In Seventeen Minutes
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” -2 Peter 3:10On Saturday morning, October 27, 1962 (also known as Black Saturday) I was ten years old and our family was driving from Birmingham to Oak Lawn, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago) where my father was taking a new job with his company, Stockham Valves and Fittings. Most of Interstate 65 was not yet completed so the trip was much slower and we only made it to Terre Haute, Indiana by nightfall. Little did we know that on that day the world came the closest in history to a nuclear war which would have killed millions of people. The “Cuban Missile Crisis” began on Monday, October 15 (two weeks after the riot at Ole Miss about which I wrote last week) when a U-2 spy plane (they flew at 70,000 feet) had incontestable evidence of nuclear missiles being installed in Cuba by the Soviet Union. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had sent forty-two medium range, 1,100 mile nuclear missiles and was planning to send twenty-four, 2,200 mile nuclear missiles. He had also sent twenty-four surface to air (SAM) anti-craft missile groups and 42,000 Soviet troops and technicians. President Kennedy (JFK) was told that the Soviets would have fifty strategic missiles operational by December which were capable of destroying the main U.S. defenses in seventeen minutes. Kennedy assembled an executive committee of the National Security Council to discuss their options. They settled on a quarantine, stopping all Soviet ships coming toward Cuba.
On Saturday, October 27, the Soviets were preparing one of their Semyorka rockets for deployment, the same missile which had launched Yuri Gagarin, the first man into space. They placed a 2.8 megaton nuclear warhead on the rocket which was capable of reaching New York City, Chicago, or Washington D.C. It would destroy everything within a seven mile radius of the blast. This and other similar nuclear rockets, strategically placed, could kill an estimated 92 million people (the U.S. population at the time was 220,000 million).
Both the U.S. and USSR had agreed in 1958 to put an end to above ground, nuclear testing, but the Soviets began again in September, 1961. Therefore JFK also began testing again in April, 1962. Both superpowers were detonating live nuclear bombs three or four times a week.