Florida, being a world wide tourist destination, spends much effort making sure our signs are friendly and welcoming. This sign is decidedly not that. Today's adventure -
Nike Missile Site HM-69.
I had never heard of this base and thanks to a tip off from a fellow blogger, The Florida Rambler, I had the rare privilege to take this amazing tour.
The base is pretty run down and there are no missiles lying about so the site itself is not all that impressive. A renovation and actual missile are in the works for the near future. The amazing part - our tour guide was an actual Nike missile veteran volunteering for the day and who loaded our tour with personal, living history experiences, and maybe a few military secrets hopefully now declassified.
We started our tour in the base briefing room and got a short history of the cold war in the 60's. The Nike missile named after the winged goddess Nike, was the most feared cold war weapon of all time. I well remember my proud father telling me as a kid how Philadelphia was protected by the Nike Missile as we would pass them on the way to the Jersey Shore. This missile was none to secret. It's purpose was to knock down nuclear missiles or bombers on their way to destroy America. The US really wanted the Russians to take note of that and put them in plain sight. One thing Dad might not have known was the tip of the spear on this winged goddess was a "physics package". Oh yeah - up to a 45 kiloton nuke. About 45 times the blasts in Japan. Whereas the Patriot missile is much like a bullet, shooting a bullet out of the sky, the Nike is more like swatting a mosquito with a stick of dynamite. Dad also might not have gotten the news that the Nike bases were number two on the enemy strike list after communications.
According to our guide, the missile breaks the sound barrier one second after launch and is miles down range in 3 seconds. How is that possible? A ten thousand pound missile sat on four, 150,000 thousand pound thrust rocket motors pushing the 41 foot bomb up to 3,000 miles per hour. I asked if he had ever seen one launched. The answer - six times and he was only too happy to explain in loud and graphic detail. I also learned the Nike was never fired in anger thankfully and the only proven way to stop it was with another Nike. There is nothing else in the world fast enough to catch it. The Nike came in different versions like the Ajax and Hercules, and had a conventional package that had a kill zone of 30 miles. Does not sound very conventional to me. The Nike's are no longer deployed in the US. We have bigger and better weapons. I didn't ask. Not sure I wanted to know. I was still digesting this bit of history. They are still relevant and are deployed by NATO in Europe.
Pop quiz soldier. What's the difference between a Police dog and a Military dog. Police dogs catch and release. Military dogs have a doggie license to kill and they don't care what uniform you are wearing. That's the kind of off the script info you get when a real military person takes you on tour. Our guide loaded us down with such anecdotal information adding much needed color to this dreary, run down facility. In one of the bunkers he told me he once had the privilege of holding the key that self destructs the base if it were to be overrun. Didn't take much imagination to figure out what would happen if that key was turned or the nerve it would take to turn it.
Now some of you out there are thinking how did we spend literally billions on this weapons system and never even shoot one off in anger. All I can tell you is Russian is a very difficult language to learn and I use my microwave oven every day. That's right - the microwave oven is a direct decedent of the telemetry radar used to guide this missile system. Accidentally standing in front of the dish was one of the dozens of ways to get killed or injured on a base like this. Our guide was very proud to point out how this one weapon changed the world in many ways.
We should all personally thank the 173 men who manned each one of these bases around the country and the world. They lived with these hazards and the stress of being constantly ready to fire one of these missiles in 5 minutes from notification - around the clock. They kept the peace and never fired a shot because the price of their vigilance was just too high for any aggressor to pay. We only met this one Nike Missile veteran and we thanked him with two, loud and appreciative rounds of applause.