Based on presentations by the Chatsworth Historical Society.
Edited October 2022 by the Nike Historical Society.
Background: The Cold War
The Cold War, between the
Communist World (the Soviet Union and its
allies) and the Western World (the United
States and its allies), lasted from 1946 to
1991. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
During this period of political, military and
economic conflict, various strategies were
undertaken by the United States to defend
against a nuclear attack delivered by aircraft.
Nike Missile bases were the last line of defense in a chain that included sea and land based aircraft.
Nike sites were initially armed in 1953 with Nike Ajax missiles. Ajax could only be armed with
conventional explosives and were developed to stop enemy aircraft. Ajax missiles were replaced by
Nike Hercules in 1958. Hercules could be armed with conventional or
nuclear warheads. Nuclear warheads made the Nike system capable of stopping a squadron of
enemy aircraft with a single Hercules missile.
Nike Missile Bases
Nike Missile Site LA-88, Chatsworth
Oat Mountain, the location of Site LA-88, towers
over the San Fernando Valley and provides visibility
in all four directions, including far out into the Pacific
It was the last of the scheduled 16 Los Angeles
Nike sites to be completed due to the rugged terrain
and only one usable road through Browns Canyon.
Construction difficulties leveling a mountain peak
and also digging into the ground for the three
missile magazines caused delays.
The site was completed and became operational on
August 26, 1956.
It was decommissioned in 1974 and was one of the last
sites defending the Los Angeles area.
Below are 2018 Google Earth 3D images of the three LA-88 Sites (Administration, Launcher, and Integrated Fire Control).
Lt Col. Robert Fowler with Rev. Charles
Hughes and church members Mr. & Mrs.
John S. Whitmer shoot a scene for the Nike
Hercules Missile Film at the newly
completed First Baptist Church on De Soto.
The film will be part of a video series
called Big Picture with a
world premiere to be held in Chatsworth,
site of the missile base.
Honorary Mayor Roy Rogers was host to the film
company and Army officers for scenes taken at his
Chatsworth ranch. Participants were Rogers, his
daughters Dodie and Debbie, and dog Bullet Jr.
Mrs. LaVerne Lee, long-time principal of
Chatsworth Park Elementary School and pupils Raymond
Vincent and Nancy Ferrell were chosen for scenes at
Scenes also were filmed with Al Brain, Ben
Boydsten, Gaston Coke and George Schoell.
The United States Army Pictorial Service film
Big Picture, Episode 439, Nike Hercules- A Reality,
partly filmed in Chatsworth and at the Chatsworth Nike site, is available on YouTube.
The film includes interviews and scenes from
LA-88. It also includes quotes from Ben
Boydsten, past Chamber president; LaVerne
Lee, the Chatsworth Park Elementary School
Principal; Al Brain, owner of the 5¢
& 10¢ and the Horn Inn; Reverend
Charles Hughes and Honorary Mayor Roy
The film's 1959 release sheet reads:
More documentary than drama is this episode which tells a straightforward story about Battery C and its Hercules' site in Chatsworth, California. Here is a clear-cut explanation of the operational efficiency of the Nike Hercules missile which is geared for the protection of the American continent. As explained in this film, Hercules is the nation's latest answer to any threatened attack and the best answer to any question about the Army's readiness. It's America's only missile system which has become an operational reality. Chatsworth, like so many suburban communities in the Los Angeles area, actually falls within the outer limits of the City and enjoys many of the services of this great urban center. In Chatsworth one will find most of the things which ensure its growth as a modern, progressive town. One will find something else--a small patch of sand and concrete high in the hills above the town, where men of the Army Air Defense Command work day and night to make sure that Chatsworth continues to grow in peace and freedom.
While aiming for objectivity throughout, the gratitude of the townspeople to the missile men of the nearby Hercules' site is best expressed by Roy Rogers, TV cowboy star and Honorary Mayor of Chatsworth when he says, "I can only express what I think most of the town feels -- our thanks."
Growing Up n the 1950s and '60s with the Threat of a Nuclear Attack
Duck and Cover Drills were practiced at schools across the
nation to help students survive nuclear explosions. They continued
past the 60s as standard practice for earthquake and other
disaster protection procedures.
Fallout Shelters were enclosed spaces
specially designed to protect occupants from
radioactive debris or fallout from
Many such shelters were constructed as civil
defense measures during the Cold War. They were
built underground or within existing basements
Duck and Cover video (1951, 9 minutes)
The film Duck and Cover was funded by the US Federal Civil Defense Administration. Released in January 1952,
it taught kids what to do in the event of a nuclear explosion. Duck and Cover is available online at
Chatsworthhistory.com>Digital Archives>Presentations>Nike Missile Base History
or on YouTube at the ChatswortHistory1 channel.
A description of LA-88 from crewman Greg Brown, 1968-1971
Greg recently reached out [March 2022?] to the Chatsworth Historical Society, as he
noticed that we had posted an article on LA-88
on our website.
Greg was stationed at LA-88 from 1968 to 1971
as a Nike Hercules Fire Control Crewman, and
shared with us what life was like at the site.
LA-88 was part of our Air Defense system for the
Los Angeles area from 1956-1974.
Today Greg lives in the SF Bay area and
interprets, along with many
other Nike Missile Veterans from the Bay Area, for the National Park Service
Historic Nike Site SF-88, at the Marin
Headlands in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Excerpts from Greg Brown’s Nike Biography
On arrival in October 1968, there were no
open Nike crewmen positions, so I worked as a
dining room orderly and a cook. When positions
became available, I worked as an elevation
tracking radar operator, acquisition radar
operator and generator operator. During that
time, the site experienced floods in '69, The
Clampitt fire, that burned completely over our
Nike Site, on Sept 25, 1970, and the Sylmar
earthquake in '71.
