Ed Hutcheson of Burnt Store Marina, south of Punta Gorda, was an airman first class working for Air Force Intelligence. His job was to intercept secret messages sent by his Soviet counterpart about the Soviet’s military operations.
Most of his four years in the Air Force was pretty routine until shortly before he was discharged when he and the men of his Intercept Squadron decoded secret messages about the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.
The Cuban face-off between the Americans and the Russians was the closest this country has come to war since World War II.
“We were on the very brink of war when the crisis was called off. I think Kennedy and Khrushchev saved the world,” the 74-year-old former Air Force intelligence Airman 1st Class said.
It was May 1962, the height of the “Cold War” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The U.S. had recently placed ballistic missiles along the Russian-Turkey border. To retaliate Khrushchev secretly slipped medium range ballistic missiles into Cuba.
On Oct. 14 an American spy plane was sent to search the island for Soviet nuclear missiles. The U.S. confronted the Soviets about their missiles in Cuba. They were told to remove them or face the possibility of a nuclear war.
For a few days in late October ’62, relations between the U.S. and Russia became unusually tense. Gen. Curtis LeMay, commander of the Strategic Air Command, recommended to President Kennedy that we “nuke” Cuba and send in the Marines.
“It was a scary time,” Hutcheson recalled. “We knew what was going on, on a day-to-day basis because we were handling the intercepts.
“We knew the Russians were moving their submarine force out of the port at Vladivostok, Russia in preparation for going to war in Cuba. If they had gone to war their medium-range missiles could have reached as far north up the East Coast to Washington, D.C.”
The incident was defused when Khrushchev sent a letter to Kennedy suggesting that he would pull the Soviet missiles out of Cuba if Kennedy would do the same thing with the American ballistic missiles along the Turkish-Russian border.
A bargain between the Americans and the Russians was struck and the crisis was over just as quickly as it began.
A short time later Hutcheson completed his four-year hitch in the Air Force. He got out and went to East Tennessee State College for a couple of years where he studied Business Administration. About this time he got married and dropped out of school while his wife, Francine, continued her college education.
Initially he went to work for Firestone for three years, but then he started his own carpet business. He sold the carpet business after eight years and went into real estate in the Norfolk area with his wife. Hutcheson hung up his license in 1995 and moved to Burnt Store Marina. He and his wife own two homes–one here and the other on Virginia Beach near Norfolk. They split their time between their two homes.
The couple has two grown children: Tye and Tracy.
Name: Edwin Joseph Hutcheson, III
D.O.B: 18 July 1939
Hometown: Norfolk, VA
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 1958
Discharged: 19 Dec. 1962
Rank: Airman 1st Class
Unit: Headquarters 698th ROM
Commendations: Good Conduct Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Award
Battles/Campaigns: Cold War
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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