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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 15:52 GMT
Missile crisis: Your memories
The Cuban missile crisis may have been a game of brinksmanship between the Kremlin and the White House but it terrified ordinary people.
Forty years ago, a stand-off between the world's two superpowers over Soviet nuclear missile bases on the island of Cuba threatened to plunge the world into a nuclear war.
On the 14 October, President John F Kennedy had been given photo intelligence identifying the bases under construction on the island.
He called together a group of his closest advisors at the White House. Much of the conversation focused on the military option and the hazardous risks of Soviet retaliation, including the possibility of nuclear escalation.
Thus began nearly two weeks of extreme tension.
What are your memories of those days when the world hovered close to nuclear war? Did you live in fear of a nuclear exchange?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Being 11 years old at the time of the crisis, I can still remember watching the president on TV and being so scared that I had cold chills. I had dreams for years of looking up in the sky and seeing it filled with planes. It is one of my most vivid childhood memories!
Mirek Kondracki, USA
I was in kindergarten in Orange Co. CA and can vaguely remember doing the desk ducks and watching my Mom watching the news. My father was in the Marine Air Corp. waiting for orders (as I was told later). He was so perplexed that critics were calling Kennedy a warmonger for doing what seem to be a natural reaction to a tyrannical dictatorship that had annexed and brutalized all of its neighbours.
My only memory of this event (I was a baby at the time of the crisis) is of my father being asked in the early 1970s if he remembered where he was at the time of the Jack Kennedy assassination. My father replied that he couldn't remember. But, he added, that he could remember very clearly where he was when Kennedy very nearly killed him.
I was in the RAF, stationed in Berlin, and was convinced that, after the tensions and frightfulness of the building of the Wall, the Cuba crisis would be resolved either by full nuclear war, or the hand-over of West Berlin to the Eastern bloc. Both results would have meant the failure of the whole policy of confrontation (without war) since the end of WW2. And the end of our whole way of life - if not our lives themselves. But when Kruschev backed down, you could feel that the heat had also gone out of the "Berlin Question". And what a relief that was. Cuba was the beginning of the wind-down which culminated in the fall of the wall, and it is to Kennedy (and to some extent, Khrushchev!) that we owe it.
I was working at the Wiesbaden airbase and saw the title of a secret which said that all American troops were to be withdrawn from Berlin. The sergeant in our group was white faced listening to the radio for the encounter of the blockade. He sighed with relief when the Russian boats stopped. All leave had been cancelled and they were at the last Defcon.
My fifth grade teacher thought it was instructive to draw detailed plans for bomb shelters on the chalkboard.
I was a young married woman with three small children. I was terrified, especially for my family. The Americans had no doubts about the seriousness of the threat as we were kept informed by President Kennedy and shown the pictures of the missiles ready to strike. President Kennedy held back the chicken hawks who wanted war and through his diplomacy we were spared. If only we had President Kennedy now.
I was attending an international youth camp organised in the beautiful Cornish countryside. As the crisis developed and the various warnings were relayed to us over the camp tannoy system, I got hold of a little transistor radio. A large group of young people gathered around the radio. As the message came over that an attack was imminent, someone suggested that we prayed for peace and averting the global destruction that was expected in minutes. ALL heads bowed and many of the children did indeed pray aloud.
Then came the stupendous moment as the all clear was announced - Khrushchev had backed down at the very last moment! We all screamed in relief and joy. There was mass-hugging - slaps on the back and no small amount of kissing.
None of us even stopped to think who was from the USSR who from NATO countries etc - we really were all one at that moment.
I was not yet born, but I was on the way. My parents told me how frightened they were but they trusted Kennedy because he was a WWII veteran and was known for his innovative diplomacy. His charisma and forethought won the day. It is just too bad that such cool heads no longer prevail in the US.
Mike Asquith, UK
I was an airman at RCAF Base, Bagotville, Quebec. One evening in the line maintenance shed, I happened to suggest that war was imminent. A flight lieutenant who was present scoffed and said something like "So the end is near, is it?" That comment embarrassed me and eliminated any fear that I may have had.
George Dixon, Canada
Was expecting a bright flash in the sky or horizon, day after day spelling the end of the earth for all of us.
I was 18 years of age - in Paris, taking a year off between high school and college in the UK. I remember the fear as a stomach ache. I remember berating random Americans in cafes in Paris saying "No annihilation without representation. Your President Kennedy is going to kill us all - and we (the British in my case) didn't even vote for him."
