FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'A National Emergency'
Jean Wilson was a college freshman on October 22, 1962, when she heard President John F. Kennedy’s speech announcing the presence of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on the island of Cuba.
“It sounded like an emergency, like a national emergency,” Wilson said.
Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba, with the threat of further military action if the missiles remained.
For thirteen days, the world held its breath, waiting to see how the US and USSR would resolve the standoff. In November, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev offered to remove the missiles, ending the crisis.
At the time, Wilson’s father, Lt. Col. Leon Jones, was stationed at Fort Bragg on active duty with the 82nd Airborne. Decades later, Wilson’s parents told her of those tense weeks.
A few days prior to Kennedy’s speech, Jones called his wife Dorothy to say he’d be home for dinner after a long stint on post. He asked her to cook a steak.
As the family sat down to eat, the phone rang. A man’s voice uttered a codeword. Jones jumped up, grabbed his duffle bag, and departed, telling his astonished family only that he promised to return.
What he knew, and they didn’t, was that military leaders were drafting a plan to invade Cuba. If deployed, 82nd Airborne paratroopers would land in sugarcane fields near Havana.
“They expected a lot of casualties, and I’m sure my father understood that was what might happen,” said Wilson.
Upon arriving at Fort Bragg, Jones learned it was a false alarm. He and his fellow paratroopers would not be invading Cuba that day. Although it would be years before he could tell his wife what had been planned, he could at least call and say he'd be coming home.
Ft. Bragg Stories is a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project to commemorate a century of history at Fort Bragg through personal narratives. You can hear other stories in the series here. If you'd like to share your Fort Bragg story, you can send it here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org