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Nike Missile Explosion Memorial.
Nike Missile Explosion Memorial.

Nike Missile Explosion Memorial

Field review by the editors.

Sandy Hook, New Jersey

The Cold War was an overlapping series of existential threats, ranging from vague limits on democracy, to the end all life on Earth. Post-WW2 decades anticipated waves of high altitude bombers from the Soviet Union pulverizing American cities with nuclear bombs. The Nike Program was one tactical defense, deploying vigilant crews with ground-to-air missiles in suburban and rural batteries ringing major American coastal cities. The NIke Ajax missile, 32-ft. tall and containing three warheads of "super TNT," was designed to explode and disable or destroy a bomber before it reached its populous target.

A Nike Ajax missile battery, 1955.
A Nike Ajax missile battery, 1955.

America's Nike bases were low profile, securely fenced and with perimeters patrolled. Many communities were unaware of their base's mission and the deadly hardware within. The veil of obscurity was dramatically pierced on May 22, 1958, when an accidental explosion of a Nike Ajax missile at Battery B Base (Site NY-53) detonated seven other missiles lined up in the base. Ten American servicemen and civilians died. The explosions blew out house windows miles away, and the disaster, the Nike program's worst, was widely reported in the news.

From an AP wire story the next day: "Investigators searched a Nike base near here today in an effort to learn what caused eight fully armed missiles to blow up in a furious mushroom of fire and death." The base was in Middletown's Chapel Hill section (also reported as in the adjacent coastal town of Leonardo). Early reports in the national media portrayed the surrounding community as outraged, but at town meetings with Army brass, even neighbors with blast-damaged property expressed gratitude that "there were such installations to protect the nation." A brigadier general assured assembled residents there were no plans yet to convert the site to Hercules missiles (with atomic warheads).

The base is long gone, and the site, at the corner of Kings Hwy E and Sleepy Hollow Rd, is partially a housing development. There's no remnant to encourage visiting. Instead, the casualties of the accident are commemorated at a monument on nearby Sandy Hook (site of another Nike base, preserved for tours) in the Gateway National Recreation Area. The memorial consists of a granite stone marker flanked by two small white replicas of Nike missiles. The marker lists the name of the military personnel and four Ordnance Corps. civilians who lost their lives.

Nike Missile Explosion Memorial

Gateway National Recreation Area

Sandy Hook, NJ
Hwy 36 east to Sandy Hook, then north into the Gateway National Recreation Area. Hartshorne Dr. and Magruder Rd. Memorial is near Nike missile.
$15 to park during summer.
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Nike Missile Base ToursNike Missile Base Tours, Sandy Hook, NJ - < 1 mi.
9/11 Memorial - Eagle Clutching Mangled I-Beam9/11 Memorial - Eagle Clutching Mangled I-Beam, Atlantic Highlands, NJ - 3 mi.
WW2 Coastal Battery Big GunWW2 Coastal Battery Big Gun, Middletown, NJ - 5 mi.
In the region:
Elevator Historical Society Museum, Long Island City, NY - 21 mi.

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