I was all of ten-years-old when I really awakened to the fact that there is an actual world beyond my home country. The globes and maps represented places that do exist and that many of the people in those countries have a different point of view of my home country. I found out that a few of those countries were our blood enemies.
Until October 22nd, 1962 the ideas about other nations and enemies were just childish concepts in my young head. I knew about them and had studied them in school and understood enough about the countries that I was able to ace quizzes and exams about them during class.
On the 22nd, the U.S. Senate leaders, the public and the rest of the world were told about the presence of the Soviet Union in Cuba and the discovery of the construction of missile bases in that island nation. A naval blockade by the U.S. on Cuba was proposed by the administration. The senate had wanted air strikes, but President John F. Kennedy stood firm in the use of a blockade, exclusively.
I remember watching President Kennedy on the TV that day. It was the most serious thing I’d ever seen up to that time. Later, my teacher explained that if the President and the military made any mistakes, we would be endangered by the possibility of Russian atomic bombs blowing up cities in America. Likewise, American atomic bombs would be blowing up people in Russia.
We found out that the emergency situation had begun on October 15th when the pilot of a U2 American spy plane discovered Soviet SS4 missiles were located in Cuba. The fear of retaliation by Nikita Khrushchev and his military had tempered Kennedy’s decision to avoid using air strikes as the preliminary military action.
Mom was worried sick about the situation. We had family and friends serving in the armed services in 1962. Mom and dad were quite concerned about my uncle Larry who was serving in the U.S. Air Force. Mom called my maternal grandparents several times during the next several days that comprised the Cuban Missile Crisis. I thought hard about uncle Larry as well as dad’s friends who were sailors in the U.S. Navy.
I remember feeling immobilized and helpless as I studied the maps of the world and the Caribbean Sea. Our fourth grade class was quickly brought up to speed as to the risks and dangers of naval blockades. This was information that was normally taught to sixth graders so we felt the urgency of the nation’s emergency even more. I tried to imagine where the American and the Soviet ships might be confronting one another. It was pretty heady stuff for a ten-year-old boy.
On Thursday, dad found out that something called DEFCON Two was in effect. He explained that was the most dangerous military alert that our country had ever experienced. President Kennedy could launch attacks on Cuba and the USSR at just a moment’s notice. We all knew that Khrushchev would immediately send bombs to our country as revenge.
A couple of days later the newscasts reported that two U2 spy planes flew off course over the USSR and one of them had been shot down. This turned out to be the worst day of the entire crisis. We also found out that Nikita Khrushchev had sent a letter to President Kennedy. The message was that Russia wanted our word of honor the United States would never invade Cuba. The U.S. was also to remove our missiles from the nation of Turkey. In return, the USSR would agree to withdraw Soviet missiles from Cuba.
The Kennedy administration decided to ignore the stringent demands that Soviet leaders had announced. The following day Khrushchev made his announcement over Radio Moscow that the Soviet Union would dismantle their nuclear missiles and bases in Cuba. In doing so, the Soviet Premier prevented nuclear war.
In the aftermath, us schoolkids returned our interests to school and playground activities. The leaders of the U.S. and the USSR understood the need for better communication technology. The famous Hot Line between Washington, D.C. and Moscow was put in place. The initial efforts were made in establishing better understanding between the two superpowers.
I later wondered if the world would have been a better place had not Khrushchev been removed from power and had not Kennedy been assassinated. Could we have become friends even sooner than we eventually did?
The Blue Jay of Happiness always communicates his intentions and desires…no red-phone needed.