Who knew fifty-two years later a visit to the Florida Everglades would bring me full circle (yes, my body was once again a hot mess!), front and center with one five-ton, 40-foot Nike Hercules Missile (that’s Nike, as in the mythical Greek goddess of victory; were you wondering what gym shoes had to do with missiles?) and one historic missile site, HM-69, hidden in the Everglades “Hole in the Donut.” Oh goody, sweets during our tour!
We were a motley group of spies given the old cloak and dagger standards,
For those historically challenged, i.e. those without my espionage experience, the Cuban Missile Crisis was a 13-day standoff between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. That infamous standoff between President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev, with Castro in the middle, was the closest the world has ever come to nuclear war.
In 1962, the U.S.S.R. was desperately behind the U.S. in the arms race.
The crisis is generally regarded as the first documented instance of mutual assured destruction (the acronym MAD seems quite appropriate, don’t you think?!) being discussed as a determining factor in a major international arms agreement.
Those prepared to pull the trigger at Alpha Battery during the Cuban Missile Crisis lived on site in a constant state of high alert or “Hot Status."
After our initial briefing/history lesson, we’d hopped into our cars and formed our own convoy, following Park Ranger Singer to the restricted Launch Area still under lock and key.
Hydraulics were used to push the missiles upright to 87 degrees and ready for launch. Three missiles could be set up to fire at any one time. Six soldiers per Section Barn would then crowd into the Section Control Room or the Bunker Room. The decision to fire was made by the Battery Commander, inside the Battery Control Trailer, located at the Integrated Fire Control area one mile away.
For a fraction of a second following launch, the entire Launch Area was consumed in a fireball as the missile reached the speed of sound, 760 miles per hour and left the launcher. Top speed was over three and a half times the speed of sound.
THE BOTTOM LINE ON THE HM-69 NIKE HERCULES MISSILE SITE
Verdict: One more time: I love field trips. This was history at its finest and hottest, the last fixed air defense missile system to remain in operation in the continental United States.
How to Get There: Take US-1/S Dixie Highway south from Miami to NE 1st Avenue. Turn right onto E Palm Dr/SR-9336 W/SW 344th Street. Turn left onto SW 192nd Avenue/Tower Road/SR0-336. In two miles, turn right onto SR-9336/SW 376th Street/Ingraham Highway and proceed to the entrance to the Florida Everglades. HM-69 is on Long Pine Key Road inside Everglades National Park.
Insider Information: Wear good shoes, a hat and sunscreen for this tour. Lots of walking in the hot sun. This tour only runs during the winter months, for very obvious reasons. Visitors would otherwise be dropping like flies during the summer months when the heat and humidity really soar. No facilities in the Hole in the Donut either, so plan ahead.
Nearby Food: We stopped at Robert’s Fruit and Farm Stand on the corner of SW 344 Street and SW 192nd Avenue before getting back on the Florida Turnpike. This place is a local legend, where you can find the best milkshakes and smoothies in these parts, not to mention a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables.