Once upon a time real national emergencies were shared with us by our President in the oval office.
Seated behind the ornately carved Resolute desk, it signaled that these were somber, sobering talks. Ronald Reagan spoke to us after the tragic Challenger disaster seated at that historical desk and it was where George W. Bush addressed a frightened nation in the wake of 9/11.
This 19th century partners desk a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford Hays has been the backdrop to many real American crises. And now sadly some that are totally fabricated.
But it was the 1962 televised address from the oval office by President Kennedy to the nation informing us of a missile crisis in Cuba that still remains so vivid to me.
A crises that was all too real.
The Longest Day
Monday, October 22, 1962 was a day of superb weather with a burnish of autumn on the trees. Things had never looked lovelier or more peaceful.
But I was stuck at home with a bad case of the German measles.These itchy red spots were spreading from my face to my body as quickly as the Red Communists aggression was visualized on maps and film strips at school
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 Normandy invasion.
But now that our normally germ-proof home had itself been invaded with a contagious disease, plans were promptly cancelled.
John Wayne would have to wait.
Besides which my parents were anxious to watch President Kennedy’s live broadcast on television that evening.
Panic Goes Viral
At noon, while Mom was preparing lunch , JFK’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 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 console playing in the living room.
We Interrupt This Program…
At 7:00, I could hear the TV announcer from the popular game show based on the game 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 the ornate Resolute 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.
Panic was about to go Viral
“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.
Like me and my measles, 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. If Russians didn’t withdraw the missiles as demanded, a U.S. 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.
The President’s voice faded away as my parents grimly turned to another channel to watch “I’ve got a Secret.”
Struggling with the ramifications of what they just heard, the longest day was about to get a lot longer.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.