50th anniversary of U.S.-Russian standoff is this month

missile crisis 3

President John F. Kennedy presents the Navy Unit Commendation to VFP-62 and Cherry Point-based VMCJ-2 pilots at Key West, Fla., on Nov. 26, 1962. Both squadrons were heavily involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Photo courtesy of H. Wayne Whitten
Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 05:43 PM.

It was 50 years ago this month that United States and Russia stood on the brink of war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

And Cherry Point personnel and aircraft were on the front lines.

H. Wayne Whitten, a retired Marine colonel once based at Cherry Point, has chronicled the base’s involvement as well as other aspects of the crisis in a new book, "Countdown to 13 Days and Beyond."

Whitten details how a U-2 spy plane captured images of missile sites in Cuba, a mere 90 miles below the Florida Keys, on Oct. 14, 1962. Missiles launched from those sites had the potential to carry nuclear warheads, putting the heart of the United States in range of an attack.

In response, President John F. Kennedy authorized a mobilization of U.S. forces, including those at Cherry Point.

"It seemed like everyone and everything military was headed to Florida in a matter of days," Whitten writes in his book.

Some in the military wanted an immediate, decisive air strike on the missile sites before they became operational followed by a full-scale invasion of the island nation led by revolutionary dictator Fidel Castro, according to Whitten. But Kennedy wanted to talk to Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev, and he needed more proof of the sites.

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