Fidel Castro took power in Cuba on January 1, 1959 and tensions between the United States and Cuba were dangerously high. On October 14, 1962, a United States reconnaissance plane took over 900 photos of the Cuban countryside. These revealed that there was suspicious military construction in San Cristobal in western Cuba. The questionable objects were later identified as Soviet, medium-range ballistic missiles.
On October 23, 1962, Key Westers awoke to find that the U.S. military had taken over the island and that they were living in the middle of an armed camp. Barbed wire, machine gun positions, and missiles were positioned at strategic locations and beaches throughout the island. The Army occupied the Casa Marina Hotel and was using it as command headquarters. The fear of war was palpable with everyone in Key West suspecting that the Naval Air Field at Boca Chica, an island located directly next to Key West, would be a primary target in an armed skirmish with the Soviets and Cuba. In a matter of days, military personnel on the island increased from 3,000 to 15,000. And along U.S.1, armed guards were stationed at each end of the 43 bridges that connect the Keys.
October 27, 1962 was the day that the two superpowers came within inches of starting the first global nuclear war. U.S. Navy ships had forced a Soviet submarine to surface. It later became evident that U.S. ships had narrowly missed being hit by a Soviet nuclear torpedo that was launched at them. On the same day, a United States U-2 reconnaissance plane was shot down over Cuba, killing the pilot. Fortunately, neither side responded with force to either of these incidences.
The next day, on October 28, both sides used restraint and President John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev came to a negotiated agreement. The United States would pull its missiles out of Turkey while the Soviet Union would remove all of the missiles it had installed in Cuba. The U.S also agreed never to attack Cuba.
Once again, Key West paid a pivotal role in protecting the freedoms that we enjoy today.