Crisis and the Oval Office- the Cuban Missile Crisis


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

Missiles Cuba Collage

My Mother  had already had her longest day dealing with the measles crisis when the Cuban Missile Crisis was announced. (R) Headline of NY Daily News announcing the Cuban blockade

Monday Madness

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

Cuba Missile crisis distances-of-major-cities-from-cuba

Every major US city 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.

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.




  1. bernesemtdog

    As always, great post Sally! I look forward to them.

    Sadly, Khrushchev didn’t like or respect Kennedy — he viewed him has handsome playboy and a “kid”. No matter how much effort JFK put forth to form a simpatico relationship with Khrushchev, he just couldn’t be magnanimous.

    JFK made a lot of mistakes as POTUS — it was most definitely a learning curve, but at least he admitted his mistakes and was a gentleman through and through. “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for you country.”

    When the current POTUS vacates the White House, I wonder memes he will leave us with?…

    Nothing inspiring, that’s for sure. 😐

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bernesemtdog

    Typo: I meant to say, I wonder *what* memes he leave us with?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Not by paln, I fell asleep before the oval office crisis speech last night. Later, Michael Steele characterized it as a true nothing burger. Seems he got it right. I didn’t sleep through the other speeches from the oval office, let me tell you, and strill remember thinkiong “I hope ‘duck and cover’ works, though I doubt it…” whern I watched the Cuban missle crisis speech. Of course, I was offically a teenager at 14 in 1962, so could be expected to doubt the word of adults then! (I still think ‘duck and cover’ wouldn’t work. Ha!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a nothing speech but was totally self-serving. No other president has abused his powers to summon the nation’s attention in this way until now. The Cuban Missile Crisis in contrasts was a real crisis

      Liked by 1 person

      • I keep thinking, “Now the GOP Senators will work with the Democrats to rid the country of this scourge….” I don’t know what they are waiting for. They managed to get that tax scam passed and tons of conservative judges placed. They don’t need him any longer. I am so naive!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Chris Chilson

    October 1962. I’m sitting at my 3rd grade desk at Emerson Elementary in Miami learning how (not) to survive a fusion detonation. By painting the jalousie windows white, aiming our desks at the windows, and locking the desk lid up, we would create a zone of safety from an SS-4 detonation 6 miles away, with a yield of 1.7 Megatons. This was our introduction to American propaganda, the only lesson I remember from the 3rd grade…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The sanctity of those oval office speech’s has been tarnished by Trump. It is not the place for an infomercial for racism or campaign contributions.


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