I called my father in London suggesting I come home, and he said: "No. You're safer where you are. It's less likely to be a nuclear target."
I remember myself as a very young (and scared) military policeman sitting in the first class section of a National Airlines plane, outfitted in full combat gear and armed to the teeth. Our MP company was being transported to the south east coast. A very pretty flight attendant sat down in the seat beside me and asked me if I thought there was going to be a war. I said "Look around you - what would you think?"
D Gittens, UK
I was 14 at the time, and at high school in Cardiff. Someone in our year burst into the classroom, exclaiming "Russia and America are at nuclear war!" In the hubbub that followed, I sat silent, and can now recall the desolation I experienced: That my family and friends (and I) would perish, with lives unlived and words unexpressed. And that the damage to the land would be irreparable.
Are you kidding? We thought the end of the world had come!
I remember as a second grader walking to school, in Ridgewood, New Jersey one October morning under this threat of another world war; my neck craning up to the sky through autumn leaves, looking...
Robert North, England
I was only nine years old and living in Palm Beach, Florida. Being so close to Cuba, I was very aware of what was happening. I couldn't believe the world was going to end, with me being so young and not having had the chance to live. The next day was a school day, so my brother and I had to go to bed by 9pm. My mother came in the room at around 9:30, to tell us a newsflash had come over the TV to say the Soviets had backed down. I was so relieved that the world had received a new lease on life and I may, actually, make it to adulthood.
I was 13 years old and vividly remember how afraid my parents were, something I'd never seen before. After watching the BBC news I asked my father if there would be war and the end of the world. He replied "I'm afraid there might be." I was very frightened and have feared and detested all wars since. I have occasional nightmares about nuclear war to this day.
As a youngster, I remember asking my mother if this was actually going to happen (she told me it may happen) and recall seeing anxiety and fear in people. I remember the media showing people building shelters in their backyards and recollect seeing grocery stores being almost devoid of certain foods. Upon seeing this hoarding of food, it hit me that a nuclear war was indeed a very high possibility and that truly scared me.
Julian Guntensperger, Canada
I was in the air force at the time, stationed in Thomasville, Alabama, at a radar station in the SAGE Air Defence Network. We watched Kennedy's speech in the rec room and as soon as he finished the base siren went off. We stayed on alert for the next month and a half. Normally we didn't have ammunition for our guns, but they issued it then. We all assumed that there was going to be a war, probably a nuclear war.
I was a young child at the time, but my parents moved from the south-east commuter belt to the west country soon after the incident, thinking that as London would be hit first in a nuclear war, living in the west country would be safer! So it did have a significant effect on my upbringing!
I was eight years old at the time and was scared of what happened in Japan would happen to us, being so near.
In October 1962, I, a first-year university student of political science, was eating in the fully-occupied 500-seat men's dining hall of the University of Rochester when a dining hall supervisor briefly announced that the world was on the brink of nuclear war. I experienced a sinking feeling, and the hall was hushed.
In the next day and the next decades, the world went on.
Geoff M. Stead, Canada
My father lived near an RAF base at the time. On the day that the crisis came to a head, a squadron of bombers (Vulcans, I think he said) took off and started circling above the base, awaiting orders. My father said that he knew that if the bombers stopped circling and headed away to the west at full speed, the end of the world was imminent.
I heard a story recently from my mother about my father. He was in the US air force and stationed at RAF Fairborn in Glos. in the Sixties. At the time they had B-47 bombers and she remembers them all taking off at once and he came home from the base looking very pale saying "That's it they've all gone, there's will be here shortly." Fortunately for us all they backed down.
As a 20-year-old student in October 1962 I remember exactly where I was walking and precisely what I was thinking about a few hours before JFK's midnight (UK time) address to the nation. My thoughts were of resignation; resignation to the inevitability that the world was about to come to an end; an end, certainly, as I knew it. Perhaps it was the joyous outcome of the crisis, inevitably to the credit of JFK, that made the sad events in Dallas, thirteen months later, all the more tragic.
My memory is of my mother teaching me to open tins - she considered this to be a useful skill to have in the event of nuclear war - I was six.
In college half way between New York City and Philadelphia 20 miles from major air base. Made certain I had a bottle of brandy and one shell for my shotgun to make certain I would not die of radiation poisoning.
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