Getting ready or war! (Cuban Missile Crisis)

I had just rotated home back to Donaldson AFB, SC after 90 days TDY at Rhein Mein , Germany . After checking into my squadron, I went on leave. I was going to Western North Carolina the next day. I had heard a news advance about a speech by the President that evening and tuned into CBS news on the black and white Zenith TV. Kennedy gave his famous speech. Within the next hour the phone rang, it was the squadron navigator, Major Jackson. The boss told me to pack a B-4 bag, bring my field gear, and get to the squadron on the double. I did, they did, we all did, but after a few hours hanging around the squadron we were sent back home for the night. The next day I was on my way to Ft. Bragg (Pope AFB) to pick up the 82nd Airborne and then on to various locations in South Eastern USA . Several civilian airfields in the SE were mobilized for military use.

I later flew with an airline pilot who had been an enlisted paratrooper with the 82nd. He shared how they slept on the floor of a hanger at my base, Donaldson AFB. He had physically carried pallets of grenades, mortars, and small arms ammunition about our C-124s and rigged them for airdrop.

All civilian flights, except for scheduled airlines, were forbidden South of certain latitude. I think that was 30 or 31 degrees North which became a kind of ADIZ. VFR flight plans required special FAA/DOD coordination.

Another interesting tidbit. Donaldson Airplane Patch (AFB) was a casual MATS base at Greenville , SC. Perhaps a military country club would be a better descriptor. We had a minimal security prison on the base and the inmates did a good job of keeping the grounds looking sharp. Our enlisted troops led a quasi-military life; at least they wore uniforms, and put up with a minimum of military BS. When President Kennedy gave his dire speech all of the 90+ C-124s in the Wing had the USAF anti-collision day glow orange paint on the nose, wingtips, and empennage. By noon the day after the speech, all the paint was gone, the troops doors taped, A-frames and cables for static lines rigged, and cargo drop ramps installed in some aircraft. In other words, the aircraft were quickly prepared for war.

Who did the work? The enlisted troops on the base, who never walked within a city block of an aircraft, were mobilized and quickly put to working stripping paint and rigging airplanes. It was an impressive example of how fast the U.S. military can move when pressed to the hilt. At this point, I knew for sure I was in the military.

In my report to classmates I neglected to mention that I landed at Gitmo during the Cuban Crisis. We were sent to Guatemala City to pick up some mysterious passengers and equipment that we were not supposed to see , nor ever know were aboard. Departing for Guantanamo we filed for Port of Prince , Haiti and as we came within sight of Haiti we cancelled the IFR flight plan. The remainder of the flight DVFR. As usual, some folks did not get the word. The landing at NAS Guantanamo was a night and we were intercepted by F-8s. The Navy and DOD dependents had been evacuated from the Guantanamo before the onset of the political crisis. When we checked in 80 miles out with a MATS call sign  many of the sailors assumed we had the dependents aboard. It was absolutely amazing how many sailors met us at the ramp on such short notice. Sorry guys! The Navy enlisted word of mouth moves much faster than DOD/FAA communications.

We had breakfast in a Navy chow hall, steak and eggs washed down by a can of Budweiser. We sat on the porch of the BOQ drinking our beer as the Marines dug in on the hill below the fence changed watch. Now watching a thousand of so Marines emerge out of that hill was impressive.