Last updated: January 4, 2018
Gene S. Williams
- The Delta-06 silo was located on the Williams' Ranch. Both Gene and his father were members of the Missile Area Landowners Association.
Gene S. Williams is a native of South Dakota. He grew up east of Wall, South Dakota on a ranch. In the early 1960’s the federal government procured a section of land on his parent’s ranch to place a missile silo. Over thirty years later, when the 44th Strategic Missile Wing was slated for deactivation, Mr. Williams re-formed and led the Missile Area Landowner’s Association. His lobbying efforts helped ensure that landowner’s would have the first option in buying back their former property. At present, Mr. Williams still operates the family ranch.
Mr. Williams was interviewed for the park's oral history collection in January 2003 and February 2015. Below are several excerpts from his 2003 interview:
Could you describe for us your earliest recollections of the Cold War and the Minuteman missile program.
My first recollection of the Minuteman program was probably that my mom and dad left me with my grandmother for a couple of days while they went off for a court proceeding. And the court proceeding was about that my folks were suing the government about the fact that they put the missile site in the middle of our field and there was . . . the government had taken the site by eminent domain, of course I didn't understand all of these things at the time. But they were involved in a legal action and to my recollection the court found in their favor and granted them more than what had originally been allocated as far as for the loss or damages caused by the site being put in the middle of the field. That was my earliest recollection of anything to do with the missile sites was that mom and dad had to be gone to court because of a missile site legal action.
Can you describe why the Missile Area Landowners Association was organized?
Well at the time when the sites were put in basically, you know, most of the people that were involved that were going to have sites located on their
property were patriotic people and were fresh from World War II, it wasn't that long before. I mean, we're looking at like 1960, '61, '62 is when these were being put in place and most of them had, you know, wanted to do what was right for the country, but the way that the Air Force or the Corps of Engineers came in and said that this is what's going to happen to you, you have no recourse, you're going to have this site put where we say it's going to be. Landowners started to realize that maybe they needed to kind of band together and form some type of organization to be able to have a little bit more clout and also to gain some political exposure and to bring the Senators and Congressman for South Dakota in to make sure that they weren't ran roughshod over.
In your words, what would you say the mission of Missile Area Landowners Association was?
To make sure that the rights and the property rights and the civil rights of the landowners that were being asked to host Minuteman II sites were adequately represented. I don't think it was designed to extract a pound of flesh from the government it was just more or less to make sure that the government didn't over exert because of "Cold War Crisis" didn't fall into some type of a mandate that they could just do whatever they wanted to. That's one of the things, the entire of the Cold War was that you were fighting Communism, that is that the state dictated to everyone and yet our own government at times falls all over itself and falls into the same trap that it's supposedly defending us from.
Do you recall you who the founding members of the Missile Area Landowners Association were?
As I said, Leonel Jensen was one of the movers and shakers within that organization. There were several others that I . . . initially the Missile Area Landowners Association the group that existed in the sixties I'm not that familiar with who all was involved with that. It just happened that when the time came for the missile sites to be deactivated we found that there had been a Missile Area Landowners Association in the past and that was the name we took just out of some type of coherence with what had gone before.
Did a missile silo end up being constructing on your father's property?
Yeah, it's the, the site's right up here in the middle of the field and it's one of those things . . . it's really hard to explain to people unless they've ran farm machinery or anything, but I figured it's probably taken a month out of my life just in extra time working out corners. Because a missile site out in the middle of a field where if you could just go straight back and forth you don't have corners. But by putting that missile site out there there's four extra corners in two fields that you have to work out every time you work in that field. If you work the field say three or four times a year and say over thirty years time it's a little bit extra hassle.
When the missile field was active, how did the ranching community regard the missiles in their midst?
After a while, you know, it was just one of those things. I guess when I talked about farming around, when you've spent the better part of the day pretty close to it looking at it, yeah then there was a complete feeling, you know, awe and also it was an ominous awe because you recognized that . . . one of the things that you learn early on a farm is anything that can go wrong will go wrong. And here you're sitting with thermonuclear device that's a half a mile away from your house and you know well somebody punches the wrong signal code in or turns the wrong key the thing could go boom and you're just vapor. And, you know, you don't want to dwell on that too much, but you also recognize that, you know, it wasn't just the enemy that was going to blow you up you could blow yourselves up.