Heidi Crabtree/Special to the Fort Leavenworth Lamp
The Cold War brought civil defense alerts, CONELRAD (emergency broadcasting) and bomb shelter plans to America.
It was assumed that Kansas City, with its railyards and industry, including military storage, would be in the crosshairs of the Soviets.
Like many other cities, Nike surface-to-air missile sites were built around the greater Kansas City area. One of these missile sites, known as KC-80, sat on Sheridan Drive on Fort Leavenworth, its underground missile storage units still intact, underneath the current recreational vehicle park.
In July 1958, ground was broken for KC-80, one of several sites built in a loose “ring” around the area. Fort Leavenworth would also have the one missile repair facility for the city, now standing empty near Sherman Army Airfield.
Though one of the missile buildings on Sheridan Drive has a Nike Ajax refueling tower, and an early photo shows an Ajax on post, KC-80 was primarily for Nike Hercules missiles. Developed by Bell Labs and Douglas Aircraft, Hercules was capable of being equipped with nuclear warheads. Sheridan Drive was home to the launching area, while nearby, radars sat at the fire control area. Near where Nez Perce Village is now once stood the administration buildings.
There is no trace today of the inner and outer fences that guarded the missile launch area, those two fences patrolled by military working dogs with handlers, day and night; however, the underground storage areas are still intact, owing the fact they are on a government installation and on a hill, thus limiting flooding.
Last fall, a rare inspection took place, allowing a few people to enter the storage areas. Excited to have access, our group consisted of myself; Larry Molder II and Neil Bass of natural resources; Stephanie Mahone of the Garrison Public Affairs Office; Frontier Army Museum Specialist Christian Roesler; and Lt. Col. James Crabtree, Air Defense historian and public affairs officer with the Mission Command Training Program.
We descended each stairway (there are three separate storage areas) carefully, sidestepping cobwebs, debris and puddles. We could see down into large pits where the elevators once rose, carrying missiles to the surface through large rusting doors still seen amongst the recreational vehicles parked in the area. Shining a flashlight around revealed a rack, apparently for very tall men, with hooks stenciled “Sr Launcher Crewman,” and “Sect Chief”; painted letters on a wall asking, “Think. Have you inventoried the arm plugs?”; panels with buttons marked “Stop” and “Start,” still secured to the wall near the emergency egress ladders; and a dusty, Westinghouse lighting apparatus with warnings to never operate elevators when those lights are on. One elevator pit was filled with water and unidentifiable objects spotted in the murky mess.
We carefully climbed back up into present day, the hot breeze actually cooling the sweat on our faces from our voyage, we remembered the men of Delta Battery 5/55th Missile Battalion, as they worked down in those rooms from 1959-1969, and locked the doors once more.
Fort Leavenworth has stood through generations of history, and its role in the Cold War is often overlooked. These buildings, along with the piece of the Berlin Wall in the Grove of Regiments, reminds us of a past that isn’t so far away.