Ruben Cantu

Ruben Cantu

On Oct. 16, 1962, then-President John F. Kennedy and his advisers were stunned to learn that the Soviet Union was installing nuclear missiles in Cuba. These weapons, located barely 90 miles away from the nearest U.S. shore, represented a serious threat to America.

This episode in U.S. history, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, has close ties to Del Rio and Laughlin Air Force Base, as this was the home base of the U-2 spy planes flying the reconnaissance missions over Cuba.

The crisis is also known as the 13-day period during the Cold War when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were closest to an all-out confrontation.

The installation of the missiles had been documented on Oct. 14, by a U-2 spy plane piloted by Laughlin Air Force Base Maj. Richard Heyser, who was flying out of McCoy Air Force Base, in Orlando, Fla.

On Oct. 15, Heyser and another Laughlin pilot, Maj. Rudolf Anderson, Jr., would fly again over Cuba to confirm the finding of the missiles. Anderson would later become the only casualty of this historic crisis.

Kennedy went public on Oct. 22, announcing “unmistakable evidence” of a missile threat had been found, and said that the United States would prevent ships carrying weapons to reach Cuba, while demanding that the Soviets withdraw their missiles.

The crisis peaked on Oct. 27, when Anderson was shot down while on a mission over Cuba. The incident was published the next day in the Del Rio News-Herald, with a front page article titled “Laughlin U2 pilot missing on recon mission over Cuba.”

This is a reprint of the article published in the Sunday, Oct. 28, 1962 edition of the News-Herald, which 57 years later remains as relevant and revealing as on day one.

The Defense Department announced Saturday night that a U.S. military reconnaissance plane engaged in conducting surveillance over Cuba is missing and presumed lost.

The Pentagon identified the pilot of the American plane as Maj. Rudolf Anderson Jr., Greenville, S.C. He was listed as missing in action.

Maj. Rudolf Anderson Jr. resides at 9009 B Arantz at Laughlin Air Force Base. However, officials at both the Pentagon and the base declined to make comment Saturday night.

Associated Press reported from Greenville, S.C., that Anderson’s father said his son had been stationed as a US pilot at Del Rio, Texas, and members of his family said, “We knew he was on a highly secret mission.”

His father said his wife is in Del Rio where Major Anderson was stationed as a U-2 pilot.

Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara ordered 24 troop carrier squadrons of the Air Force Reserve into active duty Saturday night after Cuban guns fired upon unarmed American reconnaissance planes.

In his announcement, McNamara confirmed for the first time that Cuban weapons actually had fired upon American planes.

Earlier, the Department of Defense had announced only that a reconnaissance plane was missing and presumed lost. The announcement was made without elaboration by Asst. Secretary of Defense Arthur Sylvester.

“The surveillance will be continued and appropriate measures will be taken to insure that such missions are effective and protected” the Pentagon said.

Less than three hours earlier, Sylvester had said the United States would take counter action if American reconnaissance aircraft were attacked in the Cuban area.

Somewhat earlier than that, the Havana radio had announced that Cuban antiaircraft batteries had driven off intruding planes.

It appeared possible from Sylvester’s announcement of the apparent less than the reconnaissance plane that the United Stated might decide to escort such planes with heavily armed jet fighters, but there was no official word on what measures would be taking.

Sylvester appeared at a news conference several hours after Havana radio reported that Cuban antiaircraft artillery had driven off unidentified intruding airplanes.

The Defense Department information chief said surveillance operations are carried out largely by camera-armed aircraft.

It is through continuous aerial observation that the United States has been able to keep an eye on the progress of work on offensive missile bases in Cuba and other military installations, he said.

In revealing that Cuban weapons had fired upon the unarmed American planes, Secretary of Defense McNamara said that in order to fulfill the resolutions adopted by the Organization of American States, “It is essential that such reconnaissance continues.”

A statement by McNamara said, “The possibility of further attack on our aircraft and the continued buildup of the offensive weapons systems in Cube requires that we be prepared for any eventuality.”

Havana radio said in report unidentified war planes had been driven from western Cuba by Cuban antiaircraft batteries.

The government communique broadcast by the radio did not say whether the batteries actually opened fire on the planes.

The phraseology was that the batteries forced the planes to flee.

The radio said the planes had violated Cuba’s air space and penetrated national territory.

The communique said the violation took place at 10:17 a.m. (EST) but did not stated the day on which the incident occurred.

In Key West, Fla., military sources who conducted a search from about 1 p.m. until dark for the missing American plane, said they also did not know if the aircraft had been a victim of gun fire.

“So many things could have happened,” one source said.

“We kept hoping for some time that the plane would come back or had landed at another field,” the source said, indicating that no word had reached here from the plane before it disappeared.

The conflict officially ended on Oct. 28, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev conceded, writing an open letter to Kennedy saying that the Soviet missiles would be dismantled and removed from Cuba. 

James Long, with the Laughlin Heritage Foundation, said the missions continued on for over a year, with U-2s stationed in McCoy Air Force Base, and pilots from Laughlin Air Force Base.

“They had U-2Fs, with a bigger engine, which is the J75 engine, we had U-2As, which had the J57 engine,” Long said.

The museum, located at 309 South Main Street, has all kinds of historic documentation regarding the U-2 program, Long said.

For more information on this crisis and the U-2s visit Laughlin Heritage Foundation Museum, where they have historic displays including U-2 cameras, engines and other historical objects.

Rubén Cantú has been a journalist since 1995. He is the managing editor of the Del Rio News-Herald.

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