1960 by then Minot Mayor Maurice Harrington, also invited people to suggest names for the new base. Harrington asked Robert Cory of The Minot Daily News to be the committee’s chairman.
Some of the names listed for Minot AFB included, according to The Minot Daily News files:
– The Swenson brothers, Capt. Donald and Staff Sgt. George, of Carpio, both of whom lost their lives in action in Europe in World War II.
– Maj. James Howard, Minot, also killed in action in World War II.
– Lt. Harry W. Eck, a Minot pilot who was killed on a bombing mission over Germany in World War II.
– Lt. Robert Rist, a Velva fighter pilot who lost his life in the Pacific during World War II.
– Maj. Merle Gilbertson, of Maddock, who shot down 10 enemy planes in World War II.
– “The Minot Air Force Base” proposed as a geographical name by the board of directors of the Minot Chamber of Commerce.
In the end, Minot Air Force Base was selected to continue as the name for the base.
Then a few years later – in 1968 – two Nebraska senators suggested to the North Dakota congressional delegation that the base should be renamed in memory of Maj. Gen. Charles Eisenhart, one of 13 victims of a tanker crash on Jan. 17, 1968, at the Minot base.
Rep. Tom Kleppe, North Dakota’s West District congressman, said he felt the name should continue as Minot AFB. “It now has an identity not only with Air Force personnel but with all of the men and women of all branches of the armed services who come from the Minot area,” Kleppe said in a story in The Minot Daily News. He told the Nebraska senators that full consideration was given choice of a name when the base was activated and asserted he felt there would be little local support in the Minot area for a change.
The name over the years has remained Minot Air Force Base.