"Smile, You're On Candid Camera"
Blue Moon over Cuba
Aerial Reconnaissance During the Cuban Missile Crisis
Table of Contents
Photo Courtesy Capt. William B. Ecker collection
Updated January 30, 2012
Webmasters message: The mission of the book, Blue Moon over Cuba, is to tell the story of how low-level photographic reconnaissance assisted President Kennedy to resolve, peacefully, the most dangerous confrontation of the Cold War. The low-level photo missions by VFP-62 and the augmenation detachment of Marine Composite Squadron VMCJ-2 was codenamed "Operation Blue Moon."
A Brief Summary of the Book's Chapters
- "Foreword" by Michael Dobbs, author of One Minute To Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War: We are fortunate to have Mr. Dobbs, former Washington Post reporter and prolific author of many books, write a magnificient introduction to our book. A few quotes from his piece: "Captain Ecker and other US Navy reconnaissance pilots remained largely unsung heroes. Their role in resolving the most dangerous crisis of the Cold War only became known decades later following the declassification of top secret government documents...he has left behind a book (co-authored by Kenneth Jack) that will serve as a living memorial to the exploits of a remarkable band of brothers."
- Chapter 1: "The Making of a Fighter Pilot" The story of Captain Ecker becoming a Naval Aviator after the attack on Pearl Harbor. His combat experiences in the Pacific form the basis for his leadership in VFP-62.
- Chapter 2: "Eyes of the Fleet"..Squadron history from FASRON 3 in 1949 through the 50's with VC-62's F2H-2P Banshees and F9F-6&8P Cougars, culminating with the F8U-1P (RF-8A) photo-Crusaders and becoming VFP-62 in 1956 and the move to NAS Cecil Field. Told here are the reasons for VFP-62's exceptional aircraft and camera system, as well as the stories of VFP-62's early missions during the Bay of Pigs invasion and prelude to the Cuban Missile Crisis told by AE2 Frank Schrader and Capt. P.J. Smith.
Also included is the early history of "Spying on the Communists" with the story of the CIA U-2 spyplane's missions and shootdown over the USSR. The history of the Bay of Pigs is told and how fateful both incidents were on the eventual Soviet military build-up in Cuba.
- Chapter 3: "The Military Build-Up in Cuba"..The Soviets provided military armaments, including nuclear missiles, and training to Fidel Castro in early 1962. Fortunately, the CIA was sending U-2s over the island and caught them in the act. This chapter tells of the difficulties intelligence agencies had in gathering the intelligence and how the need for low-level high-resolution photography became apparent.
The photographic evidence showed that the Soviets had introduced a defensive-ring of surface-to-air and medium-range ballistic missiles around the island, which caused great alarm in Washington.
- Chapter 4: "The Cuban Crisis Begins"..The chapter documents the events during the period October 16-22, 1962, when President Kennedy was told about the presence of nuclear missile sites being constructed in Cuba and the debates for a U.S. response. Also told was how VFP-62 got selected for the first missions over Cuba, and how photo interpreters analyzed the aerial photography, providing President Kennedy with the bad news of the expansion of missile sites.
The chapter includes stories of the evacuation of Gitmo dependends by VFP-62's PN3 George Montgomery and culminates with President Kennedy's address to the nation and world on Oct. 22, delcaring the naval blockade of Cuba. The military was placed at DEFCON 3.
- Chapter 5: "Executing the Mission" (Oct. 23, 1962)..This chapter captures VFP-62 mission planning, tactics, and first-hand "in-the-cockpit" mission accounts by Captain Ecker and Lt. Cdr. Tad Riley. Also included, are accounts of the VFP-62 ground crew and how the film was couriered to Washington from NAS Jacksonville photo lab.
"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."
---President John F. Kennedy
- Chapter 6: "Pentagon Briefing" (Oct 23, 1962)..The story of Captain Ecker's debrief of his mission to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and various intelligence agencies in Washington after his mission. This story was dramatized in the movie "Thirteen Days."
- Chapter 7: "The Air Force Gets Its Chance" The full story of how the Air Force, flying the RF-101C Voodoo, failed in its first attempts of low-level photography on Oct. 24, 1962. It tells how the Air Force had to obtain Navy cameras to obtain useable photography.
