WYANDOTTE, Mich. – Across Metro Detroit, there are relics from the Cold War hiding in plain sight.
The Nike missile system was designed to protect major cities, like Detroit, from ballistic missiles or air attacks.
These pieces of history are nestled into quiet places that are now parks, preserves, and even the airport. They are remnants of fears mostly forgotten but now rekindled with the war in Ukraine.
Grown over sites with little signs left of the weapons housed underground to protect Metro Detroit. The area was home to 16 different sites of these tactical missiles in places like Union Lake, Rouge Park, and even Belle Isle. The missiles would be aimed at incoming nuclear bombers and later long-range nuclear missiles themselves.
There is a radio tower on Belle Isle that would get the signal of an incoming bomber and send word to Belle Isle and the missiles would launch over Detroit to intercept the incoming missile.
The idea was pretty simple. The missiles had a specific range they could cover and those ranges overlapped, making a shield of nuclear weapons to protect some of the country’s most important factories and industrial places. Responsible for creating military equipment during the Cold War.
Steve Mrozek is a historian at Selfridge Air National Guard Base Air Museum and is one of the state’s top experts on what was called Nike Ajax or Nike Hercules missiles.
The missiles in Detroit were some of the most important in the country. Not just because they protected factories and plants, but also because they were some of the closest to the Soviet Union.
By the early 1970s, the missile program was deemed obsolete after the Soviet Union stopped using bombers and started using more advanced missiles. The sites were demolished leaving little trace and sometimes none at all of the fearful armament they once housed.
The missiles could either have conventional or nuclear warheads on them and some of the 265 missile sites around the country did have nukes in people’s backyards. Mrozek said the ones in Michigan weren’t Nuclear.
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