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A CUBAN CRISIS LEFTOVER

In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis called for an immediate defense of South Florida. Within a week the entire tip of Florida became an armed fortress with military units scattered from Miami down through the Keys and across the mosquito infested Everglades. The main defensive units consisted of a dozen strategically placed Hawk and Nike missile batteries with their nuclear-tipped surface-to-air missiles aimed at Cuba just ninety miles away. Each site had 12 missiles aimed at Cuba that were manned by 120 soldiers who were kept on alert 24 hours a day.

At the beginning of the crisis, all missile sites in South Florida were temporary with personnel living in tents and power supplied by portable generators. As time went on, several of these missile sites became permanent facilities guarded by 50-caliber machine guns and patrolled after dark by sentry dogs. Surrounding the South Miami area in 1968 were at least eight air defense missile batteries. By the 1970s the number of sites had been reduced to three permanent ones located near Florida City, the Everglades and on North Key Largo.

About twelve miles due southwest of Florida City a piece of this historical period still remains, but don’t plan on visiting it because it’s within the boundaries of the Everglades National Park. It is the only Nike site that is still intact; most of the other sites in South Florida have been demolished, totally vandalized, or converted to other uses like a former site in Southwest Miami, which is now used as an immigration detention center.

By special permission from the National Park Service and the assistance of public affairs officer Rick Cook, I was able to explore and photograph the abandoned site in the Everglades. I followed Ranger John Sears on a twenty minute drive well off the main tourist path to the site that is still surrounded by the original chain link fence. There are three large buildings at the site resembling aircraft hangers with super heavy sliding doors. Each building is surrounded by an earthen berm that is now overgrown with weeds. These structures were called magazines in which were housed the missiles. In front of each magazine is what looks like a concrete parking lot.

This was the launching area. The missiles were rolled out on tracks in front of each magazine for firing. Each magazine had a firing control room located within the earthen berm and in case something went wrong, there was a ladder leading to an escape hatch on top. A half-mile north, well away from the launching area, were the barracks and mess hall, which are now used by the National Park Service.

Since the water table in the Everglades does not allow for much underground construction, the sites in South Florida differed from many other Nike sites that had underground silos. This missile site was designated as HM-65 and HM-66 and manned at various times by several different batteries of the 2nd Battalion, 52nd ADA, which was part of the Army Air Defense Command {ARADCOM}. The headquarters was at site HM-85 southwest of Miami.

Located not far from the three missile magazines and launch pads, is a sentry dog kennel and a missile maintenance and control building. The only real tell-tale sign that this place was once a missile site is a picture of a Nike missile painted on the vine-covered side of the control building. In the future this last remaining intact launching area may become a tourist attraction. The National Park Service, at the urging of veterans that served at these sites, is considering a plan that may preserve this piece of our history.

Weird Florida

 

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