LIVING IN THE PAST: The memory is a still life photo complete with sound track. I am seventeen years old and I see the clutter of cartons with canned goods cut opened, stacked and waiting to be stocked on the shelves. This is my work for the evening but I can barely see it. Instead I am paying attention to the loud speaker blaring a radio broadcast reporting the enfolding event which could bring on the end of the world. It is fifty years ago this month and the Russians have sent more medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles to Cuba because we sponsored the Bay of Pigs invasion attempt there. Aware of this, President Kennedy ordered a complete blockade of the island, nothing allowed in or out. Nothing. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev calls this “an act of aggression propelling humankind into the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war.” What will happen when the armed Soviet ships meet the equally armed United States Navy somewhere in the Atlantic. None of us knows. None of my fellow employees is talking, everyone is listening.
We have been taught the Communists are evil men who do not value human life. They will do whatever it takes to gain whatever they want. The short overweight balding Khrushchev who pounds his shoes on tables claiming communism will bury us is the face of Communist Russia to us. His control is maintained by an iron fisted spy organization called the KGB. The entire Soviet Union has an “Iron Curtain” around it. Most of us don’t even know what the word “soviet” means, but it must be bad.
What hope can someone have in a situation where the possibility of nuclear war is only hours away? Our country is facing a world super bully and our president believes we must not back down. Is he right or has he made a catastrophic miscalculation.
The suspense lasts through the night. I decide I can’t control the outcome and so drift off to sleep after asking God’s forgiveness of my sins (just in case). Then my world goes dark.
The next day the suspense continues as everyone wants to know if there is any news. Commentators try to fill in what what they think is happening. Finally the word comes “The Russians have turned around.”
Afterward no one lets on, but I think we’re all feeling a lot lighter since the apocalyptic cloud is gone.
Were you alive during the Cuban Missile Crisis? If you were, what memories do you have as to what happened 50 years ago this month?