Monday, May 15, 2006
Earth "On The Brink"..........
The Cuban Missile Crisis
October 18-29, 1962
I was just an airman, another enlisted worker bee stationed at Strategic Air Command’s 43rd Bombardment Wing (Medium). That and the 7th Bombardment Wing (Heavy) shared Carswell AFB at Fort Worth, Texas, whose airplane was the (even then) venerable old B-52.
Ours was the crash-plagued mighty go-faster called the B-58 Hustler, the four-engine delta wing whose top speed was classified, although the government would only admit to Mach 2. In truth, it would fly much faster, but the real top-end figure never really got out. A telling feature was the fact that its only gun, a really fast-firing Gatling model, was at the rear and could put up a wall of lead faster than a fly can get itself airborne. Still, when I encountered someone from the 7th Bomb Wing, they’d kid around about how they intended to paint the B-58s yellow and use them as entrance stands for the B-52s. Those 7th Bomb Wing guys were such clever punsters.
Things were fairly quiet during those years, for the most part. Viet Nam had yet to really heat up, thus the radical hippie protesters hadn’t slithered onto the scene. But late one Monday afternoon, while we “intellectual” airmen were watching the Three Stooges on TV in the dayroom, President Kennedy appeared, interrupting the show. This of course caused a lot of booing and hissing, and attempts to change the channel to something else.
But there was nothing else; Kennedy was on every channel then offered over the North Texas airways. Realizing that this must be something important, we listened to our commander-in-chief as he explained the crisis of major proportions that we faced at that moment. We were all moving when he signed off, and as soon as he did so, every telephone in the barracks started ringing. I let someone else answer them, because it didn’t take a genius to figure that the callers were the section chiefs calling to tell us to get to our assigned duty stations. I changed to my fatigues and double-timed it to the flight line.
One thing that usually happened during an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI, a.k.a. “alert”) was that there would always be technical problems and SNAFUs that kept the aircraft from making it to scramble status on time. Some would, but the performance was generally terrible, and it must have frustrated Wing HQ quite a bit.
But not this time; this was for real. What was really amazing was that each and every Hustler on the line went up and was certified ready to fly on time. And fly they did, with real nukes and their fail-safe orders on board; no play-acting this time. Our information was that the USA was at DefCon2, and that the next step up was all-out war. Subsequent reports have since confirmed that the October Missile Crisis was the absolute closest the USA got to all-out nuclear war during the Cold War.
The world knows what happened next, of course. Kruschev blinked and Kennedy prevailed. There are some bloggers on the Internet today claiming that Kennedy made plenty of mistakes, and of course hindsight is 20/20. Joint Chiefs member General Curtis LeMay, among others, was convinced that the president had not come close to handling the situation correctly and was pushing hard for an invasion. It was later discovered that there were several tactical nukes on the island, and LeMay’s desired invasion would’ve resulted in catastrophic losses. As far as I was concerned, President Kennedy kept us out of war and got the missiles out of Cuba, and life went on.