On Oct. 25 1962 two unarmed and unescorted Navy photo-reconnaissance jets were speeding over the Cuban landscape on their way to photograph an intermediate-range ballistic missile site being constructed by Soviet technicians. The lead RF-8A Crusader was piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Tad Riley. His wingman, Lt. Jerry Coffee, flew sorties with the first VFP-62 low-level reconnaissance missions on Oct. 23, as part of the classified operation codenamed Blue Moon. Coffee spotted a military encampment and broke formation with his flight leader to get a closer to take pictures. His photographs disclosed a military threat unknown to Pentagon and the CIA analysts: Soviet tactical nuclear-capable Luna missiles. This evidence of battlefield weapons of mass destruction got submerged in the flood of intelligence reaching the president. Those forgotten missiles of the Cuban Missile Crisis could have triggered World War III.
Earlier, in response to a Soviet supplied military buildup in Cuba in mid-1962, Pentagon planners were refining two operational plans against Cuba: one a massive 500 sortie airstrike against missile and radar sites and MiG airfields; the other a 125,000-strong joint-force invasion. The latter apparently had no contingencies for facing tactical nuclear weapons, as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara revealed in his book In Retrospect, “. . . U.S. invasion forces would not have been equipped with tactical nuclear weapons.”