Florida: Front-Line State in 1962

Mark Weisenmiller explains how, forty years ago, the ‘Sunshine State’ played a pivotal role in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Cuban Missile Crisis of forty years ago lasted from October 16th, 2002, when US President John F. Kennedy was informed that the Soviet Union was building and maintaining missiles and atomic weapons in Cuba, to November 1st, when the missiles were removed. Not surprisingly, it had many ramifications in Florida. Key West (the southernmost point of Florida, and of the land mass of the United States) is but ninety miles from the Communist Caribbean island nation.

Florida’s ties to the Crisis range from the drastic (among the first Soviet targets for the SS-4 Sandal ballistic missiles stationed on Cuba were the cities of Jacksonville, Key West, Miami and Tampa) to the minute (much of the drinking water in the containers in bomb shelters in America came from springs near Lake Wales, which is almost exactly in the middle of the state).

Florida was then, as now, one of the most popular tourist destinations for people from all over the world, and the Crisis occurred near the beginning of the state’s tourist season (which lasts from October to April). Three of Florida’s major sources of income have always been the cattle, citrus fruits and tourism industries. In the tense atmosphere of the Missile Crisis, Governor Farris Bryant, State Senator George Smathers and other key authorities of the state government never forgot the role of tourism in bringing billions of dollars to the state’s economy. During the Crisis one woman called the Police Department in Bradenton on the west coast to ask if it was safe for her to visit Florida. The Police Chief still encouraged her to visit the ‘Sunshine State’.

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