Cold War Traces Linger in New Jersey

22 12 2008

missleHACKENSACK, N.J. – The last defense against a Soviet nuclear attack was in the backyards of North Jersey.

Tucked behind Gary’s Wine Marketplace on Route 23 north in Wayne are 32 acres owned by Passaic County that were once home to a missile base and now stand as a relic to the Cold War era.

Through the height of the Cold War, from 1955 to 1963, 14 Nike missile batteries were nestled in suburban communities throughout the state, at the ready to fire against any Soviet bomber that might have dodged the U.S. Air Force’s interceptors and headed toward New York City.

Additional sites were control areas where radar stations kept watch for a Soviet attack.

“In these leafy suburban towns, they were actually the very tangible manifestations of the international Cold War tensions,” said Donald E. Bender, a marketing consultant in Livingston who has researched the New Jersey’s Nike missile bases for the past 15 years.

His expertise has been tapped by a variety of U.S. military branches and landed him appearances on national television.

Most of the site installations have gone the way of Bergen County’s two former sites: either redeveloped into luxury housing, like the former launcher site that was nestled in the woods of Mahwah, or picked up by a local government, like old radar station buildings that are now Bergen County’s horseback riding center in Franklin Lakes.

At the former missile site in Wayne, asphalt now covers the three 25-foot-deep missile magazines that each housed 10 Nike Ajax surface-to-air missiles. It’s now a parking area for Passaic County’s Para-Transit jitneys.

But the single-story cinderblock building that was an Army barracks is still standing and is home to the county’s Mosquito Control Division, a Weight and Measures office and other departments.

The entrance is still marked by a steel gate, barbed wire and a security guard’s shack – presumably where a guard acting as Checkpoint Charlie made sure that only U.S. Army or Army Reserve personnel were admitted.

The structures hearken back to the 1950s, when schoolchildren were taught to “duck and cover” beneath their desks to protect against an atomic bomb blast, and the Soviets’ Sputnik satellite struck fear and awe in Americans as it orbited the Earth for a few months in 1957.

Jerry Pluhar, a 72-year-old driver for Passaic County Meals on Wheels who now gets his daily driving assignments in the old Army barracks, said he remembered the Cold War era, but he didn’t know the place where he got his daily driving assignment was a part of its history.

The military wanted to build the launcher sites in a circle about 25 miles from the center of New York City’s Central Park, and situate them to provide overlapping coverage for the metropolitan area, Bender said.

The ideal sites for the launcher areas were expansive and had soil with little rock. Elevated places were sought for the radar stations.

Salem and Maha Abugosh were surprised to learn that their home in The Ridge at Wayne development near Alps and Ratzer roads was on a former Nike control site where three radar towers once stood. One tower scanned the skies over Manhattan, another would have been fixed on an enemy aircraft and the third would have tracked the missiles deployed from the launcher base near Route 23, Bender said.

The Nike Ajax missiles kept at the Wayne base were nonnuclear and akin to those that shot down U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers over the Soviet Union in 1960.

(News Source:Paul Brubaker, The Record)

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