The NIKE Missile Base in Coventry: Part 3
The third and final installment of the series documenting the existence of an actual missile base right here in Coventry.
Both men recalled the incredible tension that gripped our country during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1961. The center of attention was focused on the possibility of offensive missiles being launched from Soviet built and controlled launch pads in Cuba but if diplomacy failed it was likely that swarms of Soviet bombers would have flown towards predetermined targets, including Providence and the Quonset navy base.
George Viens and others assigned to the Coventry NIKE site along with his counterparts across RI and beyond stood ready, at the highest level of alert, waiting and wondering if and when they might receive the ominous order to launch their missiles against inbound Soviet bombers. The anxiety must have been almost intolerable but the men could not even tell their wives anything more than what was being told to the US population by President Kennedy.
When asked what was running through their mind and if they thought the order to fire would be issued both men paused and concurred that they truly felt our country was on the brink of nuclear war. Fortunately for all of us, that possibility didn’t result in a nuclear exchange but had the alert been given the men would have done their duty without hesitation.
The Coventry launch site was abandoned in the mid 1960s principally because advanced technology replaced the non-nuclear AJAX missiles with nuclear-tipped Hercules missiles. Bristol and North Smithfield NIKE sites became retrofitted with those nuclear missiles but by the 1970s those sites were also closed.
Now at the former launch site all that remains are a few boarded up, non-descript buildings and the shell of the former guard shack along with a welded closed steel bulkhead which used to lead down to the underground bunkers. A chain link fence which used to surround the site is in disrepair and there is no discernable evidence of the ominous history of the site. Viens said that the actual launch pad where missiles would have been sent on their one-way journey is now where the baseball field is located.
At the former control center on Read School House Road, radar masts continue to spin. Now under control of the Air National Guard, the mission of men stationed there still involves monitoring radar screens but long gone are the AJAX missiles and the link with the nearby NIKE base at the top of Provident Way.