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Blue Moon Over Cuba: Aerial Reconnaissance During the Cuban Missile Crisisby William B. Ecker
Synopses & Reviews
New Book “Blue Moon Over Cuba” Unearths Crucial Evidence That Helped Kennedy Gather Intelligence on the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962
Insider's perspective on the aerial reconnaissance missions arrives just in time for the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis
October 16-28, 2012 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. One of the forgotten yet crucial details of the crisis are the low-level reconnaissance missions—designated as Operation Blue Moon---flown by US Naval, Marine Corps and Air Force pilots that proved to Kennedy that the Russians had moved missiles onto Cuba.
Blue Moon Over Cuba (Osprey, August 2012) began as the unfinished memoirs of the commander of the naval squadron that flew the top-secret missions, Captain William B. Ecker. Ecker was the lead aviator on the first mission and went on to play a leading role in the reconnaissance flights throughout the crisis. The book was completed by historian Ken Jack.
In the book, Capt. Ecker tells the story of how on October 19, 1962, American military planners quietly ordered his squadron and their state-of-the art RF-8A Crusader jets to a remote airbase in Key West, Florida. (John Glenn had previously set a speed record in a Crusader.) Once there, the pilots and crews waited as CIA analysts made their case to President Kennedy.
Ecker and his team got their orders on October 23rd. Their mission was to enter Cuban airspace at treetop level at a fraction below the speed of sound and photograph suspected missile sites with their suite of high-speed cameras. They flew width-wise across the narrow island and then to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, where the Navy’s main photographic lab was located. As soon as the photos were developed and interpreted, they were delivered to the White House.
On October 25th, Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, exhibited prints of Capt. Ecker's photographs to his Russian counterpart and demanded an answer from him.
From October 23rd-November 15th, 168 Blue Moon sorties were flown across Cuba by naval, marine and air force reconnaissance pilots—often under intense enemy fire. Those missions occurring after October 28th were used by Kennedy to verify the dismantling of the missile sites. For their role, the pilots and crews were presented with a Navy Unit Commendation by President Kennedy in November 1962, who said in his remarks, “The reconnaissance flights which enabled us to determine with precision the offensive build-up in Cuba contributed directly to the security of the United States in the most important and significant way.”
2012 is the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Human intelligence was lacking during the Cuban crisis, and the various intelligence agencies had to rely on their only means to guide them - aerial photography. Photographs of the missile sites were effectively used to persuade doubtful allies, as well as adversaries, that the evidence was real, and they rallied worldwide support of the American strategies focused on the removal of the offensive weapons from Cuba. President Kennedy's Executive Committee of the National Security council opened each meeting with a briefing of the latest analysis of the previous day's photo missions. Aerial photography was soon recognized as essential to the outcome of the crisis.
Both President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev recognized that they did not completely control events, and understood that unexpected events could spiral the crisis out of control. While precipitating the crisis by the introduction of offensive weapons in Cuba, Khrushchev stepped back from the nuclear abyss that both countries were heading for. Kennedy on the other hand utilized his military options in an effective strategy of ratcheting up pressure and, at the same time, resisting his civilian and military advisors' demands for attacking Cuba. Photographic intelligence gave him the time to develop a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
Most books on the Cuban Missile Crisis tell the story through the perspective of memoirs of those who advised President Kennedy, as he struggled to avoid World War III. This book explains the critical events, along with the experiences of those who execute presidential commands in times of national crisis. Their competence, or lack of it, often can mean the difference between war and peace. The history unfolds as the reader is put into the cockpit of a supersonic RF-8A photo jet, giving a fresh perspective of those suspenseful thirteen days. Michael Dobbs, author of One Minute To Midnight, describes Fightin' Photo and Blue Moon as 'a wonderful contribution to the body of Missile Crisis literature. The book will undoubtedly be the most authoritative and complete account of the low-level reconnaissance over Cuba.'
About the Author
The late Captain William B. Ecker USN (retired) was the commanding officer of US Navy Light Photographic Squadron VFP-62 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. His memoir of the squadron's dangerous low-level photographic missions over Cuba was written in 1986, shortly after he was honored by the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. However, it was never published. It is the only known personally written account of the squadron's reconnaissance missions. Capt Ecker also consulted on the motion picture Thirteen Days, which included dramatic (animated and live) scenes of his first mission over Cuba on 23 October 1962. The book was completed by historian and VFP-62 veteran, Kenneth V. Jack.
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