Beat swords into plowshares

Look at a map of military bases in the US and realize how pervasive this part of society has become over the years.  And that’s just current locations.  Find a map that shows ALL installations over the history of the country and it starts looking like an atlas of towns and cities.  As a people we have sunk almost countless value into the soil of our country in support of military operations.

Many of the 20th century facilities were created in response to actual declarations of war, installations designed and built to support a rapid change in society from peace to warfare.   And many of these were used briefly to serve a specific purpose and then vacated, turned over to others for different purposes, or simply abandoned.

As with most real estate deals, location played a very important role in where these installations were grounded.  During the last declared war, with expected enemies off both coasts capable of launching attacks on US soil, decisions were made to build important support facilities in the middle of the country.  Based on one part logistics, one part fear, and probably one part economic stimulus for a few people with connections, results of decisions on placement mean the remains of facilities still dot the countryside in various parts of the Great Plains.

Driving east from Hastings, NE along US 6, the Grand Army of the Republic highway, you suddenly notice a regular series of low humps running in regular order in the pastures parallel to the road.  The more adventurous who wander off the highway onto county roads discover these continue southward for several miles, clusters of mounds marching across the fields.  These, and several long, brick buildings connected by abandoned railroad rights of way are all that remain of the Naval Ammunition Depot, the largest World War II naval munitions manufacturing and distributing facility in the US.

Explosives Storage Bunkers

Non-explosive Materials Storage

Non-explosive Materials Transfer Station

The mysterious mounds are simply bunkers built to store explosives, primers and assembled shells, torpedos and mines, concrete structures built so well they will probably be standing in a hundred years.  Their format is simple – a half-cylinder lying on the ground covered in soil, with a double door and blast wall.  Grouped in clusters depending on the material being stored and spaced to prevent sympathetic detonations in case of accidents. the bunkers poise in ranks as if waiting for another round of active duty.

Munitions Storage Bunkers

Assembled Munitions Storage Bunkers

With the factory gradually phased out in the 1950’s much of the land was turned over to the US Department of Agriculture for the location of their Meat Animal Research Center.  Now in an ironic re-tasking, the bunkers provide high ground for herds of cattle who graze across the prairie, unaware of the nature of the hillocks they climb to get a broader view of their surroundings.


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