I Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis

By Guest Contributor September 14, 2016 16:46

uss-hornet

I Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis

By Bill Edwards

On October 15, 1961 I was a civilian on contract to U.S. Naval Aviation traveling as a Naval Aviation Engineering Service Unit (NAESU) engineer. I had landed at the naval air station in Naha, Okinawa, teaching maintenance skills to naval personnel on aircraft electrical systems.

I had heard that the USS Hornet (currently anchored at Alameda Naval Air Station, California as a public exhibit) was heading for Hong Kong for R & R (rest and relaxation). I knew the mail plane from the aircraft carrier was due into Naha to pick up the ship’s mail.

I went to the base operations officer and told him I wanted to fly back to the Hornet on the mail plane. He informed me that no one could ride as a passenger on the mail plane. I produced a letter I had in my possession signed by the chief of naval operations, the head of the U. S. Navy, authorizing me to travel on any military conveyance in order to accomplish my duties. He said, “Okay, I guess you can.”

The mail plane, a twin engine WF-2, arrived. The pilot read the letter and said, “Okay, climb aboard.” We then flew 700 miles out into the South China Sea, where if we couldn’t find the carrier, we would have to swim home!

We landed on the carrier, were snagged by the cables, and taxied to a parking spot on deck. We were met by a lieutenant commander and two armed Marines, wanting to know who I was, as it was very unusual for a passenger to accompany the mail plane.

He read my letter and escorted me to the bridge to see the captain of the ship, a very friendly and gracious officer who was in charge of a formidable military weapon with more than 2,000 sailors and Navy fighter pilots. He invited me to come to the bridge at any time as he was tired of talking to Navy personnel for the past six months. Inasmuch as we were on the way to Hong Kong, all normal training had been suspended aboard ship, so I took him literally.

The following morning we entered the outer harbor and suddenly we made a U-turn along with our seven destroyer escorts heading back out to sea at full speed. I asked the captain what was happening and he said we were responding to a Navy-wide red alert. My first thought was that the United States had suffered a nuclear attack. He informed me that we were instigating a naval blockade of Cuba directed by President Kennedy.

That night we experienced a violent storm with 40- to 50-foot waves, but by daylight the seas had calmed, to the delight of our destroyer escorts who spent half the time being buried under the giant waves.

I went up to the bridge to get the latest news. After a short time, the radioman came onto the bridge to report an aircraft that approached from behind our group of ships.

There were two ensigns fresh out of the naval academy with their field glasses trying to identify the aircraft. I was looking at it and ventured that it was a Navy P2V-7, a Lockheed anti-submarine, twin-engine aircraft with two jet pods on its wingtips. The ensigns thought it was either a Russian or Chinese aircraft. I felt I should have offered my opinion as I was a non-combatant civilian.

The radioman came back and told the captain it was “Whiskey Flt #17”, a patrol aircraft P2V-7 out of Naha. He said they left an odd message. He told the captain, “They said to say hello to Bill Edwards.” The captain pointed to me and said, “That’s you!”

We had a good laugh and I told him I had flown with them to Taiwan on a previous patrol. I saw this flight crew later that month at Iwakuni Marine Air Station in Japan and said, “Are you guys crazy to send a message like that to an armada or ships on red alert?”

The pilot laughed and said, “Heck, we were thinking of coming across the deck with two turnin’ and two burnin’, but thought we might get shot down.”

Tuolumne resident Bill Edwards, 86, says he wasn’t in danger aboard the Hornet, and was soon granted permission to leave the ship by mail plane to head to a Philippine base he was due to visit. Of his friends’ antics, he says, “When you’re out there in the middle of nowhere, you have to manufacture humor in order to keep your sanity.”

By Guest Contributor September 14, 2016 16:46
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