Thursday, October 18, 2012

Memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis

The 50th anniversary of what is now called the Cuban Missile Crisis is upon us.  During that 13-day confrontation, Oct. 16-28. 1962, between the United States and the Soviet Union, the world came to the brink of a nuclear disaster.

A group of women from 'Women Strike for Peace' demonstrate against the Cuban Missile Crisis on 47th Street near the United Nations building in Manhattan, 1962. Credit:

The crisis began when it was discovered the Cuban and Soviet governments were secretly erecting launch sites for medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear capable of striking most of the continental United States.

Anyone living then and old enough to remember probably can recall those scary days. I remember the night President Kennedy went on television to inform the American people of the crisis. I was spending the night with one of my cousins, and after sitting in front of the TV I certainly remember how concerned the adults in the room were. I was scared; I want to go home to my parents.

President John F. Kennedy prepares for his speech to the nation and the world in October 1962 about the USSR's placement of missiles in Cuba, a mere 90 miles from the coast of Florida. Photo Credit:

But I don’t even recall calling up my parents on the telephone, or them calling me. Times were different then; you didn't just get in the car at 9 p.m. and drive 5-6 miles, even in an impending national crisis.

All of a sudden previous secrets whispered by young girls to each other about clothes, boys and the upcoming football game were superseded by conversations such as “Are you afraid?” and “Are you asleep yet?” which were answered with “Yes, are you?” and “No, I can’t sleep; I want to go home.”

People praying for peace during Cuban Missile Crisis in Illinois. Credit:

I think we grew up a little that night. Realized that the world could be a scary place. That our parents couldn't protect us from everything.

We were children of the Cold War era. We practiced “Duck and Cover” in grade school. We were issued dog tags in 4th grade but probably didn't fully comprehend why (reason: to identify our bodies in the event of a nuclear attack).

I still have my dog tags. I recall we really enjoyed wearing them, that is, until the newness wore off. Their main purpose for us: we exchanged them with the guy who was our “boyfriend,” kind of like a precursor to wearing the class ring of the guy you were dating as teenagers, or in the generation before mine, getting "pinned," i.e., wearing the guy's fraternity pin. (Do high schoolers still even buy class rings anymore?)

My dog tags from the Cold War era

But back to the anniversary: We watched the movie “Thirteen Days” a couple of nights ago. There are similarities in that time to today's world situation, and I hope the way the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved will be instructive to leaders today. President Kennedy’s generals wanted to push him into a confrontation in Cuba with the Soviet Union, but he resisted. And thank goodness he did. Diplomacy, even the backdoor type, worked. A devastating war that would have cost millions their lives was averted. And we lived to see another day.

If you were born, and old enough to remember, what are your memories of those days in mid-October 1962?


  1. My family thought it was a scary time, but they had absolute faith in President Kennedy. Or at any rate they convinced us not to be too afraid. We never had dog tags; this is the first time I ever heard of such a thing for students. So cute that you still have yours!

  2. The issuance of our dog tags were likely the initiative of some local Civil Defense group (I'm guessing) since it apparently was a nationally mandated thing. Yes, it was scary and the closest we've ever been to a nuclear war.

  3. I was a young married at the time. It was frightening. I have a lot of memories of the Kennedy years, both the wonderful parts and the tragedies.



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