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'Mister President, the Navy Will Not Let You Down'

‘Mister President, the Navy Will Not Let You Down’


Naval History Magazine October, 2012
From manning quarantine lines to flying reconnaissance missions to preparing for an invasion, the U.S. Navy played instrumental roles during the Cuban Missile Crisis 50 years ago.

On a tense day in October 1962, the USS Allan M. Sumner(DD-692) was about 500 miles off the northern shore of Cuba, trailing a Soviet freighter. President John F. Kennedy, after learning that the Soviet Union was sending ballistic missiles to the island nation, had proclaimed a quarantine against ships carrying offensive arms there. The Cuban Missile Crisis had moved from the White House and the Kremlin to the sea, and suddenly the crisis was focused on the Sumner .

“I was in the wheelhouse,” Quartermaster Third Class Bob Bourassa remembered. “The freighter was about 1000 yds off our port side.” When the transport failed to respond to an order to stop, Commander William J. Flynn, captain of the Sumner , sent a handwritten message down to the radio shack “and after the first message was returned to him, he instructed the guns to be turned toward the freighter.” After a while, Commander Flynn sent down a second message. Before it was answered, “the freighter came to a stop . . . backed down for some time, stopped and then turned around and sailed eastward.” 1

That was the Navy on the quarantine line—ships ready for action and a command system that reached from the Pentagon and President Kennedy to destroyer captains and their crews. Before the crisis ended, the Navy would have more than 140 ships in the Caribbean and over 350 combat aircraft at area airfields. They were responding to a Cold War confrontation that had begun in September 1960 when the Soviet freighter Atkarsk arrived at Nikolaev, the Black Sea port used for exporting weapons and military equipment from the Soviet Union.

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