Monday, October 21, 2013



Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) 51 years ago today, October 21, 1962, was the sixth day of what would be the 13 day Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the world has come to nuclear war.

The Washington Post reported that "unusual (military) activity" had been observed in Key West, Florida...

"The sudden appearance of Marines (here) spark wide speculation as to their ultimate objective in this Cuba-conscious city just 90 miles from Havana."

President John F. Kennedy, however, personally called the editors at the Post. as well as at the The New York Times, and asked them NOT to break the story before he spoke to the Nation.^

^Source: "JFK Day By Day" by Terry Golway and Les Krantz, 2010.

Instead of spending a typical Sunday in Hyannis Port or Palm Beach, JFK was involved in serious discussions with his advisers at the White House.

The President had begun that Sunday morning attending Mass at St. Stephen's Church, then sat down with his advisers in the private living room quarters on the 2nd floor of the White House.

Edward McDermott, Director of the Office of Emergency Management, recalled...

"The president was very, very concerned that there not be a sense of panic created in the American people.  (During the Sunday afternoon meeting) about 10 people were seated in a semicircle around the president.

After the discussion, we went around the circle and asked each person what their recommendation would be.

Then he got up and walked out on the (Truman) balcony.  The president came back in, obviously very concerned (and said)...'I've made my decision.'"

That decision was to forego a military invasion and to set up a naval blockade of Cuba instead.

Roger Hilsman, Director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, later said...

"Most presidents...quickly learn the best thing to do is keep your options open until it either comes down to one thing that is clearly going to succeed or you can't let it go any longer.  

But in the case of the Cuban missile crisis, it very quickly became clear to Kennedy that it was his baby, and he became the desk officer; he could not delegate this one.  So, boy, he was on top right from the beginning.  And the idea of a blockade was his."

EXCOM also reviewed a draft of the speech prepared by Theodore Sorensen for delivery by the President the next evening, October 22nd.

It was also agreed that any comparison with the Soviet blockade of Berlin of 1948 should be avoided, thus the term blockade was replaced with quarantine.

One of the factors influencing JFK to stay with his decision was the report by General Walter Sweeney, Jr.*, head of Tactical Air Command, that a proposed airstrike would take out a maximum of 90% of the nuclear missiles, leaving some operational.

   General Walter C. Sweeney, Jr.
         United States Air Force
                  USAF Photo

*Walter C. Sweeney, Jr. (1909-1965) Born in Wheeling, WVA was commander of the US Army AF Task Group during the Battle of Midway in WWII.

The Four Star General, who became Director of Plans of Strategic Air Command,  died in December 1965.

Dean Rusk, JFK and Bob McNamara
January 1961
Photo by Abbie Rowe
JFK Library Image


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

"TWE Remembers: JFK Prepares to Tell the Nation About Soviet Missiles in Cuba (Cuban Missile Crisis, Day 6)," by James M. Lindsay,