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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Nuclear War Was Very Close - Much Too Close

I don't talk about it but in October 1963, we came closer than most people will ever know to a full out nuclear war with Russia. I was working in the SAC headquarters on the third floor of the underground at the command post entrance on 10/28/62. It was the most sensitive area of the headquarters and the only way to enter the command post was if the SAC Guard personally knew you and your purpose inside and allowed you to enter. I rarely ever got through the electronic door myself but this day the duty commander came out and ask me to join them in the command post and lock the door behind me as I came in.
I had taken various VIP tours through the command center previously so I was familiar with the inside. As I went in the mood was very solemn and very quiet which was unusual. I was posted immediately behind the console that ran the entire SAC operation world wide and was told that the DEFCON clocks were running down and my job was to make sure no one interfered with the two duty officers at the console. The red DEFCON clock was almost down to zero and I understood when it ran out we would be engaged in all out nuclear war.
I remember the day like it was today. Due to all the electronics it was always kept cool but the two duty officers were positioned at each end of the console and perspiring heavily. I was sweating badly myself as was the crew in the command post. Between the two officers on the console was a red phone that went directly to President Kennedy. All eyes were focused on that phone. As the clock neared zero hour both duty officers took a key they each possessed and held it ready to be inserted in the proper slot on the console. When the clock hit zero they would both turn their keys simultaneously. It seemed like an eternity that we stood there with nothing but the hum of the equipment and sweat running down our backs as they were both poised to turn their keys in unison. Just moments before time ran out the phone rang and it was President Kennedy telling us to stand down the Cuban missile crisis was over. We were that close to a full nuclear war with Russia,
To my right was a machine that would show when missiles were launched against us, their destination and the probable deaths associated. A grim reminder of what we would find when we were finally able to go topside. We all had families above and while we were safe from a direct nuclear strike we knew when we were able to go topside everything we loved would be gone and the world would never been the same. We had come to within a few more drops of perspiration from launching a full out nuclear war. It was that close.
When my shift was over and I went topside everyone was going about their day like nothing had ever happened when we were just the turn of two keys away from launching missiles, bombers all armed with nuclear weapons. It was totally surreal up topside and everything was business as usual and even when I got home my family didn't have a clue how close we had come to all out war. It was like walking from the heart of a major crisis into happy town America where there were no problems.  I have read several accounts on the Cuban Missile crisis but none that have read have told just how close we were to total out nuclear war when Khrushchev and Kennedy called the matter off. 52 years later and I often wonder how in a few more seconds life could have been changed forever. I know I was there watching it unfold and it was very scary for a young man because my orders were clear and I fully intended to carry them out if necessary.


Bruce said...

Comment by Raylene: That was a powerful message you sent. We civilians don’t know how often we were so close to eternity during that time period. I suspect the “wasband” went through similar situations when he was on Admiral John S McCain’s staff at CINCPAC in Hawaii.. Seems to me there is a good read in you or several----you are a very good writer!

Bruce said...

Thank You. I think it is important that we citizens realize that often there is a lot going on behind the scenes that could impact our lives and those around the world. There are also many who are often criticized for minor things that are struggling and working hard to preserve our way of life. President Kennedy and his counter part in Russia were doing just that when those who wanted war were doing just the opposite. We citizens need to put our selfish self interests aside and look at the whole sometimes. We are only safe due to the hard work and diplomacy of those working hard behind the scenes. We need to focus on the true value of freedom not social programs.