Nevada’s Democrats in Congress rejuvenated plans Monday to recognize Cold War veterans and sites worthy of historical significance including several in Nevada.
A bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and a companion bill in the House by Rep. Shelley Berkley call for the Interior Department to establish a Cold War advisory committee that would oversee the inventory of Cold War sites and resources to be included in the National Park System as national historic landmarks and points of interest.
The bills, if passed and signed by the president, would provide $500,000 to mark historic landmarks including the site atop Mount Charleston where a C-54 transport plane crashed in 1955. The crash killed 14 men and crew members being shuttled on a secret mission to test the high-flying U-2 spy plane at Area 51, known then as “Watertown,” along the dry Groom Lake bed 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Similar legislation was proposed in 2003 but the House version failed to garner enough support.
News of the bills was welcomed Monday by Steve Ririe, chairman of a local, nonprofit fund-raising group, Silent Heroes of the Cold War Corp., who blazed the trail for the efforts in Congress and who has been a longtime advocate of preserving the nation’s Cold War heritage.
“This absolutely thrills me,” Ririe said. “We’re really grateful.”
He credited Robert T. Herbert, senior policy adviser and director of appropriations on Reid’s staff, for encouraging the senator as well as Berkley and her staff to follow up on his suggestions to pursue new Cold War veterans recognition legislation.
From its role in the U-2’s development to nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site, “Southern Nevada had a very, very large part in winning the Cold War,” Ririe said.
Ririe said he envisions “very possibly breaking ground this summer” on a Cold War memorial at the desert overlook on Mount Charleston along the highway between Kyle and Lee canyons.
In 2005, Ririe floated a plan to build a U-shaped, black granite structure symbolic of the long, narrow wings of the U-2 spy plane that was developed at the secret base in the distance behind the mountain.
A joint statement Monday by Reid and Berkley announcing the bills quoted Reid as saying, “In addition to the Nevada Test Site, Fallon’s Naval Air Station, Nellis Air force Base and Hawthorne Army Depot greatly contributed to the fight. It’s a terrible shame that the people who perished when their plane crashed near the Mount Charleston summit were never truly honored.”
In the statement, Berkley said, “America must continue to honor the legacy of all those in Nevada and across the nation who kept our families safe during the long decades of the Cold War, many of whom worked in secret and never received recognition for their heroic service.”
A test site spokesman noted that one location there already has been included on the National Register of Historic Places. The Sedan Crater was entered into the register in 1994.
The crater, some 1,200 feet in diameter and 325 feet deep, was formed when a nuclear device was detonated in 1962 under the Plowshare Program to explore the potential for using nuclear explosions to create harbors.
“We have a lot of other sites that may be eligible under the new legislation,” said Kevin Rohrer, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s office in North Las Vegas.
“We work very closely with the state of Nevada Historic Preservation Office in identifying and documenting potential significant sites on the Nevada Test Site,” Rohrer said.
“These include cultural sites where Native Americans had a presence on the site to Cold War relics related to testing activities,” he said.
According to the staffs of Reid and Berkley, Cold War sites of significance include intercontinental ballistic missile launch sites, flight training centers, communications and command centers such as Cheyenne Mountain, Colo., nuclear weapons test sites, and other sites of “strategic and tactical significance” such as the 1955 crash site on Mount Charleston.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or (702) 383-0308.