HECKER, Ill. — The 14-acre Nike missile base just south of Hecker stands as a monument to a war that America won decisively, but which now is vanishing rapidly in the common memory.
Tall weeds, flowers and young trees cover much of the area around what was once known as Hecker SL-40, the site that encompasses three underground bunkers that formerly housed Nike anti-aircraft missiles.
During the Cold War's peak, the soldiers stationed at the site were trained to fire the Nike missiles with their 1,100-pound warheads at Soviet jet bombers en route to targets in the St. Louis region.
The Nike missiles — which weighed five tons apiece and were as long as school buses (41 feet) were prepped to launch only once — in October 1963, during the darkest days of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Army shut down the missile site in 1969 after a decade, then turned it over to the Career Center of Southern Illinois, formerly the Beck Vocational Center. The school offered an auto body and diesel repair course in one of the 5,000-square-foot bunkers.
But the career center moved that program more than 20 years ago -- soon after the Soviet Union's collapse, an event that signaled the Cold War's official end.
Now the time has come to sell the old missile site, said Mark Stuart, the career center director.
"We just felt it was time to put it on the market to see what type of interest is out there for buyers and basically use the funds as a cushion and reserve for our school and programs," Stuart said.
The Nike Hercules bunker complex features operational elevator pads, a shop, a pump house and a generator building.
Interest in the old Nike site has been proven unexpectedly strong since word got out that the career center was planning to auction it off, according to Stuart.
The website for Buy A Farm and Auction Co. LLC, of Sparta, has received 175,000 hits from interested parties across the nation and around the world on its website, buyafarm.com.
Potential buyers have expressed an interest in turning the site into an industrial storage facility, a military museum and even as a home for survivalists, Stuart said.
"Another question is using it as a pot farm," said Wayne Keller, the broker for Buy A Farm handling the sale. Illinois has legalized medical marijuana.