- Capter 8: "Showdown at the United Nations" Oct. 25, 1962..The presentation of the photographic evidence to the world and the high drama confrontation between Ambassador Adlai Stevenson and Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorian at the UN Security Council provides insight into how powerful aerial photography was to gather support for U.S. unilateral military action in Cuba.
- Chapter 9: "The Marines Join Blue Moon" Oct. 25, 1962..The story of the Marine squadron VMCJ-2 joining VFP-62 missions over Cuba told by VMCJ-2 pilots Col. Edgar Love, Col. Dick Conway and LCPL Jack Hayden providing colorful stories of their contributions. Col. Wayne Whitten provides historical information on the squadron and its electronic counter meassures around Cuba.
- Chaapter 10: "The Crisis Mounts" Oct 25-29, 1962..The most critical days of the Cuban crisis is detailed, with Capt. Jerry Coffee's story of how he photographed the presence of tactical nuclear missiles in Cuba. A day-by-day summary of the events that tells of the conflict within JFK's advisers, the negotiations between JFK and Nikita Khrushchev, the shootdown of the USAF U-2 over Cuba, and the diplomatic resolution of the crisis on Oct. 28.
Lt. Cdr. Tad Riley and Captain Ecker describe what VFP-62 was doing during this important period, including the harrassment effects that the Crusaders were having on Cuban and Soviet morale and their attempts to shoot them down.
Personal accounts of the ground crew activity is provided by Vinnie Zabicki and Richard Flake.
- Chapter 11: "Unarmed, Unescorted, Unafraid". This chapter celebrates and presents a tour de force of the RF-8A Crusader, including Maj. John Glenn's speed run in Project Bullet, fighter pilot stories of escorting the unarmed photo planes, the dangers and joy of flying and working around the Crusader, Cdr. Newby Kelt's accidents and includes comments by VFP-63 pilots on photo mission tactics.
"If you have to go to war, the Crusader was right for the job."--Will Gray
- Chapter 12: "Night Photo Missions Over Gitmo" Nov. 1962 The largely unknown story of Capt. Jim Curry's night photo missions from the USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) over Guantanamo Naval Base checking out the perimeter defenses for the base commander. While a serious mission, it has some humorous incidents surrounding it. Also told is VFP-62 night forward-oblique photographic capability.
- Chapter 13: "Verifying the Removal of the Missiles" Nov. 1962..After the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved on Oct. 28, the U.S. had to monitor the Soviet dismantling and withdrawal of the missiles from Cuba. That was a large mission for VFP-62 and the U-2s. Captain Ecker and Lt. Cdr. Tad Riley tell about VFP-62 missions during this period, including a dramatic story of how MiG-21s jumped Lt. Cdr. Riley and Marine pilot Fred Carolan during one of their missions. Also included are the diplomatic struggles to get the Soviets to complete their commitments.
- Chapter 14: "Medals and Commendations"..Captain Ecker tells about the awarding of Distinguished Flying Cross medals, the Navy Unit Commendation, and other kudos from the President and others after the crisis.
- Chapter 15: "Thirteen Days,---the Movie"..This tells the story of Captain Ecker's involvement with the movie that tells the story of the crisis, including VFP-62's mission on Oct. 23 and Captain Ecker's debrief in Washington. It critiques the movie's positives and negatives as well as shows how scenes involving the Crusader were made.
- Chapter 16: "Hooligans in the Sky"..A summary of the crisis, including an analysis of the intelligence successes and failures, President Kennedy's conflicts with the military brass, the aftermath of the crisis and events in 1963. Also included is Captain Ecker's last flight over Cuba in July 1963. In addition, a critique of post-crisis efforts against Cuba and failed attempts to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
The chapter concludes with the story of the end of VFP-62, including the burial of the time capsule at NAS Cecil Field and the subsequent discovery of it by former AT2 Greg Engler in 2011.
- Appendicies, maps, and photos..Speeches by President Kennedy, three maps of Cuba, including the ranges of Soviet missiles, over 60 photos and color plates, and a complete VFP-62 roster (during the period) of officers and enlisted men are included.
Created on ... January 30, 2012