NORMAN — Duck and cover: 50 years ago today The kindergarten students at Jackson Elementary School thought it was just a fun little drill, something like playground Red Rover or tag. Stop what you were doing, get under your desks and put your head down and cover your head with your hands and arms.
But to the teachers and parents in Norman and elsewhere, this was serious business. Fifty years ago this past week, the United States’ Cold War came closest to becoming a nuclear conflict. The Cuban Missile crisis officially ended on this day, Oct. 28, in 1962.
We’re still not sure what good it would do to get under a desk and shield your eyes but no one questioned it, especially not my fellow kindergarteners. We were just enchanted with “Bert the Turtle,” star of the civil defense movie, “Duck and Cover.”
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My family full of Kennedy Democrats trusted the young president. He had been to war and knew the price. We never knew that a few different scenarios could have significantly altered the course of world history.
Shelters were stocked with water and provisions. Basements cleaned out. At church, the nuns prayed with my older sisters. We were told there were Russian kids doing the same. Finding the familiar “Fallout Shelter” logo on public buildings became a game.
We were looking forward to the drills since there was a shelter in the basement of the old Norman Public Library, also home to the children’s book collection. (The library looked promising since we didn’t have a basement and our grandparents’ basement was scary).
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As the headlines for the week got bigger and more frightening, Norman civil defense officials prepared to mark the 55 buildings cleared for safe refuge from an attack. Santa Fe canceled its “football special” which carried fans to OU games.
Families were urged to stock their basements with water, canned food, clothes, sanitation supplies, first aid kits and battery-powered radios.
When Cuba fired on some U.S. planes, 14,000 U.S. Reservists were called up and folks begin to get nervous. The phones at the County’s Civil Defense office were ringing. The Pope even asked for a cool down.
It all ended that Sunday night when President Kennedy and the secretary general of the United Nations reached an agreement with Nikita Kruschev. They would take down their offensive weapons in Cuba and we would never invade Cuba. We also agreed, but it was not made public until later, that missiles in Turkey and Italy would be dismantled.
It also lead to a hotline between Moscow and Washington.