For some reason I get obsessed with little things from time to time. I was looking at Google Maps while doing my pieces about Peck Park and Point Fermin Park for LAist in July and noticed these missile sites at the end of Western Ave. in San Pedro.
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It floored me because I grew up in the area and I had no idea about the missile site. The Sunken City? Yes. Fort McArthur? Yes. But missiles that had the capabilities of carrying nuclear warheads? Au contraire, mon frère.
So I went to the White Point Nature Preserve that contains the site. The launch site is in complete disrepair, although with a little imagination it’s possible to see the missile launch and shoot down an enemy.
Also on the site is a battery named after Paul D. Bunker, a halfback and tackle for the Army football team in 1899-1902. A college football All-American in 1901 and 1902, Bunker had a 40-year military career that sent him to the Philippines, Panama and New York. He was stationed at Fort MacArthur in 1937 before heading back to Corregidor in the Phillipines in 1940.
It was at Corregidor that General Douglas MacArthur (the son of Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur for whom Fort MacArthur was named) recognized Bunker before leaving the Philippines. Bunker, at the age of 61, was captured when the Allied Forces were defeated in the Battle of Corregidor and died as prisoner of war in Taiwan.
What made Bunker transcendent was his determination during the surrender of Corregidor. When ordered to burn the American flag by General Jonathan Wainwright to prevent it from getting into Japanese hands, Bunker cut off a patch and hid it in his shirt. Before he died, Bunker tore a piece of the flag and gave it to Colonel Delbert Ausmus and commanded him to give it to the Secretary of War.
Ausmus hid the piece and after the war handed it Secretary Patterson in 1945. Patterson unveiled it during Flag Day in 1946 and it is on display in the West Point museum.
Meanwhile Bunker died clutching the other piece and was cremated with it in his hands. Bunker was honored by having the Battery in San Pedro named after him and was inducted into the college football hall of fame in 1969.
It really was amazing to walk through the trails amongst the serenity of flora and ocean and see the evidence of cold violence. The Nike missile site was built in 1955 and was decommissioned in 1974. Although the site is rusted due to disuse, it is probably the most intact site in Southern California.
After checking this out, I decided to head a little bit east on Paseo del Mar to the Korean Friendship Bell. After you walk past the bell, there is still evidence of some sort of bunkers or batteries from Fort MacArthur. That prompted a walk to the fort to peek around.
Anyhow it was really fascinating to walk around and see the remnants of the coastal defense. None of the walking around was all that difficult, but it is advisable to watch out for the seagulls when your mouth is wide open in awe.