Duty, Honor, Country and ‘All That’
“Duty, Honor, Country.”
How often do we read or hear those words “thrown around” lightly?
How about heroism and heroes – words which this author perhaps uses too “loosely” and too frequently, but the use of which he defends.
I listened to a story recently on National Public Radio (NPR) wherein the young sailor involved deserves every one of those accolades, and more.
It is October 1962, the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a time and event when the United States and the Soviet Union stepped to the brink of a nuclear conflict.
The United States has evidence that the Soviet Union has medium-range (SS-4) and intermediate- range (R-14) ballistic nuclear missiles in Cuba.
The evening of October 22, President Kennedy addresses the nation with a somber and ominous message.
Part of it:
It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.
The United States imposes a naval “quarantine” on Cuba – referred to by many as a “blockade;” the military goes into DEFCON 3 military readiness and the Joint Chiefs of Staff accelerate plans for a military strike on Cuba. (Eventually our forces were placed at DEFCON 2, meaning war involving the Strategic Air Command was “imminent” – a “defense condition” that, to the best of our public knowledge, our forces have never before and never since been under)
Meanwhile, a flurry of communications continues between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, sometimes directly between President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev.
However, if negotiations fail and it comes to a confrontation, one of the first things the United Sates must do is destroy those nuclear-tipped missiles 90 miles from our shores.
Patrolling the waters around Cuba is a massive naval force.
On one of the aircraft carriers, a young sailor is ordered to report to the ship’s captain.
The captain tells yeoman Jack Boyles that he has been selected for a dangerous mission, a mission he may not return from — a “one-way mission” — a mission he can choose not to undertake.
The mission is to be dropped off as close as possible to one of the three missiles launch sites in Cuba that have been targeted for destruction before they can launch their nuclear missiles.
His task is to “light-up” the missile so that an aircraft can more accurately target it and take it out.
Two other sailors will be on identical missions to the other two launch sites to light-up all three missile sites simultaneously.
It does not take long for Boyles to accept the mission and in very short order he is aboard a helicopter making his way along the southern coast of Cuba to launch site number 2.
Once in his hiding place, within sight of the launch site, the trucks, the soldiers and the missile, Boyles has plenty of time to think, as it will be three long nights before he receives the final order.
Of course, he thinks about his family, whom he believes he will never see again. He ponders how a young man from High Point North Carolina ended up with such an overwhelming responsibility.
He also thinks about the cyanide tablet in a glass vial in his pocket which he will “use” if his capture is imminent.
And he thinks about the all-consuming hell that will occur when the nuclear missile site is taken out.
A one-way mission for sure.
Fifty-six years later, we know how it all ended.
But 56 years – and whatever happened in October 1962 – will not diminish the heroism of Jack Boyles and of so many other men and women who risked their lives for “honor, duty country” during the “Cuban Missile Crisis.”
Please listen to this fascinating episode of Secrets of War at NPR here and watch the excellent documentary of perhaps the most perilous two weeks in modern times below.
CODA: The author has not been able to independently verify the story but trusts NPR’s due diligence.
Lead Image: Aerial view of one of the missile launch sites at San Cristobal, Cuba. (John F. Kennedy Library)