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Cuban Missile Crisis

Maj. Rudolf Anderson Jr. was shot down and killed over Cuba during the October 1962 crisis. He was flying a U-2 from McCoy AFB, Fla., and was brought down by a Soviet SA-2 missile. Anderson was posthumously awarded the first Air Force Cross, which had been created in 1960. Anderson and other Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command pilots provided pictures that gave U.S. leaders crucial information and proved to the world that offensive nuclear missiles were being placed in Cuba. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Maj. Rudolf Anderson Jr. was shot down and killed over Cuba during the October 1962 crisis. He was flying a U-2 from McCoy AFB, Fla., and was brought down by a Soviet SA-2 missile. Anderson was posthumously awarded the first Air Force Cross, which had been created in 1960. Anderson and other Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command pilots provided pictures that gave U.S. leaders crucial information and proved to the world that offensive nuclear missiles were being placed in Cuba. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Soviet truck convoy deploying missiles near San Cristobal, Cuba, on Oct. 14, 1962. This image, taken by Maj. Steve Heyser in a USAF U-2, is the first picture that proved Russian missiles were being emplaced in Cuba. The image is dated on the day it was printed. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Soviet truck convoy deploying missiles near San Cristobal, Cuba, on Oct. 14, 1962. This image, taken by Maj. Steve Heyser in a USAF U-2, is the first picture that proved Russian missiles were being emplaced in Cuba. The image is dated on the day it was printed. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Soviet SS-4 missile installations in Cuba photographed from a U-2 on Oct. 14, 1962. This was the second set of missiles identified. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Soviet SS-4 missile installations in Cuba photographed from a U-2 on Oct. 14, 1962. This was the second set of missiles identified. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Missile installations at Guanajay, Cuba. This was the first image of an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) site under construction in Cuba. Guanajay, in western Cuba near Havana, is about 270 miles from Miami, Fl, and only 130 miles from Key West, Fl. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Missile installations at Guanajay, Cuba. This was the first image of an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) site under construction in Cuba. Guanajay, in western Cuba near Havana, is about 270 miles from Miami, Fl, and only 130 miles from Key West, Fl. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Inside the National Photographic Interpretation Center during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Here, photo interpreters pored over large-format negatives brought back by USAF U-2 and RF-101 reconnaissance aircraft for evidence of Russian missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Inside the National Photographic Interpretation Center during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Here, photo interpreters pored over large-format negatives brought back by USAF U-2 and RF-101 reconnaissance aircraft for evidence of Russian missiles. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Reconnaissance objectives in Cuba, 1962. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Reconnaissance objectives in Cuba, 1962. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 dramatically proved the importance of the U-2 and aerial reconnaissance. On Oct. 14, 1962, two USAF U-2s photographed portions of Cuba, revealing Soviet offensive nuclear missiles based only 90 miles from U.S. shores. President John F. Kennedy placed U.S. forces on alert, and USAF U-2 and RF-101 reconnaissance flights over Cuba continued, the latter aircraft sometimes flying at treetop level. On Oct. 22, President Kennedy publicly announced details of the critical situation and ordered a naval blockade of Cuba.

Meanwhile, USAF aircraft kept the island and surrounding waters under constant surveillance, providing the U.S. Navy with data on scores of ships at sea apparently en route to Cuba. On Oct. 27, USAF Maj. Rudolf Anderson Jr. was shot down and killed flying a U-2 mission over Cuba. The superpowers were then very close to war. The next day, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev -- faced with U.S. resolve to prevent Soviet strategic weapons being placed so close to the United States -- agreed to remove the offensive missiles as well as medium range bombers being assembled in Cuba. USAF U-2s and RF-101s then monitored communist compliance in removing this threat to American security.

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