It is the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I was in 10th grade in Richardson, Texas during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which lasted from October 16, 1962 through October 28, 1962.

U.S. reconnaissance photograph of soviet missi...

U.S. reconnaissance photograph of soviet missile sites on Cuba, taken from a Lockheed U-2 spy plane following the Cuban missile crisis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I lived 20 minutes from the site where Kennedy would be assassinated a little more than a year later.

In 10th grade in our high school, you studied American History.

And, I had a fabulous American History teacher.

A year later, she would quit teaching to marry one of the Hunt brothers.

But, that year, she taught us how to take notes in her lectures by having us outline them as she spoke.

She started by putting up an outline on the blackboard.

Then, we had to fill in the details as she lectured.

Eventually, for homework, we had to listen to three speeches, such as a sermon at church or a news broadcast, and outline them.

Later, my boyfriend borrowed my notes for a class we were both taking in college.

Though he attended few of the lectures, never took notes, and only read the book the night before an exam, he aced the class.

I got a “B.”

But, I married the boy.

I don’t remember if I took notes on Kennedy’s Cuban Missile speech.

What Was the Background Leading Up to the Crisis?

In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were at a military and diplomatic standoff known as the Cold War.

We were coming off a time after World War II when Russia, as the U.S.S.R. was commonly known, raised an “Iron Curtain” between Eastern European countries they put under their political control as satellite states and Western Europe, which was largely allied with the U.S.

The two countries, with vastly different economic and political structures (capitalism and democracy versus communism), were poised to fight World War III to keep the other from taking them over as Germany had tried to do to each of them in World War II.

Some families in the U.S. built fallout shelters, stocked with food and supplies, designed to protect them from radioactive fallout in case of a nuclear war.

Public buildings were designated as fallout shelters for those who didn’t have their own.

My family stocked our laundry room with enough food for several months because the small room had no windows.

My Mom showed me how she rotated the food into our normal supplies so it would always be fresh.

In the 1950s, our elementary school conducted regular air raid drills, in which we huddled under our desks to prepare in case of a nuclear attack.

Broken glass from exploding windows was the most immediate danger in case of a nuclear bomb.

Although the U.S. was the first country to develop nuclear weapons, ending World War II with them in 1945, Russia exploded its first nuclear device in 1949.

The game of chicken over deploying nuclear weapons against each other during the Cold War came to be known as mutually-assured destruction because if either side launched nuclear weapons, both would be wiped out.

Experts estimated each country would lose 100 million people in such a war.

Why Did Castro Agree to Russian Missiles In His Country?

In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista dictatorship in Cuba and established himself as Prime Minister, an office he held until his brother succeeded him in 2011.

Batista was in power from 1933 through 1944 as Army Chief of Staff, then President, and finally, as dictator, after a military coup in 1952, until Castro overthrew him.

In April, 1961, in an operation started under President Dwight Eisenhower, a team of 1,400 Cuban exiles, directed by a former Premier of Cuba,  trained and supported by our CIA, invaded Cuba with the intention of bringing down the Revolutionary government of Fidel Castro in an operation called the Bay of Pigs.

They were stopped within three days.

U.S. involvement was revealed when American airmen and CIA operatives were captured.  CIA Director Allen Dulles was forced to resign.

Subsequent analysis revealed that most Cubans liked Castro and would not have helped overthrow him.

Castro was a Communist and after several U.S.-backed assassination attempts and the Bay of Pigs invasion, turned to Russia for support.

Why Did Russia Think They Could Get Away with It?

In 1961, NATO, led by the U.S., put missiles in Turkey, following missile deployments in England and Italy, to make sure that Russia could not attack the West first without paying a great price.

In 1962, Russia followed suit by putting missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from our shores, to show that they could threaten us in our own backyard.

When their ambassador was confronted in private by President Kennedy, he denied they were doing any such thing, with Russia hoping to finish the installation before we could stop them.

In a famous photo taken by one of our spy planes on October 14, 1962, missile sites could be seen under construction in Cuba.

On October 22, 1962 President Kennedy told the American people what was happening, issuing a warning to Russia that the missiles could not stay and imposing a naval blockade of Cuba to prevent further ships from delivering missile parts.

On October 24, 1962 Russia’s Premier Nikita Khrushchev claimed that our naval blockade in international waters was an act of war.

On October 24, 1962, Russian ships turned around rather than try to run the blockade.

On October 25, 1962, photos of the missiles were displayed at the United Nations by the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Adlai Stevenson, when the U.S. confronted Russia publicly, demanding that they admit to them.

I remember that speech, famous for its pugnacious demand from Stevenson to the Russian ambassador, “Don’t wait for the translator. Answer my question! Does the Soviet Union have missiles in Cuba?”

When the Soviet Ambassador said he would answer later, Stevenson confronted him again, “I’ll wait until hell freezes over to hear your answer.”

Then, he brought out the photos.

Who Blinked First?

On October 26, 1962, Kennedy received an offer from Khrushchev to withdraw the missiles, in exchange for a promise that we would not invade Cuba.

On October 27, Khrushchev sent another note demanding that we withdraw our missiles from Turkey.

On October 28, 1962, the countries came to an agreement, part public and part private.

The U.S. would agree not to invade Cuba (public) and would remove its now-obsolete missiles from Turkey (private).

Russia would withdraw its missiles from Cuba (public).

Two weeks later, the Cuban missiles were shipped back to Russia.

The U.S. ended the blockade on November 20, 1962.

In December, Soviet bombers in Cuba were loaded on ships and returned to Russia.

American nuclear missiles in England, Italy and Turkey were all deactivated by September, 1963.

The U.S. and Russia set up a hotline so they could communicate directly in any other such future crisis.

Known as the Red Phone, the hotline was not actually a phone until 1971.

Do you remember the Red Phone?

Did you watch President Kennedy’s speech on tv about the Cuban Missile crisis?

Do your grandchildren know how close we came to war with Russia?

To you and helping your grandchildren understand history through your memories.

Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

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