Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Walter Jones
U.S. Navy, Cuban Missile Crisis Veteran
I served in the U.S. Navy from 1960 to 1963 as an Aviation Boatswain’s Mate. My ship, the USS Enterprise, had just returned to Norfolk from a 6-month cruise in the Mediterranean. Almost right after we got back, they sounded general quarters—“This is not a drill!”—and we were underway again. We didn’t even know where we were going. Every pier in Norfolk emptied. We sailed out of the Chesapeake into the Atlantic and took on all of our squadrons from NAS Oceana, loaded them all up with missiles and bombs and sailed south at flank speed.
Once we were underway, that’s when they told us where we were going. I was aware of the situation in Cuba, of the missiles stationed there … I’d heard about it on the news … and now we were headed straight for the waters off the coast of Cuba.
The next morning we arrived and joined the blockade. I was out on the flightline, and we were all prepared to launch our planes because Khrushchev wasn’t agreeing to take the missiles out of Cuba.
We were all ready to go. We were the crew of the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and we were just kids at the time. We were a bunch of 18 and 19 year olds; all geared up and ready to go, just filled with adrenaline. We didn’t have time to get scared. We didn’t even have time to shower or shave for seven days.
We had enough firepower on board our fleet to level the entire island of Cuba, and the Russians had missiles that needed to go. The armed forces were at DEFCON 3, but the Strategic Air Command was at DEFCON 2, the closest you can get to nuclear war. Most people don’t know how close we came.
Later that day, the airboss came over the intercom and told us the launch was cancelled. Khrushchev was backing down and had finally agreed to take the missiles out of Cuba. We started flying photo recon missions after the whole event to make sure that they were getting the missiles out. We oversaw the exodus of ships from the island, and we shadowed the Russian trawlers for 60 days.
We were awarded three medals for our actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis—The Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the U.S. Navy Expeditionary Medal and the National Defense Medal. It was an experience I will always remember.
We were a part of history. I am now 71 years old and a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.