Monday, October 10, 2016

Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis ~ My column from Sunday's paper

October is a month of reflection and contemplation for me. In 1962 when I was 11 years old, a world event left an indelible brand on my young brain that I always remember this time of year.

John F. Kennedy was in the White House then and after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of
Me in grammar school
 Cuba in 1961, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to honor Cuba’s request to deploy nuclear missiles on the island which is just 90 miles from the beaches of South Florida. High-flying American U-2 spy planes photographed the installation of facilities that could launch short and intermediate range missiles with nuclear warheads and hit targets anywhere in the continental U.S. This evidence triggered a cold war chess game that could have changed the fate of the world.

The Internet was the stuff of science fiction in those days, so our family watched the drama unfold on the CBS Nightly News with Walter Cronkite.

I was in the fifth grade that year. We rode the school bus each morning, but since our community was only a few miles from the grammar school, my friends and I usually walked home on afternoons when the weather was agreeable.

Mostly we prattled about football, girls, and squirrel hunting, but during the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, our conversations were more somber, if we talked at all. The fear was palatable. You could see it in the eyes of grownups and the kids.

At first, the prevailing attitude was we should go over there and spank those “Ruskies” like a disobedient beagle, but as the story unfolded, and the implications became clearer we began to understand this situation was much bigger and scarier than we first thought. There was even talk about the end of time.

One evening as we walked in silence, I could hear the sound of drums echoing in the distance. The high school band practiced as if the world would not end at least until after the Friday night game with arch rival Cordova. That rata-tap-tapping sound echoing over the hills and through the hollows made me feel hopeful.

Families began putting back canned goods, water, and other necessities. One of the wealthier families in Dora started constructing a bomb shelter so their family could survive a Soviet attack.

Each evening when the news came on, our eyes latched onto the black and white TV screen as if it were a magnet. Even though things were tense, I don’t remember my folks having much to say about the crisis around the kids. I’m not sure if they feared they would spook us, or they couldn’t find the words. I wondered if they spoke in hushed tones after we went to bed about how we would survive if worse came to worse.

That was the longest two weeks I can ever remember. The news of an impending agreement between the U.S. and the Soviets lifted our spirits.

That October was an unforgettable time in my life.

It’s the time I understood how dangerous the world could be.

It was humbling to realize that a misplayed pawn in the high-stakes chess match could have ended much differently.


  1. i do remember the drills we went through in school, if the US was attacked.

  2. I think that we need to be reminded about that misplaced pawn...

  3. The scary thing is it is still just as dangerous if not more so.
    we just don't seem to worry about it the same. Perhaps we are just numb to it as there is little we can do about it but pray for sanity around the world. I do remember those days.

  4. I remember my parents talking and my mom had a suitcase packed ready to hightail way up north. I watched some documentaries on it and there is a great PBS show called something like The Dead. Anyway, they talked about this moment in time and it seems that there was a man on the Russian Sub who decided not to push the button and wait. Due to him, we are here today.

  5. I have learned about the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I do not remember it. I'm younger than you are. Nannie nannie poo poo.

    Janie, who is waaaay younger than you

  6. I'll never forget my father waking me (for school) that October morning with the dire premonition, "We're going to war." The (unacknowledged) cloak of fear we wore ... wow, it just all came back.

  7. Anonymous3:57 PM

    That's why we have to be VERY careful who we elect to play that chess game!!

  8. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis too. I was in the 9th grade. Our parents protected us at that time and I assume yours were much the same because we are from rough;y the same part of the country. I do remember seeing about the tensions on the news. It was a scary time for kids who were not sure what was going on and heard the rumblings about what might happen. The "duck and cover" drills had been over for quite some time but I also remember those. As a child I thought they were fun because we assumed our positions under our desks (like that would be any protection). I just wonder when citizens of the world will all learn to get along.

  9. I have heard of the Cuban missile crisis but really knew nothing about it so found this interesting

  10. Oh yes, what a time. I was finishing my hitch in the USAF, at a little radar site in North central Missouri. Just a few days to go and JFK extended everyone, I actually only spent 100 days, 'AT THE CONVENIENCE OF THE GOVERNMENT', That is how the orders read. OUCH. As I have said, you can jump start some memories. Thanks.


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