The Cuban Missile Crisis was also the Turkey Missile Crisis. Fifty years ago this week, the 13 day stand-off between the Soviet Union and United States put the world on the brink of nuclear war.
While Kennedy and Khrushchev waited to see which one would blink over removal of nuclear missiles from Cuba, Air Force Lt. Joseph Maiolo was in charge of 15 Jupiter nuclear missiles 150 miles from the Soviet border in Turkey. He had the launch code in his hands, “I was put in a room and I was locked in a room and I was given the code book. That was the 25th of October. Sure enough, I was awakened and told we had gone to DEFCON 2 which is one step from all-out war.”
Now an English professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Maiolo says it was a terrifying time in Turkey, but he found out later it was more frightening in the United States, “They were terrified. They listened to the radio and people put up food and stuff in shelters. They didn’t know whether they were going to see tomorrow or not.”
Even though Khrushchev was the first to blink and the missiles were removed from Cuba and later from Turkey, Maiolo believes the planet was as close to annihilation as it ever had been before or since. Fifty years later, he’s still not sure if he would have launched his 15 nuclear missiles, “I don’t know what I would have done. You’re sitting in a trailer in Turkey in the night-time. You’re given an order to do something and you know, I’d like to say I wouldn’t.”
Maiolo wrote a book about the experience “My Turkish Missile Crisis: A Memoir from the Frontline of October 1962”.