Blast from the Past Part II

Last week I took a stroll down Memory Lane.

Needing a mental break from two full days of work, on Wednesday I drove out to Ellsworth AFB, my home from 1983-86. Civilians aren’t generally allowed on military installations, but the South Dakota Air & Space Museum just outside the main gate offers a $10 bus tour of the base, complete with a visit to a Minuteman II missile silo. The lure of setting foot on base again was impossible to resist, so after checking out the museum – pretty cool in its own right, with an extensive collection of military aircraft outside and two hangars’ worth of historical displays indoors – I boarded the bus and settled in for the base tour.


My tour guide, Garry, was great. He started out by asking if anybody had ever been out to the area before, and when I told him that I had lived on base for three years and had just moved back to the area to escape the crowds and high cost of living on the west coast, he informed me that his circumstances were nearly the same. He’d been stationed at EAFB until 1982, when he was transferred to California. After several miserable decades there, he came back to Rapid City six months ago. Said he’d been to all 50 states and this was his favorite place.

Garry and I bonded.

It was a real trip being on base again! It was like stepping through a portal and going back in time, even though most of the housing has been modernized. We drove right by Ohio Avenue, the street we’d lived on three decades earlier, and I learned the crappy duplexes we’d been stuck in had been torn down and replaced with beautiful new houses that have covered porches and garages. Garages, guys! We had to plug our car in during the winter because we didn’t have so much as a carport even. This generation of military families has it so much better.

Some things were blessedly unchanged. The movie theater was exactly as I remembered it, and the ponds we used to fish in were all still there. I swear, I had goosebumps while we drove around. It’s all still so surreal to me. A mere 14 months ago I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams that I’d be walking around Ellsworth AFB again.

The highlight of the tour was definitely the missile silo. It had been converted into a training facility complete with an actual Minuteman II inside, the size of which is just amazing. At one time 150 of these missiles were buried beneath the plains of western South Dakota, aimed at Russia and ready to launch on a moment’s notice. They were deactivated in 1991 and have all since been removed, but Garry did tell us there are currently 400 armed missiles in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. That ought to sober you up!

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Thank god we survived the Cold War without incident.

After the base tour and museum visit, I drove over to my alma mater, Douglas High School. Even though I did not graduate from DHS, I’ve always felt a much stronger kinship with that school than the one that gave me my diploma, Milpitas HS. Probably because I went to Douglas for three years and was only at Milpitas my senior year. All my best high school memories are at Douglas; I was a newcomer at Milpitas and hardly knew anybody. Anyway, I did stop by DHS on my road trip out here in 2011, but this time the gate to the football field was open so I walked around the track, absorbing all the feels. Again, so many memories came flashing back. Good ones. I was always happy living here, which I can’t say about every place I’ve been, that’s for sure.

The rest of the week – and weekend – were low-key. We set up folding camp chairs at Main Street Square on Thursday for a free Georgia Satellites concert. Remember those guys? One-hit wonders from 1986 with “Keep Your Hands to Yourself“? I can’t believe they’re still around.

Friday evening we played cards, listened to records, ate pizza, drank rum, and walked to the video store to load up on movies. The Sturgis Rally is in full swing now, and we didn’t want to venture out and deal with a million motorcyclists. I mean, they’re all over town; you walk down the street and see groups of five, 10, or 15 Harley Davidsons, one after another, roaring by. It doesn’t really bother me, but I also would rather avoid the traffic in the Black Hills. So we’ve pretty much sat around and watched movies all weekend. I envision a lot of Saturdays and Sundays like this when the temperature is below zero. Kind of a shame it was overcast and 75 today!

13 thoughts on “Blast from the Past Part II

  1. Sobering, indeed! I remember touring the bunker at the Greenbrier and thinking ‘Holy Crap! This was happening in my lifetime!’

    How cool to time travel like that. We have a few classmates that like you, moved before their senior year, but they do attend the reunions. Maybe you should see if the school website has an alumni section!


    1. That’s not a bad idea! The thing is, DHS was 80% Air Force students like me. Nobody that I went to school there with still lives in the area. I’m the oddball that does all of a sudden!


  2. Must confess, this all brought a tear to my eye. I was born at White Sands Missile Range in NM and was far too young to remember anything about living there. After my family left (my dad was Army) in the middle of 1966, my husband and his family moved in from 1969-1974 (his dad was Air Force). My husband, being 8 years older than I, has vivid memories of the base. As Serendipity would have it, we met decades later and would both return for the first time in 2015 as a couple instead of total strangers. I’d waited and longed for that moment my entire life. Going back, even without a single memory of the place, was one of the most emotional moments of my life and I already long to go back. Thank you for the happy tears, Mark.


    1. Aww…I’m glad this post brought back happy memories for you. That’s a great story, by the way. Serendipitous indeed! (I visited White Sands once as a kid and toured the missile exhibit – pretty fascinating.)


  3. Mark, the base tour sounded and LOOKED like so much fun! And for such an GREAT price….$10.00!!!!

    Fantastic photographs! I especially love the one in the collage of the “free for all” because it’s so vintage of that time period. Kind of reminds of a Vargas pin-up girl painting that he was infamous for.

    I can soooooooo tell that you are soooooooo enjoying your new home and all it has to offer.

    I’m so happy for you, my friend!


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