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The Missiles of October: The 50th Anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis
Many Americans wondered if a fate of nuclear annihilation awaited them during the nerve-fraying Cuban Missile Crisis.
AP Photo/U.S. Signal Corps
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OCTOBER IS ordinarily the month of falling leaves, pumpkins, hayrides, apple festivals, and Halloween. Fifty years ago this week, it was a month of perilous global face-offs, strained international negotiations, and the prospect of nuclear Armageddon between the U.S. and what was then the Soviet Union.
In September 1962, I had just completed combat missile training
Weeks later, on Oct. 14, an Air Force reconnaissance plane confirmed Soviet-supplied missiles in Cuba, less than 100 miles from our shores. Immediately, more reconnaissance flights were scheduled, and within two days imagery confirmed that Soviet ships were transporting Soviet nuclear-tipped medium- and intermediate-range missiles capable of striking most of the U.S. The Soviets were building missile launch sites in Cuba. The president and National Security Council were meeting daily.
The implications for us were profound. This was a new phase in the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Our Atlas ICBMs were a mainstay in the escalating tensions between the superpowers.
The Atlas had a range of more than 5,500 miles, and Plattsburgh contained the only ICBMs that could reach any part of the Soviet Union. Whenever my crew and I went on duty during the next few days, I took extra time during the missile readiness inspection to ensure that we had all systems in the advanced "Go" position.
The Atlas was the first and only ICBM in the U.S. arsenal at that time. It had proved its mettle by placing our first astronauts in space, beginning with John Glenn. Now with a potential nuclear conflict looming, there were 145 Atlas missiles across the U.S. capable of meeting the Soviet threat. Their internal guidance systems had proved to be extraordinarily accurate during tests conducted over the Pacific missile test range.
As the days passed, an international confrontation became certain. Extensive back-channel communication