It was October 21, 1962. I’m quite sure of the date. The twelve-year-old me listened intently to the adults gathered around my Mother’s formal dining room table awaiting Sunday dinner. That would-be lunch in more civilized circles. Twelve-year-old Donnie was doing as I had been told repeatedly, “children are to be seen, not heard.” Despite being a pre-teen, I was unsure of my standing and decided not to chance a thrashing with a “keen hickory” at the hands of my grandmother.
The news around the table was terrifying to the pre-teen me. Nuclear weapons right down the road in Cuba. Just ninety miles from the good old US of A. An uncle, a member of the Navy reserves, was afraid he was going to be called up to help blockade the island that had become a bristling launching pad of fire and radioactive ruin. A cousin, an army reservist and paratrooper, was afraid he would be making night time drops attempting to capture the nuclear sites. Everyone at the table agreed they would rather be “dead than red.” Everyone but me. Me? I wasn’t at all sure.
Despite my youth, I understood the Soviets and the United States hated each other even if the reasons behind the hatred escaped me. My civics teacher had hammered the differences between the Soviet Communists and our democratic form of government but I just wasn’t sure about the “dead rather than red” thing. I had a lot of living to do even if it was under the thumb of the goose stepping Red Army and I could see no good in circling the earth in a radioactive cloud.
The following Monday, after an “In Case of Nuclear Attack” drill, I kept watching the heavens hoping not to see a Bear Bomber with its red star dropping a bomb on Indian Land, South Carolina, population…not many. I also prayed not to see the telltale contrail of a missile zeroing in on Indian Land School. Just to be sure I kept my largest textbook nearby so I could protect myself if the bomb went off.
Once home I tentatively approached my father. He was hard at rest working on a crossword puzzle after an eight-hour shift a Springs Mills. Ernest didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned that the “Dogs of War” were nipping at our heels.
“Yes, son,” looking over his reading glasses.
“I’m worried about this Cuba thing. Do you think we ought to get a fallout shelter?”
“I tell you what. Get the shovel and pick a place. When you think you’ve dug deep enough call me and I’ll come see. Right now, I need a four-letter word that means a dueling sword.”
I wish I felt as calm and collected as he appeared. As I read about North Korean nukes and a President threatening “fire and fury”, I am sorely concerned. In 1962 cooler heads prevailed. Russian ships intent on breaking the barricade reversed course, nuclear weapons in Cuba were removed and I did not add my ashes to a mushroom shaped cloud.
I don’t know if we have those cooler heads. The little Korean guy scares me. I think he has “little man’s disease.” Our own guy scares me and if you are waiting for me to say something about “small hands”, well, I just did. I wish it was a sick dream and these two guys were not in charge of nuclear codes but the truth is they are and they are on a collision course with us in the middle.
Think I’ll watch “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Maybe Peter Sellers can give me perspective since my own president can’t. Where is Slim Pickens when we need him?
For more of Don Miller’s writings and musings, including his latest release, Olivia, please follow his author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM