TwHP Lessons

Alaska's Site Summit: Cold War Defense and its Legacy in the North

Site Summit watches over Anchorage and the Cook Inlet
(Photo by Laura Turner, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)

top Mount Gordon Lyon, nearly 4,000 feet above the city of Anchorage, Alaska, the wind howls above 120 miles per hour, snow drifts 10 feet high, dirt and rocks blow hard enough to cause damage to anything man-made, and the terrain is rugged and desolate. In the midst of this disagreeable environment stands a reminder of the people who sacrificed their comforts to protect their country during the Cold War: Site Summit.

Nike Hercules was a nationwide ground-based anti-aircraft missile system that protected the U.S. during the Cold War. One of the three Nike sites in Anchorage, Site Summit, stood guard over Anchorage from 1959 to 1979. The site operated 24/7 and it was one of the few Nike sites in the United States to remain operational through the entire twenty years that the Nike Hercules system was in use.

Site Summit is a testament to engineering ingenuity in the face of tremendous challenges to its construction: isolation, difficult access, high winds, extremely cold temperatures, and raging snow storms presented a challenge to those constructing Site Summit and those who served there. Today, it is one of the best-preserved Nike sites and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
  1. Map 1: Nike-Hercules Sites in Alaska
  2. Map 2: Site Summit

Determining the Facts: Readings

  1. Reading 1: The United States Enters the Cold War
  2. Reading 2: The Cold War in Alaska
  3. Reading 3: Site Summit Standing Guard

Visual Evidence: Images
  1. Photo 1: Moving the Hercules missiles into launch position
  2. Photo 2: Guarding the Nike-Hercules missiles
  3. Photo 3: Men inside a radar van
  4. Photo 4: Site Summit Missile Firing Spectators, circa 1960-1964
  5. Photo 5: Soldier Replacing Light Bulbs on the Christmas Star
  6. Photo 6: The Star on the Mountain

Putting It All Together: Activities
  1. Exhibiting Life at a Nike Site
  2. Recording Memories of the Cold War
  3. Competing Ideologies

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This lesson is based on Site Summit, a historic district in Anchorage, Alaska. It is among the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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