Nike Missile Base Tours
Sandy Hook, New Jersey
The National Park Service restored and maintains an Nike Ajax Missile Site, part of a ring of Cold War-era defense installations. Nothing works in the site anymore, but it displays old radar equipment, salvaged missile casings and the original base structures.
The Nike missile program was designed in the 1950s to protect major US cities and military installations with defensive rings of guided supersonic missiles. The conventional warheaded Nike Ajax missile, then the nuclear-capable Nike Hercules, would shoot off like 2-ton bottle rockets to greet high altitude Soviet bombers. The missiles were only fired in tests in remote areas of the world. Though the site was placed on high alert during critical moments (1965 Northeast blackout, 1967 Six Day War, 1973 Yom Kippur War), the Jersey shore never experienced its final "Bad Day at the Beach" scenario.
The remnants of the base are on 20 acres of land in the Sandy Hook Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area. The base, a carefully guarded part of Fort Hancock until the mid-1970s, had since been stripped, used for storage and Park vehicle maintenance, and overgrown with dune-friendly poison ivy. Still, it was considered the most complete example of a Nike base in the country, with most of the buildings and underground magazines intact.
We visited once, when the volunteers were abuzz with excitement over the arrival of a vintage Nike Ajax missile. The missile had been spotted at an Army-Navy store in Chambersburg, PA, an American flag fluttering from its side. The Sandy Hook Foundation paid $3,500 for it and donated to the restoration project. Tours are still available if you plan in advance for one of the scheduled summer weekends (see www.nps.gov/gate/).
You can always visit Guardian Park during the day, near the tip of Sandy Hook, to see a monument to some unsung heroes of the Cold War. Fort Hancock has maintained a tribute for over thirty years to the memory of the Cold War missile men of the US Army. A whitewashed Nike Hercules missile stands adjacent to a simple granite monument. The monument names six soldiers and four civilians who were killed by a non-nuclear explosion at a Nike missile base in nearby Middletown on May 22, 1958.
The National Parks Service operates another Nike Ajax Missile site, open for tours daily, just north of San Francisco.