- Michael Barnes American-Statesman Staff
Reader Gary Hamilton wrote us regarding our newspaper’s Austin Answered project: “I just finished the latest Harlan Coben book, ‘Don’t Let Go.’ Missile sites from the Cold War era play a central role. I Googled ‘Nike missile sites’ and, if Wikipedia is to be believed, there are several former sites around Austin.”
Indeed, there are.
“In the 1960s, Austin was considered a target for the Communists,” wrote American-Statesman reporter Denise Gamino in 2001. “The bull’s-eye was Bergstrom Air Force Base, home to huge B-52 bombers of the Strategic Air Command. Twelve Nike missiles were based southeast of Bergstrom. Another dozen were nestled in the hills west of Austin off Bee Cave Road. The 40-foot Nikes kept a low profile except when the occasional drills kicked them into launch position.”
On a hill near Bee Cave and St. Stephens School roads, the Army also operated a radar station for the Nike missile site that was located on Crystal Creek Drive.
As usual, Gamino shared the human story behind the history. She talked to Rodney Patterson, who grew up next to the Bee Cave Road site and whose father’s wood-chopping operation was crippled by it, and Ella Ross, whose father’s cattle ranch was chopped up to make space for the Bergstrom site. She also interviewed Dan Mathews, who had been assigned to that Nike site as a young enlisted Army man.
Mathews suspected that some of the missiles were outfitted with nuclear warheads, a fact confirmed by historian Christopher Bright.
“The only time it ever got tense down there was during the (1962) Cuban missile crisis, ” Matthews said. “We were fully staffed and working around the clock.”
GET UP TO SPEED: Check out other Austin Answered stories arising from readers’ questions: