Thoughts & life experiences of a Chicago area graphic artist

20 October 2017

My Cuban Missile Crisis Story

My brother Harlan, sister Alicia and I (on the toy plastic horse) in Florida in 1962.

When I was one year old, my mom, dad, and 4 other siblings moved from Peoria, Illinois to Cocoa Beach, Florida. It was 1961.

My mom was a school teacher and my dad was a factory worker. We were only there for a year or two (which is another story). But besides family photos, I have what I think could be one vague memory from that time. As an adult,  I asked my mom about it.

"Did you ever have a birthday party for me when were were there?", I said. I'm not sure if I detected a very slight tone of parental defensiveness in her voice, "I'm sure we did. We'd celebrate birthdays for all of you kids."

"It's just that...." I try to explain, "....I have a memory that I can't really figure out. I must have been young because I remember...I think...I was in a high chair and ...." I strain to verbalize the quavering imagery of the memory, "...and I'm fairly sure I'm at my own birthday party." I don't go into too much detail on the phone but I see, in my minds eye, there being a cake, the smiling face of my only sister, other happy people... and a brightness to the light coming in the window...and a green, lush quality to the outdoors that I can see through the back door leading out of the kitchen. "I think you gave me a toy truck as a present."

"We probably did. That sounds like something we would do." Mom said. I was disappointed that she could not remember it as well.

Later, I did some research into the timeline of world events happening at the time we stayed in Florida. I realized it was probably too much for me to expect my Mom would remember my birthday which falls on October 24th.

During October was when the most intense aspects of the deadly stand-off between United States and the Soviet Union over Soviet Missiles in neighboring Cuba took place. The so-named Cuban Missile Crises was surely the most dangerous pinnacle of tension between two world powers as ever seen in the history of our planet.

In other recollections, my mom told me that at her school, children were told to bring dry food goods in case they had to shelter there during a missile attack.

We were on the brink of nuclear war which most experts feel would have surely meant annihilation for the human race or, at least, life as we know it. At the very least it would have blasted us back into the Stone Age.

In, fact two days after my birthday that year, on October 26, the U.S. Stategic Air Command nuclear bombers were placed on the almost unthinkable level of a defense readiness condition: DEFCON 2. That is one level of intensity before all-out war (DEFCON 1). It has never been at that level before or since that time of geopolitical crisis. For comparison, during the attacks of 911, the U.S. war readiness was at DEFCON 3.

 But the world survived this contest of nerves. One year and a month after that, on November 23rd, the President that my dad helped to elect and who stared down the Soviets during the missile crisis, John F. Kennedy, would be assassinated. But I and my family survived to celebrate my 3rd birthday in in Energy, Illinois that year (no record of the party but it’s something we would have done).

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