(Pictured: President Kennedy speaks to the nation on Monday, October 22, 1962.)
October 27, 1962, was a Saturday. The American naval blockade of Cuba, technically an act of war, continues in response to the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Today, in another act of war, a U2 spy plane taking reconaissance photos over Cuba is shot down by a surface-to-air missile, killing the pilot, Major Rudolf Anderson of Greenville, South Carolina. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev exchanges messages with President Kennedy following the rejection of Khrushchev’s offer to remove Cuban missiles if American missiles are removed from Turkey. Attorney General Robert Kennedy continues unofficial meetings with the Soviet ambassador. A group of governors meets to discuss civil defense measures, although a large percentage of Americans believes that little can be done to protect them. Air strikes on Cuba have been ordered for Monday; federal government operations are set to move to the secure Mount Weather facility in rural Virginia. Tonight, the president tells administration officials who have been sleeping in their offices all week to go home. He seeks diversion by screening the movie Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.
In college football, most of the top teams in the nation win their games today. Two who do not: top-ranked Texas, which ties Rice 14-14, and #5 Wisconsin, which loses to Ohio State 14-7 in Columbus. Advertisements in the program for the Ohio State/Wisconsin game promote the 1963 Buick Wildcat and the 1963 Super Torque Ford Galaxie. Fans are encouraged to munch a bunch of Fritos and to try New Era scientifically produced and truly digestible potato chips. Another ad ponders the question, “Should a gentleman offer a Tiparillo to a lady?” (Tiparillo cigars are available at the concession stand.) After the game, fans can send one dollar plus proof of purchase from any one of several General Electric small appliances to receive a limited-edition, high-fidelity, 33 1/3 RPM album of college fight songs.
In Bardstown, Kentucky, Herbie Phelps of Old Kentucky Home High School basks in last night’s accomplishment: he ran for 392 yards on 20 carries, scored 10 touchdowns, and kicked eight extra points in his team’s 74-6 win over Aquinas Prep. All are new state records. Four games are played in the NBA tonight; among them, the Chicago Zephyrs, down 16 points at halftime, come back to force the San Francisco Warriors to overtime. The Warriors win it, however, 129-126. Warrior Wilt Chamberlain plays all 53 minutes, scores 46 points, and grabs 23 rebounds.
TV schedules are disrupted today and tonight by news coverage of Cuba. Among the evening programs scheduled are The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (starring Fess Parker in the Jimmy Stewart role), the critically acclaimed legal drama The Defenders with E. G. Marshall and Robert Reed, plus westerns Have Gun Will Travel and Gunsmoke.
At KDWB in Minneapolis, “Do You Love Me” by the Contours is the new #1 song, followed by the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel,” the double-sided hit “Only Love Can Break a Heart” and “If I Didn’t Have a Dime” by Gene Pitney, and Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash.” (“Monster Mash” is in its second week at #1 in both Billboard and Cash Box.) Brenda Lee and Sam Cooke are new in the Top 10 with “All Alone Am I” and “Nothing Can Change This Love.” The biggest mover on the chart is “Popeye the Hitchhiker” by Chubby Checker, up 10 spots; the highest debut is “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by the Four Seasons. Also new is the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ Safari.” The #1 album in the Twin Cities is Ramblin’ Rose by Nat King Cole.
Perspective From the Present: October 27, 1962, has been called “the most dangerous day in human history.” Sporting events and movies were lightly attended; streets were largely deserted as Americans stayed home to wait for whatever was coming. The next day, Khrushchev would announce his decision to dismantle the missiles in Cuba, although tensions remained high for weeks thereafter. Eventually, the United States would quietly remove its missiles from Turkey. Herbie Phelps went on to teach and coach at his alma mater, retiring in 2005.
My parents don’t remember much about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Focused as they were on the farm and the family (I was two and my brother was six months old), they say they went about their days as they always did. But like most Americans, they must have gone to bed some nights wondering if they would wake up the next morning, or what they would wake up to.