The Cold War was one of the most interesting times in history. Government secrets, conspiracies, high-stakes negotiations, the fate of mankind as we knew it hanging in the balance… just some really quality drama. The Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the most intense periods during the Cold War, and it resulted in a pretty incredible nuclear arms race, the remains of which we can still see today.
One such spot is the HM69 Nike Missile Base in Florida’s Everglades National Park. This site, with its anti-aircraft missiles, was chosen for its close location to Cuba (only 160 miles from the island’s coast) and its remoteness. Turns out, the untouched natural landscapes of National Parks are awesome places to hide nuclear warheads. It was a defensive base, meant to intercept any bombs coming in from Cuba.
Work on the HM69 Missile Base began right after the Cuban Missile Crisis and was completed by 1964. It was part of a larger air defense area, and one of four Nike missile bases in Southern Florida. The others were in Miramar, what is now Key Largo Hammocks State Park, and the space that currently houses U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Krome Detention Center. The base in the Everglades was the Alpha Battery.
This site is significant for a few reasons. One, it was super high-tech for the time. As the NPS puts it, “The South Florida missile defenses were integrated with HAWK missile sites to provide an all-altitude defense capability around South Florida.” It was also the last fixed air defense missile system to remain in operation in the continental United States. But, most importantly, the 140 crew members who assembled the warheads and manned the base, along with the personnel at the other three Southern Florida sites, were awarded the Army Meritorious Unit Commendation. This honor is rarely bestowed on men who work in defense and is mostly given to those who directly engage the enemy. Honestly, the guys here showed a lot of restraint and good judgment and probably saved America from nuclear war with their discretion.
Today, there are more than 22 buildings at the decommissioned site that have been preserved, including three missile barns (each of which could hold four missiles), a missile assembly building, a guard dog kennel, barracks, a restored Nike Hercules missile, and more. You can actually visit the base on a guided, ranger-led walking tour. These are offered between December and April, and last about an hour and a half.
More National Parks secrets and mysteries…