The Cuban crisis

It’s Monday 25 October 2010 and I am sitting at a table in my daughter’s home not far from Loganville, Georgia, which is about 40 minutes east of Atlanta. It has taken three days driving (about 2500 kilometers) to get here from Ottawa. We (Carroll and I) went via New Hampshire to visit my older brother Ance in Candia. Most of the trip was on Interstate highways, that wonder of the Eisenhower administration, based on what he and millions of other Americans saw in Germany at the end of the Second World War – the autobahns. And, like the autobahns, they were built for the same reasons; to put underemployed people to work and to create a national road network that would allow large military convoys to move from point to point quickly and efficiently. Did you know that every five miles, the Interstate has to have a section of straight road to allow military planes to use it as an emergency runway?

In 1962 we lived for a few months in Ozark, Alabama, near Fort Rucker, where I was taking cargo helicopter pilot training. We (Carroll and I and three babies) lived in a hotel/motel complex right on one of the north-south Interstates. During the run-up to the Cuban missile crisis in late October, we listened every night as military convoys rumbled past, hour after hour. Only at night. The military did not want any one sympathetic to the Cuban regime to be able to pinpoint how much of what was moving. The US military was building an enormous invasion force in southern Florida. Even our pilot training was interrupted.

Our instructor, a US Army captain, was called while we were in the air. We brought the aircraft, a piston-engined Sikorsky S55, known officially as the H-19 and unofficially as the Charlie-model hog … it was under-powered … back to Rucker. The instructor dropped us (two Canadian student pilots) off, refuelled, flew up to Fort Benning and picked up a load of paratroops, then flew down to somewhere in or near Key West. For a couple of weeks, while the crisis escalated, we sat on our hands and waited for the first mushroom cloud on the horizon. Now it all seems rather quaint, but then we thought we might be looking at nuclear Armaggedon.

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