Item #M8728 – President Kennedy helped avoid war in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Cuban Missile Crisis Begins

On October 16, 1962, missiles were discovered in Cuba that could easily reach the US, beginning the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In April 1961, a group of CIA-trained soldiers attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro’s communist government in Cuba. Dubbed the Bay of Pigs Invasion (after one of the landing sites), it ultimately failed and strengthened Castro’s leadership and Soviet support. In fact, Castro met secretly with Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev to request nuclear missiles to prevent future actions against them. Construction on these missile launch facilities began that summer.

Item #M7614 – Stamps of Cuba (like these above) were embargoed months before the invasion.

Early in the morning of October 16, 1962, a U.S. reconnaissance plane snapped aerial photos of a Soviet missile site capable of launching missiles with a range of up to 1,200 miles, more than enough to reach targets within the United States. It was apparent this site was fully operational, complete with two missile silos and two launch pads. Another series of pictures revealed a shipload of warplanes that was bound for Havana.

President John F. Kennedy showed his skill as a great leader. His initial reaction was to call the U.S. Armed Forces in to remove the threat. However, once the shock of the event subsided, Kennedy attempted to see things from the point of view of the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev. Kennedy knew that if he reacted with force to the threat, Khrushchev would surely strike back and a full-scale nuclear war would be inevitable.

Item #3608 – Stamps of the Soviet Union weren’t embargoed, though they often depicted communist themes.

Instead of launching air strikes against Cuba (as Congress was urging), Kennedy decided the best course of action was a blockade. He intended to show that the U.S. was serious about having the missile site removed. Kennedy even reduced the blockade perimeter from 800 miles to 500 miles, in an attempt to give Khrushchev time to consider his options. As it turned out, Kennedy made the right choice with his cautious actions. A joint 1987 conference of U.S. and Soviet officials determined that Khrushchev installed the missile sites without considering that there may have been a negative response from the United States.

In the end, Kennedy came up with a compromise. He vowed not to invade Cuba, as long as the Soviet Union removed the missile sites. Khrushchev agreed and the sites were dismantled, thus ending the standoff that could have led to war.

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  1. I remember it well, watching the President discuss it on TV. The Mystic writer seemed to capture the essence of the event well. Many US citizens believed we were going to war and the event left our citizens uneasy for quite a while. Everyone started preparing for the worst. Thanks Mystic for the history review…..

  2. Thank the heavens for Kennedy’s leadership and wise counsel. Without that decision our country could be a very different place today. Thanks to him, we can continue to collect stamps in a free country. ‘Merica!

  3. At 5:30 AM on the morning of 22 Oct, 1962, I was recalled to my squadron which had been called up on alert. We watched as our aircraft were loaded with nukes. We were surprised when half the fleet was ordered to launch those airplanes to a remote base. It had never been done before. The remainder of the squadron was sent home and told to turn on our TV’s at 8PM. President Kennedy came on and announced the Cuban Blockade. We thought that WWIII was about to take place. It was a scary time and many today have no idea how close we came to a nuclear war.

  4. Interesting that we never commemorated this peaceful resolution to a possible nuclear war. The proper design of such a stamp would be a challenge. It was certainly a foreign policy victory for JFK. He also agreed to remove missiles from Turkey in return if I remember correctly.

    1. When he agreed to remove missiles from Turkey, he snookered Khrushchev. The missiles were operationally obsolete and already scheduled for decommissioning and removal!!

  5. Thank you for giving the truth of President Kennedy that is forgotten by many. I look forward to each day about the history of our great country. Mystic Stamps is the best. I collected coins and stamps growing up. I was honored to serve my country in the military.

  6. I am an avid fan of watching the news and daily events. However, on October 15th,1962 my new bride and I were on our way to the Grand Canyon for our honeymoon and we vowed that we would not watch TV, listen to the radio or read a newspaper for the duration ( One Week). What a shock and surprise when we returned and found out that we were this close to a potential nuclear disaster. Thanks for the reminder. It brought back happy memories in our case.

  7. I had just been separated from the US Navy. I was called back to help outfit many different types of US Navy ships and send them south to become part of the blockade. Many things happened between US ships and Cuban “speed” boats (armed w 30 and 50 cal. machine guns… during that terrible time. Most people have no idea how close we really were to a nuclear WWIII…

  8. I really look forward for “This DayIn History” every morning. Very interesting read. Great job Mystic. Keep it going.

  9. Similar to Stu Hoyt’s reply, I was serving on a Canadian Frigate. We went in to Pearl Harbour, but, our frigate was told to refuel and store ship. That same day we headed out for the north. We spent the entire crisis watching for Russian movement southward. thankfully, none were spotted.

    As a radio operator, I think I copied every word President Kennedy said in his speeches, 22 words per minute by pencil with Mr. Morse’s famous code.

    It was tense for a while!

  10. I was on the US Destroyer ,John King DDG 3 off the coast of Cuba, I was extended for 1 year due to the crisis, later recinded, We did not know what was happening at first, then we has orders to turn back a Russian ship that was on its way to Cuba, I saw the missiles on the Russian ship.I am glad Russia backed down.

  11. The details in this article, and from some of the replies to “This Day In History – October 16, 1962,” are not only helpful and explaining in how serious the possibility of the beginning of WW III was under the circumstances at the time . But President Kennedy understood the situation and did a GREAT job in preventing a WW III possibility. His decision and actions were well-thought-out and worked ! I graduated from NCSU in 1960 and remember a lot about this dangerous situation. at the time. I SINCERELY appreciate Mystic’s article further explaining things about the early 1960’s that most Americans today may not have understood or realized about how serious the possibility of beginning WW III really was in 1962. Mystic’s details in this story should solve any misunderstandings about the situation then.

  12. A great leader and a wonderful story. What is odd is that I heard about the crisis while in a shower Jr. High School and was really scared. Then, when JFK was assassinated I was again in the shower after football practice. What two horrible events is US history. Thanks Mystic as usual. Perhaps I should not shower on election day!!!

      1. Robert Charles Paxton was born on 16 October 1939 to Walter and Doris Paxton.

        Walter Paxton played an important role in helping to build the Golden Gate Bridge which opened in 1936.

        He had 2 brother in laws who also worked on the bridge as painters

  13. My Father was home on annual leave and we were painting our house, when my Mother came out and informed him that he had a call from his boss. My Dad told her to tell him he would call his boss back later. She did and returned to inform my Father that he needed to take the call. He got cleaned up, packed a suitcase, and we drove him to “the office”. We didn’t see him for two weeks. It wasn’t until years later that my Father spoke about his involvement in the planning for an invasion of Cuba. As a decorated World War II veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division, he was glad that President Kennedy avoided World War III. Thank you for reminding us of our history.

  14. Thank you those that have served. I Salute You! I used to work in one of the Public Libraries in Long Beach, CA. One of the librarians told that she remembers the military maneuvers of “Touch and Go”, performed by military jets at the Naval Air Base in San Diego, CA. The aircrafts would land and take off every few seconds. We were living in Cuba. I was one year old at the time. My parents remember the situation, and what they were asked or required to do.

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