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

Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 05:43 PM.

On the photo flights, the pilots took off in radio silence and approached their targets 50 feet above the treetops at 500 mph. As they came upon their targets, the planes would pop up to about 1,000 feet, let the cameras fire as many frames as possible, then return to tree top level until they came upon their next photo target, according to Whitten. Fighter escorts waiting off Cuba’s coast for the mission to end.

Meanwhile, VMCJ-2’s EF-10Bs joined Navy AD-5Q Skyraiders in jamming Soviet radar sites that used surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery that could have been used to fire at the U.S. planes.

"The scary part was they not only decided to put the nuclear missiles in there, but even before they got that under way, they committed to putting 24 SAM sites in there that were manned by Russians," Whitten said. "That was a big indicator that something big-time was up."

By Oct. 24, attention shifted to Soviet ships headed for Cuba with more missiles, and on Oct. 25, the United States presented its evidence — much of it photographs of missile sites gathered by Cherry Point-based aircraft — to the world at the United Nations.

Worried that an invasion was imminent, Castro ordered one of the SAM sites to shoot down an American U-2, which resulted in the death of an Air Force pilot.

The crisis ultimately came to a head when Kennedy ordered American Navy ships to blockade Cuba from the inbound Russian ships, which in the end, turned around. The United States promised not to invade Cuba, and Russia agreed to withdraw its missiles, bringing the crisis to a close on Oct. 28.

Whitten writes in his book that VFP-62 and VMCJ-2 flew 77 Blue Moon missions over Cuba from Oct. 23 to Nov. 15, 1962, providing more than 160,000 photo negatives. The 12 Navy and four Marine pilots all received Distinguished Flying Crosses, and both squadrons received Navy Unit Commendations, the first ever awarded in peacetime.

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