A flight on the wild side – Gen. Gerald Milmoyle flew U-2 spy plane over Cuba during missile crisis

Sometimes the stories I receive from readers are better than anything I can write. Here is a fine example of what I’m talking about:

“Today marks the 41st anniversary, Oct. 27, 2003, of the end of the    Cuban missile crisis.

“The day was Oct. 24, 1962, and Maj. Steve Heyser of Apalachicola had flown the first U-2 overflight of Cuba 10 days earlier. He photographed the Soviet construction of nuclear missile sites.

“Today was my third overflight of Cuba in a U-2 and was much like any other day as I took off from Orlando, Fla.. on my way to Cuba. As I climbed out I viewed the peaceful, beautiful blue Florida sky with a few puffs of brilliantly white cotton ball clouds below me with a background of green coral sea surrounding the Florida Keys blending into a deep blue.

“As I approached the island of Cuba, it looked tranquil and beautiful 72,000 feet below my U-2. As I coasted in over Cuba I looked directly below me through the periscope viewfinder. The deep green Cuban forest quickly replaced the blue of the sea outlined by a thread of white beach. I turned my viewfinder ahead and found my first target to photograph just west of Havana. There it was, straight ahead, the white scars where the earth had been torn asunder in order to receive the emplacement of Soviet nuclear tipped ballistic missiles.

“Those scars were about 50 miles away yet clearly visible, the color change was that dramatic. Nearby were the scars of the surface-to-air missile sites emplaced to shoot down intruders into Cuban airspace. Their traditional signature outline looked like a black and white drawing of the flower we call a daisy.

“My strobe indicator graphically displayed for me, in light green lines emanating from the center outward, showing the direction and distance of the Cuban radar. They had picked me up and were painting me with their radar beams. I could see I would fly right over them. The length of the strobe showed me whenever I was in their 25-mile lethal range of their surface-to-air missile sites surrounding each radar.

“It was crucial that I not deviate from track unless under attack. Our country needed to know the status of the nuclear missile sites’ construction. Those nuclear missiles would soon pose an unacceptable threat to our country.

“After about two hours of flying from one target to another taking high-altitude pictures of the missile buildup, I coasted out and took up a heading for Orlando. I looked back at the missile site near Banes I had just overflown.

“I was astonished when I saw two missiles’ brilliantly white condensation trails extending from the missile sites to above my altitude. Both trails rising vertically from the missile site had a starburst of white at the top of each. Instantly I realized the Soviets had fired two missiles at me, but had missed. I had had absolutely no indication from my warning systems.

“I breathed a sigh of relief I was now over the ocean, knowing I was safe over the deep, blue sea. I made my coast out radio call and knew that in a little over an hour I would land at McCoy Air Force Base near Orlando. Then my film would be immediately downloaded from my U-2, hurried to a P-39 fighter, waiting with engines running to take my pictures to Washington. Three days later. Maj. Anderson’s U-2 was shot down and he was killed. That day, Oct. 27, 1962, was also the day the Cuban missile crisis ended.

“Today I look up at the gorgeous blue sky brightening our day here in Paradise (Venice, Fla.). Those days in October 1962 hardly seem real. In the perspective of our world’s history, I guess it was a day just like any other day, but not for me.

“Brig. Gen. Gerald E. Milmoyle (Ret.)


This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 27, 2003 and is republished with permission. We thought this was an appropriate post considering President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba this week.

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