A Cold War relic returned to Miami on Thursday, almost 50 years after it was primed for action during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The flatbed trailer carrying a deactivated Nike missile from the Aniston, Ala., Army Depot arrived shortly before 8 a.m. at the George T. Baker Aviation School in Miami Springs, where more than 100 students, teachers and National Park Service representatives received it with applause.
“This is the first time I’ve seen something like this up close, and it’s even more special because we are going to renovate it from head to toe,” said Miguel Cruz, 17, who is part of the team of more than 600 high school and tech school students who will restore the missile — minus its warhead — before it is moved to the onetime Nike Missile Base in Everglades National Park, where it was displayed from 1962 to 1979.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Miguel said.
“The Cuban Missile Crisis had a tremendous significance for our community and U.S. history,” said Baker principal Sean Gallagan, who worked with the National Park Service for almost two years to coordinate the missile’s transportation and the restoration work. “This is a unique opportunity for our students to be part of history.”
The revelation on Oct. 14, 1962, that the Soviet Union was placing missiles in Cuba created a sudden crisis for the superpowers. Tensions escalated to the point that the United States raised the readiness state of its military forces to DEFCON 2, one step short of imminent nuclear war. After 13 days of intense negotiations, the Soviets agreed to withdraw their weapons in exchange for President John F. Kennedy’s promise never to invade Cuba and a secret agreement that Washington would withdraw its Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Italy.
The crisis prompted the Army to build missile bases to defend the continental United States from enemy attacks. Four were in Florida, among them one in the Everglades National Park. From 1962 until 1979, when they were deactivated, Nike missiles stood ready to protect South Florida.
“This is the first original piece of equipment to return to the base,” said Ryan Meyer, the Everglades National Park ranger who oversees the Nike site. He said the Army agreed to donate the missile to be exhibited in South Florida because “since they were the last to be shut down and dismantled, they remain almost intact.”
Donations from various organizations made the project possible. The South Florida National Parks Trust funded the $9,500 needed to truck the missile from Alabama to Miami and, once it has been refurbished, to the base in Everglades National Park. The George T. Baker Aviation School received donations from American Airlines and other aeronautics industry companies to cover the nearly $20,000 cost of parts and tools, including a special cart to unload the missile from the truck.
Both Gallagan and Meyer agree that restoring the missile will be a priceless experience for the students.
“Imagine! We’re going to work with a missile!” said Lyle Kirkland, a 30-year-old student in the program that trains fuselage and propeller technicians. “I want to work at NASA or at Boeing, so for me this is a dream.”
The repairs will be done by high school and technical students who will dismantle the missile, rebuild its propulsion system, repair the broken or corroded metal parts, repaint it and re-create its identification markings.
“The fact that we only have two months to finish the work makes it even more fun,” said Gallagan. “It’s a challenge for us.”
The missile must be ready in time to mark the 50th anniversary of the missile crisis at Everglades National Park. It will be exhibited next to another Nike missile lent by the Golden Gate National Recreational Area in California, which had also a base during the Cold War. Beginning Nov. 12, the public will be able to view the missiles and a former launch silo.
“The missile will be exhibited in the area of the original launch site, but this time it will be only to teach history lessons — and not to attack the enemy,” Meyer said.