TAMPA (FOX 13) - 53 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy announced a naval blockade of Cuba. "To halt the offensive build-up, a strict quarantine of all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated," said the president in a televised speech.
The blockade followed the U.S. discovery of Soviet nuclear missile batteries being built in Cuba, 90 miles from our shores. In Tampa, Chip Diehl was in grade school at St. Mary's. His father, in the Air Force, had to leave unexpectedly.
"He said, 'Son, I was in the nose of our B-47. It was an event called the Cuban Missile Crisis.'" Diehl, who would later become an Air Force brigadier general and command the base, says the crisis was an important time for the base and its future. There were proposals to downsize or even close the base in the late 1950's, but during and after the missile crisis, MacDill's location and strategic importance quickly put those plans to rest.
Hundreds of bombers and fighters flew in and out of MacDill as U.S. forces were positioned for what is regarded as the closest brush we've had with nuclear war. Tampa was well within range of missiles in Cuba. In fact, on October 28, 1962, there was a report that a missile had been launched toward Tampa.
It turned out to be a readiness test for electronic defense systems. The crisis ended with the missiles being shipped out of Cuba back to the Soviet Union. President Kennedy visited MacDill just over a year later, thanking personnel for their service during the crisis.