Welcome to the My Nuclear Life podcast! In this episode, host Shelly Lesher brings listeners into the world of the missile silos of the Cold War, located in such remote places as Cooperstown, North Dakota. There used to be many ICBM missile sites, representing the third leg of the US nuclear deterrent triad, but now only few remain to shed light on this aspect of Cold War life. Today, ground-based missile sites still represent the third leg of the US triad, but they are not only fewer, but much different in operation. In order to get the best picture possible of the past, Shelly interviews someone who can speak from experience - retired Colonel Charles G. Simpson.
Charles served as an Air Force officer from 1959 to 1989, working in roles ranging from commander over an aircraft maintenance team to a base commander. As his conversation with Shelly gets underway, Charles shares his story of entering the Air Force and embarking on his first roles involving nuclear weapons. As a young man of only 23, he was in charge of maintenance for a nuclear weapon. He was at this post during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but even though this event and some nuclear “incidents” marked his time in the role, things generally went smoothly. Nothing drove Charles to experience the kind of fear of nuclear weapons that gripped the public.
Charles’s career moving forward involved many role changes and moves (he moved 27 times over his career!), and he progressed through military ranks to a position as a crew commander working 40-hour shifts at an underground launch site near Grand Forks, ND. Charles shares about the network of sites in the area, what his shifts were like, and what a missile field looked like. He and Shelly talk Titan I, Minutemans then and now, and lockboxes. Charles quells concerns about power over nuclear warheads being in the hands of very young service members, and shares about the missile competitions he participated in. He details his time in Accuracy and Reliability Planning for Minutemans, his time as a base commander (which he distinguishes from a wing commander), and much more!
As the conversation wraps up, Charles offers thoughts on what he saw change and remain static across his military career, the value of all legs of the US triad, his mentality about keeping nuclear weapons from being used, and how orders given to launch sites were verified with checks.
Learn more about Col. (Ret.) Charles G. Simpson.
Learn about Minuteman Missile sites.
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Special thanks to The Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site and especially their Historic Site Supervisor Robert Branting
Production costs for this episode provided though National Science Foundation Grants PHY-2011267.