This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. For 14 days in October of 1962, the world was on the brink of nuclear war. The U.S. armed forces were at their highest ever state of readiness. Soviet field commanders in Cuba were prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend the island, if it were attacked.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro was afraid the U.S. would again attack his island, following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. The Soviets were lagging behind the U.S. in the missile race. We had long range nuclear missiles, capable of hitting any target in the Soviet Union. However, the Soviets had only intermediate range missiles. Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev decided that placing missiles in Cuba would be a deterrent against a U.S. attack on the Soviet Union.
President John Kennedy went on nationwide TV to warn the people that nuclear missiles had been spotted by surveillance planes flying over Cuba. He showed the aerial photographs to the nation. For a few days, millions of people held their breath, fearing that nuclear missiles might start falling from the skies at any time. It all sounds like a movie plot today, but it was real back then.
I was young and not much into current events at the time and really didn’t realize the magnitude of the situation. After all, how could nuclear missiles compete with football, math tests, chemistry experiments and rock and roll music? The Yankees had just defeated the Giants in the World Series and Bear Bryant’s number one ranked Alabama team had lost to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets by 7-6.
For those who don’t remember or haven’t read their history, Kennedy set up a naval blockade of Cuba and warned Krushchev if he didn’t remove the missiles from Cuba, the U.S. would retaliate. There were many prayers and loss of sleep around America during those 14 days in October.
I used to believe that Kennedy forced Krushchev to back down, however, it was really a swap. Russia agreed to take its missiles out of Cuba in exchange for the U.S. removing its missiles from Turkey, near the Russian border. Kennedy also pledged to never attack Cuba again. At least, that’s my understanding of it all, but I’m not the best in history.
It would only be little more than a year later when President Kennedy would be assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Among the many conspiracy theories are those that have Cuban operatives retaliating against Kennedy.
All that activity took place a half century ago. Gosh, it’s hard to imagine that time passes so quickly. A baby born during the Cuban Missile Crisis is now eligible for membership in the AARP.
Since I was sort of in my own teenage world back in those days, I’d like to talk with someone who remembers those events. I’d like to speak with someone who was in the armed services at the time and hear them relate what steps were being taken and what stages of alert they were on.
I understand that the U.S. went to DEFCON 2 (defense readiness condition) at the time, the highest state of alert in our history. It means one step away from nuclear war, according to that great modern day invention, WikiPedia. We didn’t have such things back then. Our best source of current news was Walter Chronkite on CBS-TV, assuring us, “That’s the way it is!”
And Chronkite had to tell us that in black-and-white. There were no color TVs or wide screens. We watched the news on a television that was more wood than screen, which measured only about 21 inches.
If we wanted to call our friends and talk about the pending doom, we had to use a rotary dial phone. In my hometown, we were lucky to have that. It had been only a few years before that we had to pick up the receiver and talk to an operator, just like on the “Andy Griffith Show.”
I’m sure glad that Kennedy and Krushchev both blinked in time. Otherwise, none of us would be here now.
Jones is a Carrollton resident and reporter for the Times-Georgian.