Veterans gather at Eagle River missile site

Live firings occurred at site during November, December from '60-'63

Posted: Monday, October 05, 2009

ANCHORAGE - A group of mysterious buildings stand silhouetted on top of Mount Gordon Lyon above Eagle River. They are what remain of a Cold War-era Army Air Defense Command Nike missile site known as Site Summit.

Around the buildings are remnants of campfires, and graffiti marks them inside and out. In one interior, a vandal painted an arrow pointing to an abandoned room, and a signifier: "bodies." There are no bodies buried in Site Summit, but there are ghosts.

"I really hated to leave Site Summit; there were a lot of ghosts up there today," said Richard Stonebraker, an Army veteran once stationed on the mountain. He visited the site during a tour for Nike veterans last month.

The buildings are remnants from the Cold War when the U.S. military intended to protect American cities from Soviet bombers through an early warning and anti-aircraft missile system.

The site is home to two facilities. The first, the Integrated Fire Control Area, is visible on top of Mount Gordon Lyon. It was once a large building that housed soldier barracks, a mess hall, offices, and the radar and control system for missile launching.

Four radars also stood close to the building, three sheltered by "clamshell" covers, which are still visible today. The second facility was a launch area located further down the mountain and mostly hidden from view.

If Russian bombers threatened Anchorage during 1959 to 1979, when the sites were active, the soldiers were prepared to launch Nike Hercules missiles to take them down. There were approximately 274 Nike Hercules batteries built in the United States to protect American cities, according to the National Park Service.

The Army built and maintained eight missile sites in Alaska: three in Anchorage and five in Fairbanks. The other Anchorage sites were across the Knik Arm, called Site Bay, and near the airport, called Site Point, which is now Kincaid Park.

The tour was organized by Friends of the Nike Site Summit on Sept. 12. Afterward, a group gathered at an Anchorage hotel to swap stories.

Veteran David Burdick worked at the launch area on Site Summit from November 1962 to November 1964. During a test launch he got to push the red button, launching a Nike missile.

"I was probably the lowest-grade enlisted man ever to do that," he said. Another veteran in the crowd spoke out, "I don't think so." Burdick laughed.

Live firings occurred at the site for four years during the months of November and December from 1960 to 1963, all for test purposes.

Since Site Summit closed, there have been ongoing efforts to save it. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

On June 17, the Army and preservation groups came to an agreement on how to move forward. The Army, the Alaska State Preservation Office, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and six other organizations that have an interest in preserving the site all signed it.

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