Whitesburg KY

The Cuban crisis 50 years ago

After the Soviets built up military forces on the communist island of Cuba, President Kennedy vowed swift response to any attacks on the United States mainland. Some of the individuals tasked with that defense were stationed at Travis Air Force Base, Calif.

This old Kentucky boy was one of the first to be put on alert as the NCOIC of the printing department. I would be deeply involved in the Cuban Crisis, printing top secret war plans and all orders moving our aircraft, equipment and personnel.

Travis’s 1501st Air Transport Wing was immediately placed on alert in response to the discovery of Soviet offensive missiles and bombers on Cuba. The mission of the Wing’s 5 transport squadrons was to airlift essential military personnel and their equipment into the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and air bases along the Gulf Coast to support a possible U.S. invasion of Cuba to forcibly remove the Soviet missiles and bombers threatening the U.S. if directed by our President.

On Oct. 21, 1962, Kennedy raised the nuclear war readiness level of the 5th Bomb Wing and Travis’s Strategic Air Command tanker force to Defense Condition 3, one level above the normal SAC readiness posture. The next day, as the crisis escalated, SAC forces were ordered to defense readiness condition 2, bringing the world closer to a global nuclear confrontation than at any time before or since.

In DEFCON 2, all available B-52 G Stratofortresses were generated to alert status, loaded with weapons, and readied for launch against targets in the Soviet Union from ground or airborne alert, including the 16 B-52G’s of Travis 5th Bomb Wing. The 916th Air Refueling Squadron generated every available KC135A Stratotanker to support the B-52 force if launched against its Soviet targets.

All SAC bomber and tanker combat crews remained close to their aircraft, ready to scramble to their aircraft to deliver nuclear retaliation against the Soviet Union in the event a Soviet missile in Cuba was launched against the U.S. mainland.

On Oct. 25, the U.S. requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. In the Caribbean Sea, U.S. warships intercepted Soviet Bloc ships bound for Cuba and checked for additional shipments of offensive missiles and bombers .

U. S. Navy blockage ships narrowly averted a nuclear exchange when they intercepted a Soviet, diesel-powered submarine which was armed with a nuclear-tipped torpedo. Tensions increased further Oct. 27, when a Soviet commander in Cuba ordered an SA-2 surface-toair missile battery to shoot down a V-2 plane.

The U. S. and Soviet Union secretly pursued a diplomatic solution to avoid an imminent nuclear war via letters and radio broadcasts. The Soviets agreed to withdraw Soviet offensive missiles and bombers from Cuba in exchange for the U.S. secretly removing its missiles from Italy and promising not to invade Cuba. This agreement ended the crisis.

The negotiated agreement prevented a nuclear war and resulted in the Hotline Agreement, which established a Moscow- Washington hotline to allow U.S. and Soviet leaders to confer directly in any future crisis.

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