The Cold War had never come closer to getting hot. Although proxy wars had been fought, and more would follow, the United States and the Soviet Union had avoided directly exchanging fire. The discovery of a missile base under construction in Cuba threatened to change that. Fifty years ago, the world waited while the two superpowers bluffed and negotiated, a nuclear holocaust growing perilously real. From Oct. 14, 1962, when the missile base was discovered by aerial reconnaissance, until an agreement was announced 13 days later, the tension mounted. Ultimately, the Soviet Union dismantled the bases and the US agreed not to invade Cuba. A secret agreement saw the United States dismantle missiles in Turkey and Italy.
In the photo above, from Oct. 27, 1962, US Army antiaircraft rockets were mounted on launchers and pointed out over the Florida Straits in full view of the public driving along Roosevelt Boulevard in Key West, Fla. The rocket positions were manned day and night. Off-duty missilemen slept in sleeping bags on the beach while other soldiers walked guard duty with rifles. “We’re trained to perfection and ready to go,” one soldier reported to newsmen.
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