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>I Was There: The Cuban Missile Crisis

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I Saw It All Up Front And Personal
by
Don White

I had been in Finland on a Mormon Church proselytizing mission from July 1958 to January, 1961 and had taken an Intourist trip to Moscow and St. Petersberg just before coming home.

Intourist trips were hosted by the Soviets and you got to see only what they wanted you to see, though we occasionally got “lost.” One of the places they did show us was a quaint white frame building, site of the Gary Powers spy trial. Russia was happy to let us see that building because it wanted to advertise to the world that they had shot down and caught the U.S. U2 pilot.

Curiously, before they caught America red-handed, our president had repeatedly denied we had spy planes in the air over Russia.

It was a white wood frame “cottage courthouse” with plenty of lattice work with a wood ramp leading to the front door, located near downtown Moscow and used as the very courthouse in which they tried and found guilty the American pilot of the plane, the captured Captain Gary Powers. And who said the Soviets didn’t know how to make the most of propaganda?

I came back to America and joined the Utah National Guard’s 142nd Military Linguist Company at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City not realizing then that soon a series of events would thrust me into the middle of a history-making event that would shake the world.

In 1962 I was at Fort Meade, Maryland Intelligence School studying aerial photo reconnaissance while the Cuban Missile Crisis was sending a shiver down the spine of every American.

Our Fort Mead school had experts from the military who in class instructed us every day using the actual photos taken over Cuba with all the deadly detail just hours after they were taken. Our cameras had captured it in timed “stills,” but put together it created movie-like sequences–the missiles being unloaded from Soviet ships onto flat-bed trucks, transported to silos and pointed northward at the U.S. just 90 miles away.

All of this took place during the crisis which we could read about in newspapers at night while studying the photos in great detail during the day in class. Two of the teachers from our barracks were taken from us and placed aboard U.S. Naval vessels that were circling and blockading Cuba as Russian ships with more missiles tried to break through the blockade and enter Cuban waters.

It was high drama, especially for army personnel on active duty during that time, knowing that we were but moments from perhaps being deployed wherever the Army needed us. We could see a succession of cigar-looking missiles loaded on trucks near the harbor in one sequence, traveling on a highway, then reaching a destination. Yes, these trucks carrying the tubular missile apparatus weren’t completely covered or camouflaged by tarps and the photos clearly recorded their route to the silos. Many of the photos were taken at night with infra red technology, but the outlines were unmistakable.

America had warplanes in the air 24/7 both in the Western Hemisphere and over the Soviet Union and other European countries. Russia and Cuba were dead center in our sights, just waiting for the word from President Kennedy to drop some major ordinance and blow up a piece of the Cuban Islands and start World War III.

But more than that was transpiring, as portrayed by a book that the N.Y. Times on Sunday reviewed called ONE MINUTE TO MIDNIGHT by writer Michael Dobbs. The book and Richard Holbrooke’s op-ed article clearly and dramatically document what went on between Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro in an international “chess match” that took the world to the brink of Nuclear War.

Exciting stuff for a young man who spoke a little Russian and had a year earlier visited Moscow and some of the sights connected to the U2 saga. Interestingly, the Dobbs book also documents another U2 incident in 1962 that,by itself,came close to causing World War III.

Read the excellent Times article about the book, One Minute To Midnight
by clicking below:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/22/books/review/Holbrooke-t.html?8bu&emc=bua1

Dobbs’ book is illustrated.426 pp. Alfred. A. Knopf. $28.95.
Posted by Don White at 6:49 PM

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