Cuban Missile Crisis: Key West

Key West, America’s Southernmost point.

I’ve had a few recent email exchanges with a fellow crew member of USS J.P. Kennedy, Jr. and a ship’s visit to Key West was mentioned. Neither of us can recall why we were sent to Key West but I vaguely recall being sent to the Navy Communication Center to make some sort of information exchange

My shipmate remembers the ship being ordered to keep its weapons control system active while in port because of our close proximity to Cuba. We may not have been at general quarters but it wouldn’t have required much to defend ourselves.

What I do remember about Key West in 1962 is how less developed it was then compared to now. Except for the original community and the US Navy Base most of the island remained undeveloped and wild. There was a road that circled the island and one that ran laterally across it. What free time we had was spent drinking beer in the bars that are today’s tourist traps and riding mopeds on the streets and back roads. Probably because of the threat of impending doom there weren’t many people in town other than sailors.

Finally I remember when coming into port at Key West we passed an old wooden pier with an unpainted shed near the end. In front of the shed sat an assortment of lawn chairs and chaise lounges and hanging from the sides of the shed was a collection of snorkeling equipment. The sign over the shed’s door read, “US Coast Guard Station, Key West, Florida.” Couple of years later my younger brother ask what branch of the military he should enlist in. I quickly told him, “Coast Guard, of course!”

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