Marine Air in October 1962

 The CIA reported to President Kennedy on August 10, 1962, that the Soviets would place medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) in Cuba. On  29 August, a U-2 reconnaissance flight produced evidence of SA-2 SAM (Surface-to-Air-Missile) sites in Cuba. President Kennedy announced the presence of Soviet defensive missiles in Cuba (SA2-SAMs) on 24 September but stated that their were no offensive weapons. The Soviets promised that no offensive missiles would be placed in Cuba. A U-2 reconnaissance flight was ordered to fly over Cuba on 9 October for confirmation.

Bad weather delayed the flight until Sunday, October 14. U-2 pilot Richard Heyser took off from Texas and flew the reconnaissance mission over Cuba.  A Brigadier General met his plane and took the important mission film when he landed in Florida. Analysis of the film from the Heyser flight revealed more surface-to-air missile sites. Six much larger missiles, 60 to 65 feet long, were evident which were identified as offensive SS-4 nuclear missiles.    

Low altitude photo coverage was required and six Navy and Marine Crusader RF-8 Crusader jets were scheduled to fly a low level reconnaissance mission on 23 October. The mission, flown low and fast, brought back clear, close-up pictures of the missile sites and also showed that the Soviets were testing the missiles for launch. CDR William Ecker, Commanding Officer Navy Photographic Squadron 62 commented, "When you can see the writing on the side of the missiles then you really know what you've got."

A U-2 was shot down over Cuba by a SAM missile on 27 October. Major Rudolph Anderson USAF was killed and his U-2 crashed in the jungle on the east end of the island.  A low-level reconnaissance mission was flown with six F8U-1P Crusader jets later on the 27th.. Two of the jets aborted the mission early due to mechanical problems, but the remaining four continued on their mission. Cuban ground forces shot at the photo Crusaders with anti-aircraft guns and small arms as they passed over the San Cristóbal and Sagua la Grande missile sites. One RF-8 was hit by a 37mm shell but returned safely.

After the U-2 with Major Anderson was shot down, the decision was made to use low altitude photography to more clearly ID the sites. The mission was given to the Navy and specifically to VFP-62 stationed at NAS Cecil Field, FL. Most of the RF-8 aircraft (formerly F8U-1P) had only one kind of image motion compensation, and that was a "rocker mount" -- the mount the camera was mounted on would rock back and forth while the shutter was open so that the image on the ground would be in the same location on the film and the photo would not be blurred. Because of the size of the mounts and the speed at which they could rock back and forth, that was OK for most applications, but not for low (1,000 feet agl) and fast (480kts). An outfit named Chicago Aerial Industries developed a camera that had it's own image motion compensation: while the lens was open, the film would move in the opposite direction of flight so that the blur was eliminated, then when the shutter closed, it would run the exposed portion of the film quickly so that the film was ready for another photo. Once again, this system had some speed limitations, but using both the rocker mounts and the new cameras, we could get perfect photos at low altitudes and fast speeds.
VFP-62 had their most up-to-date birds out on the carriers in the Atlantic and Med, so could not do the mission without some more birds that were equipped with the new cameras and mounts. CDR Ecker, CO, VFP-62 asked CNAL to send four planes from VMCJ-2, but he DID NOT want any Marine pilots. MGEN Mangrum, CG, 2nd MAW and the CG, FMFLANT (can't recall who that was) went to CINCLANT and said if planes went, so did the pilots. So four of us, Capts. Ed Love, Fred Carolyn, Dick Conway and I were sent to Cecil and then on to Key West to join the Navy Det there.
I never did know whether CDR Ecker hated all Marines or if he was just unhappy that he got Marine pilots that he did not want, but he treated us like we were bastards at a family reunion. Although we were all more experienced than most of the Navy guys, he would not let any of us lead flights until Nov.10th -- then  two flights that day were Marine flights: Dick Conway on Ed Love's wing and Fred Carolyn on my wing.


Although we flew the same targets several times, we never used the same routes, ingress or egress points. In order to prevent being greeted by some hostile fire positioned and waiting for us, we would use different points of ingress, mix the targets and plot routes so that we approached and departed the targets on different headings and then hit a new egress point. We flew directly over some of the SAM sites that were there to guard the missile sites, but they could not acquire us on their radar and as far as we knew, no SAMs were ever fired at us. They could not acquire us with their radar-controlled guns, either, but they did shoot at us at times. We saw the bursts in our rear-view mirrors, which were always high and behind us. We were notified on several occasions that MIGs had been launched, but it was always late in the flight as we were about to egress, and none ever followed us "feet wet" as far as we knew.
We flew in sections, and were given usually three or four targets. We would then plot ingress routes and egress. We would take off from Key West radio silent using the lights from the tower to taxi and take off. We stayed low and flew time/heading to the ingress point at usually as close to the water as we wanted, meaning usually less than 50 feet. Throughout the flight until egress, we maintained 480 kts (8 miles/minute). When we reached the ingress point we headed for the first assigned target, once again using time/distance and flying as close to the tree tops as possible. At the specified time, we popped up to 1000 feet and put the cameras on runaway so that we got as many exposures as possible and some overlap so that the intel guys could see them in 3-D. As soon as we passed the target, usually less than 10 seconds, we headed for the next while descending again to the tree tops. When we reached the egress point, we called "feet wet" and hit burner to climb to about 35,000 feet and headed for NAS Jacksonville, FL. Our fighter cover, usually F-8s from VMF (AW) 122 from Beaufort, would join on us and stay until we were back over the US. Once the USAF 104s took over the fighter cover role they never located us until we were well back over the US. On the first day, my flight leader, a young LCDR, did a great job of leading and getting us to all the points we were supposed to be and when we were supposed to be there, but he forgot to turn on his cameras. So, in fact, it was my photos that Ambassador Stevenson showed the UN and the world on TV that night.
We landed at NAS JAX and were debriefed while the film was processed and given a quick interpretation by the intelligence guys there. The Navy Photo Lab was at JAX and that is why we landed there from each mission. Then we took off very light and went to Cecil and stayed usually overnight before going back to Key West. There was an A-3 standing by at JAX and as soon as the film was dry, it was flown to DC. -- and then, in some cases, on to New York to the UN.
Although CDR Ecker treated us like red-headed step kids, the other Navy guys were great and we had a good time with them. We lived with them until our squadron and MAG-14 (I think) came down with Col.. Jack Conger and we then lived with our own squadron and the rest of the Marines, but continued to fly with the Navy Detachment.
There is a lot more to the story, but this is enough.  

 In photo with President Kennedy, the Marines are from left, Ed Love, John Hudson, Dick Conway and Fred Carolyn.

Semper Fidelis

John Hudson 


Postscript:  In May 1962, Captain John Hudson was assigned to VMCJ-2 at MCAS Cherry Point, NC with duties of Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Officer. From May 1962 until June 1963 he participated in aerial reconnaissance over Cuba and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.  Lieutenant General John I. Hudson retired from the Marine Corps on November 1, 1989.


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