End Game/Missile Crisis

MY MEMOIRS. THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS. 1962.

By Horacio Toledo

Any wrong decision on the part of the world leaders and we would be victims of a nuclear war. The city of Havana with one million plus inhabitants (in fact most of the island of Cuba) where I was born and raised could be obliterated.

I was standing at the tennis courts in an exclusive club in Tampa, Fl. accompanied by Juan Weiss former tennis champion of Cuba when we looked up at the blue sky.  It was probably about five in the afternoon of a clear day. It was a scene that those who witnessed it shall never forget.  Literally hundreds of Air Force planes were flying in close formation over us ready to land at Mac Dilll Air Force Base, an important military base next to Tampa.

We knew that several of those bombers carried atomic bombs. We knew that they had been ordered to attack the Russian missiles in Cuba on short notice.  And those of us in Tampa as well as people in Miami and any other Florida city within reach of the Russian missiles could become victims just as well as millions of innocent Cubans.  It was the closest the world ever came to nuclear war!

I went back to the Tampa Terrace Hotel in downtown Tampa where I was staying.  The elevator was packed with young Army soldiers and my first thought was that many of them standing right next to me could well be dead in the next few days.  They were so young, so innocent and yet so patriotic.  One Cuban standing in a packed elevator surrounded by young American kids in military uniforms willing to land in Cuba and die in battle was one very dramatic experience for me.

As a Cuban I felt guilt for not having done enough to eliminate Castro, it was also embarrassing to be surrounded in an elevator by young men willing to fight for me a foreigner and I also felt a gut fear of knowing that thousands or more Cubans would die in just a few days, some of them were part of my family, some were nephews and nieces of my wife.  That night while trying to sleep I would not be able to erase from my mind the scene when I lifted my head looking up to see hundreds of planes flying over me, each and every one of them on a mission to kill my countrymen.  It was extremely difficult to control my emotions that fateful evening.

The pact made was that the U.S.A. would never attempt to invade Cuba in exchange for eliminating some missile bases in Turkey and parts of Europe that were a threat to Russia. It would allow Castro to continue his communist dictatorship in Cuba while the imperialist Russians could be safe from any attack from the Turkish missile bases.  It allowed a gangster such as Castro to continue subverting Latin America while guaranteeing the Russians the U.S. would eliminate their defense of European countries by dismantling their military bases in Turkey. It was a win-win situation for the Russians. They won on two fronts:  (a) Cuba would not be invaded so Castro could continue as dictator (b) the Russians need not worry about the threat from the U.S. military missiles in Turkey.

We were saved however from a nuclear confrontation although the opportunity to free Cuba from the dictatorship of Castro was sacrificed.

The Cuban missile crisis lasted 14 days, a stressful and tense drama for all who experienced it, I among them. God was with us.

 

 

 

 

 

4 comments

  1. For my brother and me, and for hundreds of children whose entire family was still in Cuba, those days of the Russian missile crisis were terrifying. We were in a refugee camp near the Homestead Air Force Base and we heard the constant roar of war planes overhead while huge trucks rolled nearby with missile parts -pointed south. I remember some Cuban adults rejoicing that the Americanos were going to invade the island and kick Castro out, but all I could think about was that falling bombs do not only seek out the bad guys, that people we loved could die or be maimed in an invasion. I remember clearly how I wished right there and then that I rather Castro stay in power than to lose my loved ones and for thousand of innocent people to die. Since then I have learned that even old veterans of wars say that after knowing what war was like, they’d do anything to help avoid it. In the Errol Morris 2003 documentary, “The Fog of War: 11 lessons from the life of Robert McNamara,” Mc Namara, the US Defense Secretary at the time of the crisis, talks explicitly about the discussion that took place in the White House when the course of action was decided. That segment appears early in the film. Other people in the theater were puzzled when I broke out in uncontrollable sobs. How could they know how that experience had touched me personally? Chills shook my body as I heard how close Cuba came to being obliterated and the world was at the brink of the most catastrophic war in human history. It is terribly tragic that Cubans paid a terrible price, but I believe humankind was lucky that those men made the Salomonic decision to sacrifice some things in order to avoid a global conflagration. I wonder if lessons were learned.

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  2. I do indeed remember those days as terrifying. I was in ninth grade at Ursuline Academy in Dallas. I was the only Cuban girl in my class. My parents were still in Cuba. I feared that I was never going to see them again. Fast forward decades to the 90’s. A dear friend, an American, asks me how come Cubans have not gotten rid of Fidel Castro. I can’t formulate an answer. I mumble something about the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, the many Cubans who were involved in it and in the underground. I mention the Cuban Missile Crisis and the pact made. Fast forward to 2010. Several Guatemalan immigrants ask me the same question after I tell them the incident Adrianne wrote about in Girl in Church. And again I am at a loss for words but I manage to mention the failed invasion, the missile crisis. Perhaps it is that ultimately evil can’t be explained. And I struggle to not lose hope that it will come to an end.

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