In 1962, Florida played a central role in one of the most significant events of the Cold War: the Cuban Missile Crisis. This tense 13-day confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union brought the world closer to a nuclear conflict than ever before.
The Cuban Missile Crisis began on October 14, 1962, when U.S. reconnaissance aircraft discovered Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles under construction in Cuba, just 90 miles from the coast of Florida. These missiles, if operational, would have put a significant portion of the United States within striking range of a nuclear attack.
President John F. Kennedy and his advisors swiftly convened to formulate a response. Meanwhile, Florida became the epicenter of U.S. military operations, with numerous military installations preparing for a potential conflict. The Homestead Air Force Base, the Key West Naval Air Station, and the Boca Chica Naval Air Station all went on high alert. The Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, a symbol of American progress and prestige, was also at risk due to its proximity to Cuba.
On October 22, President Kennedy addressed the nation, announcing a naval quarantine around Cuba to prevent the delivery of additional missiles and demanding the removal of existing ones. The quarantine was enforced by the U.S. Navy, which included vessels stationed in Florida, such as the Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville.
Tensions continued to escalate, with both sides making preparations for a possible nuclear exchange. Florida residents, especially those in southern regions, were acutely aware of the danger, and many took measures to protect themselves, including building fallout shelters and stockpiling supplies.
While Florida was gripped by fear, another extraordinary event took place in the Sunshine State. On February 20, 1962, astronaut John Glenn made history by becoming the first American to orbit the Earth, launching from Cape Canaveral in his spacecraft, Friendship 7. Glenn's successful mission helped boost American morale and confidence during the Cold War, especially given the Soviet Union's early dominance in the Space Race.
Finally, on October 28, after intense negotiations, the Soviet Union agreed to dismantle and remove the missiles from Cuba in exchange for the United States' commitment to not invade the island and to remove American missiles from Turkey. The crisis was over, and Florida, along with the rest of the world, breathed a sigh of relief.
In 1962, Florida was at the heart of a geopolitical crisis that threatened global security. However, it was also the site of a pioneering space mission that signaled American resilience and ingenuity. These events showcase the diverse and historically significant role that Florida played in shaping the course of American history during this turbulent period.