We were in port the morning of Oct 22,1962 when the whole squadron got the
word to go to sea. It was quite a sight to see all 13 submarines of Sub
Squadron 12 in addition to the Destroyers and other ships at Key West all
at sea at the same time.
We were in our Key West homeport that Monday morning getting ready to do three weeks of repairs and up-keep. I was part of the duty group ( 1/4 of the crew) standing watch over the weekend . The idea is that only 1/4 of us could, in an emergency, take the ship to sea. Anyway, we were told at 3 AM that we should forget the up-keep because we were in an National Emergency, and that the rest of the crew were being re-called. "As soon as your replacement gets on board, you should go to the barracks, pack your cold-weather gear and get back to the sub," we were told. Since it was 80 degrees in Key West , being told to pack cold weather gear told us that the North Atlantic would probably be where we were headed.
When my relief got to the ship, I hot-footed it to the barracks, packed more gear and went to the movie house. Normally, as movie Petty Officer , I had to manually inspect each movie reel for defects and sign that you did inspect them. Also each sub could only have two movies/night. As everyone was frantically running around the base and crew members were rapidly coming in from home , I went to the movie checkout building with my seabag, and I told them to give me 25 movies, and signed for them without inspection. Later that day (as the other ships realized that they only had 2 movies for an indefinite time at sea , my Captain congratulated me for a smooth heads up move.
Movies and coffee were the actual bargaining items between subs for getting other items off line. We were in a great position for the next two months!
After going to sea, we had 13 subs steaming together north up the Florida coast . I remember an Esso tanker coming across the horizon , change course , and wonder what we were doing ( we rarely had more than 2 subs together). At about 7 PM , we rigged up a TV and heard President Kennedy tell the world about the blockade. Of course, the destroyers, cruisers and carriers went directly towards Cuba. We had a different mission. The US Navy had about 1/2 of us peel off one at a time and go into different ports (dispersal) in Florida and Georgia ports. The rest of us continued to Charleston, SC. After getting there, we removed any dummy torpedoes, replaced them with "war shots," loaded up with fuel, supplies, etc.
I had to get battery water from the sub tender USS Howard W. Gilmore AS-16 . All military protocol was on hold that day. I interrupted officers poring over a map of Cuba and announced I was from the Sea Poacher and needed 400 gallons of battery water. They said, "Get that man his battery water." We ended up running a 3/8 inch garden hose from the sub tender to the sub over 1,000 feet away, It took 10 hours to get the water through that tiny hose!
While all this was going on, the executive officer said we could make one call home, but couldn't tell where we were or where we were going. My parents were concerned as the world situation looked bad. I believe the civilians were in worse shape then we were , as they had more information then we did. My parents stoically said to go get em and do my duty. My mother , Margaret E. Kyle Brinkman ( 5 ) thought I was in Key West and hot. I was in a outdoor phone booth freezing in Charleston . I hoped my chattering teeth didn't give away our position!
At 2 AM , the Executive officer had a hurried up meeting with us on the fantail. ( We were re-loading torpedoes, supplies , etc for an immediate departure to sea all night long). The executive office said that if you didn't have one, that you might want to make out a will! Since I only owned a beat-up 56 Chevy, I didn't think a will was necessary. However, to a man , we had the feeling that if the officers thought that a possible outcome was the need for a will , then maybe we'd want to discuss all the plans and options ! Needless to say , telling a 21 year old sailor that he needed a will was a real sobering experience to the 21 year old sailor ( me )!
The Executive Officer also told us that all of us due to be discharged between October 1962 and by about June 1963 should forget it- the US Congress had extended our enlistment one year ! I was due to get out Jan 5 , 1963. We were amazed that Congress could act that quickly , but it's really just a formality for them to do so. We were sending " messages " to Russia that we were committed to remove the missiles. During this time , the US Air Force Strategic Air Command ( SAC ) was flying continuously with B-52'S loaded with nuclear weapons.
After loading up with 24 war shot torpedoes, we were ready to sail. We actually started out of Charleston harbor when the Pentagon lowered the DEFCON rating one notch. So Sea Poacher went back to the pier.
We talked to the Captain and asked him what our orders were, but because he couldn't open them up only until we were at sea , even he didn't know as we didn't get out to sea. (Actually, since our biggest gun was the Thompson Submachine gun, we were useless in the blockade, as far as stopping Russian ships at sea was concerned.)
During this time, the Russians were sending more transports with missiles on them to Cuba, and being watched by Naval air units. So we knew that our mission probably was to sink those ships if the Russians didn't turn around.
We were awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for our participation
in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
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