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This Miami Life

How The Cuban Missile Crisis Shaped Miami

Where were you on October 22, 1962?

If you aren’t old enough to remember, ask someone over 50. That day, when President Kennedy revealed in a national TV broadcast that there were missiles in Cuba, was life altering for many, especially in South Florida.

I was rooming, off campus, with 7 other girls...All of our thoughts and comments were selfish... It was all, "How will I be able to finish college...the world is going to be destroyed...Russia is going to blow us up...I'm going to die a virgin..."

It was a day that inspired Miami native Charles Carter, who was 16, to skip school and go to the Army Recruiting Office. With his parents' consent, he successfully enlisted in the military and was assigned to one of the four, hastily built missile sites in the Everglades - a mere 90 miles from a potential nuclear threat.

Producer Rich Halten spoke to Carter and several other people who lived through that time, tapping their memories about the Cuban Missile Crisis,  as this week marks the 50-year anniversary. 

Archival audio is from the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives.

We were also fortunate to gather tales and memories from members of the Public Insight Network to enhance the already incredible story Halten produced. You can listen to the radio story above, and you can read what contributors remembered and thought of those two horrifying and sleepless weeks below.

Two Sleepless Weeks 

  • “I was aboard the USS Raleigh (LPD-1), in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, sitting in the mess hall when President Kennedy made his famous TV broadcast. We were all stunned and not a sound was heard as we watched and listened. The next day I received temporary orders transferring me to the staff of Commander Amphibious Forces Atlantic. ... No one had any idea of what might happen. The staff boarded the USS Mount McKinley and departed for the picket line… We also became aware of the Russian submarines, and were very close to one that was forced to the surface.”
    – Jerald Terwilliger; American Cold War Veterans, American Legion, Army-Navy Union. Radioman on the Admiral’s staff.
  • “I was an Aeronautical Engineer for Pan American World Airways at that time and I was selected for "special assignment" for travel with our Jet Aircraft to move them out of the South Florida region. We were given instruction to move our families out of South Florida, leaving Miami at a specific date. I helped my wife pack up for her and our 4 children and establish a "safe house" location in North Florida. When President Kennedy forced the Cubans to back down, we never had to implement our escape plan.”
    – Vincent Flury Flury
  • “My parents and two sisters left Cuba for the U.S. on October 14, 1962… precisely on the very day that the U.S. military airplanes located Soviet missiles in Cuba. Of course, we had no knowledge of this at the time. I was 12 years old, and all that I thought about was being able to leave during the turmoil that was palpable in the island since the Bay of Pigs invasion the previous year… We were treated very badly at the airport. The few items of clothing and shoes that we were allowed to bring were torn apart as the security agents searched for jewelry and money that they suspected we were trying to smuggle out of the country. We had … nothing to wear when we arrived. My uncle who had been living in Miami since the 50's picked us up at the airport and drove us straight to a store to buy clothes and shoes. it was a day filled with mixed emotions for me. One that after 50 years I still recall as it had happened yesterday.”
    – Nelly Rubio; soon after arriving, enrolled in the 7th grade at Palm Springs Jr. High in Hialeah. Rubio was 12-years-old, and didn’t speak or understand English at the time.
  • “I was rooming, off campus, with 7 other girls. I was terrified, and so were they. All of our thoughts and comments were selfish. We weren't considering the Cuban people or those in South Florida. It was all, ‘How will I be able to finish college...the world is going to be destroyed...Russia is going to blow us up...I'm going to die a virgin...’”
    – Patti Lynn; 19-year-old college student in upstate NY in 1962. The Cuban Missile Crisis was her first taste of real politics, and her activism has never stopped.
  • “I don't remember being afraid. I guess at 14 I just thought it was cool having all the soldiers around. It certainly changed my life. In 1964 I met one of the soldiers who had been living in a bean field. In 1965 we were married and 47 years later he's still the love of my life.”
    – Terri Dray; husband lived in a tent in a bean field for a couple of years before being moved onto the Air Force Base.
  • “My father… told me that during that time, he walked looking up, searching for U.S. bombers, which he expected to show up at any moment. Frightening thoughts for a young father at the time.”
    – Carlos Eguaras; 6 years old during the crisis. For the second time in two years, his family moved in with his grandparents near the University of Havana. He thought it was a new annual tradition they were starting.
  • “I remember joining my classmates around the pond in the foyer of Shenandoah Junior High School. We threw coins into the water and made wishes and prayed that we would not be blown away by a missile from Cuba.”
    – John Cassel; forever affirmed in the concepts of peace, strength and trust because of the crisis.
  • “My strongest memory of the Cuban Missile Crisis was driving by Miami International Airport and seeing a B-52 bomber parked near the end of a runway with its bomb bay doors closed. Having lived near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, I knew that whenever a long-range bomber was visible to the public, its bomb bay doors were left open as a symbol that the bomber was not carrying any nuclear weapons. Seeing those doors closed told me that the Air Force was ready to make Cuba the second nation in history to be hit with atomic weapons.”
    – Dennis McDougle
  • “My father was the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI office for Broward County, so all the neighbors kept coming over to the house to see if they could get any additional information. We were given a place to meet where we would be escorted out of the area should things continue to intensify. Everyone had to make sure their cars were filled with gas, we had to make sure we could get to our assigned destination quickly…There were troops coming into town and staying at Lockhart Stadium… It was a very scary time as no one was sure what to expect or what was going to happen... Everyone was nervous. It was talked about at home and at school. We had to make sure our parents knew where we were all the time and the phone at home never stopped ringing.”
    - Joanne Grealy Richter; high school sophomore during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • “The main thing I remember is our neighbor built a bomb shelter in the corner of their basement. I remember asking my dad if we were going to build a bomb shelter. He said no, he didn't want to be around to see what was left if there was a nuclear war. My parents watched the news intently and just seemed real tense.”
    – G. Crowl; living in northern Illinois at the time.
  • “The crisis has taught me that so long as these weapons exist, we must rely on sensible dialogue to solve our differences.”
    – Donald Duggan; 11 and in 6th grade in New Jersey at the time.
  • “Although I was still a child, I'm sure that the experience changed me. For one, I have never been too obsessed with material things. Leaving everything that my family had built for years-- including a home and family business-- made me more resilient and less dependent on wealth and property. It helped me face major life changes as an adult without fear or apprehension.”
    – Nelly Rubio
  • “We knew we were going to be here to stay and we dedicated ourselves to become what we once had been and we did. Our children were born here, grew happy in this great country and we have all made us proud. Florida and particularly Miami became what it is today and the whole world will have to thank us Cubans for that. We are very, very proud of our accomplishments.”
    Magie Uribarri