"" Writer's Wanderings: The Everglades - Nike Site

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Everglades - Nike Site

The Everglades is home to one of the best preserved Cold War relics--the historic Nike Hercules Missile Site called Alpha Battery or HM-69. We visited once before not long after it first opened to visitors but heard that now they actually had a missile on site. It is certainly a step back in time.

The tours are free and are daily at 11 a.m from mid-December to the end of March. After that, they are only on the weekends. Check the park's website for more information on times. It is about a 15 minute drive from   the Royal Palm Visitor Center where the Anhinga Trail is. The guides are often people who have worked at a nike site somewhere during the Cold War era. They make the most interesting guides, but on our second of two visits in February, we had a ranger for our guide and he did a great job as well giving us some good stories as well as history.

The Nike missile site in south Florida was the first line of defense against the threat Russia had set up in Cuba. Our missiles had nuclear warheads and were assembled in a small building on site. The painting on the side of the building (remarkably well preserved) was done during that time. They are still looking for the name of the artist. The reason for the nuclear bomb power was because we had a slim margin of error in hitting a plane with a missile. With the nuclear power, we could take out a fleet of planes with the explosion any where near them.

The men took shifts, being on call for instant action where, if needed they would roll out a rocket quickly from one of the three barns that housed them, set it up on a launch pad and then "run like ****" into the bunker where if the word came, they would push the launch button. That's a simplified version, I'm sure, but you'll get a little more info on the tour.

The bunker was actually open enough to be able to see into it and will soon be open for visitors to go into and get a better view. I found it interesting that the reason was because of lead paint. Yet, we were allowed into one of the missile barns which I would guess had lead paint since it looked as though nothing had been renovated.

As we stood in front of the huge doors of the missile barn, the guide and one of our men from the group pushed back the doors. It was very dramatic on the first tour we took as the guide didn't mention that the rocket was right there. The doors groaned, metal against the metal track, as the darkness inside was cut by the Florida sunshine and revealed a Hercules missile. For my grandson who has shot off rockets with his dad, it was very impressive even though he didn't understand the history behind it.

 When I think back to the time of the Cuban missile crisis, even though I was a teen, I remember how intense those days were. I grew up with the Cold War and the fear of nuclear war. We practiced ducking under our desks at school and covering our heads, hiding our eyes, as if that would have protected us. Seeing all of this at the Nike Site, always brings back those memories. We came so close.

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