Honoring and Preserving a Cold War Legacy
When passing through the idyllic and peaceful countryside around Lumberton, New Jersey, one would never expect to come across a fearsome relic of the Cold War. Yet, until recently, just outside of town, were the remains of a Nike missile battery built in 1956 and designated with the catchy name PH-23/25.
In the 1950’s and 60’s the army built these batteries around major cities armed with Nike surface-to-air missiles to defend them against Soviet bombers. The name PH23/25 meant that it intended to defend Philadelphia (PH). The numbers indicated that it was a double battery which functioned as two separate missile bases in one place.*
As military technology advanced, these Nike missile batteries became obsolete and most were torn down. This one survived after it was decommissioned in 1974 because it was adapted for other uses.
I’ve lived near this battery for over 30 years and always meant to photograph it one day. That day came recently when I heard that the site was slated for demolition to make way for a new local government building and a housing development.
By the time I found out about the demolition, only one of the three sections was somewhat untouched. Fortunately, it was the most interesting section, the command and control center with the remains of radar towers that many have mistakenly thought were missile silos.
This old and deteriorating base might have been a local eyesore, but it was also an important physical remnant of our nation’s history. It reminded us that, not long ago, we faced what could have been a devastating nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Growing up during the Cold War, I remember that underlying fear of a nuclear conflict.
These missile defenses, while formidable looking, probably would have done little to stop squadrons of enemy bombers or rockets with atomic warheads. When these batteries were active, it was a time when our nation, and our world, was vulnerable to unimaginable destruction.
Nike missile batteries have a place in 20th century history as some of the last defensive fortifications in the United States against an invading enemy. Just like the coastal canon batteries that were built in the 18th and 19th centuries to defend against an attack from the sea, these missile batteries were built to counter an attack from the sky.
Nike Missile Battery Radar Towers
The radar towers were often mistaken for old missile silos. They are not only the most military and unusual looking structures on the site, they are also artistic and iconic shapes.