The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred during October and November 1962. It was probably the closest our country came to engaging in a Nuclear War with Russia during the years now referred to as the Cold War. Without going into the whole political turmoil the bottom line is that Russia had delivered nuclear weapons to Cuba, which were then aimed directly at the United States. When the United States learned of this threat President Kennedy drew a line in the sand and there were tense conversations and negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union. The American people were kept abreast of the stressful situation by the nightly news that strained everyone’s nerves. And whenever there was official word from the President it was not comforting. Fear was at a peak. The military, politicians, and ordinary people prepared themselves as best they could. Part of this preparation included discussion and practice for what should happen in the event that a missile strike should actually happen. School children practiced “duck and cover” – which meant hiding underneath their desks. It was a terrifying time and even though most adults tried not to discuss their fears and plans in front of their children it was impossible to avoid the overwhelming dread. As a twelve-year-old child during that turbulent time I was not ignorant of the raging unrest.
Riding home from school on the bus one day my friend Billy and I were discussing the whole mess. We had practiced “duck and cover” that day and both of us were pretty sure that hiding under our desk would not be much protection if our school building collapsed. We figured we had a better chance outside if worse came to worse. Where we really wanted to be was home with our mamas. And so we began making plans for our personal safety – to hell with “duck and cover”! After some consideration, Billy and I decided that if some terrible thing really did happen what with school alarm bells ringing, sirens wailing, lots of commotion, and the teachers’ own fears we could easily just rebel. No “duck and cover” for us. We would run like rabbits – straight for home.
We both had younger siblings – he had a little sister about 3 years younger; I had a little brother who was in 2nd grade. Their existence added to our problem. We couldn’t abandon them and that was that. We calculated that each of us would run to our sibling’s classroom, grab them, and drag them along. Their teachers would be no better prepared than ours and would not expect a rebellious older kid to show up and snatch one of their charges. After fetching our precious cargo we planned to meet at the big tree near the Teachers’ Dormitory and head out for home. We plotted our course and how far we could travel together before we’d have to split up. After that each of us would be on our own. The only problem we could foresee is that our little siblings might not come with us quickly enough. They might be frightened by the chaos and be confused about what to do. So we would have to give them prior instructions. There was some concern that they might reveal our plan to the adults in charge but it was a risk we had to take.
We each left the bus that afternoon with a plan in mind. Once I got home I waited for an opportunity to talk to my little brother alone. I reminded him about the “duck and cover” routines we’d been practicing at school. His little head nodded in agreement. I explained that if “the bomb” really came I didn’t want to hide at school; instead I was planning to run home and I wanted to take him with me. My little brother continued nodding and so I gave further instructions. “When the teacher says for you to ‘duck and cover’ you do it but be watching the door and when you see me open that door you get up and come with me right away, do you hear?” He nodded in all earnestness, his eyes wide with fear. I hated to see his poor little face look so scared but there was no avoiding it. The next morning on the bus I consulted with Billy. Yep. He had talked to his little sister and she was on board too. Both of our little siblings had been sworn to secrecy and we just had to trust that they would hold true. In any event, we had a plan and we were sticking to it. Billy and I discussed it every afternoon on the bus ride home. Sometimes I’d remind my little brother about the plan. He had not forgotten. I never discussed my rebellion with a single adult. I ran it over in my head before going to sleep at night and every time we had to practice “duck and cover” at school. Whenever the drill started I felt the same knot of sick fear at the pit of my stomach but then steeled myself for the resolve that I would need to begin my great escape.
The Cuban Missile Crisis resolved but Billy and I maintained our pact – just in case. I stopped scaring my little brother with ominous reminders. But every now and then I rehearsed my escape route in my mind – just in case. I’m not sure when I actually let go of that vague dread but eventually it dissipated. Perhaps it happened, as I was moving along with life like the rest of America.…………