Then: The Cuban Missile Crisis was a 13-day political and military standoff that took place in October 1962 involving the United States, the Soviet Union and Cuba.
Now: As the country reflects on the 50th anniversary of the 13-day political and military standoff this month, Dorothy Friend, 74, a Hastings High School and Hastings College graduate, recalls her role as defense computer programmer for System Development Corp. during the crisis. She was assigned to the SAGE air defense system that monitored air traffic for the U.S. Air Force.
Stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Mont., in 1962, she was asked by her supervisor to take a 90-day temporary assignment beginning in the latter part of October at Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala.
When she arrived on base, she quickly learned there would be no missile testing conducted in that sector. Early programming orders handed down by the Air Force liaison officer included Emergency Program Change Requests for installation. Initial conditions gave the program specifications for items such as armaments and radars unique to the sector.
Then came the announcement that put all of the world on alert. In a nationally televised address delivered on Oct. 22, President John F. Kennedy informed listeners that Soviet nuclear missiles were on the ground in Cuba and pointed threateningly at the United States. A naval blockade was being put in place around Cuba in response to the perceived threat, leaving Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the U.S. on the brink of nuclear war.
“It was kind of a tense time for our country,” Friend said. “I don’t know if I was particularly scared. Maybe a little nervous.