Tuesday, October 22, 2013



Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) 51 years ago today, October 22, 1962, was the 7th day of what would be the 13 day Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the world has come to nuclear war.

At 7 p.m. Eastern time, President John F. Kennedy, speaking to a national television audience of more than 100 million people, announced that a naval blockade would be set up to stop any future shipments of Soviet nuclear missiles and related materials to Cuba.

JFK Addresses the Nation
The Oval Office
Photo by Abbie Rowe
JFK Library Image

JFK said:

"A strict quarantine* on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated--all ships...bound for Cuba...will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons be turned back."

The President continued...

"It shall be (our) policy to regard any missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union."

The President also called for involvement by the United Nations Security Council and the Organization of American States.

JFK concluded his address by saying the goal of the United States was not...

"the victory of might, but vindication of right--not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace & freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world.  God willing, that goal will be achieved."

During the President's speech, the Strategic Air Command went to DEFCON-3 or Defense Condition 3...just 2 steps from nuclear war.  

Later, the status would go to DEFCON 2 for the 1st time in history.

The Guantanamo Bay Naval Base had begun evacuation earlier in the afternoon and vacationing congressional leaders were asked to return to Washington immediately.

When Senator Richard Russell was given the news that some of the Soviet missiles were operational, he said...

"My God."

Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Dobrynin, did not know about the missiles in Cuba until he was called to the State Department just an hour before JFK's speech.

The President had continued to keep his scheduled appointments and even held a cabinet meeting where he revealed his decision for the blockade of Cuba.

When Fidel Castro learned of JFK's decision on the Soviet missiles installed on his island, he told his confidants...

"We shouldn't worry about the Yankees.  They're the ones who should be worried about us."

*Assistant Attorney General Norbert Schlei^ said in an oral history...

"I am the originator of the quarantine concept that the president used, although quarantine was his own word.  A blockade is an absolute bar to traffic; you stop everything (but) I proposed a partial blockade that would only stop offensive weaponry and let everything else go by.  I called it 'visit and search...'

^Norbert A. Schlei (1930-2003),Justice Department legal adviser from 1962-1966, was born in Dayton, Ohio and graduated from Ohio State University in 1950 and Yale Law School in 1956.


"'Let Us Begin Anew':  An Oral History of the Kennedy Presidency," by Gerald S. and Deborah H. Strober, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1993.

"One Minute To Midnight:  Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War," by Michael Dobbs, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2008.


Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) At 4:37 p.m., 51 years ago today, October 22, 1962, General John Gerhart*, commander-in-chief of the North American Defense Command, gave the order to install nuclear weapons on F106 fighter jets which were then deployed to airfields in remote areas.

                          F-106 Delta Dart
         5th Fighter Interceptor Squadron
             Photo by SSgt Bill Thompson
                             USAF Image

The action, directed from the White House, was part of the response by the Kennedy administration to the buildup of Soviet nuclear missile sites in Cuba.

The weapons installed had been identified as MB-1 "Genie" air-to-air missiles, each with a 1.5 kilaton warhead.

*General John K. Gerhart (1907-1981), born in Saginaw, Michigan, graduated from the University of Chicago and Harvard Business School. 

He commanded B-17s in WWII and became 1st Deputy Chief of Staff at Air Force HQ before his appointment to NADC commander by JFK.

                  General John K. Gerhart
                    United States Air Force
                              USAF Photo