Youngstown residents recall anxious days of Cuban Missile Crisis


Aired October 23, 2012 on WYSU

50 years ago this month the Cold War came to Youngstown. The Cuban Missile Crisis lingers in our collective memory.  Chris Davidson reflects on those October days when Communism and Capitalism faced off and we thought a bull’s eye hovered in the sky above us.


The children of the 1950s were prepared for the big bomb … we ran through duck-and-cover drills on a regular basis.

Kathleen Dragoman participated in drills at Immaculate Conception.

When I was in school, we always got under our desks and had air raid things.

John Keenan went to Hubbard.

I remember the videos and doing it you know sort of like a tornado drill you didn’t question it, you just did it.

Marsha Hamilton attended Kirkmere.

Marsha Hamilton: We went out in the hallway and stood up against the wall and our faces to the wall and our arms over our heads. People thought it might have been the end of the world.

Norma Burnett: It very well might have been.

Tom Burnett: I was worried. We were all worried because you read about it in the paper and these people on the radio telling you what could happen and that didn’t make it any easier.

Hamilton’s parents, Norma and Tom Burnett, then in their 30s, were raising four kids:

It would have started a nuclear war that would have destroyed the whole globe.

And, it’s either urban legend or a mass trick of our memories, but everybody who lived in Youngstown during 1962 thought we were high on the hit list of Russian targets.

 I remember being afraid.

I remember my mother and father sitting around the kitchen table talking about it and worried.

I was in the convent in the novitiate we were told about it and we went to the chapel and we prayed very hard.

Mahoning Valley Historical Society director Bill Lawson says those fears were well-founded.

It’s because of the local steel industry and that was still viewed in terms of strategic targets and assets as a very important part of U.S. military and economic might.

After some unsuccessful operations by the United States to overthrow the Castro regime, Russia placed ballistic nuclear missiles in Cuba that could reach most of the U.S.

Lawson says when that information became public …

You had high tensions diplomatically and militarily, but you also had high anxiety within society.

And that anxiety triggered activity.

There were people buying shelters for their backyards or off of their basement in their houses. There were fallout shelters designated in large masonry buildings.

Samuel Patton worked for the Defense Department as the radiological officer for Northeast Ohio. He taught instructors and shelter managers how to create a system that worked.

Now if you took a whole bunch of people and just put supplies in a place and a lot of people ran in you know it would be pure anarchy and it would be a disaster.

Youngstown had both bomb and fallout shelters. Bomb shelters protect against a blast, fall out shelters protect against radioactive dust fall-out.

The Fallout shelter program was developed to sustain a group of people for a period of two weeks.

The government projected two weeks would have to pass before the fallout would dissipate. Shelters stored water, food and supplies

The crisis ended when Russia agreed to remove its missiles from Cuba and the U.S. agreed to remove missiles from Turkey.

It was a very dangerous game of chicken.

50 years have come and gone since the crisis. Youngstown lost half of its population as the steel industry declined.

 I’m certain we are not on anybody’s top 10 list of strategic targets for anybody’s military exercise.


Christopher Kochera contributed to this report.

Ryan Johnquest and Andrew Bush edited.

For, I’m Chris Davidson.