There were approximately 100 individual
soldiers assigned to a Nike site. There were
two main classifications, Radar Crewman, MOS
16C, referred to as a “Scope Dope”
or if you were a Launcher Crewman, you were a
“Pit Rat” MOS 16B. There are three main
areas to a Nike Missile Site.
Area, which is the most secure, because the
missiles were stored there. That area had roving armed guards with
IFC (Integrated Fire Control Area), where the
Search and Tracking Radars were, usually on top
of a hill.
Administration area, which included the barracks (living
quarters), mess hall, supply room,
administrative offices, and telephone
switchboard operator room.
The daily routine was to do maintenance on
the system, either radars or missiles,
depending on where you worked. Other duties
were guard duty, which was done around the
clock, kitchen police (KP), mowing weeds,
cleaning, painting, and other duties as
required. The Army’s job was to keep you
There were regular “drills”
called ORE (Organizational Readiness
Evaluation) that were simulated nuclear attacks
and drills with the Air Force called RBS (Radar
Bomber Scores) where Air Force aircraft
attempted to penetrate our air defense area.
They would try to jam our radars but we usually
In this type of warfare, there is a lot of
electronic jamming known as ECM (Electronic
We were always testing our systems to be
better than the Soviets.
Although we were Army, we were part of Air
Force NORAD, (North American Aerospace Defense
Command), Headquartered at Cheyenne Mountain,
Colorado. Then the regional Air Force SAGE
(Semi Automatic Ground Environment)
Headquarters at Norton AFB, then the Army Air
Defense Command Post (ADDCAP) at Fort Mac
Arthur. All of the above listed locations were
part of the NORAD computerized surveillance
network that watched the skies and tracked
aircraft in our air space. The network
consisted of the DEW line radar rings across
the Arctic Circle and Canada, along with Air
Force ground based Radar Stations and radar
planes along with Navy radar picket ships.
There were eight Nike Hercules sites in the LA
defense area during '68-'71. Four were regular
Army, four were National Guard. There were
always 25 per cent of the sites (i.e. 2 sites) that were on
“Hot Battery” status, which is a
condition of all equipment being 100%
operational with all personnel in place ready
to fire a missile in 15 minutes.
The missiles were on the launcher ready to
fire, it was 24 Hour duty and you could not
leave the site. Hot status could last from 1 to
2 weeks at a time. If another site was the Hot
Battery and their equipment failed, your
Battery would be called to become the Hot
Battery. You had two hours to do so.
The security concerns at the
time were domestic terrorists and Viet Nam war
protesters. Groups like the Weather Underground were attacking or
sabotaging military installations.
We also had to be on guard for Army security
personnel who made attempts to breach our
Our radars had a 150-mile view of Southern
California. We also had a video feed from an
Air Force Radar at Mt. Laguna that was near the
town of Julian, in northern San Diego County.
That radar had a 200-mile range, so we could
see past Catalina, the Mexican Border, and up
to Santa Barbara.
Our job was to protect the military
installations, and military and aerospace
manufacturing in Southern California from
airborne attacks. Our missile battery was near
the Rocketdyne facility in Chatsworth.
I was standing in the ready room when the
Sylmar quake hit on February 9, 1971. I saw
waves go across the floor. We checked to see if
any missiles had fallen off of their launchers
in the magazine. All 18 missiles were intact.
The most exciting time on the site was being on
the “SNAP” (Short Notice
Annual Practice) Crew. I was
picked for a position as a generator operator
on the launcher crew for the 1971 trip to Mc
Gregor Range, Ft. Bliss, Texas, to fire several
live missiles at a live drone and have our performance evaluated.
All Nike sites were required to do a yearly
“live fire” or SNAP, to show their
proficiency and be evaluated by the Army Air
Defense Command. The ideal score was 100%.
This also showed the Russians that we knew how
to use our missile system.
Those of us who served in the Army Air
Defense Command considered ourselves fortunate
to be distant from the war in Viet Nam. Many of
our peers had been there and none wanted to
The Nike Missile System was in
service in Germany and throughout
Europe, Greenland, Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan and
other countries, including 40 cities in the
continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii. It was not used in Viet
Nam, as its intended targets were high altitude
By 1974 most of the Nike
Hercules Sites were closed due to the SALT
(Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) with Russia,
and obsolescence because it had become more likely that nuclear bombs would be delivered by ICBMs rather than aircraft.
Sites in Alaska and Florida remained in
service until 1989. NATO allies Taiwan and
Italy kept their systems until 2003 and 2006.
The successor to the Nike Hercules is the
Patriot Missile system.
Filmed at LA-88 Chatsworth, air date February 12, 1961, 21 minutes
Sources and Acknowledgements
This web page is based on a presentation first shown in November
2011 by the Chatsworth Historical Society. It was created by Ann and Ray Vincent and revised November 2019 and again in March 2022. In addition to the history of Nike Missile
Base LA-88 on Oat Mountain, Chatsworth, California, it featured
Thanks to Greg Brown, Nike Hercules Crewman
at LA-88, Chatsworth, California 1968-1971, for his 2019
contributions of historical articles and
information from the era and his August
2019 Biography of his four years at LA-88. Thanks also to Greg for telling us about the Lassie
TV episode (Episode 241, 1961, 21 minutes) that was partly filmed at LA-88.