Veterans Corner: Cuban Missile Crisis, part I
By Jesse Church
Aloha all my fellow veterans and residents of Molokai, old Jesse here with all the news and upcoming events. The date was October 1962, 53 years ago, and a part of American history unfolded between the two superpowers of the world, the U.S. led by President John F. Kennedy, and the Soviet Union led by their chairman Nikita Khrushchev. The island of Cuba was led by Fidel Castro, who took power in 1959 by overthrowing the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. But Castro’s part in the Cuban Missile Crisis was not a big one because Khrushchev kempt him in the dark throughout the crisis. You don’t hear about it often anymore, but I do believe it’s an important part of our history and should not be forgotten, and also one that at least one Molokai veteran was involved in.
We are talking about nuclear war here, what many reporters called a game of “nuclear chicken” played by Kennedy and Khrushchev, and they had the power to turn planet Earth into a nuclear wasteland. So how did they get into this situation? Khrushchev was secretly building missile bases on Cuba; the Soviet army had already secretly deployed short range nuclear missiles into East Germany and how they wanted to do the same thing in Cuba. But American military intelligence aircraft (U-2s) which operated at an altitude of 70,000 feet, had photographic evidence of their deceptions.
On Oct. 16 1962, the first meeting of Executive Committee of the National Security Council, or EXCOMM, was held and Kennedy was told of the missile threat. For the next week, the President and his advisors worked long hours going over all available actions and possible reactions from the Soviet Union. The military prepared for war, and Kennedy told the American people of the crisis and his action plan. The threat of war was very real during the week of Oct. 22, when the President went on national TV and told Americans he planned a Naval blockade and informed Khrushchev that he must remove the missiles from Cuba and that Kennedy was prepared to back it up with military action, in his now-famous speech.
Everyone was on pins and needles not knowing what would happen, and most people I spoke to that week thought we were headed for nuclear war and that doomsday was fast approaching. I think Kennedy did the right thing not to let on to Khrushchev that the U.S. knew what was going on in Cuba until he had a plan of action.
So that Monday morning, Kennedy’s crisis team began final preparations to defend the decision to answer Khrushchev’s nuclear initiative with a naval blockade of Cuba. Kennedy summoned a special congressional delegation of eight senators and seven senior congressmen to the cabinet at the White House and informed them of the situation. While Khrushchev at the Kremlin assembled the members of the Presidium, the sole agenda item was determining further actions with Cuba or Berlin. The Kremlin was still confused over which Cold War crisis was about to erupt. Look for Part II of this story in two weeks.
I love all the men, women and children of Molokai, you are all my family, have a great week.