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Chickasaw Veterans Recall Angst of Cuban Missile Crisis

Military veterans of the Chickasaw Nation recall the angst of the Cuban Missile Crisis during Memorial Day weekend.

Bob Lawrence remembers exactly where he was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. While many historians agree the world came within minutes of a nuclear holocaust, Lawrence’s firsthand account adds support to those claims.

Lawrence was serving on a U.S. Navy destroyer escort in 1962 when the crew stopped a Russian trawler bound for Cuba. When the commanding officer of the U.S. ship asked permission to board the nuclear transport disguised as a fishing vessel the captain refused.

That led to an hours long standoff resolved only when the Russian vessel turned back.

“Had they not stopped and turned around we would have fired on them; there’s no question in my mind,” said Lawrence. “I think that would have started World War III.”

Lawrence, who was an electronics technician in the U.S. Navy, recalled those events during a gathering of 17 veterans who came together to celebrate Memorial Day during a five-day trip to Washington D.C., May 25-29.

These veterans from diverse geographic areas and varied fields of service visited our nation’s capital on a trip sponsored by the Chickasaw Nation. It marked the seventh trip sponsored by the tribe to express appreciation for Chickasaw men and women who served in the armed forces.

What began in 2008 as a way to honor veterans of World War II, the excursion later was expanded to all Chickasaw veterans 60 years of age or older.

"We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to all the men and women who have served our nation in the armed forces,” said Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby. “This trip is one way we honor all those who sacrificed so much to protect our freedom."

Veterans making the trip served in various capacities from electrical engineers and nuclear weapons technicians, to artillery trainers and Navy crewmen. Many served during the Cold War.

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Ted Milligan was a nuclear weapons technician who sometimes crawled inside weapons to make modifications ensuring weapons would detonate at the proper altitude.

Milligan was serving in the Strategic Air Command at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

When asked about those events, he said, “I knew what could happen and I didn’t want to think about it – you just don’t,” he said, adding he still remembers the anxiety many felt at the time.

Many of the veterans expressed appreciation for the opportunity to visit the capital with others who had served in the armed forces. Ken Jones from Anchorage, Alaska, said he would have never visited Washington, D.C. if not for the Chickasaw Nation.

Some of the veterans said military service had been one of the best things to happen to them. In serving the country, they learned skills which helped them become successful in life.

“The service enlightened me,” said Beaman Wisdom, who explained his time in the Army opened him up to new experiences after living a sheltered life as a young person.

He said the military is where he gained the confidence that led to a successful career as an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley.

Veterans who took part in the trip came from nine different states, including Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas.

Sites visited on the trip included Arlington National Cemetery, the U.S. Capitol, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Center, Mount Vernon and the National Museum of the American Indian, among others.