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Mishawaka made missiles come home

MISHAWAKA, Ind. – South Bend and Mishawaka are known for having manufactured a lot of things, but many don’t know that includes guided missiles.

According to a former employee, in 1951 the Bendix Corporation began working on building Talos guided missiles.  The surface-to-air missiles were designed to be mounted on naval vessels and used against aircraft, they were first put to use in 1958 and were used in combat in Vietnam.

Parts were manufactured across the country, but the missiles were assembled at the Bendix plants in Mishawaka and South Bend.

"Assembly was done in the Mishawaka plant, which was originally an old furniture plant,” explained Gawain Stewart, a former Bendix employee. “A lot of dedicated work by the engineers and the people that built them, both the technical and also the hourly people."

Stewart worked in field services installing electronics and testing equipment in the missiles.  With the Cold War raging, the work at the local plants was kept hush and precautions were taken to keep Russian spies from obtaining information about the missiles, which were used to shoot down at least three planes during the Vietnam War and later to destroy radar installations.  The missiles were taken out of service in 1980; Stewart never thought he’d see one again.

“No, I figured they would all be expended,” Stewart said.

But, years ago George Murat, the Director of South Bend’s Military Honor Park and Museum, began a quest to find some Talos missiles.

“A gentleman came to me several years ago and mentioned to me there might be some to bring here to South Bend,” Murat described.  “After several letters to the Department of the Navy we did find them in Point Mugu, California.”

Four missiles were found and brought to the old Dodge Manufacturing Plant, the owner of the building donated space to store and work on the missiles.  Over the past two-and-a-half years Murat and other volunteers have painstakingly restored two of the missiles.

“They were in terrible shape when we got them, everything had to be stripped, sanded, painted,” Murat described.  “Most of the painting was done here at the Dodge Manufacturing Plant; some of it was done at a body shop on Sample Street, Floyd’s Body Shop.”

The work of restoring the missiles has been completed and soon they’ll be taken to their new home at the Military Honor Park and Museum near South Bend Regional Airport.

“We have to get this done, too many engineers and men and women that worked on them are gone,” Murat explained.  “"There's a great amount of history here, St. Joe County history, Mishawaka, South Bend, that's what's important, our history.”

Weather permitting, the two restored missiles will be transported to the Military Honor Park next Tuesday and mounted for permanent display on Wednesday.

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