Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Grim Reaper Hovers

I might have mentioned that I was a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol when I went to Carol City Junior High. Of course I mentioned it, I don't just make this stuff up. For students, it's a way to learn about aviation especially if you intend to go into the US Air Force since it is the official Air Force Auxiliary.

None of the people in this photograph is me because, strangely enough, I have no photos of me in uniform. You might think, "Surely there will be some offhand snapshot." But, nooooo.

Actually, it's for the best because this is what I looked like in eighth grade so the fewer photographs, the better. Geez, look at that hair! What's the matter with me?

Naturally, after all this experience and training, I joined the US Navy instead. Of course, the Navy has an excellent flight program, but they thought things would be better for everyone if I served on a Destroyer which is as far from any aircraft as humanly possible.

The Civil Air Patrol really was a great opportunity for exposure to things I had no contact with before. I learned how to march, and what a 'load factor' is (i.e.,
the ratio of the lift of an aircraft to its weight). You gotta know this stuff or you may not be able to march to your aircraft and get it off the ground.

But I also got to fly in small civilian aircraft like Cessnas and Piper Cubs and the legendary DC-3 (pictured above), which many consider the most perfect aircraft ever built.

This airplane was designed in 1932 and is still in daily retail operation around the world. You got any 1932 automobiles being used as taxis? Many pilots still believe the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3. This respect shows in the other commonly used phrase that the DC-3 is '
a collection of parts flying in loose formation'. And I got to fly in one.

So, because I was a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol, I got to play a small part in the closest thing to nuclear war the world has ever seen - The Cuban Missile Crisis. And it was a crisis. For those who didn't live through it (or who can't remember it), it was particularly nasty for those of us who lived in south Florida. After all, that's about 20 seconds flying time for a missile from Cuba.

Kennedy and Khrushchev (in this photo above, Kennedy is asking Nikita to 'pull his finger') got into a royal pushing and shoving contest because of some missiles that Khrushchev has snuck into Cuba.

For a while there, it was really tense, many people thought there would be nuclear war at any moment. The US rushed boatloads of missiles to Miami and set up acres of launch sites. There was a really big Nike Hercules facility just a couple of miles from where I lived at the time and they didn't even bother to try to hide it.

But, no, they didn't ask the Civil Air Patrol cadets to man the missiles. We were put to work at the Opa Locka Airport putting together civil defense food and emergency packages in case that war happened. I'm not sure what good it would have done us if Miami had been nuked and all our sand had been turned into a kind of root-beer-colored glass. Well, it kept us busy.

Nowadays, I doubt that people realize how close October 1962 came to all of us going pbbtttth. A lot of Congress wanted to go ahead with the big one and called Kennedy 'reluctant'. He was probably just concerned that we hadn't finished those food packages and was buying us some more time.

I'm good with that.

1 comment:

Leah Kleylein said...

History is a funny thing - things that were so important at the time end up being a paragraph, if even that in the history books we use in school. I will never forget the first time I realized that really strong feelings could exist about things I had no idea about - don't laugh, it was from a movie (and a dumb one!) Remember the scene in Back to School between Rodney Dangerfield and Sam Kinison where they yelled about the "Korean Conflict" - that was what opened my eyes! I know, there's something wrong with me!