Until Friday, Kim Kline of west Orange County had a Cold War-era Pershing I missile sitting his backyard.
In the backyard of his west Orange home, Kim Kline prepares his deactivated Pershing I missile Friday for transport to a war memorial in Missouri. (JOE BURBANK, ORLANDO SENTINEL / January 29, 2010)
Built by the Martin Marietta Corp. near Orlando more than 40 years ago, the 33-foot missile — yes, it's deactivated — is now on its way to Missouri, where it will be refurbished and displayed for 10 years at a war memorial.
When it returns a decade from now, Kline hopes to find it a new home in Central Florida.
"That's where it was manufactured," said Kline of the missile that had been rusting in his yard in three pieces for about four years. "That's where it belongs."
Kline is not a military man. He's a surveyor who acquired this piece of Central Florida's history after he saw it sitting by the road in front of a Veterans of Foreign Wars post east of Orlando.
He was told that the missile was going to be scrapped.
"I said, 'Somebody ought to do something with that rocket,' " Kline said.
So he did. Kline loaded the missile, one piece at a time, onto a trailer and brought it home.
The Pershing missile was once a key piece of the U.S. defense arsenal. A midrange surface-to-air missile, it was capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Most of the rockets in the Pershing class were destroyed in the late 1980s, after the 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
In the 1960s, Kline's Pershing I missile was displayed in front of the downtown offices of the Orlando Sentinel. The newspaper later donated the missile to VFW Post 4287 on Goldenrod Road, according to the post's commander, Gary Near.
Near said the missile was set to be scrapped because the post needed to have a new septic tank installed, and the Pershing was in the way.
When he asked about the missile, Kline received a response more appropriate for a junked car than a defunct missile: If you can tow it, it's yours. Kline jumped at the opportunity to own a relic from Central Florida's past.
Before Disney came to town, Central Florida was known for its defense-technology industry.
Martin Marietta Corp., part of the present-day conglomerate Lockheed Martin, came to Central Florida in the 1950s.
The company was an industrial giant in the region for decades, employing thousands. Kline sees the missile as a reminder of a vital part of the area's history.
However, Kline was unable to find anyone who felt strongly enough to foot the bill to refurbish and display the relic.
Jeff Stanford, media-relations director for the Orlando Science Center, still remembers the day Kline called and offered the center a missile.
"It wasn't feasible for us," Stanford said.
Kline eventually widened his search area significantly. When family in Missouri told him about a war memorial with expansion plans, Kline found his match.
He negotiated a deal. The Special Operations Plaza memorial in Jackson, Mo., would restore the missile in exchange for the rights to display it for 10 years.
"It'll look just like it did when it came off the assembly line," promised Kenny Pohlman, an assistant to the memorial's owner who made the long drive to Florida to get the missile.
On Friday, with a winch and some chains, Pohlman dragged the rocket onto his trailer. It will be in Missouri before the weekend is out.
Kline knows that if he can't find a local benefactor, his missile may never return from Missouri.
"If nobody down here wants it, it'll have a permanent home," Pohlman said.
Jeff Weiner can be reached at email@example.com