How My Dad Solved the Cuban Missile Crisis

My father was a confident man. I never saw him anxious for anything. If he ever was, he kept it to himself. Even in the face of his own impending death, he put his concerns aside to comfort his loved ones, assuring them that all would be well.

He joined the Marines after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. He fought in the South Pacific until he returned stateside for officer’s training school.

While in the Solomon Islands, he was assigned to the radio corps. Once an island was ‘pacified,’ his job was to lead a squad past any remaining resistance to the highest point on the island and install an antenna with which to establish radio communications to the outside world.

Hauling radio equipment up a mountain can’t be that easy. Doing so while an enemy is shooting at you would be nigh impossible.

I think, after surviving that, everything else was just gravy for him.

At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in October of 1962, the threat of nuclear war was a big deal. A few years before, Nikita Khrushchev had declared “We will bury you.” Now they were installing ballistic missiles in Cuba, aimed at us. What next?

Nowadays, nuclear annihilation is just one more item on the menu of devastating threats.  But then the weight of potential nuclear conflict was palpable.

I remember the many air raid drills conducted at my school. The idea that hiding under my desk would protect me in the event of a nuclear attack, seemed fanciful to me even then.

The poster advising citizens “In the event of nuclear attack, tuck your head between your knees and kiss your ass good-bye” had not been published yet. However, it perfectly captured the ironic sense of those drills. Mass incineration might be our collective fates, but at least we would be orderly and quiet.

At that time we lived in Wilmar, a farming town in central Minnesota, about two hours west of Minneapolis, out good old Highway 12.

The news on radio and TV incessantly explored all the ramifications should war break out.  Every night WCCO would broadcast a map of Minnesota. The animated overlay graphically depicted the radius of damage we could expect should an atomic bomb hit Minneapolis. Concentric circles would radiate out to 100 miles in every direction from ground zero. It was terrifying.

Everyone I knew was anxious. We had no context from which to judge these dire threats to everything we had ever known. Those Russians were crazy.

One promising solution was to build a private bomb shelter. The news talked about these and Popular Mechanics magazine published an article describing all the things a shelter should contain. It would be cramped but safe. It was do-able.

Dad had been through the war. I gathered some friends and approached him about the feasibility of building such a shelter.

He said, “You don’t need it.”

“Why not? The maps say the explosion will reach 100 miles and Wilmar is 100 miles from Minneapolis.”

“But we live on the west end of town. The radiation will never reach us.”

His perfectly reasoned argument put our minds at rest. Days later, the crisis was over. The Russians had blinked.

My Dad was so smart.

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