The Cuban Missile Crisis PT I

The German Measles Crisis of October

 This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, those harrowing 13 days in October 1962 that brought us to the brink of thermonuclear war.

I didn’t know until years later that they called it the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In my mind it would always be remembered as the “German Measles Crisis.” All I knew was Halloween was just a few short weeks away and as luck would have it, I came down with a case of measles.

The itchy red spots were spreading from my face to my body as quickly as Communist aggression was visualized on maps and films at school. The scary red splotches of Communism were pictured slithering around the globe oozing over continents, increasing in number as the Russian enemy was hell-bent on world conquest.

The red Rubella rash was on its own expansionist path

March of the  Measles

To make matters worse, it wasn’t just plain old measles.

They were German Measles; Nazi measles goose-stepping across my ravaged body.

I used to have nightmares that men in brown shirts, black jack boots and wide Sam Browne belts, rank and file members of the Nazi Party would storm into my suburban ranch house to take me away never to see my family again, all while  lustily humming the Nazi anthem Hort Wessel Song

Now the Germans and their horrors fused with the Russians and their nuclear bombs, and there was nothing to stop the red rash that was charging across my body.

Vintage illustration dr visiting sick boy in bed 1960

Vintage Illustration by George Hughes Sat. Evening Post Cover 1960

Monday Madness

Monday, October 22 was a day of superb weather, a burnish of autumn on the trees. Things had never looked lovelier or more peaceful.

Early that morning my pediatrician came to the house and confirmed the diagnosis.

The spots had Deutschland written all over them. Solemnly Dr. King informed me that to prevent the spread of the disease, I would have to be quarantined. I was to get back to bed mach schnell.

October 22 was also my parent’s 12th wedding anniversary. They had planned on going to the movies that evening to see The Longest Day, that star-studded spectacle about D Day, the invasion of Normandy. However  they stayed home not only because they were concerned about me, but were anxious to watch President Kennedy’s live broadcast on television that evening.

High Noon

At noon, Kennedy’s press secretary Pierre Salinger  had made a dramatic announcement that the president would speak that night “on a matter of the highest national urgency.”

The crisis that was brewing in Cuba that had begun a week earlier had been kept top-secret. Now with rumors circulating, there was a nearly unbearable sense of foreboding and tension.

Across the country while American’s eyes would be fixed on their TV sets gripped and involved in the most intense moment of recent history, I was confined to my bedroom without a TV. At a loss,  I trained my ears to tune in to the Philco playing in the living room.

photo of mid century womans anxious eyes

At 7:00, I could hear the TV announcer from the popular game show based on Charades saying:  Stump the Stars will not be seen tonight so that we can bring you this special broadcast….”

Along with 50 million other Americans my parents listened in pin-drop silence as President Kennedy spoke about Cuba.

Sitting behind his desk, a solemn President Kennedy, got right to the point. This was no time to play charades.

He grimly announced to a shocked nation that Russia had sneaked missiles into Cuba just 90 miles from Florida. Along with the Offensive Missiles, Khrushchev had deployed bombs and 40,000 Soviet troops. The alarming evidence from photographs showed that nearly every city from Lima Peru to Hudson Bay Canada would lie within push button range of thermonuclear bombs in Cuba.

“To halt this offensive build up,” a determined Kennedy said, “a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment to Cuba is being initiated.” The Navy’s mission was to block the flow of Russian weapons to Cuba.

vintage newspaper headline Missile Crisis 1962

Vintage NY Daily News Headline 10/23/62

While the President explained how we might respond to the situation, Dad figured that if Russians didn’t withdraw the missiles as demanded, a US pre-emptive strike against the launch site was inevitable. The United States would not shrink from the threat of nuclear war to preserve the peace and freedom of Western hemisphere, Kennedy said firmly.

Like me, the Russians would have a quarantine imposed on them but Dad wasn’t convinced this was the best tactic. It might work for preventing the spread of the measles but not for the missiles.

The Presidents voice faded away as my parents grimly turned to another channel to watch “I’ve got a Secret.” Little did they realize the night would turn into the longest day.

Copyright (©) 2012 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved

 

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8 comments

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